The BYU players set up a play with match point as the rowdy crowd’s rhythmic chant urged them on at the Smith Fieldhouse.
The devastating swing from outside hitter Roni Jones-Perry resulted in six Florida players helplessly diving after a ball they would never reach. The Gators sat staring at the grounded ball as the Cougars dog piled each other on the opposite side of the net.
The match is over. The season is over.
The UF volleyball team fell to fourth-seed BYU on Friday night in four sets 25-23, 13-25, 17-25, 19-25 in Provo, Utah. BYU will move on to the Regional Finals against fifth-seeded Texas.
Florida’s scrappy defense prevailed in the first set. Diving plays in the back row and more stuffing than a Thanksgiving turkey handed the Cougars just their fourth set loss at home all year. BYU’s offense, who came into the matchup ranked No. 1 in offensive efficiency (.319 hitting percentage), was held to a .070 clip in the opening set.
6-foot-8 Rachael Kramer and 6-foot-7 Holly Carlton stood even taller with six blocks between them along with four kills offensively. Carlton finished the contest with a team-high 16 kills on 29 swings.
The Gators had all the momentum, but in the second set, BYU returned with a vengeance.
“Their offense got going,” associate head coach Dave Boos said of the momentum swing after the match. “Honestly, we just didn’t make enough plays. It’s unfortunate because there were plays left out there that could have changed momentum back but we didn’t make enough.”
The Cougars hit for a .448 hitting percentage while holding UF to .033.
BYU outside hitter Lacy Haddock hit four big kills in the set to help her team tie the match. The deceptive offense run through setter Lyndie Haddock-Eppich put the Gators on their heels with attacks from all over the court and allowed the Cougars to go on an 8-1 run to put it out of reach for UF.
The Cougars’ offensive dominance continued into the third and fourth sets as Jones-Perry began to take over. The six-foot senior tallied 17 kills on the match, 10 of them coming in the final two sets, leading a BYU team that saw five players with eight or more kills by match’s end. She used her athleticism to jump over the tall block of the Gators, and they simply had no answers.
After a slow start, BYU finished the match with a .281 clip and four aces. With the raucous crowd behind them and a young Florida team making too many mistakes, the Cougars cruised to the four-set win.
But the Gators can stay optimistic as its top three scorers in Carlton, sophomore Paige Hammons and redshirt sophomore Mia Sokolowski -- who had eight kills on 17 swings in her rotational role -- will all be returning for the 2019 season.
“Mia’s performance in a tough situation was one of her best this season,” Boos said. “She came through, but it just couldn’t get us over the hump.”
The Gators will see the graduation of middle blocker Taelor Kellum, who was named to the All-SEC team after the regular season, and five-year setter Allie Monserez. After the match, Boos had nothing but praise for the seniors and all they gave the team this season.
“You have to thank the seniors for all they did here today,” he said. “This was an experience that our young players needed. This was really good volleyball here, and they came in big time. There was no tougher environment. BYU was great, and we learned so much.”
Follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter at @dyrudolph and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Holly Carlton had a team-high 16 kills on 29 swings in the Gators' loss to BYU.