The ball was served by the smack of the palm of Florida freshman libero Emily Canaan, Mississippi State graduate student outside hitter Gabby Waden made contact, but it was arrant, and the ball bounced out of bounds. The Gators worked in stride toward their fourth straight win.
No.13 Florida (14-3, 6-1) sweeped the Mississippi State Bulldogs (11-6, 4-3) in three sets (25-18, 25-22, 25-19) Friday. Florida extended its overall record against the Bulldogs to 54-1, while staying undefeated in 27 trips to Starkville, Mississippi.
Two straight attack errors from Mississippi State allowed Florida to jump in front early.
Bulldog attack errors accounted for five of UF’s opening 12 points. The Gators led 12-6 midway through the first set.
Junior outside hitter Sofia Victoria and sophomore middle blocker Bre Kelley attacked the left side of the net in ferocious fashion, contributing seven kills. Florida started to leave the Bulldogs in the dust.
Mississippi State head coach Julie Darty Dennis called her first timeout of the set down 19-12. Florida’s defense was holding the Bulldogs below a .100 hitting percentage in the opening set.
Mississippi State responded to the stoppage, immediately starting to construct some momentum with a kill by redshirt senior middle blocker Deja Robinson. The point was followed by an attack error against freshman setter Alexis Stucky.
However, UF would go on to match the Bulldogs intensity at the end of the set. The Gators ended the first frame with three straight points, capped off by a Kelley kill. She floated the ball over the net, finding a gap in the middle of the Mississippi State defense. Florida won the opening set 25-18.
The Bulldogs went on a five point streak to start set two, includings a pair of kills from junior outside hitter Shania Cromartie.
Mississippi State had its first lead of the match, 5-0, and UF head coach Mary Wise called her first timeout.
After a quick conversation with their coach, the Gators went back to work on the defensive end. The duo of Kelley and sophomore outside hitter Merritt Beason sent a block back over the net. The ball smacked Cromartie and landed out of bounds. This would start Florida’s slow climb back in the set. A kill by senior outside hitter Marina Markova drew the set even at eight a piece.
Out of the tie, the two squads became plagued with attack errors. The Gators hadf seven service errors and three attack errors in the second set alone.
Each side pushed on late into the frame. Florida was the first to begin a run, as Beason tied it with a kill and then executed a block that forced an attack error. UF was back in the lead at 21-20.
Despite two timeouts by Mississippi State, nothing would stop Florida from taking the second set. Two two-point runs sealed the deal, 25-22.
A three-point scoring streak by Mississippi State gave it a 5-2 lead. UF couldn’t control hits, creating attack errors that would see the ball sail out of bounds and into the crowd.
Thankfully for the Gators, a block party led by Markova started a five point run. Florida took its first lead in the third set at 8-6.
Mississippi State had given up the lead in the definitive set and called timeout.
The remainder of the set was defined by the Gators up front. Stucky hit many well-placed sets in the third, contributing to her 36 total assists. Kelley, Beason, Markova and sophomore middle blocker Gabrielle Essix dominated the Bulldogs with a heap of kills down the middle of the court.
Late in the third set, the Bulldogs never gave in to being blown out. Mississippi State stood defiant with a last-minute three-point scoring streak, which caused Wise to call a timeout up 23-19.
The Gators responded with two straight points to finish the third set, 25-19, and secured the sweep.
Florida’s defense kept the Bulldogs on a leash, holding them to 26 kills on 94 attacks and forcing a low hitting percentage of .021.
The Gators will stay in Starkville for another run in with Mississippi State Saturday at 6 p.m. The match will stream on SEC Network+.
Brandon Hernandez is currently the enterprise sports writer and sports podcast host for The Independent Alligator. He likes long walks on the sidewalk and watching basketball tape in his off time. You can find most of his work @BranH2001 on X and on The Courtside Podcast on Spotify.