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Monday, May 27, 2024

It may not have been the Gators’ most dominant performance, but getting a win is all that matters in the Southeastern Conference.

In front of 1,659 fans in the O’Connell Center and thousands more on ESPNU, No. 1 Florida (17-1, 10-0 SEC) defeated  No. 21 Tennessee 3-0 (25-20, 25-23, 25-20) to extend its win streak to 12.

“The match is going to say 3-0, but it was much closer than 3-0,” coach Mary Wise said.

Outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel led a balanced offensive attack for the Gators, as the junior logged 12 kills and hit .346.

As a team, UF had six players with at least five kills, hitting .318 and holding UT (15-4, 7-3 SEC) to just .219.

After containing Nikki Fowler and yielding 19 kills to Kayla Jeter in the teams’ first meeting, UF’s defense flipped the script Wednesday. The Gators surrendered a match-high 15 kills to Fowler while holding Jeter to just seven.

“We knew to beat Tennessee we couldn’t have both of their great hitters be in that 20-points range,” Wise said. “Nikki Fowler is a terrific talent, and she gave us fits as she has for her entire career.”

The Gators came out and took the first set 25-20 despite being outhit .333 to .316 and out-blocked 3.5 to zero.

Florida was able to turn 14 digs and a number of partial blocks into 38 total attacks versus Tennessee’s 30, allowing UF to overcome its inefficiency.

“Honestly it’s hard to imagine, other than I think we benefited from a few unforced errors and some ball-handling errors early on in that first set,” Wise said. “The stats say they should have won it.”

In a back-and-forth second set that featured 13 ties, the Gators returned to their usual form, recording three blocks to their opponent’s one.

That effort was a big reason why they cut Tennessee’s hitting percentage by .137 from the first to second set.

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After giving up 11 kills on .588 hitting to Fowler in the first two sets, UF held the senior to just four kills on .154 hitting.

A large part of that change was due to the play of junior Kelly Murphy, who only had seven kills after coming in as the SEC Offensive Player of the Week but still managed a double-double with 17 assists and 15 digs.

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