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Friday November 30, 2007Late Heroics Lift No. 10 VB To Sweep Of Oklahoma, Berth In Regionals

Gainesville, FL

Freshman opposite hitter Lauren Bledsoe (Long Beach, Calif.) ripped a career-high 12 kills and provided a key late-match service run to help lead the 10th-ranked and 13th-seeded University of Florida volleyball team to a 3-0 (30-24, 30-24, 36-34) win over Oklahoma in the second round of the NCAA Championship.


With the win, the Gators advanced to the NCAA regional semifinal for the 16th time in 17 seasons under head coach Mary Wise.


Florida faced a 28-24 deficit in game three, but came storming back to tie the match on a 4-0 service run by Bledsoe, capturing the tying point on a double block by senior middle blocker Kisya Killingsworth (Deltona, Fla.) and freshman outside hitter Callie Rivers (Winter Park, Fla.). From that point, the Gators held off four game points before Bledsoe delivered the decisive kill in a 36-34 game-three victory.


“The third game was one of the best performances we’ve put on in the O’Connell Center in a long time,” Wise said. “A team like Oklahoma, which was good enough to finish fourth in the Big 12, has so many weapons that they’re extremely hard to stop. The exciting finish put it away for us, but the difference in the match was how well we blocked early on. Getting 59 kills and hitting .276 against a team like Oklahoma also shows that offense was working hard all night long.”


UF finished the night with 14.0 total blocks, tying for the program’s eighth-highest total in an NCAA match and equaling its season high for a three-game contest. The Gators’ 8.0 blocks in game one, which featured five block assists from junior middle blocker Kelsey Bowers (Gainesville, Fla.), were a season single-game best. Bowers led the way with eight block assists on the night to tie for the fourth-best NCAA Championship total in UF history. Senior setter Angie McGinnis (Fraser, Mich.) wasn’t far behind with seven total blocks on the night, including six assists.


The Gators also won the digs battle by a count of 66-58, getting 25 from sophomore libero/defensive specialist Elyse Cusack (Melrose, Fla.) to reestablish the third-best UF NCAA Championship total that she set on Thursday with 24 against College of Charleston. McGinnis added nine digs to her match-high 52 assists, and freshman defensive specialist Erin Fleming (Orlando, Fla.) also chipped in with nine.


A night after recording a career-high 18 kills against C of C, Rivers again led the way with 14 on 38 swings, while also adding a team-high two aces and a trio of blocks. Joining Rivers and Bledsoe in double figures were senior opposite hitter Amber McCray (Longview, Texas) with 11 and Bowers with 10.


Rivers got UF off to a fast start with a kill and an ace on the first two points of the match, but OU rebounded with three-straight points to gain the edge. Florida grabbed an 8-7 lead after Rivers and Bowers teamed up for a block assist, but the Sooners reeled off four-consecutive points to claim an 11-8 margin. Back-to-back double blocks by Bowers and Fraser knotted the score at 11-11, and Bowers gave the Gators a one-point edge at 13-12 with a kill off of the slide. Another three-point run by Oklahoma gave the Sooners a 15-13 lead, but Florida was able to even the count via a Bowers kill and a ball-handling error by OU. Consecutive kills by Killingsworth and Bledsoe pushed the Gators in front by an 18-16 score, and the gap stretched to 25-19 after a back-to-back kills from Bowers, forcing Oklahoma to ask for timeout in an attempt to slow a 4-1 UF run. Florida took the first two points following the stoppage, and Rivers and Bledsoe added kills down the stretch before McGinnis sealed the 30-24 win with a solo block. The Gators chalked up a season single-game high 8.0 team blocks in the opener, led by five from both McGinnis and Bowers, while Rivers’ five kills paced a .341 hitting effort.


UF ran out to a 3-1 advantage in the second game behind kills from Bowers and Bledsoe, but Oklahoma battled back and the game stood at 5-5 after the first 10 points. Block assists by Bowers and McGinnis on consecutive rallies sprung the Gators to an 11-10 edge, and a 4-0 run sent the Orange and Blue into the media timeout with a 15-10 advantage. UF took the first two points after the break to open up a 17-10 lead, but OU embarked on a 4-0 run of its own to narrow the gap to 17-14. The Gators responded with three of the next four points to increase their lead to 20-15, and the teams sided out until Oklahoma asked for timeout with the hosts on top by a count of 25-20. OU narrowed the gap to three after the pause, but Bledsoe and Rivers again delivered kills in the stretch run, allowing the latter to combine with Bowers on a block that wrapped up the second game for Florida by a score of 30-24. The Gators added another four blocks in the frame, and Cusack came up with nine digs, to limit Oklahoma to .065 hitting.


The Orange and Blue got out to a 4-0 lead in game three on the strength of a Bledsoe kill and an ace by Rivers, but Oklahoma fought back to grab a 12-8 advantage before UF asked for timeout. The Sooners’ lead increased to a half-dozen, 18-12, after the break, but a block assist by Killingsworth and McCray narrowed the gap to three at 19-16. Kills by Rivers and Bowers helped the Gators draw within a point at the 23-22 mark, and Florida finally drew even at 28-28 after a double block by Killingsworth and Rivers at the tail end of Bledsoe’s 4-0 service run. A Killingsworth kill staved off Oklahoma’s first game point by ripping a kill straight down the middle of the court, and McCray did the same with the Sooners’ second chance. After OU went up 34-33, Bledsoe fired a kill off the visitors’ block to even the score and an Oklahoma attack error the next rally set up match point for Florida. In a fitting end to the scrappy third game, Bledsoe dropped a well-placed tip on the left side of the court to post the Gators’ 36th point and final point, and seal UF’s berth in the NCAA regional semifinals.


With its win on Friday night, Florida will play on its home floor in the NCAA regional semifinal for the second year in a row. The Gators will have to wait until Saturday to find out which three teams will venture to Gainesville to compete for a spot in the national semifinals.


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