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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Anderson leads UF's sweep over FAMU in first round of NCAA Tournament

Florida A&M came into the O'Connell Center focused on upsetting the No. 15 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament behind senior middle blocker Samara Ferraz.

Ferraz lived up her billing, recording a match-high 15 kills, but in the end it was a freshman for the Gators that made the difference in the 3-0 (25-20, 25-21, 25-15) victory against the Rattlers.

"Cassandra Anderson surprised us with a .909 hitting percentage," FAMU coach Tony Trifonov. "We weren't prepared for that."

UF's first-year middle blocker got hot early and finished the night with 10 kills on 11 swings while getting in on four blocks.

The 6-foot-1 Anderson had a field day with an undersized FAMU squad on her way to a career high in kills.

"Those numbers are pretty eye popping," UF coach Mary Wise said. "Cassandra has the ability to, and we haven't had many middles do it at her level as a freshman, and that is the ability to hit around the block. She can adjust her arm swing based on what the block takes, and that's not really taught."

Trifonov said his team was prepared for freshman setter Kelly Murphy and sophomore outside hitter Callie Rivers, but Anderson showed the Rattlers something they didn't see on game tape.

Behind Anderson's tremendous night, the Gators dominated on offense.

As a team, UF hit .451 and logged only seven attack errors. Combine that with aggressive serving, which resulted in seven aces, and it's a surprise FAMU was even able to stay in the game.

The first set was played point-for-point until the Gators closed it out with a 7-3 run.

The Rattlers fell behind 16-7 in the second set, but battled back and cut the lead to 20-18. UF would eventually hold on after watching its cushion disappear, and in the third set FAMU's eight-player rotation became too fatigued to hold off a talented UF team that goes 14 deep.

"This is the team that came the closest to taking a game away from Florida," said Trifonov, whose Rattlers have faced the Gators in the first round of the NCAA Tournament four times in the past eight years.

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Though Ferraz did her best to extend her college career, the next most impressive thing about FAMU was the band, which earned applause from the UF faithful after playing during timeouts.

"She's a pretty unique player," junior libero Elyse Cusack said of Ferraz. "She has a great arm swing. Something we don't really see is a high ball in the middle too often, and this week we've been trying to time our block, but she still kind of got the best of us. I, unfortunately, was not able to dig her like we wanted to."

As expected, UF advances to Saturday's second round to take on Colorado State for the second time this season. The rams dusted the Gators 3-0 in Fort Collins, dominating at the net on their way to a 12-2 blocking advantage.

"In this case we get good news and bad news," Wise said. "The good news is we're familiar with Colorado State. The bad news is we're playing Colorado State, a team that obviously had its way with us the first time."

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