A night of many tricks held even more treats Wednesday night for Florida’s volleyball team.
And in a game where conference — and potential NCAA — tournament spots were on the line, the No. 13 Gators showed up against the No. 24 Missouri Tigers.
History was on Missouri’s side. In all-time matchups, the Tigers have won every game that has gone to five sets (3). But Wednesday’s matchup in Columbia, Missouri, was the first exception.
The match went back-and-forth with Florida (18-3, 9-1 SEC) taking the first and third frames, while Missouri took the second and fourth sets.
Everything was on the line, however, in the last 15-point set, which saw the Gators come out on top in a big conference win (25-22, 17-25, 29-27, 20-25, 15-12).
Sophomore outside hitter Thayer Hall was slow to start, but rallied her team to a five-set win on the road, leading it over every obstacle.
She paced her team with 19 kills. But Hall’s opposition in Kylie Deberg put on the real show, notching a career-high 27 kills and keeping her team’s hopes alive.
Even more was at stake given how the last meeting went between the two teams, emotions definitely played a role in this year’s contest.
Like Missouri (14-5, 6-3 SEC), the Gators rallied in the second and fourth frames and even went so far as to lead a few times in the fifth set by a significant margin (5-0, 9-4). Ultimately, Florida lost its grasp at the O’Connell Center last season and dropped a heartbreaking upset 17-15.
But the block deferred in another direction Wednesday night.
And despite an appalling service stat line (which saw 11 service errors to eight service aces), the Gators managed to pull another crucial matchup out on the road.
A battle between two stellar offenses was like pushing against a wall. Neither side was willing to budge, even just a smidge.
Florida needed its middle blockers to space things out and make a difference. The Gators’ trio of middle blockers (Rachael Kramer, Lauren Dooley and Darrielle King) notched a combined 16 kills.
The offspeed shots from Missouri’s side of the net certainly threw Florida’s defense off a time or two, but it also did something else: exposed a situational weakness that many have perceived as an advantage.
Florida is one of the tallest teams in the league. Looking across the net at a 6-foot-7 Holly Carlton, 6-foot-8 Kramer, 6-foot-6 Dooley, 6-foot Marlie Monserez, 6-foot-3 Hall and 6-foot-1 Paige Hammons is not a welcomed sight.
And while height carries its perks, but it can also be a downfall. Missouri figured out early on how to use Florida’s block, specifically their hands, to change the trajectory of their hits. Attacks brushed off the Gators’ fingertips and flew out of bounds, while offspeed shots found the holes on the open court.
Along with serving, the block will be another key factor the team will have to improve before its matchup against the Mississippi Rebels. Luckily, the team will have plenty of time to get things in order before taking the court, again, next Friday.
Contact Mari Faiello at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @faiello_mari