Photo by Brian Fox | ChompTalk

After wins against Florida Gulf Coast and Georgia Southern Friday, Florida volleyball continued its winning ways and beat VCU Saturday in its third and final match of the Sunshine Invitational. The Gators didn’t drop a set on the weekend, only needing 9 sets to take down their three opponents. Florida did this all without star player Merritt Beason.

Alexis Stucky helped the Gators get out front of VCU as the first set began, tallying the first kill of the match. VCU quickly responded and scored the next two points, giving the away team the lead. 

Florida answered VCU’s efforts and went on a 6-1 scoring run, giving the home team a 7-3 lead. Birdie Hendrickson quickly opened the set with 3 kills through the first 12 points for the Gators, leading the team to a 12-9 lead.

VCU crawled back within 1 point, 13-12, but Bre Kelley got Florida back on track for the moment, racking up her second kill.

Qairo Bentley got a kill for VCU to tie the set back up, her third on the day. However, Gabrielle Essix made sure Florida stayed on top, stuffing VCU’s attack and regaining the lead, 15-14 for the Gators.

Stucky stayed involved and got a service ace to extend Florida’s lead to 2 points. Florida regained their momentum and went on a 5-1 run. The lead was pushed to 20-15 and forced a timeout by VCU as the set approached its end.

Essix made sure to keep the Gators on top and got another block to add another point between the two teams. After an attack error by VCU, Essix came back and got a kill to extend the lead even further.

Kelley got 3 kills in 4 serves to give the Gators the 25-17 set 1 victory.

Ana Brangioni started the game off for VCU and blocked Marina Markova’s attack to put her team out front. Markova and Essix got in the way of VCU’s attack to tie it up before a VCU service error gave Florida the lead.

VCU answered, but AC Fitzpatrick scored back-to-back kills, and Emily Canaan served an ace to give UF a 5-3 lead. A service ace by the away team helped them to a 6-5 lead, capping a 3-point scoring run.

However, Hendrickson and Kelley got back-to-back kills to put Florida back on top. Florida extended its lead to a 10-8 lead, but VCU kept in the game and tied it up at 11 when it blocked Essix.

Markova got a kill to give the Gators the lead back, but Parker Hartzell’s kill once again evened the score. Hendrickson led her attack a little too far, resulting in a service error to give VCU a 1-point lead.

VCU scored again but Markova and Essix stuffed the away team’s attack to stop the bleeding for the Gators. Hendrickson then came up with another block and tied the score at 14.

Fitzpatrick got her sixth kill of the match to put Florida out front, 15-14. Essix involved herself in back-to-back blocks to help continue the Gators’ scoring run and put the home team out front by 4 at 18-14, forcing a VCU timeout.

Hartzell blocked Fitzpatrick’s attack to stop the Gators’ scoring run. Florida held a 19-15 lead, and Essix tallied her second kill of the game to give UF another point.

VCU and then UF went on 2-point scoring runs moving the score to 22-17. Hendrickson ended the second set with a service ace and gave Florida its second 25-17 victory of the match. The Gators led, two sets to none.

After VCU scored the first point of the third set, an attack error was called on UF, but the point was challenged and won by the Gators. VCU scored again, but Stucky faked the assist and stole a kill to tie the set again., 2-2.

The set continued its back-and-forth nature, but Kelley’s kill gave the Gators their first lead of the third set, 6-5. An error gave the home team a 2-point lead, but VCU came right back and went on a 3-point scoring run to retake the lead., 8-7.

The teams continued exchanging the lead, and no team held more than a 1-point lead until a kill by Essix gave Florida a 14-12 lead. VCU scored the next 2 points, but UF answered to hold a 15-14 lead heading into a media timeout.

Stucky lobbed a pass to Hendrickson who finished the play with a kill for her seventh kill of the match. Florida continued its run, and took a 18-14 lead to force a VCU timeout.

The teams took turns scoring, Fitzpatrick scored her ninth kill, Hendrickson served another ace, and Florida stuffed VCU’s attack to push the lead to 22-15.

VCU scored a few runs to keep the set close, but Florida won the set, 25-20, on a service error by the away team. Florida finished the tournament with three sweeps in three matches without Beason. Head coach Mary Wise said there is currently no update on Beason’s status.

Wise pointed to Elli McKissock as someone who stepped up in Beason’s absence. McKissock finished with 16 digs, 3 assists and a service ace on her way to being named most outstanding player of the tournament. Wise specifically mentioned her passing as a bright spot for the team.

“Elli (McKissock) does so much for our team,” Wise said. “Certainly worthy of a tournament MVP award.”

Fitzpatrick led the way for the team with 10 kills, followed by Kelley,who made the all-tournament team, and Hendrickson with 7 each. Stucky led the way with 27 assists for the team and added a service ace and 10 digs, good enough to get her on the all-tournment team.

Florida’s next challenge comes against FSU. Wise said Florida has a much different roster from the last time the teams played. FSU won the last match between the in-state rivals, 3-1. The Gators host the Seminoles in Gainesville Tuesday.

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