Saturday, August 30, 2014

UF Roars to 2-0 Start In 2014 Active Ankle Challenge

Florida Gator volleyball is finally back! I was very fortunate today to be able to catch both of the team's games at 12 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. against Georgia Southern and Idaho. The #10 Gators swept both matches 3-0 and in the process reminded me of how dominant they are.

In the first game against the Georgia Southern Eagles, I showed up at the end of the first set due to bike problems that I had to get fixed at the local bike shop on campus. The Gators would win the first set 25-19, and this would be the closest set of them all as they took the next two 25-11 and 25-15, respectively.

I was able to witness the debut of Florida's new freshman middle blocker Rhamat Alhassan. She is easily the tallest player on the team at 6'4 and will serve as an intimidating presence in the front court this season. In her debut, she notched six kills, recorded a block, and assisted on three other blocks. She accounted for 8.5 of the team's total points.

The only player who recorded more kills than Alhassan was redshirt junior Noami Santos-Lamb. After seeing very limited action last year, Santos-Lamb scored eight kills against Georgia Southern, assisted on one block, and recorded two digs. She contributed the second highest amount of team points with 7.5.

Defensively, libero Taylor Unroe began her senior season on the right foot as she registered seven digs and two service aces. She wasn't the only one selling out on defense as fellow seniors Holly Pole and Madison Monserez each recorded five digs. Junior setter Mackenzie Dagostino had the most digs against Georgia Southern with eight. She also tallied 23 assists.

After quickly dispatching Georgia Southern, the team had about a six hour break until their next match at 7:30 p.m against the Idaho Vandals. I went to my afternoon classes after the first match, then arrived at the O-Dome pretty early to watch the Oklahoma/Georgia Southern match. Oklahoma won in four sets, and I think they will pose no threat to the Gators on Saturday.

As for how the Gators did against Idaho, it was another convincing victory as they swept all three sets 26-24, 25-17, and 25-13. Yes, the first set was close, but I attribute this to the nerves the girls might have been feeling with a huge crowd packing the O-Dome for their first night game of the year. The Gators tend to start slow and finish with a bang, and this match was no different.

Rhamat Alhassan brought her 'A' game in just her second collegiate match as she recorded a career high 13 kills while also assisting on three blocks. Fellow middle blocker Simone Antwi was right there with her as she also racked up 13 kills and blocked one ball on the night. The strong play of both UF's middle blockers was critical tonight as they represented 19.5 of the team's 61 points.

Some other offensive stars who stuck out to me were junior Ziva Recek, sophomore Alex Holston, and freshman Carli Snyder. Recek had seven kills and one service ace on the night. Her clutch serving at the end of the first set helped the Gators narrowly take it from Idaho and obtain an important 1-0 lead.

Holston had seven kills as well and was critical in the service game as she notched 4 service aces. She accounted for 11 Gator points, the third highest on the team behind Antwi and Alhassan.

I mention freshman outside hitter Carli Snyder as an offensive standout because she genuinely captivated me tonight. In the Georgia Southern game, I saw just a mere glimpse of her as she played two sets and recorded six kills. Against Idaho, however, each one of her three kills had me jumping out of my seat!

Whether or not my seating location had something to do with this (I sat across the Gator bench in the first game and then sat behind the visitors bench during the second game), all of Snyder's kills seemed to be coming at lightning speed. She has a very powerful attack and I see her as a great offensive asset for the Gators going forward. She also had an amazing block tonight in the third set that had the entire O-Dome rocking.

Speaking of defense, Taylor Unroe was on point in this game as well as she recorded 11 digs with one service ace. Right behind her in this category were Mackenzie Dagostino (9 digs) and Holly Pole (8 digs). Dagostino also had 38 assists on the night, giving her 61 assists between the two games.

I will also mention that junior outside hitter Gabby Mallette did not play in either of the two matches today. I do not know the reason for this. Hopefully she will be back out on the court real soon.

At 2-0, the #10 Gators will be back at it on Saturday as they take on the Oklahoma Sooners (2-0) at 2:30 p.m. Idaho (0-2) and Georgia Southern (0-2) will meet each other in the early game at 12 p.m. Even though the Gators' first football game kicks off at 7:00 p.m., I will definitely be at the O-Dome to support the Gators as they seek to start their season 3-0!

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