On Friday, August. 26, Florida took the courts against the UNF Ospreys in women’s volleyball for the first time in school history at the Gators Invitational. The Gators invited North Florida along with the Virginia Cavaliers and the Eastern Tennessee State Pirates to a two-day tournament.
A good crowd was on hand in the O’Connell Center to see the action as the Gators opened regular season play.
North Florida takes the first set
Gator coach Mary Wise brought in eight new players to the team. Senior Marina Markova and freshman Emily Canaan were two of the eight selected to be on the starting lineup. Of Wise’s returners, Elli McKissock, Birdie Hendrickson, Gabrielle Essix, Bre Kelley and Merritt Beason made up the rest of the lineup.
— Gators Volleyball (@GatorsVB) August 26, 2022
At the beginning of the set, you could tell teams would be fighting tooth and nail for the lead. Since this was Florida’s first game of the season, they struggled to communicate and control the ball.
However, offensively the Gators excelled. Bre Kelley showed the Ospreys she was a force to be reckoned with. She racked up four kills in the first set. Markova gave the fans a glimpse into what she will bring to the table. Throughout the first set, she tacked on four kills. Birdie Hendrickson helped out the team with nine assists.
“I give all glory to my passers and setters because I couldn’t do it without them,” Kelley said.
Unfortunately, Florida lost the set 25-20.
Second Set Comeback
In between the first and second set, the Gators talked in their huddle about the fans and how they need to come back.
Starting out quickly in the second game, Markova slammed the ball down the court to tie up the set, 1-1. After that, Florida had a hard time keeping the Ospreys from scoring. The Gators trailed 17-11.
Kill after kill by Markova brought Florida closer at 18-16 and with the score all tied up at 22-22, Canaan walked up to the service line and ripped the ball over the net to break the tie. North Florida tried to come back, but made errors to give Florida the set.
Second set score was 25, 23. Match tied 1-1.
Gators Win Third Set
Right off the bat, the Gators won the first point on an Osprey attack error; after that, it was back and forth and it wasn’t until Merritt Beason’s kill that the Gators took the lead and started to run with it at 6-5. In this set, Beason dominated the court with five kills and two service aces. Sofia Victoria also started to work hard to make sure Florida kept the lead; with an assist from Stucky, Victoria sent the ball down the line for a kill to make it 12-6.
Later, Bre Kelly executed a kill to give the Gators a 24-15 lead and Florida won the set 25-15 after a UNF error.
Florida Wins The Match
Throughout the night there was just no stopping Markova. She gave the Gators their first point of the set with a kill and later, Stucky set up Beason perfectly for a kill, giving the Gators a 7-1 lead. The Ospreys wouldn’t quit however and after a mini-run they found themselves down only 10-5. But after that, Florida went on a run and after a Beason kill, Florida went up 20-10.
The set ended with the Kelley and Victoria blocking an Osprey attack and Florida got the win 25-13.
Gator coach Mary Wise believed that the match was a learning experience because her team is relatively young with some newcomers learning the college game.
Wise also gave credit to UNF for its play, especially in the opening game.
At the end of the game, Marina Markova led Florida with 16 kills, Emily Canaan and Merritt Beason led with three aces, and Stucky had 36 assists and Elli McKissock had 12 digs. Florida continues play in its tournament with matches against East Tennessee State and Virginia.