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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The casual volleyball fan may see serving as just a way to get the ball over the net and start the action.

But when the No. 6 Gators host Florida State tonight at 7, the serve-receive aspect will have a big impact on the match?s result.

The Seminoles (3-2) come into today's match with 50 service aces so far this season, averaging 2.6 per game.

UF will hope to overcome the serving prowess of outside hitter Mira Djuric, a junior transfer from Oregon.

Djuric led the Pacific-10 Conference in aces her freshman season and was second in the league last year. In just two seasons with the Ducks, Djuric had 103 aces, good for a tie for eighth all time in the Oregon record books.

"When you're getting aces in the Pac-10, you're packing some heat," UF coach Mary Wise said.

Wise characterizes passes as being 0-, 1-, 2- or 3-option passes. The number refers to the number of hitters Angie McGinnis could potentially set from that pass.

McGinnis doesn?t believe a 3-option pass has ever come her way, but it would make for an ideal opportunity.

"I have all my options (in a 3-option pass)," McGinnis said. "I can see the block [and] see where the block moves. I can get it to any person I want."

Coming into today's match, the Gators have 39 aces on the year, averaging 2.44/game. If UF maintains that rate all season, it would rank as the fourth-best average in school history. Through five matches last season, the team had just 16 aces.

Hampton rates the toss as the most important part of the serve.

"If you don?t have a good toss, you're gonna mis-hit the ball and not hit it out of the correct part of your hand," Hampton said. "That's where you get a little funky."

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Hampton said the team prioritizes serves on three levels: get the ball in play, then make a good serve, then make an aggressive serve.

"We're trying to be aggressive servers, serving a tough ball to defend, but also the ability to pinpoint accuracy," Wise said. "It's one thing to rip it, but it's another thing - can you rip it to the right place?"

Elyse Cusack, who leads the team with 10 aces, knows the serve can change the momentum of a game.

"There's hardly anything more exciting than an ace," Cusack said. "It's a free point."

A good serve translates into other parts of the game, as well.

"Serving helps defense," Wise said. "If you can serve aggressively and eliminate one of those hitters as an option, then it's easier blocking. It's hard to be a great blocking team without being a great serving team."

Of course a UF serve at home would not be complete without a yell from the students' section. Each Gators player has something different shouted as they serve. As Hampton starts her serve, the enthused fans yell, "What did the five fingers say to the ball?" and then "Slap!" as the senior makes contact. For Cusack, the students call out the name of a different John Cusack movie each team the sophomore serves.

Don?t worry, "super fans," the team does hear you.

"It gets really funny," Cusack said. "We always talk about the different things they have for us."

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