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Sunday September 21, 2008Strong Defense Leads Volleyball to 3-1 Win Against LSU

Gainesville, FL

Senior Florida middle blocker Kelsey Bowers (Gainesville, Fla.) posted a season-high seven blocks to break into the school’s all-time top-10 career list for blocks, and junior libero Elyse Cusack (Melrose, Fla.) had a season-high 21 digs as strong defense led the No. 11/11 Gators to a 3-1 (25-12, 25-22, 21-25, 25-19) win against LSU on Sunday in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.


The Gators (8-1, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) claimed their 25th consecutive win against the Tigers (5-4, 0-2 SEC) and recorded double-digit blocks for the fourth time in nine matches this season.


Bowers, who was not able to play or practice this summer since injuring her back in an A2 tournament in May, had her finest match of the season, recorded five kills on .625 hitting to complement her seven blocks. Bowers increased her career blocks total to 359 career rejections and moved her into 10th-place on the school’s all-time career blocks list, surpassing Sherri Williams, who tallied 355 total blocks from 2001-04.


Cusack surpassed the 20-dig mark for the second time this season with her season-best 21 digs. Freshman setter Cindy Bathelt (Colorado Springs, Colo.), who dished out a career-high 24 assists in the match, also finished with eight digs, one shy of her career high.


“I think our defense really made a big difference for us today,” Florida head coach Mary Wise said. “We finally made the digs we have needed to make. Elyse had 21 digs and I thought Cindy’s eight digs were key.


“This is a long conference season,” Wise continued. “But for us to open up 2-0 at home is a great start for our team.”


Freshman outside hitter Colleen Ward (Naperville, Ill.) led the offensive attack for the Gators, recording a career-high 15 kills on .375 hitting with six digs and three blocks. She also finished with a match-high 17.5 points and has led the team in points for the last two matches. Ward has tallied double-digit kills in back-to-back matches and three of her last four outings, and she hit better than .350 in both of the weekend’s matches.


“Colleen has put together back-to-back great matches for us,” Wise said. “What we love about her is that she can not only point score, but she also doesn’t give away points to the other team. She had three blocks and, though her serves didn’t always go for aces, we were able to score points off of them.”


Three Gators recorded double-digit kills for the third time this season as redshirt freshman outside hitter/right-side Kristy Jaeckel (Littleton, Colo.) finished with 13 kills on .407 hitting, while freshman right-side/setter Kelly Murphy registered 10 kills and 18 assists.


Florida raced out to a 6-0 advantage in the first set behind the strong serving of Bathelt, who tallied an ace during that stretch. LSU then scored three of the next four points to cut within four, 7-3, before Ward registered back-to-back kills to spark a 5-0 run by the Gators, which put them ahead 12-3 and forced LSU head coach Fran Flory to burn a timeout. Out of the break, the two teams traded points the rest of the way until a kill by Bowers gave Florida a 25-12 opening-set victory.


The two teams battled evenly to begin the second set, but Florida broke a 6-6 tie with four consecutive points, which included kills by Jaeckel and sophomore Lauren Bledsoe (Long Beach, Calif.), to put the Gators in front 10-6 and force a timeout by the Tigers. Out of the break, the Tigers scored three of the next four points to cut within two, 11-9, before a Brittney Johnson service error ended LSU’s scoring streak. After the two teams traded points, back-to-back errors by the Tigers and a kill by Jaeckel put Florida up 20-16 heading into another LSU timeout. With Florida leading 22-18 on a put-down by Murphy, LSU committed two consecutive attack errors to bring Florida to match point at 24-18. The Tigers then staved off four of the Gators’ attempts at set point before a kill by Bowers out of a timeout gave UF the 25-22 win.


LSU broke out to an early 9-4 advantage in the third set before a Ward registered a kill and then served an ace on the next play to stop the Tigers’ scoring spree. That was the start of a 5-0 run by the Gators that brought them even at 9-9 after back-to-back kills by Bledsoe. After five more ties, Florida committed back-to-back attack errors to allow LSU to reclaim the lead at 18-16. The Tigers kept rolling to a 23-20 advantage after a kill by Kyna Washington before a Florida timeout. An attack error by Bledsoe brought LSU to match point at 24-20. A put-down by Jaeckel staved off one attempt, but Washington’s attack found the floor on the next play to allow LSU to take a 25-21 third-set victory.


The Gators took a 5-2 advantage in the fourth set after two consecutive attack errors by the Tigers. With Florida ahead 8-6, the Gators used a 4-0 run, behind the serving of Bowers, to take an 11-6 advantage after a kill from Jaeckel. Three consecutive kills by Washington allowed LSU to whittle its deficit down to two, 11-9. Back-to-back LSU errors extended Florida’s lead back out to three at 13-10. Consecutive kills by Jaeckel and Murphy and an attack error by the Tigers gave UF a 16-10 advantage and forced an LSU timeout.


Out of the break, Ward and Murphy each registered kills to allow the Gators to go up 18-11. With UF ahead 22-15 coming out of an LSU timeout, the Tigers used a 3-0 run that brought them within four, 22-18 and forced Wise to call a timeout. Out of the break, Jaeckel posted a kill and sophomore defensive specialist Erin Fleming (Orlando, Fla.) followed with an ace to bring the Gators to match point at 24-18. Two plays later, a Murphy kill gave Florida the match with a 25-19 fourth-set win.


Washington led LSU with 12 kills, while Lauren DeGirolamo finished with 10 kills on .381 hitting.  


Florida returns to action Friday when it travels to Fayetteville , Ark., to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks. Opening serve in Barnhill Arena is slated for 8 p.m. EDT and the match will be carried live on Rock 104 (FM 103.7 in Gainesville) with Tom Collett.


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