Friday December 4, 2009Strong Blocking Leads Volleyball to NCAA Round of 16
Sophomore Florida middle blocker Cassandra Anderson (Bakersfield, Calif.) turned in a match-high-tying nine kills on .692 hitting with a match-high seven blocks Friday and the No. 14/15 Gators out-blocked FIU 12.0-1.0 in a 3-0 (25-22, 25-15, 25-16) win in the NCAA Second Round at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
The Gators (25-5) advance to the NCAA Round of 16 for the 18th time in the last 19 years. Florida will face the winner of the State College, Pa., subregional on Friday at the O’Connell Center. Confirmed regional times will be released later.
Florida, which had only five team blocks in the first two sets combined, exploded for seven blocks in the final frame to post its largest blocking margin of the season at +11. The Gators recorded their 25th victory of the season to extend the nation’s longest streak of consecutive 25-win seasons to 19.
“Set one had big-time rallies going back and forth, a high-level of play and I think set one could have gone either way,” Florida head coach Mary Wise said. “From that point on, it was the combination of how well we passed, served and blocked balls. The teams that have had any kind of success against FIU have blocked balls and, when we didn’t block balls early on, it was a concern of whether we would be able to win the match. The good news is, we turned it around and started blocking balls.”
Anderson’s nine kills came on 13 swings with no errors for a .692 hitting percentage for a match-high 13.5 points. Junior right-side Callie Rivers (Winter Park, Fla.) also recorded nine kills on .467 hitting with five digs.
Senior libero Elyse Cusack (Melrose, Fla.) charted a match-high 19 digs to increase her career digs total to 2,123. She needs just four more digs to become the Southeastern Conference’s all-time career digs leader. Former Arkansas standout Ashley Miller currently holds the league’s career digs record at 2,126.
Sophomore outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel (Littleton, Colo.) added eight kills and a season-high four blocks, while sophomore outside hitter Colleen Ward (Naperville, Ill.) tallied eight kills on .300 hitting with three blocks and four digs.
Sophomore right-side/setter Kelly Murphy (Wilmington, Ill.) continued to direct an efficient Florida offense, dishing out a match-high 32 assists to lead the Gators to a .375 team hitting percentage. For the squad’s two NCAA Tournament matches, Florida is hitting .424 as a team. The Gators limited the Golden Panthers to a .112 hitting efficiency on the evening.
Junior middle blocker Lauren Bledsoe (Long Beach, Calif.) registered four blocks and served a career-high-tying two service aces.
Florida and FIU battled evenly to begin the first set before the Gators broke an 8-8 tie with a 3-0 run that was highlighted by a Bledsoe ace to go ahead 11-8. The Golden Panthers kept fighting to knot the score at 13-all before capping off a 5-0 run to go ahead 15-13. With the Gators down 19-17, an Andrea Lakovic service error and a Yarimar Rosa attack error again tied the score at 19-all. After one more tie, Florida scored two in a row to go up 22-20. The Gators closed out the set on a Rivers kill to take the 25-22 first-set win.
After battling through a number of early ties to start the second set, Florida got back-to-back kills by Ward and one from Jaeckel to go in front 11-8. The Gators kept adding to their advantage to go up 15-12 after an FIU attack error. The Golden Panthers cut within one, 15-13, but Florida then ran off three of the next four points – the last a kill by Anderson – to go up 18-14. After a put-down by FIU’s Olga Vergun, the Gators scored the final seven points of the set thanks to a strong service run by Ward to claim the 25-15 victory.
The Gators took an early 10-6 advantage to begin the third set after a kill by Rivers and a block solo from Anderson on successive plays. UF kept rolling to a 12-8 advantage on a Jaeckel put-down. With Florida leading 13-11, a block from Bledsoe and Rivers and a Murphy kill widened the lead to 15-11. FIU would come within four points again at 18-14, but would get no closer the rest of the way in a 25-16 third-set win by Florida.
FIU (32-4) was led by nine kills each from Jovana Bjelica and Vergun. Setter Natalia Valentin dished out 31 assists and posted a team-high 11 digs.
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