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Friday September 19, 2008Balanced Attack Leads No. 11/11 Florida Past Georgia in SEC Opener

Gainesville, FL

Three Florida players – Kristy Jaeckel (Littleton, Colo.), Kelly Murphy (Wilmington, Ill.) and Colleen Ward (Naperville, Ill.) – each recorded nine or more kills and charted 13.5 points apiece to direct the No. 11 Gators to their 18th consecutive Southeastern Conference-opening win with a 3-0 (25-18, 25-16, 25-16) victory against Georgia on Friday in front of 3,411 fans in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

The Gators (7-1, 1-0 SEC) had three or more players record eight or more kills for the fifth time in the team’s last six matches, and four UF players had three or more blocks to highlight one of the team’s most complete victories of the year.

Ward led the way for the Gators with 10 kills on .400 hitting with seven digs. Murphy chipped in nine kills on .263 hitting with 17 assists and a career-high three service aces, while Jaeckel tallied nine kills on a match-high .412 hitting efficiency with a career-high three service aces and three blocks. As a team, Florida served up 10 aces in the match, its second-most of the season.

“The key to our win was the point production out of three different people,” Florida head coach Mary Wise said. “For Kristy, Kelly and Colleen, three of our freshmen, to each score 13-and-a-half points for us, that’s how we win. We’re not a team that is going to often get somebody scoring 20. Offensively, we’re coming along, but the most encouraging thing is how well we blocked tonight.”

Senior middle blocker Kelsey Bowers (Gainesville, Fla.) finished with a season-high four blocks, while junior middle blocker Kristina Johnson (Indianapolis, Ind.) also posted four blocks in the match.

Junior libero Elyse Cusack (Melrose, Fla.) led the team’s back-row effort with 15 digs. Cusack, who sits in sixth place on the school’s all-time career digs list, increased her career total to 1,236 and needs just 84 more digs to tie former Gator All-American Aury Cruz for fifth place on the all-time list. Sophomore defensive specialist Erin Fleming (Orlando, Fla.) came up with a season-high four digs, playing in two sets.

Georgia opened up to a 6-3 advantage to begin the first set after a kill by Maria Taylor and back-to-back attack errors by the Gators. After a kill by Murphy, Jaeckel served four consecutive service points, highlighted by an ace, to put Florida ahead 8-6 after a block by sophomore right-side/middle blocker Lauren Bledsoe (Long Beach, Calif.) and Bowers. With Florida ahead 8-6, the Bulldogs scored three of the next four points to tie the score at 9-9 on a put-down by Valentina Gonzalez.

After another tie at 10, the Gators ran off six consecutive points, behind the serving of Murphy that included two aces during that stretch, to put Florida back in front 16-10. The Gators kept rolling to an 18-11 advantage after back-to-back kills by Ward and Jaeckel heading into a Georgia timeout. Out of the break, Georgia scored three of the next four points to cut within five, 19-14, before a kill by Bledsoe stopped the scoring streak. With Florida in front 21-17, Johnson registered a kill that sparked a 4-1 run for the Gators that gave them a 25-18 first-set victory. The Gators, as a team, had six blocks in the first set alone.

“If we hadn’t blocked as well as we did in the first set, it might have looked very different,” Wise said. “We really did such a good job blocking early on. The team that we will play in Athens later this season will look very different.”

The two teams battled evenly to begin the second set before the Gators broke a 7-all tie with a kill by Johnson and back-to-back service aces by Jaeckel to go up 10-7. Two kills by Murphy and one by Ward in three consecutive plays extended Florida’s advantage to 13-8 and forced UGA head coach Joel McCartney to burn a timeout. Out of the break, Georgia’s Ann Dylla notched a kill, but the Gators scored the next four points, including kills by Bledsoe and Ward, to go ahead 17-9. Florida kept rolling to a 21-11 advantage heading into a Bulldog timeout after a kill by Jaeckel. The two teams traded points before a kill by Murphy closed out the 25-16 second-set victory.

Florida and Georgia fought closely to commence the third set before Florida broke an 8-8 tie with a kill by Jaeckel and a service ace from Ward. The Bulldogs hung tough, but the Gators were able to take a 16-13 lead into a timeout after back-to-back kills by Murphy and Ward and a service ace by Fleming. A put-down by Ward, back-to-back attack errors by Georgia and a service ace from Cusack capped a 4-0 UF run and put the Gators in front 21-15. With Florida leading 22-16, Murphy charted a kill and then served an ace to put the Gators at match point at 24-16. Ward had the match-clinching kill on the next play to give UF a 25-16 victory.

The Gators improve to 47-8 all-time vs. Georgia, including a 44-0 record under Wise. Florida is now 21-4 all-time in SEC openers, including an 18-0 mark during Wise’s tenure.

The Bulldogs (7-5) were led by Taylor’s team-high nine kills.

Florida returns to action on Sunday when it plays host to LSU. Opening serve in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center is set for 1 p.m. EDT and the match will be carried live on SEC-TV and WRUF AM-850.

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