LEXINGTON, Ky. – No. 13 Florida (8-2) looked like a team on a mission Sunday, as the Gators swept No. 24 Kentucky (6-5) 3-0 (25-21, 25-14, 25-18), in front of a crowd of 1,898 at Memorial Coliseum.
Florida’s veteran hitters led the way offensively, as seniors Betsy Smith and Tangerine Wiggs each notched 10 kills on the afternoon, hitting .444 and .556, respectively. Junior middle blocker Chloe Mann led all players with a match-high 12 kills against the ‘Cats and hit .579 to go along with three blocks.
Florida’s freshman hitting duo of Gabby Mallette and Živa Recek combined for 10 kills and four blocks against Kentucky, while junior setter Taylor Brauneis dished out 36 assists. Brauneis directed the Gators to a .376 hitting percentage, marking the eighth match of 2012 where the Gators hit above .300.
Defense was a major theme, as sophomore libero Taylor Unroe had one of the best matches of her career, tallying 17 digs (5.67/set) and registering a perfect serve receive percentage for the ninth match this season.
The match marks the 1,000th match played in Florida volleyball history. The Gators hold an 823-177 all-time record since the reinstatement of the program in 1984. Sunday’s sweep is the first 3-0 victory on the road over the Wildcats since November 11, 2007.
The Gators held the Wildcats to a .150 hitting clip, their lowest hitting percentage against Florida since Sep. 17, 2010. UK, leading the SEC in blocks prior to Sunday’s match (2.89/set), tallied just 2.0 blocks on the afternoon while UF stuffed 8.0 blocks.
Florida jumped out to a 6-1 lead, using defense and a great serve receive to score points in transition. Kentucky called timeout after Recek slammed one through the seam of the Wildcat block with Florida ahead, 9-3. The Wildcats jumped out to a 4-0 run after the timeout to pull within two, 10-8. A Recek-Smith stuff block and a tip by Recek put Florida up 16-12.
A Mallette kill off the block widened the gap to put the Gators ahead, 19-15, forcing a Wildcat timeout. A solo stuff for Mallette continued the Florida momentum as the Orange and Blue pulled away, 21-16. A Recek slam down the line set up a set point at 24-21 and Smith re-directed an errant free ball for a kill to take the set, 25-20.
The teams traded points to open the second stanza, with an Unroe ace putting Florida ahead, 4-2. A tip behind the block by Smith forced a Wildcat timeout with the Gators ahead, 10-5. The Orange and Blue kept the five-point advantage throughout the middle of the set, with a kill by Wiggs in transition forcing a Kentucky timeout at 16-10.
A Wiggs kill urthered the Florida lead, 17-12, and two solo blocks by Recek put Florida within three points of the set at 22-12. A Kentucky hitting error set up a set point at 24-13 and a Smith kill off the slide gave the Gators the two-set lead 25-14.
The third set was tight from the outset, but setting choices by Brauneis split the Kentucky block early in the third, as Florida began to pull ahead at 9-7. A 3-0 run by UK, including back-to-back blocks, tied the set at 10-10 and forced a Florida timeout. The sides continued to battle and back-to-back defensive displays by Unroe kept the momentum on the Gators’ side, as Kentucky called timeout, UK down 17-15.
Mallette cut inside the Wildcat block to get the Gators to 20-18. Mann killed the overpass to spark a Florida run and force Kentucky to burn its final timeout, with the Gators leading, 21-18. Another Mann overpass continued the Gator momentum and she put down a solo stuff to put Brauneis on the service line at 23-18. Mann, a junior setter, aced the ‘Cats and Mann slammed one home to put away the set and the match 25-18.
This is the Gators’ first win against a ranked opponent this season. Florida is 106-82 all-time against ranked opponents.