Photo by Brian Fox | ChompTalk

Florida volleyball swept FSU Tuesday to win extend its all-time series lead to 44-21. The last time the teams played, the Seminoles bested the Gators in four sets.

Florida was the first team to draw blood in the matchup between in-state rivals. The first point was awarded to FSU after Gabrielle Essix’s block attempt was ruled an error.

Essix bounced back and got a kill to tie the set. Florida State answered with a 3-point scoring run to take the lead in the opening set, 4-1.

Essix got another kill to bring the set within 2. Florida State’s Audrey Koenig responded with a kill of her own, but Florida’s Sofia Victoria brought the set back within 2.

The Noles took 3 points in a row to put them up by 3, 8-3, and forced a Gator timeout. The home team went on a 3-point scoring run of their own, making the score 8-6.

FSU took four of the next six points to extend their lead to 12-8. A kill by Essix and two block error against the Seminoles brought the Gators within 1 point for the first time the away team took the first point of the set.

The team’s went back and forth for the next 8 serves, and UF trailed 16-15. The Gators found themselves out front for the first time in the set after a kill by Merritt Beason and an attack error by Emily Ryan of the Seminoles.

Ryan rebounded with a kill, but Florida scored the next 4 points with the help of 2 kills by Markova to extend their lead to 21-17

Florida won four of the last five serves to win the first set, 25-19, after trailing by as much as 5 points.

The Seminoles, again, took the lead to open the set when Alexis Stucky’s serve hit the front of the net. UF and FSU exchanged points for the next five serves and the set was tied at 3 a piece. Florida took its first lead of the when Bre Kelley got her second kill in a row.

The lead was short-lived as FSU took the next 3 points and held a 6-4 lead. Bre Kelley answered with a kill that was originally awarded to FSU when it was ruled out. Head coach Mary Wise’s challenge was successful and turned what would have been a 3 point difference to a 1 point FSU lead.

The Seminoles took two of the next 3 serves, and Florida’s answer came in the form of a 3-point run of its own, giving them a 9-8 lead. The team’s exchanged point, and FSU then took the next 3 points to take a 2-point, 12-10 lead.

The teams went back and forth until FSU broke the streak. The Seminoles scored 2 points in a row, took an 18-15 lead, and forced a timeout by the Gators. 

The Noles scored again, but Essix stopped the run with a kill, making the score 19-16 in favor of FSU. Each team committed an error, and Victoria’s spike narrowed the lead to 2 points. The Gators trailed, 20-18.

Florida tied the set at 20 due to a service ace by Elli McKissock and an attack error by FSU. The Seminoles took three of four points and found themselves ahead, 23-21.

An intense rally, saved by Emily Canaan and McKissock, ended with a point originally given to Florida State. Wise challenged the point, and it was given to Florida after the review showed Victoria’s attack went off the fingers of a Seminole.

The game was tied at 23 after an attack error by FSU, and the teams exchanged points, making the score 24-24. FSU took the lead, but back-to-back kills for Markova gave Florida the lead, 26-25.

FSU took back-to-back points, but a kill by Beason kept the Gators alive. FSU’s attack and a kill by Victoria put the Gators on top, 29-27, and gave Florida a 2-0 lead.

FSU opened the third set with a service ace, and the away team had the early lead. Markova’s 10th kill tied it up, but FSU scored the next 3 points to give them a 4-1 lead. 

Beason’s kill ended the run, but FSU took back-to-back points and forced a Gator timeout when it took a 6-2 lead. FSU added to their lead after a Koenig kill.

The teams split the next 6 points, which saw sixth and seventh kills by Victoria, making the score 10-5. FSU held on to at least a 5-point lead until Victoria tallied her second block of the game, and Florida trailed by 4 points, 15-11.

The teams took turns scoring back-to-back points, and Markova’s 11th kill of the match forced a timeout by the Seminoles, who led by a score of 17-13. The Gators kept fighting, and an attack error by FSU but the home team within 3, 19-16, and forced another timeout by the Seminoles.

Beason’s 12th kill in the match inched the Gators closer, but the Noles answered with their own kill to make it a 20-17 set lead for FSU. Beason got another kill and then a block and pulled the Gators within 1 point.

Canaan’s service ace tied the set. The error on the next Gator serve and a subsequent kill by FSU put them up, 22-20. 

The Gators went on a clutch 5-point run, including kills by Essix, Kelley and Victoria and a service ace by McKissock. Florida stole the lead and won the third set to complete the sweep for Florida.

Beason returned as if she was never even missing. Wise said the star player didn’t practice for almost a week, and the team didn’t know she would play until right before the match.

“It was such a display of effort and grit for her to play as well as she did without any practices,” Wise said.

Beason showed no signs of rust as she was flying around the court and ended the match with a team-high 13 kills and 3 blocks with only 1 error.

“I feel great,” Beason said. “I feel 100%.”

Stucky also showed up in a big way and had 41 assists, 6 digs and 3 blocks to help run the offense and defense. Essix also showed her strengths as a two-way player, coming up with 9 kills and 5 blocks.

Wise said the transition offense wasn’t clean enough in the second set, and there were too many unforced errors in the third set. She said the youth resulted in some of the mistakes but also helped them crawl their way back.

“That’s the beauty of youth,” Wise said.

The Gators’ next test comes against the defending national champions, the Wisconsin Badgers. Wisconsin is looking to break the record for attendance at a regular season volleyball match when Florida travels to Wisconsin.

Wise is expecting 17,000 fans and a sold-out environment. She’s never coached in front of a crowd of that size, nor have the players played in front of that many people, but she feels honored that Wisconsin is attempting this record against the Gators.

“”It is such a complement to our program,” Wise said. “They could get anybody to come there, and they would choose Florida.”

Florida’s match against the No. 4 Badgers comes at 8:30 p.m. Friday in Wisconsin’s Kohl Center.

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