All good things must come to an end.
Despite their best efforts, the No. 16-seeded Florida Gators volleyball team (22-9, 14-4 SEC) fell to the undefeated No. 1 Louisville Cardinals (31-0, 18-0 ACC) Thursday afternoon in Louisville, Kentucky. The Cardinals swept the Gators (25-16, 25-22, 25-12) to advance to the Elite 8 and claim their 31st win of the season.
“Just so impressed with this team,” Louisville head coach Dani Busboom Kelly said after the match. “I’ve been impressed all year but continued to be impressed just with our poise and mindset and confidence.”
Louisville dominated Florida in every aspect of the match. The Cardinals ended with a .341 hitting percentage, 43 kills and 38 assists compared to the Gators .081, 30 kills and 28 assists.
The Gators needed to come out strong in the opening set against this No. 1 team, and that’s exactly what they did. A Louisville attack error along with kills by Hall, her first of seven, and setter Marlie Monserez shot the Gators to a 3-0 lead.
Louisville is undefeated for a reason, though. The Cardinals fired out eight straight points, half of which came from UF attack errors. It was a back-and-forth battle with Florida fighting to close the scoring gap.
The Gators began to chip away at that deficit with two kills from outside hitter Sofia Victoria, who led the Gators with 13 for the afternoon, and a Monserez kill, now down 19-13.
Even with a kill from middle blocker Bre Kelley along with a Monserez ace, the Cardinals ended set one on a four-point run, 25-16. Florida gave easy points to Louisville, recording 10 costly attack errors in the first set alone. The Cardinals dominated with a .400 hitting percentage while the Gators could only muster .029.
The Gators kept an even pace with Louisville in set two. As they did in the first, however, the Cardinals jumped ahead on a 7-2 run following kills by middle blocker Amaya Tillman (2), opposite hitter Aiko Jones (2) and outside hitter Anna DeBeer at 14-10.
After a kill by UF outside hitter Merritt Beason, Florida scored another huge point with a crushing Hall kill, igniting Florida’s momentum. Two Cardinals attack errors tied the set back to 14 apiece.
Beason and Hall slammed down one kill each before another Louisville attack error left Florida up 20-17.
The Cardinals crept up on the Gators lead with kills by Jones and outside hitter Claire Chaussee before Florida head coach Mary Wise called a timeout at 21-20. A Victoria kill gave UF a good two-point stretch, but Florida couldn’t maintain its lead. The Cardinals followed with five consecutive points to take set two, 25-22.
The Cardinals kept their streak from the previous set going with a Chaussee kill, an ace by setter Tori Dilfer and two Gators attack errors at 4-1. Florida struggled to produce any consistent runs, only scoring between Louisville’s stretches.
An 11-3 run left Florida in the dust, and a kill by middle blocker Anna Stevenson sealed Louisville's sweep over the Gators and a spot in the Elite 8. The Cardinals swarmed the court, hugging and jumping on one another to celebrate their 31st win of their undefeated, historical season.
“I thought [Louisville] played a very clean match, and certainly their offense was significantly better than our offense today,” Wise said after the match.
A Cardinals win closes the season for the Gators. Monserez and Hall both spoke on their journeys with this program as their collegiate careers came to a close.
“I think playing for Mary has always been a dream of mine,” Monserez said. “I’ve loved every minute I’ve played for this program, and I’m so grateful for all the people that Mary’s surrounded us with.”
Hall said she committed to the Florida program when she was 14 years old, and she made lots of goals for her collegiate career. While not all of the tangible goals were checked off on paper, she said the goals you can’t see are the ones she will take with her for the rest of her life.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything more in my time here in this program,” Hall said.
With five seniors leaving the team this season, players like Beason, Victoria, Kelley and libero Elli McKissock hold a promising future for what could be in 2022.
Contact Kaitlyn Wadulack at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @kwadulack.