VOLLEYBALL: Gators Get Lift From "The Shark"

At first, the new hair do was just for fun, something to provide a light moment for the fourth-ranked Florida volleyball team. Rhian Davis didn't take it seriously when she spiked her hair in the middle --- almost like a fin --- for the Gators' match with Arkansas Friday night but she played so well that she decided to go with it again Sunday afternoon when Florida hosted LSU. Judging by the results, don't expect "the shark" to go away anytime soon.

Davis turned in a season high 12 digs against LSU and she added to the offense with three service aces to help the Gators to their twentieth win of the season, a 30-20, 30-21, 30-20 Southeastern Conference victory over the Tigers before a crowd of 2,002 at the O'Connell Center. Her effort was part of an outstanding defensive effort by the Gators (20-1, 10-0 SEC) who held LSU to a miserable .021 hitting performance. Against Arkansas Friday night, the Gators held the Ladybacks to .076.

"It [the do] was just a little change of pace," said Davis, a junior defensive/serving specialist from Austin, Texas. "I thought it would be something a little bit different that might spark something and loosen everybody up. I'm probably going to stay with it a good while … probably until December and then I'll let it grow back out in the spring but for now, it's kind of fun. I don't know, but I think it gives me a little attitude."

Davis has provided the Gators with a nice complement to right side hitter Amber McCray. McCray provides the big left-handed hits on the front line but then Davis comes in to play the back line and provide the Gators a lift with her difficult to return jump serve. The defense and the points from that position are something that was missing last year for the Gators.

"Amber is giving us those points on the front row and Rhian is giving us points on the back row," said Coach Mary Wise, whose team is 30-1 in actual SEC games played this year, 10-0 in the matches. "Where we have improved so much is her [Davis] digging. We're allowed to transition, go from defense to offense. It's not just keeping the ball from hitting the floor but transitioning to get a kill."

Kills were tough to come by in this match against a tall LSU team that has a win over Notre Dame, the only team that has beaten Florida this year. Long rallies were commonplace as the match provided a nice test of Florida's ability to cover the floor against a taller team with some big hitters. Davis, libero Rachel Engel and setter Angie McGinnis were outstanding with their back line defense. Engel had a match high 18 digs while McGinnis had 15 digs to go with her match-high 34 assists and four kills.

Additionally, outside hitters Jane Collymore and Marcie Hampton continued their outstanding defensive play. Collymore, the senior All-American, had 17 kills and 12 digs to go with two service aces and three blocks. Hampton had six kills and nine digs. Middle blockers Kisya Killingsworth (nine kills) and Kari Klinkenborg (four kills) continued their improved defensive play in the middle.

"I was really pleased with our performance today, particularly on the defensive end," said Wise. "… 72 digs is a lot of digs. I was really pleased with our right side players and the digs they gave us today. Between Rhian and Angie on the right side, they stepped up and kept a very good offensive team from scoring any easy points."

When Collymore brought her high-wire act to Florida, she had a well-deserved reputation as a big time hitter. She's continued to improve as a hitter, but her all-around game has caught up to the power kills. She has become a human highlight reel whether she's hitting at the net or playing stellar defense on the back row.

It's the kind of performance that Wise has come to appreciate and expect from the 6-0 outside hitter from Colorado.

"She scored 22 points, 17 from the kills, the two aces and the three blocks," said Wise. "Todays performance made it difficult on LSU when she was on the front row and on the back row. Jane was pretty special today."

Collymore says that the improved defense can be attributed to experience and a growing comfort with the players on the back row. She said that the comfort level she has with her teammates on the back row not only keeps the defense improving, but it makes the game easier, particularly after last season when she played along side Hampton, who was a freshman, and Engel, who was making the transition from setter to libero.

"I think you can attribute so much of what we've been able to do to experience," she said. "Last year was our first year passing and playing defense together. Having that one year playing together has helped us this year because we're really starting to gel. We've become really intuitive about where we are on the court. We've got such a good feel for each other that I think it helps us get very good court coverage."

Wise sees the improved blocking and serving to go with the experienced back row defense as keys to Florida's improvement since the season began. All three of those areas were question marks when the season began and now they are becoming areas of strength. Like Collymore, Wise says much of the improvement has to do with experience.

"You don't see many freshmen come in and in those skill areas light it on fire," said Wise. "There was no substitute for that last year. What we're doing now is reaping the benefits of a more experienced team."

Florida will be away from home the next two weekends. Florida will be at South Carolina next Friday night and at Tennessee on Sunday. The Gators won't return to the O'Connell Center until November 11.


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