The Florida Gators volleyball team opened its 2023 season in dramatic fashion against Penn State.
The Gators led 2-1 and needed to win one more set to secure a victory. However, set four became a fight. Both teams went back and forth as the Nittany Lions would gain a lead, just for Florida to reclaim it.
UF trailed late in the set but Florida senior Sofia Victoria helped the Gators climb back from a three point deficit by driving kills. The score stood deadlocked at 24 in the final moments of the game.
Victoria stood and launched two kills across the net to tally the score at 25-24. The game stood at match point in Florida’s favor. The last point would bring home the Gators’ first win of the season.
They stood ready awaiting the next play when Mruzik led an attack error to secure the victory.
The No. 11 Florida Gators (1-0) started their season strong with a 3-1 win against the No. 8 Penn State Nittany Lions (0-1) Friday night. The team traveled to Tampa for the first game of the Tampa Bay Invitational and controlled the court for a win.
Set one proved to be tough for the Gators. The first serve was launched, and it was a kill by UF junior Gabrielle Essix, supported by an assist by sophomore Alexis Stucky. But, Stucky's next serve triggered a series of errors and a downhill battle for Florida.
UF fought to stay alive under Penn State’s five-point ace run as freshman Kennedy Martin brought back the Gator offense with a kill. Her play jolted a 3-0 Florida scoring run to bring the score to 10-7, but the Gators still trailed.
Their efforts only had a temporary effect. The Nittany Lions’ sharp offense ensured they held the lead for a final Penn State win at 25-18 to take the first set. UF ended the set with 11 kills, two blocks and one ace.
Florida refused to let a tough first set hold them back. Stucky's serve set up a kill for Penn State senior Jess Mruzik and brought home the first point of the set. Mruzik responded with her own kill to tie the score at one apiece.
When Gators junior Trinity Adams and freshman Kira Hutson subbed in, the dynamic shifted. Adams' serve threw Penn State junior Anjelina Starck off balance, resulting in an attack error and a 3-1 Florida lead. Hutson stretched Florida's advantage with a series of kills.
Set two stood tied. Florida held the lead seconds ago, but Penn State refused to back down and made it a seesaw battle. Gators head coach Mary Wise brought in veteran players graduate student Anna Dixon and senior Elli McKissock.
Penn State senior Zoe Weatherington launched a kill to secure another point for the Lions. But Hutson refused to back down in her debut. She focused on Penn State’s serve and quickly motioned a kill to bring the Gators at match point 24-23.
One more point and Florida would bring home the season’s first set win. Weatherington stood and sent in an attack error securing Florida’s set two win at 25-23.
The Gators carried their winning ways into the third set. Mruzik initiated play with a fierce kill, but Florida responded swiftly. Stucky's serve shutdown Starck's attack and pushed Florida ahead with a 2-0 lead.
Momentum continued on for UF. The Gators quickly increased their leady to 15-8 as Penn State collapsed under Florida’s intensity. UF clinched the third set 25-17.
The fourth set had both teams biting their nails. The match started with a narrow 3-2 UF lead, but errors on both sides kept the score tight. McKissock handed a point over with a service error followed by a Nittany Lions error equalizing the score at four each.
Errors from both teams kept the fight for the win going. Adams led a service error to give the Nittany Lions a brief 14-13 lead, but Essix and Martin’s blocks reclaimed the lead 17-14.
Penn State stayed resilient with Mruzik’s kills. But Florida’s determination proved stronger as Victoria’s final play secured the final 26-24 win.
The Gators will play again tomorrow against the South Florida Bulls in Tampa. The game is set to begin at 8 p.m. and can be streamed on ESPN+.
Contact Krisha Sanghavi at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @krishasang.
Krisha Sanghavi is a third-year public relations and economics major. In her free time, she loves cheering on Miami sports teams and spending time with her friends.