The UF volleyball team lost only its second match of the season Saturday night, but it lost something much more important toward the end of game three.
With the Gators down 32-31 to Long Beach State, senior outside hitter Marcie Hampton landed awkwardly on her left foot and had to be helped off the court by teammate Kisya Killingsworth.
In her post-match radio interview, UF coach Mary Wise said Hampton ruptured her Achilles tendon and is done for the season.
BIt?s a ruptured Achilles and she?s done,C Wise said. BIt is a tough loss. She is a key player on our team, she and Angie (McGinnis). To play without either one of them would be a real challenge.C
Without Hampton, the No. 8 Gators (27-2, 19-1 Southeastern Conference) seemed helpless against the 49ers in game four and eventually lost the regular-season finale in five games, 3-2 (26-30, 30-22, 38-36, 20-30, 18-20).
It was easily the most thrilling match of the season. The tension in the arena was palpable, but the match had a morose tone cast over it after Hampton left the floor.
BThe sad part is we didn?t just lose the match, we lost Marcie for the year,C Wise said.
With all the momentum going against them after the fourth game, the Gators still managed to come out and play well in game five.
Hampton emerged from the locker room with a boot on her left foot as UF led 8-6. She was cheering and offering advice from the bench.
The Gators were ahead by as much as 13-10 after a double block, but Long Beach got three consecutive points to tie the game.
The teams traded points after that and were tied at 18 when the 49ers got a kill and a UF attack error to end the match.
Wise stressed how proud she was of her team?s performance in its toughest contest of the year.
BI can?t tell you enough about how proud I am of our players,C Wise said. BThe way they fought all the way through, it was as gutty a performance as we?ve had.C
After Hampton?s injury in game three, UF stayed with Long Beach point for point, and the teams tied at 36. Killingsworth spiked the ball to the floor and the Gators had a double block to end the game, which was the longest of the Gators? season.
With Hampton out for the season, UF knows it will have to make numerous changes to its strategies.
Wise said it?s going to be a large rebuilding effort without the team?s best offensive player.
BNow we?re going to have to totally redo the playbook, and we have to start at ground zero knowing we won?t have Marcie,C Wise said.
The timing could not have been much worse for the Gators, who were awarded the No. 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday night.
On Thursday, UF will open the tournament against College of Charleston (26-7) in Gainesville.
Should they defeat the Cougars, the Gators will move on to face the winner of the Florida A&M-Oklahoma matchup.
Without their best attacker, however, the opening rounds of the tournament will be harder than expected.
Hampton leads the team in kills, kills per game and total attacks, and she also broke the UF record for career attacks earlier in the season. She was named first-team All-SEC on Tuesday.
UF won its match the previous day against Yale 3-1 (27-30, 30-23, 30-17, 30-18) despite losing the first game and playing poorly to start the second.
-A radio broadcast contributed to this report.