Kentucky surprises Florida in 5 sets

The fifth-ranked Florida Gators were accustomed to dominating teams on their home court. When it came to dominating conference foes, it was like second nature to the team that has won 18 consecutive Southeastern Conference titles.

No. 15 Kentucky came into Gainesville and bucked those trends, turning those tables on Florida, even if it was just for a night.

The Gators (10-2, 4-1 SEC) fell to No. 15 Kentucky 3-2 (9-25, 25-19, 23-25, 25-20, 15-11) in five hard-fought sets. With the loss, the Gators fell a game back in the early conference race to the Wildcats.

The defeat was the first regular-season home loss for the Gators since the 2004 regular season against Tennessee. That was also the last time the Gators lost twice in a row to the same SEC opponent. The Vols also beat Florida in the SEC Tournament one week later that season. Kentucky is now 38-2 against the Mary Wise-led Gators.

Needless to say, none of these players had experienced a regular-season home loss.

“Losing is never a good feeling,” said senior Elyse Cusack. “We’re pretty competitive people. It definitely sucks to lose, especially at home.”

The loss left the Gators looking for answers.

“They played really well,” Wise said, looking for an answer after the loss. “I can’t … they played well. It happens.”

But the Gators know the season is still young and there is still a lot of volleyball left to play, including a rematch with the Wildcats in Lexington.

“Right now, yeah, we’re all upset,” Cusack said. “A loss sucks. But it’s how you respond. The SEC is a long season. It’s how we respond to it.”

Coming out of the gates, it didn’t look like this would be the outcome on a night when Florida looked as if it was going to dominate the match.

The Gators won the first set 25-9, the most lopsided set victory they had all year. It seemed as if everything was going right for the Gators, who hit .520 in the set with only one error, compared to Kentucky’s -.059 attacking percentage and eight errors.

Most teams would crumble under that kind of avalanche on Florida’s home court. But Kentucky proved to be a worthy adversary for the Gators.

The Gators seemed caught off guard a little bit at how strongly the Wildcats responded to adversity.

“That’s a pretty good question,” Cusack said when asked what the difference was after the dominating first set. “We were really excited to play out of the gate and they started playing a lot better as well. We just didn’t respond as well to them picking up their game.”

The Wildcats picked up their play in a big way the rest of the match, led by senior setter Sarah Rumely, who had 42 of her 46 assists after the lopsided first set.

The Gators didn’t help their own cause, though, as they seemingly hit unforced error after unforced error when they needed shots the most. Florida had 28 errors after the first set, compared to 14 for Kentucky.

“If you hit 29 balls out of bounds, you don’t deserve to win,” Wise said. “How fast can this team mature? It’s been our Achilles’ heel for two years in a row of our low volleyball IQ. We just can’t hit balls out of bounds.”

Even though the Gators were playing a little sloppy for most of the night, they were still in the match and very easily could have pulled out the victory.

The charge was led by sophomore Kelly Murphy, who did virtually everything in her power to try to pull her team from the jaws of defeat.

Murphy knocked home 10 of her 20 kills, tying her career-high, in the final two sets. When she wasn’t punishing Kentucky with her killer swing, Murphy was doing everything else possible for her team as she hit .424 with 27 assists and 14 digs for her ninth career triple double and third of the season.

“Just another day and triple double,” Wise said, seemingly unfazed by another stellar Murphy performance. “She was hitting against one blocker and they did some good things defensively. I thought Kelly was outstanding. Not only in her point production, but she was low error and that’s where we’ve got to get the rest of the team on board.”

In fact, the only thing bad about Murphy’s performance was that she had to follow the rules.

Every time Murphy started getting into a groove, she had to go to the back row into the setter position, something Wise would have preferred to avoid. Of course, she had no choice.

“Well at some point she has to go to the back row,” Wise said. “I haven’t been able to change the rules where you can keep your best player in the front row. If you know how to do that let me know. I’m all for it. Believe me we would never rotate.”

Murphy would have loved to continue scoring kills for her team, but she knows that sometimes the game is taken out of a player’s control.

“It’s pretty hard,” Murphy said. “That way I get to set the ball and try to get other people kills. It would have been nice to be in the front row, but it’s just the way it works sometimes.”

Sophomores Colleen Ward and Kristy Jaeckel each finished the match with 12 kills, but as was the theme for the night, they also combined for 16 errors in the match. Junior Brynja Rodgers added 25 assists and 10 digs, while Cusack led the back row with 15 digs. Sophomore Cassandra Anderson held down the front line defense with four of the Gators’ nine blocks.

