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Friday, March 31, 2023

TAMPA - The Gators learned the hard way how wide the gap can be between two of the top teams in the country.

No. 3 Washington dominated No. 4 Florida 3-0 (25-17, 25-10, 25-19) in the Tampa Twice Tournament at the Sun Dome on Saturday. The Huskies (8-0) have not dropped a set all season and were nearly flawless against the outmatched Gators (6-1).

"It's clear that Washington is at a different level than us right now in the middle of September," UF coach Mary Wise said. "What makes them so good - besides how talented they are - is that they make very few mistakes. You can look at their numbers all season, and their numbers today reflect that as well."

Seemingly everything the Gators hit was dug up by the Huskies - particularly libero Tamari Miyashiro, who had a match-high 20 digs.

Washington's hitters, meanwhile, had their way at the net, racking up 44 kills with a .359 hitting percentage. Florida recorded just 29 kills on .067 hitting.

Up 24-14 in the first set, Washington made its first attack error of the match. Florida had already committed seven at that point.

The Huskies' ability to avoid mistakes and cover the entire floor frustrated the Gators all night, and UF couldn't create enough of its own points to overcome Washington's dominant defense and practically perfect hitting.

"We knew that to beat them, they'd have to help us, and Washington didn't seem very accommodating on that front," Wise said.

Although the Gators fought back in the first and third sets, slowing the Huskies' offense efficiency attack while putting a few points of their own on the board, the team's defense just couldn't keep up with the barrage of attackscoming its way.

"They didn't really give us anything," senior libero Elyse Cusack said. "They didn't give us any room to get back in it, but that's what great teams do. That's what we're trying to be."

Florida was once again outblocked, seven to four, despite working on that part of the game all week in practice. Washington also outdug UF 48-47. Wise noted both numbers, adding that her team will have to dig far better in the future unless the blocking makes the necessary strides.

Senior middle blocker Kristina Johnson offered a simpler solution when asked what UF can work on after this weekend.

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"Everything. There's room for improvement everywhere," Johnson said. "We're not perfect, and we're striving to be a great team."

The Gators were much more impressive Friday night in the Sun Dome against USF (5-2) in front of the Bulls' hostile home crowd, winning 3-1 (25-13, 18-25, 25-23, 25-10) behind excellent play by Colleen Ward and Kristy Jaeckel.

The two sophomore outside hitters combined for 29 kills and 21 digs in the Gators' first match of the tournament. Jaeckel was especially impressive, finishing second on the team in kills and recording a .407 hitting percentage. Despite a mediocre showing against Washington, Jaeckel was named to the All-Tournament Team.

Wise was pleased with Jaeckel's performance and the maturity her team displayed by bouncing back and pulling out a close third set after losing the momentum during the second set.

In addition to being UF's first loss of the season, Saturday also marked the end of the team's difficult early nonconference schedule.

Having already faced three ranked opponents, the Gators won't play a team nearly as talented as Washington until the postseason. Aside from Florida, only one Southeastern Conference team - No. 17 Kentucky - is ranked.

Though adding a loss to UF's previously unblemished record, Wise said the rest of the season will reflect whether or not the Gators made the right decision in opening the season against tough competition.

"Look around the country and see how few great matchups on paper there are. I think we could've easily done that," Wise said. "If we learned from this, then it will have been worth it."

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