By Jim Harvin, Correspondent
The Florida volleyball team responded to a tough opening-set loss to UCLA by turning up the block and using the defense to spur the offense in a 3-1 win Friday, winning 23-25, 25-17, 25-17, 25-17 before a crowd of 3,128 at the O’Connell Center to advance to the final of the Gainesville Regional.
The Gators (28-1), the No. 2 overall seed, won their 14th straight match and will now try for their first berth in the NCAA Semifinals since 2003 after coming up just short in 2005, 2011, 2014 and 2015.
“We talked to the team all week that the balls that would go for kills would not go for kills and we would need to stay patient,” UF coach Mary Wise said. “The greatest testament to our patience is the fact that in 142 swings, we only hit six balls out of bounds. That’s getting it done.
“At the most difficult of times, for this team to stay this focused and be able to make the key plays that we’ve relied on all year on the backs of our seniors, they came through tonight.”
Each team had 51 kills, but UF made just 11 errors and hit .282 while UCLA had 30 errors and only hit .124, a major reason the Gators are moving on to the regional final for the third time in the last four seasons while the 15th-seed Bruins (21-11), who captured their fourth NCAA title in 2011, head home.
UF faces No. 10 seed Southern Cal, which defeated No. 7 seed Minnesota, 3-0, in Saturday’s regional final at 6 p.m.
Senior outside hitter Carli Snyder, whose robotic right arm accounted for 50 attacks and 18 kills – both match-high marks – hit .320 and scored a match-high 22 points while adding three service aces, two block assists and 15 digs for the 30th double-double of her career.
“We knew this was going to be a huge test for us because UCLA does have such a strong defensive team,” Snyder said. “A huge credit to our setters for finding the right people at the right time so we could disrupt such an effective defense as well as our block for showing up in the second, third and fourth sets and giving us some really good situations. What led us to be effective offensively definitely started on defense.”
Senior middle blocker and 2017 SEC Player of the Year Rhamat Alhassan had 24 attacks and 10 kills, hitting .375 while recording the eighth double-double of her career and adding a match-high 10 block assists for 15 points.
“We definitely turned it up in the second set through the last three sets,” Alhassan noted.
Redshirt senior right-side hitter Shainah Joseph hit a team-best .400 and also had 10 kills and three block assists to finish with 11.5 points; redshirt junior setter Allie Monserez was the third Gator to record a double-double, finishing with 20 assists and 12 digs; and senior libero Caroline “CK” Knop was all over the court in recording a team-high 18 digs.
Sophomores Cheyenne Huskey (team-high 21 assists, one solo block, seven block assists), Rachael Kramer (four kills, three block assists) and Allie Gregory (14 digs) were all solid, while redshirt freshman Mia Sokolowski had five kills and true freshman Paige Hammons added two aces and nine digs.
UCLA senior Reily Buechler had a team-high 14 kills to go with 13 digs to conclude her career with a double-double, while freshman Jenny Mosser and junior Kyra Rogers had 11 and 10 kills, respectively.
What: NCAA Regional Championship
Who: No. 10 Southern Cal (25-9) vs. No. 2 Florida (28-1)
When: 6 p.m. today
Where: O’Connell Center