Florida falls to Texas in NCAA Tournament
The 14th-seeded Florida volleyball team (27-5, 19-1 SEC) saw its magical season come to an end, as the Gators fell in three to the host Texas Longhorns, 25-22, 26-24, 25-17. The Gators finish the season as the 2012 Southeastern Conference Champions and advanced to their 21st regional semifinal in 22 seasons.
SEC Player of the Year Chloe Mann (Gainesville, Fla.) hit .500 with 14 kills on 22 swings, adding a team-high three blocks for a match-high 16.0 points. AVCA South Region and SEC Freshman of the Year Živa Recek (Kočevje, Slovenia) contributed 11 kills against the Longhorns, while senior Tangerine Wiggs (Seattle, Wash.) and freshman Gabby Mallette (Orange Park, Fla.) each recorded six.
“Hats off to Texas for as well as they played once again,” Florida head coach Mary Wise said. “This is similar to what they did earlier in the season where they were able to make plays at the end of each set, especially in set two. We did not serve particularly well and they served very well. Offensively, we were right there. Chloe Mann showed at least the Texas fans that this is a First Team All-American.”
Florida outhit Texas in the first two stanzas, registering hitting percentages of .289 and .220 in the first and second frames. The key for Texas was serving and blocking on Friday, as the Longhorns registered five service aces to the Gators’ zero. At the net, UT stuffed 10.5 team blocks, led by freshman middle blocker Molly McCage.
There was no stopping UT’s Bailey Webster, who tallied 15 kills on the night with her ability to hit over, around and through any opponent block. The Gators keyed in on Big 12 Player of the Year and National Player of the Year candidate Haley Eckerman, who was held to a .185 offensive efficiency with nine kills. Sha’Dare McNeal was errorless for Texas, recording eight kills on 15 swings (.533).
“I thought we did such a good job defensively and we knew that for us to have a chance, we couldn’t have both of their outside hitters go off and Bailey [Webster] was phenomenal,” Wise commented. “But I think the heart and soul of that team, from what it appears on the outside, is [Sha’Dare] McNeal and she was pretty special today.”
Mann carried Florida in the opening frame, hitting .800 with eight errorless kills on 10 swings (.800). The Gators started the set off strong, jumping out to a 5-2 lead behind smart swings by Mann and Wiggs. The Longhorns went on a 5-1 run to lead Florida, 7-6. The teams traded side outs and the lead before the Gators edged out to a two-point advantage, 11-9, off a Texas attacking error. Florida extended its lead to three, 13-10, with a Recek kill to end a long rally but UT began to chip away at the UF lead, taking a slight 15-14 edge at the media timeout. Texas continued its streak, going on an 8-1 run after the Recek kill to lead 18-14.
The Gators cut the Longhorn lead to two, down 20-18, with a UT hitting error, but two quick points by Texas forced Florida’s second timeout of the set, down 22-18. Out of the timeout, Florida played inspired volleyball and a Mann smash on the UT free ball forced a Texas timeout, down 22-20. A Mann tip saved a UT set point, 24-22, but the Longhorns took the first set on a Webster kill, 25-22.
Florida leapt out to a 3-0 lead to start the second stanza behind the serve of Taylor Brauneis (Crystal Lake, Ill.) but UT didn’t let down, tying the set at 6-all. The teams traded side outs and the lead, with Florida taking a 10-9 lead off a Mann tip. A Brauneis dumped kill gave the Gators a 15-14 edge at the media timeout. Florida surged out of the media timeout stuffing three straight Texas attacks, Mann getting at least a share of all three, to lead 20-17. The Longhorns pulled within one of the Gator lead with a service ace, forcing a Florida timeout at 21-20. Texas tied the set at 21 but a Wiggs slam gave the Gators a 22-21 edge. The teams battled but kills from rookies Recek and Mallette set up set point for the Orange and Blue, 24-22. Texas pulled within one, 24-23, forcing a Florida timeout. The Longhorns stole the Gators’ thunder, scoring three straight to take the second stanza, 26-24.
The teams battled to open the third frame, with the Longhorns taking a 7-5 lead. UT extended their advantage to four, 10-6, forcing a Florida timeout. A Mallette kill briefly paused the Texas streak but UT scored two quick points to jump out ahead, 12-7. Another Mallette kill broke up the action but Texas surged to go ahead, 16-8. Florida took its final timeout, down 19-11, but three straight Gator attacking errors put the Longhorns just three points away from a regional final berth, 22-11. UF cut away a bit of the UT advantage courtesy of a Mann kill, forcing a Texas timeout after a UT hitting error, Florida down 23-16. The Longhorns used kills by Eckerman and Webster to take the set and the match, 25-17.
The Gators return 13 members of the 2012 roster for next season, including five starters. The future looks bright for Florida Volleyball, as UF welcomes three signees to next year’s freshman class as well as a healthy Noami Santos-Lamb (Carolina, Puerto Rico) back to the floor.
Courtesy of UF Communications
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