Sunday afternoon’s game against No. 15 Kentucky presented multiple opportunities for Florida’s volleyball team: To finally get a statement win. To take a stranglehold on the SEC early in conference play. And to prove that it could go on the road against a tough opponent and come out on top.
In the two sets they won, the Gators looked like they could check all of those boxes. But instead, they travel back to Gainesville empty-handed after getting steamrolled in the final two sets, losing 25-12, 19-25, 22-25, 25-19, 15-8.
Here are three takeaways:
Consistently inconsistent defense
On Sunday, the No. 12 Gators (11-3, 2-1 SEC) compiled a season-high 16 total blocks. Middle blocker Lauren Dooley led the team with seven.
Yet, the loss against Kentucky (11-4, 4-0 SEC) was arguably one of the team’s worst defensive performances this season.
In the two sets that Florida won, it limited the Wildcats to hitting percentages under .100. Kentucky had hitting percentages over .330 in the three sets it won. Overall, UK hit .237 — the fourth-highest mark a team has hit against the Gators this season.
Florida was often late getting to blocks, and they couldn’t contain Kentucky’s trio of outside hitters Leah Edmond and Alli Stumler and middle blocker Leah Meyer, who all registered double-digit kills.
Too many errors
In last season’s matchup in Lexington, Kentucky, the Gators were easily swept by the Wildcats. The Gators were as much of an opponent to themselves in that one as the Wildcats were. UF racked up 20 attack errors across the three sets.
This year, the Gators came out in the first set and did the same thing.
Florida totaled 10 attack errors in the first set alone and tacked on a couple of service errors as well. As a result, its hitting percentage in the set was a mind-boggling -.138. It might have gotten away with that against the likes of Liberty and USF, but not against quality opponents like Kentucky, especially on the road.
Outside hitter Thayer Hall led the team in kills with 17, but she also committed 11 attack errors on a day where she only hit .092 on 65 swings. The Gators need more production and efficiency out of Hall moving forward when they match up against quality competition.
Florida second in SEC now
There are only three SEC teams currently ranked in the top 25. Kentucky swept the only other ranked SEC team, Missouri, last weekend, and the Gators won’t see the Wildcats, again, until Nov. 17.
Taking a match on the road against Florida’s biggest competition in the SEC would have effectively pegged the Gators as the favorite to win the regular-season conference title.
But for now, all they’ll have to think about is, “What if?”
Follow Brendan Farrell on Twitter @Bfarrell727. Contact him at [email protected]