The 17th-ranked Florida Gators ended homecoming weekend in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center with two straight sweeps over conference opponents as they defeated the Ole Miss Rebels: 25-13, 25-22, 25-10.
This marks the Gators 17th sweep of the season, as they improve to 19-5 overall and 12-3 in the SEC. The Rebels hit negative numbers in two out of three sets this afternoon, as they fall to 9-15 on the season and 5-11 in conference play.
“Some of the things we worked on in practice were controlling the easy balls, the free balls and some of the tips that we get,” senior setter and right-side hitter Kelly Murphy said. “I think that really helped us to contain in the first set. We just kept it really clean on our side of the net and low error. I thought our serving was really good today; I thought we served aggressive. It kept them out of system because they have really great hitters when they’re in system, and that was part of our goal.”
The Gators led all stats as they registered five more team blocks, knocked down 15 more kills, and scooped up nearly double the number of digs as Ole Miss. Florida outhit the Rebels in all three sets, .293 to .057.
“We talked about a lot keeping out confidence up there, we know we need to be playing our best volleyball at this point in the season,” Murphy said. “In practice it was just focusing on the Gators and working on some of the things we needed to improve on, and I think we did a really good job, especially in today’s game.”
Middle blocker Chloe Mann was unstoppable this afternoon, as the sophomore continues her stellar performance streak, leading the Gators with hitting efficiency. The Gainesville native hit a match-high .667 clip, knocked down 8 kills out of 12 swings and put up a match-high of six blocks, one of which was solo. Senior outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel registered eight kills and nine digs while junior middle blocker Betsy Smith notched seven kills and two blocks.
Murphy recorded five kills, distributed the ball for 14 assists and picked up five digs for the Gators, while sophomore setter Chanel Brown led the match with 17 assists. Junior right-side hitter Tangerine Wiggs and senior outside hitter Stephanie Ferrell each registered four kills, while Wiggs put a stop to three three-balls, and Ferrell put up one block.
Redshirt freshman libero Taylor Unroe notched a match-high 12 digs and put up two assists, while freshman defensive specialist Holly Pole got her first career start against the Rebels and registered a career-high seven digs.
“It was definitely exciting,” Pole said about her playing time this afternoon. “I’ve gotten to play a few points here and there, but I played a lot on Friday and today I actually got my first start, which was really exciting. I’m just fortunate for the opportunity.”
“Seven digs in three sets is definite contribution,” Florida head coach Mary Wise said. “I think Holly realizes there are a few she left out there, but if she gets more experience and more comfortable, I will feel real comfortable either playing Holly or Maddie (Monserez).”
Florida came out strong in the first stanza as they tallied up a quick 8-2 lead, forcing Ole Miss to take a time out. Kristy Jaeckel knocked down three kills in those eight points and put up a block for the Gators. Then Chloe Mann fired away, scoring three consecutive points for the Gators to give them a 12-3 lead. Ole Miss was forced to take another time out when Jaeckel served up an ace to put the Gators up by 10.
Two kills by Kelly Murphy extended Florida’s lead to 11 points, and an error on the Rebels put the Gators up 18-6. A kill by Stephanie Ferrell positioned the Gators at set point, and an attacking error on the Rebels ended the stanza in favor of the Orange and Blue, 25-13. The Rebels made five service errors in the opening set, and the Gators held them to -.120 hitting percentage, even though they only hit a marginal .103.
“The first set was just truly not very clean volleyball. There were 15 unforced errors combined. It would be like watching a basketball game where teams just turn it over in every possession, so there was a fog in the gym in that first set that finally lifted partially in the second set and then lifted fully in the third,” said Wise.
The second set was much closer, as the two teams were tied seven times and there were only two lead changes when the score was tied up at 7-7. Wiggs had two kills in those first seven points for the Orange and Blue. The Gators took an 11-10 lead after the Rebels committed an attacking error, but Ole Miss rebounded back with a kill to tie the score for the eleventh time at 11-11. Jaeckel and Mann then scored back-to-back kills to give the Gators a two-point lead. Betsy Smith knocked down a kill to extend the Gators’ lead 15-13 and forced the Rebels to take a time out. A kill by Murphy gave the Gators a one-point lead at 19-18 after the score was tied at 16-16 and 18-18.
Mann then came out big for Florida as she put up a block and hammered down a kill to give the Gators a 21-19 lead. Ole Miss fired back forcing Florida into two attacking errors to tie the score at 21-21. Wise called a time out to try regain Florida’s composure, and right out of the time out, the team delivered.
Ferrell knocked down a kill and Smith and Wiggs put up a huge block to give the Gators a two-point lead over Ole Miss, 23-21. The Rebels then call a time out, but Ferrell was unstoppable as the senior once again put the Gators at set point on the next play. Ole Miss was able to hold off Florida for one more point, but a kill by Wiggs closed out the stanza, 25-22, giving the Gators the upper hand with two sets under their belt going into intermission.
Out of intermission, the Gators came out strong, blowing out the Rebels, 25-10, holding them to a -.077 for the set while Florida hit a stellar .400. The stanza was close early on until Murphy served up two aces to gain Florida a 10-6 lead, forcing Ole Miss to call a time out. The Gators kept pushing ahead to pull away to a 17-10 lead with two kills from Betsy Smith, forcing the Rebels to call another timeout to try to regroup.
Jaeckel’s serves were on fire as she served up two aces out of the time out and was at the service line for the remainder of the stanza. The Gators ended the set on an 11-0 run with freshman outside hitter Noami Santos-Lamb slamming home a kill to win the match, 25-10.
“We were very happy with the way we played,” Pole said. “In the first set, obviously Ole Miss made a lot of errors which contributed to the score looking so good and in the second set, we kind of let off the gas a little bit, and then in the third set, I think we did a really good job of coming back out and working hard and not letting them have a chance back in the match.”
The Gators hit the road next weekend for another pair of conference matches against LSU (17-8, 10-5 SEC) and Arkansas (17-9, 9-6 SEC). Florida will be in Baton Rouge, LA at 8:00 p.m. on Friday to take on the Tigers in the Maravich Center with Sportsradio 850 broadcasting live play-by-play updates. The Gators then head to the Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville, AR on Sunday for the Razorbacks at 2:00 p.m. on CST/CSS with Sportsradio 850 broadcasting live once again.
“LSU has traditionally, especially if you look in the past four years when Kristy (Jaekel) and Kelly (Murphy) were playing, have played very well against the Gators at home,” Wise said. “So you got LSU team who plays us well—a good match up for us and then Arkansas who is battling. They’re a team who is trying to get that significant win to get into the NCAA tournament. I think we will have our hands full this weekend—both matches.”