The No.6 ranked Florida Gators lost first SEC contest of the season at home Sunday against the Tennessee Lady Volunteers in a five set battle, 21-25, 25-20, 21-25, 25-19, 16-18.
“If you are going to play a top-25 team, you got to play you’re A-game,” Florida head coach Mary Wise said. “I thought Tennessee brought their A-game. Ours wasn’t quite up to par. But all credit to Tennessee for coming in here and playing lights out.”
Florida outhit the Lady Vols .295 to .239 and collected six and a half more blocks. It wasn’t enough though as Tennessee had 10 more kills than them. The Gators’ are now 2-1 in conference play while the Lady Vols remain undefeated so far in the SEC.
“I think they came right out with great energy, and they played great defensive the whole night,” senior setter/right-side hitter Kelly Murphy said. “That made it really hard on us, trying to find kills and we just never really found our own energy and just couldn’t get into our game.”
Senior outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel ended the night a double-double and led the team with kills earning 16 and collecting 14 digs.
“I think they definitely one the serving, passing battle,” Jaeckel said. “And that’s always something that we talk about, that serving and passing can win and lose games. They came out with tough, aggressive serving all the way to the end and they definitely were passing better than we were.”
Murphy finished the night with a triple-double of 10 kills, 21 assists and 14 digs. Senior outside hitter Stephanie Ferrell had 14 kills for the night and junior middle blocker Betsy Smith had nine kill and eight blocks. Redshirt freshman Taylor Unroe led the Gators in digging with 18 and freshman Madison Monserez reached a new career-high tonight with 11 digs.
In the first set, the Lady Vols found a rhythm early as they ignited on a 6-0 run to lead 9-5 over the Gators. They then went on a 5-0 run shortly after to pull ahead 14-7. The Gators couldn’t find the momentum to come back and sophomore outside hitter and defensive specialist, Carly Sahagian scored the set point for Lady Vols as they closed out the set, 25-21.
The second set started out with Tennessee obtaining the lead until the Gators started chipping away at points and went on a 6-0 run led by Ferrell and Murphy’s kills to lead 15-13. From a series of service aces, service and attack errors, the Gators extended their lead to 20-16, forcing Tennessee to call a time out. Coming out the time out, Kristy Jaeckel put away two kills and an ace to help Florida claim the second set, 25-20.
There were nine times throughout the third set, as it was a battle back and forth the entire time. Six of those ties were within the first 11 points until the Gators took a three-point lead, up 14-11. Tennessee then took a time out and then the Lady Vols came back onto the court, then went on a 4-0 run to grab a one point lead. The Gators’ came within two points of Tennessee, led by Ferrell and Jaeckel’s kills but the Lady Vols kept fighting winning the set, 25-21.
In the fourth set, points were exchanged back and forth early on until the Gators went on a 3-0 run to grab a one-point lead, up 15-14. With the help of Kelly Murphy’s ace, the Gators’ extended their lead, 20-17. Tennessee only gained two points from that point on as Smith hammered the last two set points for Florida to win 25-19.
In the fifth set, the largest lead was by three points by the Gators. A kill for Murphy, Ferrell and an attacking error by Tennessee put Florida up, 11-8. Tennessee back-to-back time outs when Florida gained their 10th and 11th point.
After the second timeout, the Lady Vols gained two points off unforced errors from Florida, forcing Wise to call a time out. Two more errors later from the Gators and Tennessee had the lead up, 12-11. A kill from Sahagian for the Lady Vols put Tennessee up 14-11.
Starting from a kill from Murphy, the Gators held off Tennessee for three set points and tied it up at 14-14. Two service errors from both teams put them back right back in a tie at 15-15 but another kill from Sahagian for the Lady Vols put Tennessee back up 16-15.
A kill by Jaeckel tied the set back up, but once again Sahagian made another kill for Tennessee and an attacking error on Florida gave the Lady Vols their set and match point.
“Disappointing for us that again in a fifth set, you know right there, that up 11-8, that we would make so many unforced errors,” Wise said.
Leading Tennessee was the sophomore Carly Sahagian as she had a double-double at the end of the night with 19 kills and 13 digs. Sophomore outside hitter Kelsey Robinson also had a double-double with 17 kills and 15 digs while junior outside hitter Leslie Cikra matched Robinson with 17 kills. Freshman setter Mary Pollmiller had the match-high of 59 assists.
“So now we are all chasing Tennessee,” Wise said. “Huge win for them. It’s hard to win this league if you don’t win at home, but there are a lot of matches left.”
The Florida Gators play Friday at Auburn at 8 p.m., and Sunday at Georgia at 1:30 p.m.