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Friday November 21, 2008Volleyball Sweeps MSU; Honors Alumni

Gainesville, FL

On a night in which the No. 14/12 Florida volleyball team hosted an event to celebrate the program’s 25th anniversary, the Gators, for the 439th time in head coach Mary Wise’s 18th-year tenure, posted a 3-0 sweep, defeating Mississippi State 25-23, 25-16, 25-20 on Friday in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.


The Gators (22-3, 16-2 Southeastern Conference) were led by the play of their outside hitters, who combined for 18 of the team’s 39 total kills. Redshirt freshman outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel (Littleton, Colo.) tallied a match-high-tying eight kills on 17 swings with no errors for a .471 hitting efficiency – her best hitting percentage in conference play this season. Sophomore outside hitter Callie Rivers (Winter Park, Fla.) added seven kills on .316 hitting with 10 digs.


“I thought the story of the match was the play of our outside hitters,” Wise said. “Mississippi State came in here and played conscious-free. They played hard and made blocks early, but we responded well. The good thing is that even though we didn’t play our best, we still came back from the first set were able to win 3-0.”


Freshman right-side/setter Kelly Murphy (Wilmington, Ill.) tallied eight kills to complement 16 assists and three blocks, while freshman middle blocker Cassandra Anderson (Bakersfield, Calif.) registered a career-high six kills on nine swings with no errors for a .667 hitting efficiency and a team-high four blocks. Freshman setter Cindy Bathelt (Colorado Springs, Colo.) dished out a team-high 18 assists.


Junior libero Elyse Cusack (Melrose, Fla.), the school’s all-time career digs leader, finished with a match-high 14 digs to increase her career total to 1,543. As part of the 25th anniversary festivities, Cusack had the opportunity to meet former Florida standout Lyra Vance (1984-87), whose career digs record of 1,444 stood for 21 years prior to Cusack eclipsing the milestone on Oct. 31, 2008.


“The image I’ll remember of tonight is Elyse getting the opportunity to meet Lyra Vance,” Wise said. “She was a player that I had the opportunity to watch when I was on the staff at Kentucky and she was a dominant player in the SEC. For Elyse to meet her was really a special thing.”


Vance was one of more than 20 former Florida players on hand to celebrate the 25th year since the school’s volleyball program was revived prior to the 1984 season.


“It was really cool looking in the stands and being able to see all the former great players,” Rivers said. “Coach Wise told us after the match to think about how many wins that all of those players that were there tonight had earned. It really makes you realize how great this program is and how lucky we are to be playing here.”


Florida broke to an 8-5 lead to begin the match, including two kills by Anderson during that run. From there, the Bulldogs went on a 5-1 run to claim the lead at 10-9 on a put-down by their Ioana Demian. The two teams battled closely before Mississippi State broke a 15-all tie with a 6-0 run that put them ahead 21-15.


Back-to-back kills by Murphy stopped State’s scoring streak and sparked a 7-0 run for the Gators to allow them to reclaim the advantage at 22-21 behind the strength of a six-point service run of Rivers. After two consecutive kills by the Bulldogs’ Demian gave them a 23-22 lead, Anderson, senior middle blocker Kelsey Bowers (Gainesville, Fla.) and Jaeckel each recorded consecutive kills to close out the 25-23 victory.


The Gators opened to a 7-4 lead to open the second set after back-to-back errors by Mississippi State. After an MSU kill, a Rivers put-down sparked a 4-0 run by Florida that was capped off by a Jaeckel kill to give UF an 11-5 advantage. With the Gators ahead 12-9, Anderson registered a kill to start a 6-1 run that extended Florida’s lead to 18-10.


Mississippi State began whittling down its deficit, coming within six points, 20-14, before Florida closed out the set on a 5-2 run for a 25-16 victory. The Gators hit .300 in the second frame, limiting the Bulldogs to just an .034 efficiency in that set.


Florida raced out to an 8-2 lead in the third set behind the strong serving of sophomore defensive specialist Erin Fleming (Orlando, Fla.) and two consecutive Mississippi State attack errors. With Florida leading 10-5, an attack error by the Bulldogs and back-to-back kills by Rivers and Bledsoe extended the Gators’ lead to 13-6.


Mississippi State committed three consecutive errors to put Florida in front by nine, 18-9. With the Gators ahead by eight, 20-12, after a put-down by Murphy, the Bulldogs used an 8-2 run to cut within two, 22-20. Jaeckel posted a kill to stop the scoring streak before consecutive kills by Murphy closed out the 25-20 victory.


Wise presented Bowers with a commemorative ball prior to the match, as Bowers became just the seventh player in school history to record 400 career blocks, when she accomplished that feat last weekend vs. Tennessee.


Mississippi State (6-23, 1-17 SEC) was led by Demian’s match-high 15 kills on .273 hitting with three blocks, five digs and a match-high 16.5 points.


Florida returns to action on Sunday when it plays host to Alabama on Senior Day in the final regular-season home match for the Gators. Opening serve is set for 1 p.m. in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center and the match will be carried live on Sun Sports with Larry Vettel and Missy Whittemore, and WGGG/WMOP-AM with Tom Collett.


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