We got our subs and drinks when we boarded the plane then we were off. We had one stop in Indiana to get gas - and it was a shock to us when we stepped off the plane and the cold air hit us! BOY was it chilly! And the crazy part was that we weren't even in the coldest weather yet - that was waiting for us in Minneapolis! As we landed in Minnesota, we put all our layers on and we were trying as hard as we could to be prepared for the freezing weather we were stepping into. Lauren Young saw snow for the first time which was one of the exciting things to happen to us that trip. We also found out some exciting information that day too - CP was named the AVCA Division I East Region Coach of the Year and the trio of seniors, Mira, Jordana, and I earned All-Region Honors. Rachael was named an East Region Honorable Mention selection. CP said, "I am very proud of these players. It's just a testament to the hard work that all four of them have put in this season. It is pretty remarkable to have four players earn this type of recognition because the East Region consists of 45 programs." Great news to hear for sure!!
OY! That was all I could say as we stepped off the plane into the frozenness of Minnesota! We ran quickly to the bus and made our way to the hotel! Thank goodness for our large poufy coats! It was about 13 degrees that night - and the wind chill made it about -6 degrees...we're not in Florida anymore! We went to bed that night with a different mindset - the next day we wouldn't have to play! It was only Thursday and we would have time to practice and relax a little! We woke up Thursday morning and made our way downstairs for breakfast - and there was a beautiful Christmas tree in the lobby that made it feel so much more like the holiday season!
We were going to practice over in the Sports Pavilion on Minnesota's campus that afternoon to get used to the arena that we would be playing in. Making our way through the snowy wonderland we got to the gym and got dressed for practice. The arena was large and a little overwhelming but we started practicing and things were going well. There was sport court placed over their normal floor - the NCAA uses the sport court as a neutral environment for all the teams in the further rounds of the tourney. It takes some getting used to but a lot of us girls played on that type of floors during club volleyball season so it wasn't too bad. After practice we had our first press conference - which was a fun experience! Jordana and I got to sit in with CP while they asked us questions about Kentucky - who we had to play the next day. The Kentucky team is very similar to my own team - which meant that we knew some of the things we would expect to see from them - but we made sure to scout them as much as we could so we were fully prepared.
After practice we went to get lunch at Noodles and Company - a very tasty place. The best part was that when all 25 of us made our way into the restaurant - we took up the entire lobby. We were getting some pretty funny looks! Before we went inside Taylor throw some 'snow' at Steph, but little did Tay know she picked up a chunk of ice -and Steph had something to say about that! She said, "I have snow in this hand and ice in the other. Snow is fine to throw. But this is Ice...it's illegal to throw ice in Canada Taylor!" haha :)
We ate our very yummy lunch and went back to the hotel. Marlon, our academic advisor, came along with us on this trip and that afternoon he was going to proctor the final exams that some of the girls had to take while we were on the road. So during this time we got the chance to chill at the hotel and then we could go walk around the mall - which happened to be connected by skyways to the hotel. Very cool! So us Floridians didn't have to go outside! Perfect for me! So I went with Nikki and Steph to walk around the shops - and we had a fun time! The entire time we were singing Christmas songs! The stores were all decorated with lights and Christmas trees - definitely one of my favorite parts on the holiday season.
We were going to have dinner in one of the restaurants in the shopping center connected to the hotel later that night - but Holly let me know that there was going to be the Holidaze Parade on one of the streets under the skyway between our hotel and the center where we needed to be for dinner. So Nikki and I got our front row seats and sat for about an hour just talking and meeting new friends then it was time for the parade to start - and we could see everything without having to be outside in the cold!
