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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Not much has changed in the last two years.

In 2007, Florida swept College of Charleston in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

On Thursday the No. 14 Gators (24-5, 16-4 Southeastern Conference) did it again as they dominated the Cougars 3-0 (25-21, 25-17, 25-18) in the O’Connell Center to open the postseason.

But the home-court advantage wasn’t quite the one UF was used to.

The NCAA enforces rules that help make the venues an even playing field during the postseason.

“There is a different feeling in the O’Connell Center during the tournament,” coach Mary Wise said. “It becomes more of a neutral environment, and I’m not sure we played quite with the emotion we needed to generate without the P.A., the light show and all of those things.”

However, the Gators still showed no postseason nerves as they stormed out to an early 5-1 lead.

They never trailed in the first set thanks to the play of sophomores Kristy Jaeckel and Colleen Ward, who each had five kills each in the opening frame.

“There was only one ball where (Ward) hit out of bounds when I thought she made a bad decision,” Wise said.

“When we started this season, we would have been thrilled if it was one per game, and so what we are seeing is the maturing process of Colleen as a hitter.”

Ward finished with 14 kills to help lead the team to a .476 hitting efficiency, the highest percentage the Gators have ever hit in the NCAA Tournament.

“I thought our passing was great tonight, and it allowed us to get the ball to a bunch of different people,” sophomore setter Kelly Murphy said.

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“We just stayed patient and made really smart decisions with our hitting.”

Wise decided to use the one-setter offense Thursday, which worked successfully again.

Murphy dished out 31 assists and kept the defense off balance with seven kills.

College of Charleston’s outside hitter Katie Robinson, who went to Oak Hall High School in Gainesville, did not enjoy her homecoming as much as she would have liked.

 “I was pretty nervous,” Robinson said. “I knew that a ton of people were going to be here but I just tried to block that out of my mind.”

She finished with a -.286 hitting efficiency in the loss to the Gators.

Before UF’s match, FIU (32-3) outlasted Miami (18-13) in a five-set thriller 3-2 (25-16, 20-25, 22-25, 27-25, 15-11).

Now the Gators will move on to host the Golden Panthers in the second round tonight at 7 p.m.

“FIU is a really tough matchup for us,” Wise said. “I think they will be one of the best second-round opponents we have ever faced at home.”

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