University of Florida volleyball players celebrate their victory following the final point of their match against Florida Gulf Coast University at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla., on Thursday, Nov 30, 2023. The Gators claimed 3 sets against the Eagles’ 0. (Caleb Ross/WRUF)

Gators Chomp Florida Gulf Coast in Round 1 of NCAA Tournament, face Georgia Tech

The No. 4 seed Florida Gators eliminated the ASUN conference champion, Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, from the NCAA Volleyball Tournament after a clean sweep Thursday in the O’Connell Center.

The Gators move on to round 2 to face a strong Georgia Tech (23-6) team Friday at 7 p.m. in the O’Dome. The match can be seen on ESPN+ and heard on 98.1-FM/AM850-WRUF. No. 5 seed Georgia Tech beat South Alabama 3-1 on Thursday.

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With a stellar team performance, the Gators (19-9) got just the start they were looking for as they look to make a deep push into the tournament after the 25-18, 25-16, 25-17 win.

All-SEC and All-Freshman Kennedy Martin was her usual self, collecting her 28th consecutive game with 10 or more kills as she totaled 14 on the night.

Martin was backed by senior outside hitter Sofia Victoria, as she collected 11 kills and 2 aces from behind the service line to balance the Gators attack.

Essix Excellence

Junior middle blocker Gabrielle Essix played a key role in the success of the Gators, notching a season-high 8 kills on a .538 hitting clip with 4 blocks.

Florida utilized Essix’s athleticism, as many of her kills came in transition from swinging to the right side of the net, opening windows that overwhelmed the Eagle receiving defense.

Let Them Heat Up

Many times this season, the Gators found themselves sleeping in the opening sets, needing time to settle in and dig out of a hole to secure the crucial first set of matches.

That was the case again against FGCU (26-7), as the Eagles jumped out to a 5-2 lead, but Florida didn’t flinch. Even after unsteady starts, the Gators did not allow more than 18 points in all three sets.

 

Sofia Victoria led the charge with 4 kills in 6 points to regain the lead and go up 15-10, forcing FGCU to spend two timeouts in an attempt to stop the bleeding.

It did nothing but prolong the arm of freshman threat Kennedy Martin from heating up as well. From there, Martin and Victoria caught fire to outscore the Eagles 17-8 and secure set 1, 25-18.

Set 2

Once again, the Gators found themselves in a 7-4 hole, but dug their way out with a 7-0 run accompanied by precise serving from senior libero Elli McKissock to put Florida in prime serve receive position.

“Elli set the tone with her passing and defense, and being our senior leader and
everyone else followed. It was one of the complete matches of the year,” Florida coach Mary Wise said.

FGCU answered with a 4-0 run late, but Florida stretched the lead and slammed the door with a massive kill from AC Fitzpatrick (5 kills and 5 blocks) and a third service ace from McKissock to end the set, 25-16.

“There were a few of those runs that we were able to make in the match,” Wise said. “But that one in particular really to be separated and allowed us to go up 2-0.”

Set 3

This time, the Gators were done playing with its food, leaping to a quick 10-3 lead in the third set.

The momentum shifted completely to Gators after perhaps the best play of the night, a diving pancake by McKissock to save a point and bring the Florida faithful to its feet.

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From there, it was the Gators’ game to finish as they cruised in the backend with Victoria slamming two kills to send the Eagles packing.

Up Next in Round 2

The Gators now shift their sights onto Round 2 of the tournament. Georgia Tech has a dazzling resume of its own, with quality wins over No. 8 Penn State, back-to-back wins over No. 12 Ohio State and ACC Champion Florida State as well.

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