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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

No. 3 Florida defeats No. 24 Auburn in five-set thriller in first game of SEC Play

Kennedy Martin led the game with 16 kills

The Gators celebrate after winning a point in UF's 3-2 loss against the Wisconsin Badgers Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023.
The Gators celebrate after winning a point in UF's 3-2 loss against the Wisconsin Badgers Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023.

Florida and Auburn were locked in a grueling back-and-forth five-set battle in each side’s first taste of conference play. Freshman outside hitter Kennedy Martin eventually sealed the win for the Gators with a deep center hit after the Tigers failed to make the point-saving dive. 

Auburn held a late lead in the final set, but Florida responded in dramatic fashion. Senior leader outside hitter AC Fitzpatrick kept the momentum contagious in the final moments when she set the match point and cheered on her teammates as she yelled “we need one more” to win the set. 

The No. 3 Florida Gators (9-1, 1-0 SEC) beat the Auburn Tigers (10-2, 0-1 SEC) 3-2 Friday evening on the road in Auburn, Alabama, in their first game of Southeastern Conference play. 

The first set proved to be tough for the Gators after two early service errors from junior middle blocker Gabrielle Essix and sophomore libero Emily Cannan. The errors allowed Auburn to take the lead early into the match, 3-2. 

The teams were tied at nine after freshman outside hitter Kennedy Martin motioned a kill and a kill from the Tigers sophomore pin hitter Madison Scheer tied the game. 

A series of attack errors and a bad set from graduate student setter Kennedy Muff allowed Auburn to take advantage and lead 13-9. A Florida timeout brought the Gators back to life as senior outside hitter AC Fitzpatrick picked up two kills. 

Deep center hits from Scheer made it difficult for Florida to try and make a comeback late into set one with Auburn close to match point, 22-19. A kill sealed from Tigers sophomore pin hitter Akasha Anderson brought Auburn to match point. 

An attack error from senior middle blocker Nnedi Okammor gave the set victory to Auburn, 25-20. 

A net violation from the Tigers’ middle blockers gave Florida the lead early into the second set. A series of service errors from Auburn allowed the Gators to take advantage and gain their largest lead of the match, 9-7. 

The Tigers retook the lead, 15-13 after their offense forced a series of attack errors for the Gators. A sealed kill from Okammor fought to bring Florida back into the game, and a net violation from Auburn brought the Gators within two in the final moments of set two. 

A bad set from the Tigers and an attack error from Auburn senior middle blocker Bella Bell tied the set at 23 apiece. Both teams battled back-and-forth, but a kill from senior outside hitter Sophia Victoria evened the match to give Florida the set win, 26-24. 

Auburn brought its momentum into set three to leadoff 11-7 as Florida struggled offensively to get the ball over the net. Kills from Fitzpatrick and graduate student outside hitter Anna Dixon brought the Gators within four of the Tigers, 18-14. 

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UF then sat within two of the Tigers, 22-20, and did its best to comeback. The Gators' comeback attempt failed when Martin hit the ball out of bounds to give Auburn match point. 

An attack error from Bell tied the game at 24; however, an attack error from Okammor allowed the Tigers to win the set, 26-24, after she fell to the ground on a defensive play where the ball traced her fingers, but bounced into the net. 

Auburn continued to lead in the fourth set, but Florida responded with a kill from Okammor and forced a series of attack errors for the Tigers to take the lead 13-8. A kill from Fitzpatrick pushed the Gators' slim lead to 16-15. 

A service ace from Canaan and a kill from Victoria put Florida close to match point, 23-18. Back-to-back fierce kills from Martin secured the set win, 25-19, and tied the match as the Gators headed into the fifth set. 

Florida dominated early into the fifth set, but Auburn responded with a series of kills to take the lead 10-8. Two consecutive kills from Victoria brought the Gators back and tied the game at 12 apiece. 

An Auburn attack error set match point for Florida 14-13, and a kill from Martin sealed the match win for Florida 17-15. 

UF will play Georgia Sunday at 7 p.m. for a split weekend of SEC play. The match will be broadcast on ESPN. 

Contact Alyssa Britton-Harr at Follow her on Twitter @abrittonharr

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Alyssa Britton-Harr

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. 

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