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UF Volleyball: Meet the 2021 Signing Class

Courtesy of University Athletic Association

The Gators added four to their 2021 incoming class

The nationally-ranked Florida volleyball program welcomed its 2021 signing class on Wednesday, as three high school seniors and one college transfer became Gators.

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“The length, skill, and athleticism in each of these players will help us immediately, especially with three of them joining us in January,” said head Coach Mary Wise.

Below are the details of the four signees’ – Merritt Beason, Gabrielle Essix, Lauren Forte, and Bre Kelley – high school and club accolades.

Merritt Beason | 6-3 | OH | High School: Gardendale | Club: Alabama Performance

Beason’s High School Accolades

  *   2020 Alabama North/South All-Star game selection
  *   2020 AL.com #2 A-List Senior
  *   Two-time Area Tournament MVP (2019, 2020)
  *   Three-time County All-Tournament Team (2017, 2019, 2020)
  *   2020 AHSVCA First Team All-State
  *   2019 All-Regional Volleyball Team
  *   2019 AL.com Super All-State team
  *   Named MVP and Offensive MVP for Gardendale High School volleyball in both 2017 and 2019
  *   AVCA All-American Watch List (2020)
Beason’s Club Accolades

  *   2020 AVCA Under Armour All-American Third Team
  *   Two-time JVA All-National Team (2019, 2020)
  *   Three-time AAU Nationals All-Star (2018, 2019, 2020)
  *   VolleyMag.com Top 25 Underclassman watchlist (2020)
  *   Three-time JVA Watchlist (2018, 2019, 2020)
  *   PrepVolleyball 2021 Top 150 – No. 90 (2020)

Beason’s USA High Performances Accolades

  *   2020 USA A1 Team
  *   2019 USA A1 Team
  *   2018 USA Continental Team

Beason’s Off-the-Court Accolades

  *   Graduated in the Top 10% of her class with an advanced diploma
  *   Two-time AAU Academic All-American (2017, 2018)
  *   Gardendale High School Volleyball Scholar-Athlete
  *   Served as a volunteer coach for the Bragg Middle School volleyball team
  *   Vacation Bible School volunteer at Gardendale First Baptist Church (2015-19)
  *   Helped make signs for Harper’s Heart Run – a non-profit that raises money for Children’s of Alabama (2017)
  *   Provided volleyball lessons for the youth in her hometown

“Merritt Beason has all of the skills we look for in an outside hitter: her length, her arm, her ball control skills. This is a six-rotation outside hitter – that alone is a special talent, but there is more than just that for Merritt. Watching her up close, especially at camp, we got to see how hard she trains, how mindful she is in the details to get better. What we took away from camp is how much everyone loved being on the court with her – whether it was our players that were working with her or other campers – that was the piece that really stuck with me. We are very lucky that Merritt has chosen to graduate early. She is going to start here with the Gators in January. As a six-rotation outside hitter with her length and her worth ethic, we are pretty lucky Merritt said yes to Florida.” – Head Coach Mary Wise

“Merritt is one of those once-in-a-lifetime type athletes; a coach’s dream. She is always the first to the gym and the last to leave – always striving to get in extra reps. She is never content in her craft, and she always demands to make improvements. Her time at Gardendale High School has sparked an interest for volleyball in our town, and I believe that was her goal. She has spent countless hours mentoring and coaching our youth in hopes to grow the sport. Merritt has received so many honors during her high school and club career, and I know, without a doubt, she is going to do the same at Florida. She will rise to the occasion and do whatever it takes to be the best. Her beautiful soul and her endless talent are going to help Florida win some National Championships! I cannot wait to cheer her on from Alabama.” – Kelly Scott-Ingram, Gardendale High School Varsity Head Coach

Gabrielle Essix | 6-3 | MB | High School: Hoover | Club: Southern Performance Volleyball Academy

Essix’s High School Accolades

  *   2020 AHSAA Class 7A State Champion
  *   2020 Alabama Class 7A All-Tournament
  *   2020 All-Area
  *   2020 AL.com A-List Top Seniors High School Volleyball Players (#3)
  *   2020 Alabama All-Star Volleyball Team (North roster)
  *   2020 PrepVolleyball’s pre-season Top-150 Nation List – Class of 2021 (#65)
  *   2020 Super-Regionals Team Champions
  *   Three-time Area Team Champions (2018-20)
  *   Recorded over 1,000 kills as a middle blocker (three-year letterwinner on varsity)
  *   Two-time First Team Alabama Super-All-State selection (2019, 2020)
  *   Two-time First Team All-Over-the-Mountain Team (2019, 2020)
  *   Two-time First Team All-South Metro
  *   2019 Radio Network Female Athlete of the Week (Oct. 21)
  *   Three-time All-Region Team selection (2018-20)
  *   2018 AVCA’s Phenom List

