Freshman setter Alexis Stucky, who assisted on 37 UF kills, decided to get one of her own.
She pounded the ball onto the Rebels side of the court to finish the match and give the Gators an opportunity to clinch their 25th Southeastern Conference championship Saturday.
No. 12 Florida (22-5, 14-3) defeated Ole Miss (11-16, 7-10) through three sets (25-20, 25-23, 25-16) at the Gillom Center in Oxford, Mississippi, Friday. Led by junior outside hitter Sofia Victoria’s 13-kill performance, the Gators fired on all cylinders offensively with a .409 hitting percentage — the second time this season Florida’s clip has eclipsed .400.
After being tied two a piece to start the opening set, the Gators went on the attack. Two service aces by freshman libero Emily Canaan contributed to a five-point Florida run and madeOle Miss head coach Bre Henry call her first timeout.
Still trailing midway through the first set, Ole Miss pushed closer to UF’s lead with a three-point scoring run. Rebels junior middle blocker Sasha Ratliff contributed a kill and a service ace. Ole Miss trailed right behind the Gators, 15-14.
However, Florida began to separate themselves in the set.
The Gators dominated in front of the net with multiple spiking kills by sophomore outside hitter Merrit Beason and sophomore middle blocker Bre Kelley. Pushing away late, Florida took set one, 25-20, on a kill by sophomore middle blocker Gabrielle Essix. UF held the Rebels to a .296 hitting percentage in the opening frame.
Ole Miss capitalized on attack errors to open the second set as Florida struggled to get the ball over the net. Three straight attack errors gave the Rebels an early 4-2 lead.
Kelley and senior outside hitter Marina Markova kept the Gators afloat in the second set. However, Ratliff — who was sixth in the SEC in individual hitting percentage entering the match — took matters into her own hands to break a 7-7 tie.
She extended the Ole Miss lead with two consecutive kills and a service ace. Ratliff’s efforts were followed by a kill by freshman setter Aly Borellis, and the Rebels led 11-7.
Fortunately for UF, Victoria pushed the envelope by attacking the ball on the right side of the net. She grabbed one of her eight second-set kills to give Florida a 20-19 lead.
The Gators held on to the lead and finished set two, 25-23, with a Markova kill down the middle of the Ole Miss side.
Florida — boasting a two set lead — showed strong defense in front of the net during what would be the match’s final frame. A block by Essix and Beason on Rebels freshman outside hitter Vivian Miller gave the Gators a 3-0 advantage to begin set three.
UF attack errors eventually drew the third set tighter. Four errors, including one by Markova, gave Ole Miss a 9-8 lead in the set.
Florida, in similar fashion to its prior comeback in set two, took momentum in stride over the Rebels. The Gators scored five of the next six points and never looked back.
Stucky punctuated a five-point run and the third set for UF, 25-16. Florida took the game through straight sets.
The Gators will look to sweep their weekend in Oxford Saturday, facing Ole Miss once again at 5 p.m. The match will stream on SEC Network+.
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.