TAMPA, Fla. – In a battle of two Top-15 teams, the No. 11 Florida Gators defeated the No. 8 Penn State Nittany Lions in comeback fashion, winning in four sets.
Penn State claimed the first set 25-18, but the Gators won a hard-fought 25-23 second set to even the match. Florida took that momentum into set three, winning 25-17, then the Gators staved off three set points in the fourth and won the match with a 5-0 run.
With the victory, the Gators have now won 31 season openers, including seven-straight. This was the sixth season-opening victory over a Top-25 opponent since the inception of the program in 1984.
On the offensive front four Gators notched over 10 kills, including a team-high 18 from freshman Kennedy Martin in her debut. Classmate Kira Hutson added 14 in her first collegiate match, while Sofia Victoria (11) and Anna Dixon (10) combined for 21 kills on the night.
The freshmen duo of Martin and Hutson were the first pair of freshmen to record 30+ combined kills in a season opening match, surpassing the mark of 28 from the duo of Kristy Jaeckel (15) and Kelly Murphy (13) in the season-opener in 2008.
The Gator offense was anchored by Alexis Stucky, who dished out 55 assists on the night – one shy of her career-high.
Florida held Penn State to a .193 clip, tallying 11 blocks on the night. Gabrielle Essix was a force at the net, posting a team-high seven blocks, while Martin added five of her own in the victory.
Leading the backcourt defense for the Gators was libero Elli McKissock, who posted a team-high 13 digs in the four-setter. Martin recorded the first double-double of her career, recording 11 digs to pair with her 18 kills. Trinity Adams and Emily Canaan each registered nine digs, while Stucky added seven in the win.
Stucky also added three aces to the column on Friday night, while Dixon added two.
The Gators are back in action on Saturday, taking on the host institution South Florida at the Yuengling Center. First serve is slated for 8 p.m. on ESPN+.
Records No. 11 Florida (1-0) No. 8 Penn State (0-1)
How It Happened
- With the score knotted 4-all in the first set, Penn State used a 6-0 run to take the 10-4 lead, before Kennedy Martin broke that run with the first kill of her Gator career. Florida pulled to within three at 10-7, but Penn State went ahead nine after a 6-0 run to force Florida’s second timeout of the frame. Out of the break, Kira Hutson tallied her first Gator kill on her first attempt to stop the Nittany Lions’ run. Florida pulled within six at three points throughout the rest of the frame, but Penn State went on to win 25-18. Florida notched 11 kills in the set, led by three apiece from Anna Dixon and Kira Hutson.
- The Gators took the early lead in the second set, going ahead three at the 5-2 mark. Penn State chipped away, pulling to within one at 8-7, but Florida created some distance to grab its largest lead of the frame at 14-9 to force the Penn State timeout. Out of the break, the Nittany Lions cut Florida’s lead to just two at 15-13, this time causing the Gators to use their first timeout. Penn State pulled to within one at 17-16 following the timeout, but a solo Stucky block swung the momentum back in UF’s direction. The Nittany Lions tied the set at 20-20 after a 4-1 run, but Florida used back-to-back points to take the two-point lead at 22-20. The set saw two more ties at 22-all and 23-all, but back-to-back points from Hutson secured the frame and evened the match at 1-apiece. The Gators hit .265 in the set, led by five kills from Hutson and four from Martin.
- The third set belonged to Florida from the jump, with the Gators pulling ahead 5-0 to force a Penn State timeout. The Nittany Lions cut the deficit to four at 12-8, but Florida continued to hold them at a distance, taking the largest lead of the frame at the 21-14 mark. Penn State got back to within five at 22-15, but the Gators went on to win the frame 25-17. Florida hit a stellar .382 in the third set, with Martin posting seven kills on 10 swings with no errors to lead the way.
- The fourth set was a back and forth battle from the start, but following a 5-1 Penn State run, Florida was forced to use its first timeout of the frame at the 9-5 mark. The Gators fought back to within at 10-9, but the Nittany Lions went on a run to grab the 17-12 advantage. Florida found itself down five once again at the 19-14 mark, but cut the deficit to just two at 20-18 to force a PSU timeout. Out of the break, Penn State went up three at 24-21, but Florida staved off two set points to pull within one at 24-23 and caused the Nittany Lions to take their final timeout. Coming out of the timeout, it was all Gators – with UF scoring three-straight points to secure the match. Florida recorded 17 kills in the frame, led by five from Martin and four from Victoria.
- The freshman duo of Kennedy Martin (18) and Kira Hutson (14) became the first Gator freshmen to combine for 34 kills in a season-opener. They surpassed the duo of Kristy Jaeckel (15) and Kelly Murphy (13), who combined for 28 kills in their debut in the 2008 season
- Kennedy Martin notched 18 kills with a .289 clip in her first collegiate match
- She also posted 11 digs and five blocks
- Kira Hutson recorded 14 kills with a .290 clip in her first Gator game, while also recording a
- Anna Dixon posted 10 kills with a .444 hitting percentage in her first appearance in the Orange & Blue
- The Gators have now won 31 season openers, including seven-straight
- Florida has now collected six season-opening wins against Top-25 opponents
- UF improves to 4-8 in the all-time series against Penn State
Thoughts from Coach Wise
“The effort from both teams tonight matched the atmosphere in the arena. It was a great experience for our team this early in the season.”
- The Gators are back in action on Saturday, taking on the host institution South Florida at the Yuengling Center
- First serve is slated for 8 p.m. on ESPN+.
- The match can also be heard on the airways of ESPN Gainesville 98.1 FM/850 AM