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Saturday, April 20, 2024

The Gators had the chance to end two records on Friday.

Senior libero Elyse Cusack did her part as she ended Arkansas’ Ashley Miller’s reign atop the digs list on her fourth scoop of the night to become the Southeastern Conference’s all-time digs leader.

But No. 14 Florida (25-6) could not snap Penn State’s historic run of 98 straight victories – the longest winning streak in NCAA Division I women’s sports history.

“We don’t talk about the streak at all. I don’t know the number and it doesn’t make a difference,” PSU coach Russ Rose said.

The No. 1 Nittany Lions (35-0) ended UF’s season and eliminated it from the NCAA tournament in dominating fashion 0-3 (12-25, 18-25, 21-25) on Friday to stretch their streak to 99 matches without a loss.

“We’ve played some great teams in the O’Connell Center,” coach Mary Wise said. “This is the best team to ever play in the O’Connell Center.”

Each time the Gators grabbed a little momentum on their home floor, PSU seemed to take it right back with a kill from its senior opposite hitter Megan Hodge.

“It was frustrating. But we expected them to come back, we weren’t expecting an easy win whatsoever,” sophomore Colleen Ward said.

UF had no answer for Hodge who finished with 20 kills and 10 digs.

On the other side, the Gators struggled to swing around the block. After owning the highest hitting efficiency (.424) of the NCAA tournament, they could only manage to swing at a rate of .189 against the Nittany Lions.

Sophomore outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel led UF in the kills department with nine.

“We were trying really hard not to get frustrated,” Ward said. “They had a huge block up so we had to swing high, and if you swing right into them you are going to get blocked.”

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PSU got off to a quick start as it used a 10-3 spurt to run away with a lopsided first set. But after that, the Gators were able keep it competitive.

In the final set UF was up 9-8, but again PSU used five kills from Hodge to take control of the final frame and win the match.

“You can practice it all you want during the week but you’re not quite used to the height that they play at or the speed that they play at,” Cusack said. “So after we got the first game under our belt we knew it was going to be a lot faster and we had to play a lot harder – and I think we did that in games two and three.”

The senior libero dug up 15 balls in her final match as a Gator en route to becoming the SEC digs leader.

In the end there was nothing UF could do to match the play of PSU – a team that many people believe is the best ever.

“There was nothing that PSU did that surprised us,” Wise said. “If you didn’t have to play against them, you have to sit back there and admire how talented they are.”


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