Sunday November 18, 2012No. 16 Gators Claim the 2012 SEC Championship Outright with Sweep of South Carolina
It was a total team effort on Sunday, as the No. 16 Florida volleyball team won the 2012 Southeastern Conference title outright with a 3-0 (25-19, 25-14, 25-19) sweep of South Carolina. The Gators are now 23-4 on the year and 17-1 in SEC play with two matches remaining in the regular season. This is the 20th SEC title in the history of Florida volleyball, with all 20 coming under Florida head coach Mary Wise.
“The theme on Friday night was our team’s defense and today was the offense,” Wise said. “We had four people in double-digit kills and hit .464. Taylor Brauneis did a really great job with set distribution and we were just a little bit quicker to the ball and made good decisions. Our goal is trying to put our best defense with our best offense and take it on the road for the last two matches.”
Florida was led by senior middle blocker Betsy Smith (Atlanta, Ga.) and senior right-side hitter Tangerine Wiggs (Seattle, Wash.) who hit .500 (11 kills) and .444 (10 kills), respectively. Freshman outside hitter Živa Recek (Kočevje, Slovenia) turned in her eighth career double-double with a match-high 17 kills and 10 digs.
Junior setter Taylor Brauneis (Crystal Lake, Ill.) dished out 50 assists, tying former All-American Lauren Moscovic for the fifth-most in a three-set match in Florida program history.
Junior middle blocker Chloe Mann (Gainesville, Fla.) registered 12 kills against the Gamecocks, hitting .524, while freshman outside hitter Berkley Whaley (St. Petersburg, Fla.) turned in a perfect seven kills on 11 swings for a .636 hitting clip.
On the defensive side of things, sophomores Taylor Unroe (Muncie, Ind.) and Holly Pole (Ocala, Fla.) registered 14 and 10 digs apiece, while sophomore Madison Monserez (Orlando, Fla.) recorded nine.
“It’s unbelievable,” Smith said of winning the SEC title. “At the beginning of the season it’s something we always say is our goal, and it’s been so special this season. Through all the ups and downs we’ve had with injuries and sicknesses, and with the young freshman class it’s taken all of us, a full team effort, and that’s what’s so special about this win today and winning the SEC.”
The Gators took the title despite having eight new players on the floor, a torn ACL sustained by Noami Santos-Lamb (Carolina, Puerto-Rico), illnesses and injuries, and five departing seniors from 2011.
Senior Sundai Weston (Naples, Fla.) recognized that as much as Senior Day is about the senior class, it is also about the family standing with them.
“To have them be able to stand there with me in that moment and have them recognized for everything they’ve done,” Weston noted. “As much as we put in the hours every day in the gym, it’s about our parents and all the countless hours they’ve driven us to practice and what they’ve done to get us here. Four years doesn’t happen without the 22 or 23 that they’ve given to us of their own lives.”
Florida took the opening frame, 25-19. Florida jumped out to a 4-0 lead with Brauneis behind the service line, utilizing back-to-back kills by Wiggs. An Unroe service ace pushed the lead to five, 7-2, and a Brauneis dumped kill put the Gators at double figures, 10-3. Florida continued to roll and a Wiggs slam from the middle sparked a 4-0 rally to go ahead 21-14, bookended by a Brauneis-Smith roof. The Florida block continued to wreak havoc and a Brauneis-Mann stuff ended the set in the Gators’ favor, 25-19.
The second set went Florida’s way, 25-14. Brauneis served up an ace to get the Gators to double digits, 10-6, and earned another one to lead at 12-6. Back-to-back Whaley slams and kills by Recek and Smith put Florida up by double figures, 19-9. A Brauneis dumped kill put Florida ahead, 22-11, and three straight Mann kills gave the Gators the second stanza, 25-14.
The third stanza favored Florida, 25-19. A Recek kill started the set off well for the Orange and Blue, and a Whaley slam put Florida ahead, 5-3. South Carolina scored two straight but Smith earned a kill off the slide to break the tie, 6-5. Monserez scrambled for a save during a long rally between the teams and kept the play alive for the Gators, tying things at 8-all. Whaley nailed her seventh kill of the afternoon to lead 12-10 and a Smith kill off the quick set put the Gators ahead, 14-10. A Recek kill out of backrow put Florida up by four, 15-11, heading into the media timeout, and Smith nailed her 10th kill of the match to put the Orange and Blue ahead, 16-11. A Mann kill got the Gators to the double-decade mark, 20-14, forcing a Gamecock timeout. South Carolina went on a run to cut the Gator lead to four, 21-17, but Recek terminated the rally with a slam through the block, 22-17. Fittingly enough, a senior put the match away for the Orange and Blue, as Wiggs slammed it through the seam of the SC block, 25-19.
The Gators hit the road for their final SEC matches of the season, traveling to Auburn and Georgia over Thanksgiving. The Orange and Blue head to Tiger Country to face Auburn at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday evening. Florida will travel on the Thanksgiving holiday to Athens, Ga., as the Gators take on the Georgia Bulldogs at 7 p.m. ET on Friday night to close the 2012 regular season.
“This is all about putting ourselves in the best position come selection show,” Wise commented. “In the last week of the season, right before the NCAA committee is making their decision, we want to have Florida in the best possible light that we can and we can do that with just four losses, that would be great. But most importantly, we want to be playing our best volleyball at the end of the year and that’s what we’re going to be working on with the players and selling them on.”
The NCAA Selection Show will take place on Sunday, November 25th at 4 p.m. on ESPNU. With the win today, Florida earns the SEC’s automatic bid for the NCAA Championships.
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