By Jim Harvin, Correspondent
The 12th-ranked Florida volleyball team followed a basic mantra in its initial NCAA Tournament match Thursday.
Survive and advance.
The Gators turned back a gritty Alabama State team with a 3-0 sweep to cap first-round action.
UF (26-4), the No. 10 seed, won by scores of 25-10, 25-16 and 25-20 before an Exactech Arena crowd of 2,022 to remain unbeaten in NCAA first-round matches all-time (23-0).
The win was Florida’s fourth in four matches with the Hornets (17-22) – all sweeps – but Alabama State made its best showing to date.
“It may not have had the drama the first match did tonight, but there are two teams that are advancing tonight and that’s the key,” UF coach Mary Wise said. “To hit .412, and I thought our service game was really good.
“Alabama State – you could see the difference from the first time they were here. I liked how hard they played. There were some really good rallies. The most important thing for us as a team is that we’re moving on and we get to play tomorrow.”
The Gators will meet UCF, a 3-2 winner over Florida State, in round two at 7 p.m. Friday with a berth in the NCAA Round of 16 at stake.
Outside hitters Paige Hammons and Mia Sokolowski paced the Gator attack with 10 kills apiece, with Sokolowski hitting .421 and Hammons hitting .304 and adding eight digs.
Senior Rachael Kramer had eight kills and hit .583 while right-side hitter Holly Carlton finished with seven kills and no errors for a season-high .700 hitting mark.
In addition, setter Marlie Monserez had 35 assists, senior libero Allie Gregory had a match-high 17 digs, Riley Fischer had six and Paula Cerame added four.
Starting outside hitter Thayer Hall and backup senior Morgan Greer did not dress for the match, with Hall, who has taken more than a thousand swings (1,035) on the season, getting a break.
The next-highest player was Hammons (662).
“We had some new players in there who were just getting used to the court,” Gregory noted. “Me and Rachael were just out there supporting the players who haven’t gotten a lot of playing time and pushing them to succeed in tonight’s match – which they did.”
Taira Cottingham led the Hornets with a match-high 11 kills while Bayle’ Bennett added eight to go with two blocks and four digs.
“Kudos to Alabama State for coming in here and playing hard,” Kramer said. “We knew we were going to get their best shot. They truly had nothing to lose tonight. I think we just took care of things on our side, limiting errors and making sure we’re putting ourselves in the best position to continue in the tournament.”
UCF? I did not expect that. Keep digging ladies!