Dec. 11, 2009

Sidebar: Showdown Central


By Judd Spicer
Special to

Minneapolis, Minn. -- The Florida State women’s volleyball team must be homesick.  If not, they certainly played like they wanted to get back to their home state and the women’s national semifinals in Tampa next weekend.

After finding little resistance via straight set wins in the first two rounds of the post-season, the third-seeded Seminoles had to endure a taste of sour at their first-ever Sweet 16.  In the first of two semifinal Regional matches at the Sports Pavilion, Florida State (31-2) won their 19th consecutive match, but it took five games beat Kentucky, 16-25, 26-24, 25-17, 19-25 and 17-15. Florida State will play the Minnesota-Colorado State winner in the regional final on Saturday.

After dropping the first and falling behind 18-20 in the second, the Seminoles went on a two-set run, but Kentucky proved plucky in coming back to the win the fourth, setting the stage for a tension-filled fifth and final set.

“It was a great match,” said Florida State head coach Chris Poole who has taken the Seminoles to uncharted waters in just his second season at the helm.  “We started off a little nervous.  I told the girls in the locker room that I was trying to find a chair to crawl under after that first game because we looked so flat.  But I think a lot of that is just being in this situation for the first time.”

Although All-American mid-blocker and ACC Player of the Year Brianna Barry was held to just a .227 hitting percentage -- after entering the NCAA with the country’s second-best hitting clip of .510 -- the Seminoles were able to advance via 15 kills from Rachel Morgan and 13 more from the “Serbian Sonic Boom,” Mira Djuric. Setters Nikki Baker and Duygu Duzceler combined for 50 assists, and junior libero Jenna Romanelli was active with a team-best 25 digs.  The ‘Noles entered the tournament ranked fourth in the country in hit percentage (.302), but survived despite a .246 effort tonight.

As the players see it, perhaps destiny usurps statistics.

“I think we were always meant to be here,” said Romanelli.  “We have all the tools in the world and we’ve had the time -- it’s incredible.”

As for coming back after dropping the first Romanelli added:

“I tried to step up my game; I was struggling at the beginning.  I don’t want to lose and I don’t want to be the reason we lose.  If I can get digs in the back row, with the six unbelievable hitters we have, I was just getting the ball out so they could get the ball down.  That was our game plan.”

Asked about her emotions when the last point was scored, Morgan said:

“I cried, actually.  We’re a family with our lows and our highs, but we stuck together and we didn’t break -- that’s a true family.”

Kentucky (29-5) was led by 19 kills from junior outside hitter Sarah Mendoza, who also chipped in 14 digs.  Three other players -- Becky Pavan, Blaire Hiler and Lauren Rapp -- also offered double-digit kills while senior setter Sarah Romley offered 63 assists for the night.  Romley entered the NCAA’s with the nation’s tenth-best assists per set ranking, at 11.82.