Missouri volleyball upsets Florida in five-set thriller to scratch rankings for first time

The Tigers (18-4) rallied from down 5-0, 10-7 and 14-13 to hand the No. 11 Gators their first SEC loss of the season.
Missouri volleyball player Kylie DeBerg smiles at teammate Andrea Fuentes after beat Auburn in four sets on Friday, Oct. 19, 2018.

Even if many of her teammates hadn’t, Alyssa Munlyn had been here before.

The senior middle blocker was on the court two years ago when then No. 25 Missouri volleyball upset No. 5 Florida in five sets, paving the way for the teams to share the SEC Championship six days later.

Munlyn had been there before, so when she leapt to block (now No. 11) Florida hitter Holly Carlton with the Tigers trailing 9-7 in the fifth set of Sunday’s match in Gainesville, Florida, she was not going to make a mistake.

The hitter on Munlyn’s left, sophomore Kylie Deberg, had not been there.

Deberg has arguably been Missouri’s most valuable player this season, but the Illinois transfer who has spent less than four months at MU was playing in the biggest match of her collegiate career to this point. Her inexperience was punished as she jumped into the net, costing the Tigers a point and moving the Gators within five points of victory.

Missouri had looked second-best of the two teams for most of the match, barely squeaking out victories in the first and third sets, while being dominated by Florida in the second and fourth sets. When the Gators jumped out to a 5-0 lead early in the fifth, it looked as though the Tigers would succumb against the SEC-unbeaten, more experienced side.

But Missouri (18-4, 8-2 SEC), sparked by consecutive aces from redshirt freshman Andrea Fuentes, somehow clawed its way back, survived a Florida match point and pulled off a monumental win, 17-15 in extra points, over the top-15 Gators. As a result, the Tigers were ranked No. 24 in the latest poll. It’s their first appearance in the top 25 this season.

The Tigers worked their way to within two points against Florida after the early hole in the fifth, reigniting the opportunity to repeat the famous upset in 2016.

Until Deberg was called for a net violation. With the score 10-7, it looked as if Florida would be able to firmly shut the door on a comeback, and Missouri’s flame would finally go out.

But sophomore Dariana Hollingsworth, who to that point was hitting under .100, suddenly came alive with consecutive kills and an ace, once again setting the Tigers’ momentum alight. Sophomore Tyanna Omazic produced a key kill when the Gators had match point at 14-13, keeping Missouri alive.

But most eminent in the comeback was Deberg’s response after her own mistake. After her net violation dug Missouri the 10-7 hole, the 6-foot-4-inch hitter tallied four kills as Missouri stormed back and won the fifth set 17-15.

Missouri was out-scored 105-96 in points, out-hit .221 to .137 and, most uncharacteristically, out-blocked 23.5-9, but it pulled off one of its biggest SEC wins in recent program history, which will give these young players invaluable experience and confidence heading into the last month of the season.

Deberg especially showed the ability to persevere through the difficulties she encountered, and finished the match with 21 kills and three aces. Hollingsworth also overcame her struggles throughout Sunday’s match, totaling 11 kills and 13 digs. Fuentes, who has shone since changing to a 5-1 formation at the beginning of Missouri’s winning streak, posted 47 assists and three aces.

For the Tigers, handing the Gators their first SEC loss of 2018 is no small feat for a team with only four upperclassmen, a team with seven summer additions, a team whose ability to develop chemistry was questioned constantly before the season.

"I'm very proud of our kids today,” coach Wayne Kreklow said in a press release. “It was a very tough match and there were many highs and lows that we had to struggle through. I thought we showed a lot of maturity today. We have a long way to go, but we're making progress and if we continue to work hard and buy into the daily grind then we have potential to be good."

Next up for Missouri is a two-match home stand against LSU at 8 p.m. Friday, then against Texas A&M at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. There is no official word yet whether they will be played at Mizzou Arena or at the usual home of Hearnes Center for the first time since Sept. 19, following reparations due to water damage.

Edited by Bennett Durando | bdurando@themaneater.com

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