ORLANDO, Fla. — In its first-ever NCAA Division I tournament match, the FGCU volleyball team (27-6) knocked off 13th-seeded UCF (27-4), 17-25, 25-22, 25-23, 14-25, 15-7, in the first round on Thursday.
The Eagles will now face AVCA No. 16 Florida (25-6) at 7 p.m. on Friday at The Venue on UCF's campus for a trip to the round of 16. The only meeting between the two teams came on Aug. 25, 2012, with the Gators picking up a straight-set win on their home court.
"I've said all season there's been nothing more rewarding than watching the emotions of our players when we've done something like this," FGCU head coach Matt Botsford said. "Obviously we haven't done something like this before, but winning the conference championship for the first time, now going through this experience. It's just special for me to see that. I'm ecstatic, really pleased with the way we performed and the way we gutted it out. It was obviously a very close match, but in that fifth set, they were aggressive and did everything we asked them to do."
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The victory represented several milestones for the Green and Blue. UCF, playing on its home court, entered the match ranked No. 21 in the latest AVCA rankings and No. 10 in the RPI, which means FGCU picked up the program's first win over a ranked team in its 13th try. It also extended the team's winning streak to a Division I-era record 16 straight, while snapping UCF's streak at 24. On top of that, the team's 27 wins ties the 2016 team for the most wins in a single-season in the Division I era.
Offensively, FGCU was led by Cortney VanLiew, who had 25 kills, 12 digs, two block assists and one ace, while Snowy Burnam produced 15 kills and a career-high 26 digs. Meanwhile, three others also tallied double-doubles: Maggie Rick had a team-high 27 assists along with 11 digs and four kills, Dana Axner had a game-high 29 digs and a career-high 11 assists, and Chelsey Lockey (Eaton, Colo./Eaton HS) had 18 assists and 12 digs. Outside of those five, Giovanna Borgiotti had seven kills, while Daniele Serrano (Sanford, Fla./Seminole HS) and Sharonda Pickering each produced four blocks. Tori Morris (Virginia Beach, Va./Floyd E. Kellam HS) chipped in three blocks.
"It's a bit of a whirlwind in there right now," Rick said of her thoughts after the match. "We're just so excited. We had a lot of goals for this season, and we had a lot of expectations. We knew we were going to be good. The fact that, especially in my senior year, we have been able to go out and do things that this program has never done is indescribable. It's an incredible experience."
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With her offensive production, VanLiew (Seymour, Ind./Columbus East HS) has now recorded 470 kills this year, which is second all-time and 16 shy of breaking Amanda Carroll's (Albuquerque, N.M./Sandia HS) single-season program record of 485 set in 2016. Her 25 kills is tied for the ninth-most in a match and her 79 attack attempts is her second-most of the season (80 vs West Virginia, Sept. 8) and the third-most in a match all-time (Ana Kokanovic, 85, Nov. 1, 2008).
Meanwhile, Axner (Dublin, Ohio/Dublin Coffman HS) broke the program's single season digs record with her 607th and final one of the match, surpassing Whitney Hendry's 606 from 2005, which occurred in the program's Division II era. Her total also has the freshman 14th in career digs just 33 matches into her career. Her double-double was a career-first.
In the opening set, UCF jumped out to a 10-4 lead, pushed it to as many as eight and never trailed to take the lead. FGCU responded by scoring the first three points of the next set, punctuated by a kill from VanLiew. The lead grew to eight 13 points later, although UCF trimmed the deficit to 19-17 late in the set. Borgiotti (Vienna, Va./George C. Marshall HS) answered with a kill to spur a 3-0 run. VanLiew and Burnam (Palm City, Fla./Jensen Beach HS) added two kills late before Pickering (Sea Cow's Bay, Tortola, British Virgin Islands) evened the match with a right-side kill.
The momentum continued in the third set for the Green and Blue as they scored three of the first four points. UCF bounced back to take a 6-4 lead, but a free-ball kill from Axner spurred a 4-0 run as the Eagles took a 10-7 lead. The Knights rallied to tie it at 11, but VanLiew, Pickering and Burnam each recorded kills during a 7-0 run. UCF rallied to even it up at 22 apiece, but VanLiew responded with a kill, followed by a UCF ball-handling error. Rick (Alpharetta, Ga./Blessed Trinity Catholic HS) then ended the set with a dump kill to give FGCU a 2-1 lead.
In the fourth set, UCF scored the first three points, led by as many as 10 and never trailed en route to forcing a deciding set. FGCU scored four of the first six points in the fifth and reeled off four straight moments later, highlighted by three kills from VanLiew, to take an 8-3 lead into the side switch and media timeout.
Burnam added another kill to make it 10-5. A successful attack from Borgiotti, followed by back-to-back attack errors from UCF, made it 13-6. The Green and Blue then got another kill from Burnam before capturing the match on an attack error by the Knights.
Interestingly, UCF's last loss came on Sept. 2 in a four-set decision on the road to then No. 4 Florida.
The second-set victory for FGCU represented the ASUN's first NCAA Tournament set win since Jacksonville took a set from Florida in 2013. The victory was the conference's first since UCF defeated Cincinnati in five sets in 2003 when the Knights were a member of the ASUN. The Eagles are now the only current ASUN school with an NCAA Tournament victory.