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Thursday, March 30, 2023

Thanks to the unexpected contributions of their sophomore defensive specialist, the Gators were able to avoid a let down in Auburn on Friday night.

No. 8 UF (16-1, 10-0 Southeastern Conference) had to rally behind Erin Fleming to overcome early deficits in the first two sets and hold on to its undefeated conference record.

Fleming's consistent serving game and key digs helped the Gators make up for the uncharacteristically slow start and guided the team to a 3-0 (25-19, 25-16, 25-14) win.

"She was in fifth gear while the rest of us were still trying to get out of neutral," UF coach Mary Wise said.

The Tigers (5-15, 0-9 SEC) jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first set and kept the Gators playing from behind in the early going.

Trailing 18-17, Fleming took the serve for UF and sparked a rally that led to the sweep.

She wouldn't give the serve back to the Auburn until the Gators had cemented a 24-19 advantage.

"On any given night, it could be anybody who makes the plays to help us win," Wise said.

While Wise was pleased with Fleming, she criticized her veteran players for not being ready to play right from the get-go.

Starting slow was a theme throughout the night, and the Gators fell behind again in the second set, this time spotting the Tigers five points before getting on the board.

Another long service rally brought UF back, this time coming from junior Elyse Cusack, whose 16 digs were enough to tie her with Marcie Hampton for second on the Gators' all-time list.

The libero held serve for 9 straight points, including two aces, and gave her team a comfortable 21-15 lead.

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In the third set, the Gators finally got off to a better start and would not trail again before finishing off the Tigers.

Despite the lack of energy, UF can point to a few impressive things that emerged from the lackluster win.

As a team, the Gators logged a .405 hitting percentage - their highest in conference play this season.

Freshman Kelly Murphy continued her standout play, logging her ninth consecutive double-double with 13 kills on a .667 hitting percentage to go along with 15 assists.

After the match, Wise said she was proud of her team for going undefeated through the first half of conference play and attributed the victory to one person's effort.

"This win belongs to the huge play of Erin Fleming," she said.

A radio broadcast contributed to this report.

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