Florida crawled back from down two sets to none and had a 5-1 lead in the fifth set. The team lost its lead and then the game, 3-2.
The No. 13 Gators may not have beat the No. 12 Stanford Cardinal, but it did show it could compete with a top program in the country.
“We were right there with a much younger team,” said head coach Mary Wise. “They are the blue bloods.”
The first set saw a back-and-forth battle between the teams. Every time one team jumped ahead, the other found a way to stay alive.
Florida started the set in the lead, but hit a cold streak and fell behind, 11-6. The Gators stormed back and took a 16-14 lead before Stanford called a timeout.
The Gators had the set point, up 24-22, but Stanford stayed close and wouldn’t let the team pull away. Florida had seven opportunities to end it, but Kendall Kipp’s eighth kill of the set won the period for the Cardinal, 31-29.
UF fought from behind for most of the second set. The team would fall behind, tie the set and fall back behind; the biggest deficit came with Stanford up, 21-17.
Florida again kept the set competitive and narrowed the lead to 23-22. Elia Rubin tallied back-to-back kills and put the Cardinal on top to take the second set.
The student section may have lightened, but the Gators came out even more fired up than before. Florida dominated the third set, and Stanford never managed to take the lead.
UF closed the game on a 7-1 run and won, 25-16. The Gators found life and were down 2-1 in the match.
Florida got off to a quick start in the fourth set but lost control and fell behind, 13-12. The Gators stayed close behind and took a 21-20 lead.
Marina Markova was subbed in for the final serve of the set and got the kill to tie the match and send it to a fifth and final set.
UF came out and took a quick 5-1 lead behind Emily Canaan’s 4 straight service aces. The team lost control, found itself down, 9-8, and scored only 2 more points in the set. Stanford won the set, 15-10, and the match, 3-2.
The Gators lost the match but showed it can hang with the best competition in the country. Florida scored 109 to Stanford’s 111 points. The Cardinal had 31 errors, and the Gators had 28.
The Gators had their hands full with Kipp, a former All-American, who had 19 kills, 6 digs and 6 blocks.
“She’s a terrific player, a senior with a whole lot of experience,” Wise said.
Bre Kelley was the Gators’ standout Tuesday with 8 kills and 10 blocks.
“Ten blocks against that level of offense,” Wise said. “She’s a worker.”
Marina Markova added 12 kills and 4 blocks, and Merritt Beason tallied 13 kills, 9 digs and 5 blocks. However, both players were responsible for 6 errors each.
The narrow loss showed the Gators can compete with top teams and can hopefully use this momentum and energy in the future. Wise pointed to the fans as a big influence on the game.
“I can’t wait until we get everybody down lower to make it even a tougher place to play,” Wise said.
Florida’s next game comes at 1:30 p.m. Sunday when it travels to Minnesota to play the Gophers.