OXFORD, Miss. -- The 12th-ranked Florida volleyball team closed the 2022 regular season with a thrilling five-set victory over the Ole Miss Rebels on Saturday evening.
With today's victory, the Gators clinched a share of the 2022 SEC Championship. Florida and Kentucky will serve as Co-Champions, with UF earning the automatic bid following the SEC tie break rules.
Florida finishes off the regular season with a 23-5 overall record, including a 15-3 record in league play. Ole Miss finishes its 2022 campaign with an 11-17 record and a 7-11 record in the SEC.
UF claimed its 25th SEC Championship, the most of any team in the league. Those 25 titles are the third-most by any sport (men and women) in the league since volleyball's inception into the SEC in 1979.
This evening's win ups Florida athletics overall SEC total to a league-high 256 titles. Volleyball has claimed the first SEC title of the year for the Gators and now Florida has picked up at least one SEC team title for 45 consecutive seasons - the league's longest current streak.
Since 1984 - the inception of volleyball at Florida - the Gators have the second-most SEC Championships at the school, behind just women's tennis.
UF took the first set 25-23 in a tightly-contested battle, then followed with a 25-16 victory in the second set. The third set belonged to Ole Miss, with the Rebels taking it 25-19. Ole Miss grabbed the fourth set 25-21 to force a deciding fifth frame, which Florida grabbed 15-11 to win the SEC title.
Florida was led on the offensive front by Marina Markova, who posted an 18-kill effort on the evening. Merritt Beason and Sofia Victoria each added 13 kills of their own, while Gabrielle Essix pitched in a 12-kill performance.
Rookie setter Alexis Stucky dished out 53 helpers in the match, leading the team to a .322 clip.
At the net, Florida registered 12.0 blocks, with Essix posting a team-high six. Bre Kelley and Beason each added four of their own, while Markova registered three on the evening.
Beason led the backcourt defense for the Gators, finishing the match with 12 digs. Elli McKissock followed with 10, while Stucky tallied nine digs of her own.
Florida tallied five service aces on Saturday evening, with Stucky recording a team-high two.
No. 12 Florida (23-5, 15-3 SEC) Ole Miss (11-17, 7-11 SEC)
How It Happened
With the first set tied 3-3 early, the Gators exploded on an 8-2 run to force an Ole Miss timeout at the 11-5 mark. Following the break in action, the Rebels pulled to within one at 15-14 to force Florida to use its first timeout of the frame.
The Gators were able to extend their lead back to three after back-to-back kills from Kelley, but Ole Miss once again chipped its deficit to just one at the 24-23 mark. A kill from Victoria secured the 25-23 victory and allowed the Gators to take the 1-0 lead in the match. Florida hit .424 in the first frame, led by four kills apiece from Beason and Victoria, while Essix and Markova each added three in the set.
The start of the second set was a tight contest between the teams, but with the frame tied 6-6, Florida used a 7-3 run to force a timeout by the Rebels at the 13-9 mark. The Gators pulled ahead as many as six at 17-11, but Ole Miss pulled back to within three to force a Florida timeout.
UF used a 4-0 run late in the frame to take the 23-15 lead, then closed out with the 25-16 victory to pull ahead 2-0 in the match. The Gators hit .286 in the second set, led by five kills from Markova. The Rebels used a 5-0 run early in the third frame to take the 6-2 lead and cause Florida to utilize its first timeout.
The Gators battled back to cut the deficit to just one at the 16-15 mark, but Ole Miss extended its lead back to four at 19-15. The Rebels held on for the 25-19 win to force a fourth set in Oxford. Florida hit .293 in the third frame, with Beason posting a team-high five kills, followed by four apiece from Victoria and Markova.
Florida had the momentum to start the fourth set, taking the 7-2 advantage to force an Ole Miss timeout.
Following the break, Ole Miss cut UF's lead to just one at the 13-12 mark, this time causing the Gators to take a timeout. Out of the break, the Rebels went on a 6-3 run to take the 19-16 lead late and closed out the set with a 25-21 win to force a fifth set. Essix led the way with four kills, while Markova and Victoria each posted three kills in the fourth.
The fifth set was a back-and-forth battle to start, but the Gators used a 3-0 run to take the 8-5 lead into the media timeout.
Out of the media break, Florida went up as many as four at the 12-8 mark, but a 2-0 run by Ole Miss forced a Florida timeout. The Gators closed out the match on a 3-1 run to secure the SEC title. Beason and Markova each recorded three kills to clinch the match victory.
- This win earns the Gators their 25th SEC Championship. That mark is the third-best total in the entire conference among all sports since volleyball's inception into the SEC in 1979.
- All 25 SEC titles have come under Mary Wise, meaning she has won at least a share of a conference title in 25 of her 32 seasons at Florida.
- The 25 titles are the second-best mark at Florida since 1984, with only women's tennis having more titles in that time frame (26).
- This is the 256th SEC title for the Gators athletics program - the league high.
- Marina Markova eclipsed 1,000 career kills in the match and she has now recorded at least 10 kills in 20 matches this season.Her 18 kills are a Florida-high for the senior.
- Merritt Beason has now recorded double-digit kills in 19 matches during the 2022 campaign Beason also tallied her fourth double-double of the season.
- Sofia Victoria has now registered double-digit kills in 15 matches this season.
- Gabrielle Essix posted her fourth double-digit kills match in the 2022 seaso. She tied her career-high with 12 kills on the evening.
- The Gators improve to 58-3 in the all-time series against Ole Miss, including a 52-0 record under Mary Wise.
- Florida is now 5-2 in five-set matches against Ole Miss.
- UF improves to 29-3 against the Rebels in Oxford, Miss.
- The Gators improve to 4-2 in five-set matches during the 2022 campaign.
- Florida closes the regular season with a 10-0 record on Saturday.
- With her 10 digs, Elli McKissock is now tied for 10th overall in program history.
Thoughts from Coach Wise: "Could not have scripted it any better. To win the SEC, we once again had to beat a team back-to-back and do so on the road. Such a great moment for this team."
The Gators now await their NCAA Tournament fate as the Selection Show is set to air on Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU.