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Friday September 10, 2010Lessons Learned Will Benefit Gators Down The Road

Gainesville, Fla.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

The Florida volleyball team stepped onto the court Friday night at the O’Connell Center with visions of grandeur on its mind. That’s what happens when you are playing a team with an NCAA-record winning streak and confident that you can compete on the same level.

Playing before an announced crowd of 6,022 – the fifth-largest in school history – the Gators got off to exactly the kind of start they needed, becoming the first team all season to win a game over No. 1-ranked Penn State in the opening round of the Nike Volleyball Big Four Classic.

However, from there the Nittany Lions showed why they have won three consecutive national championships, storming back after losing the first game, 25-20, to win three straight (25-21, 25-14, 25-23) on the way to extending their winning streak to 109 matches.

“The difference in the match was Penn State and how good they were,’’ Gators coach Mary Wise said. “They don’t win 109 straight matches without having to go through gut-checks and just having the poise they show, especially from the older players. They are just so solid mentally that they can keep the pressure on you.’’

The Gators (5-1) closed the first game strong, earning the win on Lauren Bledsoe’s kill on a set-up from Kelly Murphy. As the teams head toward the break, the momentum appeared all on the Gators’ side.

But in the second game, the Nittany Lions jumped to a quick 8-4 advantage, and after Florida tied it 15-all, Penn State closed on a 10-6 run to even the match. Penn State dominated the third game before toughing out a two-point win in the fourth, ensuring its record winning streak remains alive heading into Saturday’s second-round match with Stanford.

Penn State’s Blair Brown recorded a career-high 21 digs to help the cause.

“We missed four or five serves in the first game that caused us some problems,’’ Penn State coach Russ Rose said. “It is matches like this at the beginning of the year that gives you an indication of the type of team you might have later in the season. It was a great match. We feel very pleased about the outcome.’’

Stanford, which beat Texas in the first round on Friday, is the last team to beat Penn State on Sept. 15, 2007. The Gators face the Longhorns in Saturday’s other match.

Friday’s loss was a difficult one to swallow for the Gators – “It was fun to play in but it was not fun to lose,’’ Gators senior outside hitter Callie Rivers said.

Still, the fact they won a game over the Nittany Lions was a step in the right direction. When the teams met in last year’s NCAA Tournament Round of 16, Penn State swept the Gators.

“What a great crowd,’’ Wise said. “That was really terrific. What an awesome atmosphere this early in the season.

“There are so many things that will help us down the road,’’ Wise said. “I still believe we’re a work in progress. We’ll get better from this.’’

 

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