UF roundup: Volleyball team splits with MSU, soccer team picks up SEC win

Special to Gatorsports.com

After all these years, it was bound to happen sooner or later. It happened Friday night at Exactech Arena.

The 17th-ranked Florida volleyball team lost for the first time in program history to  Mississippi State. Florida (7-5, 1-1 SEC) closed out the series against Mississippi State  (10-4, 1-1) with a five-set loss.

The Gators were 53-0 in the all-time series against Mississippi State, including a 44-0 record under Mary Wise. UF was to 25-0 against Mississippi State in Gainesville.

Florida battled back from an early deficit in the first set to claim the frame 25-17, but the Bulldogs responded with a 25-23 victory in the second set. Mississippi State grabbed the third set in extras 26-24, but the Gators answered with a 25-21 win in the fourth to force a deciding fifth  set. The Bulldogs clinched the match with a 15-13 victory in the final set.

Sofia Victoria led Florida’s offense, posting 19 kills. T’ara Ceasar added a 17-kill effort, while Merritt Beason, Lauren Dooley and Thayer Hall recorded nine, eight and seven kills, respectively.

Marlie Monserez dished out 56 assists on the night, putting her just eight assists away from the 3,000-assist mark.

At the net, Florida notched 15.0 blocks, led by five from Gabrielle Essix and Beason. Ceasar, Dooley and Nnedi Okammor each posted four blocks.

Five Gators recorded at least 10 digs in the match — the last time that was accomplished was Aug. 25, 2018 against No. 3 Texas. Elli McKissock recorded a team-high 22 digs on the evening, followed by a 14-dig performance from Ceasar. Monserez pitched in 13 digs, while Hall and Victoria added 12 and 10, respectively.

The Gators are back in action Wednesday when the team heads to Athens, Ga. to take on the Georgia Bulldogs. First serve is slated for 7 p.m. on ESPNU.  

On Thursday

 The Florida volleyball team opened its SEC slate with a five-set victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs in Exactech Arena. 

The Gators (7-4)  took the first set 25-17 and followed that with a decisive 25-11 win in the second. The Bulldogs (9-4) answered with a 25-16 victory in the third and forced a deciding fifth set with a 25-18 win in the fourth. Florida clinched the match victory with a tightly contested 15-13 win in the final set to move to 1-0 in the SEC.

“This is the best Mississippi State team in some time and they played very well tonight," UF coach Mary Wise said. "It was a great SEC battle.”

Florida’s offense was led by a 17-kill performance from T’ara Ceasar, while Sofia Victoria pitched in a 14-kill effort. Thayer Hall notched 10 kills, while Lauren Dooley added eight with a .538 clip.

Marlie Monserez posted 51 assists in the match and also added nine digs and three blocks.

At the net, Florida recorded 12.0 blocks, led by a six-block effort from Gabrielle Essix – a career-high for the freshman. Dooley and Ceasar each added four blocks

Florida’s backcourt was led by a team-high 31 digs from Elli McKissock — a career-high for the sophomore libero. Ceasar added 13 digs of her own for her fifth double-double of the year and Victoria added nine on the night.

UF notched seven service aces behind the line, led by two apiece from Monserez, McKissock and Victoria. 

Soccer

The first Gator goal for sophomore transfer Julianne Leskauskas proved to be golden.

Florida won 1-0 in overtime over Kentucky (6-3-2, 0-2 SEC) at the Donald R. Dizney Stadium.

"We're really excited for Jules," Florida coach Tony Amato said. "She transferred here in the summer really late and has had a tough go of it with some setbacks. She returned to training this week. To get back in there and score the game winner. ... We know she is a great player and has a bright future ahead of her. This will springboard her forward. The win is awesome for the team." 

There were opportunities for both teams but it was a trio of sophomores who helped the Gators  (2-5-3, 1-0-1) get the winning goal in the 92nd minute.

From just above the box, Delaney Tauzel sent the ball right to catch Leskauskas on the run. Leskauskas immediately touched the ball forward to Maddy Rhodes in the middle of the box. Her hard, left-footed shot was blocked, deflecting to Leskauskas now near the end line. Her sharp angled shot hit the crossbar and then the far post to fall in.

"It feels really good putting the ball in the back of the net," Leskauskas said. "It was a whole team effort working to get the ball in the back of the net. It felt very, very good."

Florida continues SEC play at 7 p.m. Sunday at Mississippi State. In Thursday's meeting of Bulldogs in Athens, Ga., Georgia and Mississippi State finished in a 2-2 double overtime tie.