Florida redshirt senior Holly Carlton stood at the service line in the third set. With a clamoring crowd, she prepared for her final serve at the O’Connell Center.
She tossed the ball toward the heavens, exploding off her hand to the other side of the court. After some back-and-forth volleys, T’ara Ceasar shot it over the line and gave the Wildcats the win.
Kentucky (20-1) defeated Florida (17-3) 3-0 Saturday afternoon at the O’Connell Center. The loss became UF’s first straight set SEC home loss since a game against Kentucky Sept. 28, 2016.
Before the match, the crowd maintained unmatched excitement. No. 7 UF came off its biggest win of the season Friday afternoon, a thrilling five-set win over the No. 3 Wildcats in its first match versus a top-10 team since September 2019.
Initially, that energy seemed infectious as Florida burst out to a 9-6 lead due to two kills from redshirt junior Lauren Forte. But just like a cat, Kentucky landed back on its feet and tied it at nine. The two squads battled before the Wildcats clawed off four straight points and secured the first set 25-20.
The Wildcats kept their momentum in the second frame. Florida made it competitive and leapt within three . Any fleeting chance of a comeback bid drifted away, however, as Kentucky won five of the next six points and the set 25-18.
The Gators entered the third set in a similar position last Friday against No. 25 Missouri. In that match, UF stormed back to steal the final three sets. But while Mizzou came in with six losses, Kentucky is one of the top teams in the country, and that showed in the third set.
Florida showed a different type of vitality in the third and bounced back from each Kentucky advantage, eventually seizing a 15-14 lead before Kentucky freshman Madi Skinner took over.
The outside hitter invaded Lexington as the No. 2 recruit in the country and proved that Saturday. She finished with 13 kills, eight of which occurred in the third period. UF, meanwhile, concluded with 21 attacking errors, such as Ceasar’s, which ended the match.
Kentucky’s hitting percentage fell from 0.312 to .266, but Florida’s was way more drastic. The Gators hit a dismal 0.131. Its season average stood at 0.296 coming into today’s match and ranked 10th nationally.
Forte topped UF in kills (10), her second-highest total of the season. Ceasar achieved a season-low five kills, a far cry from her 20 Friday.
No Florida players or coaches spoke to the media after Saturday’s loss. This is the second time this happened this season. The first came after the team’s loss to Georgia Nov. 20.
The Gators’ home season ended, but they’ll travel to College Station, Texas, for their final two regular-season matches Wednesday and Thursday against Texas A&M.
Contact Noah Ram at email@example.com and follow him @Noah_ram1
Noah is a third year journalism-sports and media student from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. He has been with The Alligator since Spring 2019 and has covered men’s and women’s tennis, gymnastics and volleyball. When he isn’t on his beat, Noah is usually sadden over his beloved South Florida sports teams, such as the Heat and Dolphins.