We had dinner at Cosi restaurant then went back to the hotel to watch some more game film and get ready for the match the next day. I was going to have an early morning...I had to take my final for my Sports Law class...at 6:30 a.m.!!! Since my test was open on blackboard in Tallahassee at 7:30 - and Minnesota was an hour earlier...I had to get up at the wee hours to take my final! Friday morning came and I took my exam then passed right back out. And I got to skip breakfast so I could sleep some more! In the afternoon we made our way back to the Pavilion to have our pregame serve and pass then ate our pregame meal. As the clock got closer and closer to 5:00 the nerves and excitement starting creeping up on me - I was ready to play and I knew my team was too! Warm-ups started and things were going pretty well. Then we were off - the momentum of the match kept going back and forth between the teams - they won the first set; then we won the next 2; then they came back to tie it at 2-2 and force a 5th set!
I looked to my team and we all had the same intensity in our eyes - we wanted to win so badly and we weren't going to let anything get in the way. Once again the lead changed numerous times and the game finally ended on an ace by Jenna. As soon as the ball landed on the floor on the Kentucky side, making the score 17-15, I jumped so high and ran out to my team who was on the floor. Mira fell straight to her knees and the rest of us freaked out and hugged each other so hard! I was talking to Jenna later and she said that she didn't even know it was game point when she served because she didn't look up at the score board - so as soon as she saw everyone get so excited she knew instantly! CP said, "It was really just two good offenses out there. Neither one of the teams could stop the other one very often. I am really proud of the girls for finding a way to win and for playing better as the match went on." In my own eyes Rachael and Jenna were the players of the game - they stepped it up when we needed them too and played their hearts out! So proud! Jenna said, ""I just really tried to play as well as I could and not let my team down. I worked really hard to get to ever ball and make a good pass each time the ball was on our side of the net."HOLY CRAP!!! We were in the ELITE 8!!!!!!!!! This was the first time in program history that we made it that far in the tournament - and we were just so stinkin' happy that night! We went back to the locker room and we were yelling soooo loud! I checked my phone and no joke had about 20 new text messages! What an amazing feeling to be in the Elite 8! Jenna and Rachael and CP went to the postgame press conference and as Rachael said, "We were a true family that night - we had our ups and downs, but we had the determination to stick through it all and prove to people that we do belong here." We went to get our postgame food and once again filled up the entire sub place - and made our way back to the Pavilion to watch the Minnesota / Colorado State match. CP said, "Both Minnesota and Colorado State are great teams. I have a lot of respect for the program here at Minnesota and Colorado State has proven how good they are after eliminating Washington earlier in the tournament." We were going to have to play one of those teams the next day - and it turned out to be Minnesota. We knew it was going to be a battle to the end since we were going to be playing in their home gym and we both wanted to go to the Final 4 so badly! We went back to the hotel that night with the biggest smiles on our faces and looked forward to the next day. Saturday was also a very special day for Mira and I - we were to Graduate that day! But since we beat Kentucky in the Sweet 16 - we weren't going to be in Tallahassee for the ceremony...ha like I said earlier in the year - I would rather be with my team making history and playing volleyball then be at the graduation ceremony with other students that I don't know too well! We woke up Saturday morning and made our way to Panera for breakfast and we took our picture out in the snow which was fun!
We got back to the hotel and went to CP's room to watch the game film of Minnesota. It was tough because when we watched them play Colorado State the night before - they didn't seem to be playing as well as they normally would so we had to make sure we didn't underestimate their playing abilities or anything. We went to the same restaurant for pregame that we had gone to for dinner Thursday night, and Brandon and I got to leave a little early because we had to make it to the Pavilion to talk with the ESPN people. I got the opportunity to introduce my teammates to everyone watching our match that night on ESPN2 - so I had to think of something creative about my teammates who were in the starting lineup. That shouldn't be too hard right.... YAH NO! Luckily I had some time to think about it and I got to do a few takes to make sure I got everything right. Here goes nothing, "Mira Djuric is our Right Side Hitter and she's our Serbian Serving Sensation. Rachael Morgan is our Outside Hitter and she's from New Zealand - where there are more sheep then people! Stephanie Neville is out Right Side Hitter from Canada - so she is the only one who isn't cold in this weather. Nikki Baker is our Setter - and if her tongue isn't out in the match, then were not gonna win. Fatma Yildirim is our Outside Hitter - and even though she may be silent on the court, she indeed is deadly. Jenna Romanelli is our Libero and she's half my size! Jordana Price is our Middle Hitter from Idaho - and she loves her potatoes! And CP is our Head Coach - and he's Captain Cool!" haha hopefully I didn't sounds too goofy on national TV! After that my team arrived and we made our way downstairs to the locker room to get ready for game time! We went upstairs into the very full gym - with lots of Minnesota fans not exactly on our side. Mr. Spetman our AD made a trip up to see us play which was a great surprise! Warm-ups started and Jenna and I did our captains meeting then it was game time. The jitters were still there a little but they went away as soon as the first whistle blew. The first set was pretty close but Minnesota ended up winning it 25-20. Ok not too bad - we were going to be ok. Or so I thought....the 2nd set nothing seemed to go right and it was flat our embarrassing. We lost very badly - and we want to store that set as far away in our minds. We went to the locker room for intermission and the only thing CP could say to us was, "Is that all you got?" and my team and I said NO!
