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Saturday, January 28, 2023

The match had been over for more than 20 minutes, but Lauren Bledsoe's heart was still beating rapidly.

"It's high up there," Bledsoe said of her heart rate. "It's really cool though. I love the feeling."

What's not to love?

The freshman middle blocker sent the UF volleyball team to the Sweet 16 for the 16th time in 17 years with a left-side kill in overtime of game three.

UF came from behind in all three games of its second-round sweep of Oklahoma on Friday night (30-24, 30-24, 36-34) to advance to the regional round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Gators will play Texas this Friday in Gainesville at 7 p.m.

UF was down 28-24 in a thrilling game three but scored four straight points behind Bledsoe's service run.

"We asked Lauren to go back and serve, and understand, I'm not sure we've seen Lauren serve five in a row in practice," UF coach Mary Wise said.

Bledsoe met the challenge and saved the Gators from having to go to a game four.

"I was definitely feeling the pressure, definitely," Bledsoe said. "Going back there I just knew I had to take a couple deep breaths, get it over the net, confident that our team can definitely come back."

Also out of place in the back row was senior opposite hitter Amber McCray, who served twice with the game tied at 31 and ran around the court to dig balls she would not normally be able to reach while in the front row.

"Amber has not played back row in a long time, not in practice, not in matches," Wise said. "She would have gone into the stands to save that ball."

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The home crowd also helped drive UF's comeback. The fans lived and died with each point in the extra part of game three, and Wise loved seeing her team step up at home.

"Game three was as great a performance as we've had on the O'Connell Center floor," she said.

Bledsoe's match-winning kill was her 12th on the night, a career high. Three other Gators - McCray, freshman Callie Rivers and junior Kelsey Bowers - also had at least 10 kills in the match.

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