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Wednesday November 26, 2008Volleyball Clinches 18th Consecutive SEC Title

Columbia, SC

As it has gone all season long, it was a tale of the young and old coming together on Wednesday night to help the No. 14/12 University of Florida volleyball team capture at least a share of its 18th consecutive Southeastern Conference title with a 3-2 (25-27, 25-17, 22-25, 25-21, 15-11) victory against South Carolina in the Volleyball Competition Facility.

The Gators (24-3, 18-2 SEC), who feature the youngest team in head coach Mary Wise’s 18-year tenure with five freshmen and one redshirt freshman as part of the team’s regular playing rotation, were led by freshman right-side/setter Kelly Murphy (Wilmington, Ill.), who broke the school record for career triple-doubles just 27 matches into her collegiate career. She finished with 17 kills on .353 hitting with 25 assists and 13 digs for her fifth career triple-double. She also charted a career-high five blocks.

The Gators have won at least a share of the SEC title every year of Wise’s tenure (1991-present), having tied for the league crown in 1991 and 2004 and winning it outright in each of the other seasons. Florida will have to await the outcome of the Kentucky-Tennessee match-up to see if they win the conference title outright. The Gators would need a Tennessee win in Lexington, Ky., Friday night to claim sole possession of the league title.

“This one is extra special because of all the factors that were involved in winning a championship over the past 2 ½ months,” Wise said. “Tonight we played a very good South Carolina team that played its heart out and I thought it showed a lot of guts by our players to be able to get it done.”

Senior Kelsey Bowers (Gainesville, Fla.), who spent the entire summer and much of the spring rehabilitating from a back injury suffered during A2 participation in Atlanta, turned in her finest performance of the season with a season-high 13 kills on .579 hitting with three blocks and two service aces for 17.0 points. Freshman outside hitter Colleen Ward (Naperville, Ill.) also tallied 13 kills with four digs and two blocks. Ward also had a perfect 1.000 reception percentage on 29 reception attempts.

Redshirt freshman outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel (Littleton, Colo.) had 10 kills and a career-high seven blocks. Freshman middle blocker Cassandra Anderson (Bakersfield, Calif.) recorded a career-high 10 blocks making her the first Gator to reach double-digit blocks since Bowers accomplished the feat twice during the 2007 season. Anderson also notched a career-high seven kills.

Junior libero Elyse Cusack (Melrose, Fla.) directed the squad’s back-row effort, finishing with 24 digs and recording a perfect 1.000 reception percentage on 15 attempts. Freshman setter Cindy Bathelt (Colorado Springs, Colo.) registered her third career double-double with a career-high 31 assists and tied her career-high with 11 digs.

South Carolina opened to a 7-3 advantage in the first set after a kill by Hannah Lawing and three consecutive attack errors by the Gators. A powerful kill by Bledsoe on the right side ended the scoring spree, but the Gamecocks scored four of the set’s next five points to extend their lead to 11-5 and force Wise to use a timeout. With Florida trailing 12-5, Lauren Bledsoe (Long Beach, Calif.) and Jaeckel registered back-to-back kills, and Anderson and Murphy followed with a block in the middle to bring the Gators to within four, 12-8, heading into a South Carolina timeout. Out of the break, Florida benefited from three Gamecock errors to extend the run to 6-0 cut within one, 12-11. From there, USC registered three consecutive kills to push its advantage back out to four, 15-11.

With the Gators down four, 16-12, a kill by Murphy sparked a 5-0 run that included three put-downs by Murphy and put Florida in front 17-16. Following two more ties, a Ward attack error and a Gamecock kill allowed USC to regain the lead at 20-18 heading into a UF timeout. Out of the break, South Carolina ran off two consecutive points to widen its lead to four, 22-18. Bledsoe and Bowers charted kills on consecutive plays to whittle Florida’s deficit down to two, 22-20. That forced Gamecock head coach Ben Somera to burn a timeout. After a Ward ace brought the Gators to within one, 22-21, the two teams traded points. A block solo by Anderson on the right side knotted the score at 23-all before a Lawing kill brought South Carolina to set point at 24-23. A put-down by Murphy again knotted the score, this time at 24-24. After another tie at 25-all, a kill by Ivana Kujundzic and an attack error by Jaeckel gave the Gamecocks the set 27-25. There were nine ties and five lead changes over the opening set.

