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Thursday, January 27, 2022
<p>Kayla Lewis attempts a shot during Florida’s 81-76 loss against Missouri on Feb. 20 in the O’Connell Center. Lewis will be the Gators’ only senior on the team’s roster next year.</p>

Kayla Lewis attempts a shot during Florida’s 81-76 loss against Missouri on Feb. 20 in the O’Connell Center. Lewis will be the Gators’ only senior on the team’s roster next year.

This season, a small, quick, offensive-minded Florida team made its way to the second round of the NCAA Tournament despite having only eight players for much of the way.

Its leaders were redshirt senior Lily Svete and senior Jaterra Bonds, but redshirt junior Kayla Lewis also had a strong presence throughout the season.

“I brag a lot about Lily and Jaterra,” coach Amanda Butler said. “They deserve that, but Kayla was a big, big part of that leadership corps.

“I think there were many things, most of them falling in the intangible category, that separated us from who we’ve been in the past or from other teams.”

Lewis will be Florida’s lone senior next season, and the road to becoming a strong team leader has not been sudden.

“I think that was something that she grew into,” Butler said. “I’ve had very high expectations for her entire career.

“Kayla’s wildly talented, very smart, very gifted. It’s a unique challenge when you’re the only senior, and I think Kayla’s a unique individual. She’s well-suited for that challenge.”

Butler isn’t the only one giving Lewis a vote of confidence.

After living with Lewis for her entire career as a Gator, there isn’t anyone else Bonds has more confidence in to take the keys.

“I would say, this year, Kayla’s probably the most improved player,” Bonds said. “I’ve seen a different side of Kayla that I’ve never seen since we first stepped on campus. I told her, ‘I’m just so proud of you and happy for the things that you’re doing, like become a better person and get closer with God.’

“I’m just so proud of her and how she’s accepted the role of having to play a bigger role for our team.”

Another player whose role will be further increased is soon-to-be redshirt junior point guard Cassie Peoples.

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After struggling offensively throughout the regular season, Peoples found her stride once postseason play began in both the Southeastern Conference and NCAA Tournaments.

“Really, Cassie was a freshman,” Butler said.

“Even though she’s in her third year of college, this was the first full season of basketball she had gotten a chance to play.”

In conference play, Peoples averaged 8.9 points per contest. In postseason play, she was scoring 14 points a game.

“This is a great starting point for her going into next year,” Butler said. “She’s going to be someone that we won’t be necessarily surprised by, but relying on her.”

The impact of Bonds and Svete’s departure will surely be felt. However, the incoming freshman class will add much needed size and depth.

According to espnW, the Gators have the No. 12 recruiting class in 2014. The potential gem of the class is 6-foot-3 forward Haley Lorenzen, who is rated as the No. 5 post player in the nation.

“The obvious thing Haley adds is a great deal of size,” Butler said. “What she adds that you don’t know about until you get the opportunity to spend time with her is her personality and her work ethic; the spirit that she has.

“She has a high level of skill and she cares a lot about her game.”

Follow Gordon Streisand on Twitter @GordonStreisand

Kayla Lewis attempts a shot during Florida’s 81-76 loss against Missouri on Feb. 20 in the O’Connell Center. Lewis will be the Gators’ only senior on the team’s roster next year.

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