By Jim Harvin,
Earlier in the week, Florida coach Mary Wise was asked what it is that makes this year’s team so special.
“This team is gritty,” she responded.
Florida, the No. 2 overall seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament, lived up to that description in advancing to the Sweet 16 by grinding out a 3-1 win over a good Miami squad, winning by scores of 25-14, 19-25, 25-11 and 25-23 before an Exactech Arena crowd of 3,078 in the O’Connell Center Friday.
Seniors Shainah Joseph, Carli Snyder and Rhamat Alhassan, along with sophomore Rachael Kramer, combined for 50 of UF’s 55 kills, as the Gators finished with a .366 hitting percentage in improving to 27-1 on the season while the tough Hurricanes, led by a double-double from senior Olga Strantzali (match-high 20 kills and 10 digs), finished the year with a 22-6 mark.
“That was another epic second-round match that our program has been very fortunate to be a part of,” Wise said. “We don’t win this match without playing as well as we did. Miami has some great servers and one of the most elite left-sides that we’ve played this year. That was our first opportunity to watch Olga play, and she is the real deal.”
Snyder had 13 kills and Alhassan and Kramer each added nine, and all three were errorless in the win.
Florida’s efficiency was a big difference in the match, as UF finished with just 10 errors on 123 attacks while Miami recorded 21 errors to go with 51 kills in 144 attacks, finishing with a .208 hitting percentage.
“It’s always tough to end the year with a loss, but this group has been unbelievable,” Miami coach Jose “Keno” Gandara said. “I’m so proud of them, not just tonight. The last three weeks of the season were our best three weeks.”
Florida also got big contributions from setters Allie Monserez (28 assists, eight digs) and Cheyenne Huskey (19 assists, three kills and two digs); senior libero Caroline “CK” Knop (11 digs, two assists); and sophomore defensive specialist Allie Gregory (seven digs, two assists).
Miami got a great effort from setter Haley Templeton, who posted a match-high 41 assists to go with four kills and six digs, while Madison Dill added eight kills and five block assists and Lucia Pampana had six kills, with neither recording a hitting error.
UF came out strong, taking the first set rather easily, but Miami bounced back by winning the second set to even things at 1-1.
After the Gators took the third set in convincing fashion to go up 2-1, the fourth set was an all-out war, with the score tied 11 times and four lead changes before UF pulled out the tight two-point win to avoid a fifth set tiebreaker.
“All week we’ve been working on serve-receive and defense and trying to better the ball as best we can so that Allie (Monserez) can run an offense,” Joseph said. “The more hot I was getting, the more trust she had in me.”
As a victorious top-four seed, the Gators will host the next two rounds next weekend and with two more wins, will make their first Final Four appearance since 2003.
“It was the little things that made the difference in being able to have a lot of trust in what we were doing in our system and just playing really hard,” Snyder said.
What: NCAA volleyball tournament third round
Who: Florida (27-1) vs. TBD
Where: O’Connell Center