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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Gators look to get back on track behind often overshadowed Bathelt

Night after night, the Gators trot out a slew of physically captivating freshman point scorers.

It is easy to recognize the value of their hard-hitting kills or emphatic blocks, but harder to appreciate the contributions of 5-foot-9 setter Cindy Bathelt, who has cemented herself as a key player in UF's rotation.

When the No. 11 Gators attempt to get back on track against Mississippi today, the first-year facilitator will be right in the middle of it all, distributing the ball to her teammates and running the offense.

"If Cindy were running a 5-1 at other schools and doing what she's doing, I think she would get a lot more recognition," UF coach Mary Wise said. "She sort of stays under the radar. The setter position is a very other-oriented position. She's helping others succeed, and Cindy has the perfect personality for that."

Bathelt ranks only behind freshman Kelly Murphy on the team in assists, averaging 5.6 per game, yet, often, goes unnoticed through the course of a match because her role doesn't require her to play above the net.

"She's a great athlete," senior middle blocker Kelsey Bowers said. "Just because she doesn't get the glory, that doesn't mean she's any less of a player."

In Sunday's loss against Georgia, Bathelt led the Gators with 27 assists in a match where the offense struggled.

She said UF (17-2, 11-1 Southeastern Conference) will try to spread the number of swings more evenly between the outside hitters and middle blockers, who didn't show up in Athens.

Against the Rebels (10-10, 6-5 SEC) tonight, the setters and middles will have to communicate more effectively if they are to collaborate for more kills and take some pressure off the outside.

Motivation will not be a problem.

The disappointment of defeat is not something the Gators are used to, and the team is committed to not suffering another letdown.

"(The loss) meant a lot to us, all of us hate to lose," Bathelt said. "We're really ridiculously competitive, we were like, 'Wow, that's not going to happen again.'"

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UF coasted through the first half of its SEC schedule, but the Bulldogs exposed some of the Gators' weaknesses, which the team took as a challenge.

In addition to communication, UF's maligned blocking must improve if the Gators hope to refocus and make a late-season title run, conference or otherwise.

"When you win all the time, you don't get better from it, but once you lose, you figure out what's wrong," Bathelt said. "Every single team always has a chink in their armor somewhere, and I think it took this past weekend to realize what we really need to do to be a championship team."

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