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Thursday, February 02, 2023
<p><span id="docs-internal-guid-498bfe2d-7fff-d16c-9e92-414459ac3f8f"><span>Redshirt junior opposite attacker Holly Carlton feels more comfortable with her role on the team with a year under her belt. She transferred to Florida from North Carolina last season.</span></span></p>

Redshirt junior opposite attacker Holly Carlton feels more comfortable with her role on the team with a year under her belt. She transferred to Florida from North Carolina last season.

Florida fans won’t have to wait long for the competition to heat up when it comes to Gators volleyball.

Much like last season, the team will hit the ground in diving fashion as they take on multiple ranked opponents before SEC play takes off against Auburn on Sept. 27.

The exhibition contest against UCF on Saturday isn’t a cupcake match either. The Knights will return with everyone on the team from last season minus their libero. Coach Mary Wise is looking forward to the extra opponent and “dress rehearsal” the team will host this weekend. 

“It’s a really great opportunity for us to see someone else across the net,” she said.

In the first four matches, three of UF’s opponents are ranked. 

The competition is steep. Florida plays against No. 25 Louisville for its first game of the regular season, on the road nonetheless. The Gators will open up at home against the defending national champions in No. 1 Stanford on Sept. 4 and the team will cap off the ranked opponents with another game on the road at No. 3 Minnesota on Sept. 7 before heading into the rest of the pre-conference schedule.

“It will give us a great assessment of where we are early on,” Wise said. “It’s just a matter of, at this point in time, can we be the best version of ourselves?”

No freshmen on the team is a huge advantage

Normally, a squad only has a few short weeks of preseason before the actual season is underway. The team will spend that time focusing on the basics of the sport and getting the newcomers acclimated to the program.

That isn’t the case for Florida, though.

No freshmen will play on this season’s roster after the addition of six first-years and one sophomore transfer last season.

“It’s definitely a huge advantage,” redshirt junior Holly Carlton said Thursday. “It was a bit of a shock but it’s been such an advantage to train through our systems and keep progressing instead of having to go back to the beginning like we normally would.”

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Carlton said the team was able to go home for winter break but when they returned in January for the first practice they were told the preseason was already underway.

Florida fans will have to wait for T’ara Ceasar’s debut

Carlton said both sophomore and junior transfers Anaya Martin and T’ara Ceasar, respectively, fit into the team’s culture seamlessly, both bringing in unique traits that make this Gators squad better than it was before.

“Anaya has just added a new work ethic that’s just amazing,” Carlton said. “The amount of time that she’s in the gym on her own has been really special and has rubbed off on a lot of the players to just improve their own game individually.”

Ceasar, however, will have to wait until 2020 to hit the court per SEC transfer regulations with Ceasar previously playing at Georgia. She will redshirt this season, but her work in the gym hasn’t gone unnoticed, either.

“T’ara is just a fierce competitor,” Carlton said. “It’s really fun playing with her.”

The only thing missing from Rachael Kramer’s shelf is a national championship

Rachael Kramer is hungry. All but one box has been checked on her grocery list and she’s craving is a hefty piece of hardware: a national championship.

“We know that’s not out of reach for this team,” Kramer said. “From Day 1, that has been in all of our minds...This level of competition is like nothing I have ever seen before.”

The senior middle blocker added that nearly eight months of preseason has greatly benefitted the team. The players were actually able to play in a scrimmage-like, six-on-six drill the first day of preseason, which Kramer added never happens.

“We have people that have all played at least a year of collegiate volleyball, whether that be here or somewhere else, but they know what it’s like,” she said. “It’s not their first preseason, they’re not nervous for that, and it’s so nice to have that.”

Kramer isn’t the only one hoping she can add a national title to her resume at Florida. In Wise’s 29 years of coaching at UF, she has yet to hoist the trophy, either.

“We were so close in 2017,” Kramer said. “And once you’ve been to the Final Four and know what it takes to be in that championship match, that’s the one thing I would be bitter about is if I leave this program and didn’t get a national championship within my four years.”

Follow Mari Faiello on Twitter @faiello_mari. Contact her at mfaiello@alligator.org.

Redshirt junior opposite attacker Holly Carlton feels more comfortable with her role on the team with a year under her belt. She transferred to Florida from North Carolina last season.

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