GAINESVILLE, Fla. - A mix of youth and experience and a strong effort from the service line helped the 24th-ranked Kentucky volleyball team pull off one of the biggest upsets in school history with a 3-1 (22-25, 25-23, 25-21, 25-21) win at No. 5 Florida on Sunday in the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. UK leaned on veteran leaders Morgan Bergren and Anni Thomasson, while freshman Brooke Morgan and sophomore Darian Mack paced the offensive attack to its first win over a top-five team since 2009, and the first win over the Gators in six tries.
"It just seemed like our team felt they were going to win before they stepped onto the court," said 11th-year head coach Craig Skinner. "There was an aura of confidence and composure, and nothing really fazed us all day, and I'm proud we were able to maintain a consistent level of effort the whole match. I also thought all of our servers really applied as much pressure as we have all year. We've really been working hard at [serving] so I'm glad to see it pay off."
The Wildcats victory began at the service line as the Blue and White posted a season-high nine aces and kept the pressure on the Gators all afternoon. Thomasson and freshman McKenzie Watson both had a trio of aces, while three other players got in on the action from the service line with at least one ace.
UK was led by a career-best 13 kills from Morgan on the right side. The native of Dike, Iowa, also turned in a match-high .500 hitting percentage.
"We've always known that Brooke is very capable of scoring points like that, and she's an imposing force at the net," Skinner said. "We knew we could take advantage of that if we could handle the ball, and with her being in rhythm, we did a great job of executing."
With the win, Kentucky improves to 9-5 overall on the year and 2-0 within Southeastern Conference action. Florida falls to 9-2 and 1-1 within league play. UK will open up conference action in the friendly confines of Memorial Coliseum on Friday when the Wildcats play host to Mississippi State at 7 p.m. The match will also air live on the SEC Network.
Mack charted a team-best 15 kills, marking the second-consecutive match she has led the team in that category. She also contributed eight digs in the win. Thomasson once again registered a double-double effort with 10 kills and 15 digs. Sophomore Emily Franklin was the final Wildcat to reach double-digits in the kills' column with 10 hammers on the afternoon. She also added a pair of blocks.
Bergren directed UK's offense to 57 total kills with five players striking for eight or more kills on the afternoon. The senior from Muncie, Ind., dished out 51 assists and had six digs and a team-high five blocks in the winning effort.
Sophomore Kaz Brown had eight kills and added three blocks. Watson posted 11 scoops in addition to her three aces. Sophomore libero Ashley Dusek continued to be a steady presence on the backline with 18 digs. She has notched double-figure digs in all but one match in her first season as UK's top defensive player. Freshman Olivia Dailey provided UK with an ace in the fourth set to help the cause.
The Gators opened the match with a 25-22 opening set win. The set featured 14 ties and four lead changes. Mack led the way offensively for the Blue and White with five opening hammers, while Morgan added four. UK registered 17 total kills in the frame compared to 16 from the Gators, but the home team benefited from four blocks in the set.
Kentucky evened the match heading into the break with a 25-23 set win. Mack had six kills in the stanza and Morgan added five. UK limited the Gators to just 13 kills on a .139 attacking clip. There were eight ties in the frame, and the lead changed hands once when a kill from Mack lifted UK to a 15-14 edge. UK stretched the lead to as many as four at 21-17 and would need to stave off a late Florida rally to preserve the win.
After an early back-and-forth exchange, the Wildcats took the lead on a Brown kill at 4-3 and would never look back. The visitors led by as many as six at 16-10 en route to a 25-21 win. Thomasson paced the attack with five kills and added a squad-best five digs in the frame.
Florida appeared to be ready to force a decisive fifth frame as the home team jumped out to an early 5-2 edge. Kentucky would not go away and eventually fought back to tie the score at seven apiece on a Mack kill. The UK spurt would stretch to 10-4 to take a 12-9 advantage following the ace from Dailey and then a UF attacking error. Florida would pull to within two late at 23-21, but the Wildcats would score the match's final two points including a match-clinching ace from Thomasson for the win. Mack and Morgan both had four kills in the stanza, while Thomasson contributed five digs.
By the Numbers
51 - Assists from senior setter Morgan Bergren. Her second 50+ assist effort of the season.
13 - The career-high total of kills for Brooke Morgan.
9 - Season-high aces for the Wildcats.
6 - Consecutive matches Darian Mack has posted 14 or more kills.
5 -Match-winning streak for the Wildcats, a season-long total.
4 - Players to reach double-figures in the kills' column.
1 - The first win over a top-five team and the first in Gainesville since 2009 for the Cats.
Kentucky's Memorial Coliseum will play host to the NCAA Regionals Dec. 11-12. UK is one of four sites selected for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups with one team advancing to the Final Four in Omaha, Neb., from the Lexington Region. This marks the third time in five seasons Memorial Coliseum will host this premier volleyball event.