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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

She anxiously sat, nervously watched and patiently waited her turn.

Cassandra Anderson always knew she could play. It was really just a matter of when.

While fellow freshmen Kelly Murphy, Cindy Bathelt, Kristy Jaeckel and Colleen Ward got their opportunity from day one, Anderson wasn't so lucky.

The others filled the need at positions that had been vacated by graduation. But Anderson had the misfortune of playing a role that was already stocked with talent.

Heading into the season, senior Kelsey Bowers and junior Kristina Johnson had a firm grasp on the middle blocker positions, and it didn't appear as though that was going to change anytime soon.

But with Bowers (back) and Johnson (knee) fighting injuries that have limited their play this season, Anderson got her opportunity.

UF coach Mary Wise tried to fill the void by sliding opposite side hitter Lauren Bledsoe from the right side of the net to the middle.

It worked, for a while. But Bledsoe wasn't in her comfort zone. The sophomore felt more at home on the outside of the net.

That's when Anderson made her first brief appearance on the road during the Gators' only loss of the season to Colorado State. She hasn't looked back since.

In recent weeks, she has seen her role grow, playing more and more minutes with every match.

"It feels good to be part of the team and not just a practice player," Anderson said. "It feels good to be out there and actually play."

She will look to continue carving out a niche for herself tonight when No. 9 UF (12-1, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) takes on No. 25 Kentucky (15-2, 6-0 SEC) in the O'Connell Center.

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Athletic, agile and energetic - Anderson has become a sparkplug for the team.

"She gets up there and can really set up a huge block," Bowers said.

Strength and Conditioning coordinator Matt DeLancey said she's the best jumper that has ever come through the UF volleyball program.

Anderson doesn't disagree but makes a point of including Johnson in the conversation.

"Me and K.J. have some hops," Anderson said. "We can jump."

Johnson and Bowers have made sure to look out for the freshmen - offering tips and advice at every turn.

Bowers said the only thing Anderson lacks is a strong presence on the court - something she said only comes with experience.

"That comes along with confidence," Bowers said. "The more games she gets, the more confident and a lot more vocal she'll be."

The transition to the college game hasn't been a seamless one, though.

"It's a lot faster than high school or club," Anderson said.

But according to Wise, it's Anderson, not the game, that's moving too fast.

"She plays so quick that sometimes she can miss things," Wise said. "Sometimes she's too fast for her own good."

It's also that speed that keeps Anderson on the court.

Wise said she expects Anderson to play more and more as the season progresses.

That sounds just fine to the confident freshman.

"I can be just as good as the other two middles," Anderson said.

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