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Thursday, March 23, 2023

It's been nine months since Stanford eliminated Florida from the NCAA Tournament, but it seems as if the Gators have eliminated their memories of that game.

Tonight, No. 5 UF (3-0) will have a chance at redemption as it faces No. 11 Stanford (2-1) at 8 p.m. as part of the Community Bankers Classic in Stockton, Calif., and will face either Pacific or San Jose State on Saturday night, depending on the result of tonight's match.

But the Gators seem to have forgotten about last season's loss and are taking a different approach to their first big test of the season.

"We haven't talked too much about it," senior libero Elyse Cusack said. "This isn't a revenge match or anything like that; it's just a great opportunity to play a great team like Stanford."

Since their last meeting in the round of 16 on Dec. 12, both teams have changed.

Two UF starters from that December game, middle blocker Kelsey Bowers and setter Cindy Bathelt, have graduated and transferred, respectively. However, sophomore middle blocker Cassandra Anderson and transfer setter Brynja Rodgers have helped make up for the losses at those positions.

Anderson is currently leading the team in blocks with eight and Rodgers is averaging 21 assists per match to help fill the void those two left.

The Gators have also added a year of experience that will especially help the five freshmen who were part of last season's team.

"I think one thing that we lacked last year was experience," Cusack said. "We are starting to play more together as a team because we have played with each other for a year now."

Sophomores Kelly Murphy, Colleen Ward and Kristy Jaeckel have proven to be three of the team's top players this year. All three players have already notched at least one double-double in their first three games of the season.

"A lot of times, players make the biggest strides between their freshman and sophomore years," coach Mary Wise said. "They are more physical, they are hitting the ball harder and they are jumping higher."

Meanwhile, Stanford has seems to have regressed since their last match with the Gators. The Cardinal saw two American Volleyball Coaches Association First-Team All-Americans, Cynthia Barboza and Foluke Akinradewo, graduate. Both players were alternates for the United States in the 2008 Olympics.

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Those losses have been huge for the Cardinal this year, as the team has already been pushed to five sets by LSU and fell in straight sets by Notre Dame. Wise admitted that she did sense a little more vulnerability from them this season but still went on to praise Stanford's talent.

But whether Stanford is struggling or not, Wise insists this game is vital because it will give UF the opportunity to play a tough road match early in the season, not because of the revenge factor.

"We aren't going to spend much time talking about last year. What we want to know is how good we are early in September," Wise said. "We're looking at this as a long-term investment and as an opportunity to get better."

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