Dec. 5, 2008

Courtesy GatorZone.com

Freshman Florida middle blocker Cassandra Anderson (Bakersfield, Calif.) made her first collegiate NCAA Tournament match a memorable one, recording a career-high 10 kills on an impressive .909 hitting percentage and the No. 11/10 Gators recorded their highest team hitting percentage in an NCAA Tournament match in school history (.451) on Friday en route to a 3-0 (25-20, 25-21, 25-15) victory against Florida A&M in the Stephen C. O'Connell Center.

Florida (26-3) advances to the NCAA Tournament second round, where it will face No. 22 Colorado State on Saturday. Opening serve in the Stephen C. O'Connell Center is slated for 7:30 p.m. EST and the match will be carried live on GatorZone.com and GatorVision Online with Tom Collett and Missy Whittemore.

"Florida A&M is a very difficult team to defend and I thought we were fairly efficient on offense," Florida head coach Mary Wise said. "Our .451 hitting percentage is a testament to that. We didn't block as many shots as we'd hoped to, but we did serve the ball and hit the ball very well tonight."

Anderson's 10 kills came on 11 swings with no errors for a .909 hitting efficiency, the highest by a Florida player in a single match since Kisya Killingsworth hit .917 against South Carolina on Oct. 31, 2007. Anderson also recorded a match-high four blocks and tied her career high with 12.0 total points. In the last four matches, Anderson is averaging 11.5 points per match.

"Those numbers are pretty eye-popping - 10 kills on 11 swings and four blocks," Florida head coach Mary Wise said. "Cassandra has the ability to do that and we haven't had many middles that can do it at her level as a freshman, and that is because of her ability to hit around the block. She can adjust her arm swing based on what the block takes. That's not really taught and for her to learn how to do that as a freshman says a lot about the talent she came to us with."

As a team, the Gators hit .451 and out-hit the Rattlers .451-.165. The hitting efficiency eclipsed Florida's previous NCAA Tournament single-match hitting percentage record of .440 set on Dec. 6, 2002 against Central Florida. Four Gators hit better than .400 in the match for the first time since Sept. 5, 2008 vs. Jacksonville.

Freshman right-side/setter Kelly Murphy (Wilmington, Ill.) and sophomore outside hitter Callie Rivers (Winter Park, Fla.) each registered seven kills, as Murphy hit .417 with 13 assists, five digs and three blocks. Senior middle blocker Kelsey Bowers (Gainesville, Fla.) chipped in six kills on .500 hitting.

Junior libero Elyse Cusack (Melrose, Fla.) led the team's defensive effort with eight digs, while freshman setter Cindy Bathelt (Colorado Springs, Colo.) dished out a team-high 21 assists, eclipsing the 20-assist plateau for the 16th time this season.

The two teams battled evenly to begin the first set before a kill by Florida's Anderson broke a 9-9 tie and sparked a 4-0 that was capped off by an ace from sophomore defensive specialist Erin Fleming (Orlando, Fla.). Out of a Florida A&M timeout, the Rattlers ran off four of the next five points to cut within one, 14-13, before Bowers and Murphy posted a powerful block on the right side to stop the scoring streak.

The two teams continued to fight closely and, after four more ties, Murphy had a kill and the Rattlers committed an attack error to put the Gators ahead 20-18. The Gators stretched that run to 5-0 out of a timeout, capped off by a Fleming ace, to go ahead 23-18. Florida A&M scored the next two points of the set to cut within three, 23-20, before Rivers tallied a kill and the Rattlers committed an attack error to give Florida a 25-20 first-set win. UF held FAMU to -.031 hitting in the opening frame.

The Gators raced out to a 7-1 advantage to commence the second set following back-to-back kills by Murphy and a Cusack service ace. Florida A&M scored two of the next three points to cut within five, 8-3, but a Rivers kill stopped the scoring streak. With Florida ahead 11-6, Anderson registered a kill to spark a 4-0 run and put the Gators in front by nine, 15-6.

Florida kept rolling to an 18-9 advantage after a kill by Bowers, but the Rattlers scored five in a row behind the scoring of Nevena Peeva to whittle their deficit down to four, 18-14. With the Gators ahead 20-18, Anderson and Rivers posted consecutive kills to put Florida up 22-18. The two teams then traded points until a Murphy kill finished off the 25-21 victory. The Gators hit an impressive .448 in the second set.

Florida broke to a 7-2 lead to begin the third set after two service aces by Rivers and a kill from sophomore right-side Lauren Bledsoe (Long Beach, Calif.). Back-to-back kills by redshirt freshman outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel (Littleton, Colo.) and Anderson put Florida ahead 13-5. The Gators kept rolling to a 21-12 advantage after consecutive kills from Bledsoe and Bowers. The two teams then traded points until an Anderson kill finished off the match with a 25-15 victory that saw Florida hit a stellar .636 in the final frame.

Florida improves to 48-18 all-time in NCAA Championship action, including a 47-17 mark under Wise's direction.

Florida A&M (14-13) was led by senior middle blocker Samara Ferraz, the 2008 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Outstanding Performer, who tallied a match-high 15 kills for 15.0 points. Sophomore outside hitter Jovana Blazeski followed with 11 kills and five digs. The Rattlers were making their eighth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.