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Friday, December 08, 2023

Five minutes into the match, it looked like the Gators were in for a long afternoon.

Arkansas had defeated UF just more than three weeks ago, and the Razorbacks were up 9-3 very quickly on Sunday.

But about 90 minutes later, the Gators walked off the court victorious.

Despite being down early in each game, UF snuck past Arkansas (30-28, 30-23, 30-25) in a match that was much closer than the stat sheet will show.

"The scores that say 3-0 don't really tell the tale of the match and how well Arkansas once again played against us," UF coach Mary Wise said.

UF was down by as many as six points in game one, two points in game two and four points late in game three.

But the Gators closed out the Razorbacks by scoring five straight points, including four consecutive kills by senior outside hitter Marcie Hampton.

The win brings UF (22-1, 15-1 Southeastern Conference) within one win of clinching at least a share of the SEC title.

"It definitely means a lot," junior middle blocker Kelsey Bowers said. "Every year it's one of our main focuses. We try to go into each game preparing our best so that we can win the title again."

Hampton finished the match with 13 kills, and senior opposite hitter Amber McCray had a match-high 14.

"It had really nothing to do with me," McCray said. "Angie (McGinnis) is amazing at getting her hitters one-on-ones, and I had a lot of one-on-one looks today, and that really just made my job so much easier."

Freshman outside hitter Callie Rivers finished with 11 kills and 10 digs for her third career double-double.

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Bowers and fellow middle blocker Kisya Killingsworth finished with nine and eight kills, respectively, and had nine block assists between them.

"Really spreading the ball out is what makes us kind of unstoppable, because we have so many players who can kill the ball," Bowers said.

The Gators were resilient in getting their revenge against the Razorbacks, scoring 14 of the next 19 points after being down 16-20 in game three.

Game two was heavy in sideout volleyball, with neither team really holding a large lead, but UF made a run toward the end to win.

The first game saw UF come out flat, and Coach Mary Wise called a timeout down 7-3.

Arkansas scored two straight points out of the timeout to extend its lead to six, but that's when UF began to slowly get back in the game.

"Once a team starts getting up … everyone works differently," Bowers said. "For me, I kind of get angry at the other players who are actually scoring points. So we kind of build that momentum and come back."

The Gators inched closer and closer until they finally tied the game at 23 points, then took over and won the game on a kill from Hampton.

"I think that's just a testament to our team's work ethic," McCray said. "Being able to stay focused and not give up and to know that we still can come back is a huge testament to our team."

Many of the Razorbacks have an unusual method of serving: They face the sidelines and then twist their bodies to face forward as they strike the ball.

"It gave us a lot of trouble when we played them in Fayetteville, but we did a much better job this time around preparing for it," Wise said.

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