Gators libero Elli McKissock took to the court Saturday and tossed a volleyball into the Stephen C. O’Connell Center air for the first time since December.
In the stands, Florida fans bunched into their seats for a quick preview of head coach Mary Wise’s team before its 2022 campaign begins next Friday.
The No.15 Gators hosted the Jacksonville Dolphins for a variable-set exhibition match, sweeping JU in four and a half sets of dominance. Usually the preseason exhibition match would be an orange versus blue affair, a traditional intrasquad scrimmage. However, the NCAA permitted the Gators to play an actual opponent this year.
Florida started the first set of the afternoon behind, dropping the first two points to Jacksonville until middle blocker Gabrielle Essix grabbed UF’s first kill of the day. An avalanche was soon to follow in the form of five straight points for Florida.
The Dolphins struggled to get kills past Essix and outside hitter Marina Markova, and the duo in front of the net sealed the first set for the Gators 25-19.
Jacksonville kept pace with Florida early on in the second set, trailing just 3-2 after blocks from both outside hitters Julia De Sa and Jenna McNamara.
However, despite Jacksonville's best effort, Florida turned up the furnace and cooked the Dolphins on the court.
A spike from UF outside hitter Sofia Victoria sealed a comfortable second set win for the Gators, 25-14.
The first point of the third set featured multiple point-saving dives from Florida — which grabbed the crowd’s attention — and a point from Gators setter Birdie Hendrickson that was met with roaring approval. .
The set was highlighted by a pair of consecutive aces from Markova. The Gators were breezing through their exhibition and wearing out the Dolphins to the tune of a third straight set win, 25-8.
Trying to fend off a fourth consecutive set win from Florida, Jacksonville fought back to claim an early 6-1 lead — its largest of the day.
However, the size difference of Florida’s net-front players brought it back within striking distance with multiple blocks by middle blockers Amaya Thomas and Victoria.
An ace by Gators libero Emily Canaan regained Florida the lead, 12-11.
Momentum on the Gators’ side, they controlled the rest of the fourth set, 25-17. Not much would change in the final half set, as Florida took that as well, 15-7.
At the exhibition match’s conclusion, members of Florida’s roster stayed on the court to stretch and sign autographs for the fans who stayed throughout the dominating performance.
The Gators will be back in the O’Dome to start the regular season against the North Florida Ospreys Aug. 26. First serve is set for 7 p.m.
Brandon Hernandez is a student at the University of Florida studying journalism. He is a writer for The Alligator, Gator Country and for PlugTalkSports. You can find most of his work on his Twitter (BranH2001) and on his podcast, “The Courtside Podcast,” on Spotify.