Photo by Brian Fox | ChompTalk

The Florida Gators volleyball program are currently hosting the Gators Invitational. In the opening match, the No. 3 ranked Gators played host to the Hornets of Sacramento State. Florida would look to stay undefeated and move to 5-0 on the season.

Although the Gators came in as a Top-5 nationally ranked team, Sacramento State held a substantial lead in the first set. Florida fell behind 9-5 to start the match. Then, the Hornets came out with a great deal of energy and used it to their advantage.

The team was able to claw offensively in the first set led by a collective offensive effort. However, the Hornets kept their foot on the gas and extended their lead to 19-14 in the first set. Despite the slow start for the Gators, back-to-back kills by Kennedy Martin and AC Fitzpatrick gave Florida some positive momentum. Although the team’s push was good enough to tie things up at 22-22, Sacramento State pulled away to take the first set 25-23.

Sacramento State once again started the next set simply looking more energetic and competitive than Florida. But, AC Fitzpatrick had something to say about that. If there was any thought that the Gators came out looking flat, Fitzpatrick put them to bed. As she tallied up multiple kills in the second set, they found their biggest lead of the match as they gained a 15-11 edge over Sacramento State. As the team seemed to have flipped a switch, Kennedy Martin slammed the door on set 2 with a huge kill to win get the win 25-17.

The Gators looked to be firing on all cylinders heading into the third set. As they quickly jumped out to a 5-0 lead, Fitzpatrick continued her elite performance as she forced a Sacramento State timeout after back-to back kills. Anna Dixon showed her versatile skillset throughout the third set. Dixon collected a block, kill, and an ace throughout the set. Florida continued to look much sharper than the previous two sets as their lead grew to 20-8. Then, the Gators closed out set number three with yet another big time kill by Fitzpatrick with a final score of 25-9.

The pesky Hornets seemed to not go down without a fight in the fourth and final set. They jumped out to a 4-1 lead and looked to have their energy back. However, the momentum seemed to switch following a pair of blocks by Kennedy Martin, Anna Dixon, and AC Fitzpatrick. The crowd was suddenly a factor again as they tied the score 7-7. It was a tight contest for the entirety of the fourth set. Neither team could seem to find the edge as the score was tight the entire set. After a kill from Sofia Victoria tied the set at 16, both teams were battling it out. Sacramento State was able to go on a run to make it 22-18, which forced a timeout by Gators head coach Mary Wise. The adjustments seemed to not be enough as the Hornets got the win in set 4 with a 25-21 final score.

The highly competitive affair drove the match to a winner take all fifth and final set. As both teams met during during the intermission, you could see the passion coming from both benches. It was going to come down to who wanted it more as both teams clearly came ready to play. The Gators took command of this set while Fitzpatrick and Martin continued to carry the load. Sometimes you just need your best players to will you to a victory and that is exactly what happened. Florida saw their lead in the set grow to 7-0 and looked to put the nail in the coffin. A collective group effort from players up and down the roster lifted the Gators to a 15-7 fifth set win and a 3-2 victory in the match.

AC Fitzpatrick was the leader in kills for the Gators. The Penn State transfer had a true breakout performance as she set a career high in kills with 18. If she can continue to perform at this level, it will only add fuel to the fire for what is already a high-powered Florida offense.

Kennedy Martin provided another impressive outing as she tallied 17 kills and 7 blocks. On the defensive end, Anna Dixon stole the show. As Dixon made key plays at the night all night, she found herself atop the leaders in blocks for the match. Elli McKissock held down the backcourt for Florida. McKissock tallied 23 digs and displayed her leadership ability as she rallied the troops.

Alexis Stuckey dished out 44 assists and seemed to get all of her teammates involved. Stucky, who was getting stretched out in timeouts and in between sets, gutted it out for her team in the win.

The Gators Invitational continues tomorrow as Florida will take on either Winthrop or Sacramento State. First serve is slotted for 4 p.m. from the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville Florida.

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