Sweep of Tide punctuates turnaround for volleyball

Sunday's three-game sweep of Western Division SEC leader Alabama (30-20, 30-22, 30-19) punctuated the turnaround as Florida turned in the kind of defensive game that had Coach Mary Wise smiling. <p> "This was one of those matches where our team made huge steps to getting much better," said Wise, whose Gators improved to 12-2 overall, 4-0 in the SEC. The victory extended the Gators NCAA record conference winning streak to 110 games, and the regular season conference winning streak to 134.

Florida totally frustrated Alabama's outstanding senior outside hitter Erin Heffner, holding her to a .176 hitting percentage. Heffner managed only 11 kills in three games, well below her norm of nearly six kills per game that goes with a seasonal .319 hitting percentage.

"I felt the very first rally was pretty telling," said Wise. "She had three swings and no kills. We didn't block her but we were touching balls with our blockers and we were making her hit different shots."

For the game, Alabama as a team hit .029.

"The team did such a good job of making the adjustments we needed to make defensively," said Wise. "There's no stat more revealing than the fact Alabama hit just .029."

Florida coupled the great defense with consistent offense. In three games, the Gators had 98 kill attempts, but they hit only nine balls out of bounds. In the middle of the net, Florida got 20 kills in 30 attempts from seniors Sherri Williams and Michelle Chatman. Freshman middle blocker Kisya Killingsworth added five kills in the middle and outside hitter Jane Colleymore had a team high 13 kills.

Williams, an All-American from Orlando Edgewater, set the tone for the match with 11 kills and four blocks, hitting a robust .625. She was dominant in the middle from the opening game, consistently deflecting Alabama shots at the net to go with her blocks. Williams thought the defensive effort got her and the entire team into a good offensive rhythm.

"When we're making good passes and getting blocks in the middle, it sets the tone for the offense," said Williams. "When our defense is good, the offense is usually pretty good, too."

Williams gave a portion of the credit for the weekend's strong offense showing (Florida pounded Auburn in three straight games Friday night) to increased familiarity with freshman setter Angie McGinnis, who finished the match with 38 assists.

"We're getting used to how she sets the ball," said Williams. "She's learned very quickly where I like to hit the ball and where Jane (Colleymore) and the others. She's starting to get the ball consistently where we like to hit it."

"Confidence has a lot to do with it," said McGinnis, listed at 5-11 but who has grown to 6-1. "I was pretty shaky when I started. It was tough getting used to playing in front of big crowds and the intensity of every single play at this level. You can't take a play off at this level like you can when you're in high school."

Wise likened McGinnis's development to that of a quarterback and a set of wide receivers.

"You have to learn the timing and that's what's rough," said Wise. "What's helped her is that she has the ability to set the tight pass at the net and that's easy for her. She's really a talented setter, but she's got so much game in her besides setting. It's the little things that Angie does that makes her so valuable."

McGinnis showed real court awareness in the third game Sunday. With the defense scrambling, the Gators were forced to give Alabama a free ball, but McGinnis was savvy enough to send back a moon shot that arced so high above the net that it forced an Alabama error.

"Aury Cruz (four-time Florida All-America) is the only other freshman we've ever had in this program who knew to make that play," said Wise. "It sounds simple, but not many have the awareness to think and react with a play like that."

The Gators begin a critical five-match set that will go a long way toward determining if they can win a fourteenth consecutive SEC championship. Florida is at Georgia Wednesday, then at Kentucky Friday. After that there will be home matches with LSU and Arkansas followed by a road match at Tennessee, which has cracked the national top 20.

"We can go a long way to defending the conference championship the next five matches," said Williams. "For the seniors that's important. We've won the SEC every year we've been here."

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