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Monday November 25, 2002VB Defeats Arkansas 3-1, Wins SEC Tournament Champ

Fayetteville, AR

Behind 23 a career-high kills from SEC Tournament MVP Jacque Robinson and 24 from SEC Player of the Year Aury Cruz, the University of Florida volleyball team defeated Arkansas 3-1 in the championship match of the SEC Tournament to win its fifth consecutive tournament title.

"Coming onto this match we felt that to beat Arkansas, we had to do two things," said UF Head Coach Mary Wise, "One – we couldn’t let them make a huge run of points off their serve and two we had to outblock them. We don’t win that match if we don’t take care of that first contact and we worked awfully hard on it leading up to this match because we knew how good Arkansas would be in their gym."

Defense was the key Sunday as Gator libero Jen Mandes set a new career-high in digs with 18. As a team, Florida tallied a season-high 82 digs, the most this season. Combined, the two team registered 144 digs.

Florida fell behind early as Arkansas came out and put two points on the board right away before Robinson nailed a kill. On the next play, a two-hits violation from Arkansas tied the game at 2-2. With the Lady Razorbacks leading 5-3, Robinson recorded a solo block for the Gators to close to within one at 5-4. Both teams battled back and forth, and with Arkansas holding an 8-6 lead, a Robinson kill and a block from Benavia Jenkins and Aury Cruz knotted the game at 8-8. The Gators took their first lead of the game at 10-9 when an Arkansas attack hit the antenna. The Lady Razorbacks tied it on the next play, but a kill from Jenkins out Florida back on top 11-10, and Robinson followed with another kill for the two-point advantage. Arkansas scored the next two to tie the game at 12-12, but the Gators then went on a 4-0 run that included kills from Robinson and Michelle Chatman.

With Florida ahead 18-16, the Gators opened up another 4-0 run to take a 22-16 lead. Arkansas scored the next two points to close to within four at 22-18, but Florida took over the momentum for good on the next play. Consecutive kills from Cruz, Robinson and Jenkins put the Gators ahead 25-18 and forced the Lady Razorbacks to call a timeout. The Gators continued the run after the stoppage on a block from Jenkins and Lauren Moscovic. After a kill from Jenkins, McCray recorded a service ace as her serve barely cleared the next and fell to the floor as no Arkansas player moved. Cruz closed out the first game with a kill as the Gators used an 8-0 run to finish the game at 30-18.

After Arkansas began the scoring in game two, Jenkins tied the game at 1-1 with a kill. With the game tied at 3-3, two straight kills from McCray gave the Gators a two-point advantage. The Lady Razorbacks worked their way back to a 6-6 tie. With the game tied at 9-9, Florida took the lead in game two on a block from Jenkins and McCray at 10-9, but with an 11-10 advantage, Arkansas began a 4-0 run to take a 14-11 lead. The Gators worked their way back to a tie at 14-14 on a block by Cruz. Tied at 15-15, the Lady Razorbacks opened up a 19-15 lead with another 4-0 run before a kill from Jenkins stopped the momentum. Arkansas held on to its lead until two kills by Cruz and a kill by Jenkins on an Arkansas over-pass knotted the game at 25-25 and forced the Lady Razorbacks to call a timeout. Florida scored on the next play to take a 26-25 lead, but the two teams traded points over the next few plays, and Arkansas regained the lead at 28-27. The Lady Razorbacks evened the score in the match at 1-1 with a 30-27 win in game two.

Game three started much like the first two, with Arkansas taking the early lead 2-0. A kill from Cruz got the Gators on the board, and after the Lady Razorbacks scored again, a Robinson kill brought Florida to within one at 3-2. After Arkansas built a 5-3 lead, a kill from McCray brought the score to 5-4, and Florida took the 7-5 lead on three straight kills from Cruz. Another kill from Robinson forced Arkansas to use an early timeout to try to stop Florida’s run. A kill from Robinson on the first play out of the stoppage gave Florida the 9-5 advantage. Arkansas battled back to within two at 11-9 before a kill from Jenkins, an ace by Cruz and an error by Arkansas put the Gators ahead by five at 14-9. The Lady Razorbacks scored the next two to close to within three, but Florida then went on a 3-0 run to gain the six-point advantage at 17-11. The Gators worked their way out a 23-15 lead before Arkansas used its final timeout. Florida closed out the final portion of the game and took a 2-1 lead in the match with a 30-22 win in the third stanza.

After battling to a 10-10 tie, Florida scored two straight to take a 12-10 lead. The Gators went ahead 14-12 on a Robinson kill that set a new career-high for the junior. With the Gators holding on to a 15-14 lead, Florida opened up a 4-0 run that put the Gators ahead by five. Cruz recorded a service ace to put the Gators ahead 22-16 when a Lady Razorback player touched it as it was sailing out of bounds. Florida’s largest lead of game at 27-18 and closed out the game and the SEC Tournament Championship with a 30-21 win.

Robinson was joined on the all-tournament team by Cruz, McCray, Jenkins and Arkansas’ Anna Velikanova and Libby Windell.

Florida will host the Conference Challenge beginning Friday in Orlando, Fla., at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex. Georgia, Illinois State and No. 9 Northern Iowa will join the Gators for the two-day tournament.

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