The No. 9-ranked Florida volleyball team made short work of Boston College to open the season with a win for the eighth-consecutive time on Friday night at the O’Connell Center.
The Gators swept the Eagles 3-0 (25-11, 25-15, 25-16) in dominant fashion, but senior Kristy Jaeckel said that UF wasn’t as aggressive as it could have been.
“We’ve been trying to be conscious of when we should take a big, aggressive swing and when we maybe should back off a little bit,” Jaeckel said. “That reflects well in our stats for the first game.”
Jaeckel tied for the team lead with seven kills.
“Everyone has been giving awesome effort for the past couple of weeks,” Jaeckel said. “We were ready to get out there and have some fun and play.”
Florida (1-0) used 13 of the 15 players on the roster in the victory, allowing four freshmen to see playing time.
“They’ve been amazing since the beginning — the effort they give in practice and how hard the work all the time,” Jaeckel said. “To be able to see them reap the benefits on the court is awesome. We feel comfortable putting any lineup of 15 girls on the court. We all feel comfortable playing with each other. I think that we really trust each other and know that everyone’s going to get the job done. It’s always fun seeing someone go out there and play the first time because you remember how you felt. We just reminded them to breathe and have some fun out there.”
One redshirt freshman, Taylor Unroe, started the match at libero and made the first serve of the season for the Gators.
“I’m sure she shocked everyone, but it’s no surprise to us how great she is and how hard she works,” Jaeckel said. “We’ve been lucky to have her since last year. She got to see last year, being injured and having to redshirt, what it was like and the level of play. From there, she’s gotten so much better. We’re really glad that she’s on our side.”
Florida head coach Mary Wise and her staff were confident in Unroe, but also expected nerves to play a role in her debut.
“She’s a redshirt freshman, but this is her first match in the O-Dome,” Wise said. “You can see the poise that she plays with. She’s got a really high volleyball IQ. Taylor’s one of those players that there will be times where the game is almost in slow motion because she sees it so quickly. You can see why we were so excited when she chose Florida because we knew she’s an elite, elite serve-receive player. Tonight I was surprised that the box score only said nine digs because I thought she had more than that. It seemed like when the ball touched her arms, good things happened for the Gators.”
Unroe led UF with four of the Gators’ 14 service aces.
“Obviously, it’s the 14 aces that would jump out,” Wise said. “In terms of our jump servers, we really got in a good groove. That will happen, but some nights we’re not going to be able to generate as many points from behind the service line. When that happens, we have to be better in blocking and defense. For the third set, we weren’t very sharp. That’s something we will address. For the first match of the season, lots of people got playing time and a lot of people with little experience got playing time, and that was good.”
Senior middle blocker Cassandra Anderson led all players with a .667 hitting percentage on six kills, but also a team-high four blocks.
“It feels great to know that all of our hard work the past few weeks is paying off,” Anderson said. “It was a great starting point, and we know that we can get better.”
Wise was happy with the Gators’ nine blocks, as UF held Boston College (0-1) to a -.029 hitting percentage but agreed that the team could have recorded more.
“The ace serves will catch your eye; but when your team serves well, blocking becomes a lot easier,” Wise said. “It’s the very first number I look at in a box score. If we’re averaging close to three blocks per set, then we’re going to be able to compete with teams. Blocking makes up for errors. You may not be able to get a good swing, but in transition if you can block balls — and we left some out there. Those right-side blockers will be getting some extra work tomorrow because we felt like they left some out there.”
Florida senior outside hitter Stephanie Ferrell had seven kills and one error on 14 attempts, a sign that she has adjusted her offensive strategy.
“The biggest different in Steph’s game right now, compared to last year, is she’s much more patient as a hitter,” Wise said. “Steph was your batter who thought that on every pitch she would go for the home run. Now she’s learning that you take the ball the other way. It’s okay. Not every ball has to be an 80-mile per hour kill, although a lot of those seven kills she had tonight were.”
Ferrell added a service ace, three digs and a solo block while keeping her teammates playing at a high level.
“You see the energy she plays with,” Wise said. “She has a smile that can light up the entire O-Dome. It’s the rest of her game that we’re so pleased with, how far she’s come in other areas.”
Florida sophomore Chanel Bown led the Gators with 16 assists while senior Kelly Murphy added 11 of her own. Murphy had three aces and five kills.
Florida played in front of 3,600 fans only four times last season, but an announced crowd of 3,612 was on hand for Friday’s match.
Wise visited UF students in the Tolbert Area Residence Halls this week to encourage a large student turnout for the match.
“The crowd was outstanding,” Wise said. “I don’t think we’ve had a student turnout like that since the early 90’s, since those students were born. That’s how long ago it was. The O-Dome is a terrific venue. It’s one of the elite volleyball venues in the country. We’ve got such a nucleus of awesome fans, but we just haven’t had the student section. The student section is what makes places tough to win in. You create that, I hope those students had a great time and they’ll come back, but that was awesome to see tonight.”
Florida will continue the Active Ankle SEC/ACC Challenge on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. against North Carolina (1-0).
“In (Saturday’s) match against North Carolina, serving-passing will be the whole deal because of what a great serving team they are,” Wise said. “If we can handle their serve there are some things we can do with our foot speed. They are a veteran team and a great-serving team, so it should be a great match.”
The Tar Heels defeated Auburn 3-0 (25-15, 25-21, 28-26) in the first match on Friday. UNC’s Emily McGee has a match-high 13 kills, Cora Harms had a match-high 22 assists and Kaylie Gibson had 13 digs.
Boston College will face Auburn (0-1) at 5:30 p.m.