UF trailed in the first two sets, but Florida proved it could comeback and dominate in set two. The Gators found their momentum and with driving kills from freshman outside hitter Kennedy Martin and kept the Bulls from reclaiming their lead.
While USF tried their best to pull the upset for the first time since 1990, Florida brought the intensity, and the Bulls were unable to fight off and make a comeback.
The No. 11 Florida Gators (2-0) defeated the South Florida Bulls (0-2) Saturday night. UF played at the Yuengling Center, the Bulls home court, for the second game of the Tampa Bay Invitational.
Martin — after making her collegiate debut against Penn State Friday — fired up 27 kills for USF to close out Saturday’s game.
UF sophomore setter Alexis Stucky launched the first serve for the Gators and sealed a kill to give Florida a 2-0 lead. However, Florida responded with a series of errors that left the Gators trailing early into set one.
The Bulls offense stayed alive while UF struggled to find their momentum and continued to trail. USF sophomore outside hitter Buse Hazan kept Florida on its feet with a series of kills as she jolted across the net, where Stucky and the Gators offense failed to make point-saving dives.
UF fought to make a comeback, but USF graduate student setter Kelsey O’Loughlin launched the ball over to Florida which was followed by three kills. That held UF at a two-point deficit late in set one, 20-18.
Stucky hit a kill and an ace to come back and make it 24-22 in the final moments of set one. Florida failed to win set one after a kill by USF junior right-side hitter Amanda DeWitt and an assist from O’Loughlin.
USF compiled 16 kills compared to the Gators’ 11 kills to fall short in set one 25-22.
The Bulls dominated UF early in set two and took an early 3-0 lead. Florida head coach Mary Wise subbed in veteran players graduate student outside hitter Anna Dixon and senior outside hitter Sophia Victoria to bring the Gators offense back and secure two kills.
Hazan unleashed the ball across the net, and USF junior middle blocker Tizi Puljiz made it difficult for Florida to score points. UF held the lead for the first time after two kills by Martin and assists from Stucky.
USF quickly took back their lead after sophomore outside hitter Maria Clara Andrade sealed a kill. South Florida then began to trail due to attack errors from DeWitt.
An ace from UF senior libero Elli McKissock kept the Bulls off balance and left them in a six-point deficit.
The Gators’ momentum continued, and they quickly increased their lead to 22-15. Florida then took the second set 25-18 after assists from Stucky and junior middle back Gabbi Essix rounded out the final moments of set two.
Florida carried its momentum from the second set to lead off early into set three with an ace from McKissock. Martin bolted another kill to keep the Gators in the lead, 7-6. USF continued to fall behind after a series of attack errors.
South Florida refused to give up and tied the game at 20 with two kills. Hazan brought the energy with three fierce kills, and the Gators failed to respond in time. USF led 24-21 late in the third set.
The Bulls clinched the third set 25-22 after a jolted kill from Hazan where Florida fell short and collapsed under pressure.
The fourth set started with a 2-1 USF lead, but a kill from Martin brought the game to 2-2. The Gators fought back and increased their lead to 6-2 after back-to-back kills from Martin. USF trailed by eight late in the fourth set after several service errors.
A service ace from Martin pushed the Gators score to 23-15, and a kill from Dixon secured the UF match win, 25-16.
Florida took control with a 6-1 lead early in the fifth set with pivotal kills from Martin. UF closed out set five with a determined 15-8 win. Florida won the match 3-2.
UF will play the No. 3 Stanford Cardinal Tuesday at 9 p.m. The game will be streamed on PAC-12 Networks.
Alyssa Britton-Harr is a second-year journalism major and a sports reporter for The Alligator. In her free time, she enjoys cheering on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and spending time with her friends.