Seminoles end Gators' season in five sets
Published: Friday, December 6, 2013 at 10:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 6, 2013 at 11:04 p.m.
Just like the last time in 2010 when rivals Florida and Florida State met in a second-round NCAA volleyball match in the O'Connell Center, the teams battled tooth-and-nail in a five-set thriller Friday night.
Unlike the previous version, however, it was the Seminoles who made the big plays down the stretch and are moving on to regional play after a come-from-behind, 3-2 victory over the Gators.
The win sends FSU (26-7) into next Friday's Sweet 16 in Champaign, Ill., while ending the season for the No. 5 seed Gators (28-4), their earliest NCAA Tournament exit since 2004.
“We all talked about what a great second-round matchup this was going to be, and all the credit goes to Florida State,” UF coach Mary Wise said. “They just played with so much effort and intensity and made the plays tonight and deserved to win, and I give a hats off to their coaches and players.”
FSU, which was led by sophomore outside hitter Nicole Walch's second double-double (22 kills, 15 digs) in two nights, served notice right away it was focused on an upset by taking the opening set in dominating fashion with a 25-15 win.
Florida, however, bounced back to win set two, 25-20, to knot the score at 1-all, and when the Gators, who raced out to a 10-3 edge in set three, hung on to pull out a 25-22 win and go up 2-1, the O'Connell Center crowd of 2,204 was at its loudest.
Instead of folding, FSU responded with a 25-22 win in set four to set up the fifth and deciding set.
Florida took an early 3-1 lead, but the 'Noles were up to the challenge, scoring six of the next seven points to go up 7-4.
UF would get as close as 7-6, but FSU resumed control with a 7-2 run to reach match point at 14-8.
A kill by UF senior All-American Chloe Mann, the last of the former Eastside High School standout's illustrious career, made it 14-9, but 6-5 middle blocker Sarah Burrington spiked home the match-winner moments later, setting off a big Seminole celebration.
“I thought the fourth set was critical in terms of we just took our foot off the gas pedal, and they raised their level,” Wise said. “They were one set away from their season ending, and they just rode that momentum through the fifth set.”
For FSU head coach Chris Poole, who has battled with Wise's squads for the past two decades – first at Arkansas and now at FSU – the win was sweet.
“We knew it was going to be a tough battle,” he said. “I have so much respect for Florida and what Mary Wise has done here. Quite honestly what I've done over the last 20 years is try and model what she has done.”
Mann finished her career with another outstanding performance, sharing team-high honors with fellow middle blocker Simone Antwi with 14 kills while hitting a team-high .448, ensuring her place in history as the NCAA's all-time hitting percentage leader.
“I'm sorry for Chloe that her career had to end like this,” Wise said. “But in time, we'll look back and Chloe's going to walk away with an incredible record over her four years and own the NCAA hitting efficiency mark.
“This one will hurt for awhile, but she certainly has left her mark on Gator volleyball.”