No. 8 Florida volleyball team sweeps Arkansas

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
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Led by the upperclassmen, the No.8-ranked Florida volleyball team completed the series sweep of Arkansas, the SEC’s fourth-ranked team, by once again downing the Razorbacks in straight sets – 25-16, 25-21 and 25-18 – Saturday at Exactech Arena. 

“That’s something that’s been in place for some time now, the culture in the program where the older players are the mentors,” Florida coach Mary Wise said. “They are each other’s allies, and we do advocate for that, whether it’s in timeouts, between sets, is that they’re communicating by position. What did you see, and how can you help your teammates?”

After a 3-0 loss Friday to Florida (14-2), Arkansas (11-7) looked to come out strong and set the tone from the beginning, and would just narrowly trail UF, 7-5, before the Gators rattled off an 8-1 run prior to taking the set. 

Holly Carlton provided four of her 11 kills in the first set, as the Gators took the early lead, but Arkansas wouldn’t fold easily. 

“We knew every set they were going to fight, no matter what the scores were or the sets were,” Carlton said of the Razorbacks. “(Wise) was lighting the fire in us to be better than that and match their competitiveness.”

The Razorbacks repeatedly cut UF’s lead to a lone point in the second set, leading Wise to call for a timeout, before tying it up at 14-14. 

Arkansas would take its first lead of the match on a kill by Jillian Gillen. 

The SEC foes would trade leads several times until the score was all tied at 21, wherein Thayer Hall’s kill put UF up 22-21 before the Gators locked down on defense to take the second set, thanks to some sound defensive play. 

Hall combined with Lauren Dooley on a block on Florida’s next serve, then Dooley blocked one with Carlton before T’Ara Ceasar’s seventh kill of the match secured the two-set lead for Florida. 

“I had no doubt T’Ara wasn’t thrilled with last night’s performance, and a lot of that had nothing to do with T’Ara. She wanted to contribute in more ways, and early on in the first set she made some really good decisions,” Wise said. “It’s easy to see the eyes on the kills, but she may be, before she’s done, one of our best back row defenders, from sixth rotation to outside hitter. You don’t have many that can dig balls the way T’Ara can.”

The sweep in their sights, the Gators jumped out to a 6-1 lead in the ultimately decisive third set. The advantage over Arkansas would grow as large as nine before Ceasar’s match-point kill gave the Gators their ninth-consecutive win to remain undefeated in the spring portion of the season. 

“That is not easy. Not many teams have been able to beat this Arkansas team, only Kentucky’s been able to do it back-to-back nights 3-0,” Wise said. “I have great respect for this Arkansas team, I think they may be the most improved team in the league. They have young players, this team’s going to be good for awhile.”

Caesar finished with a game-high in kills and digs with 12 and eight, respectively, while Marlie Monserez finished with 33 of UF’s 43 assists. 

The Gators look to stay unblemished in 2021 when they host Missouri for a two-game series beginning Friday at 1 p.m. before welcoming No. 3 Kentucky to town March 19-20. 

“It’s go time. You can only control what you can control,” Wise said, “and so what we hope, with the other pieces, is that we have everybody, that we’re still playing and we’re still practicing, because I think this team continues to show improvement.” 

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