Photo by Brian Fox | ChompTalk

The No. 3 Gators hosted the top-ranked Wisconsin Badgers in an elite college volleyball matchup. The showdown brought out a historic crowd to the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Sunday afternoon. It was the largest attendance at a Florida volleyball game in the history of the program.

It was a loud and hostile environment inside Exactech Arena. The Gators used the advantage of the home crowd to propel them throughout the first set. Back-to-back aces by Ana Dixon gave Florida an early 7-4 lead in the first set.

Kennedy Martin led the way offensively for the Gators early. Martin totaled four kills in set one. However, it was a balanced attack for Florida early. AC Fitzpatrick, Alexis Stucky and Sofia Victoria all added kills for the Gators on their way to a dominating 25-15 victory in the first set.

The second set was a much more highly contested affair. The score went back and forth until Florida tied things up 10-10. Then an ace by Emily Canaan energize the crowd as the Florida lead grew to 14-11.

The Gators then had a huge unexpected loss that nobody could have seen coming. Alexis Stucky seemed to have injured her ankle while attempting to make a play at the net. The injury kept Stucky out for the remainder of the match. Graduate senior Kennedy Muff replaced Stucky at the setter position for the remainder of the match.

Although the injury was a massive blow to the team. The Gators stayed together to sustain their lead 21-18 late in the second set. Florida called a timeout when the Badgers cut the Gator lead to two. However, an attack error by Wisconsin on set point allowed Florida to take the 2-0 edge in the match.

With a match sweep staring back at them, Wisconsin came out in the third set with a desperate mentality. The Gators fell behind early 5-2. Although AC Fitzpatrick made a statement with a pair of kills, Wisconsin kept their foot on the gas and extended their lead to 8-3 in set three.

Florida was then able to gain some positive momentum. Multiple kills by Fitzpatrick and an ace by Elli McKissock helped cut the deficit to 18-14. The two teams then traded points until Wisconsin edged out the set three win.

In the fourth set, Wisconsin was once again facing elimination. The Gators had two service errors by Martin and Canaan that helped the Badgers gain 7-4 lead in the set. Kills by Sofia Victoria and Nnedi Okammor allowed Florida to stay competitive in the set and shrink their deficit to 10-8.

Later in the fourth set, the Badger lead grew to 19-15 and were on the brink of evening the match 2-2. Wisconsin continued to execute at a higher level as they rode their momentum to a 25-22 victory in set four.

The match came down to a fifth and final set. The first team to reach 15 points would win the match. Kennedy Martin got the offense going early with a kill to tie the score 1-1. Martin added another kill to give Florida their first lead of the set 5-4.

The fifth set looked as if it would be close until the very finish. Anna Dixon added two clutch kills to give the Gators a 9-8 edge. Coming out of a Florida timeout, Wisconsin would take the lead back 12-10 and were closing in on the match victory.

Martin led the team in kills with 13. Fitzpatrick and Dixon each had 11 apiece for the Gators. Defensively Nnedi Okammor led the team with 5 blocks while Trinity Adams and McKissock held down the backourt with 17 and 16 digs.

After replacing Stucky after her injury, Muff held the fort down as the catalyst for the offense as she led all players in the match with 28 assists. Head Coach Mary Wise gave her thoughts postgame on how Muff handled getting put into an unexpected situation and playing through it.

Mary Wise: “It’s a very different feel to go to a different setter. We’ll have this week to practice to hopefully get ourselves in a better position.”

The 8-1 Gators will regroup before their road trip to Auburn to face the No. 24 Tigers. The contest is schedule for Sept. 22 with first serve slated for 7:30 P.M.

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