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Thursday, March 30, 2023

After the Florida was swept by LSU on Oct. 11, coach Mary Wise presented the Gators with two options.

She told them they could either use the loss to turn their season around or they could just be content with their play.

Eight matches later, the path No. 10 Florida (20-3, 14-2 Southeastern Conference) has chosen is clear.

Following the defeat, the Gators haven’t dropped a set on their way to winning every match.

Now UF will have a shot to redeem itself as it plays host to No. 19 LSU (20-5, 14-2 SEC) tonight at 7 in the O’Connell Center.

“Ever since the LSU match, every day in practice we have had something we needed to work on, and we’ve got it done,” libero Elyse Cusack said. “Unfortunately, sometimes you learn more from a loss than a win.”

The Gators' front row has been dominant since the two teams last played. They have outblocked seven out of their last eight opponents and have helped raise the team's hitting percentage to a conference best .298.

But the improvement of UF's front line will be tested Friday as it goes up against senior middle blocker Brittnee Cooper. The last time she faced the Gators she exploded with 18 kills on .692 hitting efficiency.

In order to stop her this time, Wise is not calling on her middle blockers. Instead she believes digging will be the key to containing her.

“Cooper hits it at a contact point that we aren’t going to block — nobody else in the country has either,” Wise said. “We aren’t going to ask Cassandra (Anderson) or Kristina (Johnson) to do something that nobody else has done.”

This week in practice the UF’s volunteer assistant coach Chris Keen has been trying to imitate Cooper to help prepare the team.

However, middle blocker Anderson is not even worried about recording blocks on the LSU senior, she just wants to get a piece of the ball.

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“We've been working on getting more block touches, not particularly blocking her, but getting more block touches to help our defense more,” Anderson said.

Last weekend, the UF hitters were only blocked twice and committed just 10 attack errors in two matches. That mistake-free play won’t be easy to maintain against LSU, which leads the SEC in blocking, but Wise said the Gators must keep their composure nonetheless.

“We are going be blocked, but its going to be how we respond to that so we don’t let it turn into two point plays, meaning you get blocked on one and the hit the ball out of bounds,” Wise said.

The Gators and the Tigers are tied for second place in the conference, just one match behind SEC leader Kentucky. The loser of this match will fall out of the conference race.

“It’s going to be a dog fight, but it’s going to be a good one,” setter Brynja Rodgers said.

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