There was nothing seniors Rachael Kramer and Allie Gregory could do but watch the ball hit the hardwood, signaling the end of both the Gators’ season and their college careers.
Minnesota’s team stormed the court in celebration, while Kramer and Gregory had to solemnly enter the handshake line.
No. 10 Florida succumbed to the No. 7 Golden Gophers in five sets (23-25, 25-14, 16-25, 25-15, 15-11) in the regional semifinals on Friday night and was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament for the 29th year in a row.
It was a familiar script for the Gators, who had no problem handling the weaker teams on its regular-season schedule but failed to earn a signature win against a top-15 team. UF held its ground on Friday and carried a 2-1 advantage into the fourth set against a strong opponent for the third time this season.
But much like its previous two matches against now-No. 9 Kentucky, the Gators failed to finish off Minnesota and collapsed in the last two sets. Florida was outscored 40-26 in that span and hit just .220.
Florida was outhit, outblocked, and ultimately outgunned by Minnesota. The Gators struggled to defend the Gophers’ attack, which hit above .340 in four of the five sets. Four different Minnesota players hit double-digit kills, with outside hitter Alexa Hart leading with 16.
UF’s offense wasn’t nearly as prolific. While it hit a respectable .247 in the match, it came up dry when the Gators needed it the most. Up 1-0 in the match, Florida hit .000 in the second set before fading down the stretch.
Both Minnesota and Florida came into this match as teams that prided themselves on their block, as both were in the top 40 in blocks per set. But Minnesota dominated at the net, nearly doubling the Gators’ seven blocks with 13.
Kramer was one of UF’s few bright spots on offense in what would be her last match in a Florida uniform. She terrorized Minnesota’s defense with 15 kills on 33 attempts and just three errors. As for the Gators’ other seniors, Gregory recorded 10 digs, while fellow senior Chanelle Hargreaves had a service ace.
Outside hitter Thayer Hall, returning from injury but sporting a brace on her left knee, led the team in kills with 17 on 42 swings. However, she also committed seven attack errors.
It was a tough night overall for Florida’s three outside hitters in Hall, junior Paige Hammons and redshirt junior Mia Sokolowski. They combined to hit just .149 in the match with 18 errors.
The Gators’ loss will likely be seen as a missed opportunity for a program that has seemingly done everything but win a national championship. Closing out Minnesota would have created a matchup with unranked Louisville for a trip to the national semifinals.
Instead, it’s another year of what-ifs and should-have-beens.
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