It wasn’t disastrous, per se, but it certainly wasn’t pretty either.
Such was the look for No. 7 Florida volleyball Wednesday night when No. 1 Stanford bested the home team in a sweep for the Gators’ home opener (25-22, 25-17,25-19).
The Gators (2-1) had a chip on their shoulder as the underdog in the midweek matchup against the reigning national champions. But Stanford (3-0) had an image to keep and it wasn’t going to let a road game intimidate the program’s recent success. One player in particular made the difference in the match in Stanford’s Kathryn Plummer.
“You see why they’re No. 1,” coach Mary Wise said following the match.
Here are two things the Gators need to work on before facing No. 8 Minnesota on the road Saturday evening:
Closing the block
Stanford’s setter Jenna Gray already knew what her next play would be. A quick shoot set to the outside pin would be the perfect concoction for the team’s best attacker in senior outside hitter Plummer.
Plummer’s hit reverberated off the wooden tiles as it slammed into the floor. And it wasn’t just a one-time scenario either.
But as setter Marlie Monserez and middle blocker Darrielle King huddled with their Gators teammates on the courts, it was obvious they knew what had happened.
Failing to close the block, having two players perfectly side-by-side against the net on defense, gave Stanford’s offense the hole it needed to find the open floor again and again.
A hole in the block allowed Cardinal hitters to aim for the seam, or in other words hit toward the middle-back area of the court.
Plummer tallied 21 kills on the night, the highest of both rosters and almost double the amount of kills anyone else had during the match. The two-time AVCA National Player of the Year also tallied the most attacks on the night with 34 swings.
“I think it was a great opportunity to be able to play this first home game against the No. 1 team and the reigning champs…,” said right side hitter Holly Carlton, who registered a team-high 10 kills on the match, after the loss. “That is the elite level and standard for this season, so I think it was great to see where our team compares this early on in the season.”
Moving on defense
An out of system play set sophomore outside hitter Thayer Hall up on the 10-foot line for the back-row attack.
Hall took her approach toward the net and swung at the middle of the court, just above the plane of the net. The ball was met with a brick wall, otherwise known as Stanford’s Madeleine Gates.
The ball fell to the floor without anyone making an effort to dig up the play and keep the rally in motion.
Florida found itself on its heels multiple times Wednesday night.
The initial contact off the serve wasn’t much better as many players in the back row were forced to take the pass at a crooked angle, with their arms going out to the side instead of keeping their platform in the middle of their body.
That kind of passing frequently brought the ball toward the 10-foot line instead of keeping it on the net, making it more difficult for Monserez to set up a profitable Gators offense.
Other times Stanford found the belly of the court with ease, the sweet spot right behind the 10-foot line. It’s a difficult spot to defend, often ending in chaos on the court as to whom is responsible for picking up the play.
Stanford knew this which is why it easily found its way around the block and into the middle of the court. Its a spot that works almost all of the time and one that Florida needs to defend better.
Follow Mari Faiello on Twitter @faiello_mari. Contact her at [email protected].