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Saturday November 30, 2002Northern Iowa Defeats Gator VB 3-2

Orlando, FL

Tournament Most Valuable Player Kim Kester tallied 19 kills and Molly O’Brien added 17 kills and 17 digs as No. 8 Northern Iowa upset No. 3 Florida 3-2 (28-30, 30-25, 30-26, 24-30, 15-11) in the championship match of the Conference Challenge.

Florida (30-2) took the lead in the match with a 30-28 win in game one, as the Gators and Panthers (32-2) battled all the way through. Northern Iowa took a four-point lead at 14-10, but the Gators worked their way back to a 16-16 tie. With the game knotted at 28, a kill from Nicole McCray (Longview, Texas) and a Panther hitting error sealed it for Florida. Northern Iowa tied the match with a 30-25 win in game two and took the lead in the contest with a 30-26 win in game three.

Florida regained the form from game one in the fourth stanza, taking a 6-4 lead before the Panthers came back to tie it at 9-9. Northern Iowa took the lead on the next play, but Florida regained the advantage at 16-15. With the score tied 20-20, the Gators went on a 4-0 run to take a 24-20 lead and held on to force a game five with the 30-24 win in game four.

Game five was all about momentum, as Florida reeled off four straight points, forcing Northern Iowa to call a time out. The Panthers worked their way back to a 7-7 tie, and the lead switched hands repeatedly until Northern Iowa took an 11-10 lead. The Panthers scored three consecutive points after that play and took the match with a 15-11 win in game five.

For the Gators, Aury Cruz (Levittown, Puerto Rico) led the team with 22 kills, followed by McCray and Benavia Jenkins (Fort Pierce, Fla.), who each had 14. Defensively, Jen Mandes (Carolina, Puerto Rico) recorded 15 digs, while Jenkins blocked nine balls to lead Florida.

Five Panthers notched double digits in kills, and O’Brien led the team in digs.

In the first match, Georgia defeated Illinois State 3-2 (25-30, 30-24, 28-30, 20-30, 18-16). Alexandra Oquendo led the Bulldogs with 21 kills.

Cruz and McCray were named to the all-tournament team, along with Kester, O’Brien and Michelle Burvee from Northern Iowa and Alexandra Oquendo from Georgia.

Florida now waits for the NCAA Tournament selection tomorrow at 9 p.m. on ESPNews.

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