Florida goes on roll behind Chelsea Appleby’s 40 kills, earns crucial SEC win

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — She’s a defensive specialist and all she does for Florida is throw in a putter for 15 kills.

But at 11:36 a.m. Saturday, after No. 23 Florida dropped its first set all season at home to California and turned its attention to the field of elite teams in its Southeastern Conference, Kaitlyn Castleton and Chelsea Appleby stood at opposite ends of the court in a big way.

When the same two had another interesting conversation about the intensity of the setting, they picked up their collective head and stormed back.

The stats: 36-for-49 hitting, 17 kills, 11 blocks, 11 digs and a block assist. Then Appleby outranked her player in kills, hitting 1.18 per point.

In 40 minutes, Florida had won three consecutive sets.

With the third set tied at 21 and Castleton off to the side, she went back into the game to launch a clutch 11-stroke attack that turned the momentum and went on to set up a 25-23 win for Florida. And the Gators used their momentum in the fourth to silence the host Golden Bears and even their season record to 4-4 with a 10-25, 25-20, 26-24, 25-14 victory.

“It was very clutch at 11:36, I’ll be honest with you,” Florida coach Jayne Garvin said. “I think they went to talk on the side line and she [Castleton] said something to her and when she said it, I was like, ‘Oh, okay, maybe this is going to be one of those games.’

“I think [Appleby] got into that zone, she found her power, she got into her hitting and she played really well. She looks a lot healthier, she looks much better now than she did about a month ago and she looks like she’s right where she was.”

Appleby, a fifth-year senior who missed her junior season because of injury, had a career-high 40 kills for the first time. She had 17 of them in the second and third sets when Florida won five of the last six points.

“My first three years when I was really injured, I couldn’t even swing. So when I came back to the team [last year], I had to prove myself. But when I came back, I lost my drive. I had to work back towards a normal level and go back to working on getting my free swerves back,” Appleby said. “I think my last two or three months of my senior year I’ve really been getting better. I was kind of getting too big for my shoes and getting bigger, and it takes a little while to get back into your groove again. So I hope [Friday’s] win is a confidence builder for me.”

Cindy Fuller contributed to this report.

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