The 20th ranked Florida volleyball team (18-6, 12-2) kept its SEC Championship hopes alive with a sweep over Auburn (13-12, 5-10) at Exactech Arena on Wednesday night. Gator coach Mary Wise said the hosting Gators played clean volleyball the first two sets, while making unforced errors in the third. As far as hitting percentages, the odds were in Florida’s favor.
The Tigers had only one player with over four kills: Rebekah Rath. Wise credited assistant coach Dave Boos for having such a good grip on the Auburn offense.
The Gators held Auburn to hitting .089, while attacking .305 from their side. Seniors T’ara Ceasar, Thayer Hall and Lauren Forte had 12, 11 and 10 kills, respectively.
Senior Marlie Monserez had 39 assists, to which she credited her passers for allowing her to make good decisions. The setter moved up to fifth on the all-time assist list at UF, while playing in what she described as the most fun game of the season.
The Band is Back
The pep band, arguably instrumental to the game energy, returned to the Exactech Arena for the first time in two years.
Wise complimented the band, be it better players or instruments, for putting on perhaps its most exceptional performance ever.
After the match, the Florida band even played “Happy Birthday” for assistant coach Eysha Ambler. She previously coached at Auburn, and a group of Tigers greeted her with hugs.
Monserez began the match with an ace. The Gators made quick work of Auburn, seen by early-rally kills from well, everyone. The team earned a 13-4 lead. Many kills funneled in from middles Forte and Bre Kelly.
Ceasar, named AVCA Division 1 Player of the Week on Tuesday, kept up her pace of kills and swings. Both, wickedly fast.
— Gators Volleyball (@GatorsVB) November 16, 2021
The Gators were playing fundamental volleyball, while Auburn lost rallies with errors like misconnections. The Tigers took a timeout down 18-7.
At 21-7, Wise subbed sophomore Sofia Victoria in to serve for Hall. Forte ended set 1 with a kill out of the middle. Gators win 25-11.
Hall and Merritt Beason got kills to begin Florida’s set 2 offensive domination. However, the Gators made consecutive poor errors. Hall shanked a free ball, and the next play the serve fell a few feet inside the court between libero Elli McKissock and her.
Right side Beason terminated on the next point. Monserez made a daring left-handed kill, going over on two.
Auburn got close, down 8-6, with outside Rath leading the way. Rath transferred from Maryland this year, but she’s from Altamonte Springs, Florida.
The Gator kills piled in from all over, and Aubrun took a timeout down 22-12.
Wise said the senior Hall made a lot of good decisions. While Ceasar has been strong for the Gators lately, Wise took time to compliment other players like Hall, Forte and McKissock (17 digs).
As the second set wrapped up, middle Nnedi Okammor subbed into the game. She and fellow sophomore Victoria both got kills. The Tigers briefly went back-and-forth with Florida, but Ceasar terminated the scoring seesaw, slamming it down the line. As Florida won 25-15, they had hit an explosive .410 compared to Auburn’s minuscule .088.
The third set didn’t start as dominant for the Gators. Beason had four attack errors to begin the set before Wise called a timeout down 6-5.
Beason earned an ace as Auburn rushed toward the stands, but couldn’t save their libero’s shank. Serving specialist Trinity Adams coolly dug an attack with her fists above her head, prompting a Kelley kill to put Florida ahead 14-9.
A few Florida errors kept Auburn within reach, though.
Ceasar finessed Auburn, tipping for a kill out of the back row. Down 18-12, the Tigers took a timeout. With the help of Rath’s serve, the Tigers went on a three-point run and chopped the Gators lead to 20-16.
Hall got a kill to lead the Gators to match point. Thereafter, she stuffed the Auburn tip to take the final set, 25-19.
Wise said the Gators certainly weren’t playing their best volleyball of the year in the third set. However, she says having room for improvement on an experienced team is a good opportunity ahead of postseason play.
Monserez said she hasn’t seen everyone’s tough practice serves on the court yet, one source for improvement that she says may show up this weekend.
The Gators stay home to take on South Carolina (14-11, 6-9) Saturday and Sunday afternoon.
Sunday will serve as the Gators’ senior night. Monserez said she wants to tone down the emotions of senior night, but still have lots of fun on the court.
Wise, garnering her 997th career win on Wednesday, touted the Gamecocks as the only team in the SEC to beat number eight Kentucky. (They defeated the Wildcats on Nov. 4 in 5 sets.) She added the Gamecocks beat the Gators last season and a lot of those victorious players return.