By Jim Harvin
The Florida volleyball team played its first match as the nation’s No. 1 squad Friday in its Southeastern Conference home opener against Tennessee.
Judging by their performance, the Gators, on top of the AVCA poll for the first time since 2010, don’t intend on giving up their lofty perch anytime soon.
Led by the play of middle blockers Rhamat Alhassan and Rachael Kramer, UF improved to 10-0 on the season with a convincing 3-0 sweep of the Volunteers before an Exactech Arena crowd of 3,253 in the O’Connell Center, winning by scores of 25-17, 25-18 and 25-19.
UF racked up 13 total team blocks in the win, led by six assists by Alhassan (match-high 13 points), four by Kramer (12 points) and a splendid all-around effort by sophomore Cheyenne Huskey (8.5 points) who posted three solo blocks and five block assists to go with 15 assists.
“It’s so amazing,” Huskey said. “I did come out a little rocky last season, but this year I’ve kind of gotten used to all my teammates and the connections, and blocking got better during the springtime.”
The victory improved the Gators, who were coming off a five-set win at Arkansas last Sunday, to 2-0 in the early SEC race while Tennessee fell to 8-4, 1-2.
Kramer led all players with 10 kills while hitting a match-high .529, with Alhassan right behind with nine kills.
Carli Snyder had a solid all-around match with six kills, 12 digs, and two block assists before capping the match with back-to-back service aces to score nine points, while redshirt senior Shainah Joseph had six kills and no errors in 14 attempts for a .429 hitting mark and added seven digs en route to seven points.
“The match tonight was a lot of fun,” Snyder said. “It took a little bit to get us in our groove, that is for sure. But I think by the end of it, we had a great feel for what Tennessee was doing.”
In addition, senior libero Caroline “CK” Knop was all over the court, finishing with a match-high 15 digs while doing an exceptional job passing; redshirt junior setter Allie Monserez added a team-best 20 assists and eight digs; and freshman Paige Hammons finished with five kills, nine digs, a service ace and a block assist for 6.5 points.
The Vols were led by junior Erica Treiber’s 10 kills and 11.5 points, with sophomore Alyssa Andreno adding seven kills and 8.5 points and sophomore Asha Phillips recording a team-best 10 digs.
As a team, UF hit .252 while holding Tennessee to a .098 mark.
“It really was about embracing the fact that we felt like we would get Tennessee’s best shot,” UF coach Mary Wise said. “I thought Tennessee played hard, and they scored some points in some areas that we have to shore up. We just talked about how this was the next opportunity to get better.”
Next up, the Gators host LSU at 3 p.m. Sunday.