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Friday, April 12, 2024

UF looked to put some distance between itself and the rest of the Southeastern Conference after word of Kentucky's Friday-night loss reached Gainesville.

The Gators' 3-1 (18-25, 25-23, 25-14, 25-21) win against Auburn on Sunday did exactly that, despite their disconcertingly sluggish start.

Slow starts against lesser competition have become a "reoccurring theme," according to UF coach Mary Wise, and that trend that could hurt them down the road.

"We have to come in with the same intensity, and that's something that we're going to have to work on," senior middle blocker Kelsey Bowers said.

Last time these two teams met, the Gators (20-2, 14-1 SEC) got off to a painfully slow start before recovering and coming away with a sweep.

This time, Auburn's senior outside hitter, Jessica Glover, registered five kills and looked like the best player on the court as the Tigers (6-21, 1-15 SEC) stole the first set from the heavily-favored Gators in front of a shocked home crowd.

Glover gave UF's defense fits all day and finished with a match-high 18 kills on a .351 hitting percentage.

"That's just a senior with a ton of game who played exceptionally well," Wise said. "She was terrific in all aspects."

Being out-hit and out-dug while recording just one block against the conference's worst team ultimately served as a wake-up call for first-place UF.

The Gators buckled down on defense and made critical adjustments at the end of a tightly fought second set.

Passing was a problem early for the Gators, but Wise and her players said to take that as a testament to the Tigers' aggressive serving.

"It's real easy to blame our players, but in this case credit Auburn," Wise said. "They served lights-out."

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One player who can't take any blame for UF's ugly win is freshman outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel, who was limited in practice last week while she was getting over a flu bug that kept her out of last week's match with Arkansas.

Jaeckel provided the Gators with a huge lift off the bench, logging 13 kills on a .440 hitting percentage.

"Not even being able to be on the bench and support my teammates was really hard last weekend," Jaeckel said.

Freshman setter Kelly Murphy also turned in an impressive effort, coming up just one dig shy of a triple-double.

UF is now in the driver's seat in the SEC, sitting a game up on Kentucky, a team it already defeated at home on Oct. 10.

The Gators still have to play the Wildcats in Lexington next Sunday, but in order for Kentucky to take the conference title, UF would have to drop another match somewhere along the way.

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