Special report on the Florida Gators volleyball team:
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Find. A. Way. The mantra of the 2017 Florida volleyball team lives on, as the Gators erased a 19-12 deficit in a must-win fourth set, staved off a match point with three consecutive points, and climbed out of a 9-5 hole in the decisive fifth set to top 10th-seeded Southern California, 3-2, and clinch the eight NCAA Semifinals appearance in program history.
Florida is returning to the NCAA Semifinals for the first time since 2003, when it advanced to the NCAA Championship match. The Gators’ eight NCAA Semifinals appearances since 1991 are tied with USC for the fifth-most in the nation during that span.
The adrenaline-rush of a match lasted two hours and 32 minutes, making it the third-longest NCAA Tournament match in program history. And the 3,741 fans who took in the action were borderline deafening late in the fourth and fifth sets.
Fifth-year senior Shainah Joseph led the Gators with 15 kills. Three of those kills came with the Gators trailing 23-22 in the fourth set (and down 2-1 in the match). Joseph, now playing her natural position of right side after stints as a middle blocker and outside hitter earlier in her career, smashed the point of the match as well.
Three-time All-American middle blocker Rhamat Alhassan tallied 14 kills and hit .423, adding six blocks for a team-high 17 points. Alhassan combined with freshman outside hitter Paige Hammons for a block that broke a 24-24 tie in the riveting fourth set.
The Gators also got 11 kills apiece from two-time All-SEC outside hitter Carli Snyder and 2017 AVCA All-Southeast Region middle blocker Rachael Kramer. Snyder had just two kills and three errors on 31 swings (-.032) through the first three sets, but she battled back and tallied nine kills and one error on 29 swings (.276) in the fourth and fifth sets. The Macomb, Mich., native also delivered a rocket of a service ace to set the Gators up with match point, in addition to a whopping 18 digs and a career-high five blocks. Kramer hit a match-high .476 and recorded four block assists.
Two-time All-SEC libero Caroline Knop led UF’s back row with a match-high 23 digs.
Florida will face the winner of the Stanford-Texas match Thursday (Dec. 14) night in Kansas City, Mo. The Gators will play at either 7 p.m. or 9 p.m. ET. Continue to check FloridaGators.com for a finalized time and broadcast information.
· Florida is 7-1 against nationally-ranked teams this season, and all those matches were against top-20 opponents
· Florida improves to 23-6 as an overall top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament, including a 21-1 record at home
· Florida also improved to 55-7 in home NCAA Tournament matches
· Head coach Mary Wise is the 10th coach in Division I history to reach eight NCAA Semifinals, joining current Penn State coach Russ Rose (13), John Dunning (12), Andy Banachowski,(11), current USC coach Mick Haley (10), Don Shaw (10), current Texas coach Jerritt Elliott (nine), Dave Shoji (nine), and Brian Gimmillaro (eight), and current Nebraska coach John Cook (eight)
· Florida improved its all-time record against USC to 4-5, and the Gators are now 2-0 in the series in five-setters
· A five-set thriller at Texas in the 2015 NCAA Regional Championship (two hours, 38 minutes) and the five-set win over Florida State in the 2010 NCAA Second Round (two hours, 34 minutes) are the only NCAA Tournament matches in school history longer than Saturday night’s win