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Thursday, March 30, 2023

Adding new components to an existing system can be a dangerous endeavor.

One can never be too sure if the resulting composition will come out as a cohesive unit, or a hardly functioning collection of parts.

The No. 8 Gators head to Auburn today to take on the Tigers (5-14, 0-8 SEC) with a united squad looking to stay undefeated in conference play.

"Our chemistry is great right now," junior libero Elyse Cusack said. "And that's going to win games."

After debilitating South Carolina on Wednesday, the Gators (15-1, 9-0 SEC) proved that the new editions to this year's roster have meshed with the veterans whether the team is attacking or defending.

Against the Gamecocks, UF dominated for three sets with freshmen Kelly Murphy and Colleen Ward joining senior Kelsey Bowers in a dynamic offensive attack.

UF coach Mary Wise acknowledged that her team's scorers were clicking, but offered up something more to think about than just the kill totals.

She noted that the passing from her first contact defenders - Cusack, Ward and sophomore Callie Rivers - allowed the setters and hitters to get into a rhythm.

"Look at the set distribution, it wasn't as skewed as some we've had," she said. "The fact that we had three players so close to each other, that helps."

Even more impressive is the fact that freshman Kristy Jaeckel, who leads the team in kills per game, wasn't included in that trio.

On the defensive side, Wise said she wanted her team to make an effort to block balls. The Gators responded by recording an eight-to-two blocking advantage.

"Our block touched everything," Cusack said.

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Since Wise inserted freshman Cassandra Anderson into the middle blocker rotation, there has been a noticeable difference in athleticism and energy at the net.

All this spells trouble for an Auburn team that sits at the bottom of the Western Division, searching for its first conference victory.

Nonetheless, Wise expressed concerns with going on the road and knows that the first-place UF team will get a tough match from every opponent.

"They have everything to gain and nothing to lose," she said. "I'm sure we're going to get Auburn's best shot."

And after handling the Gamecocks, she did single out a part of the Gators operation that didn't run so smoothly. The official scoring had Cusack with no digs in the first set and just 10 for the entire match.

"We have to make sure our stat crew knows that she's No. 7," Wise said.

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