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Friday, April 19, 2024

On Friday, it became official.

A loss by the Gators paired with a Kentucky victory mathematically eliminated No. 13 Florida (20-5, 14-4 Southeastern Conference) from the conference title race. UF will not win the SEC for the first time in 19 years.

The Gators imploded in the final two sets of their match Friday against Tennessee (21-7, 14-4 SEC) and were defeated 1-3 (25-22, 23-25, 15-25, 22-25).

Again, the Gators showed its youth as their hit 19 of their 29 service errors in the final two sets and finished with a .139 hitting efficiency.

“We are a really young group and our young players, who we depend a whole lot on, are really trying to figure out how to compete on a high level on a consistent basis,” associate head coach Nick Cheronis said.

Although sophomore Kelly Murphy finished with 10 kills, 21 assists and 14 digs to grab her NCAA-leading ninth triple-double and Kristy Jaeckel notched 15 kills, UF’s offensive attack was inefficient.

Tennessee was able to dig up 81 balls as the Gators had trouble finding holes in the defense because the Vols were able to key in on just Murphy and Jaeckel.

“Until we start generating consistent offense from other people besides Kelly and Kristy, those two are going to have a rough go of it,” Cheronis said.

Sophomore outside hitter Colleen Ward is the usual third option, but on Friday, she could not find her swing as she recorded a -.023 hitting percentage.

“She is a big piece of our offense and what we do, but she is just really struggling with her game right now,” he said.

On the other side, junior Nikki Fowler did not have any problems against the Gator defense. She notched 19 kills and 16 digs.

UF will have to bounce back quickly as it now travels to face No.10 Kentucky (27-2, 17-1 SEC) at 2 p.m. Sunday.

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