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Thursday, March 30, 2023

After being plagued by injuries during the early part of the season, things are starting to fall into place for the Gators.

On Monday, UF coach Mary Wise reiterated the importance of adding senior middle blocker Kelsey Bowers back into the lineup.

"We didn't only miss Kelsey's production on the court - we missed her leadership," Wise said. "There is a difference when our team is playing without Kelsey."

With Bowers back in action there should be no shortage of veteran leadership, but was her return even more important than the Gators' perfect start to the Southeastern Conference season?

According to Wise, the answer is yes.

"If not equally as important as the wins this weekend - maybe more important - was the return of Kelsey Bowers," Wise said.

A healthy Bowers will go a long way in contributing to UF's blocking in the middle of the net (she had seven against LSU Sunday), but Wise also stressed the improvement of freshman Kelly Murphy.

"The blocking light has really come on for Kelly," she said. "She is starting to show signs that she can be a really good collegiate blocker."

Another freshman that has caught the coach's eye is setter Cindy Bathelt, who has quietly averaged more than five assists per set.

Bathelt has played beyond her years at a position that typically takes time to grow into.

"You look around the country at the teams that struggle, and you're looking at freshman setters," Wise said. "There are some growing pains (that go with the position)."

But Bathelt has done anything but struggle. Her consistent play this season even led Wise to compare her to everyone's favorite UF quarterback.

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"As great of a quarterback as Tim Tebow is, even he wasn't able to walk in and start his freshman year," she said.

The Gators will spend this week preparing for a road trip that will see the team travel to Arkansas on Friday and to Mississippi on Sunday.

"We're probably not going to be the biggest story in Oxford, (Miss.,) this weekend," Wise joked, referring to the Gators football team matchup with the Rebels on Saturday.

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