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The 2002 Gators celebrate after defeating Washington State

Monday December 4, 20062002 Gainesville Regional: A Look Back

The 2002 Gators celebrate after defeating Washington State

By Mike Vietti

 

A three-year “slump.”

 

That’s how some were referring to the University of Florida volleyball team’s lack of advancing to the final four for three consecutive seasons during the early stages of the 2002 campaign.

 

Never mind that the Gators – who had last played in the Final Four in 1998 – had won the SEC title in 1999, 2000 and 2001. In Mary Wise’s first eight seasons in Gainesville (1991-98), Florida had advanced to the Final Four five times and the 2002 team was bound and determined to get the Gators back.

 

“The spring of 2002 is when it all came together,” said Nicole McCray, a senior All-American middle blocker on the 2002 team who is now the head coach at Georgia Southern. “In 2001, our season ended when we lost to Nebraska in five games and that definitely added fuel to the fire.”

 

That fuel served Florida well throughout the 2002 season and into the Gainesville Regional that included the fifth-ranked Gators (32-2), No. 10 Washington State (23-7), Northern Iowa (34-2) and No. 25 Temple (28-7).

 

The 10th-ranked Cougars snuck by Northern Iowa in the opening match of the regional in three games (31-29, 30-21, 30-21) with LaToya Harris leading all players with 16 kills on .438 hitting as Washington State out-hit Northern Iowa .206-.117.

 

The Gators took the floor next against the Owls in front of a sizable crowd of 2,423 fans in the O’Connell Center and their determination to end the “slump” showed as UF held Temple to -.017 hitting in a 30-15, 30-27, 30-14 sweep. The Gators piled up 13.0 blocks in just three games with Aury Cruz providing 12 kills to pace Florida.

 

Playing a top-10 squad is never an easy thing to do and Florida found out the following day when the Cougars silenced a gathering of 2,554 Gator fans by taking the first game 30-27. The Owls hit .289 in a sparkling offensive game.

 

“We knew that going into the match that it would be a battle,” McCray said. “Washington State came in and played a great first game. They capitalized on our errors very well.”

 

Florida regrouped and took the final three games in relative ease at 30-19, 30-25, 30-16. The second game was pivotal as the Gators didn’t want to fall behind 0-2.

 

“Each team battled point for point until Aury took over the match at the halfway point,” McCray said. “She had several kills in a row, which enabled us to pull away with the win. After that, everything just fell into place. We had middles playing great back row defense, our outsides were jumping over our libero to get a kill and our setter and right side blocking one-on-one.

 

“Once we had match point in the fourth game, we knew we were going to the Final Four,” McCray said. “Washington State served to Aury, who passed to Lauren and she had to dive on the floor to set the four. But Aury put it down!”

 

The Gator offense was definitely clicking as Florida out-hit the Cougars .368-.147 in the match with Cruz leading all players with 24 kills on .375 hitting and 20 digs. Florida had four players with 15-plus kills and all hit .375 or better, including McCray who added 15 kills and seven blocks.

 

Adrian Hankoff led the Cougars with 17 kills, while Harris added 11 on a team-best .257 hitting.

 

Florida moved on to the Final Four where the Gators fell to top-ranked Southern California in four games (30-24, 25-30, 26-30, 24-30) to end their season at 34-3.

 

“Even though we lost to USC in the semifinals in New Orleans, it was a great way to finish out my senior year as a Florida Gator,” McCray said.

 

2002 Gainesville Regional

Semifinals

No. 10 Washington St. def. Northern Iowa 3-0 (31-29, 30-21, 30-21)

No. 5 Florida def. No. 25 Temple 3-0 (30-15, 30-27, 30-14)

 

Final

No. 5 Florida def. No. 10 Washington St. 3-1 (27-30, 30-19, 30-25, 30-16)

 

Gainesville Regional All-Tournament Team

Aury Cruz – Florida

Nicole McCray – Florida

Michelle Chatman – Florida

LaToya Harris – Washington State

Victoria Prince – Washington State

Adrian Hankoff – Washington State

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