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Saturday, May 25, 2024

No. 14 Florida fends off Auburn, still holds top spot in conference

Gators volleyball redeemed its loss to Georgia last week with a sweep of the Tigers

The Florida volleyball team celebrates a point during its match against LSU Sunday Oct. 9, 2022.
The Florida volleyball team celebrates a point during its match against LSU Sunday Oct. 9, 2022.

Auburn sophomore setter Jordan Sinness hit the ball through the air. It sailed across the net but landed outside the lines of the Hardwood floor.

The Gators bench erupted. UF finished a dominant third set to complete its victory on the road at the Neville Arena in Auburn, Alabama. 

No.14 Florida (16-4, 8-2 SEC) defeated the Auburn Tigers (18-3, 7-3 SEC) through three sets (25-23, 25-18, 25-15) to get back into the win column Wednesday and to keep the top spot in the Southeastern Conference. The Gators defense held the Tigers to a .112 hitting percentage on the way to earning the team’s 10th straight win against Auburn.

To open the first set, the two squads exchanged points with one another, tying six times. Auburn eventually broke out with a 10-8 lead after two UF errors.

The Gators still kept pace. A kill by senior outside hitter Marina Markova and a block by sophomore middle blocker Gabrielle Essix once again brought the set square, 10-10.

In the defining moments of the first set, tied at 20 apiece, sophomore outside hitter Merritt Beason and junior outside hitter Sofia Victoria attacked the front of the net. The duo kept Florida alive with a combined three kills as UF broke ahead late, 24-23. 

An attack error by Auburn freshman outside hitter Madison Scheer gave Florida the tight first set after 17 ties. The Gators’ offense was efficient with a .556 hitting percentage. 

Markova began the second frame with a powerful, spiking kill through Auburn’s blockers upfront. However, two lane violations against Essix and freshman setter Alexis Stucky quickly changed the momentum and the Tigers took a 5-3 lead 

Auburn’s mistakes slowly brought Florida back into the set. Two attack errors and a service error against Auburn freshman outside hitter Akasha Anderson tied the second set at seven.

A string of ties ensued until a Beason kill and a block on the right side of the net by Essix broke the cycle and UF led 14-12. 

Fresh out of a stoppage for a media timeout, sophomore middle blocker Bre Kelley extended Florida’s lead to 16-13 with a kill. The point would avalanche into the Gators claiming five of the next seven points. Midway through set two, UF led 21-15. 

A kill by Markova and another Essix block jumped the Gators to a 23-16 lead. Auburn head coach Brent Crouch called his first timeout. 

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Despite the Tigers matching the Gators kill for kill late in the set, Florida eventually took the frame. Essix went up and challenged sophomore libero Fallan Lanham, blocking her attack for the clinching point. The block, Essix’s fifth of the night, claimed set two for Florida, 25-18.

Victoria and Beason kept the Gators ahead early on in the third set, 7-4, producing a killing spree against Auburn. Out of the first seven UF points, four of them were kills from Victoria and three from Beason. 

Thanks to 11 kills, Florida extended its lead to 14-6. Auburn's hitting struggled as many balls became uncontrollable and flew into the crowd. The Tigers ended the match with a total of 19 attack errors compared to UF’s 15.

After a 11-3 run by the Gators, Auburn began to fight back. Scheer punched two consecutive kills down the Gators’ side. Florida head coach Mary Wise called her first timeout of the third set after an attack error by Markova. UF still led 16-10. 

After the break, the Gators went on a three-point run to push off the Auburn momentum. Afterwards, the Tigers tried to respond with a two-point run of their own only to be answered by a four-point Florida run.

The Gators sat just two points from a sweep at 23-12 — UF’s largest lead in the set. 

A service error by sophomore setter Jordan Sinness gave Florida the third set 25-15. The Tigers suffered their first sweep this season. 

The Gators will travel back to Gainesville to prepare for a doubleheader weekend. Florida hosts the Arkansas Razorbacks at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center Saturday at 1 p.m. and Sunday at noon. Saturday's match will stream on SEC Network+ and Sunday’s will broadcast on SEC Network. 

Contact Brandon Hernandez at bhernandez@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @BranH2001.

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Brandon Hernandez

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.


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