The second weekend of the NCAA Volleyball Tournament pitted the best 16 teams in the nation in search for the best eight, and then the best four teams.
The eighth seeded Florida volleyball team had an interesting challenge when they were slated to face the ninth seed Illinois in the the Regional Semifinals. But the Friday night showdown was only the beginning of the roller coaster.
And then there were eight.
For the first time since 2011, the Gators made it to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight.
Florida (28-3, 18-0 SEC) defeated Illinois (26-8, 16-4 Big Ten) 3-2 (25-22, 21-25, 22-25, 25-17, 16-14) Friday night, extending its overall winning streak to 23 straight matches.
Three different UF players recorded double-doubles, and Illinois was held to a .170 hitting clip and committed 32 total errors.
Freshman middle blocker Rhamat Alhassan finished with 15 kills and 10 total blocks, but it was backup blocker Shainah Joesph who came up big for the Gators down the stretch. Joseph ended the night with seven kills on 13 attempts and five blocks.
“I’ll tell you this,” associate head coach Dave Boos said. “Shainah Joseph is a secret weapon that we’ve known about that she could do some pretty special things. But that was an unbelievable situation, the biggest situation, to step into that forefront and make the plays she did. (She) was a monster.”
With Alhassan out, Joseph accounted for three of Florida’s final seven points to close out the fifth set.
Sophomore Alex Holston also had a big contribution, finishing with 18 kills and 10 digs. Setter Mackenzie Dagostino was the third UF player to earn a double-double, compiling 51 assists, 10 digs and four kills.
It was the most closely contested match of the tournament for Florida, as the two teams tied 90 times throughout the five sets.
The Gators finally began to pull away from the Fighting Illini in the fourth set, when they took a 12-6 lead after a leaping kill from junior Gabby Mallette. Mallette tallied 10 kills and three blocks.
With all roads leading to Stanford, even before the tournament began, the Gators knew that they would have to face the top-seeded squad. Saturday night’s match-up further proved Stanford’s dominance.
While the Gators were sweet in the field of 16, they couldn’t overcome the elite Stanford Cardinals.
Florida’s season came to an end as the Orange and Blue fell in straight sets to top seeded Stanford (17-25, 22-25, 21-25) at Hilton Coliseum.
The Gators were put on their heels quickly, as Stanford (33-1, 19-1 Pac-12) hit .560, committed just one hitting error while never trailing in the first set. After swinging at .293 in the second set, the Cardinal surged past Florida with a .441 mark in the third.
There were only two lead changes throughout the entire match, which came in the second set.
Sophomore Alex Holston hit .533 with 18 kills to lead the Gators, while junior outside hitter Gabby Mallette posted a season-high 14 kills towards UF’s efforts against a tough Stanford squad. Senior libero Holly Pole ended the night with 17 digs, while junior setter Mackenzie Dagostino added 44 assists.
SEC Freshman of the Year Rhamat Alhassan and SEC Player of the Year Alex Holston were both named to the NCAA Volleyball Ames Regional All-Tournament team.
Florida also bids farewell to three seniors: Maddy Monserez, Holly Pole and Taylor Unroe, who compiled a 110-19 (.853) record while donning the Orange and Blue. The trio were winners of two SEC titles and made four straight NCAA Tournaments.
Florida associate head coach Dave Boos spoke highly of the seniors and their impact on the squad and season.
““Obviously, our front row players, our point scorers all return, but how do you replace the heart and soul of your team?” Boos said. “That’s going to take a while.”
The squad has four matches scheduled for the spring, with the first of these matches against FSU, in Tallahassee, on March 21st.
For more post match comments from associate head coach Dave Boos, click below:
Boos recaps the Stanford match
Boos on Stanford’s strong passing
Boos on Stanford’s passing and speed
Boos on losing three seniors (Pole, Unroe, Monserez)
Boos recaps the Gators’ season