Dec. 3, 2009

Courtesy of Florida

Five Florida players hit better than .400 in the match and the No. 14/15 Gators recorded their highest hitting percentage in an NCAA Tournament match in school history (.476) en route to a 3-0 (25-21, 25-17, 25-18) win against the College of Charleston in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

The Gators (24-5) were incredibly efficient, hitting .476 in the match, which bested Florida’s previous NCAA Tournament single-match hitting percentage record of .451, accomplished last season against Florida A&M in the NCAA First Round. As a team, UF out-blocked the Cougars (18-13), 6.0-3.0 to mark the 17th time in the last 19 matches that the Gators have won the blocking battle.

Florida advances to the NCAA Second Round, where it will face Sun Belt Conference regular-season champion FIU (32-3), which posted a thrilling 3-2 win against cross-town rival Miami in the first match of the day. Opening serve is slated for 7 p.m. ET Friday in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center and it will be carried live on GatorVision Online and WRUF-AM 850 with Tom Collett and Missy Whittemore.

“The good news is that we are 1-0 in the NCAA Tournament and moving forward,” Florida head coach Mary Wise said. “The offense did some really good things tonight. Our .476 hitting percentage is the highest we’ve had in an NCAA Tournament match, so that is encouraging. College of Charleston is very well coached and was a formidable first-round opponent. We are happy to be moving on.”

Sophomore outside hitter Colleen Ward (Naperville, Ill.) turned in a match-high 14 kills on .393 hitting, charting a match-high 16.0 points. Sophomore outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel (Littleton, Colo.) followed with eight kills on 13 swings with no errors for  a .615 hitting clip.

“Our passing was great tonight,” Murphy said. “It allowed us to get the ball to a bunch of different people. I think we played patient and made smart decisions when hitting.”

Sophomore right-side/setter Kelly Murphy (Wilmington, Ill.), setting primarily in a 5-1 offensive scheme, charted seven kills on 10 swings with no errors for a .700 hitting efficiency to complement a match-high 31 assists and a career-high-tying three service aces.

Junior right-side Callie Rivers (Winter Park, Fla.) added seven kills on .500 hitting with six digs and a team-high three blocks, while junior middle blocker Lauren Bledsoe (Long Beach, Calif.) tallied six kills on .455 hitting.

Senior libero Elyse Cusack (Melrose, Fla.) led Florida’s defensive effort with a match-high 12 digs to increase her career total to 2,104, making her just the second player in Southeastern Conference history to eclipse the 2,100-dig plateau for her career. She now needs 23 more digs to become the league’s all-time career digs leader.

The two teams battled evenly to begin the first set until Florida jumped ahead 9-5 after back-to-back kills by Murphy and Jaeckel. The Gators kept rolling, extending their advantage to 15-10 when Rivers and sophomore middle blocker Cassandra Anderson (Bakersfield, Calif.) recorded kills on consecutive plays. After a kill by the College of Charleston’s Jennifer Darty, Jaeckel notched back-to-back put downs to give the Gators a 17-11 lead. Three consecutive Florida kills with the Gators up 20-17, put UF in front 23-17. The Cougars rallied late in the set to cut within three, 23-20, but a Jaeckel kill closed out the 25-21 first-set victory.

Florida quickly leaped out to a 4-1 lead in the second set, capping off the run with a resounding block by Anderson and Rivers. The College of Charleston kept it close, but the Gators, leading 10-7, used a 5-0 run that included two service aces by Murphy to widen Florida’s lead to 15-7. The Gators kept rolling to a 21-12 lead after a Jaeckel kill and an Erin Fleming (Orlando, Fla.) aces on successive plays. Florida had no trouble in closing out the 25-17 win thanks to back-to-back kills by Ward and Rivers.

The Cougars staked to a 4-2 lead to start the third set before a kill by Rivers and an attack error from College of Charleston knotted the score at 4-4. Following another tie, a Cougar attack error and a Bledsoe put-down put Florida in front 7-5. With the Gators leading 9-7, two consecutive kills and a ball-handling error by Charleston’s Cole Dawley extended the Florida advantage to 12-7 heading into a timeout. With the Gators ahead 21-17, Florida scored four of the final five points of the match in a 25-18 victory.

The Cougars were led by Ginny Phillips’ team-high nine kills on .368 hitting with six digs.

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