‘Gutsy’ Gators battle for 3-0 win at FSU

TALLAHASSEE – Against its biggest instate rival and in front of a record crowd of 1,322 fans at Tully Gymnasium, the No. 3 Florida volleyball team learned a little something about itself Wednesday night.

The Gators improved to 9-1 this season, including 7-1 against teams ranked in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25 poll, with a hard-fought 3-0 (25-23, 31-29, 25-21) victory over No. 13 Florida State. It was Florida’s 19th straight victory in the all-time series that Florida now leads 33-16, including 26-2 under the direction of head coach Mary Wise. Florida State fell to 9-2.

“This was as gutsy of a performance as we’ve had during our time here at Florida,” Wise said. “Playing in this environment with as well as Florida State played, with as great of a crowd as they had tonight, especially in that battle in set two, this group just refuses to back down.”

Once again, the Gators used a triple-double performance by junior right-side/setter Kelly Murphy to lead the way. Murphy’s 19th career triple-double (and her fourth this season) included a match-high 11 kills, a match-high 20 assists and 11 digs for 12.5 points. It was her second consecutive triple-double this week – Murphy earned SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors for her triple-double against Tennessee last Sunday and performance against Kentucky Friday night in a pair of Florida victories.

The Gators hit .322 as a team while holding the Seminoles to a .168 hitting percentage on the evening. Florida out-blocked Florida State 12-9.

Junior outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel had 11 digs and 9 kills. Senior middle blocker Lauren Bledsoe had eight kills (on .636 hitting) with five blocks and four digs. Senior outside hitter Callie Rivers posted seven kills and four blocks.

Sophomore right-side Tangerine Wiggs had a career-high six blocks to go with eight kills on 18 swings with no errors for a .444 hitting efficiency. Four Gators charted four or more blocks as junior middle blocker Cassandra Anderson added six blocks to go with six kills on .667 hitting.

Senior libero Erin Fleming directed the Gators’ back-row effort with 14 digs to complement two service aces, while freshman setter Chanel Brown added 17 assists.

A block by Bledsoe and Wiggs out of the timeout gave the Gators their first lead of the match at 15-14 in the first set. A Rivers-Bledsoe block and a Seminole hitting error continued a Gators’ 6-0 run and forced another Florida State timeout. A Jaeckel kill out of the timeout gave the Gators their largest lead of the match at 18-14. The Gators kept rolling to a 20-16 lead on a block by Anderson and Wiggs. The teams once again traded points after 20, but Florida kept its one-point lead as the teams rallied back and forth until the Seminoles tied things up at 23 with a Florida error. The Gators got to set point on a Florida State hitting error and a Jaeckel kill from the back row gave the Gators set one, 25-23.

Florida State jumped out to a 17-10 lead in the second set before Florida mounted its comeback. The rally started with a Murphy kill and service ace. Then after a FSU timeout, a Bledsoe-Wiggs stuff continued the Gators’ 3-0 run. Then a Murphy kill and a Jaeckel service ace pulled the Gators back to a 18-15 deficit. Eventually, the Gators knotted the score at 21-all on an FSU hitting error. A Murphy kill gave Florida the lead at 22-21, but a Florida error allowed FSU to tie the set at 22-22. A River kill was followed by another Florida ball-handling error to make it 23-23. A Wiggs kill gave Florida its seventh set point and Rivers ended the set with a kill into the middle of the FSU defense for a 31-29 Florida victory.

The Gators started well in the third set, eventually taking an 11-6 lead on an Anderson-Rivers block with Bledsoe serving. But the Seminoles battled back and earned a 16-16 tie and then took a 17-16 lead on a block. Murphy responded with a kill to tie the set at 17-17 and an FSU error put Florida back on top 18-17. A Bledsoe kill made it 19-17, forcing an FSU timeout, and the Seminoles tied it at 21-all on a pair of service aces. After a Florida timeout, a Wiggs kill gave Florida a 22-21 lead. Then Anderson and Wiggs combined on a block for a 23-21 Florida lead. A Rivers kill into the middle of the FSU defense made it 24-21, and Bledsoe’s ace finished off the set at 25-21 and the match.

Florida returns to Gainesville to play host to Mississippi on Sunday afternoon at 1:30 in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.