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Friday, April 12, 2024

UF coach Mary Wise couldn't seem to find her seat during Sunday's 3-0 (25-15, 25-16, 25-11) sweep against Arkansas.

Blame senior middle blocker Kelsey Bowers for starting it, or freshman outside hitter Colleen Ward for finishing it, but Wise was compelled to jump off the bench every time the Gators' defense stonewalled a Razorback attacker.

In the little more than an hour UF needed to dispose of Arkansas, the Gators flaunted their new defensive attitude on the way to out-blocking the Razorbacks nine to one.

"We've just tried to change our blocking mentality," Ward said. "Now, every time we go up, we're trying to think of blocking the ball and not just getting touches."

With UF clutching to a 14-11 lead in the first set, Bowers squared up with Arkansas middle blocker Kristin Seaton and redirected the 6-foot junior's shot, scoring a point for the Gators, notching a solo block in the stat sheet and prompting Wise to lean over the court and shout words of praise to her veteran leader.

That one play sent a message not only to the Razorbacks hitters, but also to her team: Don't pray for a block. Expect a block.

"It was the first (block) of the right mentality," Wise said. "Later on, when Callie Rivers missed one she was mad, and I love that most of all. She had the attitude that she felt she shouldn't have been beaten on that one."

Rivers got in on two blocking assists in addition to recording 10 kills on a .500 hitting percentage, a significant improvement from Friday's one-kill performance in which she logged a negative attack efficiency.

The sophomore outside hitter credited her success to the middle blockers who were on time in their offensive responsibilities, spreading the Arkansas defense out and allowing the outside attackers to hit without much of a blocking presence.

The contributions from Rivers and Ward (eight kills, two block assists) could not have come at a better time, as freshman outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel wasn't able to make it to the match after coming down with the flu.

Ward was responsible for Wise coming out of her seat for the final time when the freshman teamed with junior middle blocker Kristina Johnson to deny Arkansas' Christina Lawrence of a point late in the final set.

"We won this with our depth," Wise said.

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Freshman Kelly Murphy contributed in all areas as usual, dishing out a match-high 25 assists to go along with her eight digs and five kills. Her solid all-around effort helped the Gators win easily, but snapped her active streak of 12 consecutive double-doubles.

Junior libero Elyse Cusack - fresh off becoming UF's all-time digs leader in UF's 3-0 (25-19, 25-19, 25-20) win against Mississippi on Friday - was all over the court on her way to 17 digs.

Wise said Cusack, who moved into the top 10 on the SEC's all-time dig list Sunday, sets the tone for the entire team's mindset.

"She expects any ball that is hit anywhere toward her should be dug," Wise said. "When our blockers start having that attitude, then we're really going to be a tough defensive team."

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