The No. 9 Florida Gators volleyball team lost their first match of the season on Monday in a five-set battle with No. 19 Iowa State at home in the O’Connell Center.
Florida dropped the first two sets at 25-19 and 29-27, and came back to win the next two sets by respective scores of 25-17 and 25-18, but could not but the Cyclones away losing the final set 16-14.
Head coach Mary Wise compared the loss to that of a basketball team.
“In men’s basketball they play a lot of games in November and December,” Florida head coach Mary Wise said. “Those are great opportunities for teams to get better. And had we been on the winning side I would have said this: Our team got better from playing a very good Iowa State team that came in here with no fear.”
Florida got into the early deficit thanks to their hitting percentage, which was just .177 in the first two sets while Iowa State’s was .331. After the second set, Wise used the numbers as motivation for the team, but it could not pull out the victory.
“We showed them some numbers and where Iowa State was so significantly better than us was in defensive plays,” Wise said. “They were digging about 80 percent level and we were below 50. You just can’t win matches without the defense. I thought Kristy (Jaeckel), Kelly (Murphy) and Taylor (Unroe) really made some opportune digs that helped us there, we just got to learn to sustain it over an entire match.”
The Gators’ comeback came as their hitting percentage improved greatly to a .360 in the third and fourth sets while the Cyclones dropped to a .145.
The fifth set was a flat out brawl as the two teams scrapped for any point they could get. The score was tied eight times throughout the set, and the biggest lead was by three points. The Gators had the better hitting percentage in this set with a .217 over the Iowa State’s .136, but two attacking errors at the end of the set gave Iowa State the two points they needed to win.
“The story in set five is that we made too many unforced errors,” Wise said. “Iowa State didn’t have to do much because we gave away so many points. That’s disappointing but great opportunity to learn.”
Junior right-side hitter Tangerine Wiggs and junior middle blocker Betsy Smith were huge getting kills and blocking at the most crucial moments in the sets. Wiggs ended the game with 14 kills, and Smith with seven kills and seven blocks.
Jaeckel brought her A-game as usual ending the game with the highest number of kills than anyone else on either team with16. Senior setter/right-side hitter Kelly Murphy had nine kills, 21 digs and seven blocks. Senior middle blocker Cassandra Anderson was also crucial to the Gators forcing that fifth set with 10 kills. Senior outside hitter Stephanie Ferrell got her share of kills with nine.
The Iowa State Cyclones were led by senior right-side hitter Kelsey Petersen with 15 kills, junior middle blocker Jamie Straube who had 13 and freshman outside hitter Hannah Willms added 12. Sophomore libero Kristen Hahn had a huge 25 digs and senior outside hitter Carly Jenson delivered eight kills with 15 digs.
Both the Gators and the Cyclones made many errors when it came to serving. The Gators made 17 service errors while the Cyclones made 11. Five of the Gators’ 17 service errors came in the fifth set.
Wise sees an opportunity for her freshman players to take away a lot from this game, especially defensive specialist Madison Monserez and libero Taylor Unroe.
“Maddy made a big time dig late to help us seal set four, Wise said. “And I think Taylor has learned how hard the libero has to work. And she got better as the match went on.”
The Gators’ next game is in Palo Alto, Calif., against Texas in the Nike Big Four Classic at 11:00 p.m., est.
“It won’t get any easier now going on the road,” Wise said “It will feel very different in terms of road mentality. I will look at the next two matches similar to all the non-conference matches we’ve played so far. This is a chance to get better before the SEC.”