Thayer Hall

Most coaches and players are ready to move on to the next match after a difficult loss. 

But coach Mary Wise and redshirt senior Holly Carlton sang a different tune when speaking to the media Thursday following the Gators surprising 3-2 loss to South Carolina. 

Carlton said the Gamecocks played them well, which allowed the coaching staff and players to witness weaknesses that Florida wasn’t aware of. 

“There’s nothing like a loss that helps you to learn and grow and be super inspired in the gym,” she said. “We're so thankful that someone stepped up to that level, played so hard to exploit that so we can work on those weaknesses before it's crunch time in the spring.”

Wise added that it was a teachable moment, because UF learned how to defend better against an opponent that is aggressive from the service line.

The team hopes it’s just a lesson learned once this Friday and Saturday evening at the O’Dome, when No. 5 Florida returns to play a Georgia squad that averages an ace per set for its last double-header of the fall season. 

The unranked Bulldogs (3-3) are a strong blocking team like South Carolina, averaging over two blocks a set. 

Wise thinks UGA is good in that area of the match because of their ability to serve the ball at the beginning of a point. 

The key is neutralizing Georgia from the service line because it will make Florida’s offense less predictable and disrupt the rhythm of UGA blockers, she said.

Redshirt junior T’ara Ceasar will face her former team, the Bulldogs, for the first time since she transferred from Athens, Georgia, to UF (5-1) on Nov. 19, 2018. 

Coming into this reunion, Wise said Ceasar has treated this upcoming match like it's any other match. Carlton echoed the statement.

“T’ara is just a competitor, so no matter who’s on the other side of the net, T’ara is ready to compete and ready to win,” Carlton said. “I anticipate seeing that same exact demeanor and mannerism from her coming into this week.”

Ceasar has been a key contributor to the Gators offense since her arrival in Gainesville. She ranks top 25 nationally in points and kills per set at 4.6 and 3.9, respectively. 

Junior outside hitter Thayer Hall has also played a factor in Wise’s efficient offense. It’s fifth in the NCAA in hitting percentage (.285) and top 20 in assists and kills per set. 

Carlton has emerged as a force to be reckoned with. She has the best hitting percentage on the team at .366, good for 19th best in the country. The lefty added 22 kills in Florida’s last double-header versus South Carolina. 

“Marlie Monserez is doing a great job of spreading the ball and then having Thayer and T’ara on the left side really makes my job a lot easier,” Carlton said. “Those two have carried a huge load for us this season and have been so efficient. So its made my role pretty simple this season.”

Even though Florida’s defense slipped, in the second match against the Gamecocks, allowing them to hit .290, the team is still dominant on defense. It ranks third in blocks per set and opponent hitting percentage. 

The Gators defense has been impressive despite missing a starter up front in redshirt senior middle blocker Darrielle King. She missed the last four matches with a foot injury. 

Wise said she won’t play Friday or Saturday, but she will be available when the spring portion of the season starts in January.

Florida plays the first match of its double-header against UGA on Friday at 7 p.m. and can be seen on the SEC Network.

Contact Zachary Huber at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber.

Zachary Huber covers men's tennis for the Alligator. This is his first semester working for The Alligator. He's a junior studying journalism at UF.