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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Volleyball defensive specialist Christina Diaz has never watched former New York Yankees great Lou Gehrig play, but that doesn't change the fact that he ranks as her biggest idol.

Why?

Because he set records while in the shadows of Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio - both Yankee legends.

Diaz, listed at 5 feet 6 inches tall, sees herself in the same way.

BEver since high school, a lot of people have always doubted that, with my height, that I?ve never been able to do anything really well and big,C she said. BGetting the chance to play here, to me, is a really great chance that [UF coach Mary Wise] and the rest of the coaches have given me.C

Diaz gets more than just a chance to play. The junior from Fort Lauderdale has seen action in 27 of the Gators? 31 games this season - as many as senior outside hitter Marcie Hampton - and has played in all nine matches.

This weekend, Diaz and the No. 6 Gators (9-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) travel to play two road games. Tonight, the team takes on Mississippi at 8 p.m. in Oxford, Miss., and on Sunday it will face No. 22 LSU in Baton Rouge, La., at 2 p.m.

LSU is the only other SEC team ranked in the top 25.

The two matches are the first half of four straight on the road. UF does not play another home match for two more weeks.

BIt?s going to be a challenge for us,C Diaz said. BI think we can do well and compete this weekend and be successful. It?ll give us a good preview to what we?re going to have during the NCAAs. I?m really excited about it.C

UF will be coming up against some good defense this weekend, facing a player on each team who has won SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors this year.

Mississippi?s libero Tara Langley won the award last week, and LSU?s libero Elena Martinez was honored in week two. Both rank among the top four in the conference in digs per game.

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But the Gators boast a good defense of their own.

Sophomore libero Elyse Cusack is second on that list, and Diaz and freshman defensive specialist Erin Fleming help out as well.

Everyone else on the team calls them Bthe three little ones.C

BI know Angie (McGinnis) will always call me 'the little one.? She?ll tap me on the head, and Marcie will too,C Diaz said.

Though Diaz is small in stature, Wise knows when to use her in games. Diaz often substitutes in to get a quick serve or to play a rotation in the back line. She may even see more action in the center of the back row.

BWe?re trying to get her more looks playing middle back,C Wise said. BWith the middle back, it allows you to use your foot speed more. She can chase balls down deep in the court.

BThe position allows you to really let go. … I think Christina is better suited for that.C

Diaz says she doesn?t care about her individual statistics, but she is fifth on the team in total digs with 48. She?s fourth in assists with 22, fourth in digs per game with 1.78 and fifth in service aces with five.

Even though she?s not normally a starter - she?s started four of the nine matches this season - the effort is tangible.

She is frequently one of the first Gators to get to practice, spiking a ball against the wall, setting it to herself off a bounce and then spiking it again. She dives all over the court during games and she runs after balls that are clearly too far away to reach in time.

BThe mindset is always the same, really off the bench and on the bench,C she said. BYou just have to stay focused. You always want to win. There?s a will to win, a will to succeed.C

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