The two teams battled evenly to begin the second set before Bathelt served a pair of aces to commence a 7-0 run for the Gators that gave them a 10-4 advantage heading into a South Carolina timeout. Florida extended its run to 9-0 out of the break and went up 12-4. The Gamecocks began cutting into their deficit, coming within six, 13-7, but Ward and Bowers responded with a kill apiece to give Florida a 15-7 lead.

South Carolina hung tough and cut within six, 17-11, after three kills by Belita Salters, the reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Week, over the next four plays. Bowers served two aces in a 3-0 Gator run that put them in front by nine, 20-11. The two teams began trading points before the Gamecocks, trailing 23-13 after a Murphy kill, ran off three consecutive points. A block by Anderson and Ward brought Florida to set point at 24-16 and a put-down by Bowers in the middle gave the Gators a 25-17 second-set victory.

Florida opened to a 3-1 advantage to begin the third set after a Bowers kill and a block solo from Jaeckel on the outside. South Carolina rallied with four consecutive points to move in front by two, 5-3. A Jaeckel kill stopped the scoring spree, but the Gamecocks scored three of the next four points to extend their advantage to 8-5. Anderson, Murphy and Ward then registered consecutive kills to knot the score at 8-all. After three more ties, a South Carolina block and a Jaeckel attack error put the Gamecocks ahead 14-11 and forced Wise to burn a timeout.

After USC went in front by four, 16-12, a block by Anderson and Jaeckel and two consecutive Gamecock attack errors brought Florida within one, 16-15. A USC net violation tied the score at 16-all before a Murphy kill put the Gators in front 17-16. Trailing 19-18, the Gamecocks’ Ivana Kujundzic tallied three consecutive kills to reclaim the advantage at 21-19 heading into a Florida timeout. A Murphy kill and an attack error by South Carolina brought the Gators to within one, 22-21. Out of a Gamecock timeout, USC ran off two consecutive points to go reach set point at 24-21, but a kill by Megan Laughlin on the right side gave South Carolina the third set, 25-22.

The two teams battled evenly to begin the fourth set before a Bowers kill and a Gamecock net violation put the Gators up 5-3. South Carolina responded with a 6-1 run that put it ahead 9-6. A Bowers kill on an overpass and an attack error by the Gamecocks brought Florida to within one, 9-8. After a Carolina kill, Jaeckel registered a kill of her own and then Anderson and Murphy teamed for a block to knot the score at 10-10.

Murphy drilled a kill on the angle to give Florida the lead at 11-10. After another tie at 11-all, an Anderson attack error and a Kujundzic put-down put the Gamecocks ahead 13-11 heading into a Gator timeout. The two teams traded points before two consecutive South Carolina kills gave the Gamecocks a 16-13 lead. Bowers posted a kill on the next play and Ward followed with two kills of her own to spark a 5-0 run that gave the Gators the lead back at 18-16 headed into a Carolina timeout. The two teams continued to trade points before a Lawing kill and an Anderson attack error knotted the score at 20-20. A Jaeckel kill and a block by Anderson, Jaeckel and Murphy put Florida in front by two, 22-20. With the Gators ahead 22-21, Jaeckel and Murphy each registered kills to bring them to set point at 24-21. An ace by Fleming at set point gave Florida the 25-21 fourth-set win.

South Carolina raced out to a 3-1 advantage to begin the fifth set before a kill by Anderson ended the scoring spree. After an illegal contact call against USC’s Salters tied the score at 3-all, a Kujundzic attack error gave Florida the lead at 4-3. Back-to-back blocks by the Gamecocks and an illegal contact call against the Gators put South Carolina in front 6-4. After a ball-handling error against the Gamecocks, Murphy committed a service error and Ward committed an attack error to extend South Carolina’s edge to 8-5 as the two teams switched sides of the court. Back-to-back kills by Rivers and Jaeckel whittled Florida’s deficit down to one, 8-7. A powerful kill by Bledsoe on the right side tied the score at 8-all. The Gators extended their run to 5-0 after a Salters attack error and a Jaeckel kill forced Somera to burn a timeout down 10-8. The two teams traded points until Ward and Murphy notched back-to-back kills to give the Gators a 15-11 deciding-set victory.

South Carolina (21-9, 12-8 SEC) was led by Kujundzic’s team-high 17 kills, 10 digs and six blocks with a match-high 21.0 points.

Florida returns to action on Saturday when it travels to Las Vegas, Nev., to take on UNLV. Opening serve is slated for 8:30 p.m. EST and the match will be carried live on WGGG/WMOP-AM with Tom Collett.

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