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Monday, June 24, 2024

With a starting lineup full of veterans and a deep bench, it's hard for the new girls in town to get on the court for the UF volleyball team.

But this weekend against Utah and last Wednesday against Florida State, two freshmen saw significant spikes in playing time.

Defensive specialist Erin Fleming had played in seven total games before Wednesday but equaled that amount in the most recent two matches.

Fleming, who had tallied just four digs this season prior to Wednesday, totaled 13 digs in Gators' wins against the Utes and Seminoles.

"It's exciting every time you get to sub on the court with starters," she said.

Fleming came in early during the first game against Utah, when the Gators were trailing 5-2. She was prepared to play and did her job.

"You just have to be ready," she said. "When (UF coach Mary Wise) says go, you just go."

That match also saw Fleming's first career kill - a rarity for defensive players.

Sophomore Elyse Cusack, also a defensive specialist, got her first kill earlier this season and was able to appreciate the freshman's milestone.

"It was great afterwards," Fleming said. "Everyone was celebrating. When (Cusack) came back into the game she was all excited for me. It was fun as a defensive specialist getting a kill. It's a big thing."

Ask Fleming whether it's more exciting to get her first kill or to get a dig, and she has trouble deciding.

"It's a tough one," she said. "I'm pretty sure they're equal, but very rarely do you get a kill, so it's exciting."

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Lauren Bledsoe got her second career start against Utah. Her first start came against North Carolina State on Aug. 31.

Bledsoe had played in only eight games this season, but played in four in the past week.

In game two against FSU, Bledsoe had her third career service ace on a powerful jump serve.

Bledsoe was surprised to see herself listed as a starter on the board before the Utah match.

Still, she said a backup must always be ready for an unexpected starting nod.

In that match, Bledsoe notched two kills and added three digs but also had three service errors and seven attack errors for a negative hitting percentage.

Bledsoe was neutral in her self-assessment and said she did "OK."

Associate head coach Nick Cheronis said the freshmen were given playing time as a result of strong efforts in practice.

"[Fleming] has done so well in our practices at all of the three back row positions that she really deserved her chance to play," Cheronis said. "(She) came in and had a really a great match against Utah."

Redshirt freshman outside hitter Janine Williams is still leading the freshmen in kills and playing time with 45 kills and 38 digs in 24 games. Williams and Cusack are the only Gators to have played in all 24 games this season.

Bucking the recent freshman trend is outside hitter Callie Rivers, whose time on the court has fallen off recently. She played only one game Wednesday and did not see action Sunday.

"You have to remember how experienced we are on the court," Cheronis said. "It's hard to find playing time for all of these freshmen. But what we tell everyone is, 'Hey, get ready to go,' because they're all an ankle sprain or flu bug away from getting into a match and playing significant minutes."

GATORS STAY AT NO. 6:

The Gators are No. 6 for the second week in a row in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll released Monday.

However, the team did garner more votes. The Gators received 1,207 total points in the poll, 20 points more than the 1,187 they had last week.

They are 35 points behind No. 5 UCLA.

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