Gators graduate student setter Kennedy Muff started her season stepping up for the injured All-American sophomore setter Alexis Stucky.
Muff then stepped up once again to give Florida a win in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Muff sealed the set one win when she hit a service ace to seal set point, and in the final moments, the setter used her mobility to assist freshman outside hitter Kennedy Martin with a kill to secure the set win.
The No. 20 Florida Gators (19-9, 10-8 SEC) swept the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (27-7, 15-1 ASUN) 3-0 Thursday evening in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center for the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Florida Gulf Coast found its groove early into set one with the first two kills of the game. UF senior outside hitter Sophia Victoria sealed the first kill for the Gators to put Florida within two of the Eagles, 5-3.
A series of service errors allowed Florida to take advantage and increase their score. A fierce kill from Martin tied the game at seven apiece. The Gators took their first lead of the game off a Victoria kill, 11-10.
Victoria claimed another kill when she aimed the ball deep into the backcourt, where FGCU failed to make the point-saving dive. The Gators then pushed their lead to 15-10.
However, a series of service errors allowed the Eagles to come back and bring their score within four 18-14. UF senior outside hitter AC Fitzpatrick launched a fierce kill across the backcourt to give the Gators a 19-15 lead.
A service ace from Muff moved UF to set point, and Martin sealed the set win when she tipped the ball over the net. The Eagles failed to save the point. The Gators won set one 25-18.
UF senior middle blocker Nnedi Okammor secured the first point of set two for Florida with a kill. An attack error from Fitzpatrick allowed for FGCU to push its lead, but UF senior libero Elli McKissock brought Florida back into the game with a service ace.
“It has taken us a good amount of time to get to this point right now, but I think we are at a good spot to make a really good run in the tournament,” McKissock said.
A kill from senior middle blocker Gabrielle Essix put the Gators on a seven-point scoring run. A service ace from the Eagles allowed Florida Gulf Coast to tie the game at 11 apiece.
Muff sealed another kill when she found an open gap to tip the ball past the net and give Florida a 13-11 lead. Kills from Okammor and Martin put the Eagles into a three-point deficit.
A powerful dual block from Okammor and Fitzpatrick continued to hold the Eagles in a deficit. A serve from McKissock forced an attack error for FGCU and allowed the Gators to reach set point.
McKissock then sealed the set win when she claimed a service ace where the Eagles failed to keep the ball alive, 25-16.
Fitzpatrick kept the Gators' fierce momentum going in the third set when she made a powerful block to force an attack error on FGCU senior middle blocker Juliana Lentz. Kills from Martin and Fitzpatrick gave Florida a 6-2 lead.
A kill from Martin put the Gators on a five-point scoring run. Two consecutive Eagle service aces allowed FGCU to climb their way back up into a three-point reach, 11-8. A kill from Martin and a service ace from Victoria pushed Florida’s lead to 16-10.
Back-to-back kills from Victoria sealed both set point and the match win for the Gators. Florida won set three 25-17 to take the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
UF will play Georgia Tech at 7 p.m. Friday. The game will be streamed on ESPN+.
“Second round matchups are always tough, especially after not playing back-to-back nights in two months, it will be a huge challenge for our team,” said Florida head coach Mary Wise.
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.