GAINESVILLE, Fla. (Courtesy Seminole Athletics) – Nicole Walch finished with 19 kills and 14 digs as she notched her eighth double-digit kill performance in the NCAA Tournament, but it was a rally deep in the third set that shifted the momentum as 16th-ranked Florida came away with a 23-25, 25-19, 25-23 and 25-19 victory over 19th-ranked Florida State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
By virtue of her match-high in kills, Walch capped off her career with 1,466 kills, fifth all-time, and 47 double-doubles. She was joined on offense by Sarah Burrington (nine kills) and Katie Horton (seven).
On defense Florida State (25-8) received solid outings from Burrington (four assisted blocks/two solo blocks), Melanie Keil (five assisted blocks) and Mercedes Vaughn (four assisted blocks). The back row tandem of Cecilie Woie (17 digs) and Horton (11 digs) guided Florida State to 62 total digs.
Florida (24-6) advanced to the Sweet 16 behind the offensive trio of Carli Snyder (16 kills), Ziva Recek (16) and Rhamat Alhassan (12). Collectively they guided the Gators to a .223 attack percentage. Florida’s defense was highlighted by Nikki O’Rourke (18 digs), Ziva Recek (17 digs), while the Rhamat Alhassan posted three solo blocks and four assisted blocks.
“We had a great season, but so disappointed in not finishing the third set,” said head coach Chris Poole. “This is two years in a row that we gave up a huge run at the end of a set. We came a long way this year with our unforced errors, but that was still our weakness in too many matches. We have a lot of talent returning and we are proud of these seniors and the work they put in to help build this program.”
Just as in the opening round, Florida State used its defense to establish momentum early, collecting eight assisted blocks, including two each by the trio of Burrington, Horton and Keil as they captured the opening set. A service ace by Woie, followed by two unforced Florida errors, allowed the Seminoles to establish a 4-1 lead in the early going. That marked the first of six three-point leads for FSU, inside 23 points, the largest lead of the frame by either team.
Florida retaliated, behind Snyder in serve, bringing the game to a 13-all deadlock. The two teams traded the next 10 points, forcing five ties, as they reached an 18-18 deadlock. Burrington and Vaughn drove home kills for the Seminoles as they forced Florida to burn its final timeout. Three strikes by Walch kept Florida State in command of the match, 23-21, and despite a late flurry by the Gators two kills from Kubura cinched the two-point win.
Three unforced errors by the Gators and a kill by Walch provided Florida State a 4-3 lead early in the second set. However, Florida quickly answered and used two kills each by Recek and Snyder in a 7-3 run to assume the three-point advantage.
Florida extended its lead to five, 13-8, following a kill by Mackenzie Dagostino, before slams by Horton and Burrington, coupled with two Gator unforced errors, made for a 17-15 contest. Florida, looking to avoid a 0-2 deficit, used three unforced Seminole errors and kills by Recek and Simone Antwi to forge ahead 24-17. Two late kills by Walch were not enough to derail the Gators who posted the six-point victory.
Five Florida State kills inside the first 16 points resulted in an eight-all deadlock as Walch added a pair of kills to provide a 10-8 lead. The hard hitting senior was joined on the front row by Horton, Burrington and Kubura as the Seminoles extended their advantage to 17-12.
Two kills on the front row by Kubura, along with an attack error by Snyder, allowed Florida State to assume the 23-20 lead. However, two service aces by Lindsey Rogers turned the momentum in Florida’s favor as they added kills by Rhamat Alhassan to complete the 25-23 come-from-behind victory.
The Gators used their momentum shift in the third, along with five points in serve by Lindsey Rogers, to establish a 6-1 lead. Walch ended the brief run by Florida with two kills and a service ace as the Noles narrowed the deficit to four.
Florida maintained its lead, stretching it at one point to seven, before a series of kills by Mara Green and Walch eventually knotted the set at 14. After trading the next four points, Florida regained the lead, 18-16, following kills by Alhassan. The proceeded to convert seven of the next 10 points, including two kills by Snyder, as they closed out the Seminoles season.