On the left side of the court, right in front of the net, junior outside hitter Sofia Victoria played with a spring in her step. She slammed the ball into the ground to end the weekend in Starkville, Mississippi.
No.13 Florida (15-3, 7-1) swept the Mississippi State Bulldogs (11-7, 4-4) in three sets (25-19, 25-19, 25-22) for the second time this weekend Saturday.
The first set was even as both squads tied five times until a kill by sophomore middle blocker Bre Kelley gave Florida its first lead of the game, 7-6.
UF’s front line was once again a main source of points in the first set. Senior outside hitter Marina Markova and sophomore middle blocker Gabrielle Essix, like Friday night, spiked home kills right in front of the Bulldogs.
After a short media break, the Gators led 15-10 in the opening frame and kept the lead throughout. Florida played at a fast pace and gave its outside hitters many opportunities. Victoria took what was given and ended the first set with a kill. Florida won the frame 25-19 behind Victoria who grabbed a kill off of 50% of her attack attempts.
Victoria began the second set right where she left off from the first. She immediately lit the Gators’ spark with one of her 14 kills.
Little to no errors were made by the Gators. A lone Victoria attack error was responded to by UF with a three-point streak. The run ended with Mississippi State graduate student outside hitter Gabby Waden getting a kill.
Freshman setter Alexis Stucky took the set into her own hands. She racked up 14 assists in the second set alone, including sets to sophomore outside hitter Merritt Beason, Kelley and Markova.
Toward the end of the second set, UF’s lead stayed around five points toward the end of the second set, until an attack error from Bulldogs junior outside hitter Francesca McBride. The Mississippi State error came off of a serve by freshman libero Emerson Hoyle and gave Florida the final point needed to claim set two, 25-19.
For the second straight set, the Gators held the Bulldogs below a .200 hitting percentage.
Going into the definitive third set, Mississippi State competed against UF’s quickness with its own speed and tempo. This included Bulldogs junior outside hitter Shania Cromartie getting involved on the right side as a designated attacker.
Mississippi State’s 5-3 lead began to fade away as redshirt senior middle blocker Deja Robinson caused two attack errors trying to keep balls in the air.
With the lead gone, the Gators were in the driver's seat of the close match. However, finishing Mississippi State off was harder than expected for Florida. Five ties and a late three-point run closed the gap and pushed the third set into a 21-21 tie.
Looking to complete the weekend sweep in Starkville, Florida pounded every spike over the net. The strategy worked to give UF some breathing room at 23-21.
Even after a quick timeout by Mississippi State head coach Julie Darty Dennis, the Bulldogs could never find answers to the offensive attack and blocks from those in front. Victoria gave Florida the magic kill to win the set, 25-22, and the match.
The Gators will now travel back home to prepare to host the Georgia Bulldogs at the Stephen C. O’Connell center Wednesday at 7 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.