The Florida Gators Volleyball team resumed their SEC schedule Sunday night. After a road victory against Auburn, the Gators returned home to battle conference rival Georgia.
In the opening set of the match, Georgia had the momentum early. Three early kills and block for the Bulldogs helped them gain a 5-1 edge. The early run forced Florida Head Coach Mary Wise to call a timeout.
Florida regrouped from their slow start thanks to a kill by Kennedy Muff and a block by Anna Dixon. The Gators came back to only trail 11-10 after AC Fitzpatrick contributed her first kill of the match. The teams traded points on the scoreboard as Georgia held the lead 18-17.
After a Bulldogs timeout, senior Ellie McKissock came up with clutch back-to-back aces. Then, Kennedy Martin heated up offensively contributing two kills and an ace to help Florida take a 22-20 lead in the first set. The Gators would finish strong after a solo block from Muff and a set point kill by Dixon helped Florida win the first set of the match 25-22.
As the second set began, Florida continued to apply the pressure jumping out to a 3-1 lead. Martin carried the offense tallying multiple kills as they saw their lead grow to 9-6. A blistering kill by Nnedi Okammor allowed the Gators to continue to apply the pressure. Florida’s momentum carried them to a 15-13 lead heading into a media timeout.
After the break, a kill and an ace for Georgia tied the set 16-16. Anna Dixon had a quick answer as she recorded a kill on the following play. A service error by Georgia put the Gators back out in front 18-16. The teams once again went back-and-forth at the end of the set.
Kills by a pair of Bulldogs, Estelle Haugen and Sophie Fischer, gave Georgia a 23-21 edge. A Florida timeout by head coach Mary Wise looked to slow down the Georgia run. However, Estelle added another kill to increase their lead to 24-21 before closing out the second set 25-22.
Heading to the third set, early kills by Okammor and Victoria kept the match tied at 3-3. Georgia would quickly comeback to get back in front 7-5. The Gators seemed to be watching the set slip away after four-straight Georgia points gave them a 12-8 advantage.
A block by Okammor slowed down the Bulldogs roll. Victoria caught fire tallying three-straight kills to cut the Georgia lead to two at 14-12. The Florida run was halted when Kacie Evans came up with a timely kill for Georgia on the very next point.
The teams traded blows until Georgia took a 19-18 advantage. Fitzpatrick posted a kill that brought the home crowd back to life as the third set was tied. Georgia seemed to once again be executing at a higher level down the stretch of the set, forcing a Florida timeout as they trailed 22-19.
The Gators would refuse to go down without a fight in the third set. They battled back to trail 23-22 before Georgia ended the set with an ace on set point.
Georgia continued to apply the pressure as they took control of the fourth set 4-1. Once again, Victoria had the answer for UF, providing back-to-back kills to cut the Georgia lead to one. The Gators would then take advantage of an attack and service error by the Bulldogs to gain an 8-7 edge in the fourth set.
UGA’s errors on the offensive side hindered them throughout the set. Florida was able capitalize on their mistakes to gain a 13-9 lead in set four.
The Gators saw their rhythm come to a halt after three-straight attack errors by Martin and Fitzpatrick. A block by Haugen on the next point gave the Bulldogs a one-point 14-13 lead. As Florida’s backs were against the wall in the match, the score was tied 19-19 as the fourth set progressed.
UF would get an unexpected contributor off the bench when freshman Madi Gravlee came up with a huge block for the Gators to give Florida a 20-19 lead. Two kills by Fitzpatrick and one from Victoria lifted the team as they captured a two-point lead late in the fourth set.
Following a Georgia timeout, Victoria continued her elite performance by tallying two more kills. Her stellar play at the end of the fourth set allowed UF to secure the victory in set four 25-23.
The highly entertaining match would then head to a fifth and final set. The first-to-fifteen would win the match as both teams came out with great energy and passion. Georgia looked sharp early in the set as they grabbed hold of a 3-1 lead.
A block and a kill by UGA’s Fischer allowed them to gain a comfortable 6-2 edge in the final set. The Gators needed answers quickly as they called a timeout to slow down Georgia’s run. Victoria set the tone after the break with a kill that allowed Florida to go on a run that would eventually tie the fifth set 8-8.
In the final moments of the match, it came down to execution. Fitzpatrick was up for the task as she delivered an ace with a vicious topspin serve to give UF an 11-9 lead in the set. Blocks by Victoria and Okammor helped bring the set to match point. Then, Victoria ended the match with a kill on match point that allowed the Gators to win the fifth and final set 15-11.
Offensively, Florida was led by Victoria with a match-high 16 kills at a .302 clip. Martin was next on the kill leader list with 11.
On the defensive side of the net, Okammor posted a team-high 10 blocks in the win. McKissock held down the backcourt as she tallied 15 digs in the match. Her teammate Emily Canaan was just behind McKissock on the stat sheet with 14 digs of her own.
Muff had a solid outing at the server position for the Gators as she dished out a team-high 38 assists in the rivalry win.
The team will continue SEC regular season action as they host Texas A&M Sept. 27. First serve is slated for 7 p.m. at Exactech Arena in Gainesville, Florida.