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Saturday, April 13, 2024

For the last week, the Gators have had to hold it in.

But it didn't take long for them to finally release their feelings.

"Right now, it's all about Penn State," senior Elyse Cusack said after Florida's second-round match.

No. 14 Florida (25-5, 16-4 Southeastern Conference) did its part in advancing to the inevitable third-round matchup against the No. 1 Nittany Lions (33-0) with a sweep of a shorthanded FIU 3-0 (25-22, 25-15, 25-16) in the O'Connell Center on Friday.

The Gators clinched their spot in the showdown in large part because of their 12 blocks. They racked up 11 more than FIU (32-4), which is the largest blocking margin of the season for UF.

"We know that the teams that have had any success against FIU blocked balls," coach Mary Wise said. "When we didn't block balls early on, we were a little concerned."

After recording only two blocks in the first set, the Gators exploded with 10 in the final two sets.

Sophomore middle blocker Cassandra Anderson led the effort with four and a half blocks along with nine kills.

Four UF hitters, including Anderson, finished with at least one block.

"The longer the match went on, we adjusted more," Anderson said. "We saw where they were hitting, and the more the match went on that just helped us figure out where we needed to put the block."

A 7-0 run by the Gators to grab the second set along with an injury that kept FIU's best hitter, senior Yarimar Rosa, out for the third frame broke the back of the Golden Panthers.

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Rosa was on the bench crying for most of the third set as an injured left shin did not allow her to finish the match.

"I know deep down there is an asterisk, and that is Rosa," Wise said. "If she is 100 percent healthy, she is one of the most dynamic outside hitters."

But in the end, UF won its 25th match of the year for an NCAA-best 19th straight season.

Now, Penn State just needs a victory over Penn on Saturday to advance to the third round and earn a meeting with the Gators.

 

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