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Saturday December 8, 2001Gator Volleyball Falls Short of Final Four


The seventh-ranked Florida volleyball team was in its ninth regional final in the past 11 years, playing the second-ranked and defending National Champion Nebraska Cornhuskers this evening in Lincoln, Neb. After being down 2-0 to the second-seeded team in the tournament, UF rallied to force a decisive fifth game, but fell just two points shy of advancing to its sixth ever Final Four (30-18, 30-24, 28-30, 25-30, 15-13).

Aury Cruz tied her career high as well as the Florida NCAA Tournament single match record of 31 kills. She had a career high 70 attacks and 20 digs. Nicole McCray was one of three other Gators in double-digit kills with 11. She also had 10 digs and five blocks in the match. Niki Hartley had 17 digs, while fellow senior Kris Bova had 63 assists.

Both Cruz and McCray were named to the All-Region team, the first such honor for both of them. Nebraska's Nancy Metcalf was named the region's most outstanding player on the heels of her 25-kill, 14-dig and seven service ace performance.

"I hope we maintained the fact that the SEC can play some really good volleyball," Gator Head Coach Mary Wise said following the match. "The difference was Nancy Metcalf and her seven service aces."

Nebraska raced out to a 6-2 advantage in the first game and the score was 9-3 before Florida called a timeout. With the score 15-7 in favor of the Huskers, UF was sparked by a kill by Sherri Williams and went on a 4-0 run before Nebraska called a timeout. The timeout ended the UF run and started one for Nebraska. The Huskers began a 6-2 run on their own before the Gators called their second timeout at. At 21-13, Nebraska ended the first game on an 8-5 run and won the game 30-18.

Much the same as the first game, the Huskers jumped out to a 6-2 advantage in the second game before Florida called a time out. The score was 10-3 before Florida scored back-to back points making the score 10-5. The Husker lead was 14-5 when Florida used its final timeout of the second game. After than time out, UF outscored Nebraska 7-2 over the next nine points to creep back to within four points at 16-12. The Huskers answered that run with a 5-0 streak of their own. UF inched to within 27-23 on the serve of Niki Hartley before the Huskers ran off three of four points for the second game win and the 2-0 match lead at the intermission.

The third game started close for both teams. Nebraska had the upper hand at 11-9 with its blocking. Aury Cruz kept Florida in the game, registering three kills early on in the game. Five straight points gave NU a 15-11 edge before Cruz killed another ball, served an ace and she and Benavia Jenkins blocked a Cornhusker attack to make the score 15-14. After Nebraska called a timeout, NU recorded a hitting error tie the game at 15 apiece. NU won five of the next seven points to lead 20-17. UF won the next two points to cut the lead to one point and tied the game on an NU hitting error. UF had its first lead at 22-21, but it was short-lived as the Huskers stormed back and took a 25-22 lead. The Gators tied the game at 25 all when Nebraska called a time out. After the timeout UF took a 27-26 lead on an ace by Cruz. Nebraska tied it at 27 with a block. Cruz killed her 19th attack of the match to give UF another edge. The Gators had game-point when Jacque Robinson killed a ball. Cruz won the third game, 30-28, on their second game point with an off-speed kill by Cruz.

The fourth game began with neither team leading by more than two points. The Gators were down 5-4 before Nicole McCray recorded three consecutive blocks to give UF a two-point advantage of its own. UF had a three-point lead after another McCray block. UF had two other leads of three points in the fourth game before Nebraska tied the game at 17-17. Nebraska called a timeout after Florida took a 22-19 lead, thanks to the serving of Niki Hartley and the blocking of McCray and Cruz. The Gators took a four-point lead at 24-20. Back to back Nebraska hitting errors lifted the UF lead to 27-23. Robinson killed two straight attacks after a Cruz service error to give UF a game point at 29-24. Two points later UF had the 30-25 game four win, sending the match to a decisive fifth game.

Florida led off fifth game with a 2-0 lead before Nebraska dented the scoreboard. The Gator lead was 3-1 before NU tied it at three. The fifth game was tied at four apiece and five apiece before Nebraska took a 7-5 advantage on back to back service aces, forcing UF to call a time out. Nebraska took an 8-6 advantage after a UF service error. UF tied the game at eight with a Cruz kill and a Bova kill. After another tie, Florida took a 10-9 lead when Nebraska called a time out. Florida called a timeout after Nebraska tied the game at 12 each. Hartley hit a freeball out of bounds to give NU a 13-12 lead. Nebraska went on to win the game 15-13 and advance to the Final Four with a thrilling win.

"We tried to use some more off-speed shots to loosen their defense," Wise said when asked about the change of strategy after the second game. "We tried to attack their left side, but the biggest difference was that we got into a good passing rhythm."

Florida ends its season with a 28-2 record, having had a 26-match winning streak broken tonight. UF graduates only Kris Bova and Niki Hartley off of this year's team.

End of Report

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