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Gators freshman Alex Holston came back strong in Sunday's win over Tennessee after struggling on Friday.

Sunday October 27, 2013Holston Shows off Resiliency in Win Over Vols

Gators freshman Alex Holston came back strong in Sunday's win over Tennessee after struggling on Friday.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- She could smile and laugh about it Sunday afternoon after the Gators swept Tennessee.

Less than 48 hours earlier, Gators right-side hitter Alex Holston had a much different outlook toward her performance in Friday night's sweep over Auburn.

Holston finally hit a speed bump during her fantastic freshman season.

"It was definitely different,'' said Holston, a two-time Maryland Gatorade Player of the Year who led Sherwood High to three consecutive state titles. "I was a little worried."

Coming off a loss at Missouri in which she recorded a career-best 17 kills, the 6-foot-1 Holston took the court Friday night with a target on her back.

The Auburn coaching staff placed it there.

In a pick-your-poison move, the Tigers opted to prevent Holston from getting high-percentage scoring chances at the net and to take their chances with others.

The move worked and also backfired like a 1980 Pinto.

Holston finished with only two kills and finished with a negative .143 hitting percentage, the worst game of her young UF career. Meanwhile, four other Gators finished with seven or more kills to lead Florida to a 3-0 sweep.

For a freshman not accustomed to many off-nights, Holston left the O'Connell Center a little confused and concerned.

Afterward, she talked to her teammates and her dad for comfort.

They offered the same advice: everyone has a bad game now and then.

"They helped me by pulling my confidence back up,'' Holston said.

When Holston showed up at the O'Dome on Sunday for the Gators' match against Tennessee, she had a mental post-it note stuck in her head.

"That game just can't happen again,'' she said.

That game never made it inside the building.

Right from the start of Florida's 25-13, 25-21, 25-15 sweep -- snapping Florida's three-match losing streak to the Vols over the past two seasons -- Holston was a force.

Holston had five kills in the first set and capped the set with a block for Florida's final point. She finished with nine kills and a .294 hitting percentage, a solid outing and night-and-day different from Friday.

"Every player goes through it,'' Gators coach Mary Wise said Sunday. "Auburn was determined she was not going to get easy kills. That's a testament to her skill set and her talent. You've got a freshman that high up on the scouting report with all the other talented players we have."

Wise saw a young player getting impatient at times on Friday. Holston was arriving early on some of her approaches.

At practice on Saturday they worked on Holston's timing and that work paid off in Sunday's victory over the Vols. The No. 5-ranked Gators improved to 20-2, 9-1 in the SEC with eight regular-season matches remaining.

As they move closer to the postseason, Holston's contributions will be more and more important.

Wise is keeping it simple for the newcomer from Olney, Md.

Unlike last season when they asked then-freshman Ziva Recek to play six rotations, serve, and fill a role as a primary passer and defender, the Gators are using Holston primarily in roles that showcase her hitting and still-improving blocking skills.

When she first arrived on campus last summer, Holston spent most of her time in the weight room with strength-and-conditioning coordinator Matt DeLancey, whose charge was to pack more muscle onto Holston's long and lanky frame.

She also worked extensively with associate head coach Dave Boos on her out-of-system hitting.

Once the season started, more demands on her time followed, including video study.

"I think we watched video once, for states or something [in high school],'' she said. "I've never done anything like this. It was hard at first."

With more than 40 offers coming out of high school, Holston wanted to play in college somewhere in the South and for a female coach.

The Gators fit both criteria and it didn't hurt that they needed a right-side hitter with Tangerine Wiggs gone from last year's team.

Wise, in her 23rd season, is excited at the early returns on Holston's time with the program.

The way Holston played Sunday is the way she has played through the learning curve all season.

"Alex just responded to [Friday's performance],'' Wise said. "She has been so steady for us all year long. That's what you normally don't see in freshmen.

"There is no question she benefits from playing next to [All-American] Chloe Mann. That gives Alex more free looks. Next year will be a challenge for her because there will be no Chloe."

Playing without Mann by her side is a concern for another day. The Gators are entering the stretch drive of the regular season and then comes the postseason.

The intensity is about to turn up a notch.

As Holston sat courtside following Sunday's win with a big grin on her face and curly ponytail hanging from the back of her head, her latest freshman hurdle was safely in the rearview mirror.

She had a forgettable game Friday but prevented it from spoiling her Sunday afternoon.

"I do just have to remember that everyone has bad games,'' she said. "Nobody is perfect."


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