And we definitely came out in the 3rd setting wanting to prove to the coaches that we could do this. We stuck together as the strong team we were that season and won the 3rd set! But our season would come to an end that 4th set - we couldn't hold out any longer and we lost the 4th set, making Minnesota win the match 3-1. Minnesota played their hearts out and they definitely impressed us that night in the way they wanted to win. I said in the press conference, "It did get frustrating for us at times. We are used to our balls hitting the court but Minnesota is a great blocking team and it frustrated us at times. They did a great job tonight." Mira explained things very well, ""It's a great experience for the freshmen and sophomores and juniors on this team. As seniors, we never had the chance to make it this far. I am happy that they got to experience this and they can now build off what we did this year." It was tough to stand there with my team after the match, being the last time I would ever be in my FSU jersey, and realize that it was all over. I was so proud of everything my team and I accomplished that season and yes we were upset about the match and how it ended, but more about just everything finally coming to an end. CP said, "I am just so proud of these girls for working so hard all year long. There are 63 teams that will close out their year with a loss in the NCAA Tournament and we are one of them. Obviously you want to be the one that finishes with a win but I am very proud of them for what they accomplished." I believe that my senior class and I have put Florida State Volleyball back on the radar - people are recognizing us as a powerful team in the nation and what determination we have to prove to people that we belong in the top of the rankings. The coaching staff has done amazing things this season and I know that they will do the same things next season and make FSU even better! I couldn't have asked for a better season my senior year at FSU and it just proved that dreams can come true! We went to the Old Spaghetti Factory for dinner after the match - and we had a party of about 40 people! We had everyone's parents with us which made the experience that much better! We were reminiscing about the season and about previous moments we had experienced together - I had Nikki in tears because Lauren Young, Rich, and I were talking about one time in the summer when I fell out of my computer chair in my apartment. The parents kept looking at us thinking what the heck are they talking about! Only if Jordana was in this picture would it have been the four seniors the last time we would be together:
It's insane to think that this team was never going to be all together again. We would eventually go our separate ways - Mira back to Serbia, Nikki hopefully to New York City for an internship, Jordana and I staying in Tallahassee finding work. Being with these girls every day since August has been a crazy rollercoaster ride - numerous obstacles came our way, but we came out victorious in more things than we ever could have imagined - and we made HISTORY at FSU! The future of Florida State Volleyball is looking very bright and I am so happy I got to be a part of such an amazing program filled with traditions and memories that will last a lifetime. What was I going to do now?? No more practice? No more school? What else would I do - but go watch more volleyball! HA! My mom, dad, and I got NCAA Final 4 Tournament tickets from the Romanelli's and we were gonna make our way down to Tampa to watch Minnesota, Hawaii, Penn State, and Texas play some amazing volleyball. Little did I know that I was needed to be there anyways - in a different way though. CP called me Tuesday to give me the most amazing news I could have imagined to receive. I was named an American Volleyball Coaches Association Division I Second-Team All-America selection. And Jordana was named Honorable Mention. WHAT??? Say that again? This was truly the biggest honor I could have received all season and I was almost speechless when CP told me. I said in my interview the next day when the news was officially released, "If someone was to tell me at the beginning of my senior season that by the end of the year my team and I would make it to the Elite 8 in the NCAA Tournament and I would be named a second team All-American, part of me wouldn't have believed it. I have the utmost faith and confidence in my team and this season truly turned out to be the dream season I have always wanted. From day one of ACC play I knew it was going to be a great season. We took every obstacle head on and came out victorious, proving to people not only in the ACC but the nation what we were all about. Every teammate of mine stepped up this season and contributed in huge ways that helped us to continue to win as the season progressed." WOW! I wish I could give this award to my team - they truly were behind me the entire season and without them I wouldn't be where I am today. And also to my coaches - who pushed me to overcome obstacles in my career and perform to my highest potential every time I stepped onto the court. My last words were, "It truly is an honor to be given this award. It's a great privilege and is just the icing on the amazing cake my team and I made this season. I will miss this team very much and I couldn't have accomplished anything without them this season." Two middles representing Florida State in the best way possible - wouldn't have wanted it to end any other way.
