By Jim Harvin, Correspondent
Top-ranked Florida faced a focused and rested opponent Sunday and the result was a 3-1 loss to No. 8 Kentucky before a loud but disappointed crowd of 4,245 in the Exactech Arena at the O’Connell Center.
With their 11th consecutive win, the Wildcats improved to 16-2 and 7-0 in SEC volleyball play, handing the Gators (14-1, 6-1) their first loss of the season and knocking them out of a tie for first place in the league. Kentucky prevailed by scores of 25-20, 25-22, 23-25 and 25-16.
“Well, you can see why we voted Kentucky No. 1,” UF coach Mary Wise said. “They have the most talent in the league. They’re very, very good now that they’re healthy. I’ve said before, they’re a final four team. They could win it all; they’re that good.”
Kentucky had not played since a 3-0 win over Texas A&M on Wednesday, while Florida had a short turnaround from its 3-0 road win Friday at Ole Miss.
The Gators did out-block the Wildcats by a 10-6 margin, but the Wildcats otherwise won the statistical battle, hitting .309 while holding the Gators to a .200 mark and owning advantages in kills (64-46), assists (59-44) and digs (49-44).
“We knew it was going to be a battle,” Kentucky coach Craig Skinner said. “I really liked our toughness after set three, after dropping that set and keeping our composure. We had a lot of great individual performances.”
The Wildcats placed four players in double-digit kills, led by reigning SEC Player of the Week Leah Edmond with 18.
Joining Edmond, who led all players with 19.5 points, was Darian Mack (13 kills, 13.5 points), Kaz Brown (11 kills, 13.5 points) and Avery Skinner (10 kills, 11 points), while senior libero Ashley Dusek had a match-high 16 digs.
The difference maker, however, was Madison Lilley, the reigning SEC Setter of the Week for the third straight time, who had a double-double with a match-high 52 assists and 10 digs.
“Their setter was doing a great job being balanced and setting all their options, so you’ve got to give them credit,” UF sophomore middle blocker Rachael Kramer said. “There were times where we looked great; we looked like the No. 1 team in the country. And there were other times that it just wasn’t happening. Eventually, it just wasn’t enough.”
Kramer led Florida with 15 kills and a .423 hitting percentage while scoring a team-high 17 points, with senior middle Rhamat Alhassan, who hit.409, and senior outside hitter Carli Snyder each adding 10 kills.
Redshirt junior setter Allie Monserez had 27 assists and just missed a double-double with nine digs, while freshman outside hitter Paige Hammons had a team-high 13 digs.
The Gators now face a pivotal stretch in which they will play five of their next six matches on the road, including a rematch at Kentucky on Nov. 1.
First up, UF travels to Alabama for a match Friday at 8 p.m. before battling Auburn Sunday at 2:30.
The Gators then return to the Exactech Arena to host South Carolina on Oct. 27 at 7 p.m.
UF SOCCER FALLS
AUBURN, Ala. — Kristen Dodson scored a second-half goal Sunday to help Auburn defeat No. 10 Florida 1-0.
The Tigers’ third straight win over Florida, which includes a win in the NCAA tournament last season, improved Auburn’s record to 7-4-3 overall and 4-1-2 in the SEC.
The Gators’ second consecutive defeat puts their record at 11-4 overall, 5-2 in the SEC.