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Friday, June 14, 2024

No. 12 Florida stretches conference win streak against Missouri

Gators volleyball has taken down its last four SEC opponents

Senior outside hitter Marina Markova rises high above the net for a kill during Florida's match with LSU Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022.
Senior outside hitter Marina Markova rises high above the net for a kill during Florida's match with LSU Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022.

The Friday night crowd stood to their feet in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

Sophomore outside hitter Merritt Beason levitated above the net, toward the set ball. In spiking motion, she attacked the genuine leather onto Missouri sophomore outside hitter Kaylee Cox’s hands.

The ball flew into the crowd and everyone erupted. Another Florida win was clinched.

The No. 12 Gators (19-4, 11-2 SEC) defeated the Missouri Tigers (8-14, 1-11 SEC) in three sets (25-22, 25-17, 25-23) while holding the visitors to a .144 hitting percentage. Florida’s outside hitter duo of senior Marina Markova (16 kills) and Beason (13) led the way for UF offensively. 

A two point exchange began the first set. The early stalemate was broken after freshman setter Alexis Stucky met Tigers sophomore outside hitter Jordan Iliff on the left side of the net. She packed the ball back to its sender and gave Florida momentum. 

The Gators scored five of the next six points to grow a 9-3 lead. Missouri head coach Joshua Taylor called his first timeout of the match.

UF attack errors produced five points for Missouri coming back from the timeout. Eventually, a kill by senior outside hitter Anna Dixon closed the gap with Florida still leading 17-11.

Errors gave the Tigers enough time to climb back into set one. A three-point run, including two straight kills by Missouri sophomore middle blocker Trista Strasser, closed the Gators’ lead to 22-19. Florida head coach Mary Wise called timeout to control the situation late in the opening set. 

UF’s lead dwindled down to just a point, 23-22, after a service ace by Cox. Despite Missouri’s push to comeback in the set, Florida held its lead and won the frame on two straight Missouri attack errors.

Back on the court to open set two, Beason sprung a three-point UF run with a spiking kill down the middle of the Tigers defense. Even with an early cushion, the Gators fell short defensively and Missouri answered back with a streak of its own. Florida fell behind 5-4 after four-straight Tiger points and a brief exchange. 

The Gators would stick it out through the second set, however, matching every point Missouri threw their way to keep the deficit minimal.

The Tigers fought for every point in the set. They dove out of control to punch the ball back into play and took on the challenge of UF’s powerful strikes close to the net. Missouri wasn’t allowing any chances for the Gators to get back.

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Markova and sophomore middle blocker Gabrielle Essix rose to the occasion and took charge of the Gators’ attack. They contributed kills to combine for four points of a nine-point run. UF regained the lead and took set two 25-17.

Missouri looked to improve on a poor night hitting — it had a .188 clip through the first two sets — by taking the opening  two points of the third frame. A Cox kill and an ace by senior outside hitter Leandra Mangual-Duran put the Tigers ahead 2-0.

Florida responded to the hot start immediately, rattling off a five-point run to take the lead. Attack errors then plagued the Gators and spurred a four-point Missouri run. UF trailed the Tigers again, 6-5.

Competition got intense down the stretch. Fans in the O’Dome yelled directly at the Missouri bench and the visiting players yelled right back at them in a hounding tactic. The strategy would also prove worthy on the court; Missouri stretched its lead to 15-12 via two Florida attack errors and two kills by Dixon. 

A four-point UF run followed a mid-set media timeout and brought the Gators back to in front, 16-15. 

Florida attack errors would once again aid Missouri to regain its third-set lead back. Two straight attack errors gave the Tigers a 21-19 edge over UF and forced Wise to call timeout.  

The timeout was just what the Gators needed. They scored six of the last eight points — three of which were Beason kills — to win set three 25-23. 

“Folks may see it as a 3-0 win, but it was hardly easy,” Wise said. “Missouri played a heck of a match tonight.”

Florida will head back on the road to face the Texas A&M Aggies Nov. 12 at 5 p.m. The match will stream on SEC Network+. 

Contact Brandon Hernandez at 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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