By Jim Harvin, Correspondent
Sunday’s five-set volleyball battle between No. 11 Florida and No. 17 Kentucky in the Exactech Arena had a little bit of everything and a whole lot of drama.
In the end, the Wildcats rallied for a 3-2 win, taking the 2 1/2-plus hour marathon by scores of 25-21, 15-25, 23-25, 26-24 and 15-12 to move into first place in the Southeastern Conference by a half-game over UF as a crowd of 3,261 watched.
“Just as advertised, it was great volleyball,” UF coach Mary Wise said. “I thought we battled and Kentucky played awfully well. The difference in the match was their two left sides (Leah Edmond and Alli Stumler). Today, their two left sides were fantastic.”
The Gators (21-4, 12-2), who had a 10-match winning streak snapped, certainly had their chances, including serving for the match up 24-23 in set four.
But Kentucky (20-6, 13-2) would close it out with three straight points to force the fifth and deciding set.
There, the Wildcats jumped out to a 5-0 lead, forcing a UF timeout, before the Gators fought back to within 8-7.
That’s as close as they would get.
Florida was led by sophomore outside hitter Thayer Hall’s team-high 22 kills, with senior middle blocker Rachael Kramer, who led all players with seven block assists, recording 14 kills and junior Paige Hammons adding 12.
Hall added 11 digs as well as two aces, two solo blocks and three block assists, while Hammons, who had a match-high four aces, had 14 digs and sophomore setter Marlie Monserez had 48 assists and 16 digs as all three posted double-doubles.
Senior libero Allie Gregory led UF with 17 digs.
“That was some really good volleyball,” Kramer noted. “I had so much fun playing. That’s the kind of matches you look for all year long. It was great volleyball on both sides. Unfortunately, we came up a little short in the end. But we’ll get back in the gym and work on our match for Wednesday.”
Edmond and Stumler combined for 57 of the Wildcats’ 78 kills, with Edmond resetting her career-high with 30 kills and just four errors in 66 attacks for a sizzling .542 hitting percentage.
She also had 11 digs while Stumler, who hit a solid .333, had 12.
Junior setter Madison Lilley chimed in with a season-high 63 assists – just two shy of her career-best – to go with 13 digs, four kills and three block assists as all three recorded double-doubles.
The victory gave the Wildcats a sweep of the season series as they won by the same 3-2 score in Lexington on Oct. 6.
“Obviously when we went up there, when they pushed, we didn’t push back,” Hall said. “The same thing happened today. Their pins outplayed our pins when it mattered, and we did not push like we know we can.”
Next up for the Gators is a road match at Auburn on Wednesday.