While most of the attention for Gators sports fell on the opposite side of Gale Lemerand Drive, head coach Mary Wise and Florida volleyball looked to cap off a dominant weeked at its second invitational of the season.
The No. 16 Gators defeated VCU sweeping all three sets (25-17, 25-17, 25-20) Saturday. UF was led by junior setter Birdie Hendrickson, who alongside outside hitter AC Fitzpatrick and middle blocker Bre Kelley shut out the Rams in straight sets.
The Gators began the first set and immediately took advantage of VCU’s mistakes. Florida etched out an early 7-3 lead, but the Rams would soon find a rhythm and prevent the Gators from running away with the lead.
With Florida’s lead cut to 11-9, outside hitter Carly Hendrickson would bring life back into her teammates with an emphatic kill to increase the lead to 12-9.
The Rams refused to let the Gators harbor any momentum, quickly tying the set at 14 following a kill from VCU outside hitter Ana Brangioni. Despite rallying to tie the set, three quick aces helped propel the Gators to a 20-15 lead, forcing VCU to call its first time out of the set.
Even with the timeout, the Rams could not terminate UF’s energy. The lead extended to seven as middle blocker Bre Kelly put the finishing touches on the set with a kill, taking the set 25-17.
The second set began much the same as VCU limited the Gators’ chance to extend their lead. Following a block from Carol Bentley, the Rams tied the set at five a piece.
Hendrickson would quickly make her presence known when Florida fell into a 14-12 hole. Two quick blocks from the junior and senior outside hitter Marina Markova knotted the set at 14-14.
The student section was invigorated by the turn of events and propelled the Gators’ momentum through the set.
The Hendrickson show continued as she headlined a four-point run with dominant play at the net, amassing two more blocks. VCU was forced to call a timeout in response, trailing UF 18-14.
Florida continued to increase its lead over the Rams and ended the set on an ace from Hendrickson — capping off her masterful individual performance with seven kills and only four errors, to take the set 25-17.
The Gators could not shake the pattern of a slow start in the third frame, allowing the Rams to take an early 4-3 lead.
However, kills by middle blocker Gabrielle Essix and Kelley would revive the Gators offense and push them to a 7-5 lead.
A three-point VCU run tied the score at 8-8. The Gators found a spark from Fitzpatrick thanks to a miraculous diving save, which set up a kill by Markova to put Florida ahead, 9-8.
The Rams wouldn’t allow the Gators to push past a two point lead, regardless of how many service errors VCU committed. This affair would culminate with a media timeout when the Gators led 15-14.
An ace by libero Ellie Mckissock and the rocking Stephen C. O’Connell Center demanded VCU call yet another timeout after play resumed.
Wise praised Mckissock’s performance.
Wise said. “We rely heavily on her and she stepped up to the test.. Certainly worthy of a tournament MVP award,”
As they had done the past two sets, Florida began to pull away, ending the match with a VCU service error and a score of 25-20.
The Gators now look to build off their performance next Tuesday when they welcome state rival Florida State to their home court.
“We got to rope-a-dope, [the Seminoles are] bigger, they’re more physical,” Wise said. “There are a lot of things they do better than us right now, so we just gotta stay in the ring.”
Tuesday’s match is set to begin at 7 p.m.
Contact Zachary Curtin at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @zachary_curtin.
Zach is a freshman sports journalism major and a sports reporter for the Alligator. When he is not covering UF sports he is often being disappointed by Philadelphia sports teams.