Florida Halts Washington State Volleyball Plans for Final Four

Dec. 14, 2002

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Washington State University volleyball team could not overcome a taller and highly athletic Florida team Saturday afternoon at the East Region final of the NCAA Div. I Women's Volleyball Championship tournament. Florida won the match with game scores of 27-30, 30-19, 30-25, 30-16, before 2,554 fans on its home court at Stephen C. O'Connell Center.

The Cougars, ranked 10th nationally and the No. 12 seed in the NCAA Championship Tournament, and riding an eight-match win streak, end their season with a record of 24-8. Florida, ranked sixth nationally and the No. 5 seed in the NCAAs, moves to 34-2 this season. Florida plays No. 1 seed USC, while No. 2 seed Stanford plays No. 6 seed Hawai'i in the Final Four to be played at New Orleans, Dec. 19 and 21.

The Gators, led by three current All-Americans, will see action in their sixth NCAA Final Four, the last in 1998. They have won eight consecutive Southeast Conference titles.

Florida's Aury Cruz, SEC Player of the Year, led all players with 24 kills (.375) and 20 digs. Jacque Robinson added 17 kills (.438) while Michelle Chatman (.414) and Nicole McCray (.423) added 15 more each. Setter Lauren Moscovic had 70 assists and McCray added seven blocks.

Washington State was led by seniors Adrian Hankoff (17 kills), LaToya Harris (11 kills) and Chelsie Schafer (10 kills). Senior libero Kortney Jamtaas had 17 digs and sophomore Victoria Prince had four blocks.

Florida hit .368 as a team and kept WSU to .147. The Gators out-blocked the Cougars 12 to six.

WSU's Hankoff, LaToya Harris and Victoria Prince were named to the six-member all-tournament team. Florida's Cruz was the East Region MVP.

'We didn't have a lot answers for Cruz and Robinson. They really hit over us, they hit around us. They hit incredibly well,' Washington State Head Coach Cindy Fredrick said. 'It's a very, very athletic team. A very talented team. They definitely caused us a lot of problems tonight. We caused ourselves a few problems too with a lot of missed serves and hitting balls out but I think some of that was caused by Florida as well. We lost to a really good team tonight. There is no embarrassment in that. I have a lot of respect for those women out there. They have a very, very long-armed team and they put up a huge block. We didn't anticipate they would play that good of defense and I was very impressed with Florida's defense tonight. When you combine great hitting, great blocking and great defense, you're going to have a tough time beating that team.'

Speaking about the play of Florida's Cruz, Fredrick said, 'If you block her line, she'll drill you sharp, sharp, sharp cross court. If you move that block over to try and take away her angle, she'll hurt somebody down the line. And then she can decide to tip. She has an arsenal of weapons. She is a very impressive player and she has a lot of different shots. And in the back row, her defense really impressed me too. She did not let anything drop. We weren't trying to serve her but she seemed to have a magnet and everything went to her.'

Down 18-17 in the first game, the Cougars went on a seven-one run to take a 24-19 lead and didn't lose the lead. Florida went on its own five - one run to come within one, 25-24. A pair of kills from Hankoff and another from Schafer held off Jenkins and Cruz kills and forced the Gators to take a timeout. Larson served wide to allow Florida within one, 28-27 but Hankoff's kill put the Cougars a game point. Prince, Schafer and LaToya Harris combined to block Jenkins and give Washington State the 30-27 win. Hankoff and Schafer had six kills each for WSU while Cruz and Chatman had six kills each for Florida.

The Gators came alive and dominated the action in the second game, hitting .368 and keeping the Cougars at .050 in the 30-19 win. McCray had seven kills (.600) and Florida out-blocked WSU three to one.

Florida took a 15-12 early lead in game three but Washington State was not about to go away. LaToya Harris led the charge with three kills and an ace to knot this game up at 20 and force the Gators to the bench. The Cougars took their first lead of the game when Robinson's kill went into the net and Schafer landed a kill to put WSU ahead 22-20. Florida tied it up after two WSU hitting errors but Schafer again put the Cougs up 23-22. The Gators then took the home court advantage. Cruz slammed down four straight kills when Fredrick called a timeout. But it would not stop the Florida onslaught. WSU scored only once more, when Cruz served into the net. But that was about all Cruz did wrong as she had nine kills in this pivotal game, a 30-25 Florida win.

Ready to put away the Cougars, Florida increased its lead throughout the fourth game until the final score of 30-16. The Gators' hit .371 as a team and kept WSU to a miserable .021. Florida also had four blocks and kept the Cougars without a positive stat at the net.

On the difference between the first and second games, Fredrick said, 'I think Florida picked up their pace a lot. In the second game they started tipping a lot of balls and that threw us out of the system a lot. And then it was like Cruz decided it was time to start hammering the ball. I think she decided she was going to take over the match. When she did that, the rest of her teammates followed suit.'

'We watched Florida last night and I don't think they tipped one ball,' Hankoff said. 'They are hard-hitters and we weren't really expecting it and it took us out of our game a little bit. (Cruz) knew where to put the ball. She's tall, she gets up really high and she knew exactly where to put the ball.'

LaToya Harris added, '(Cruz) saw that we had a solid block on her so she starting to tip and once we starting picking up the tip, she started hitting again. She's a great player overall and an experience hitter.'

For the five Washington State seniors - Hankoff, LaToya Harris, Holly Harris, Jamtaas and Schafer - it was a bittersweet match, after traveling to Manhattan, Kansas, for the first two rounds last weekend only to turn around and travel to Gainesville for the next two contests this weekend. No seeded team was asked to travel as far to play. The Cougar Fab Five have a record of 73-45 in their four years of playing volleyball at WSU and have three NCAA Championship Tournament appearances to their credit.

LaToya Harris finishes her career at WSU as the top server in school history with 143 career aces, the third-best hitter all-time with 1,459 kills and third on the career digs list with 1,178. Jamtaas claimed the single-season digs record with 469 this year and is second on the all-time digs list with 1,232. Holly Harris missed 1,000 kills in a career by four, finishing with 996 kills, ninth on the WSU career kills list. Harris, who will now join the Cougar women's basketball team, ended her volleyball career fifth in career block assists (333), sixth in total blocks (387) and seventh in solo blocks (53). Hankoff's 45 service aces this season is sixth-best all-time and her career 98 aces is sixth in that list. Hankoff, only a part-time player until her junior season, accumulated 973 career kills. Schafer, provided service above and beyond the call of duty, taken out of the hitter's position and put in the setter's role for three consecutive spring seasons but still managing to provide 844 kills and 687 digs in her Cougar career.

Larson, a freshman setter, and Prince, a sophomore middle, will provide a solid and experienced base for the Washington State 2003 team.

Florida (34-2)		27	30	30	30Washington State (24-8)	30	19	25	16STATISTICS:KILLS - UF 78 (Cruz 24), WSU 53 (Hankoff 17)HITTING PERCENTAGE - UF .368, WSU .147ASSISTS - UF 75 (Moscovic 70), WSU 46 (Larson 42)DIGS - UF 78 (Aury 20), WSU 47 (Jamtaas 17)BLOCKS - UF 12 (McCray 7), WSU 6 (Prince 4)SERVICE ACES - UF 3 (Moscovic 2), WSU 3 (Hankoff 2)Attendance:  2,554.
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