An intense rally and scrappy defensive plays left Shainah Joseph alone on the right side early in the fourth set.
After tagging a hard-driven hit with a single hand on the block, she transitioned back to make the kill, further establishing her pivotal role in No. 2 seed Florida’s 3-1 (25-14, 19-25, 25-11, 25-23) over Miami in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“We don’t win that match if we didn’t play as well as we did,” coach Mary Wise said.
A match full of long and aggressive rallies left the Gators fighting throughout.
ACC player of the year Olga Strantzali was a tough weapon for the Hurricanes, scoring a match-high 20 kills in 41 attempts throughout the match.
“Miami has…one of the most elite left sides we have seen in years,” Wise said. “It’s our first opportunity to see Olga play and she is the real deal.”
The Gators were able to establish a strong lead and shut down Strantzali’s offense by creating opportunities for pin hitters and middle blockers throughout the match.
Up 14-6 in the first set, the Gators used multiple kills from Carli Snyder and Rhamat Alhassan to create the spark they needed to close out the first set with an easy win.
While the Gators has 12 kills and one error in the opening frame, it wasn’t enough to hold off the Hurricanes in the second set.
Strantzali came out blazing with 9 kills, and Florida struggled to manipulate its defense enough to slow her down and turnaround points offensively.
Miami also found some success by targeting Snyder on serve receive and defense, often making it more difficult for her to have a primary role in the offense.
A multitude of errors and Strantzali’s powerful swing ended up being Florida’s demise in the second set as Miami earned the set win.
As the match continued into the third set, the Gators found their rhythm focusing on the adjustments needed to come away with the victory.
“The little details win these matches and it made a difference in knowing what we were doing in our system,” Snyder said.
Joseph’s 19 kills helped Florida refocus on its game, two of those kills marking the final two points of the match.
“The more hot I was getting, the more trust (Allie Monserez) had in me and she was just chucking balls out there and I was working with it,” Joseph said.
The fourth set proved to be the most difficult for both teams. Joseph and Strantzali were both hot hitters for their respective teams, raising the intensity and the stakes in the O’Connell Center as a spot in was on the line
The Gators and the Hurricanes went point for point. In the fourth set, there were 11 ties compared to a previous match-high of three in earlier frames.
Alhassan and Rachael Kramer were highly effective middle blockers, together collecting eight kills in the fourth set, helping the Gators take a match win against the Hurricanes.
Sophomore Morgyn Greer had her first career start tonight against the Hurricanes while freshman outside hitter Paige Hammons also played a key role in the match tonight, achieving a career-high 18 digs for the Gator defense.
The Gators finished with a .366 hitting percentage for the night, marking its third-highest of the season. Alhassan, Snyder and Kramer had a perfect attacking night, each with zero errors on a collective 64 swings.
The Gators will host the NCAA Regionals at the O’Connell Center next weekend, Dec. 8-9.
Florida will take advantage of the week to rest and prepare for the tough road ahead, including a potential matchup against No. 15-seeded UCLA.
“All of the stars lined up for this senior group…,” Wise said. “Now, the goal is to just take advantage of it against whoever we play on Friday night.”
You can follow Mari Faiello on Twitter @faiello_mari, and contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.