The tears and smiles of Senior Day began 20th ranked Florida’s second match of the weekend against South Carolina (14-13, 6-11 SEC) on Sunday. The Gators honored five seniors; T’ara Ceasar, Thayer Hall, Marlie Monserez, Lauren Forte and Lauren Dooley. The veterans walked onto the court with their families and took photos together.
The Gators (20-6, 14-2 SEC) previously swept the Gamecocks, the only SEC team to beat No. 8 Kentucky, on Saturday (25-14, 25-22, 25-16).
Ahead of the two match series over the weekend, Monserez said she hoped to avoid the emotions of Senior Day on the court.
Freshman Merritt Beason said head coach Mary Wise warned the team to avoid all the distractions of the day and stay focused on the task at hand. While playing in front of the crowd was fun, Beason said the team was focused on honoring the seniors in another way; staying alive in the quest for the SEC Championship and winning the NCAA Championship right before Christmas.
Florida met that victory mark in sweeping fashion, prevailing 25-12, 25-19, 25-20.
The Gators led for most of the game, hitting .333 to South Carolina’s .111, but had to come back in the third set. Beason said the seniors were the reason why.
After the game, Wise talked about what the senior class has persevered through, having competed three consecutive semesters amid COVID-19.
The Gators remain in striking position for the SEC Championship ahead of their final two games, versus Kentucky.
The Gators started out playing with enormous hustle, even digging balls with one arm. They grabbed a 12-6 lead, and South Carolina called a timeout.
Still, there was no slowing down as Florida proceeded to go on a 7-2 run. Monserez served an ace landing on the end line and attacked the second ball.
— Gators Volleyball (@GatorsVB) November 21, 2021
As the set ended, head coach Mary Wise subbed Dooley into the game for a few points. With the crowd standing for game point, Hall served an ace. The Gators won 25-12.
Florida quickly got to work in set 2, with Hall acing the Gamecocks for the second time. There was a little miscommunication about who was supposed to get the ball, though, between libero Elli McKissock and Ceasar as they chased down a shanked pass. The teams were tied 6-6. Florida later took the lead. Dooley flashed a huge smile after seeing middle Bre Kelley’s block.
The public announcer called out “Hammered by Hall” over and over as the outside had 11 kills on the night.
Ceasar ended the set 25-19 with a cut-shot kill. One more set victory would end the match.
Freshman Beason began the third set with a big kill.
However, South Carolina refused to lay down and die. Wise explained the urgency a team faces down 2-0, compared to the Gators who made unforced errors.
Beason missed her second serve of the match to give the Gamecocks a 13-12 lead. Monserez sided the Gators out with another left-handed attack. Florida continued trading points with South Carolina, going down 15-14 before the media timeout.
The Gamecocks blocked Hall out of the timeout. After Hall bounced back with a kill, Monserez missed her serve long. The Gators were down by three points.
Outside Kyla Manning led the Gamecocks with eight kills, albeit hitting .028. to help in this game. Two Ceasar kills evened the score 19-19. For South Carolina, that score didn’t change much.
Gamecocks libero Morgan Carter, sometimes pulled from the court on serve receive, dug Beason’s tough swing. Beason responded with a block.
After the game, she talked about how the seniors have supported her in her transition from outside to right side. They’ve taught her it’s ok to play imperfectly.
Beason had 10 kills, while Ceasar led the team with 14.
The outside had five kills in the last nine points, including the last one. The Gators won 25-20.
Afterward, Wise got on a microphone and thanked fans for supporting the team over the last year-and-a-half . She acknowledged that no other group of seniors can say they’ve achieved this feat. Wise said the Gators are doing their best to bring the NCAA Regionals home to Gainesville by earning a top-16 seed.
Upon the speech’s conclusion, the Gator players did a victory lap high-fiving the crowd around Exactech Arena. Former Gators like Holly Carlton, Darielle King and of course Allie and Maddy Monserez, were in attendance.
Florida has only so much time to celebrate; there’s a lot on the line with two games to go. The Gators close out their regular season against the defending national champions in Lexington, Kentucky. If they defeat the Wildcats (21-4, 14-1 SEC) twice, they grab at least a share of the SEC Championship.
And although Wise doesn’t want to talk about almost her near achievement of reaching 1,000 wins, she now stands one win away.