Friday November 16, 2012No. 16 Gators Clinch Share of 20th SEC Title with 3-1 Victory over LSU
The No. 16 University of Florida volleyball team clinched at least a share of the 2012 Southeastern Conference championship on Friday evening, storming back from a first-set defeat to claim a 3-1 (22-25, 25-22, 25-11, 25-13) victory over the LSU Tigers. The win puts the Gators (22-4, 16-1 SEC) in the driver’s seat of the SEC race, as the Orange and Blue need just one more victory to claim the conference crown outright.
Florida’s defense led the way on Friday night, as both the block and the back row kept the Gators neck-and-neck with the best digging defense in the SEC. Sophomore libero Taylor Unroe (Muncie, Ind.) led the way for Florida with a career-high 27 digs on the night, playing arguably one of the best matches of her career. Sophomore defensive specialist Holly Pole (Ocala, Fla.) scooped 14 digs against the Tigers to go along with a match-high two service aces, both at crucial moments in the third stanza. Freshman outside hitter Živa Recek (Kočevje, Slovenia) turned in her seventh double-double with 14 kills and 18 digs.
“Obviously, LSU played very well and came out with so much energy, and digging the way we know they can,” Florida head coach Mary Wise said. “I thought we were very impatient. We probably showed more of the youth that is on our team that we would expect earlier on in the season than in November, but I think we were just a little bit anxious.
The defense was the part that got us back into it,” Wise continued. “It started with the plays of Holly Pole. There was a series there that kept LSU from scoring any points and I thought that good defense can be contagious and Taylor Unroe played some of the best defense of her career in sets three and four. We’ve been a lot about our offense, but tonight it was the defense that won the match.”
Junior middle blocker Chloe Mann (Gainesville, Fla.) stuffed a career-high-tying seven blocks on the night and senior right-side hitter Tangerine Wiggs (Seattle, Wash.) roofed six blocks against the Tigers. Both Mann and Wiggs tallied eight kills apiece. Senior middle blocker Betsy Smith (Atlanta, Ga.) had a balanced performance with 11 kills on 20 swings (.400) and four blocks on the evening. Junior setter Taylor Brauneis (Crystal Lake, Ill.) dished out 38 assists to go along with five digs against the Tigers.
The teams battled to open the frame, with a Smith-Brauneis stuff block giving the Gators a slight edge, 6-5. Back-to-back Smith kills kept the Florida lead at one, 9-8, but LSU won back-to-back long rallies and began to pull away, forcing a Florida timeout with the Gators down 11-13. Recek slammed a kill out of system to pull within one of the Tiger lead, down 17-18. Brauneis served up an ace to tie the stanza, 19-all, and Mann swiped an overpass kill to take a 20-19 lead. Out of the Tiger timeout, LSU scored five straight to get to set point, 24-20, and the Purple and Gold took the opening frame, 25-22.
An ace by Unroe started things off strong for the Gators but LSU quickly jumped out to a 7-4 lead. Florida pushed back and pulled within one, down 7-8, with a Mann-Wiggs stuff block. A solo roof by Berkley Whaley (St. Petersburg, Fla.) kept things tight, down 9-10. A Wiggs kill and ensuing Smith-Whaley block tied the set at 16-all. The Gators kept charging to the end, reaching the double-decade mark after an LSU attacking error, 20-17. The Tigers pulled within one of the Gator advantage, 23-22, but an LSU service error gave set point to the Orange and Blue, 24-22. A Mann solo stuff tilted the frame in Florida’s favor, 25-22.
The Gators raced out of the gate in the third frame, jumping out to a 10-1 lead thanks to strong defense at the net and in the back court. A Brauneis-Smith stuff block at 6-1 kept a large Gator lead and back-to-back kills by Recek put Florida ahead, 9-1. A Mann slam out of the middle extended the advantage to 10, 13-3. Kills by Wiggs and Recek pushed the Gator lead to a dozen, 15-3, and Florida kept rolling, as a Smith overpass kill put UF at the double-decade mark, 20-6. A Recek slam after a long rally got the Gators within two of the set, 23-11, and a Mann kill off the quick gave Florida set point, 24-11. A Tiger attacking error put the set in the Gators’ hands, 25-11.
The Gators jumped out to a 4-0 lead early in the fourth, using kills by Smith, Recek and two from Whaley to get ahead. A Pole ace kept Florida out in front, 6-1, and a Mann-Wiggs stuff block got the Gators in double figures, 10-7. Pole served up another ace out of the LSU timeout at 14-9 and a Smith overpass kill gave Florida a six-point lead, 15-9. The Gators continued to roll, using phenomenal back row defense from Madison Monserez (Orlando, Fla.), Pole and Unroe to keep rallies alive. A Mann-Wiggs block put UF at the double-decade mark, 20-11, and a Recek service ace got the Gators within three of the match, 22-13. Two Mann-Wiggs roofs in the final three points sealed the set and match victory for the Orange and Blue, 25-13.
The Gators will attempt to earn the SEC title outright on Sunday as they host the South Carolina Gamecocks on Florida’s Senior Day. First serve is set for 1:30 p.m. ET and the Gators will honor seniors Betsy Smith, Sundai Weston and Tangerine Wiggs before the match on Sunday. Fans are encouraged to be in their seats at least 10 minutes prior to the scheduled start of the match to support these seniors during their final introductions.
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