The crowd roared as junior Marlie Monserez came to the line. The Gators needed a point to complete a comeback against undefeated Kentucky.
The Wildcats’ Avery Skinner soared above the net to attempt her 21st kill of the match. But Florida’s duo of Holly Carlton and Lauren Dooley denied her swing like Jazz center Rudy Gobert rejects shots at the rim. Their block awarded the Gators a match victory as their bench swarmed them to celebrate their upset 3-2 victory over No. 3 Kentucky Friday in the O’Connell Center.
“We really just played with heart,” redshirt junior T’ara Ceasar said. “I think that the fact that the bench was so engaged, the people on the court were so engaged, our coaches were engaged, that's what won us that fifth set.”
Ceasar led the Gators all afternoon. She finished with a team-high 20 kills and a hitting percentage of .311. Monzerez tallied 50 assists over the course of the match.
The Wildcats won the opening set 25-18. Florida hit .250 in the opening set, while Kentucky had a hitting percentage of .382.
The second set began the same as the first as the two squads exchanged blows early. It looked like the Wildcats would steal the set, but Florida battled back to bring the set within a point. Kentucky called a timeout up 20-19.
The Gators jumped out to a one-point lead and forced Kentucky to call its second timeout of the set. The Wildcats battled back and even the score at 24, but a service error gave the Gators the lead back. Kentucky tied the score once more, but back-to-back Ceasar kills clinched the set for Florida 27-25.
The Wildcats won the third set 25-17. They were remarkably consistent in set three and made just one error with a hitting percentage of .560. The Gators, meanwhile, claimed seven turnovers and a hitting percentage of .107.
Florida started out the fourth set with its back against the wall. It came out firing early, but Kentucky recovered quickly with a 4-0 run of its own. The Gators responded with its own 7-1 run and extended the lead to seven before a Wildcats timeout. The Gators never relinquished control of the set and won 25-16. Florida improved its hitting percentage to .481 with one error and 14 kills.
The match went into the decisive fifth set. Just like the prior four sets, the final set teetered back and forth like a seesaw. The set tied at four before the Gators went on a 3-0 run and extended its lead to 13-10.
The Wildcats called timeout and regrouped for their final charge. They fended off match point twice and evened the score at 14. Ceasar provided another kill to take a 16-15 lead, and Florida put the match away with a block.
Head coach Mary Wise complimented Kentucky after the match.
“You know, it's one thing to do it one night against the likes of a Kentucky,” Wise said. “I would love it if we can be this close on a second night.”
The match Saturday starts at 4 p.m. and will stream on SEC Network+.
Contact Michael Hull at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @Michael_Hull33
Michael Hull is a fourth-year journalism sports & media major and a sports writer at The Alligator. He hosts the weekly sports podcast and has worked on staff for five semesters. In the past, Hull has served as the sports editor, the men's and women's golf beat writer, the volleyball beat writer and the football beat writer.