The No. 11 Florida Gators volleyball team remains undefeated in Southeastern Conference play as they defeated the Auburn Tigers in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Sunday afternoon.
The Gators swept the Tigers (25-19, 25-19, 25-15) behind the aggressive offensive play of senior Betsy Smith and junior Chloe Mann.
“As we controlled the first contact better, the game plan became pretty evident and that was get the ball to the middle,” UF coach Mary Wise said. “Thirty-one kills out of our middles in three sets is pretty impressive. It’s impressive by the hitters, by the setter and by the passers.”
Smith was nearly flawless dominating the net with 11 errorless kills off of 12 swings. The middle blocker hit off of a career-high .917 hitting percentage.
“The thing that makes Betsy so special, besides the fact I see her as the face of Florida volleyball, is she really exemplifies what this team is about in terms of working hard, grinding, getting better, as she has throughout her five years,” Wise said. “The other day, she had more digs than she did kills, and she took great pride in her digs. She works hard every day in all aspects of the game. She’s not the fastest and she’s not the biggest jumper that we’ve had come through here, but we’ve had very few that worked harder. Those numbers are a reflection of her work ethic.”
Mann was unstoppable playing middle blocker and tied her career-high mark for kills with 20 against Auburn. Mann recorded a .679 hitting clip and stuffed seven blocks to also set a new season high.
The Gators improve to 15-2 on the season and 9-0 in the SEC while the Tigers fell to 13-6 on the year and 4-5 in conference play. Florida now leads the all-time series against the Tigers 39-1.
As the Gators registered a .316 hitting percentage, they held the Tigers to a mere .176 hitting clip. Though both teams recorded 10 team blocks, Florida had 11 more kills than the Tigers.
Junior setter Taylor Brauneis notched 41 digs on the afternoon while sophomore libero Taylor Unroe led the match with 11 digs. Unroe also served up two aces against the Tigers.
Sophomore defensive specialist Madison Monserez and SEC Offensive Player of the Week Ziva Recek each picked up nine digs and Recek added seven kills for the Gators.
“We got into a pretty good serving rhythm, and when you serve well it allows you to block better and to dig better,” Wise said. “But I think the tone was set in the back-to-back plays that Madison and Taylor Unroe made, and then they just carried it.”
Freshman outside hitter Gabby Mallette added six kills for the Gators while senior right-side hitter Tangerine Wiggs notched a season-high five blocks against the Tigers.
The first stanza was a back and forth battle between the Gators and the Tigers. Florida went on a couple of quick 2-0 runs led by Smith to extend their lead to 21-17 and force Auburn to call the first timeout of the match.
Out of the timeout Mann crushed a kill and the Tigers made and attacking error. Auburn was forced to call another timeout as the Gators led 23-18. Auburn responded with a kill out of the timeout, but it was Mann who closed out the set with two back-to-back kills to give Florida the win, 25-19.
In the second frame Mallette was on fire, scoring three consecutive kills to gain Florida a 4-1 lead. From that point on though, the Tigers were on top of their game tying the set up at 4-4 after an attack error on the Gators. Points were exchanged back and forth until Recek’s kill gave Florida an 11-10 edge. The Gators never lost the lead after that forcing Auburn to call a timeout after Mann and Recek each got a kill.
Once again it was Mann who delivered the kill to close out the set, 25-19. The Gators went into intermission with a 2-0 advantage.
A kill from Smith started off the third set and Florida’s momentum kept flowing from there. Auburn was forced to call a second timeout after the Gators had gained a 7-point lead over them 14-7.
Out of the timeout, the Gators went on a 5-0 run to extend their lead to 11, 21-10. Unroe followed up that run with a service ace as Auburn trailed 11-23. Wiggs set Florida up for match point, but the Tigers held off the Gators for three match points before Recek nailed a kill to end the match, 25-15.
Leading the Tigers was senior outside hitter Sarah Bullock and sophomore outside hitter Hallee Kearney. Bullock and Kearney combined for 15 kills and Bullock led the Tigers with eight digs.
“Their No. 16 (Hallee Kearney) had a great night for Auburn tonight,” Smith said. “So we made a few slight adjustments with the blocking and the defense and that ended up working really well for us.”
Setters Chelsea Wintzinger and Ciara Richards combined for 31 assists on the afternoon while junior defensive specialist Sarah Wroblicky notched seven digs. Wintzinger also added seven digs for Auburn.
Junior middle blockers Chloe Rowand and Courtney McDonald each registered six kills and combined for six blocks. Junior middle blocker Camila Jersonsky led Auburn in blocking, stuffing five.
The Gators are back in action next weekend as Florida hits the road to face Alabama and Texas A&M on its home turf. On Friday, the Gators take on the Crimson Tide at 8p.m. and face the Aggies at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
The Texas A&M match will be on ESPNU, but both games can be heard live on 103.7 The Gator.
Gator Country reporter Elizabeth Rhodes can be reached at email@example.com.