Freshman Merritt Beason stepped on the court inside the Stephen C. O’Connell center for a home match for the first time on Sunday.
With Florida trailing 23-22 in the fourth set, the outside hitter spiked home back-to-back kills to secure match point, which sent the orange and blue faithful into a frenzy. The O’Dome erupted with even more cheers when Minnesota committed an attack error to seal the match for the Gators.
Following a disappointing end to the West Coast road trip and the first loss of Florida’s season against No. 21 Stanford, the team responded in impressive fashion, knocking off the Golden Gophers 3-1 (25-20, 25-19, 22-25, 25-23).
The Gators started off hot, feeding off their crowd’s rowdy energy. After they jumped out to a 6-1 lead, Minnesota head coach Hugh McCutcheon called an early timeout, feeling Floirda’s momentum building and trying to let his team regroup.
The Gators attack failed to wilter, and they managed to maintain their lead for the entirety of the first set. Florida took the opening set 25-20, highlighted by six kills from both outside hitter T’ara Ceasar and middle blocker Lauren Forte.
Minnesota found itself reeling once again at the beginning of the second set. Consecutive aces from outside hitter Thayer Hall built a 5-1 lead and forced a Golden Gophers timeout. The Gators preserved their cushion on the scoreboard throughout the set, just as they did during the opening frame. Setter Marlie Monserez laid down a kill to get Florida to set point before assisting on Hall’s set winning kill. The Gators took the second set with a 25-19 tally, still having yet to trail for the day.
The match started to tighten up in the third set, as Florida and Minnesota tied up the score 10 times. The Golden Gophers put together a four-point run late in the frame to extend their lead to 17-14. Gators head coach Mary Wise and her team needed to regroup, a sweep still within reach.
Minnesota opposite hitter Stephanie Samedy had other plans. She scored the Golden Gophers’ final three points as they took the third set 25-22, keeping their hopes alive for another set.
The missed chance for a sweep didn’t sit well with Florida. It quickly formed a 7-1 lead, including a down-the-line laser from Hall which drew the adoration of the Gators fans in attendance.
Minnesota wasn’t going down without a fight, though. The Golden Gophers strung together five straight points to take their first lead of the set, 13-12. The score swung back and forth the entire set, and the volume of the O’Connell Center hit its peak.
Beason was ready to wrap this match up, and she slammed home two kills to get the Gators to match point. A Minnesota atack error gave the Gators the set, 25-23, and the match, 3-1.
Ceasar led the way with 19 kills followed by Beason and Forte’s 16 each. Monserez was everywhere as always, accounting for 56 of Florida's 65 assists The Gators ended the match with a 0.306 hitting percentage, 69 kills and 21 attack errors as a team.
“It felt great to have the O’Dome back being the O’Dome,” Wise said. “Do we come back and win that fourth set without the fans? I don’t know, but it was a great time to have them.”
Forte said Florida had to have extra focus in practice following the loss to Stanford.
“Practices were really, really, really important,” she said. “Our scouting and all the work that the coaches have put in. I think we really executed the game plan and really showed out tonight.”
The Gators look to ride the momentum of this top-10 victory when the Baylor Bears visit Gainesville for matches Friday and Saturday.
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