Home stretch for Bova, Hartley

Seniors Kris Bova and Niki Hartley are after another Final Four.

Published: Monday, July 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 2, 2002 at 1:20 p.m.

None of her teammates ask her about the Final Four, but Kris Bova tells them anyway. She tells them about the pageantry, the competition, the spotlight.

They just don't know.

Bova, along with fellow Florida senior Niki Hartley are the only two current Gators to have played in the NCAA Final Four. And now, as their careers at Florida wind down, they hope to finish where they started. At the Final Four.

"I tell them about it anyway," Bova said. "I think I go back to the Final Four and how it was a great experience and all the stuff we got and being able to play the top ranked team in the nation. So I can remind them every now and then."

With its final NCAA Tournament tune-ups today and Saturday in the Conference Challenge in Orlando, seventh-ranked Florida (23-1) is priming itself for its first Final Four berth since 1998, Bova and Hartley's freshmen seasons. Getting there, as Bova and Hartley know, won't be easy. And the desire to return, to end their careers in college volleyball's limelight, is one of the things that drives them.

"It's our goal every year, but it would great to go out in my senior year to go to the Final Four," said Bova, the team's starting setter. "Not getting back there the last two years, it's something I want to do my senior year. Not getting there my sophomore, junior years was disappointing."

For Hartley, it has been a senior season of less offensive responsibility. She is averaging 6.8 total attacks and 2.25 kills per game, compared to 8.5 and 3.21 last season. But it's not her fault. It's simply a result of a changing role.

"Her role is different only in terms of offense because we've been able to get kills out of many different positions," coach Mary Wise said. "In terms of blocking, serving, passing and our best digger, she's still carrying a huge load for us."

The pulse of last year's team, Hartley was riddled with a foot injury early this season and has been less visible due to the emergence of sophomore Jacque Robinson on the outside. Hartley, though, is not sentimental about leaving - yet.

"I guess when the season's over I'll worry about that," she said. "I need to focus on what we're doing right now."

Which is trying reach San Diego and the Final Four. All of the Gators want to get there, but especially Bova and Hartley, who have been longing for a return.

"It may be the same as it is for coaches in that you don't really understand how special it is until the first year you don't go," Wise said. "After being there and not going you understand what a unique and special opportunity it is."

Bova wants to return in her role as a starting setter as opposed to the reserve back-row defensive specialist she was in '98.

"The season's gone by so fast and I don't like thinking about the end of the season coming," Bova said. "I just think about having a lot more volleyball games to play."

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