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Thursday, March 23, 2023

On Sunday, the Gators dropped the first set of a conference road match for the second time in five days.

Florida recovered to win the next three sets to defeat South Carolina on Wednesday. The team wasn't as fortunate the second time around.

After squandering a close opening set in Baton Rouge, La., No. 6 UF (12-3, 6-2 Southeastern Conference) could not bounce back and was swept by LSU 3-0 (28-26, 25-20, 25-22). Before the loss, the Gators had never been swept in a regular-season conference match under coach Mary Wise.

The youth of the Gators was evident, as they could not regain their composure after their poor play put them in a hole. UF started four sophomores, but LSU showed its experience with four starting seniors.

"The difference in the match was that their older players played great and our younger players played very young tonight," Wise said.

From the first set to the final point, UF had no answer for one of those LSU seniors - middle blocker Brittnee Cooper. She dominated the Gators' front line and finished the match with 18 kills and zero errors to go along with a superb .692 hitting percentage to lead the Tigers (13-4, 7-1 SEC) .

On the other side of the net, sophomore middle blocker Cassandra Anderson could not match Cooper's production. She finished with one kill and just three block assists.

"I wouldn't even say we couldn't handle her - we couldn't even touch her," Wise said. "Cassandra had a huge matchup. We asked her to go up against Brittnee, and she got the best of her this time."

Sophomore outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel racked up 12 kills, but she was the only member of the team who reached double-digits.

Fellow outside hitter Colleen Ward was almost nonexistent, as she finished with three kills on 24 total attempts.

UF ended up outblocking the Tigers seven to four but still struggled to put any pressure on LSU's front line. The Tigers won the kills battle by 12 after hitting 56 on the night.

This was the first time in 21 regular-season matches that the Gators did not win when they outblocked an opponent.

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Now, UF finds itself in an uphill climb if it wants to win a 19th consecutive conference title. Florida is now two matches behind SEC leader Kentucky.

"Our team has never been out of the race in October, so how we respond will be real key here," Wise said.

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