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Thursday December 9, 2010Postcards From Austin: Gators Looking For Season's Best Match

Austin, TX

Sometimes a team doesn’t always play its best volleyball. For the Gators to advance to their first NCAA Regional Final since 2005, Florida head coach Mary Wise says that the Gators will have to be able to put together their finest match of the season on Friday night vs. Purdue.


Florida (29-1), which struggled before defeating rival Florida State in a hard-fought 3-2 win in the NCAA Second Round, is using its close call against the Seminoles as motivation to strive for excellence in its Friday meeting with the Boilermakers.


“I don’t think you could find a team in the field that is more thrilled to be here than the Gators after our brush with tournament death last Saturday,” Wise said.


Despite facing the potential of an early-round loss, Florida, as it has done all season, found a way to win against Florida State despite trailing 12-7 and 13-11 in the final set. To persevere through a double round-robin schedule in the Southeastern Conference and a grueling start to the season that included nine ranked foes in the team’s first 12 matches takes talent, a will to win and a little luck along the way.


“We realized that we had our backs against the wall (on Saturday vs. FSU),” said junior outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel. “We dug ourselves into a little bit of a hole in the fifth set and there was nothing we could do except play hard. It’s competitive sports and you have to understand that there is always a chance you can win. We want to use the breaks that went our way to keep ourselves alive in this tournament to go as far as we can.”


Jaeckel had 18 kills and 12 digs in Florida’s 3-2 win against the Seminoles, including the final two match-winning put-downs to clear the bench into a euphoric celebration at the center of the court.


The Boilermakers, who stand between the Gators and an NCAA Regional Final appearance, feature a stellar defensive team that includes a dynamic back-row that has won the digs battle in 22 of the team’s 33 matches this season and a dominant blocking force that ranks among the top-50 nationally.


“The way we play, which is driven by our defense, is one edge we have over other teams in the past,” said Purdue senior middle blocker Kristen Arthurs. “The attitude starts with our defense and carries over to the entire team. That is our huge strength.”


It expects to be a strong defensive match on Friday at 6 p.m. ET when the teams square off. Florida ranks 10th nationally in blocks per set and features junior middle blocker Cassandra Anderson (Bakersfield, Calif.), who ranks 29th nationally with 1.28 blocks per set.


Even thought the Gators survived and advanced last Saturday, Wise says the team will need a different plan of attack to be successful on Friday night vs. Purdue.


“We are going to have to play our best match of the year,” she said.


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