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Saturday, January 28, 2023

If there is one word to describe the last 17 seasons under coach Mary Wise, it is consistent.

Each year, the Gators have finished with at least 25 wins and a Southeastern Conference title.

Friday night against Alabama Birmingham, however, No. 8 UF will change to an offensive system it has scarcely used in the past.

The Gators will take advantage of its two talented freshmen setters (Cindy Bathelt and Kelly Murphy) and implement the 6-2 offense, which hasn't been seen in Gainesville since Angie McGinnis and Lauren Moscovic were tallying assists in 2004.

"It was really weird at first because I've never run a 6-2, and I don't think Florida has ever run a 6-2," sophomore outside hitter Callie Rivers said. "It gives us a lot more opportunities in the front row because there's always three attackers."

Wise said every college team uses a three-hitter attack at some point, and the adjustment from offenses of the past - for instance, the 5-1 - to the 6-2 has been minimal for the players.

Four years ago, the offense was used in the preseason and pre-SEC schedule but never stuck as the team's permanent attack. Now, UF has gone back to that system because of its versatile personnel.

"The problem was we just didn't have the right-side players to go along with it," Wise said.

She added that Rivers' ability to hit and set along with the option of playing Lauren Bledsoe, Kristy Jaeckel or Colleen Ward up front allows them to effectively run the offense with this team.

A new offense is hard enough to install with veteran players, but the Gators will be trotting out a very young team, in sharp contrast to that of the Blazers, who rely heavily on their six experienced seniors.

"What a great piece of scheduling," Wise joked. "When you're coaching a really young team, probably the last team you would want to pick to open up against is a team full of seniors with a lot of international experience. That's UAB."

The issue for the Gators may not be where to put the ball, but rather where teammates will be putting the ball.

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Rivers said playing together in the Orange and Blue game gave the team confidence in their ability to gel and play together, something Wise has emphasized in the early going.

She has said all the players, including the freshmen, need to take responsibility for leadership and production.

Leading up to the season opener, Murphy said Wise has been telling the team that the Blazers are an experienced squad that is going to play hard against UF in their own gym.

"We've been preparing well, and I think we should have a pretty good shot," Murphy said.

As for that whole youth thing, she didn't seem too concerned.

"We have heard that we're a young team, but we have a lot of talent, so hopefully that can balance it out," she said.

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