By Eden Otero – OnlyGators.com Contributor
No. 8 Florida Gators volleyball was swept out of the 2014 NCAA Tournament on Saturday with the No. 1 Stanford Cardinal picking up a 3-0 victory in Ames, Iowa.
Though Florida (28-4) advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2011, the Gators were unable to move forward to what would have been the eighth Final Four appearance in program history. Instead, the Cardinal (33-1) ended UF’s 23-match, 83-day losing streak in impressive fashion.
OnlyGators.com breaks down the season-ending loss with four quick-hitters.
It was over when: Florida struggled to generate offense on Saturday evening, and it all came to a head with the third and final set tied 21-21. Coming out of a timeout, Stanford rallied with a match-ending 4-0 run, and Jordan Burgess ended the contest by scoring the final point with a quick spike to an empty Gators’ back row.
Prominent player: Cardinal middle blocker Inky Ajanaku was UF’s biggest challenge of the evening as she consistently blocked the Gators’ kill attempts. The 6-foot-4 Ajanaku came squared off with Florida’s young and talented freshman, Rhamat Alhassan, who finished the night with only four kills and a .182 hitting efficiency. Conversely, Ajanaku registered three blocks and nine kills, enough to help stifle the Gators’ offense in all three sets.
Standout stat: For the second-straight match, Florida was hindered by its errors. The Gators accounted for an astounding 21 errors in their three sets, which played a large role in ending their title hopes. Service and attack errors were a major issue for Florida at times throughout the season and proved to be a major hindrance for UF against the top seed in the tournament.
What it means: The Gators’ loss on Saturday ended their national title hopes, with Florida keeping its status as arguably the most successful program in the country to never win a national championship. This season marked the 15th time the Gators had advanced to an NCAA Regional Final; Florida moved forward to the Final Four on seven occasions (1992-93, 1996-98, 2002-03) but has only played for – and lost – one national title game (2003).
UF will also see three seniors – libero Holly Pole and defenders Maddy Monserez and Taylor Unroe depart the program, though it does have plenty of talented freshmen to help the team stay afloat at the top of the Southeastern Conference next season. Gators captured the 2014 SEC Championship this season and won 23-straight games before falling to the Cardinal, a streak that lasted 83 days.