I loved that the finals were in Florida this year, because that meant we got to go! As my dad and I walked up to the St. Pete Times Forum in downtown Tampa, part of me was sad because my team could have been there playing - but things happen for a reason and I was happy to just be there to watch some amazing volleyball. The semi-finals match-ups were Minnesota vs. Texas and Hawaii vs. Penn State. We found our seats which weren't too bad - and I looked up and saw Florida St. on the ribbon board around the arena - hey that's us!! It was great to see our school up there because it hit me that yes we were part of the tournament and no matter what happened I would wear my FSU stuff with pride. The first match was the Minnesota / Texas match. Not gonna lie it was very tough to sit there and watch the Minnesota team out there - because we were pretty close to being there ourselves - but I got over that pretty quick once the volleyball started. Texas played very strong and beat them 3-0. Then the big match started - Penn State vs. Hawaii. Since my dad graduated from Penn State he has always favored them in any match - except if we were to play them. If he rooted for them I don't think I'd talk to him for a while! I got the chance to play with a few of the girls from the Penn State and Texas Teams in USA Volleyball camps over the summer - so it was cool to get the chance to watch them play again. Hawaii came out on fire in the first set and took set one from Penn State. But as my dad said, "Don't poke the sleeping bear." Penn State came back and won the match 3-1. So it was going to be Texas vs. Penn State in the finals - that would be some amazing volleyball! We went back to the hotel and relaxed and I got to sleep in which felt great!
Friday afternoon started all of the All American activities that I got to be involved in. There were about 40 girls from various colleges across the U.S who also received the All -American honors. It was very cool because some of the girls I had either played against or played with - so for us to be all in the same room together was an amazing experience that I won't forget for a long time! So much volleyball talent in one room! We all came together and got to meet the USA Women's Volleyball Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon and he talked to us about the National team and what we needed to do if we wanted to try out for the team. Then we sat and waited for a pretty long time for them to take our pictures - first our individual head shots then a group picture with the team you were on (first, second, or third team all American). Then it was time for the dinner! And I was pretty excited because we were all quite hungry! We made our way to the ballroom and we got separated into two lines backstage on either side of the stage.
