By Jordan Milewczik
The No. 13 Florida Gators came into town on Thursday night looking to gain a stranglehold on the SEC volleyball standings. No. 24 Missouri was looking to gain their first win against a ranked opponent since Sep. 6 (a sweep of No. 14 Michigan at the Dayton Invitational).
Missouri kicked off the night with a ceremony honoring Wayne and Susan Kreklow. The duo had been with Missouri since 2000. In their 19 years in the program, Missouri won two SEC Championships (2013 and 2016) along with two NCAA Sweet 16 appearances.
The Tigers looked to continue a four-game winning streak by feeding the ball to junior Kylie Deberg. This objective would assist Deberg in recording a career high 27 kills in the match.
The Gators were lead into the game by sophomore Thayer Hall. Hall coming in had a team high 271 kills on the season. Looking to continue her strong start to her college career, Hall would acquire 21.5 points, 19 kills, and two aces in the match as she lead the team in all but aces.
Florida struck fast and early as the Tigers played on their heels through most of the first set. The Gators lead by as much as eight as Missouri struggled on defense and hitting errors. Florida silenced the crowd as Hall ended the set with a kill to put the Gators ahead.
The Tigers would strike back in the second as they dominated the Gators 25-17. Missouri recorded three point streaks of four or more points. The Tigers knotted the set score with two straight kills from Leketor Member-Meneh to close the set out.
”We built on that momentum a little bit, and I think resetting psychologically is just identifying where we were putting our focus,” interim head coach Joshua Taylor said.
After early offensive pushes by both teams, the third set became a stalemate as either team struggled to take hold of the set. The teams combined for 18 tie scores and eight lead changes as the set went to extra points. Both teams improved to set point but the Gators would take it in extra points 29-27 to take a 2-1 lead.
”We just really tried to focus on doing the little things right and not thinking about the big picture and focusing on one ball at a time,” senior libero Riley Sents said.
Missouri would fight back in a do-or-die fourth set as the battled to take control after the third set. The team would minimize their attacking errors that plagued them in the third set by only committing three as opposed to ten. The Tigers would force a winner-take-all set five by defeating The Gators 25-20.
Both teams would enjoy bursts of offense in the final set as errors were minimal. The Tigers held the early lead as they jumped out to a 8-4 lead before surrendering three straight points to the Gators. After coming to a tie at 10 points a piece, Florida would seal their win with a kill by Thayler Hall.
”We knew it was going to be a battle. We really look forward to these high level games, and we knew it was going to take a lot of energy and a lot of passion for each and every point,” Sents said.
With their 18th win, the Gators improve to a 8-1 conference record to put them a win above Kentucky in the SEC. Missouri falls to 6-3 in conference play to stay in fourth in the SEC. Missouri is now 1-4 on the season against ranked opponents and 0-2 against ranked SEC opponents.
Missouri will travel to College Station, Texas to face a Texas A&M team that is strong at home while Florida will be heading to Oxford to face off against Ole Miss next Friday.
“I think we should be taking this match and using it and we should have a lot of confidence going into Sunday,” Taylor said.
Edited by Emma Moloney | firstname.lastname@example.org