The Gators never looked rattled.
Florida Gators volleyball got better as the match went on, beating the Florida A&M Rattlers in three sets (25-15, 25-15, 25-9) Friday. The team’s final set culminated in a performance the Gators were hoping for.
The third set is truly who we are,” sophomore hitter Merritt Beason said. “We just wanted to play Florida volleyball.”
Sophomore middle blocker Gabrielle Essix, who ended with a team-leading 8 kills, got the action started for Florida. She scored the first point of the match with an attack that FAMU couldn’t get over the net.
With the Rattlers only managing one point in the first six serves, the Gators found themselves with an early 5-1 lead. However, Florida A&M wasted no time erasing its deficit.
It went on a tear, giving up only two points, compared to its six. In no time the first set was tied at seven. Florida’s countermove: a run of its own.
A 5-1 stretch in favor of the Gators gave them a 4-point, 12-8 lead. While the Rattlers fought hard, Florida’s advantage grew to six points at 18-12. UF won seven of the last ten serves to win the first set, 25-15.
The second set came underway, and the advantage flip-flopped between the teams. The Rattlers scored first. Then, the teams alternated two-point runs until the Gators took a 4-3 lead.
FAMU tied the set at four, but a five-point run for Florida gave the higher ranked team a 9-4 lead in the second set. The Gators continued surging, and with a 12-6 lead, Beason’s serve hit the net and dropped on the other side to give her a service ace. Everything was going Florida’s way.
Florida A&M was struggling to close the gap, as the Gators held onto their seven-point lead. However, the Rattlers eventually scored three in a row, and head coach Mary Wise called a timeout to slow the momentum.
Florida came out of the stoppage like the reset button had been pressed. It won six of the last seven serves and won the second set, 25-15, to take a 2-0 match lead.
The Gators were on fire, and their 25 kills nearly doubled the Rattlers’ 13. The third set began, and it was more of the same.
Essix put Florida on the board first, but FAMU senior defensive specialist Brooke Hudson tied it with a kill. This was the closest the Rattlers would get to winning the set.
Florida A&M mustered a couple points early, but Florida separated itself from the competition quickly. The Gators were up 5-3, and a dominant nine-point run gave them a 14-3 advantage.
The Rattlers won two of three serves to come within 10, but UF answered with another run, this time five points. Florida found itself up, 20-5.
FAMU scored a few more points but failed to reach double digits in the final round. The Gators completed the sweep, winning the final set 25-9.
Florida allowed only 21 kills and forced 17 attack errors. Wise credited her personnel and the team’s with creating a defensive wall.
“Going into the match, we felt like we had a size advantage,” Wise said. “As long as we could control the first contact, we could use that to our advantage.”
The Gators had 10 service aces, 34 assists —33 of them being from freshman setter Alexis Stucky — 39 kills and only nine errors. The offense was clicking, and the team looked dominant from start to finish.
Florida’s next game comes against Iowa State, which won a five-set thriller against Florida Gulf Coast less than an hour before the Gators took the court. The Gators’ game against the Cyclones takes place at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.