There were two large rows of tables on the main stage and little did I know that we were going to have to sit up there....in front of everyone...and it was a LOT of people! We got announced individually and made our way to our seats and waited for the other girls to be called. I sat next to Lexi Zimmerman from Michigan and Kindra Carlson from Washington - and we were right in front...woooo! Haha! We were served a very yummy dinner and then the program started. Coach Cecile Reynaud - our previous head coach at FSU - and Coach Joe Sagula - head coach at UNC - were the masters of ceremonies and they did a great job! They began by announcing the Nfinity / AVCA Players of the Year for NCCAA, Two-Year College, NAIA, Division II and Division III. It was cool to see girls from other divisions receiving such prestigious awards and getting the chance to hear them give their acceptance speeches - thank goodness I didn't have to do that! Haha that would have been interesting! Then they went right into presenting the awards for each All American present at the banquet that night. First the 3rd team recipients went up and got their picture taken with their coach and Sinjin Smith - a very famous beach volleyball player. "One of the best ever" - my dad said! Then it was the 2nd team's turn - and I was first. I went up and got my picture taken then I was on my way back to my seat. And Coach Reynaud said 'wait, wait...come back up here." UH OH...oh no don't say it coach, don't say it coach, don't say it. And out it came - "Bri was my ball girl when I was coaching at FSU - see even your ball girls can become volleyball players..." oh geez...thanks coach! Haha! Then the first team girls got their awards and gave their speeches and it was time for us to find out who was Player of the Year. And it turned out to be Megan Hodge from Penn State - she is an amazing volleyball player and I have gotten the chance to play with her and against her in my volleyball career. As the banquet came to an end I went and found my parents and took the whole atmosphere in - I got the chance to be around some of the best volleyball players in the nation and made memories that I will always remember. Saturday = FINALS BABY! But before the match that night my mom, dad, and I went exploring around downtown Tampa and went to the Florida Aquarium. It was very fun! We got to see lots of different animals and it was a nice relaxing way to spend our morning.
Then we went to go get some lunch and made our way back to the hotel to get ready for the match that night. The other girls and I were to interact with the fans outside the St. Pete Times Forum that night before the match started. Some of us had a little too much fun - like Lexi and Ashley who wanted to beat the crap out of each other American Gladiator style! It was very amusing! Then they called us to the sport court set up outside the arena and we got to do a little queen of the court while everyone watched. It was great to see all of us together goofing around having a fun time! Then we got the chance to sit down and sign autographs for those outside. We sat down at one big table and the posters they had made had all of our head shots from the season on them. I swear my arm was going to fall off afterwards! But we had fun while we signed out name over and over again - looking up at these girls who played volleyball and seeing how much they wanted to play in college like we did. It was pretty cool not gonna lie!
Then it was finally game time!! We made our way into the gym - and found our seats and I couldn't wait for the match to start! And oh boy was it going to be an intense one! Some of the best volleyball I have ever seen! Texas came out on fire winning the first set then stopping all momentum that Penn State ever had a won the 2nd set. In the middle of the 2nd set us girls got together one more time - to be introduced on the court for our All-American awards received. It was a little nerve racking having to go out in front of all those people but it was fun because we all got to go out and throw a little volleyball to the crowd then stand with the other girls and be recognized for all the hard work we put into our volleyball season that year.
After intermission things would go crazy! Penn State came out with a determination and the will to fight until the last point and won the 3rd set. I thought Texas was going to take it to the 4th set but Penn State continued to play with so much passion and won the 4th set. What a crazy comeback! Being down 2-0, having your backs against the wall - and going out and playing amazing volleyball! 5th set - play to 15 points - no room for errors! And the set started and it kept going back and forth, back and forth, until the end when Penn State got 2 points in a row and won the match. HOLY CRAP! PENN STATE WON 3 YEARS IN A ROW! That is some of the best volleyball I have EVER seen in my life and I was so excited that I got to experience it in person. I felt so bad for Texas but they tried their hardest and played a great match. Craziness for Penn State to be National Champs again!
What a weekend! More or less what an Amazing Season! I look back on everything that has happened this year and the only thing I can do is smile :) I couldn't be happier with the way everything ended and I will continue to wear my garnet and gold with pride. As the final rankings were posted Tuesday December 22, 2009 - I saw our name at the #11 slot. Almost top 10! This season has been nothing short of a dream season and I can't believe my volleyball career at FSU in now over. What an amazing ride I've had these past 4 years! I have loved writing this blog every week letting you readers behind the scenes of FSU volleyball - and I hope you're enjoyed it as well! I know that whoever takes over for me next season will do just as amazing as a job.