Five days removed from a five-set thriller, the Florida Gators came away with a sweep (25-22, 25-17, 25-23) when it took on the Missouri Tigers. Each set was a battle, but the Gators managed a victory in front of their home crowd Friday.
Florida drew blood first in its match against Missouri. Gabrielle Essix came up with a kill to put her team up 1-0 in the opening set.
Despite two kills by Sofia Victoria and a block by Alexis Stucky, the Tigers managed to keep the set close in the first set. Missouri tallied three kills from three players to trail by only one point, 4-3.
Florida went out of its way to prove why it is the No. 12 team in the nation and went on a 6-point run led by Bre Kelley who had two kills and a block in three straight plays. The run forced Missouri to reassess as it called the first timeout of the match due to its 9-3 deficit.
The away team fought back, scoring back-to-back points out of the break, but the home Gators didn’t waiver and stayed hit. Merritt Beason had 2 kills and Marina Markova and Essix each added one to help the Gators to a 15-7 lead. Missouri called its second timeout of the set as Florida held an 8-point lead.
The Gators continued their offensive attack until the Tigers found a groove. After moving their lead to 20-12, the Gators slowed down and the Tigers went on a run.
Missouri went on a 7-2 run and head coach Mary Wise called a timeout to recollect. Florida won the first serve after the timeout, but Missouri went on a 3-point run and trailed by only one point, 23-22.
A service error and block by Victoria after the Gators’ second timeout gave UF the first-set victory, 25-22.
Markova was too much for the Tigers in the first set, scoring 7 kills on 8 attacks. Alexis Stucky directed the offense with 16 assists in the opening set.
Beason scored the first point of the second set on a kill assisted by Stucky. Markova kept giving Missouri’s defense trouble as she then tallied back-to-back kills to give Florida a 3-0 lead. After the teams exchanged points, Missouri scored four in a row off of 2 kills, a block and a service ace to take a 5-4 lead.
Florida tied the set twice, but Missouri was clicking and managed an 8-6 lead. Florida won the next two serves and the back-and-forth battle continued.
The Tigers got out front and held a narrow lead as the set continued. Florida kept close and finally tied the set at 16 after a block by Stucky and Essix.
A Missouri kill gave them the lead back, but 2 kills by Essix and one by Markova gave the Gators their first lead, 19-17, since it held a 4-3 advantage.
MIssouri called a timeout to stop the bleeding, but the Gators kept rolling with a kill by Beason and an error called against Missouri to put Florida ahead, 22-17, and force another timeout by the Tigers.
Florida won the next two serves and closed the set with a 9-point run to take the victory, 25-17.
The Tigers started the third set with the early advantage for the first time in the match after scoring the back-to-back points. While UF didn’t open the set on top, it wasted no time finding the lead.
The Gators scored five points in a row, led by Beason who had two blocks and a kill, to take a 5-2 lead. In a set shaped by runs, Missouri scored four in a row, Florida took the next three serves, the Tigers went on a 3-point run, and the Gators took back-to-back points to see UF holding a 10-9 lead.
The teams took turns scoring back-to-back points and the score sat at 12-11 in favor of Florida. Missouri then went on a 4-point run led by Anna Dixon, who had 2 kills and a block, to give it a 15-12 lead.
The lead changed for what felt like the 100th time in the set, and Florida scored four in a row due to kills by Markova and Victoria to take a 16-15 lead. The lead continued tipping back and forth until Missouri scored three points in a row and found itself in front, 21-19, to force a time by Florida.
The score was evened after Beason tallied a kill and Missouri committed an attack error. The Tigers called a timeout, and earned a point on an attack error by Beason. However, Wise challenged the call, and the decision was reversed to put Florida up 22-21.
Missouri tied it up, but Florida scored back-to-back points to hold the set point. The Tigers held a little longer after tallying a kill, but Beason put an end to the set, and match, sending Missouri home with a game-winning kill.
Essix was a force offensively and defensively. Essix had a team-high 5 blocks and 9 kills on a .667 hitting percentage.
Wise said the team had some crucial blocks but missed a few important ones. She specifically credited Essix for her performance.
Gabi Essix had a terrific night, probably should’ve gotten a set more, or two,” Wise said. “We really rode her blocking tonight.”
Along with Essix Markova tallied 16 kills, leading the team in the category for the third match in a row, and Beason added 13.
Essix said Stucky had a characteristically strong night. Stucky finished the match with 46 assists, 5 digs, 2 kills and 2 blocks.
The Gators won all three sets, but each set was hard-fought. Wise said Missouri played a clean match and outserved Florida.
“Wins are hard to come by in this league,” she said, “it doesn’t matter what the record is.”
The Gators next match will come against Texas A&M on the road. Florida won’t have a mid-week match and will be able to spend the week preparing to take on the Aggies.
“A&M Plays as well as Missouri today,” she said, “it looks very different on the road.”
Florida will travel to College Station to take on Texas A&M at 5 p.m. Saturday.