When it was all said and done, the Gators knew it was just one of those nights where the balls didn’t quite fall the way they hoped they would.

Perhaps the biggest thing the team learned was the rest of the conference has started to catch up, making the SEC “a conference to be reckoned with,” according to Cusack.

“The level of play makes us a better team,” Wise said. “I hope our fans will stick with us. Our fans are in new territory. But also our fans have been clamoring for the SEC to get better. Well guess what? The SEC is and it’s not getting any easier Sunday. Our biggest test right now is: Can we get a split this weekend?”

The Gators will get a chance to answer that question against Tennessee on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. as they try to bounce back from a rare defeat.



SEC Pct. Div. ALL Pct.

Kentucky 4-0 1.00 1-0 14-1 .933

Florida 4-1 .800 0-1 10-2 .833

Tennessee 3-1 .750 1-0 10-4 .714

South Carolina 2-3 .400 0-1 10-4 .714

Georgia 1-3 .250 0-0 10-5 .667


SEC Pct. Div. ALL Pct.

Louisiana State 4-1 .800 2-0 10-4 .714

Alabama 4-2 .667 1-1 6-10 .375

Auburn 2-2 .500 2-2 10-5 .643

Arkansas 2-3 .400 0-0 8-8 .500

Mississippi 0-5 .000 0-1 6-9 .400

Mississippi State 0-5 .000 0-2 4-12 .250



Kentucky 3, Florida 2 (9-25, 25-19, 23-25, 25-20, 15-11)

Louisiana State 3, Alabama 1 (25-11, 21-25, 25-20, 25-22)

Arkansas 3, Georgia 0 (25-18, 25-20, 25-20)

Auburn 3, Mississippi 1 (25-18, 19-25, 25-22, 25-23)

Tennessee 3, South Carolina 1 (19-25, 25-20, 25-21, 25-16)



Tennessee at Florida, 1:30 p.m.

Mississippi at Georgia, 1:30 p.m.

Kentucky at South Carolina, 1:30 p.m.

Arkansas at Auburn, 2:30 p.m.

Louisiana State at Mississippi State, 2:30 p.m.


Florida at South Carolina, 7 p.m.


Auburn at Kentucky, 7 p.m.

Georgia at Tennessee, 7 p.m.

Alabama at Arkansas, 8 p.m.

Mississippi State at Mississippi, 8 p.m.

South Carolina at Louisiana State, 8 p.m.


Auburn at Tennessee, 1:30 p.m.

Georgia at Kentucky, 1:30 p.m.

Alabama at Mississippi, 2:30 p.m.

Mississippi State at Arkansas, 2:30 p.m.

Florida at Louisiana State, 7 p.m.


Records as of Sept. 28

Rank/School W-L Pts Prv

1. Penn State (50) 14-0 1487 1

2. Texas (8) 9-0 1440 2

3. Washington (2) 12-0 1393 3

4. Hawaii 11-2 1305 4

5. Florida 10-1 1255 5

6. Michigan 14-1 1160 8

7. Oregon 11-1 1122 7

8. Minnesota 11-3 1058 9

9. California 8-3 1015 12

10. Nebraska 9-4 886 6

11. Stanford 7-4 868 10

12. Illinois 9-2 788 15

13. Southern California 12-2 683 13

14. Iowa State 10-3 669 11

15. Kentucky 13-1 653 17

16. UCLA 11-4 591 14

17. Florida State 12-1 572 18

18. Arizona 12-1 552 19

19. Baylor 14-1 442 24

20. San Diego 8-3 298 22

21. Saint Louis 9-5 217 23

22. Long Beach State 8-3 201 25

23. Michigan State 12-2 184 16

24. California-Irvine 11-3 130 21

25. Wichita State 11-2 108 20

Others: UC Santa Barbara (11-2) 76, Texas A&M (9-2) 72, Purdue (9-4) 67, Notre Dame (8-4) 25, Duke (13-2) 21, Dayton (11-2) 20, Louisiana State (9-4) 20, Pepperdine (7-5) 20, Arizona State (11-3) 16, Colorado State (10-3) 16, Washington State (12-1) 16, Northern Iowa (13-2) 11, Missouri State (10-4) 10, Rice (10-3) 9, St. Mary’s (Calif.) (8-3) 9, Oregon State (9-5) 6.