Essix’s Club Accolades

  *   2020 AVCA Under Armour All-American Second Team
  *   Two-time JVA All-National Team honors, class of 2021
  *   2020 VolleyballMag.com AVCA’s 25 Girls Underclassmen to Watch list
  *   2020 SPVB President’s Day Challenge team champions (18 Open)

Essix’s USA High Performances Accolades

  *   2020 U.S. Women’s Junior National Training Team
  *   2019 USA Girls Youth National A1 (Red Team)
  *   2019 Bronze medalist, Women’s Junior International Division, USA High Performance Championships

Essix’s Off-the-Court Accolades

  *   International Baccalaureate program member
  *   Member of the National Honor Society
  *   Member of the French Honor Society
  *   Currently a year ahead academically in school
  *   Member of Collision teen/youth faith group
  *   Hoover Belle (city ambassador for service/volunteerism)

“Gabbi’s story is so unique because the first time I met her, I hadn’t even seen her play. Her mom brought her to a match and I was introduced and took one look at her, thinking ‘She just looks like an elite volleyball player.’ Sure enough, getting to watch her play, she was. What I love about Gabbi is her motor – she plays so hard. She practices and competes with that motor, which is a pretty special talent. She has a chance to be a terrific middle in college and well beyond. What I love most recently is that as part of the Hoover High School team in Alabama, she made history. It was the first time Hoover had ever won a state championship, and Gabbi had the stuff block to win the state championship. Now she is going to come to Florida and help us win a championship as well.” – Head Coach Mary Wise,

“Gabrielle is a once-in-a-lifetime athlete who possess a tremendous skill set. She has proved the ability time and time again to take over a match and dominate her opponents. A volleyball IQ that is unmatched and a relentless commitment to team sets her apart from all others. We are so excited to have been a part of her historic journey.” – Chris Camper, Hoover High School Varsity Head Coach

Lauren Forte | 6-3 | MB | High School: Corona del Sol | Club: Club One | Previous School: University of California, Berkeley

Forte’s University of California, Berkley Accolades

  *   2019 All-Pac-12 Team selection
  *   2018 Pac-12 All-Freshman team and All-Pac-12 Team Honorable Mention
  *   After the 2019 season, she finished fifth in the conference with a .336 hitting percentage
  *   Finished her redshirt sophomore campaign fifth on the team in kills (209) and second on the team in blocks (78)
  *   Earned Pac-12 Freshman of the Week on Oct. 22, 2018
  *   Finished her redshirt freshman campaign first on the squad with 108.0 blocks, sitting fourth in the league with 1.23 blocks per set
  *   Registered a .321 clip in 2018, good for 10th in the Pac-12

Forte’s High School Accolades

  *   Under Armour Second Team All-American
  *   All-Arizona Second Team pick
  *   Helped lead Corona del Sol to the Arizona Division 6A State Championship

Forte’s Club Accolades

  *   PreVolleyball.com All-American
  *   Listed as part of PrepVolleyball.com’s 10-Foot Club for touching 10’6” on her vertical leap
  *   PrepVolleyball.com’s No. 43 Senior Ace
Forte’s USA Volleyball Accolades

  *   Selected to the USA Volleyball College National Team in the summer of 2019 (Japan)

Forte’s Off-the-Court Accolades

  *   Named to the Pac-12 All-Academic Team Honorable Mention
  *   Mother, Libby, played Division I basketball at Arizona State
  *   Father, Larry, played Division I basketball at New Mexico
  *   Brother played Division I basketball at Georgia

“We first saw Lauren play when she was 14 years old – I can actually remember the facility she was playing in – but we haven’t seen her since. As a graduate from Cal Berkley, she is going to be able to enroll in January and also earn two Master’s during her time here. How about that kind of degree? Undergrad from Cal and two Masters from Florida. On top of that, she is a middle blocker with Pac-12 experience who plays with the speed and quickness of which will be such a great asset for our program. When she graduates, she has a chance to go just about anywhere in the country, so we are thrilled that she is coming to Florida in January and will be immediately eligible.” – Head Coach Mary Wise

