Athen, GA - Senior middle hitter Valentina Gonzalez recorded a career-high 12 blocks to lead the Georgia Bulldogs past the Alabama Crimson Tide, 3-1, on Friday evening at the Ramsey Student Center.
Georgia won the first set 25-18 while Alabama evened the match by taking the second set 25-22, but the Bulldogs then held on for a 27-25 victory in the third set before earning the win with a 25-17 fourth set. With the victory, Georgia improves to 10-6 overall on the year and 2-3 in Southeastern Conference play. Alabama moves to 8-6 overall and 0-4 in league action.
"This was another great SEC match with a fantastic crowd giving us a great boost of energy to get this win tonight," Georgia head coach Joel McCartney said. "We are starting to get a real loyal following of fans, and I am so proud of our University and Association to have this kind of support for the volleyball program."
Gonzalez notched her 12 blocks with one solo stop and 11 assisted blocks to surpass her previous career-high block total of nine, which she had achieved on four previous occasions. It marked the first time a Bulldog has recorded 12 blocks in a match since Oct. 26, 1997, when Kathy Vis had 12 against Arkansas.
"Vale didn’t have her usual outstanding night on the offensive side of the net, but she really worked hard with her blocking and really made a difference in that area for us," McCartney said. "Ann (Dylla) picked up the offensive workload in the middle and that gave us a needed balance for our attack."
Behind Gonzalez, Georgia out-blocked Alabama, 16.5 to 8.0, in what proved to be the key difference in the match as the two teams posted similar numbers in other areas of the contest. The Bulldogs recorded 53 kills on a .183 hitting percentage with 63 digs while the Crimson Tide had 48 kills on a .151 hitting percentage with 65 digs. UGA did hold an advantage on serve as well with eight aces compared to Alabama's two.
"We served and blocked very aggressively tonight on the defensive side of the net and passed well enough on the offensive side to get by," McCartney stated. "The difference between sets one and four versus two and three showed how the momentum in this sport can change so rapidly, and although we faced getting out-played in that third set, we were able to tough out a win and get the momentum back in our favor. After facing last week’s emotional storm of competition, getting this match is a great confidence boost moving forward."
Redshirt freshman outside hitter Kathleen Luft was the go-to player for the Bulldogs as she recorded a match-best 18 kills on a career-high 50 attacks and her effort was supported by 12 kills on a .400 clip from junior middle hitter Ann Dylla and eight kills from freshman outside hitter Brittany Northcutt.
"We relied quite a bit on Luft’s arm tonight on the left side, and fortunately, she had enough gas in it to finish a great fourth set with some heavy swings," McCartney noted. "Also, Brit gave us some renewed energy in that last set as she struggled a little early on in the match. Her improvement as the match grew long was an important piece to the success we had later."
The offense was paced by reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Week, junior setter Kathleen Gates. Gates posted her team-leading sixth double-double with 36 assists and 11 digs. It marks the third-straight match Gates has recorded a double-double, and the digging performance was highlighted by teammates Carla Tietz and Nicole Choi, who notched 16 and 13, respectively.
"KG was a warrior this week and deserves our greatest admiration as she traveled back to Wilmington for her grandmother’s funeral and rejoined us for this match tonight without the usual preparation," McCartney said.
Alabama was paced in the match by Alyssa Meuth and Kelsey Anderson. Meuth led the Crimson Tide with 12 kills while Anderson provided a match-best 25 digs.
Up next, Georgia concludes a four-match home stand on Sunday by welcoming Mississippi State (9-5, 1-2 SEC) to the Ramsey Center. First serve is slated for 1 p.m. and the match will be televised by FSN. Admission is free and the first 300 fans will receive pink Georgia volleyball t-shirts as the match will serve as UGA volleyball's kick off of Dig Pink Month. The Bulldogs will wear pink warm-ups, and during that match, there will be a silent auction for game worn jerseys and game balls to aid fund raising efforts with proceeds going to the Athens Breast Health Center. In addition to Sunday's match, fans will be able to donate at all remaining home matches in October.