The Gators (13-3, 6-1) blocked and spiked their way to straight-sets victory against the LSU Tigers (11-6, 4-3) in front of a packed crowd at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center that cheered for every Florida thunderous kill and sprawling dig across the hardwood.
Florida defeated LSU 25-16, 25-23 and 25-8 for its twelve straight-sets victory this season. Head coach Mary Wise called Sunday’s match the best floor defense performance of the season. The Florida defense kept rallies alive and brought the crazed crowd to its feet—an advantage Florida redshirt freshman libero Taylor Unroe said is a benefit to the Gators.
“When we go on the road and there is not a lot of energy for our side, it is a lot harder to play,” Unroe said. “Playing in environments like that just make it better coming back to the O’ Dome. There are great fans. It just makes us play that much better when they are hyped. The noise on the court is really loud. Playing in the O’ Dome is a hard place to play for opposing teams.”
Fueled by energetic fans, the Gators dominated on defense. Unroe led the Gators with 16 digs. Wise said the 52 total team digs would not have been possible without the play of the blockers up front.
“The block was doing an exceptional job. We look for quality touches. That would be either we block and they cover and LSU did that quite well, or a ball that hits our blockers hands and we can transition,” Wise said. “You don’t see it in the box score, but it is so important from a defensive standpoint. We are able to dig this many balls because of what a great job the block did.”
Florida jumped out to an early lead with a commanding 25-16 first set victory. The second game would not fare as well for the Gators. LSU finally showed why they came into the match as the SEC West leaders.
The Tigers took advantage of a failing Florida service game. The close 25-23 score did not surprise Florida, Wise said.
“We missed so many serves in a row,” Wise said. “We just had a hard time finding the rhythm.”
Ultimately, the power game of senior outside hitters Stephanie Ferrell and Kristy Jaeckel was too much for the Tigers. The duo tallied 11 kills each. With each kill, the outside hitters not only made a dent in the scoreboard, but they also seemed to cause some damage on the gym floor.
Speed is Ferrell’s game, which she is not shy to talk about. Her spikes are even tough to handle in practice, Unroe said.
“Of course I want to hit the ball hard, but it is more trying to hit the ball where the defense isn’t and trying to get kills,” Ferrell said. “If they’re there and I am going to hit their arms, I might as well hit them hard.”
Ferrell is one of the team’s greatest strengths, Wise said. What impressed Wise against LSU was not the speed, but the precision of Ferrell’s shots.
“One of her best shots today was not the 60 mph swing,” Wise said. “It was the off-speed kill to the deep corner, and that is showing in terms of Stephanie understanding not every ball has to be hit that hard.”
In the second game, Ferrell’s day was almost cut short. She landed awkwardly on her ankle after a play at net. The crowd went silent.
“I went up for that tip ball and I just kind of rolled it a little bit,” Ferrell said. “It is feeling great. I think it was more of a scary play for me. I have had a lot of history with this ankle. I will be fine. I am a trooper.”
Going into the matchup against LSU, Florida had a set game plan to deal with the defense-oriented Tigers, Wise said.
“Could we match their defensive effort? Obviously the team (UF) answered the call,” Wise said. “Some really good things happened in that match. LSU’s great offensive players never really got on track, but a lot of that happened because of the pressure we were putting on them with our offense.”
The Gators visit Mississippi Friday at 8 p.m. The Rebels have a 5-10 record overall. In Oxford, UF will look to extend a four-match winning streak.
– Florida now leads the all-time series 33-13 against the Tigers. UF is 30-5 under head coach Mary Wise.
– The Gators are 3-0 in the month of Oct.
– Florida finished with a .368 hitting percentage compared to only .027 from the Tigers.
– Heading into the third set, the Gators had zero blocks. UF earned eight blocks in the last set.
– The attendance for Sunday’s match versus LSU was 2,331 people.