HARRISONBURG, Va. -- A school record 14 block assists from sophomore middle blocker Rhamat Alhassan, a 32 point second-set win for the Orange and Blue after facing an 11-point deficit and a 3-0 sweep on the road were all highlights of No. 4 Florida volleyball's 2015 debut against JMU at Sinclair Gymnasium in Harrisonburg, Va., Saturday.
A feisty James Madison squad made the Gators dig deep, especially in the second frame, for their first win of the 2015 season (25-16, 32-30, 25-18). Senior outside hitter Živa Recek put down a team-leading 17 kills for a .538 hitting efficiency to lead the Orange and Blue offensively, while senior libero Nikki O'Rourke scooped up 17 digs in the back row, two shy of a career high. Senior setter Mackenzie Dagostino served up 42 assists towards UF's efforts.
While Florida worked out some first-match kinks in the initial set against James Madison, six roofs from Alhassan and four error-free slams from Recek powered the Gators to a 25-16 set victory. After the Dukes got on the board first, UF countered, then rattled four points off under sophomore Carli Snyder's serve to get the night started.
It took 32 points in the second, but it belonged Florida in 32-30 fashion for the 2-0 lead. Facing an 11-point deficit to start the frame, while not ideal, proved to be no problem for the Gators, who showed a lot of heart and resilience in battling back. At 21-18 with redshirt freshman defensive specialist Lindsey Rogers on serve, Florida strung together four points to tie the set. A back and forth battle ensued, but Snyder laid down the hammer for set point at 32-30 to give UF a 2-0 lead in the match.
Florida worked quick in the third for a 25-18 finale, sealing its season-opening victory with a sweep.
Three Florida volleyball All-Americans in Alhassan, Simone Antwi and Alex Holston, are back home for UF's season-opening weekend of play. UF's road swing in DC marks the first of seven road matches to open the 2015 campaign for the Gators, who will be tested early and often with three ranked opponents in the stretch, which includes the DC duo, the VERT Challenge in Austin, Texas, and the Outrigger Resorts Volleyball Challenge in Honolulu.
"What our veteran team knows is that when we play these matches on the road, you get team's best shots. James Madison played very, very well. It was a fun match -- that second set going back and forth. A whole lot of credit to the effort of the JMU players and how well they were coached. Our team showed a lot of character in our ability to come back in the second set. After just the first match of the year, our hope is that we can improve from the first match to the second as we've done in the past." - Florida coach Mary Wise
The No. 4 Gators will continue their DMV road swing with a match at American University in Washington, DC, Sunday. First serve is slated for 4 p.m. at Bender Arena. American and Florida will meet for the third time, the last being 2003. The Gators are 2-0 all-time against the Eagles and have won one match each in Gainesville and DC, respectively.