Dec. 3, 2009

Courtesy of FIU

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - The FIU volleyball team notched its second NCAA Tournament victory in school history on Thursday evening as the Panthers defeated cross-town rival Miami, 3-2 (25-16, 20-25, 22-25, 27-25, 15-11), in the opening round of the 2009 NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship at the O'Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla.

With the win, the Panthers improve to 32-3 on the season and advance to the NCAA Tournament Second Round where they will face winner of tonight's match between No. 14 Florida and College of Charleston. The second round match is set for Friday, Dec. 4, at 7 p.m. and can be viewed for free at www.gatorvision.tv. Live stats will be available at www.gatorzone.com.

FIU ran out to an early 5-0 lead in the first set but Miami fought back to tie the score at 13-13. A Hurricane net violation made it 14-13 in favor of the Panthers before senior Isadora Rangel tallied a kill on a pass from junior Natalia Valentin to give FIU a 15-13 lead.

Following a media timeout, FIU recorded a kill and gained a point on a Miami attack error to increase the Panthers' advantage to 17-13. The Hurricanes called a timeout of their own and tallied a pair of points out of the break before senior Olga Vergun slammed home a kill from the right side to put the score at 18-15. FIU then recorded a block to take a 19-15 lead and a Miami attack error made it 20-15.

Another Hurricane attack error put FIU on top by six at 21-15 to force a Miami timeout and, out of the break, the Panthers recorded three straight points to put themselves in set-point position at 24-15. The Hurricanes managed one more point but Rangel registered a kill from the left side to give FIU a 15-16 first-set win.

Up 1-0 for the match, the Panthers didn't let up, making numerous hustle plays and converting on long rallies to take a 15-12 lead. The Hurricanes then went on an 8-0 run to put the score at 20-15 before a kill from freshman Jovana Bjelica ended the run. Miami retaliated with a point to put the score at 21-16 and senior Ines Medved recorded a kill from the left side to bring FIU within four, but Miami tallied two straight points to put the score at 23-17.

Senior Yarimar Rosa would then tally a kill but Miami countered with a kill of its own to get to set-point at 24-18. Rosa struck again from the left side and a Hurricane attack error made the score 24-20, but Miami was able to register its final point to take the set, 25-20, and tie the match at 1-1.

Miami ran out to a 15-10 lead in the third set but FIU clawed back to within three at 15-12 before a Hurricane kill put the deficit back to four at 16-12. A Miami service error put the score at 16-13 but the Hurricanes got the next point to go ahead by four once again. Rosa slammed home a kill from the left side to make it 17-14 but a Panther service error put the score at 18-14 before Medved scored on a tip to bring FIU within three again at 18-15.

The teams traded points and with Miami on top at 19-16, the Hurricanes were called for a pair of violations as FIU got within one at 19-18. Miami took a 20-18 lead on a kill before Vergun slammed home a hard kill from the right side to make it 20-19 and the teams then traded scores once more to make the score 21-20. Rosa then knotted the score at 21-21 with a kill from the left side.

Following a Miami timeout, the Hurricanes went ahead by two at 23-21 but a kill by sophomore Andrea Lakovic brought the Panthers within one at 23-22. A Miami kill put the Hurricanes in set-point position and they managed one more point to take the set, 25-22, and go ahead 2-1 for the match.

The fourth set saw both squads battle back and forth and the score was tied at 18-18 before FIU took a 19-18 lead. Following a Miami timeout, the Hurricanes tallied three points to go ahead, 21-19 and force an FIU timeout.

The Panthers came out of the break and knotted the score at 21-21 before Lakovic scored on a tip to give FIU a 22-21 lead. A Hurricane attack error put the Panthers on top by two at 23-21 but Miami was able to retaliate and tie the score at 23-23 before going ahead by one at 24-23. FIU tied the score at 24-24 but Miami went ahead on a kill at 25-24. Rosa then scored twice from the left side to put FIU in set-point position at 26-25 and then combined with sophomore Sabrina Gonzalez for a block to give the Panthers at 27-25 set-win.

With the match tied at 2-2, the final set saw both teams come out strong. FIU took a 9-7 lead before Valentin connected with Bjelica on the left side for a kill to make it 10-7. Miami then recorded two points to come within one at 10-9 and force an FIU timeout.

Out of the break, the teams traded points to make the score 11-10 in favor of the Panthers. A Hurricane violation gave FIU a point and a kill by Rosa put the Panthers ahead by three at 13-10. Miami registered a kill to come within two at 13-11 before Rosa struck again from the right side to put FIU in match-point position at 14-11. Rosa's third straight kill closed out the match to give FIU a 15-11 set-win and a 3-2 match victory.

"We had to play hard and leave everything on the court," said Rosa of her team's effort, as the Panthers are now 4-0 on the season in five-set matches. "We were so disappointed with the loss [to Middle Tennessee] and I didn't want to feel that way again. I was trying to use that pain to play against UM. We knew they were a good team and it would be a tough match."

Four players recorded double-doubles on the night and just as many reached double-digit kills versus the Hurricanes. Rosa tallied a team-high 16 kills to go along with a career-high 21 digs and four blocks. Vergun and Bjelica each added 15 kills and 10 digs apiece, while Vergun added a team-high-tying four blocks.

 "I just did what I had to do and what every player is supposed to do," said Vergun, who had zero errors through two sets of play versus the Hurricanes. "We had the mentality of, we can't lose this game."

Also notching double-digits in kills was Lakovic, who totaled 10 kills to go along with a team-high-tying four blocks. Valentin led FIU in assists with 53 and added a team-best three service aces to go along with 19 digs.

"I can't say enough about this team and what they've done this year," said head coach Danijela Tomic, who earned her first ever NCAA Tournament victory with tonight's win. "They just fight through it, no matter what the score is. I expect them to compete because a team has to win three sets. It speaks to the toughness of this team. We made less errors and that was the difference. I'm happy for the team and I couldn't be more proud."