The No. 3 Florida Gators (8-0) will look to take down the No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers (8-0) Sunday at home in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Both teams come to the match unbeaten. Florida has only dropped seven sets and Wisconsin has only been defeated in six so far into the 2023 season.
“We are going to play a highly talented team that presents lots of trouble because of their length, and their arms and because they are one of the most veteran teams we have played all season,” Florida head coach Mary Wise said.
The Gators hold a 6-1 advantage over the Badgers all-time, including a win in the teams’ lone battle in Gainesville in 2000. Florida defeated Wisconsin 3-2 in a five-set contest last season and climbed its way back in the final moments to seal the win in set five, 15-13.
UF lost former outside hitter Merritt Beason before the season. The veteran leader entered the transfer portal and joined Nebraska. Against the Badgers a year ago, Beason led Florida with 21 kills.
Freshman outside hitter Kennedy Martin has filled the hole left by Beason this season. She helped Florida make comebacks in tough matches this season. The 6-foot-6-inch hitter set a current season high with 27 kills against South Florida and sports a .449 hitting percentage.
Another breakout player is UF senior leader and outside hitter AC Fitzpatrick, who transferred from Penn State ahead of the 2022 season. She set a new career high with 22 kills against Florida State Tuesday.
“Her game has evolved over her time here and she is just embracing all the different shots she can score,” Wise said. “She has evolved her game and it has been a pleasure to see her come this far at this point in her career.”
Florida’s matchup against Wisconsin not only ties in the key players they have but also the experiences in games they have played this early on into the season.
The Gators’ dominance against then-No. 2 Stanford and then-No. 5 Minnesota tested them early and gave them confidence heading into Sunday’s duel, Wise said.
“We have had lots of different opportunities as a team to grow through those experiences, and it's not just those two matches, but every match has been part of our growth,” Wise said.
Each game has its own story and with the intensity of the matchups Florida has already played, Sunday will only be another testament to what is to come in the remainder of the season. Now eight games into the season the team has finally found its route to success, Fitzpatrick said.
The Gators have home-court advantage in their big matchup against the Badgers and with that comes crowd noise that can make it difficult for teams to focus and be at their best mentally.
“The fact that as a kid I grew up going to Gator games, I have dreamt of being a Florida volleyball player, and now that I am living out that dream it is great to be able to give back to the fans,” Fitzpatrick said. “I was once one of them.”
With Sunday’s matchup underway, this will be Florida’s seventh top-3 match in program history, and the O’Dome is expected to be filled with Gator fans all wearing blue. The matchup will project two of the top-ranked defenses and offenses in the country.
First serve is slated for 3 p.m. Sunday and the game will be broadcast on ESPN.
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.