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Friday, May 24, 2024

Trying to defend against the Florida offense is like reading a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book.

The only difference is that, against the Gators, there’s almost never a correct choice.

If you try to block the outside, they’ll feed the middle blockers. If you attempt to block the middle, they’ll send it outside. And if you can somehow block both, that’s when they’ll strike via the pipeline.

No. 2 Florida’s attack options appear nearly unlimited, and through 11 matches the majority of them seem equally effective.

Excluding junior Kelly Murphy, who leads the team with 3.07 kills per set, the difference between the team’s top-five scorers is just .85 kills per set.

Last season, the difference between No. 2 scorer Colleen Ward and No. 6 scorer Cassandra Anderson was 1.78 kills per set.

“When you can distribute the ball among various people, you become a team that’s harder to defend,” coach Mary Wise said. “You can’t double team a player or you leave somebody wide open, and that’s what happens. Kelly Murphy will always be double-teamed.”

Opposing coaches have found that none of the Gators can safely be left open, as a pack of five players averaging between 1.4 and 2.3 kills per set has Murphy’s back.

Outside hitters Kristy Jaeckel and Callie Rivers lead that group, recording 2.29 and 2.22 kills per set, respectively.

Checking in behind them is right-side hitter Tangerine Wiggs with 1.86 kills per set.

Middle blockers Lauren Bledsoe (1.61 kills per set) and Cassandra Anderson (1.44) round out the unit and give the Gators’ offense quality attack options that aren’t available to many teams.

“Our middles have been really stepping it up,” Murphy said. “They’ve always been good at defense and blocking, but I think their ability to score points is going to make us a whole different team.”

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Because Gators setters Murphy and Chanel Brown are always a threat to send a quick set to a middle blocker, opposing defenses have to either wait before committing to a block or just guess and hope for the best.

This defensive quandary allows Murphy and Brown to read the opposition and then find the open player, often generating an attack against one or no blockers.

“When everyone is making plays, it opens the court for each player,” Jaeckel said. “When everybody is doing what they’re supposed to be doing, it makes things a lot more fun.”

The team’s offensive balance was never more apparent than in last week’s three-set wins over Florida State and Ole Miss.

In both matches, six Florida players registered five or more kills, the fourth and fifth times that has happened this season.

Additionally, the spread between the Gators’ top scorer and their number six scorer was five against Florida State and just four against Ole Miss.

On the season, that number has been six or fewer in five of 11 matches.

“It would be like a basketball team where all five players are in double digits, not just one going off for 30,” Wise said. “That makes us much harder to defend, and I think it speaks well for our progress.”

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