By Jim Harvin, Correspondent
For its 2019 home opener, the No. 7 Florida volleyball team faced off with top-ranked and defending NCAA champion Stanford at the O’Connell Center on Wednesday night.
Before an Exactech Arena crowd of 5,665 and a live SEC Network audience, the Gators started strong, but then wilted as the Cardinal posted a convincing sweep, winning by scores of 25-22, 25-17 and 25-19 to move to 3-0 on the young season while extending their current winning streak to 35 matches dating back to last year.
“They have one of the best liberos in the country, one of the best left sides in the country, one of the best right sides in the country, two of the best middles in the country, the best setter in the country – they’re pretty stocked,” UF coach Mary Wise said. “The scary thing is they’re going to graduate and bring in another round.”
The two teams staged a back-and-forth battle in the first set, with UF taking a quick 3-0 lead before the Cardinal rallied to go ahead 11-8 and force a Gator timeout.
Florida (2-1) would rally and take a 20-18 lead, forcing a Stanford timeout, but back-to-back kills by reigning AVCA Player of the Year Kathryn Plummer tied things up, and the Cardinal would go on to win the set for a 1-0 lead.
The visitors opened the second set with an 8-1 run and never looked back, leading by as many as 10 points at 20-10 before coasting to the win and a 2-0 lead.
UF tried to mount a comeback in the third set, taking an early 5-2 lead before Stanford tied the match at 6-all.
Florida did eventually retake the lead at 12-10 on a kill by Holly Carlton and a service ace by Thayer Hall, but a kill by Meghan McClure ignited a 6-0 run by Stanford that brought about a 16-12 Cardinal lead.
The Gators could not recover, dropping the third set as Stanford posted the sweep.
Florida had no answer for Plummer, who led all players with 21 kills while hitting .441. Holly Campbell added eight kills and McClure and Madeleine Gates each had six, with libero Morgan Hentz posting a match-high 15 digs while setter Jenna Gray had a match-high 37 assists.
Carlton was the only Gator to register double digits with 10 kills, while Hall had eight and Paige Hammons had seven.
Allie Gregory had seven digs to pace UF, but the Cardinal owned a solid 41-28 overall edge in digs. Stanford hit .272 for the match while holding UF to a .118 mark.
The Cardinal, under third-year coach Kevin Hambly, had opened 2019 with a pair of sweeps at the College of Charleston Classic last weekend, while the Gators defeated No. 25 Louisville, 3-0, and Dayton, 3-2, at the Cardinal Classic in Louisville.
“Stanford is just a terrific program,” Wise said. “They are well-supported, well-funded and bring in great players every year. Obviously with their experience, there’s a gap, and we’ll just try and keep chipping away and hope that by the end of the season we can narrow that.”
Next up, the Gators head to No. 8 Minnesota to face the Gophers Saturday night at 8 p.m., while Stanford returns to the West Coast to play its home opener against No. 3 Texas Sunday.