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Friday, February 03, 2023

Final Fight: No. 20 Florida travels for double header against No. 8 Kentucky

The Gators vie for the 2021 SEC title against the Wildcats

Florida coach Mary Wise talks to her team during a Sept. 24 game against Miss. State.
Florida coach Mary Wise talks to her team during a Sept. 24 game against Miss. State.

It’s the epic finale of the regular season. 

The No. 20 Florida Gators volleyball team (20-6, 14-2 SEC) will face its biggest matchup of the season Friday and Saturday in Lexington against the No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats (22-4, 15-1 SEC). 

The 2021 SEC Championship is on the line for both teams. Either Florida or Kentucky has won at least a share of the conference title every year since the 2015 season. The Gators could outright claim the title if they win both matches against the Wildcats and if Mississippi State loses to Auburn. Kentucky could win the title altogether for the second year in a row if it takes both of the matches over Florida. 

For the Gators, these upcoming matches hold even more meaning outside of the championship title: head coach Mary Wise’s 1,000th overall career win. If Florida wins either match, Wise would become the first female Division I head coach to hit the astounding milestone. 

Florida rides into Kentucky on a nine-game winning streak, with outside hitter T’ara Ceasar being Florida’s key to victory. In Sunday’s sweep over South Carolina, the redshirt senior recorded 14 kills and 17 digs. Ceasar has accumulated a team-high 360 kills so far this season, already 20 more than last season. 

Two Gators were awarded conference honors this week. Setter Marlie Monserez was named SEC Setter of the Week for the fifth time, while libero Elli McKissock earned her second SEC Defensive Player of the Week accolade.

In Florida’s last three matches, Monserez averaged 13.44 assists per set, three digs per set, 2.17 points per set and 1.56 kills per set, which helped lead the Gators to a .364 hitting percentage. McKissock dominated the backcourt for Florida, averaging 5.22 digs per set and 1.44 assists per set the past three matches. The sophomore alleviated the Gators from their scoring deficit Sunday after a six-point service run late in the third set, which brought Florida from trailing 19-18 to match point at 24-19. 

Kentucky is on a six-match sweep streak of its own, defeating South Carolina, Georgia, Texas A&M and Auburn. On Sunday against Auburn, outside hitter Madi Skinner dished out 17 kills with a .614 hitting percentage. The Wildcats hit .506 in that match, the first time Kentucky has hit above .500 in a match all season. 

“They’re a good team,” outside hitter Merritt Beason said about Kentucky following Sunday’s match. “It’s going to be a battle, but I think that we can do it.”

The first serve for both matches will begin at 1 p.m. Friday’s match can be streamed on SEC Network, while Saturday’s will be streamed on SEC Network+. 

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

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