The No. 13 University of Florida Gators (19-3, 13-0 SEC) swept the Georgia Bulldogs (25-15, 25-23, 25-14) in the O’Dome Friday evening to keep their undefeated record in the SEC alive. The Gators improve to a 19-3 on the year and 13-0 in conference play while the Bulldogs fall to 13-10 on the season and 7-6 in the SEC.
Junior middle blocker Chloe Mann led the match with 14 kills hitting on a .619 clip. Freshman outside hitter Ziva Recek recorded a double-double, following up Mann’s performance with 12 kills and scooping up a match-high 11 digs. Senior middle blocker Betsy Smith put up a match-high of four blocks and added two kills for the Gators. Whaley added five kills against the Bulldogs while senior right-side hitter Tangerine Wiggs had four.
“We knew all week that Georgia was much improved,” Smith said. “We’ve been really focused on beating Georgia tonight. We knew that was a huge win for us. We felt really good about it. Our backcourt defense did a really good job executing the game plan.”
Junior setter Taylor Brauneis led the match with 33 assists and added six digs against the Bulldogs. Sophomore defensive specialist Holy Pole led the match with aces serving up four and adding six digs for the Gators. Sophomore libero Taylor Unroe had three aces on the night and eight digs against the Bulldogs while sophomore defensive specialist Madison Monserez added seven.
“With Taylor Brauneis setting, we have so many options offensively. We feel if we can give Taylor at least two options, ideally three, that we can side-out on a consistent basis,” Florida head coach Mary Wise said. “That’s what we’ve been pretty good at all year with Taylor Unroe anchoring the serve-receive.”
In the first stanza the Bulldogs grabbed an early 5-3 lead after going on a 3-0 run due to superior blocking. A kill by Mann broke the run putting the Gators within 1 of Georgia, 4-5. Back-to-back kills from Recek and freshman outside hitter Berkley Whaley tied the set up at 7 all and an attacking error on Georgia gave the Gators their first lead of the match, 8-7. After two consecutive hitting errors on the Bulldogs, Georgia took the first timeout of the match as the Gators led 11-8.
Out of the timeout, Unroe served up an ace and Whaley got a kill to extend Florida’s lead by 5, 13-8. Pole then served up an ace and Brauneis got a kill to force the Bulldogs to call their second timeout as Florida led 18-11. Mann and Recek combined for four kills to close out the first stanza. After a kill by Recek the Gators led 24-15 and an attacking error on the Bulldogs ended the first set in Florida’s favor, 25-15.
In the second stanza, Georgia grabbed an early 5-1 lead but the Gators weren’t going away easily. A kill from Recek put the Gators within 2, 4-6 and a kill from Mann put Florida within 1, 6-7. Recek tied the set up at 7 all and another kill from Mann gave Florida their first lead in the second set, 8-7. Georgia called a timeout after an attacking error on the Bulldogs gave Florida a 9-7 advantage.
A kill from Recek kept Florida’s 1-point edge, 10-9, and a service ace from Unroe gave Florida a 12-9 advantage. After Pole served up two consecutive aces and Smith got a kill, the Bulldogs called a timeout as Florida led 17-11.
Georgia wasn’t going away though and started chipping away at points. After a kill by Georgia and an attacking error on Florida, the Gators called a timeout as their lead was cut down to three. An ace by Unroe kept the Gators lead alive as Florida led 22-19 but after a 3-0 run by the Bulldogs the score was tied 22 all and coach Wise called her second timeout of the set. Out of the timeout Recek delivered a kill to give Florida a 1-point edge but Georgia came right back with a kill to tie the set up at 23 all. Recek came through for the Gators again with a kill to set Florida for set point and a stuff block by Smith and Brauneis ended the second stanza in Florida’s favor, 25-23.
The Gators got an early lead on the Bulldogs out of intermission after two consecutive hitting errors on Georgia gave Florida a 7-4 advantage. After a 3-0 run sparked by a kill from Whaley, Georgia was forced to call their first timeout in the third stanza as the Gators led 11-5.
Out of the timeout, an attacking error on the Bulldogs gave Florida a 7-point gain, 12-5. A service ace by Unroe gave Florida a 14-9 advantage and a kill by Whaley extended Florida’s lead to 6, 15-9. Georgia called a timeout after a kill from Recek put Florida up 17-9. An ace from senior setter Sundai Weston gave the Gators a double-digit lead, 20-10, and another kill from Recek put the Gators up by 11, 22-11. A service error on the Bulldogs set the Gators up for match point and Mann got the kill to end the third stanza and the match, 25-14.
The Gators are back in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center at 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon to host the 2011 SEC Champion Tennessee Lady Vols. The match will air on CSS and a live stream can be seen through ESPN3. Gators fans can also tune into Country 103.7 The Gator for live updates throughout the match.
“The team that has done the best job of defending is coming in on Sunday,” Wise said of Tennessee. “It will be a great match. This Tennessee team is so talented, offensively and defensively. There is a reason why they were picked to win the league.”
Gator Country reporter Elizabeth Rhodes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.