The question was whether Florida’s volleyball team could withstand the loss of one of its best players. Turns out, the Gators did just fine without Marcie Hampton Thursday, defeating the College of Charleston, 3-0, in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Florida (28-2) will face Oklahoma, a 3-1 winner over Florida A&M, at 7 p.m. Friday at the O’Connell Center. The winner advances to regional play, a destination the Gators had planned on, at least until Hampton sustained a ruptured Achilles last weekend at Long Beach State. That injury ended the season for the All-Southeastern Conference outside hitter.
Hampton’s teammates, however, are far from done. Collectively, the Gators played well in the first postseason match of 2007, fending off rallies from the stingy Cougars in games one and two before rolling in game three.
“Honestly, the ideal thing would be that we still have Marcie, or that we’d have more preparation,” Florida coach Mary Wise said. “It has been a full-speed sprint in terms of working on the lineup, the offense and passing patterns with little opportunity spent on the opponents, but that’s just the way it is.
“It wasn’t as much tonight (against College of Charleston) as it was against Long Beach State that this team saw how hard they could compete (without Hampton). There were numerous times that we missed Marcie. One player’s not going to make up for all the points she scored, but it’s going to be a combination (of players).”
Florida got 18 kills and 11 digs from freshman outside hitter Callie Rivers, 54 assists from senior setter Angie McGinnis and 16 kills from senior Amber McCray. In all, the 10th-ranked Gators totaled 64 kills, 26 more than the Cougars, who finished the season 26-8.
“Eighteen kills in forty swings, she more than answered the call,” Wise said of Rivers. “Anytime, you get a double-double in an NCAA match, that’s a big-time performance.”
Florida won 30-22, 30-28, 30-14. The turning point was game two. Charleston led by four points several times and appeared in control before Florida closed strong with consecutive kills from Kelsey Bowers and a well-placed tip from freshman Lauren Bledsoe at match point.
“I’m proud of my team,” College of Charleston coach Jason Kepner said. “We did exactly what we wanted to do the first two games. We executed what we wanted to do. We couldn’t pull that second game out, but Florida did a great job of keeping pressure on us most of the match. Then the third game, they came out strong and we were a little under gunned, undersized.”
Hampton had averaged more than four kills a game this season, but Florida compensated with an array of weapons. Kisya Killingsworth contributed 13 kills and four digs. Bowers smacked eight kills; and Bledsoe, who started in place of Hampton, had five kills. Elyse Cusack, the squad’s star libero, collected a game-high 24 digs.
No Charleston player contributed double-digit kills. Deanna Patrick had eight. Tiffany Blum and Emily Sawin contributed seven apiece.
“The close scores, particularly in games one and two were indicative of how well College of Charleston played,” Wise said. “Usually when you have a 30-point game, you can expect to have a team to give you between seven and 10 points in unforced errors. In game one, College of Charleston had given us one. In game two, they had only given away four. They were very well- disciplined.”