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Friday, April 19, 2024

For the first time this season, the Gators found themselves with their backs to the wall.

After sweeping its first two matches this weekend, No. 5 Florida (3-0) needed five sets to take down Florida State 3-2 (25-19, 23-25, 25-20,22-25, 17-15) in the O'Connell Center on Monday night.

Serving for the match ahead 16-15 and serving for the match, junior setter Brynja Rodgers took her usual serving spot near the bleachers and sent the ball just over the top of the net, and it rolled off the edge and fell onto the court for a match-winning ace.

Rodgers, who transferred to UF from New Mexico State in early August, admitted to not grasping the importance of the Florida-Florida State rivalry until the team began watching film to prepare for the match. But Rodgers stepped up even without fully understanding how invested the fans were in seeing the Gators win the in-state rivalry for the 18th straight time.

"I really rose to the occasion, as did the team," Rodgers said. "Once the ace went down, I was overwhelmed, the crowd went wild and my teammates were jumping all over me."

Rodgers subbed into the match right before the serve as part of UF's usual rotation, but given the results, coach Mary Wise saw all she needed to from her newest player to feel comfortable using her in clutch situations throughout the season.

"After just three weeks of working with Brynja, I feel very confident that if the match is on the line, I'd like to see her back there serving," Wise said.

Before the match, Wise said the Seminoles could be the Gators' toughest home opponent all year, and her prediction proved to be on point. Florida breezed by UNLV and Colorado this weekend, but FSU exploited the Gators in several areas. The Seminoles' physical front-row play gave them an 11.5-9 blocking advantage and forced the Gators, who hit .378 in the first two matches combined, to hit .255.

Sophomore setter Kelly Murphy wasn't as productive as usual at the net with only eight kills, but she racked up 34 assists on the night. Junior right-side hitter Lauren Bledsoe and sophomore outside hitter Colleen Ward benefited from the passing of Murphy and Rodgers (23 assists), recording 15 kills each. After getting her first career double-double on Saturday, Ward matched that feat Monday by adding 13 digs.

Florida recorded a paltry .083 hitting percentage in the second set - the first the team has dropped this year.

Despite the poor showing, Wise was encouraged by the fact that her team remained close until the final points.

"As poorly as we played (in the second set), we only lost by two points," Wise said. "We really gave away some points, and our offense was so anemic. I felt like, if we could get our offense back on track, we're going to win this game."

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