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Thursday, April 25, 2024

No. 17 Florida loses to Mississippi State for the first time in program history

The Gators fall short to the Bulldogs in their second five-set match

<p>Florida outside hitter T&#x27;ara Ceasar spikes a ball toward the Mississippi State defense on Friday night in the O&#x27;Connell Center. </p>

Florida outside hitter T'ara Ceasar spikes a ball toward the Mississippi State defense on Friday night in the O'Connell Center.

Florida outside hitter T’ara Ceasar had the chance to send the fifth set in overtime versus Mississippi State. She received the ball from her teammate and rocketed the volleyball back toward the O’Connell Center floor, but it failed to make it over the net. 

Match point Bulldogs, and the O’Dome fell quiet. 

Mississippi State barked as it rushed the court to celebrate its first win over No. 17 Florida ever Friday night 3-2 (17-25, 25-23, 26-24, 21-25, 15-13).

Outside hitter Sofia Victoria posted another team-high in kills with 19, but it wasn’t enough to knock off the Bulldogs. 

Mississippi State rallied from its loss Thursday night from the start of the opening set. The Bulldogs went on a 5-0 scoring run before Florida called its first timeout. The Gators reclaimed the lead after Victoria recorded back-to-back kills, now 10-8. The sophomore closed out the first set with seven of Florida’s 17 kills and a .700 hitting percentage.

“Sofia has been progressing every practice and every match that we have,” head coach Mary Wise said. “She has put in the work and is taking on a big role in her sophomore season.”

The Gators maintained their scoring cushion even after Mississippi State called its first timeout at 18-15. Florida didn’t let the Bulldogs even taste early victory, instead extending its offensive run by three points at 21-15. Mississippi State went back to the bench for a second timeout, but the Gators were unstoppable. A Ceasar kill sealed the opening set, 25-17. 

It was a fight for set control in the second. Mississippi State swiftly secured the lead at 15-13 before the media timeout. A kill from Bulldogs’ middle blocker Sania Petties and a Victoria ball-handling error forced Wise to call her first timeout trailing  17-13. 

The Gators played catch-up the rest of the set. Florida found a way to get within one of Mississippi State at match point after a Victoria kill, her 13th of the night. However, it wasn’t enough to smother the Bulldogs’ offensive flame. A kill from Mississippi State outside hitter Shania Cromartie sealed the second set 25-23 for the Bulldogs. 

Despite an early 3-0 Gators lead to start the third set, the Bulldogs cranked out nine consecutive points to surpass Florida 10-5. An extended rally lifted Florida fans from the stands as a block from outside hitter Merritt Beason, setter Marlie Monserez and middle blocker Gabrielle Essix stopped the Bulldogs' scoring run. 

The energy in the O’Dome shifted when the Gators rediscovered their groove. A Ceasar kill and back-to-back Essix kills forced the Bulldogs to call a timeout down 14-13. It was seesaw scoring to the end, but Mississippi State persevered. The Bulldogs took the third set 26-24, a win against the Gators now in sight. 

Both teams traded blows with one another throughout the fourth set. Florida climbed its way to a four-point cushion at 14-10 after Mississippi State suffered two costly attack errors and after Victoria and Beason each pelted down kills. 

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The Bulldogs couldn’t come within arms reach of the Gators the rest of the set. An Essix and Beason block gave Florida its ticket to the fifth set, 25-21. 

Gears initially shifted toward the Gators in the fifth set. Florida was able to keep Mississippi State off its tail until a Cromartie kill gave the Bulldogs their first lead of the set at 13-12. Determination fueled Mississippi State in the end, and a Ceasar attack error granted the Bulldogs its first program win against the Gators, 15-13. 

The Gators battle another set of Bulldogs this week as they hit the road to take on Georgia Wednesday in Athens at 7 p.m. 

Contact Kaitlyn Wadulack at Follow her on Twitter at @kwadulack.

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