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Gators volleyball coach Mary Wise instructs her team during Thursday night's NCAA Tournament win over Jacksonville.

Thursday December 5, 2013Gators-Noles Rematch in NCAA Tourney Stirs Memories of 2010 Thriller

Gators volleyball coach Mary Wise instructs her team during Thursday night's NCAA Tournament win over Jacksonville.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- If you were at the O'Dome on that night three years ago, you remember.

You remember the seesaw match that ended in dramatic fashion.

You remember Florida State winning the first set, Florida the second. The Seminoles winning the third set, the Gators storming back to win the fourth set.

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You remember a tension-filled fifth set that turned on a critical call when one official saw one thing, and another official saw something different. They agreed to disagree and replayed the play.

Florida won the point, seized control and closed out the second-round NCAA Tournament match, advancing to the Sweet 16. The Seminoles went home.

Gators senior leader Chloe Mann was a freshman.

She remembers.

"I remember wanting to rip my heart out because it was beating so fast,'' Mann said Thursday night. "It was a very stressful match filled with a lot of highs and lows. But I was very happy how hard our team fought.

"That's pretty much the story of our Gator team then and that's our story now. We're always going to come out fighting."

Fast-forward three years and on Friday night at the O'Connell Center, Florida and Florida State meet again in the NCAA Tournament's second round.

The Gators swept Jacksonville on Thursday; FSU swept Georgia Southern.

As soon as the NCAA Tournament bracket was announced, Florida coach Mary Wise thought this matchup might come to fruition.

Florida's 20-25, 25-22, 22-25, 25-21, 17-15 win three years ago remains one of Wise's most memorable postseason wins. The Gators were the tournament's No. 1 overall seed and delivered a stirring comeback in their final home match of the season.

"One of the most exciting volleyball matches ever played in the O'Connell Center,'' Wise said. "We've had some great second-round matches. I think that would be, if not No. 1, No. 2 -- and I can't think of what No. 1 is."

On Thursday, Wise watched the Seminoles dispatch of Georgia Southern prior to Florida's match against Jacksonville. The Seminoles' Nicole Walch smashed 15 kills as the FSU improved to 25-7.

The Gators then took the court and did their part in setting up Friday's rematch with FSU.

Mann was spectacular in the middle, hammering home 15 kills in 20 chances and only one error.

"Chloe put up another average offensive performance, hitting .700,'' Wise quipped.

The Gators advanced easily despite playing without sophomore outside hitter Gabby Mallette, who was a late scratch for precautionary health reasons.

Mallette is expected back against the Seminoles. In her place Thursday, Noami Santos-Lamb filled in nicely with seven kills and a .667 hitting percentage.

The No. 5 overall seed Gators improved to 28-3 and can reach the Sweet 16 for the ninth consecutive year with a victory over the Seminoles.

The Gators advanced Thursday behind Mann and a distinct size advantage against Jacksonville. Setter Taylor Brauneis was also in top form, recording 43 assists and setting up Mann and Ziva Recek (11 kills) beautifully throughout the match.

Jacksonville raced to a 5-2 lead in the first set and kept the opening frame close until the Gators pulled away late.

Florida then cruised in the second and third sets behind its bigger front line.

"They take a lot out of you,'' Jacksonville coach Michelle Collier said of the Gators. "They take a lot out of your ball control; take a lot out of your hitters. They are just a tough team to beat."

Next up: FSU.

Most of the players are new this time around, but Wise and FSU coach Chris Poole are old rivals. Prior to Poole taking over the Seminoles a few years ago, he spent a decade competing against Wise's Gators as head coach at Arkansas.

It should be fun.

"We have great respect for the Florida State program and the job Chris has done there,'' Wise said. "When they made the hire, we knew it wasn't going to take him long, and it didn't."

Gators sophomore middle blocker Simone Antwi, who had six kills in Thursday's win, wasn't around three years ago when the Gators and Seminoles met in the tournament.

Still, she has an idea of what the atmosphere will be like. She has squared off against FSU in offseason scrimmages in empty gyms and players fighting for every point.

And she was there when the Gators swept FSU at the O'Dome on Sept. 17.

"Florida State is always a battle,'' Antwi said. "We're expecting it to be a good game, a good rivalry, good volleyball."

Will Friday's match live up to the one three years ago?

Hard to say, but all the ingredients are in place.

Two proud programs. Two veteran coaches. Two talented teams.

And only one Sweet 16 berth at stake.

 

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