SEC play continued for the No.6-ranked Gators Friday night in Gainesville as they defeated the Kentucky Wildcats in four sets: 25-12, 25-19, 23-25 and 25-18. This improves the Gators’ record to 9-2 and 2-0 in conference play. The Gators’ outhit the Wildcats .417 to .284 and collected three more blocks than them.
Leading the Gators were the seniors as outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel led the match-kills with 15. Setter/right-side hitter Kelly Murphy had 9 kills and 19 assists and outside hitter Stephanie Ferrell collected a season-high attacking percentage of .588 with 11 kills.
“Stephanie Ferrell was terrific,” Florida head coach Mary Wise said. “One of the best matches she’s had. I can’t say enough positive things about Stephanie in terms of how she went from a hitting slump and worked her way out of it. She came to practice early, watched film, took meaningful reps and just worked her way out of it.”
Middle blocker Cassandra Anderson put up three critical blocks when the Gators’ were in need of them the most and contributed five kills with an attacking percentage of .400.
“Another player who made great strides was Cassandra Anderson,” Wise said. “The three blocks, the hitting .400. She just didn’t get enough balls. That was one of her best matches.”
Redshirt freshman libero Taylor Unroe led the team with 11 digs and freshman Madison Monserez reached her career high with nine.
“I think Maddie is really playing awesome right now,” Ferrell said. “To put such pressure on her as a freshman, I think she takes it all in stride and it’s not even stressing her at all.”
The Gators’ took full control of the first set never letting Kentucky have a lead once. Jaeckel led this set as she had six out of her 15 total kills in this set alone.
Early in the second set the score stayed close with four ties, up until Florida went on a 7-0 run to gain a 17-12 lead. The Wildcats then chipped away at points and went on a 4-0 run to cut the Gators’ lead to two as the score was 19-17. Wise then called a time out and when Florida stepped back onto the court, they closed out the set, 25-19. Four of Ferrell’s kills came in this set along with five more of Jaeckel’s.
The third set was close early on until the Wildcats gained a 14-13 lead and never gave it up after that. The Gators’ held them off for three set points but a kill by Kentucky’s senior middle blocker Becky Pavan gave the Wildcats the winning set point.
The fourth set was similar to the first as Florida was in the lead for the entire set. Ferrell and Jaeckel added three more kills in this set apiece.
The Kentucky Wildcats were led by junior setter Christine Hartmann as she led the match with 37 assists, contributed seven kills and had 10 digs. Sophomore outside hitter Whitney Billings and senior middle blocker Becky Pavan added 13 kills each while junior defensive specialist/libero Stephanie Klefot led the Wildcats with 12 digs.
Preparing for their next SEC challenge, the Gators will continue to step up their game and improve on what they feel needs work the most.
“Just keep improving on our side of the net,” Jaeckel said. “We are still working out little kinks here and there. Definitely defense is something we really try to take ownership in and pride in and I still think we can take it to a whole ‘nother level.”
The Florida Gators’ next game will be on Sunday at 5 p.m., in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center against the Tennessee Volunteers.
“Tennessee is a team that has some youth, but very, very talented youth,” Wise said. “It’s a match on Sunday that everyone needs to bring their A-game. To have any chance of winning this league, you got to win the ones at home and that’s not going to be easy this weekend.”
Gator Country reporter Elizabeth Rhodes can be reached at email@example.com.