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Saturday December 6, 2008Gators Sweep Colorado State; Advance to Round of 16

Gainesville, FL

Sophomore Florida outside hitter Callie Rivers (Winter Park, Fla.) led three players with seven or more kills Saturday in a balanced offensive attack and the No. 11/10 Gators out-blocked No. 22 Colorado State 9.0-5.0 in a 3-0 (25-21, 25-17, 25-23) win in the NCAA Second Round in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

Florida (27-3), which advances to the NCAA regional semifinals for the 17th time in the last 18 years, will now face the winner of the Long Beach State vs. Stanford match that is slated to be contested at 10 p.m. EST Saturday in Palo Alto, Calif. Regional play will take place at Moby Arena in Fort Collins, Colo., Dec. 12-13.

Three Florida players - freshman middle blocker Cassandra Anderson (Bakersfield, Calif.), sophomore middle blocker/right-side Lauren Bledsoe (Long Beach, Calif.) and senior middle blocker Kelsey Bowers (Gainesville, Fla.) - tallied four blocks each in the match.

The Rams, who averaged 12.4 blocks per match over their previous five matches, were held to 5.0 blocks for the first time since Oct. 2, 2008 when the team recorded just 4.0 blocks.

“We watched as much tape as we could on Colorado State, including the first time that we played them,” Florida head coach Mary Wise said. “The message to our players was that there may not be a team that has improved more from September to December than our team has. The big question was if the improvement was enough to get us closer to Colorado State.

“We discussed that this match would be similar to playing Kentucky with a team with a great blocking middle,” Wise continued. “That helped us prepare for Colorado State. The key stat in the entire match was that Colorado State, a great blocking team, was held way below their average.”

Rivers also added five digs and 11.5 total points, while freshman right-side/setter Kelly Murphy (Wilmington, Ill.) added eight kills on .353 hitting with 13 assists, five digs and three blocks. Freshman outside hitter Colleen Ward (Naperville, Ill.) notched her 21st match this season with seven or more kills, as she finished with seven put-downs on .429 hitting with six digs.

Junior libero Elyse Cusack (Melrose, Fla.) led the Gators’ defensive effort with 10 digs, while freshman setter Cindy Bathelt (Colorado Springs, Colo.) dished out a team-high 17 assists.

Colorado State opened up to a 7-5 advantage to begin the first set before a kill by Murphy ended the scoring streak. With Florida trailing 8-6, Rivers and Murphy registered back-to-back kills to knot the score at 8-8. After two more ties, Colorado State ran off four consecutive points to go ahead 13-9. Two attack errors by the Rams and a Ward kill brought the Gators to within one, 13-12.

The two teams traded points until consecutive put-downs by Rivers and Murphy forced another tie, this one at 18-18. With the score knotted at 21-all, Bowers registered a kill and CSU committed back-to-back attack errors to give Florida a 24-21 lead heading into a timeout. Out of the break, a Ward kill gave the Gators the 25-21 opening-set victory.

The Gators raced to a 9-6 advantage to commence the second set after a kill by Murphy and a service ace by sophomore defensive specialist Erin Fleming (Orlando, Fla.). With Colorado State ahead 9-7, Florida ran off three consecutive points, including a Cusack ace, to go up 12-7. The two teams then traded points until a Bowers kill and an attack error by the Rams’ Katelyn Steffan gave the Gators a 15-9 advantage and forced CSU head coach Tom Hilbert to burn a timeout.

Out of the break, Colorado State scored two of the next three points to cut within three, 15-12. But back-to-back errors extended Florida’s lead out to five, 17-12. The teams continued to swap points before a kill by Bledsoe allowed the Gators to take a 25-17 second-set win.

The two teams battled evenly to begin the third set before Colorado State broke a 3-3 tie with four consecutive points to go ahead 7-3. The two teams began trading points until two errors by the Rams and a Ward kill brought the Gators to within one, 10-9. An Anderson kill and an attack error by CSU’s Tessa Nelson knotted the score at 11-all. With the score tied at 12-12, the Rams ran off three points in a row to go up 15-12.

Florida hung tough, but Colorado State went up 21-19 after a kill by Jamie Strauss. Murphy then registered a kill and then followed with an ace to tie the score at 21-all. A block by Bledsoe and Bowers gave the Gators a 22-21 advantage, but the two teams were tied twice more.

With the score knotted at 23-23, Bledsoe registered a kill and Ward followed with a put-down of her own to bring the team’s to match point. An attack error by CSU’s Mekana Barnes gave Florida a 25-23 victory.

“What I was concerned about at that point in time was that their great senior setter [Ashley Fornstrom] was serving,” Wise said. “We have seen her run points and we felt that if we could just get one sideout, then we would have a chance. It was a great kill by Lauren Bledsoe. She got the kill when it was it was a critical time.”

Colorado State (23-7) was led by Barnes’ match-high 10 kills on .350 hitting with a team-high four blocks.

Gator Hotline with Mary Wise will take place on Monday night from Beef O’Brady’s on Archer Road in Gainesville. The Regional Preview show will run from 6-7 p.m. and fans are invited to come out to the site or call in with their questions for Wise.

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