STOCKTON -- BYU's inability to handle the strong serving of No. 4-ranked Florida proved to be the difference Friday as the Cougars were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in three games by the powerful Gator team.
The Cougars fell behind early in the first game, 6-1, but fought back to within one point at 12-11 on a Nina Puikkonen and Caroline Bower block before losing the game 15-12. The Cougars dropped the final two games 15-8, 15-10.
The Cougars and Gators each hit .197 for the match and were nearly identical in blocks, with Florida recording nine team blocks to BYU's 8.5. But the Gators had nine service aces and only five service errors while the Cougars could only muster one Anna-Lena Smith service ace while serving up 11 errors. BYU also had nine return errors to the Gators one.
"We knew the serve-receive game would be key in this match and it was," BYU coach Elaine Michaelis said in a post-match press conference. "Florida served very well. We had some trouble handling there serve. Jenny Manz had a tough topspin serve. "
Sophomore middle blocker Nina Puikkonen led BYU's unsuccessful effort to advance to the regional finals for the fourth straight year with 18 kills, eight digs and three blocks while hitting .389. Senior Mari Carpenter added 11 kills and freshman Sunny Tonga nine while senior Caroline Bower came up with a team-high 13 digs.
"Florida was very tough tonight, but I think we could have played better," Carpenter said.
Florida was led by Jenny Whitehead's 19 kills and .342 attack percentage. BYU held Flordia All-American Jenny Manz to a .000 hitting percentage but she did contribute 11 kills and a match-high 17 digs.
"They (Florida) played some great defense tonight," Michaelis said. "We're a good offensive team but a little young still in our passing game. But I'm proud of our team. We had a wonderful season."
The Cougars finished the year 28-5 overall while making their 10th straight NCAA Tournament appearance and their 18th in the last 19 years. The match was the final match for three Cougar seniors -- setter Anna-Lena Smith and outside hitters Caroline Bower and Mari Carpenter.
Florida, who has advance to the Final Four in each of the past three seasons and five of the last seven, improves to 33-2 overall with the win and advanced to the East Regional finals Saturday.