BATON ROUGE - The LSU volleyball team fought hard in all facets of the match and extended No. 16 Florida to a four-set battle [25-22, 22-25, 11-25, 13-25] Friday in-front of a raucous 3,150 fans at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center.
Entering the match, the Gators (22-4, 16-1 SEC) had registered a .308 team hitting percentage which not only paced the SEC but was second nationally. LSU (12-15, 8-10 SEC) limited the high-octane Florida attack to a season-low .177 hitting percentage for the match.
UF used six stuffs in the fourth set to double its total and gain a 12-8 blocking advantage over the Tigers. The Gators also outdug LSU by a 73-60 margin. The victory enabled Florida to clinch a share of the SEC regular season title.
"Honestly, I have nothing but great things to say about the effort that our team gave tonight," head coach Fran Flory said. "I have a lot of pride coaching them because they played as hard as they could play in a hostile environment. We tried a little too hard in certain situations. At the same time, you have to credit Florida. They took it to a different level during the final two sets. We weren't able to respond to that. It was different level of play for us during the first two sets with a new look. I thought our kids played with great heart and great passion."
Madie Jones fueled LSU's offense with 11 kills, while Marissa Maas pounded home a season's best seven kills on a crisp .375 hitting percentage and added three blocks. Khourtni Fears chipped in five kills and three stuffs.
Cati Leak and Desiree Elliott slapped seven and five kills, respectively. However, the duo was forced into a negative hitting clip and committed 19 of LSU's 27 hitting errors for the match. Elliott came away with a career-high 11 digs, the first time she has totaled double figure scoops in her career.
Malorie Pardo nearly missed her 12th double-double of SEC action. The sophomore setter passed out 27 assists, eight digs and three kills on four errorless swings.
Meghan Mannari sprawled out for 19 digs and recorded LSU's only ace. The 19 scoops for Mannari allowed her to pass Detra Brown (1983-86) for the No. 9 spot on the program's all-time list. The Tigers were plagued by a season's high 17 service errors.
"Marissa played with a different level of intensity tonight, that was nice to see," Flory said. "She blocked well and was a stabilizer out there for us. I thought she was very reliable with her effort. She also did a great job in transition offense. Those are the workhorse type of points where you have to bust it. She created opportunities and was able to finish some big swings for us."
Florida's Živa Recek popped nine of her team-leading 14 kills over the final two sets. She posted a .102 hitting ratio, her second-lowest output of the season. The three-time SEC Freshman of the Week recorded 18 digs en route to her seventh double-double of the season.
Chloe Mann, the SEC's leader in hitting percentage entering the match, had to work for her eight kills on 30 swings. The Tigers bottled Mann up for a .167 hitting clip, a season-low for Mann totals when she collects double figure swings.
The key to the match for the Gators was Betsy Smith's performance. She ripped 11 kills for a team-leading .400 attack percentage whereas Tangerine Wiggs cranked eight kills and notched six blocks. Florida's Taylor Unroe reeled in a career-best 27 digs to pace the back line, while Taylor Brauneis distributed a match-high 38 helpers.
The opening set featured a match-best 12 ties and eight lead changes. After splitting the first 22 points of the stanza, LSU ripped off five of the next six points to build a 16-12 edge. Jones buried two kills, and the Gators smacked a pair of service errors. Florida rallied with an 8-3 run and snatched a 20-19 advantage on a Mann kill. Out of timeout, the Tigers pieced together five straight points capped by a Mannari ace to arrive at set point. LSU clinched the 25-22 victory on a Fears solo block on Recek.
The Tigers were poised to take a two-set advantage and grabbed a 15-12 lead on a Jones kill. Florida fired back with eight of the next 10 points to turn the tables for a 20-17 advantage. Down 23-20, LSU made a push behind back-to-back spikes from Leak and Jones to pull within 23-22. After a timeout, Leak committed LSU's eighth service error of the frame followed by a Mann solo block to garner the 25-22 win.
Florida found its offensive rhythm out of the locker room. The Gators banged home 26 kills against six errors for an impressive .339 hitting percentage over the final two sets. The Recek-Smith duo teamed up for those 15 of those spikes. UF also turned up the defensive pressure and garnered seven of its 12 blocks to pick up 25-11 and 25-13 victories to clinch the four-set triumph.
"We knew if we could get this into a transition type of match and get Florida's first contact behind the 10-foot attack line it was going to take them out of what they wanted to do offensively," Flory said. "When we were able to execute that, we won a majority of the points. The problem was we were able to sustain our tough serving and blocking throughout the entire match. You have to credit Betsy Smith, a senior on the Florida side and making a difference in the match. The thing about Florida is you take a few of their hitters away, they have other players that step up."
LSU completes its four-match road swing Sunday at Tennessee, who is receiving votes in the latest edition of the AVCA Top 25 poll. First serve is set for 12 p.m. CT from Thompson-Boling Arena. Live stats and a free live audio webcast are available inside the Geaux Zone at LSUsports.net/live.
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