Call it a comeback: Florida volleyball shows grit advancing to first Final Four since 2003

By Adam Silverstein
December 9, 2017
Call it a comeback: Florida volleyball shows grit advancing to first Final Four since 2003

Image Credit: Matt Stamey / @GatorsVB

It was happening again. Florida Gators volleyball, a championship-caliber team, was falling apart late in an NCAA Tournament to a lower-ranked opponent — this time on its home court. Entering Saturday, Florida had not advanced to a Final Four since 2003, losing in the Elite Eight round in two of the prior three and three of the prior six seasons.

But something was different on Dec. 9. The determination of head coach Mary Wise and grit of the No. 2 Gators coincided at just the right time to push Florida forward when all appeared to be falling apart. Against the odds and with a steadily growing homecourt advantage at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida, it put a season’s worth of lessons learned to good use in a come-from-behind 3-2 (25-23, 20-25, 18-25, 26-24, 15-11) victory over the No. 10 USC Trojans.

Down 2-1 after the third set — just the fourth time this season it gave up two sets in a single match — UF found itself on dangerous footing trailing by three, 21-18 in set four. A 3-0 run tied things up at 21, but USC pushed forward to take a 24-23 advantage and hold match point over Florida. The Gators refused to relent, spiking a ball of a Trojan player’s face in a point straight out of Hollywood to knot the set at 24. The momentum had swung, and with the O’Dome crowd behind it, Florida picked up two more points to close the set on a 3-0 run and tie the match 2-2.

“It was magical to experience that [crowd]. The Gator Nation came through in a big way for us today,” Wise said.

USC opened the championship set with a 3-0 lead and increased its advantage to 9-5, needing six points to win and advance. Wise called a timeout, gathered her troops and let it be known Florida was not going out that way. The Gators responded with a blistering 6-0 run to take an 11-9 lead as senior outside hitter Carli Snyder hit her stride. The Trojans tied things up, but Florida responded immediately and did not let USC see pay dirt again, scoring the final four points of Saturday’s affair to complete a 10-2 match-winning run.

Two comebacks in a matter of minutes took UF from defending match point to its first Final Four in nearly a decade and a half. Snyder notched a match-high 18 kills, while senior Rhamat Alhassan posted a double-double with 10 kills and 10 blocks.

“[Thriving] means looking at Mary and saying, ‘I got you,’ when I’m not playing my first best two sets and saying, ‘I’m going to turn this around because I love you and I love this program,'” Snyder told ESPN after the match. “… We want it for Mary. We want it for every player who has come through this program. It’s flourished because she’s the best coach in the country. She’s such a strong woman. We look up to her as a coach but in so many different ways. … For us to win this match, it was probably the best feeling I think I’ve ever had.”

Florida (29-1), which improved to 21-1 all-time as a top four seed in Gainesville, moves on to Kansas City where it will face the winner of No. 3 Stanford and No. 6 Texas on Thursday evening. The winner of that match will take on either No. 1 Penn State or No. 5 Nebraska for the national title next Saturday.

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