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Friday, May 24, 2024

On Friday night, last-place Alabama proved why coach Mary Wise says there’s no such thing as a run-of-the-mill match in Southeastern Conference play.

The Crimson Tide (8-7, 0-5 SEC) gave the No. 2 Gators (12-1, 5-0 SEC) a much stiffer test than many would have expected, as they scored at least 20 points in each set of a 3-0 (25-23, 25-21, 25-20) loss to UF in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

The Gators seemed to struggle with the raucous close-quarters environment of Alabama’s Coleman Auxiliary Volleyball Extension, as they hit just .255 after posting four consecutive matches above .320.

“If this wasn’t a record crowd for this season, I’ll be surprised,” coach Mary Wise said. “This place was rocking.”

Juniors Kristy Jaeckel and Kelly Murphy provided the offensive bright spots for the Gators, as Jaeckel recorded a match-high 11 kills and Murphy added 10 of her own.

The pair combined for just four errors in 45 total swings, a figure that helped Murphy post a team-high .421 hitting efficiency with Jaeckel coming in just behind her at .346.

However, aside from Murphy and Jaeckel, the team seemed to struggle on offense, as the remaining players combined to hit just .164.

“I thought our team lacked some of the emotional intensity that it takes,” Wise said. “I’m not going to say the effort wasn’t there, but it just wasn’t the attention to details.”

Although the Gators were able to shut out the Crimson Tide 3-0, Wise voiced her displeasure over the team’s performance.

Coming into the night, it was expected that Florida would have a much easier time defeating a team that had won just two sets in its first five SEC matches.

“The disappointing thing is we’re making some of the same mistakes,” Wise said. “What we’re trying to do is more than just beating a team that’s winless in the SEC, it’s about getting better. And I’m not sure as we go through this that we got better.”

Senior Erin Fleming put together a stellar performance in her first match back after missing last Sunday’s contest against Arkansas with a concussion.

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She recorded 18 of UF’s 40 digs, had two assists and also scored an ace.

“Erin started off real slow and then she picked it up big time,” Wise said. “I think she and Kristy were the difference in the match.”

The Gators only trailed for 16 of the game’s 139 points, but they were never able to truly pull away from the Crimson Tide.

In all three sets Florida had a decisive lead at 23, but they repeatedly allowed Alabama to climb back into it before finally closing them out.

In set one, the Crimson Tide brought the score from 23-18 to 24-23. In set two, they closed from 23-17 to 24-21 and in set three they came from 23-16 to 24-20.

“Alabama played terrific,” Wise said. “They played very inspired and they had so much energy. It didn’t matter what the score was.”

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