Dec. 13, 2008

FORT COLLINS, Colo. - Sophomore Florida middle blocker/right-side Lauren Bledsoe (Long Beach, Calif.) registered a team-high eight kills on .385 hitting, but No. 2/2 Stanford had three players register 10 or more points, including Foluke Akinradewo's match-high 18.0, in a 3-0 (25-14, 25-21, 25-21) victory against the No. 11/10 Gators in Moby Arena.

Florida, which advanced to the NCAA regional semifinals for the 17th time in the last 18 years, ended its 2008 season with a 27-4 overall record. The Cardinal (29-3) advance to Saturday's 9:30 p.m. EST regional final to face Hawaii.

"When we're playing a team like Stanford, there is so little margin for error," Florida head coach Mary Wise said. "I thought our team competed hard and we got better as the match went along. We were right there at the end of sets two and three, we just didn't have an answer for Foluke [Akinradewo]. We didn't make or get the breaks that we would have needed to have at least extended the match. I couldn't be more proud of our team as far as how hard they competed in a brand new environment for many of them."

Freshman right-side/setter Kelly Murphy (Wilmington, Ill.) and sophomore outside hitter Callie Rivers (Winter Park, Fla.) each tallied six kills in the match. Murphy added a team-high 15 assists with six digs, while rivers tallied eight digs.

"This match will only help us next year and down the road," Wise said. "We started five freshmen and there's nothing we can do in practice to simulate this environment and that talent. This provided us the opportunity to have played against the best and to recognize the gap and what we have to do to narrow it down the road. This team will be able to build on this experience."

Junior libero Elyse Cusack (Melrose, Fla.) led the defensive effort with 16 digs and also tallied two service aces, while senior middle blocker Kelsey Bowers (Gainesville, Fla.) tallied a team-high four blocks.

Bowers finishes her collegiate career in sixth place all-time on Florida's career blocks list with 426, surpassing former Gator Heather Wright (1997-00) on Friday evening. Bowers and fellow senior Christina Diaz (Hollywood, Fla.) end their college careers having compiled a 119-13 (.902) record with four NCAA Round of 16 appearances and four Southeastern Conference titles.

Stanford broke a 3-3 tie to begin the first set with four consecutive points to go ahead 7-3. A Rivers kill off the block stopped the Cardinal scoring spree, but Stanford responded with a 9-1 run to extend its advantage to 11, 16-5. With Florida trailing 18-6, the Gators scored two of the next three points with kills from Bledsoe and Murphy, both on the right side, to cut within 11, 19-8.

After two consecutive kills by the Cardinal pushed their lead back to 13, 21-8, Rivers drilled a kill on the angle and Cusack served an ace to spark a 3-1 run by the Gators which narrowed their deficit to 22-11. With Stanford at set point at 24-12, Bledsoe notched a kill and then teamed with Cassandra Anderson (Bakersfield, Calif.) and Colleen Ward (Naperville, Ill.) for a block in the middle to cut within 10, 24-14. A kill by the Cardinal's Janet Okogbaa ended the first set at 25-14.

Stanford raced to a 3-0 advantage to begin the second set before a service error by the Cardinal and a kill by Kristy Jaeckel (Littleton, Colo.) on the outside brought UF to within one, 3-2. Stanford responded with back-to-back points, but a kill by Anderson in the middle and an attack error against the Cardinal sparked a 3-0 run for the Gators that knotted the score at 5-5. With Florida trailing 7-6, Murphy registered a kill off hands that sailed into the stands and then she teamed with Bowers for a block that gave the Gators the lead at 8-7. Cusack then served an ace to extend Florida's lead to 9-7 and force a Stanford timeout.

After a kill by Stanford's Cassidy Lichtman, Bowers registered an emphatic block solo that commenced a 4-1 run by the Gators that gave them a 13-9 advantage after a Rivers kill in the middle. The Cardinal ran off four consecutive points to knot the score at 14-14. After another tie at 15-all, Stanford ran off more points to go up 17-15. The two teams then traded points until back-to-back put-downs by Rivers and Bledsoe again tied the score, this time at 19-19. After two more ties, the Cardinal closed the set on a 4-0 run to take a 25-21 second-set victory.

The two teams battled evenly to begin the third set before Stanford broke a 5-5 tie with three consecutive points, including an ace by Lichtman, to go ahead 8-5 heading into a Florida timeout. With the Gators trailing 9-5, Bledsoe recorded a kill off the block on the right side and the Cardinal were called for being in the net on the next play. Bledsoe then followed with a kill that brought Florida to within one, 9-8. After a Stanford kill stopped the Gators' scoring spree, Florida ran off three straight points, including two kills by Ward, to go up 11-10.

The two teams began trading points before Florida broke a 13-13 tie with a service ace by sophomore defensive specialist Erin Fleming (Orlando, Fla.) that caught the net tape and fell in front of the net. Following two more ties, the Cardinal ran off three in a row to pull ahead 18-15 and force Wise to burn a timeout. Florida inched within one, 18-17, heading into a Stanford timeout. The two teams then traded points until Stanford, leading 22-21, scored three consecutive points, including two attack errors by Rivers, to take a 25-21 victory.

Stanford was led by Akinradewo's match-high 13 kills on .684 hitting.