Moscovic provides spark as UF extends NCAA record

Midway through game two Sunday afternoon, Lauren Moscovic knew the Florida Gators needed a lift to break out of a sluggish start against the Arkansas Razorbacks.

"I just figured we needed a little boost and the best way to do that is playing defense which means not letting any ball hit the floor," said Moscovic, a senior from Stockton, California and a two-time All-SEC Academic selection. The starting setter on two Final Four teams, her role has changed this year. She's a defensive and serving specialist for the sixth-ranked Gators, and the opportunity to focus on what she calls her "passion" paid off for the Gators, who rebounded from a 31-29 loss in game one to take the next three games (30-17, 30-25, 30-14) to improve their SEC record to 8-0 and their overall mark to 16-2. The win extended the Gators NCAA record conference regular season winning streak to 138 and overall conference winning streak (regular season and tournaments) to an NCAA record 114.

After that first game loss, the Razorbacks (7-9 overall, 5-2 in the SEC West) were still hanging with the Gators in the second game. Taking over the serve at 13-10, the Gators went on a 10-2 run during which Moscovic played dominating defense from the back line to spark the Gators.

"We turned it around off of the defense of Lauren Moscovic," said Coach Mary Wise. "She made the key digs that let us go from offense to defense and that really ignited our team."

Taking a cue from Moscovic, the Gators began getting consistency in the middle of the floor from senior middle blockers Sherri Williams and Michelle Chatman to disrupt the Arkansas offensive effort. Freshman Marcie Hampton, who wasn't having a good hitting game, helped Moscovic with the defensive turnaround as the Gators dominated the match the remainder of the way.

"Mary (Wise) tells us it's important for the team that if one part of your game isn't working, don't let it affect the rest of your game," said Hampton, whose 13 digs were tops for the Gators. "I knew I wasn't hitting so well, so I had to pick it up on defense."

Hampton was taken out of the game for a couple of minutes in game one. Every time she went to the net to hit, there were Arkansas blockers in her way, forcing her to alter her shots. Clearly frustrated, she was replaced in the lineup briefly by fellow freshman Kari Klinkenborg, who delivered a strong block and made a couple of plays on the back row defensively. Watching from the bench, Hampton settled down, and when she returned to the game, she delivered her best defensive performance of the season.

"After we took her out, she didn't have a single passing error the rest of the night," said Wise. "Every night you're not going to get the big hits, but you can do the other parts of the game. Some of our players don't learn that till much later in their careers so that tells you where Marcie's maturity level is that she can do that in her freshman year."

With Moscovic and Hampton steadying the defense, Jane Colleymore got untracked offensively, powering 22 kills during the match. Colleymore's game wasn't just about hitting though. She scored five aces with her service and 10 digs on defense.

Williams had one of her more dominating games in the middle with two solo blocks and seven block assists to go with 13 kills. She was an imposing presence, consistently getting at least one hand on Arkansas kill attempts. By the fourth game, she had all but eliminated Arkansas's attempts to attack the middle. For the 6-2 senior from Orlando Edgewater, the big game capped a four-match run in which she has been gradually regaining the form that made her a second team All-America during Florida's run to the national championship game last year.

"With Sherri, it's all about her health," said Wise. "She's much healthier now than she was at the beginning of the season and you can see it in her play."

Williams says her game is stepping up because she's a senior.

"It's my senior year," she said. "I only have a few games left and I can't leave here with any regrets. I have to know that I gave it everything I had when I leave here."

Williams took note of Moscovic's tough play on the back line as a key to turning the match around for Florida.

"We just didn't come with enough intensity in that first game," she said. "Lauren really gave us the lift we needed. She got us going with her defense."

Freshman setter Angie McGinnis, who went over 40 assists for the second straight match (49, 41 in Friday night's win over LSU), said "Lauren was amazing. I think that's what turned the game around for us. She was getting to every ball and we got our energy from what she was doing."

Rather than pout about losing her starting position as the team setter, Moscovic has embraced being a defensive specialist, knowing that her defense can be the difference in winning and losing.

Just being able to focus on it (defense) has been great for me," she said. "It's where my passion is in the game, so this has given me a chance to do what I love to do, and if it helps us be a better team, then that's what I want to keep on doing."

The Gators are off until Friday when they travel to Knoxville to meet Tennessee's fourteenth ranked Volunteers (18-1, 8-0 SEC) in one of the key volleyball showdowns in the nation.

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