The relentless hustle of Nebraska and a night riddled with miscues doomed Florida’s chances of winning its first NCAA title in program history, capping off what was otherwise a solid season for UF after reaching the Final Four for the first time since 2003.
The No. 5 Cornhuskers defeated the No. 2 Gators 3-1 in the national championship match on Saturday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.
Gators coach Mary Wise fell to 0-2 in NCAA title matches, having lost this year’s contest as well as in 2003 to the USC Trojans. Wise would have been the first female volleyball head coach to win an NCAA championship, and remains the only female to coach a team in the NCAA championship match.
“Congratulations to Nebraska,” Wise said in a release. “I thought they played a very clean match. But we look at this match, and this match will not define the 2017 Gators. That's a very, very well-coached team, very disciplined, that just took care of the ball exceptionally well tonight.”
Wise will be back next year, but the team’s senior class will not. Wise regularly praised the leadership of seniors Rhamat Alhassan, Carli Snyder, Shainah Joseph, Caroline Knop and Lindsey Rogers throughout the season.
Alhassan, a First Team All-American who led the country in blocks per set, ended her career fittingly — leading Florida with six blocks on Saturday. Snyder and Joseph, who notched 11 kills each against Nebraska, were Second Team All-Americans, while Knop, an All-America Honorable Mention, had 12 digs playing with a broken hand.
“There is so much to celebrate,” Wise said of her senior class.” Our world is in a good place with those five… That is one special group.”
UF showed some nerves early on, dropping a tight first set to Nebraska. Neither team hit the ball efficiently, but a 7-0 run midway through the frame gave the Cornhuskers an 18-15 lead. A 3-0 run later in the set then gave them a 25-22 advantage over the Gators.
Florida (30-2) was good at making adjustments throughout the season, holding a 5-1 record after dropping the first set, but against Nebraska (32-4), the struggles continued. None of UF’s leaders could spark a run to push through the constant harassment of Nebraska. Swing after swing by the Gators turned into empty possessions. Before they could get their feet set, Nebraska took a 3-0 lead and turned it into a 25-17 victory.
Wise took the 10-minute intermission to regroup her struggling team, and it showed in the third set. Alhassan and Snyder got back into a rhythm and the rest of the Gators followed suit, committing just two errors in the frame. A kill from Joseph gave UF its only set of the night, 25-18.
The momentum Florida gained in the third set was snatched right back in the fourth by Nebraska. An early 4-0 Cornhusker lead mushroomed into a 9-1 advantage fueled by six UF errors. The Gators’ best response — a 4-0 run to make the score 14-10 — wasn’t close to enough. Nebraska went on to score four of the last five points to win the set 25-16.
As heartbreaking a loss as it was, Alhassan said she’ll remember the season for more than just Saturday’s championship match.
“It's so hard to find a team that everyone likes each other, and I think that's what we had,” she said in a release. “That’s why we enjoyed it so much.”