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The Gators had their moments in Friday's match against Missouri but lost in three tight sets.

Friday November 15, 2013Gators Look to Finish Season Way Missouri Finished Friday's Match

The Gators had their moments in Friday's match against Missouri but lost in three tight sets.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The atmosphere reminded Gators volleyball coach Mary Wise of an NCAA Tournament match. The kind of match where every point is critical and everyone in the stands leaves the arena with shorter fingernails than they walked in with.

Wise offered that assessment after her fifth-ranked Gators fell to No. 7-ranked Missouri on Friday night at the O'Connell Center.

In the first SEC regular-season home match in school history to feature a pair of Top-10 teams, Missouri handed the Gators their first home loss of the season with a 25-22, 25-23, 25-23 win.

In the record books the Tigers' victory will go down as a 3-0 sweep. Still, seven points was all that separated these two teams with visions of doing damage in the NCAA Tournament.

Mary Wise

Simple math in Wise's eyes.

"We were close, we were right there, but they won all the big points,'' Wise said.

In the first set the Gators led 22-20 and had the crowd of 5,023 -- 10th-largest in school history -- on its feet. Missouri put fans back in their seats by reeling off the final five points to win the set.

In the second set the Tigers stormed to a 9-4 lead, forcing Wise to call a timeout. The Gators rallied and tied the match 21-21 on Ziva Recek's service ace.

Recek's next serve went into the net as momentum shifted back to Missouri, which improved to 30-0 to remain as one of only two undefeated teams left in Division I. Colorado State (23-0) is the other.

The Tigers closed the second set out on a kill by Emily Wilson after Recek's attack error put the Tigers at set point.

Finally, after the Gators regrouped during the intermission and quickly opened a 5-0 lead in the third set, Missouri once again showed why it still hasn't lost a match.

The Tigers scored the next six points to take the lead, the Gators responded to go up 16-12, and finally, Missouri seized control with back-to-back kills by Lisa Henning for a 22-21 lead.

The Gators tied the match 23-all behind a kill and block by Gabby Mallette, but then Henning and Molly Kreklow delivered back-to-back kills to seal the victory for Missouri.

Wise then walked over to the Missouri huddle for a special visit: to congratulate Tigers coach Wayne Kreklow and his team on the win, their undefeated season and for adding some late-season juice to the SEC race.

Missouri improved to 14-0 in conference play while the Gators dropped to 12-2 -- both losses coming to the Tigers.

When the teams met in Columbia last month Missouri needed four sets.

"I think we played much more collected this time than we did last time,'' Florida's Mackenzie Dagostino said. "Last time we were so tight and jittery. They just played great. That's what people have to understand."

That's why Wise walked over to tell the Tigers that in person.

Since she took over the Gators in 1991, few have challenged Florida's supremacy in the SEC. The Tigers, in their second year in the conference, have quickly added a new wrinkle to the Gators' annual dominance.

"The better team won tonight,'' Wise said. "We learn from this. If we're fortunate enough to get to a regional, this would be the type of team we would have to play.

"For our fans that have been begging for the SEC to get better -- you've got to be careful what you wish for."

Gators senior Taylor Brauneis had a match-high 34 assists Friday. She would liked to have had a few more, especially at the end of the first set when the Gators made some passing errors that cost them.

While disappointed at the outcome, Brauneis doesn't envision a dark cloud to hover over the Gators in the season's final stretch.

They have four regular-season matches left to prepare for their annual trip to the NCAA Tournament.

"Nothing,'' Brauneis said bluntly when asked what Friday's loss did to the team's confidence. "We're going to come to practice tomorrow and work even harder."

Dagostino backed up her teammate.

"We still have a goal to make it to the tournament,'' Dagostino said. "One loss, two losses, that doesn't change anything. It's just figuring out a way to be consistent and figuring out a way to finish the game.

"That's what Missouri did really well -- they figured out how to finish the game."

Everything Friday night was hyped to be came to fruition.

A large and lively crowd showed up at the O'Dome. They saw a thrilling match between two elite teams. And if you didn't know otherwise, it was a match that had postseason intensity.

All that was missing for the Gators was a win.

Wise's message to her team afterward was to learn from the loss. Learn from the way Missouri finished and the Gators didn't.

Maybe they will meet again. Maybe the Gators can use the lessons from Friday's loss in the postseason. Maybe next time these two meet, the Gators can pull out a win.

"That's to be determined," Wise said.

 

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