Oct. 21, 2010
Junior Florida outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel (Littleton, Colo.) recorded a team-high 12 kills on .346 hitting to lead the No. 1 Gators to a 3-0 (25-20, 25-23, 25-20) win against No. 21 Tennessee in a primetime showdown on Wednesday in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
The Gators (17-1, 10-0 Southeastern Conference) conclude the first half of the SEC race with a 10-0 record and improve their record against top-25 opponents to 9-1 this season. Florida, which has played one of the toughest schedules in the nation this season and is rated No. 1 in the latest NCAA Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), has posted nine wins against ranked opponents through its first 18 matches this campaign.
“I think tonight really lived up to it’s billing in terms of a really competitive match,” Florida head coach Mary Wise said. “Our fans got to see one of the premier players not only in the league, but also in the country. Nikki Fowler is a terrific talent and obviously gave us fits as she has for her entire career. When a player is that good and she starts from freshman year, by their senior year they are just so difficult to defend. Things kind of went our way tonight, especially at the end of the first and second set. In the third set, Tennessee was up but the consecutive blocks by Tangerine Wiggs really were the difference-maker and from that point on we got the separation.”
The Gators hit .318 on the match, marking the eighth time this season that Florida has hit better than .300 in a single match, while Tennessee hit .219 on the evening.
Senior outside hitter Callie Rivers (Winter Park, Fla.) charted nine kills and seven kills, while junior right-side/setter Kelly Murphy (Wilmington, Ill.) added a match-high 15 digs, seven kills, 17 assists and a match-high two service aces for 9.5 total points.
“We knew that they were a fast offensive team, so our defense communication especially was going to be huge,” Murphy said. “We tried to touch as many balls as we could and get everything up and back to the other side of the net.”
Junior middle blocker Cassandra Anderson (Bakersfield, Calif.) registered seven kills on a squad-best .455 hitting efficiency, while sophomore right-side Tangerine Wiggs (Seattle, Wash.) recorded six kills on 17 swings with no errors for a .353 hitting efficiency with four blocks. It marked Wiggs’ fourth errorless match of the season. Senior middle blocker Lauren Bledsoe (Long Beach, Calif.) added five kills and four blocks.
Freshman setter Chanel Brown (Tempe, Ariz.) dished out a match-high 19 assists.
The two teams battled evenly to open the first set until, tied at two all, the Gators broke out with three consecutive points thanks to a Jaeckel kill and a pair of Lady Vol ball-handling errors to take an early 5-2 lead. Tennessee battled back by firing off a 3-0 run of its own behind kills from Carly Sahagian and Leslie Cikra, to knot the score at six. A Tennessee service error and a Bledsoe ace quickly gave the Gators a two-point lead at 8-6.
The teams traded points until, at 14-12, a Jaeckel kill and a Murphy service ace stretched the Gators’ lead to four at 16-12. Tennessee kept fighting, running off three consecutive points, highlighted by a pair of Fowler kills and a block from Cikra and Harrison, to cut the Florida lead to one at 17-16. Despite the late push, the Lady Vols couldn’t overtake the Gators’ lead. Ahead 19-21, Murphy and Jaeckel knocked down two consecutive kills to widen the Florida advantage to four at 23-19. From there, the Gators easily closed out the first set 25-20 on a final Murphy kill.
The Lady Vols jumped out to a fast 3-1 lead behind kills from Nikki Fowler and Leah Hinkey to open the second set. The Gators fought back, using a Bledsoe kill and a block from Wiggs and Bledsoe to knot the score at five all. The teams battled evenly until, tied at 10, a Wiggs kill gave the Gators a one-point advantage, but a Fowler kill quickly locked the score again at 11-11.
The teams continued to trade points until, again tied at 17, Florida broke out with a 3-0 run, highlighted by a pair of Anderson kills and another from Murphy, to take a 20-17 lead. Tennessee then fired off three consecutive points of their own behind kills from Cikra and Fowler to once again tie the score at 21. The Gators came back with a Jaeckel kill and a Murphy ace to bring the score to 23-21. Battling until the very last point, Florida wrapped up the second set at 25-23 on a fierce Murphy kill.
To open the third set, Tennessee again raced to a 4-2 lead behind kills from Sahagian and Fowler. A Jaeckel kill cut the Lady Vols’ lead to one at 5-4, but Tennessee immediately responded, running off three consecutive points thanks to two blocks and a Hinkey kill to take a commanding 8-4 lead early in the third set. The Gators battled back, firing off five straight points, highlighted by three kills and a block from Bledsoe and Wiggs to re-take the lead at 9-8.
Two consecutive kills from Fowler and Jeter gave the Lady Vols a slim lead at 10-9, but the Gators went on another 5-0 tear behind a Rivers kill and a block from Wiggs and Anderson to take a strong four-point lead, bring the score to 14-10. Up 17-13, a Bledsoe kill and a pair of Lady Vol errors stretched the Florida advantage to seven at 20-13. The Lady Vols launched a comeback down 21-14, going on a 4-0 run behind kills from Kayla Jeter and DeeDee Harrison to cut the Gators’ lead to three at 21-18. The teams traded points until Florida closed out the hard fought third set and the match at 25-20 on a final Anderson kill.
Tennessee (15-5, 7-4 SEC) was led by Fowler’s 15 kills on .400 hitting with 10 digs for her 11th double-double of the season.
Florida returns to action on Sunday when it plays host to Kentucky. Opening serve in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center is slated for 1:30 p.m. ET and the match will be carried live on WRUF-FM 103.7 with Tom Collett and Missy Whittemore.