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Friday December 3, 1999VB Gets by Illinois, Advances to East Region Semis

Gainesville, FL

Three of the Gators' six starters posted 20 kills as No. 4 Florida (32-2) defeated Illinois (17-11) 3-2 by scores of 15-8, 7-15, 16-14, 9-15 and 15-12 in the Second Round of the 1999 NCAA Division I Volleyball Championships held at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center Friday night to advance to the Eastern Region Semifinals.

The Gators' 28-match win streak, which ranks as the third-longest in the nation among Top 25 teams, was tested by the Fighting Illini. Florida's 7-15 Game 2 loss marks the first time the Gators have dropped a game at home since defeating UC-Santa Barbara in five games Sept. 18.

Florida's Jenny Whitehead (Jenison, Mich./Jenison/Michigan State) recorded a career-high 28 kills and added 11 digs. The senior trio of Whitehead, Jenny Manz (Orange Park, Fla./Middleburg) and Jennifer Sanchez (San Antonio, Texas/Providence) each had double-doubles. Manz had 20 kills and 10 digs while Sanchez added 72 assists and 11 digs. Heather Wright (Martinsville, Ind./Martinsville) had 20 kills and a match-high seven blocks.

Illinois' Shadia Haddad led hitters in the match with a career-high 32 kills for a .418 attack percentage.

Whitehead welcomed her role as an equalizer to Haddad's play. "I know when my team needs me to put the ball away and that's what I did. We had some great passes and Jen Sanchez did a great job tonight. I don't know if it was being an equalizer, it was just doing what needed to be done," she said.

Florida opened Game 1 by scoring four quick points before Illinois could respond, but the Fighting Illini battled to pull within three points at 10-7 led by senior Tracey Marshall and sophomore Shadia Haddad who combined for 12 of Illinois' 16 team kills. The Gators went on to record the 15-8 win.

Illinois controlled most of the second game fueled by Haddad whose six kills and timely blocking gave the Fighting Illini momentum to score eight unanswered points. Whitehead sparked Florida on a four-point comeback run, but a service ace by Betsy Spicer helped seal the 15-7 Illinois win.

It was Illinois again who took the early lead in Game 3. Florida freshman Nicole McCray (Longview, Texas/Pine Tree) ignited the Gators on a nine-point run to bring the score to 12-5. Spicer's six kills, two block assists and ace helped Illinois stage an eight-point comeback to take the lead. The Gators held Illinois at game point three times before going on to win 16-14 on a kill by Heather Wright.

Haddad's nine kills led Illinois in the fourth-game 15-9 victory and Florida recovered to win the fifth-game 15-12 and take the match.

Florida Head Coach Mary Wise applauded her team for handling the pressure of Illinois' offense. "It was our ability to withstand Illinois and how great they played. We haven't played a match like that since the middle of September. I credit Illinois for their game plan. Their kids played hard throughout five games. We survived it, that's the important thing and we're moving on."

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