2017 NCAA TOURNAMENT – GAINESVILLE REGIONAL
How they got here:
- #2 Florida swept Alabama State, defeated Miami (FL) 3-1 and downed #15 UCLA in four sets
- #10 USC took care of Central Arkansas 3-1, defeated San Diego 3-2 and swept #7 Minnesota
#2 FLORIDA DEF. #10 USC 3-2 (25-23, 20-25, 18-25, 26-24, 15-11)
- #2 Florida improves to 29-1; #10 USC falls to 25-10
- Attendance: 3,741
- Box Score
Adversity was the key word for this match. Both teams faced it and both responded well. The only difference was #2 Florida came away with the biggest comeback and survived #10 USC in five sets by turning things around late in the fourth and fifth set. While it felt like a match that no one should lose, the season comes to a close for USC while Florida advances to their first Final Four in 14 years.
Early on it was all about the scrappy defense of USC, their strong serve and perfect execution of defense against Florida senior Carli Snyder. Reni Meyer-Whalley (32 assists, 21 digs, four aces) was a perfect indication of it all for the Trojans. Amazingly though, USC lost the match even though they had 11 aces to Florida’s two on one less serving error. That switched late with the Gators still struggling in serve reception at times, but their block and ability to establish Snyder late turned out to be the difference.
The lead was non-committal in the first set as 17 ties and six lead changes occurred in the opener. It seemed impossible for one team to gain traction but finally USC had its largest first set lead at 16-14 after a Brooke Botkin (13 kills) kill. Three straight from Florida quickly changed that though as things steadied to a 23-23 tie. Cheyenne Huskey (18 assists, three kills, three blocks) gave Florida the next point before Shainah Joseph (15 kills, .317, four digs) ended the set with a kill at 25-23.
The second started with the same trend, but USC took advantage of some Florida errors to pull ahead at 11-8 off an 8-1 run. Brittany Abercrombie (14 kills, five digs) starred in the set with five kills while Khalia Lanier (26 kills, .383, 15 digs) continued her strong tournament play. The Trojans did have to overcome a late Florida push, but won three of the last four to take the set 25-20.
The duo continued their strong play in the third, as Florida couldn’t spark the home crowd with USC jumping ahead 15-9. That continued to the final point in the game, with Abercrombie laying down the final kill at 25-18. While the second was more about the USC serve and attack, the third was about USC’s defense holding Florida to a .086 mark as that scrappy defense was led by Meyer-Whalley and libero Victoria Garrick (22 digs, two aces).
Coming into the fourth, Florida had established the two middles in Rhamat Alhassan (14 kills, .423, six blocks) and Rachael Kramer (11 kills, .476, four blocks), but their attack leader Carli Snyder (11 kills, 18 digs, five blocks) had just two kills and was hitting -.032. The senior was the perfect image of turning things around for the Gators and went on to net nine kills in the final two sets.
Still with Snyder’s contributions, Florida trailed 15-13 at the media timeout. That’s when Shainah Joseph logged two kills and a solo block to give the Gators a 16-15 edge. USC responded though and at one point got four straight kills from Lanier to pull ahead 21-18. That held to 24-23 after a Niki Withers (10 kills, four digs) kill, but Joseph tied it at 24 before Paige Hammons (nine digs) and Alhassan got a block for the 25-24 lead. The next point featured an incredibly long rally, but Joseph once again was there for the crucial point to force a fifth.
Forget about a momentum boost heading into the fifth though as USC took the first three in the set. After Florida encroached on the lead at 4-3, the Trojans utilized another small run by taking four of five – with three points coming on Lanier kills for an 8-4 edge at the switch. After an exchange of points to make it 9-5, the Gators made their last stand with six unanswered – including two Snyder kills and block. That switched the lead, which they only added to as the crowd and momentum mashed together for an overall 10-2 run for the Gators to end things.
Never. Give. Up.
See you in Kansas City!!! (And how about that crowd?!?) pic.twitter.com/gjg1rpyIrF
— Gators Volleyball (@GatorsVB) December 10, 2017
In total for the match, Florida hit .277 compared to USC’s .226 with the Trojans logging more digs (86-79) and aces (11-2) while the Gators had more blocks (12-7).
Besides the aforementioned names, Cindy Marina (24 assists, nine digs, two aces) for USC as well as Allie Monserez (34 assists, 11 digs) and Caroline Knop (23 digs, five assists) for Florida posted high totals.
The season comes to an end for USC, but they should have no shame in the loss with a valiant effort. Overall, it was a great season too for the Trojans, who not just made the Regional Final but also did so after they were unranked to start the season.
Florida wasn’t quite as underrated as USC, but they were a team that was sitting around the top 10 depending on the poll. They immediately showed they were legit in the first week of the season and have been there all year long. This Final Four was just another affirmation of their strong season as the Gators will look to do damage in their first Final Four in 14 years against either #3 Stanford or #6 Texas in Kansas City on Thursday night.