Volleyball advances in NCAAs

The University of Florida's Kristy Jaeckel, left, spikes the ball for a kill during a match against the University of Michigan in the regional semifinals of the 2011 NCAA Volleyball Championship, at the Stephen C. O'connell Center, in Gainesville, Dec. 9 , 2011. The Gators beat the Wolverines in straight sets 3-0 to advance to the Elite Eight and will play tomorrow at 7 p.m.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, December 9, 2011 at 11:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 10, 2011 at 12:00 a.m.

It will be an all Orange and Blue battle for the NCAA Volleyball Gainesville Regional title tonight in the O'Connell Center at 7.

Both Illinois, the top seed (No. 3 overall) in the bracket, and host Florida posted impressive wins Friday in third-round action, setting up a winner-take-all match tonight for a trip to the NCAA semifinals in San Antonio, Texas next weekend.

UF (27-5) capped the night in grand style and sent the predominantly partisan Gator crowd of 3,503 home happy with a 3-0 sweep of Michigan, winning of 25-21, 25-13 and 27-25 behind senior All-America Kelly Murphy's school-record 29th triple-double (season-high 17 kills, 21 assists, 10 digs) and another tremendous performance from fellow senior All-America Kristy Jaeckel, who had 14 kills, eight digs and four blocks (two solos, two assists).

“Both Kristy and Kelly continue to be in a zone,” UF coach Mary Wise said. “It's like the game is moving in slow motion for them in terms of their hitting choices.”

While Murphy and Jaeckel, who combined to score 35.5 points in the win, continued their hot play of late, Florida got a complete team effort in downing the Wolverines. Junior middle blocker Betsy Smith hit .700, had seven kills, four blocks and five digs and combined with redshirt sophomore middle Chloe Mann from Eastside High for 15 kills in 25 swings with no errors. Sophomore setter Chanel Brown had a team-high 23 assists, senior outside hitter Stephanie Ferrell had five kills, freshman defensive specialist Holly Pole from Ocala added six digs and redshirt freshman libero Taylor Unroe had 12 digs and six assists while keying critical UF runs in the first two sets with her serve.

Michigan (22-13) got 13 kills from senior outside hitter Alex Hunt and a match-high 32 assists from freshman setter Lexi Danemiller, but the Gators were able to limit junior right-side hitter Claire McElheney to six kills and a .045 hitting percentage while holding sophomore outside hitter Lexi Erwin to no kills and a minus-.667 hitting mark.

“I think watching video from last week, we saw people trying to attack us on the slide, and Michigan has a really good slide offense,” Jaeckel said. “We definitely worked on that in practice and it paid off.”

UF hit a sizzling .439 for the match, the highest third-round NCAA mark for a UF team in history.

“We thought our team was playing its very best,” noted Wise. “Well, no Gator team has had an offense at that level in this stage of the tournament.”

The Illini (30-4) were equally impressive in ending Ohio State's season with a hard-fought 3-1 victory in the opening match, winning 23-25, 26-24, 25-23 and 25-19.

Illinois was led by senior outside hitters Michelle Bartsch and Colleen Ward, who posted 18 and 15 kills, respectively, and combined to score 37 points. Redshirt junior setter Annie Luhrsen added 43 assists and seven digs and sophomore libero Jennifer Beltran had a match-high 26 digs.

Much like UF, the Illini got contributions from a number of players, with 6-3 junior middle blocker Erin Johnson recording eight kills, five blocks and 11 points while 6-6 freshman outside hitter Liz McMahon added nine kills and 10 points.

The Buckeyes (21-15) were paced by junior right-side hitter Emily Danks, who had match-high marks of 20 kills and a .405 hitting percentage. Junior Mari Hole added a double-double with 12 kills and 12 digs and junior setter Amanda Peterson had a match-high 50 assists, but it wasn't enough to prevent Ohio State from going down for the third time this season against the Illini.

“It wasn't our best match, but I'm proud of the girls for figuring out a way to win,” Illinois head coach Kevin Hambly said “That's what it's about. We talk about that a lot; we're not always going to be at our best, but we have to be the best we can be on this given night. I felt

like they had to fight through some things and figure out a way to win and I'm proud of the effort tonight. I'm proud they persevered.”

The Illini are aiming for their first final four since 1988, while UF is shooting for its first since 2003.

Tonight's match will air live on ESPNU.

“They are a very, very good team, and that's why they were a No. 1 (regional) seed,” Wise said of the Illini. “They have a combination of big-time scorers in the front row and an elite level libero in the back row. We talk about how the margin of error keeps getting smaller

and smaller. They don't have many cracks in their system, and that's why they've been so good for so long.”

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