FINAL: FLORIDA 3, USC 2
GAINESVILLE, FL- How to sum up Florida’s victory over Southern California to advance to the Final Four? Two words come to mind, improbable and unbelievable. In the third longest match in NCAA Tournament history, the almost four thousand fans that attended were treated to an unlikely comeback.
Florida trailed USC 19-12 in a must-win fourth set, and found themselves down 8-4 and 9-5 in the fifth and final set before Florida’s senior leadership could take control. As Florida took the fourth set, the Exactech Arena crowd erupted. Just a short time later, after Shainah Joseph killed the final point, the crowd hit an even higher decibel.
Florida topped USC in a back and forth first set. The Gators outhit the Trojans .310 to .225, and finished with 17 kills on 42 attacks. USC was forced into six errors on 40 swings while landing 15 kills.
The Gators got behind in set two, and never seemed to get in a rhythm. USC finished with 17 kills and 7 attack errors on 38 total attacks. Florida finished with only 11 kills, though only committed one error. Every time Florida went on an attack, it seemed directed right at a Trojan defender.
After the ten minute halftime session, Florida seemed to play much the same way. Attacks failed to land on the court and the Gators hitting efficiency was only at .086. Florida landed only nine kills but made six errors. USC hit .250 with 12 kills and four errors on 32 attempts.
Set four was one of the wildest in recent Gators history. Florida found themselves behind early and often. Florida took their final timeout of the set trailing 21-18, and quickly scored the next three points to erase the deficit. The Gators faced match point down 24-23, but Joseph earned three straight kills for the victory in the set.
Set five saw a seesaw of emotions from Florida fans. The Gators trailed 8-4 when the teams switched sides. A quick point for the Trojans made it 9-5, but Florida rattled off the next three points to get within one point. Florida would score seven of the final nine points to finish off USC.
Florida earned the victory largely behind the play of their senior leadership. Joseph led Florida with 15 kills, many in clutch moments with the game on the line. SEC Player of the Year Rhamat Alhassan finished with 14 kills while hitting .423. Alhassan also contributed six blocks playing inside. Snyder and (sophomore) Rachael Kramer finished with 11 kills. Snyder played an important role in the comeback as she had only two kills and three errors on 31 swings in the first three sets for a -.032 efficiency.
Florida advances to their eighth Final Four in program history, but their first since 2003. Florida will face Stanford in Kansas City on Thursday at 9:00 PM. The Final Four features the #1, #2, #3, and #5 overall seeds. The winner of #2 Florida and #3 Stanford will face the winner of #1 Penn State and #5 Nebraska.
Florida head coach Mary Wise looks to become the first female head coach to win a Division-I Volleyball National Championship. In 36 years no female head coach has accomplished this feat.