Florida head coach Mary Wise knew that nothing would come easy in her team’s final tune-up before SEC play opens. In addition to traveling to Wisconsin to face the No. 4 team in the nation, the Gators would have to contend with a raucous crowd that was attempting to set the NCAA regular season attendance record. The game was even moved from the UW Fieldhouse to the much larger Kohl Center.
For much of Friday’s match, however, Florida appeared to make it look easy. The Gators got out to big leads in the first three sets and cruised to victory in the first two. Florida dropped the third set despite leading 19-13 late. Florida completed the upset with a come from behind win in the fifth set.
The Gators took the opening set 25-21. The action was back and forth with neither team grabbing a commanding lead until Florida went on a 5-0 run to increase the advantage to 20-15 late in the set. Gabbi Essix totaled a team high four kills and three blocks in the first.
The Gators came out swinging in the second set, jumping out to a 6-3 lead and watching the advantage stay in the five to seven point range throughout. Florida took the second set 25-18. Merritt Beason led the charge offensively in the second set with five kills on seven swings. Bre Kelley hit at a perfect clip, going three for three on kills in the second.
Florida had the Badgers on the ropes for the sweep leading 19-13 in the third set, but three straight attack errors put Wisconsin right back into it. An Izzy Ashburn ace sealed the set for Wisconsin at 28-26.
Set four saw the Badgers seize momentum and carry it throughout the set. Wisconsin raced out to a 6-1 lead and routed Florida 25-13. The Gators made more errors on the attack than kills resulting in the -0.86 hitting percentage. The Badgers only recorded seven kills in the set because Florida kept making errors on the attack.
The fifth set saw Wisconsin continue the momentum gained in the previous two sets. The Badgers jumped out to a 6-3 lead before Florida was able to tie things up at 9. A kill from Kelley put the Gators at match point with a 14-12 lead. Kelly and Marina Markova recorded a block to end the match at 15-13 to send the crowd of 16,833 home disappointed.
The crowd broke the previous attendance record that had been set on September 7, 2022 between Nebraska and Creighton.
Beason led the Gators with 21 kills on the night while Essix added ten more. Elli McKissock finished with a team high eighteen digs.
The No. 16 Gators moved to 7-2 overall and will enter conference play Wednesday night when they host Alabama at Exactech Arena. First serve is scheduled for 7:00 PM.