Missouri had more kills, assists, aces, digs, a higher hitting percentage and even more points than Florida, but the Gators still came away with the victory, snapping the Tigers’ four game winning streak.
In a pivotal conference clash against two ranked teams in the SEC standings, No. 13 Florida defeated No. 24 Missouri (22-25, 25-17, 27-29, 25-20, 12-15) in a five-set, instant classic.
“We knew it was going to be a battle,” defensive specialist Riley Sents said. “We look forward to playing these high-level games but we knew it was going to take a lot of energy and passion every single point.”
Each set had its own story as the match was back and forth from start to finish. Long scoring runs were the theme of the night. Florida jumped ahead 17-9 before Missouri rallied, closing the gap to three. That was as close as Missouri got, but the momentum from the comeback set up the Tigers success in the second set.
“We started out playing too timid,” interim head coach Joshua Taylor said. “But, when we got a flow going we started playing better volleyball.”
It was then the Tigers’ turn to put up a big lead. Missouri led 18-10 in the second set before a Florida timeout. As any fan would learn watching this match, no lead was safe. The Gators closed the gap to four at 21-17, but after a Missouri timeout, the Tigers went on a 4-0 run to clinch a second set victory.
“They started to realize they could play with a team like Florida,” Taylor said. “But, it should have started that way instead of getting into it during the match.”
Then, the drama really picked up.
The importance of the third set was not lost on either team. A battle ensued that saw 18 ties and eight lead changes. Florida had set point at 24-23, but Missouri battled back to claim a set point of its own at 25-24. However, an error by Kylie Deberg set up the serve for the Gators who ended the set with an ace. The excitement from the crowd left, but the confidence of the teams didn’t.
Missouri came back in the fourth and put up its cleanest performance yet. The Tigers hit .357 on only three errors to clinch a 25-20 victory. This set up the decisive fifth set.
“We started taking it one point at a time, winning each point instead of thinking about the big score,” Taylor said. “We had a lot of confidence, and that was a product of our focus. I think that’s why we did such a good job in the fourth set.”
“We were in the mindset that the match had started over,” Sents said. “It was down to just one game to 15 that helped us keep that sense of urgency.”
The Tigers continued on their roll in the fifth set, jumping out to an 8-4 lead hoping to close out the match. However, Missouri started piling up mistakes and quickly found itself in a hole. Florida’s lead proved to be too much for Missouri, who ultimately fell 15-12 in the third set and 3-2 in the match.
In all, there were 25 ties and 13 lead changes.
Despite the valiant effort, Taylor wanted more.
“I’m pissed off,” Taylor said. “It wasn’t quite good enough for me. When you play a team like that you have to take advantage of it and if you don’t, they will. So I am a little frustrated.”
“We were up 8-4 in that fourth set and I think we got relaxed,” Taylor said. “We made unforced errors, we let up an ace, hit a ball out and didn’t cover the tip.”
Individually, the Tigers still had some outstanding performances in spite of the loss. Deberg had 27 kills and Andrea Fuentes tallied 50 assists. Both Tyanna Omazi and Dariana Hollingsworth-Santana had double-digit kills and hit above .400. As a team, the Tigers recorded 11 total blocks, led by Kayla Caffey’s five.
The loss drops Missouri to 14-5 on the season and 6-3 in conference play. The Tigers can’t think about this loss for long though, as they travel to face a good Texas A&M team on Sunday.
“We have a really big match this Sunday against Texas A&M,” Taylor said. “They are 11th in the RPI and are receiving votes in the coaches poll, plus they are good at home. We can use this match to have a lot of confidence going into Sunday.”
The Tigers will be back on the court at 2 p.m. on Sunday in College Station against Texas A&M in Reed Arena.