GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Their start Friday was less than ideal. The Gators came out sloppy, committed seven hitting errors and dropped the first set to Jacksonville.
"I think the issue was how well Jacksonville played," Gators coach Mary Wise said. "This is women's volleyball 2018. Their players, especially in that first set, without making an error, serving BBs. That's how it goes. Three-nothing wins, that is your mother's volleyball."
She also said the Gators' quick turnaround might've played a factor in the early sloppiness, although she wouldn't use it as an excuse. The Gators beat Florida State in Tallahassee on Wednesday night, so they were playing on about a day and a half of rest.
"In a perfect situation, this team would play the football schedule, one match on Saturday, a week of preparation because we're so young and learning these new positions," she said. "But that's not the schedule that volleyball plays, so what we're doing is growing quickly."
Thanks to one of those freshmen who has grown quickly, UF (7-3) overcame slow starts in the first and third sets to defeat the Dolphins 3-1 in its first match of the Honda of Gainesville Gator Invitational at Exactech Arena/O'Connell Center. More quick turnarounds are ahead, as the Gators will face Florida International Friday at 7 p.m., and Army Saturday afternoon at 2 to wrap up the two-day event.
Thayer Hall was the most heralded member of Florida's No. 2-ranked 2018 signing class, according to PrepVolleyball.com. She was the 2017-18 Gatorade National Player of the Year at Dorman (S.C.) High School and the No. 1 recruit in the country. She wasted zero time in proving why that was the case. In the Gators' season opener against reigning national champion Nebraska, she became the first freshman in the 28-year Wise era to notch 20 kills in her first career match. Two matches later, she became the fastest freshman in program history to reach the 50-kill milestone.
One of the trademarks of a star player in any sport is the ability to carry his or her team when things seem bleak. She had that opportunity on Friday, and passed the test with flying colors.
With the Gators holding a slim 11-7 advantage in the second set, the Hall Takeover began. With Hall serving, the Gators won four straight points, including two service aces. Later in the set, with her team up 22-12, Hall made an athletic play at the net that drew 'oohs and aahs' from the sparse crowd. The ball was set to the left of the antenna, and Hall, from her left-hitter position, tipped the ball with her right hand across the court from a tough angle for the kill. Florida won the set 25-15. It was an impressive run for a true freshman. Then she topped it in the third set - by a lot
UF once again started slowly, falling behind 9-5 and 12-9. Then came the second installment of the Hall Takeover. First, she recorded a kill, which brought her to the service line. From there, Florida won 11 consecutive points, including three more aces. All told, it was a 16-2 Gators run to win the set 25-14 and essentially put the match away. UF won the fourth set comfortably at 25-13.
"The impressive thing is that's a serve that she hasn't used before," Wise said. "So, for her to be able to bring that into this match was what was really impressive."
For the match, Hall had 11 kills, nine digs and three blocks, narrowly missing out on her third double-double. She also hit a career-high .333 and notched a career-best five service aces.
For the season, she leads the team with 148 kills and 4.13 points per set. She's tied with redshirt senior Allie Monserez for the team lead in aces with nine.
As the top recruit, Hall obviously has the physical gifts to be successful, including a 6-foot-3 frame. However, that doesn't always immediately translate to the college level, where seemingly everyone was the best player in her district and an athletic freak in high school and club volleyball.
"Extremely talented," Wise said. "I mean, she's physically just as you see. You can see her size. She's stronger than a lot of freshman that you normally see and has a ton of game, works hard. So, she has both the DNA and the intangibles, but she's still a freshman, and she's playing in her 10th game. We're still very early in the career."
Did you hear that? That was the sound of volleyball coaches around the country bashing their heads into a wall over the thought of Hall two or three years from now. As if she isn't good enough already.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - The No. 11 Gators' volleyball team swept the FIU Panthers in three sets on Friday night.
In its second match of the day, UF came out as strong as ever, taking the first set 25-13. The team continued that momentum in the second frame, winning 25-12 and had complete control in the third set thanks to a 19-0 service run by Thayer Hall to clinch the 25-7 victory.
Paige Hammons led the way with nine kills, tying her season-best mark (Texas, Jacksonville). Taelor Kellum posted eight kills on .889 hitting percentage, with no errors. Thayer Hall added seven kills into the mix as well.
Hammons and Kellum both had great days defensively at the night as well, coming away with four blocks and six blocks, respectively.
Allie Monserez dished out 20 assists and Allie Gregory added 15 digs in the victory.
The Gators return on Saturday at 2 p.m. to face the Army West Point Black Knights, who are 2-0 on the weekend and 5-7 on the season.