There was a moment of hesitation from the crowd at the O’Connell Center on Friday when Shainah Joseph struck the game-winning kill against Miami.
As soon as the ball landed on the opposite side of the net, barely in bounds, Joseph raised both arms in the air with a look of pure joy on her face, knowing she had just helped her team advance to the Sweet 16.
An intense rally and scrappy defensive plays left Shainah Joseph alone on the right side early in the fourth set.
But the road to the Final Four only gets more difficult as the No. 2 seed Gators (27-1, 17-1 SEC) could face two top-15 teams in regionals this weekend.
Florida takes on No. 15 seed UCLA in the O’Connell Center on Friday at 4 p.m., which is followed by the matchup between No. 7 seed Minnesota and No. 10 seed Southern California at 6 p.m.
UF’s region is the only one with four national seeds remaining in the tournament, upping the competition the Gators will face this weekend.
After securing their second NCAA Tournament win in a four-set match against Miami, the Gators are proving they have the motivation to advance in the tournament.
Joseph helped make this journey for the Gators a little easier with her powerful impact on a dominating offense.
Joseph, named an All-SEC player for the first time in her career in November, boasts a .368 hitting percentage, notching 248 kills out of 543 total attacks over the season.
While Joseph isn’t the team’s leader in hitting percentage, kills or total attacks, she has a presence on the court that has helped the Gators in their recent matches.
In Friday’s contest against the Hurricanes, Joseph finished the night with 19 kills and just two errors on 33 total attacks — the third time in the last six matches she finished with at least 19 kills.
Joseph helped Florida clinch the win against Miami by scoring the Gators’ last two points of the match with two swings that left Miami’s defense in disarray.
The night before, Joseph notched nine kills and one block in a 3-0 sweep against Alabama State, the Gators’ first-round match in the NCAA Tournament.
The Ontario native’s impact hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Before the tournament, senior Carli Snyder said Joseph plays a key part in the Gators’ offense, especially since Florida’s loss to Kentucky on Oct. 15, its only loss this season.
“She’s crucial to that run that we’ve had and she is a huge piece of our offense,” Snyder said.
Snyder added that Joseph’s physicality and efficiency at the right side has been an asset to the Gators during their 13-game winning streak.
While Joseph’s hard work has helped the team get to the regional round of the NCAA tournament, she knows the team has some things to improve on as it goes deeper into the bracket.
“We haven’t peaked yet,” she said. “We will always have some things to work on.”
You can follow Mari Faiello on Twitter @faiello_mari, and contact her at email@example.com.