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Friday December 19, 2003VB Advances to National Championship Match

Dallas, TX

The University of Florida volleyball team advanced to the first NCAA Volleyball Championship match in school history with a 3-1 (30-28, 30-28, 23-30, 30-28) win over Hawaii in the national semifinal in front of 6,805 fans at Reunion Arena. Florida will face defending national champion, Southern California, Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET. The game will air live on ESPN 2.

Senior three-time All-American and national player-of-the-year candidate Aury Cruz led the Gators with 19 kills and added 14 digs for a double-double on the night. Jane Collymore also recorded a double-double with 15 kills and a career-high 20 digs. Senior Jacque Robinson shined with 13 kills on the night, a season high. Hawaii’s Kim Willoughby and Lily Kahumoku led all players with 21 kills a piece, but despite Hawaii’s offensive effort, it was the Gator defense that proved to be the difference in the game. The Gators outblocked the Rainbow Wahine almost two-to-one (13-7) as All-American Sherri Williams led the Gators with seven and Robinson added six.

Florida’s defense held Willoughby to under her seven kills a game average and were only the second team this season to hold her under a .200 hitting percentage for the match.

"(This was) a great match," Florida Head Coach Mary Wise said. "Two heavyweights, going toe to toe. Certainly some terrific rallies, highlight type plays in terms of some of the digs. We thought going into it, based on Hawaii and some of their tougher matches, that we really had to look through the schedule to find those matches where they were pressed; matches where they were outblocked. We felt blocking was going to be key and that is the one and only statistical category where we separated ourselves from Hawaii, one great team who made us have nothing short of all-out effort. It may not have always been the cleanest or crispest, but it sure was great effort volleyball."

Florida came back from as much as a five-point deficit in game one to win 30-28. The Gators took their first lead at the 22-21 mark, after rattling off four straight points on Michelle Chatman’s serve. The first lead came on a big block by Robinson and Sherri Williams. From then on Hawaii never held more than a two-point lead. Florida took the lead for good at 27-26 on a Cruz kill. Florida gained a two-point advantage on a block by Cruz and Chatman. Cruz and the Wahine’s Kahumoku traded kills, but Cruz and the Gators had the last word on a Cruz drop shot to take game one 30-28.

Game two was a true battle with neither team gaining more than a two-point advantage until the Gators took the lead at 29-26. Hawaii never regained the lead after Florida took a 20-19 lead on a Lauren Moscovic ace. The Gators took their biggest lead of the game at 29-26 on an Aury Cruz solo block, and after two match points, Cruz put the game away for the Gators with kill.

The Rainbow Wahine went on a 7-0 run on Lauren Duggins’ serve to take a seven-point lead at 12-5 in game three. Florida could not find its rhythm and trailed by as many as 10 later in the game. Florida shortened Hawaii’s lead to just four points twice - at 24-20 on an Cruz solo block and at 25-21 on a Robinson kill - but was never able to get closer than that. Florida lost game 30-23, the first game they have lost since August 23 vs. Kansas State, which ended their NCAA record games won streak at 105 games.

Hawaii started game four on a 4-0 run on Willoughby’s serve. Florida continued to battle, but fell behind as many as six at 11-5. The Gators were not going to give up, and began a steady climb back to the lead. Florida went on a 5-0 run on Cruz’s serve to take its first lead at 17-16. The Gators would only lose the lead once more at 17-18 before going up three on two straight blocks of Kahumoku’s attacks by Sherri Williams and Robinson. Florida took a four-point lead, its highest of the match, on two consecutive attack errors from the Wahine’s Willoughby. Hawaii came back within one at 29-28, but Collymore finished the match for Florida with a kill just over the net.

Thursday night’s game will air tape delayed on ESPN2 Friday at 3 p.m. ET.

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