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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Gators conclude regular season with three-set loss

The loss marks Florida’s second defeat against Kentucky this season

Senior libero Elli McKissock dives to set the ball in the Gators' 3-0 loss to the Auburn Tigers on Friday, Oct. 6, 2023.
Senior libero Elli McKissock dives to set the ball in the Gators' 3-0 loss to the Auburn Tigers on Friday, Oct. 6, 2023.

Fresh off a timeout, Florida freshman outside hitter Kennedy Martin spearheaded the Gators' comeback efforts. The Wildcats held game advantage, 2-0, and led set three 18-13. 

Martin delivered a powerful kill and a back-row block to deflect a Wildcats serve. Following Martin's efforts, graduate student setter Kennedy Muff added to the momentum with a service ace. 

Florida found itself trailing by two at 18-16, but it was enough to scare Kentucky into a timeout. Senior middle blocker Nnedi Okammor, fueled by the team's renewed energy, landed a solo block to make it a one-point game.

Wildcat outside hitter Reagan Rutherford responded with her own kill and shut down all fighting efforts. The Gators’ defense struggled to keep up and fell in the final set by five points. 

The No. 20 Florida Gators (18-9, 10-8 SEC) fell to the No. 10 Kentucky Wildcats (19-7,17-1 SEC) in Lexington, Kentucky, Saturday afternoon. The loss marks the end of the Gators’ regular season. 

In the opening set, senior outside hitter Sofia Victoria shined on both ends of the game. Victoria kicked off the action with a fierce kill, assisted by Muff. Shortly after, she teamed up with junior middle blocker Gabbi Essix for a dual block to solidify the Gators' lead at 5-3.

A three-point scoring run from the Wildcats shifted the heat and gave Kentucky the lead, 11-8, after senior outside hitter AC Fitzpatrick committed an attack error. Despite a timeout, the Gators managed only two additional points, and the Wildcats extended their lead to 14-10.

Fitzpatrick’s near miss on a Kentucky serve awarded the Wildcats their first service ace and a five-point lead. Okammor and freshman outside hitter Madi Gravlee's combined block briefly stalled Kentucky's advance, but Martin’s final attack error gave set one to the Wildcats, 25-18.

Kentucky mirrored each kill with a service error to create a series of ties in set two. Tied at six-apiece, Rutherford hit a kill and initiated an offensive streak to establish a three-point cushion for the Wildcats.

UF nearly stole the lead but never quite snapped the Wildcats' run. 

Okammor and Muff formed a formidable front-row defense to deflect a powerful Wildcats serve and narrow the deficit to one point. The Wildcats responded with two consecutive kills and maintained their advantage, 18-14. 

Essix and Muff joined forces to deliver two kills against Kentucky and keep Florida within reach. But as the Wildcats approached match point, the Gators struggled to deflect the final kill with a delayed dig and conceded the set at 25-21.

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Kentucky initiated set three with another three-point scoring streak, but Essix fought to keep Florida in the game. She added three more points with back-to-back kills, all assisted by Muff. Muff totaled 30 assists in the game. 

The Wildcats persisted as they launched into another scoring run without delay. Fitzpatrick executed a solo block to cause an attack error on the Wildcats' end. Despite Fitzpatrick's efforts, the Gators found themselves trailing by five points, 18-13. 

Martin led comeback efforts for the Gators with a kill and a back-row block. Muff followed with a service ace and shortened the gap to two points, 18-16. But the momentum wasn’t enough to bring Florida back in the game, as Kentucky secured the win with a set three victory 25-20. 

Florida's fate in the 2023 NCAA D1 women's volleyball tournament will be revealed at 6 p.m. Sunday. The selection showcase will be broadcast on ESPNU.

Contact Krisha Sanghavi at Follow her on Twitter at @krishasang.

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Krisha Sanghavi

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.

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