Saturday night’s Gainesville Regional Final at the O’Connell Center can best be described in one word. Epic.
Led by double-digit kills from four different players – three of them seniors – No. 2 seed Florida fought back time and again en route to posting a scintillating 3-2 win over No. 10 seed Southern Cal, as the Gators won their 15th straight match by scores of 25-23, 20-25, 18-25, 26-24 and 15-11 to advance to the NCAA Semifinals for the first time since 2003 before a raucous O’Connell Center crowd of 3,741.
The pulsating win improved UF to 29-1 on the season while the tradition-rich Trojans end the season at 25-10.
Want some numbers? How about 47 ties and 15 lead changes in the match.
“We have been a part of some pretty amazing regional finals,” UF coach Mary Wise said. “This one will go up there with all of them.”
The Gators will head to next week’s national semifinals in Kansas City, Mo., to face the Texas-Stanford regional winner on Thursday.
Florida was led by redshirt senior Shainah Joseph’s 15 kills and got 14 from senior Rhamat Alhassan, while fellow senior Carli Snyder, who was stymied most of the night by the Trojans’ defense, rallied to record the 31st double-double of her career and 13th of the season, finishing with 11 kills and 18 digs.
Sophomore middle Rachael Kramer also had 11 kills and led all UF players with a .476 hitting percentage, while Alhassan hit .423 and Joseph hit .317, helping the Gators to a team mark of .277 while USC finished at .226.
Senior libero Caroline Knop had a match-high 23 digs, while redshirt junior Allie Monserez had a double-double of her own with a match-high 34 assists and 11 digs.
Southern Cal was led by sophomore outside hitter Kahlia Lanier, who led all players with a match-high 26 kills and 15 digs en route to scoring a match-high 27.5 points.
The crowd definitely had an impact.
“It was amazing,” Alhassan said. “There were times when we were down, just being able to step outside of yourself and look around and hear them cheering for you and wanting you to win. They’ve got your back and they’re here for you, and it just kind of makes you want to play harder and just go all out for them.”
Joseph played a huge role in the win, scoring a pair of kills around a USC hitting error with the Trojans at match point in the fourth set to draw UF into a 2-all tie.
She then added the match-clinching point in set five as the Gators rallied from an 8-4 deficit when the teams switched sides, closing the match on an 11-3 run.
“I love the story that is still being written, and there will be a chapter in there about Shainah Joseph,” Wise said. “She’s a player who could have left but was willing to wait her turn until her senior year. How many players would have transferred, in any sport, long before that? But she stayed with the Gator family.”
Joseph has no regrets.
“It was so worth it,” she said. “I’ve gotten so much better as a player, as an athlete and as a person. There’s a lot of things to learn in my journey, and definitely it’s not over.”
USC coach Mick Haley was the coach at Texas back in 1992 when Wise led UF to its first final four with a come-from-behind, 3-2 victory in Gainesville.
Now 25 years later, he thinks the Gators could go all the way.
“I think this is one of her best teams,” he said. “I think you should say they have a good chance of winning.”