Slonina's death impacts Gators' volleyball team

Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 17, 2007 at 12:32 a.m.

Florida volleyball sophomore Alli Cecchini will never forget Ashley Slonina. The fresh tattoo on Cecchini's body proves it.

Slonina was killed along with Florida football player Michael Guilford early Friday morning when the motorcycle they were riding struck a median at a high rate of speed.

The tragic accident, which has impacted the Gators' football team, has also touched the UF volleyball team.

Slonina was one of Cecchini's best friends and made daily visits to the on-campus residence Cecchini shared with teammate Elyse Cusack.

When Slonina passed away early Friday morning, Florida's volleyball team was in Fayetteville, Ark. for a match with the Arkansas Razorbacks that night. By an incredible stroke of fortune, however, Cecchini was not with the Gators in Arkansas.

Cecchini stayed in Gainesville to recover from a head injury she suffered when she walked into a concrete overhang outside the O'Connell Center prior to Florida's Oct. 10 match against South Carolina.

"Maybe there was a reason she had to stay," Gators coach Mary Wise said. "She needed to be here."

Cecchini was the first to meet Slonina's family when they arrived in town Friday.

"Everything happens for a reason," Cecchini said. "I'm so thankful now that I didn't travel. I wouldn't have wanted to put that on my team or my family."

Slonina had a tattoo of a winged heart with a bible passage on her back. The day after her death, Cecchini had the identical imagine tattooed over her left rib cage. The tattoo has Slonina's initials.

"She would think it was so cool," Cecchini said.

Sadly, this isn't the first time Cecchini has lost someone close to her. Cecchini's 39-year-old sister died of cancer a little over a year ago.

"I'm having to go through everything again," she said. "This is just so much worse. She was here one day then gone the next."

Wise said Cecchini has met with counselors at the University to help deal with the grief.

"For anyone to lose a best friend is difficult," Wise said. "To put that on top of her world of going to school and being away from home and playing volleyball, there's a lot on her plate. Her willingness to get help has been the key."

Slonina's memory lives on with Cusack and Cecchini.

"Me and Elyse were just talking yesterday about how we can hear her laugh in our heads," Cecchini said. "She had the loudest, most exciting laugh. She was always happy."

Wise takes responsibility

Volleyball coach Mary Wise accepted the blame for not having her team prepared Friday night in a 3-2 loss at Arkansas.

"I take full responsibility that the team wasn't ready to play," Wise said.

The defeat was the first of the season for the Gators (16-1, 9-1 SEC). It was also just the sixth time Florida has dropped a regular-season SEC match in Wise's 17-year UF tenure, a span of 248 matches.

Florida has now lost one regular-season SEC match in each of the last four seasons after going undefeated in league play from 1995-2003. As a result, Florida dropped five spots in the AVCA top 25 to No. 10 on Monday.

"If we aren't more motivated," Wise said, "I'll have to check our heart rate."

Top recruit chooses UF

Mary Wise keeps reloading.

Kelly Murphy, a 6-foot-2, left-handed setter/outside hitter from Joliet Catholic Academy in Joliet, Ill., has verbally committed to the Gators, Joliet coach Christine Scheibe said.

Murphy is rated by several recruiting services as the overall No. 1 senior in the nation.

Murphy is a two-time Junior Olympic MVP who recently played with the U.S. Junior National Team in Thailand.

Criscione sets record

Turns out, a hernia operation may have been the best thing to happen to Florida cross country junior Jeremy Criscione.

The Interlachen native was forced to step away from the sport for a time this past summer when he underwent a hernia operation.

He made UF history last weekend when he broke the school's 8K record time of 23:40.7, set by Keith Brantly in 1983. Criscione ran the event in a time of 23:38.3.

Coach Jeff Pigg said taking a break this summer was just what Criscione needed.

"He's such a work-oriented kid, he needed a break," Pigg said. "That period where his body was able to rest up was good."

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