GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – There is no time to waste. Kelly Murphy and Kristy Jaeckel are fully aware the clock is ticking.
Win or lose on Saturday night against Illinois, the match will be the final one at the O’Dome for the pair of Florida seniors.
If they play like they did on Friday in a 3-0 sweep (25-21, 25-13, 27-25) of Michigan, it likely won’t be the final match of their career.
“One more match to get to the Final Four,’’ Murphy said.
Yes, one more match and one more step toward their ultimate goal, the same one that Gators coach Mary Wise and the rest of the roster has – a national championship.
To win the program’s first title, the Gators need three more wins. They also need their dynamic duo, their double trouble, their one-two punch – whatever nickname you want to give the two – to continue to play like they did in Friday’s convincing win over the Wolverines.
Murphy was dominant in the first set, earning six of the Gators’ 16 kills. In the second set, it was Jaeckel’s turn to be the sparkplug, recording six kills and two blocks in perhaps Florida’s finest set of the NCAA Tournament.
They helped the Gators finish off a Michigan team coming off an upset win at Stanford by providing points and leadership in a gritty third set.
Still, the Wolverines didn’t want to go away.
“That’s hard to stop when you have teams playing that hard,’’ Murphy said. “I think we just did a good job of responding and fighting back.’’
The final score sheet was a Murphy-and-Jaeckel special. Jaeckel finished with 14 kills, eight digs and two blocks. Murphy recorded the 29th triple-double of her career with 17 kills, 21 assists and 10 digs.
They were dominant at the net and set the tone all over the court for the Gators.
But the two just didn’t catch a case of Friday Night Fever.
“This is how they have been the past few weeks,’’ Wise said.
Wise termed the way Murphy and Jaeckel are playing as being “in a zone.’’
When does she know they are still in it?
“Maybe when they don’t get a kill or it’s a hitting error, it just doesn’t faze them,’’ Wise said. “They have [a] shooter’s mentality. I think right now they have that mentality that every ball they swing at is going to go for a kill. They have shooter’s amnesia right now as well.’’
They came out from the start with that mentality on Friday.
“Truthfully, I think we could have kicked it to Kelly and she would have killed it,’’ Wise said. “She was in that kind of zone.’’
As they made it back home to the O’Connell Center by opening the postseason last weekend with a win over Missouri and one against host Northern Iowa, Florida fell behind early in both matches when they lost the first set.
There was none of that on Friday.
“We just focused on winning as many games to five and just always going out and being the aggressor and not waiting until we felt like we were comfortable and we figured it out,’’ Jaeckel said. “I think we’re playing as confident as we ever have.
After a brief pause, Murphy chimed in. “Agreed,’’ she said.
The Gators had the look of a team on a mission Friday. They have three down, three to go for the ultimate prize.
For Murphy, Jaeckel and fellow seniors Stephanie Ferrell, Cassandra Anderson and Elissa Hausmann, they are in uncharted territory.
It was Stanford in 2008, Penn State in 2009 and Purdue a year ago. Those were the teams that denied the Gators entry into the Elite Eight. Michigan couldn’t do the same, the victory taking Florida’s senior class deeper than it has ever gone in the NCAA Tournament.
“It feels really good,’’ Murphy said. “When we started this senior year we knew what it felt like to reach the Sweet 16 and just to get one match closer is kind of like a feeling of relief. But we know it’s not over and we still have one more match to play tomorrow and we hope to still be playing again next weekend.’’
Murphy and Jaeckel were on top of their game Friday, but they aren’t alone. The Gators played well around them, taking whatever best hit Michigan offered and swinging back.
“As good as Kristy and Kelly are, they would be the first to tell you that we don’t advance this far without the play of so many different combinations,’’ Wise said. “It was just a total, complete team effort.’’
It was a total team effort. But the two seniors did what they do best. They led the way.