Photo by Brian Fox | ChompTalk

The No.12 Gators swept their sixth opponent of the year when they took on the Alabama Crimson Tide in their 2022 SEC opener Wednesday.

The team’s last game came when it took on Wisconsin in front of 16,833 fans, the NCAA volleyball regular season attendance record, and took down the Badgers, who fell from No. 4 to No. 6, in five sets. This didn’t stop Florida’s momentum as it won in 3 sets (25-19, 25-19, 25-17).

Merritt Beason set a career high with 21 kills in Friday’s match against Wisconsin. She kept this momentum going as she tallied the first point of the first set with a kill to put Florida up, 1-0.

Beason got two more kills in the next six serves to extend the teams lead to 6-1. Alabama narrowed the lead after it scored three of the next five points, but Sofia Victoria responded promptly with back-to-back kills.

A block by Alexis Stucky and Bre Kelley pushed to Gators’ lead to 11-4 and forced a timeout by the Crimson Tide. Florida then won 5 of 8 serves and extended its lead to a 9-point, 16-7 lead in the first set.

However, the Crimson Tide didn’t give up and found themselves right back in the game. Alabama went on a scoring spree, taking seven of the next eight points to narrow the Gators’ lead to 3 points, 17-14, and forcing a timeout by the home team.

The teams exchanged blows and the Gators found themselves holding a narrow 20-17 lead. Kills by Marina Markova and Gabrielle Essix gave Florida some breathing room in the form of a 5-point lead and forced a Crimson Tide timeout.

Florida held on and scored three of the next five points, capped off by a service ace by Stucky, to win the first set for the Gators, 25-19.

Stucky and Elli McKissock both showcased their offensive and defensive abilities. Stucky had 8 assists and 4 digs, and McKissock had 3 assists and 5 digs.

Florida, again, drew blood first when Essix picked up a kill to put the team up, 1-0. After a service error by Stucky, the Gators went on a 4-point run including 2 kills by Beason, a kill by Stucky and a service ace by Emily Canaan. The Gator led by a score of 5-1.

The Crimson Tide climbed back and scored 4 of 5 points to narrow the UF lead to 1 point, 6-5. However, Florida went on a run of its own, scoring the next 6 points and taking a 12-5 lead.

The team’s plit the next 8 points, and Florida held onto its lead, 16-9. The teams then took turns going on 3-point scoring runs, and the Gators still held a 7-point lead, 19-12.

The home team won 5 of 7 serves, giving them set point and a 10-point lead, 24-14. However, the Crimson Tide made sure Florida fans stayed on the edge of their seats, scoring 5 points in a row. The Gators won the set, 25-19, after Alabama’s service error following Florida’s timeout.

Alabama’s Alyiah Wells put the away team out front to start the third set, but a kill by Beason ties it up for Florida. The teams exchanged points again, and a 3-point run capped off by a service ace by McKissock put Florida in front, 5-2.

Alabama stayed close and brought the set within 2 after scoring back-to-back points; Florida led, 8-6. The Gators created some separation and went on a 5-point scoring run to give themselves a 7-point lead.

The Crimson Tide wouldn’t go away, and they won 4 of 5 serves to come within 4 points, 14-10. Two errors by Alabama and the fourth service ace by Canaan pushed the lead to 17-10 for UF. 

The away team went on another 3-point run and trailed by 4, 17-13, forcing a timeout by Florida. The Crimson Tide stayed hot out of the break and brought the set within 3, but 3 points in a row for the Gators extended their lead to 6, 20-14, and forced a timeout by Alabama.

Florida allowed only three more points and finished the sweep, winning the third set, 25-17, after an error by Alabama.

Alexis Stucky led the way for the Gators as they took down their first SEC opponent of the year. Stucky gave credit to McKissock for manning the back row and the block for taking up space, not only in this game but over the past few games.

She said the team passed well tonight, which created opportunities for the offense, and the scouting report helped the team make the right decisions.

“I’m not necessarily the most offensive, but tonight was really exciting for me to take a couple swings,” Stucky said.

She finished the match with 3 kills on 4 attacks, 25 assists, 5 digs, 2 blocks and a service ace. Beason also played well and continued her momentum from her last game and led the team in kills, 9, and blocks, 3.

The Gators had 11 service aces on the night. Freshmen Canaan, who had 4 service aces, and Emerson Hoyle, who had 3, accounted for over half of the team’s service aces. McKissock added 2, and Stucky contributed one of her own.

Head coach Mary Wise said the team’s goal on serves is to take away the opponents option, and aces are an added bonus. She shouted out Canaan and Hoyle who combined for 7 aces and would have been playing in high school a year ago.

She said since the team was young, she and the team made sure the players didn’t fall into a trap and lose this game following their upset win in Wisconsin.

“It’s what players have to learn how to do, put the matches behind you,” Wise said. 

Florida’s next match comes at 2 p.m. Saturday when it plays the first game in its weekend double header in South Carolina against the Gamecocks.

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