Gator volleyball set for regionals

Published: Saturday, December 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 30, 2007 at 11:35 p.m.

The Gators mobbed Lauren Bledsoe first. Then, they climbed into the O'Connell Center stands and celebrated with the Gator band.

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Florida's Amber McCray goes up for a kill during Game 1 of Florida's 3 game victory over Oklahoma at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center on Friday.

Aaron Daye/The Gainesville Sun

It was all well deserved.

Florida mounted an unlikely game three comeback to defeat Oklahoma 3-0 (30-24, 30-24, 36-34) in the second round of the NCAA volleyball tournament Friday night. The Gators, pushed by a crowd of 1,828, overcame a 28-24 deficit and four Sooner game points to win a marathon game three. The Gators finally sealed the win when Bledsoe delivered the final of her career-high 12 kills.

The Gators swarmed their freshman outside hitter after the final ball hit the floor, then, at the urging of senior setter Angie McGinnis, moved the celebration into the stands. It was an inspired performance from a team that has been put through an emotional week.

"Game three was as great a performance as we've had on the O'Connell Center floor," Gators coach Mary Wise said.

The win puts Florida (29-2) in the Gainesville Regional, which will be held next Friday and Saturday in the O'Connell Center. The winner of the Gainesville Regional advances to the Final Four. Florida's opponent Friday will be the winner of the Texas Sub-Regional, which began Friday in Austin, Texas.

Florida was awarded the right to host one of four regionals last summer, but wasn't assured of playing in it until Friday's win.

"It's both a relief and excitement," Wise said. "We knew we had to earn our way to get into the regionals. That we've done. We've earned our way."

Florida once again received solid contributions all over the floor in its second game since senior Marcie Hampton ruptured her left Achilles' tendon. Freshman Callie Rivers led Florida in kills for the second straight match, producing a match-high 14 while Kelsey Bowers added 10. Senior Amber McCray had 11 kills, giving her more than 1,000 for her career and giving the Gators three players with 1,000 kills for the first time in program history (Kisya Killingsworth and Hampton are the others).

McGinnis finished with 52 assists, three shy of her three-game school record while sophomore libero Elyse Cusack had 25 digs, two shy of the school record in an NCAA match.

But it was Bledsoe who sparked Florida's game three comeback. With Florida trailing 28-25, Bledsoe ripped off four straight points with her blistering jump serve to put Florida back in the game. It was a run few expected.

"When we asked Lauren to go back and serve, keep in mind, I don't think we've seen Lauren serve five in a row in practice let alone with all that was riding on it," Wise said.

Bledsoe handled the pressure well.

"I was definitely feeling the pressure," Bledsoe said. "Going back there, I knew I just had to take a couple deep breaths, get it over the net. I knew we could definitely come back."

Bledsoe's performance drew praise from Oklahoma coach Santiago Restrepo.

"Bledsoe got hot on her jump serve and caught us off guard," Restrepo said. "She did a good job as a freshman. She took us out of system. That match could have gone either way."

It was a dramatic win for a team that grew accustomed to easy home wins in the O-Dome this season.

"We haven't played one like that at home," McGinnis said. "Those are the fun ones to win."

Oklahoma, which was led by Sarah Weiland's 13 kills, ends its season at 22-10.

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