TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — With their backs against the wall late in the match, Florida State managed to overcome a five-set struggle with Cincinnati and win a highly entertaining bout, 3-2 (25-23, 16-25, 25-20, 20-25, 15-13), to advance on Saturday night at Tully Gym.
The exciting victory is another significant milestone for a program that has achieved so much not just in 2011 but since the arrival of head coach Chris Poole and his staff in 2008. FSU advances to the NCAA regional semifinals for the second time in the last three seasons, and has won six of their seven NCAA postseason matches under the guidance of Poole.
Opposite the Seminoles (26-6) on Saturday evening was an athletic, relentless Bearcats (27-10) squad that set their tempo for nearly the entire match and jeopardized FSU’s undefeated streak in Tully Gym. FSU, which finishes with a 14-0 mark this season at its historic facility, overcame several deficits throughout the match before emerging victorious.
“That’s the great thing about the game of volleyball, it’s that you can play very bad at times and you can have very bad sets but you’ve got to win three,” Poole said following the match. “We certainly didn’t play as well as we would’ve liked to, some of that is a credit to Cincinnati. They played hard, kept digging the ball and they forced us to have to rally and our girls kept fighting and we’re very proud of that fight because it put us back into the Sweet 16, which was a goal we had coming into this season.”
The fifth set was a wild affair that included several runs that swayed momentum noticeably. An attack error by Cincinnati outside hitter Jordanne Scott gave FSU an early 4-1 lead in the final frame, but following a timeout the Bearcats stormed back with three consecutive points before being stalled by a service error from Missy Harpenau. However, Cincinnati won the next two points to build a 6-5 lead before Elise Walch’skill tied the set once again.
The contest turned quickly into Cincinnati’s favor when it won four of the next five points, capped by a kill from Megan Turner, to take a 10-7 lead. However, FSU bounced right back with the crowd fiercely behind it by winning four consecutive points, as a critical block by Sareea Freeman and Rachael Morgan gave the Seminoles an 11-10 lead. FSU built a 13-11 advantage on a clutch kill by Visnja Djurdjevic, but Cincinnati struck back with two consecutive points.
The match would then be decided over the next two rallies as Djurdjevic put down a kill to make it 14-13. Jekaterina Stepanova, who has shouldered much of the offensive burden down the stretch, ended the match after another long rally resulted in a short kill from the Latvia native at the net, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
The Seminoles hit .226 as a unit compared to Cincinnati’s .277, but one of the key points going into the match was how well it could block. FSU exploited its size at the net and came away with 16 team blocks compared to Cincinnati’s six, as sophomore Ashley Neffled the way with 10 to mark her fifth double-digit blocking performance of the season. The Kennesaw, Ga., native is second nationally in blocks and shows a 1.61 per set average.
Walch was a major contributor throughout the evening, adding 11 kills and a .370 hitting percentage for the Seminoles. Stepanova finished with 11 kills and 12 digs for her 15th double-double of the year, while Djurdjevic came through with some critical points and added 12 kills and 12 digs for her 14th double-double. Stepanova and Djurdjevic each recorded five blocks apiece.
Redshirt freshman libero Katie Mosher padded her single-season digs record with 21 on Saturday night, helping tame a Bearcats group that was aggressive at the service line and mobile through each rally. Mosher now has 536 digs this season.
Duygu Duzceler recorded 28 assists, while Sarah Wickstromchipped in with 21. Each setter aided FSU with two service aces apiece.
While the victory is another significant step for Seminole volleyball, it also added another individual accolade for Poole. The 25-year head coach won his 650th career match as well as his 100th match at FSU.
A tight battle in the first set foreshadowed how the rest of the match would be played as FSU squeaked away with a 25-23 win. The Seminoles tried to pull away through the middle of the frame after leading 14-7, but Cincinnati would not quit and evened the set at 19-19 on a kill from Missy Harpenau. FSU used a 3-0 run to get its lead to 23-20, and a kill by Stepanova ended a close set.
Cincinnati took control of the second set, and seemingly forced the tempo for much of the third frame until FSU bounced back with a large run. Turner’s kill for the Bearcats created a 13-7 lead, but FSU won seven of the next eight points which included one of Morgan’s six kills. The Seminoles began to break away late, winning the final four rallies to go up 2-1 in the match. Although Cincinnati responded well by taking a hard-fought fourth set, it wasn’t enough to stop FSU from ending its season prematurely.