The Gators started strong with back-to-back victories and breakout performances from outside hitters senior AC Fitzpatrick and freshman Kennedy Martin.
However, Wisconsin stood strong despite trailing 2-0 and put Florida’s undefeated record at risk.
The Badgers battled back and forced a fifth set to stand at match point 14-12.
A service ace by UF sophomore libero Emerson Hoyle stalled to keep the Gators alive 14-13.
But the Badgers’ final kill across the court from junior middle blocker Anna Smrek sealed the Gators’ fate as Wisconsin brought home the set victory 15-13.
The sound of 10,323 Florida fans chanting “Let’s Go Gators” echoed through the Stephen C. O’Connell Center Sunday afternoon as the No. 3 Florida Gators (8-1) fell 3-2 to the No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers (9-0). The number set a new record for the most attended volleyball game in UF program history.
Martin started set one with a strong kill but a number of self-plagued Florida errors tied the match 10-apiece.
The Gators’ offense quickly responded with four straight kills to take the lead 14-10. A late back row block offered the Badgers two points and narrowed the Wisconsin deficit to 15-12.
A dual block assist by sophomore setter Alexis Stucky and middle blocker Nnedi Okammor capitalized on senior Badger outside hitter Sarah Franklin’s attack error to make it 18-14.
Florida locked in the final moments of the set with a five-point scoring streak and secured the win 25-15.
Wisconsin’s offense fought a grueling battle in set two but fell short by three points. After a fight from both teams, Wisconsin found their momentum to steal the lead 10-7. But the Gators climbed back with their second 5-0 scoring streak in the game to make the score 12-10.
Gator graduate student setter Kennedy Muff then subbed in for Stucky after a knee injury halfway through the set. Graduate student outside hitter Anna Dixon didn’t let it hinder her efforts as she responded with a service ace to extend the Florida lead by two.
“We battled with them without our All-American setter,” head coach Mary Wise said. “I think it speaks volumes for the grit of this team.”
The Gators’ match point was a team effort. The score stood 24-22 after Wisconsin’s service error, and fans stood up ready to claim the win. Badger sophomore middle blocker Carter Booth sent an attack error, and Dixon and senior outside hitter Sofia Victoria replied with a block assist to clinch the 25-22 victory to go up 2-0.
Set three proved to be a slow start for the Gators as Wisconsin held onto its biggest lead in the match after a series of service errors from Florida, 14-6. A kill from senior outside hitter AC Fitzpatrick brought the UF back to life to push their score to 14-9.
Fierce kills from Dixon and Victoria brought the Gators a slim four-point lead late into set three. However, Florida failed to make point-saving dives that cost them heavily in the final moments of set three.
A kill from Wisconsin senior outside hitter Sarah Franklin on Martin set the match point for the Badgers. Unable to come back, Florida fell 25-21 in set three after a kill motioned by junior middle back Anna Smrek sealed the Badgers’ set win.
Wisconsin led off early into set four but Florida fought hard to climb back with a service ace from Muff and a deep center kill from Victoria. Block assists from Okammor and Martin forced a Badgers attack error on graduate student outside hitter Temi Thomas-Ailara.
Okammor motioned a kill over to Wisconsin and pushed the Gators’ score to 23-17 but back-to-back kills by Fitzpatrick helped UF climb their way back.
A series of Wisconsin attack errors brought the Gators within two in the final moments of set four. A kill from Smrek left Martin on the ground with hopes of saving match point, but she fell short to allow the Badgers to tie the match at 2-2 with a 25-22 set victory.
Kills from Martin and Victoria allowed Florida to lead early into the fifth set 2-1. A bump from Wisconsin hit the jumbotron only to come back and hit the ground resulting in a point for the Gators. Later in the set, kills from Dixon and Martin brought the Gators within three as the Badgers were ready to close out with match point.
Smrek sealed the match point for the Badgers in which the Gators defensively failed to save the point.
The Gators begin SEC play on Friday at 7:30 p.m. against the No. 24 Auburn Tigers on the road. The game can be streamed on ESPN+.
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.
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.