GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Behind senior Kelly Murphy’s triple-double Florida swept its way into the national quarterfinals by defeating Michigan in three sets (25-21, 25-13, 27-25) to reach the NCAA regional final for the first time since 2005 and the 12th time in Florida history.
“I was told .439 is the highest any Florida team has hit at this round of the NCAA Tournament,” Florida head coach Mary Wise said. “We’ve said we thought our team was playing its very best — well, no Gator team has had an offense at that level.”
Murphy registered a match-high 17 kills on 29 swings for a .517 hitting clip, adding 21 assists and 10 digs for her 29th career triple-double and 75th career double-double. Senior Kristy Jaeckel tallied 14 kills, eight digs and four blocks for 18 points against the Wolverines.
“Both Kristy [Jaeckel] and Kelly [Murphy] continue to be in the zone,” Wise said. “It’s like the game is moving in slow motion for them in terms of their hitting choices, and then add a triple-double for Kelly. I thought we handled their tough serves very well. If that match had gone any longer, Alex Hunt might have had 50 kills. That is one special player. I think we were very fortunate to win in three and that worked just fine for us.”
The Gator middle blockers had stellar performances for Florida, as Chloe Mann and Betsy Smith combined for an errorless 15 kills on 25 attacks (.600). Redshirt freshman Taylor Unroe was solid in the back row, notching 12 digs and tallying a career-high six assists. A bright spot for the Gators was the play of sophomore Chanel Brown, who dished out a team-high 23 assists on the evening.
The Gators and Wolverines went back-and-forth for the first several points of the first frame until Murphy fired into the Michigan defense, giving Florida its first two-point lead at 4-2. A Michigan service ace tied the set at 13-13, but Mann broke the seam of the block to keep the Gators in the lead 14-13. After a 3-0 Florida run, the Wolverines called a timeout, but Unroe kept the drive alive with a service ace extending the Gator lead to 18-14. Jaeckel smashed a set from Brown into Wolverine territory that sparked a 3-0 run, giving Florida a 22-16 advantage. A Wolverine attack ignited a 3-0 drive that forced the Orange and Blue into a timeout at 23-20. Ferrell hit around a block to put the Gators one point from the set win, 24-20, and a Michigan attacking error gave Florida the frame 25-21.
Michigan took a strong 3-0 lead to start the second stanza, but Jaeckel fired a bullet into the Wolverine defense that drove the Gators on a 3-0 run to tie the frame at 4-4. Murphy hit around the block to tie the score and drive the Orange and Blue on a 5-0 run with Jaeckel behind the service line, taking a 9-5 advantage. Florida continued to extend the lead, not allowing the Wolverines any chance to take it back, and Florida completely shut the door when Jaeckel unleashed an attack down the line that sparked an 8-0 run with Unroe behind the service line. Brown dished a perfect set to Murphy to put Florida one point from the set win, and Murphy attacked an overpass courtesy of a Jaeckel bullet to give the Gators a 25-13 victory and a 2-0 advantage going into intermission.
The Gators and Wolverines kept the third set close, tying three times until Michigan went on a 4-0 run that forced Florida into an early timeout as Michigan took a 7-3 lead. The Orange and Blue continued to trail Michigan, but slowly gained ground on the Wolverines. A Murphy bullet tied the set at 12-12, and again at 13-13, but the Gators still could not find a way to take the lead. However, a Michigan attacking error tied the set again at 18 apiece, and Jaeckel powered one through the UM block to give Florida a 19-18 lead and force the Wolverines into a timeout. Michigan and Florida battled, tying the score at 22, 23, 24 and 25, but the Orange and Blue ultimately took the 27-25 win on a Jaeckel kill.