Libero Elli McKissock walked back to the service line. A teammate passed her the ball as she turned around and dribbled the white-and-blue-striped volleyball.
She picked it up and took a deep breath. The freshman then tossed the ball sky high and jumped forward once it hit its apex. McKissock’s overhand swing sent the ball right at Missouri outside hitter Kylie Deberg.
Deberg tried to pass it to her setter, but the volleyball bounced off her left arm and the ball flailed to the ground near the Tigers bench.
McKissock screamed, jumped and fist pumped with excitement as her Florida teammates mobbed her after she clinched the match with an ace.
The Gators completed their massive comeback after they lost the first two sets. Florida defeated Missouri 3-2 (25-23, 25-23, 19-25, 25-27, 13-15).
“Elli (McKissock) really showed up in all parts of the game, serving, passing, digs, coverage and setting,” Thayer Hall said of the freshman’s performance. “She makes our job really easy for us.”
She added that for McKissock to serve at Deberg, who is an All-American and a strong passer, was bold.
“That was a testament for who she is, who she’s going to be for us,” she said.
Florida stumbled when it climbed out of bed for the first set versus Missouri. The Gators fell behind early due to a number of errors and free balls. UF failed to inch closer than two points until the score reached 20-19. O’Dome spectators attempted to inspire their team after a Tigers outside hitter Anna Dixon swing missed the court. Deberg filed her fifth kill of the set to give a 1-0 lead to Missouri.
The Gators suffered the same fate as they did in the first. They fell behind early then surged back, but failed to retake the lead. They lost the second set 25-23.
Points swung back and forth on a pendulum to start the third set. Florida then used four-straight points to claim a 15-11 lead. A Ceasar kill and three-straight aces from outside hitter Paige Hammons pushed the Gators lead to seven.
The Tigers didn’t recover and allowed Florida to take the third-set victory 25-19 that started its comeback bid.
Florida launched out to a 10-6 lead to start the fourth set, but Missouri responded to tie the set at 10. The frame proceeded into a seesaw affair until the Gators claimed a 24-21 lead.
The Tigers netted three-straight points to push the set into a tiebreaker. Outside hitters T’ara Ceasar and Hall tallied back-to-back kills that gave them the 27-25 fourth-set win.
Both squads went through highs and lows in the decisive fifth set. The Tigers held a two-point advantage for most of the frame. Missouri right side hitter Dariana Hollingsworth-Santana pushed its lead to three at 13-10.
But Florida found an answer when it was cornered. Ceasar recorded the first kill then Hall. Hollingworth-Santana committed an attack error that followed by a Hall kill and a McKissock ace.
Hall and Ceasar combined for the most kill for the Gators at 24 apiece. Setter Marlie Monserez tallied a team-high 20 digs and helped them to a .344 hitting percentage. Middle blocker Lauren Dooley blocked six swings and allowed Missouri to hit .233.
Coach Mary Wise said the Gators were fortunate to beat the Tigers because they played clean volleyball.
“There was so much we learned from this match,” she said. “We need to be better tomorrow. That is we got to be better behind the service line, be better in terms of some defensive things we need to be better at.”
They return to the O’Dome to face Missouri again at 4 p.m. The match can be streamed on SEC Network+.
Contact Zachary Huber at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber