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Saturday December 14, 2002Gator VB Defeats Wash. State, Headed to Final Four

Gainesville, FL

The University of Florida volleyball team will make its sixth final four appearance in the last 10 years after defeating the Washington State Cougars 3-1 (27-30, 30-19, 30-25, 30-16) in the NCAA East Regional Final Saturday at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Junior Aury Cruz led Florida with 24 kills and tied her career-high in digs with 20.

"One of the things that separates this team from some teams in the past is that this was not the tooth-and-nail, ‘we're lucky to win this’," said UF Head Coach Mary Wise. "We feel that we played well, we won and we move on. I think teams that do well in the semifinals and finals are teams that play through their regionals, and that’s what we did today"

The match was tight from the very beginning, with the teams staying within two points of each other, until Washington State was able to break the two-point barrier on a kill by LaToya Harris to go up 21-18 in the midst of a six-point run. Up to that point, there had been 12 ties and four lead changes. Down 19-24, the Gators fought hard to bring the game within one again at 24-25 and 25-26, but weren’t able to regain the lead. Two kills by Adrian Hankoff and a block by Victoria Prince and LaToya Harris handed Florida the 30-27 game one loss.

Florida made some adjustments to its game in game two. Shying away from trying to pound the ball through the Cougar blockers, Florida used tips just over the net to throw Washington State out of its game. After Washington State scored the first two points, went on a 9-1 run to take a 9-3 lead. The Gators’ lead kept growing, and with a 20-14 lead, Florida closed out the game with a 10-5 run to even the match score at 1-1.

Game three was tight as well, as the teams traded points until the Gators took a three-point lead at 15-12 – the largest lead for either team in the third stanza. With the score tied at 23-23, Florida scored the next three straight to take a 26-23 lead. After the Cougars answered on the next play, Florida added two of its own to take a four-point lead at 28-24. The Gators took a 2-1 lead in the match with a 30-25 win. The final game mirrored game two in the intensity of the Gator team. Florida did not allow Washington State to score twice in a row, using several short runs to keep the Cougars off their mark. Florida sealed with win with a 30-16 victory in the fourth game.

Michelle Chatman tied her career-high in kills with 15 and set a new career high in digs with 19. Nicole McCray’s four solo blocks is a new career high for the senior and also sets a new Gator NCAA Tournament record. Four Gators tallied double digits in kills, and four Florida players also registered double figures in digs.

For Washington State, Adrian Hankoff tallied 17 kills, followed by Harris with 11 and Chelsie Schafer with 10. Defensively, Kortney Jamtaas tallied a team-high 17 digs.

Cruz was named the NCAA East Region MVP and was joined on the All-Region team by McCray and Chatman, as well as Washington State’s LaToya Harris, Victoria Prince and Adrian Hankoff.

The Gators will now face USC in the national semifinal Thursday.

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