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Thursday, March 30, 2023

If it were up to Kelsey Bowers, the Gators would have a big bulls-eye stitched into their uniforms just below their names and numbers.

As No. 8 UF (16-1, 10-0 Southeastern Conference) heads to LSU (11-6, 6-4) for a tough road matchup, the team knows facing the league for the second time means 10 squads looking for revenge. Bowers wouldn't have it any other way.

"I love being the team to beat, I love having that target on our backs," the senior middle blocker said. "It pushes us to be better every time. We get everybody's best try, every team comes out to the best of their abilities."

On Sept. 21, the Gators handed the Tigers a 3-1 (25-12, 25-22, 21-25, 25-19) loss, but this time, LSU has home court advantage and a little extra motivation.

Bowers, who notched five kills and got in on seven blocks in the first meeting, said already defeating an opponent doesn't count for much when the rematch rolls around.

"Just because we beat them the first time doesn't mean anything the second time," she said. "It only means that they're going to come out and play much harder because they're at home."

UF coach Mary Wise echoed the sentiments of her veteran, noting only familiarity with personnel as a potential advantage to having played the Tigers earlier in the year.

The important thing to remember is both teams have changed drastically since squaring off in their second conference games.

"I don't think we're the same team that played back in September, and neither is LSU," Wise said.

The Tigers left Gainesville a game over .500 and winless in the SEC. Now, the Tigers sit atop the SEC West, holding a 6-4 record inside the conference.

As for the Gators, Wise said noticeable differences have come on offense where UF has had an easier time getting kills.

Earlier in the week, associate head coach Nick Cheronis warned that LSU will be coming into the match looking to pad its NCAA Tournament resume.

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In order to avoid a letdown, UF will have to come out with more energy than it did in its last game against Auburn.

Bowers said the team is focused on getting off to a quick start and confident that the bench players will be able to step in and get it going right away.

One of those players is freshman Colleen Ward, who has been able to come in and give the Gators solid passing from the outside hitter position.

If there is one area the team needs to work on, it's blocking balls, and Wise said she would like her team to move up from 2.1 to 2.75 blocks per game.

In their first match, UF out-blocked LSU 10-9, a margin that will likely have to increase with the Gators hoping for a series sweep.

"Beating them the second time is much harder than beating them the first," Wise said.

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