By Jim Harvin,
It took just over an hour for the third-ranked Florida volleyball team to win its NCAA Tournament opener Thursday.
The Gators (26-1), the No. 2 overall seed, won their 12th straight match by downing Alabama State (28-11) by scores of 25-9, 25-13, 25-9 before a crowd of 2,215 in the O’Connell Center.
UF set season-high marks for hitting percentage (.446) and service aces (11) in dismantling ASU and setting up a second-round match tonight at 7 with in-state rival Miami (22-5), which posted a hard-fought 25-21, 21-25, 25-20, 25-15 win over the College of Charleston (27-6) in the tournament opener.
“We talked to the team before the match that we wanted to embrace not just survive and advance but, more like thrive and advance,” UF coach Mary Wise said. “We were the best versions of ourselves tonight and in many ways we had to run some good things to hold a team in Alabama State, who has 28 wins – as a result of their offense – to hold them to negative and for us to hit over .400.”
The Hornets hit a minus-.014 and recorded more errors (18) than kills (17), while UF had 40 kills in 74 swings with just seven errors.
Florida was able to utilize 13 players in the sweep and all of them scored, with seniors Shainah Joseph and Carli Snyder leading the way with nine and eight kills, respectively.
Snyder recorded a match-high 11.5 points thanks to three aces and a block assist while Joseph, who hit .533, added a block assist en route to 9.5 points.
“We had our preseason and our conference season and we knew that there were no records coming into the tournament,” Snyder said. “They had a great season, and we have a lot of respect for Alabama State and what they do. I thought we were able to come in early and play some really strong defense and affect their offense. We did a really nice job adjusting throughout the match and you can see we worked off the service line to disrupt their offense and we did a very nice job of that tonight.”
Senior middle blocker Rhamat Alhassan, the 2017 SEC Player of the Year, added five kills with no errors on seven attacks for a match-high .714 hitting percentage.
In addition, senior libero Caroline “CK” Knop had a match-high nine digs and freshman Paige Hammons led all players with four aces, tying her season-high, while adding four digs.
Redshirt junior setter Allie Monserez had a match-high 18 assists with four digs and an ace, Snyder and sophomore defensive specialist Allie Gregory each had six digs, sophomore Morgyn Greer had six kills, redshirt freshman Mia Sokolowski had four kills with no errors, and sophomores Cheyenne Huskey and Rachael Kramer each had three kills, with Huskey adding nine assists.
Bayle’ Bennett recorded five kills to lead ASU.
“Our defense was driving the play,” Alhassan said. “They have some really good hitters on the pins, especially with who they want the ball to go to. I think we did a really good job shutting them down, just getting block touch after block touch, and also being able to convert those touches and being able to hit for those high numbers”
Wise was pleased.
“This was the goal, just go from match to match knowing that tomorrow will look very different – the length of Miami, the size of Miami, the arms of Miami.” she said. “But tonight we took care of business, and for that, give credit to the seniors and their leadership