At the UF volleyball team's media day on Aug. 13, Lauren Bledsoe could barely contain her excitement when asked about senior Kristina Johnson.
The question regarding Johnson's recovery from the nagging knee injury she dealt with last year had barely ended when Bledsoe began to praise "KJ," as her teammates call her.
"Oh, you guys have no idea. In practice, when she's hitting, it's amazing," Bledsoe said. "It's so effortless, literally. When she jumps up to hit, it's so easy for her, and she's so powerful. There's no tentativeness about her."
The praise for Johnson didn't stop there. Recent transfer Brynja Rodgers said the 6-foot-2 middle blocker was the player she was most excited about setting for, gushing about how talented and physically impressive she has been during two-a-days.
Coach Mary Wise added her approval as well, telling reporters this was the year Johnson, who struggled with an injury in her surgically repaired knee last season, would reach her full potential.
"A year ago today, she had just been cleared to play the day before, and she had no summer to train, no spring," Wise said. "That knee is completely healed. This year, our fans will see the Kristina Johnson we had hoped we would have before the injury."
Injuries to Johnson and then-senior Kelsey Bowers plagued the middle blocker position for the Gators in 2008. Although it led to inconsistent play and forced players into unfamiliar positions, it may have had the unintentional benefit of adding depth at the position. With Bowers and Johnson occasionally sidelined, Cassandra Anderson played extra minutes as a freshman and finished the year with an average of just more than one block and one kill per game.
Now a sophomore, Anderson will split time with Johnson and redshirt freshman Betsy Smith in a unit that is looking to increase its output of blocks and kills in 2009. But, more importantly, the trio is just hoping to finally stay healthy for an entire season.
"Our middles are going to be a really good presence on our team this year, a lot stronger than they have been in the past," outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel said. "No matter who's on the court, we're going to get a good showing out of them."