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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

While its starters snag headlines, the UF volleyball team's bench may actually hold the keys to the squad's success.

If leading hitters Marcie Hampton or Amber McCray need to take a breather, freshmen Callie Rivers and Janine Williams come in and rack up kills.

If libero Elyse Cusack needs a moment, Erin Fleming and Christina Diaz step in to make defensive stops.

If setter Angie McGinnis is given a second to sit down, Alli Cecchini is happy to stand in and set up her teammates.

And if middle blocker Kelsey Bowers needs a day to rest her legs - as she did Sunday against Tennessee - Kristina Johnson is more than happy to offer hers.

"It's that three-headed, middle-blocking monster," said UF coach Mary Wise of Bowers, Johnson and Kisya Killingsworth. "One of our challenges this year is how to get enough playing time for everybody. KJ rose to the opportunity. That's what we ask of our players - that you don't know when your name will be called, but when it is, take full advantage of it."

Johnson had a career Sunday playing in place of Bowers, earning six kills and assisting on four blocks. She also had an assist and a dig.

Johnson wasn't alone, as many Gators players took advantage of their number being called this weekend.

Cecchini, who had previously played in 14 games all season, saw action in four more on Friday and Sunday - often coming in to serve or get digs from the back row.

Rivers also played well, finishing with seven kills and nine digs. Williams played an integral part in the Gators' Sunday victory, killing seven balls on eight strikes for a hitting percentage of .875.

"My guess is that both Callie and Janine would like to be starting full time," Wise said. "But the luxury of having two players for that position - and really a third if we wanted to move Lauren Bledsoe over there - is to give us that dimension (of interchangeability). … We really like the combination of both."

Wise is also very happy with the play of Fleming, who she describes as the "consummate stabilizer."

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"What we look for in a stabilizer is that they may not be the reason we win, but they're never the reason we would lose," Wise said. "We know what we're going to get each night, and that's the role Erin plays for us and has done so at a very high level."

Fleming had eight digs and served 22 times over the weekend.

"I think Erin benefits from playing in practice with Elyse Cusack every day," Wise said. "(If Fleming is) modeling (her) behavior, Elyse Cusack's not a bad one to imitate."

GATORS RISE IN POLL

UF moved up from No. 6 to No. 5 in this week's American Volleyball Coaches Association Poll. It's the highest rankfor the Gators this season.

Southern California, last week's No. 4 team, lost a match Friday and dropped two spots to No. 6 - allowing UF and UCLA to move up.

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