Mary Wise

Florida added four new players to its 2021 recruiting class, even though there has been a recruiting dead period in place since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Coach Mary Wise and her staff added three middle blockers and an outside hitter Wednesday to aid the orange and blue in 2021.

Merritt Beason was the first high school recruit to fax her letter of intent to UF. She is a 6-foot-3 outside hitter from Gardendale, Alabama. 

Beason is ranked No. 90 in PrepVolleyball 2021 Top 150 and was named to the 2020 American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) All-American Watch List.

She stood out to coach Wise after players and other campers loved playing with her at a Gators volleyball camp.

“Merritt Beason has all of the skills we look for in an outside hitter: her length, her arm, her ball control skills,” Wise said in a release. “She is going to start here with the Gators in January.”

Gabrielle Essix is a 6-foot-3 middle blocker who signed with the Gators Wednesday afternoon. She is the highest-ranked recruit for Florida this recruiting cycle at No. 63, according to PrepVolleyball. 

“Her mom brought her to a match and I was introduced and took one look at her thinking ‘She just looks like an elite volleyball player,’” Wise said about her first encounter with Essix.

After watching her play, Essix confirmed what Wise already thought. Wise is excited to see her suit up for Florida because she plays with great effort. 

Bre Kelley is the last high school player and second middle blocker Wise signed for the 2021 class. 

Kelley is a 6-foot-4 Dallas native and was also a member of PrepVolleyball Top 150 rankings. Under Armour recognized her talent and named her to its All-American Nomination List.

She will also join the Florida program in January like Beason.

Finally, UF added Lauren Forte, a transfer from University of California, Berkeley. She is the third middle blocker in Wise’s 2021 recruiting class. 

The 6-foot-3 Tempe, Arizona, native is a redshirt junior and was selected to the 2019 All-Pac-12 Team. 

She will be eligible to play with the team starting in January. 

Forte finished fifth in hitting percentage in her conference, registering .336. She also finished second on the Golden Bears in blocks. 

Wise said that Forte’s experience playing in the Pac-12 will be beneficial to the Gators along with her speed and quickness.

The Gators take the floor Thursday afternoon at 3 p.m. in Columbia, South Carolina, for their second match versus the Gamecocks.

Contact Zachary Huber at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber.

Zachary Huber covers men's tennis for the Alligator. This is his first semester working for The Alligator. He's a junior studying journalism at UF.