Gators upset in 5 sets

Published: Sunday, December 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 30, 2002 at 10:47 p.m.
ORLANDO - Tournament Most Valuable Player Kim Kester tallied 19 kills and Molly O'Brien added 17 kills and 17 digs as No. 8 Northern Iowa upset No. 3 Florida 3-2 (28-30, 30-25, 30-26, 24-30, 15-11) in the championship match Saturday of the Conference Challenge.
Florida (30-2) took the lead in the match with a 30-28 win in game one, as the Gators and Panthers (32-2) battled all the way through. Northern Iowa took a four-point lead at 14-10, but the Gators worked their way back to a 16-16 tie.
With the game knotted at 28, a kill from Nicole McCray and a Panther hitting error sealed it for Florida. Northern Iowa tied the match with a 30-25 win in game two and took the lead in the contest with a 30-26 win in game three.
Florida regained the form from game one in the fourth game, taking a 6-4 lead before the Panthers came back to tie it at 9-9. Northern Iowa took the lead on the next play, but Florida regained the advantage at 16-15. With the score tied 20-20, the Gators went on a 4-0 run to take a 24-20 lead and held on to force a game five with the 30-24 win in game four.
Game five was all about momentum, as Florida reeled off four straight points, forcing Northern Iowa to call a time out. The Panthers worked their way back to a 7-7 tie, and the lead switched hands repeatedly until Northern Iowa took an 11-10 lead. The Panthers scored three consecutive points after that play and took the match with a 15-11 win in game five.
Aury Cruz led the Gators with 22 kills, followed by McCray and Benavia Jenkins, who each had 14. Defensively, Jen Mandes recorded 15 digs, while Jenkins blocked nine balls to lead Florida.
Five Panthers notched double digits in kills, and O'Brien led the team in digs.
Cruz and McCray were named to the all-tournament team, along with Kester, O'Brien and Michelle Burvee from Northern Iowa and Alexandra Oquendo from Georgia.
Florida now waits for the NCAA Tournament selection at 9 p.m. today. The event will be televised on ESPNews.

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