MADISON, Wis. – As Gators coach Mary Smart sat between gamers Marina Markova and Merritt Beason on the postgame press convention, she studied the field rating of her staff’s loss to Pittsburgh.
No. 3-seed Florida, which fell behind by two units, pushed again on the second-seed Panthers to assert the third set decisively. The Gators threatened to do the identical within the fourth however ran out of gasoline, shedding 3-1 (25-20, 25-21, 17-25, 25-22) in a fiercely contested NCAA Match area semifinal right here on the UW Subject Home late Thursday afternoon.
The loss ended Florida’s run within the NCAA Match, and the frustration leaked from the eyes of Markova and Beason afterward. Whereas Smart shared their desolation, she might see how shut the match was within the numbers on the field rating.
“So happy with this staff to get right here with as little NCAA expertise [as we have],” she mentioned. “I imply, we outscored Pitt. We had extra kills. We had extra blocks. We out dug them. We had extra factors. We simply did not win within the closing scores. A few of their gamers have 12 NCAA matches beneath their belt; for a few of our gamers, it was three. “Such a giant distinction within the expertise stage, and I believed that was the distinction within the match.”
Florida’s inexperience on the faculty recreation’s greatest stage confirmed up totally on first touches. The Gators had 11 service errors and 4 reception errors, which restricted their potential to reel off important scoring runs and keep momentum.
The Panthers (30-3), who superior to the nationwide semifinals a season in the past, are too good of a staff to serve free factors on a platter. The Panthers made the Gators (25-6) pay most harshly, ending Florida’s season and the potential of a rematch towards host Wisconsin on Saturday. The Gators beat the Badgers three months in the past on the highway.
Florida took early leads in each the primary and second units, however every time, the Panthers recovered behind veteran right-side hitter Courtney Buzzerio, whose six kills within the first set overshadowed Markova’s 5 within the opening recreation.
Within the second set, the Gators went up 8-6 earlier than the Panthers went on an 11-3 run to achieve management. Florida flexed again within the third set, hitting .571 behind 5 kills from Bre Kelley, three from Gabbi Essix and two from Markova, plus 5 aces, led by a pair from freshman setter Alexis Stucky.
The turnaround confirmed why the youthful Gators, with Markova and graduate Rhett Robinson the one seniors on the roster, had been right here within the first place.
“At that time, we had nothing to lose, they usually had all of the strain on them,” Beason mentioned. “I believe once we shifted that mindset, that was the distinction. We talked about it within the huddle earlier than we began that set. ‘We’re going for it. We actually don’t have anything to lose.’ We had been simply going with it, and I believe that is the unfastened Florida staff. The third set was actually a mirrored image of who we’re.”
Within the fourth set, Pittsburgh opened a 6-2 lead earlier than the Gators bought going and tied it three completely different instances, the final on a highlight-worthy over-the-shoulder dunk by Stucky that made it 10-10. Nonetheless, the Panthers slowly pulled away and eventually put the match away on Buzzerio’s kill for a 25-22 fourth-set win.
Buzzerio completed with a game-high 19 kills, whereas Markova had a team-high 15 for Florida, and Beason chipped in 13 kills, 9 digs, three assists and two blocks. Panthers coach Dan Fisher was glad to flee with a win.
“I believed it was a extremely good volleyball match,” Fisher mentioned. “We had simply sufficient to get the win. I believed they had been very bodily on the web, and within the third and fourth set, they actually upped their protection. They actually pushed us to the restrict.”
In the long run, the Gators dug too deep a gap.
“Early on, we missed so many serves we did not have an opportunity to defend,” Smart mentioned. “We held them to .224 [hitting]. Defensively, we did some actually good issues. There’s so many good issues these Gators did on the ground.”
That was Smart’s message to the staff afterward.
Following the departures of a number of key gamers from final season’s staff that superior to the area semifinals, Smart wasn’t positive what to anticipate of this yr’s group once they gathered within the spring to show their consideration to the upcoming season.
However in time, newcomers like Markova, a switch from Syracuse, and SEC Freshman of the 12 months Stucky blended seamlessly with the gamers already on the roster. Markova, a Russian who plans to show skilled after incomes her diploma within the spring, mirrored on the journey within the aftermath of Thursday’s loss.
“It was actually superb. I didn’t anticipate to have such an expertise, no less than people-wise,” Markova mentioned. “These women are a lot enjoyable. I positively can depend on them as my finest mates. The identical for Mary Smart. It is not precisely how [I wanted it to turn out] sadly, nevertheless it was nonetheless very big expertise for me.”
In her thirty second season, Smart has taken all forms of groups to the NCAA Match in her distinguished profession. With Markova and Merritt seated beside her, she mentioned few had been as satisfying to educate as this one.
Their season is over, however the Gators made their mark.
“You by no means get a staff like this,” Smart mentioned. “However I did and I really loved each minute of it. These guys have been superior.
“There’s a lot to be enthusiastic about once we recover from this one.”
- Marina Markova completed the 2022 marketing campaign with 22 matches in double-digit kills after her 15-kill efficiency towards Pitt
- Merritt Beason completed the 2022 marketing campaign with 21 matches in double-digit kills after her 13-kill effort towards Pitt
- Sofia Victoria completed the 2022 marketing campaign with 16 matches in double-digit kills after her 10-kill efficiency towards the Panthers
- Elli McKissock sits at ninth in program historical past with 17 digs and completed the 2022 season with 26 matches in double-digit digs
- Florida is now 81-33 (.711) all-time within the NCAA Match, together with an 80-32 (.714) report beneath Smart
- The Gators end the 2022 season with a 25-6 report
- The staff received its twenty fifth SEC Championship
- That mark is the third-best complete in all the convention amongst all sports activities since volleyball’s inception into the SEC in 1979
- All 25 SEC titles have come beneath Mary Smart, that means she has received no less than a share of a convention title in 25 of her 32 seasons at Florida
- The 25 titles are the second-best mark at Florida since 1984, with solely ladies’s tennis having extra titles in that time-frame (26)
- It was additionally the 256th SEC title for the Gators athletics program – the league excessive
- Through the yr, the Gators prolonged their streak to 32-straight seasons with an NCAA Match look and have additionally received no less than 20 matches in 32-consecutive years
- Florida strikes to 1-3 within the all-time sequence towards Pitt
- The Gators at the moment are 0-2 in four-set matches towards the Panthers