By Jim Harvin, Correspondent
Friday’s volleyball match between No. 12 Florida and visiting Auburn at the O’Connell Center not only marked the beginning of the 2019 Southeastern Conference regular season but also was the 50th meeting all-time between the two league rivals.
Before an Exactech Arena crowd of 3,256 and an SEC Network audience, the Gators improved to a near-perfect 48-2 against the Tigers, winning by scores of 25-12, 25-18 and 25-12 to move to 10-2 this season.
The win was Florida’s eighth straight while the Tigers slipped to 6-6, 0-1.
“There were some good things tonight,” said head coach Mary Wise, who is in her 29th season at UF (33rd overall) and upped her all-time mark against Auburn to 44-1.
The Gators hit a sizzling .427 offensively, dominated at the net defensively with seven blocks, and made a number of hustling efforts during the match.
Individually, sophomore outside hitter Thayer Hall led UF with 14 kills while resetting her career-high with a .481 hitting percentage.
She took 27 swings and made just one hitting error, while junior Paige Hammons had eight kills on 16 swings with no errors for a .500 hitting mark.
Sophomore setter Marlie Monserez had a match-high 30 assists while adding five kills, four digs and a solo block, while redshirt junior right-side hitter Holly Carlton also had five kills and tied her career-high for service aces with four while matching Monserez’s .556 hitting mark.
“I think you could see tonight just the click of our offense, the work Marlie has put in, and the connection between our setters and hitters,” Hall noted. “It was a great start to SECs.”
Senior middle blocker Rachael Kramer also had five kills on just seven attacks for a match-high .714 hitting mark and added two solo blocks and a block assist, while libero Allie Gregory led all players with 11 digs.
In addition, sophomore middle blocker Lauren Dooley added three kills and three block assists.
As a team, UF held the Tigers to a minus-.041 hitting percentage.
“We knew our game plan coming into this game, and I think we executed that,” Monserez said. “We had a few too many unforced errors, which we will need to clean up to be better, but I think we all worked together tonight and pulled it out.”
Auburn was led by Tatum Shipes with four kills and seven digs.
The Gators have a short turnaround before facing a talented Georgia squad Sunday in the Exactech Arena at 1 p.m. The Bulldogs defeated homestanding South Carolina, 3-2, Friday to open SEC play.
“We played fairly well,” Wise noted. “It was not as clean as I had hoped, but it’s still September and the really tough one will be Sunday.”