“Lauren’s will to compete has opened the door for her to excel both as a volleyball player on the court and as a student of the game. Much of her success is the result of countless hours studying film, breaking down opponents, and creating new and innovative ways to view the game and make herself better. While her physicality is what catches the eye, her mind has been and will be the driving factor for her success. Lauren’s competitive drive is contagious and will push everyone around her to reach new limits, coaches and players alike. I wish Lauren nothing but the best as she embarks on her new journey at Florida and look forward to her continued dominance in the sport of volleyball.” – Amir Lugo-Rodriguez, University of Cal, Berkeley Assistant Coach

Bre Kelley | 6-4 | MB | High School: Rockwall Heath | Club: Excel

Kelley’s High School Accolades

  *   2020 Under Armour All-American Nomination List
  *   Three-year varsity letterwinner
  *   2020 Rockwall-Heath varsity captain
  *   2019 District 11-6A Bi-District Champions
  *   2019 District 11-6A Most Valuable Player
  *   2019 Rockwall-Heath Offensive Player of the Year
  *   2019 Rockwall-Heath varsity captain
  *   2019 SportsDay HS All-Area Dallas Honorable Mention – Middle Blocker
  *   2018 District 11-6A Champions
  *   2018 District 11-6A Newcomer of the Year

Kelley’s Club Accolades

  *   Prep Volleyball Class of 2021 10ft Club #4 Ranked
  *   Prep Volleyball Class of 2021 Top 150
  *   Prep Volleyball Class of 2021 Top 50 Junior Recruits
  *   Prep Volleyball Class of 2021 Sophomore Elite Honorable Mention
  *   Texas Prep Dig Class of 2021 ranked #2
  *   2020 Excel 17 National Red #3 Rank – North Texas Region
  *   2020 DFW Holiday Classic Kickoff Champions 17’s & 18’s
  *   2020 MLK Tournament Bronze 3rd Place
  *   2019 Excel 16 National Red #5 Rank – North Texas Region
  *   2019 Triple Crown 11th Place
  *   2019 Jr. Nationals Championships, Indianapolis, Bronze in American Division
  *   2019 Jr. National Championships, Indianapolis, American Division All-Tournament Team
  *   2019 Excel 16’s National Red, Most Valuable Player Award
  *   2018 Excel 15 National Red #6 Rank – North Texas Region
  *   2018 Jr. National Championships, Detroit, Mich. – 32nd Place Open Division
  *   2018 Mizuno Lone Star Qualifier, 5th Place (Won Open Bid to Nationals)
  *   2018 North Texas Invitational-NTR Bid Tournament Champions 15 Open
Kelley’s USA Volleyball Accolades

  *   2020 USA Women’s Junior A1 National Training Team Selection
  *   2019 USA Girls Youth National A1 Training Team Selection
  *   2018 NORCECA Girls’ U18 Continental Championships – Gold Medal
  *   2018 NORCECA Player of the Match – U.S. vs Barbados
  *   2018 US Girls Youth National Team, Middle Blocker
  *   2018 US Girls Youth National Training Team Selection

Kelley’s Off-the-Court Accolades

  *   Reads to elementary kids at Springer Elementary
  *   Christmas in the Park volunteer, handing out Christmas gifts to children
  *   Competed in basketball, dance, soccer, and beach volleyball
  *   Her basketball team (The Rise) won fifth at nationals in 2016
  *   Holds a 3.8 GPA
  *   Father, Chris, was the best soccer player in Germany in his age group

“I can remember the exact spot I was standing in when I first saw Bre Kelley play. It was in a Tour of Texas Tournament, and I remember coming up to her court and watching this athletic middle with length. What impressed me the most was how high she got off the ground, I did not want to leave that court. After working with us in camp and being able to see how well she learns and how hard she works, we are so happy that Bre chose Florida. The bonus is that she did all the work to graduate early and will join us in January. When our team competing in this long season, Bre Kelley is going to be in our gym and that helps the Gators.” – Head Coach Mary Wise

“Bre Kelley’s physicality, raw power, competitive edge, and intrinsic drive to reach her full potential have gotten her to this point, and I can’t wait to see just how much she learns and grows during her time at Florida. Her dominating presence and capability to take over in intense matches stand out as she continues to learn and love more about the game. Her versatility and athleticism allow Bre opportunities to contribute in all areas of the court. While at Florida, I think Bre will grow tremendously and thrive under the direction of Mary Wise and the Gator volleyball coaching staff.” – Stephanie Poole, Excel 17 National Red Head Coach