Dec. 11, 2011
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MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. (seminoles.com) - In what has been a season of enormous feats, the Florida State University indoor volleyball team has nearly reached the pinnacle as it defeated fourth-seeded Iowa State, 3-2 (25-21, 23-25, 25-20, 19-25, 15-11), on Saturday evening in Minneapolis to advance to its first-ever NCAA Final Four.
Never have the hard-working Seminoles (28-6) shown more resilience than Saturday evening when they faced a fifth set in which the Cyclones (25-6) were gaining tremendous momentum. FSU trailed in set No. 5 by a 4-1 margin before head coach Chris Poole called a timeout to settle his team down. From there, FSU reeled off three consecutive points, but later faced a deficit of 8-6. A four-point run, however, guided FSU to a 10-8 lead as Iowa State's Carly Jenson recorded an attack error to help FSU maintain its ambition of moving to the next round.
"The girls just kept hanging in there, kept playing hard," Poole said. "I think the sets that we won, our block did pretty well. Our sets that we lost, our block didn't do as well. So that was kind of the story of it, which we felt like coming up here that would make a difference if we could get our block going. You just have to give credit to our team first for the way they kept fighting, and certainly Iowa State didn't back down and kept fighting to try to make us have to work even harder. I'm very proud of the girls for the work that they've put in over the past year to get to this point."
FSU allowed the Cyclones to stay within striking distance after Victoria Hurtt recorded an important kill, but a 3-0 run ended the match as senior outside Visnja Djurdjevic recorded a kill and finished the match on the biggest play in school history - a service ace that sent FSU into euphoria as it celebrated the biggest win in program history.
With several student-athletes stepping up in what was an enormous atmosphere; perhaps the biggest performance came from junior middle blocker Sareea Freeman. The Fresno, Calif., native recorded a double-double with 12 kills, a .500 hitting percentage and 10 blocks. In the final 15-point set, Freeman dominated defensively with three blocks, including her final one that gave FSU a 12-10 advantage. She was named to the all-tournament team.
FSU relied on its blocking again, and it came through with a 16-8 edge over the Cyclones.
Joining Freeman with an incredible performance was Minneapolis Region All-Tournament MVP Jekaterina Stepanova, who nearly reached her career high with 20 kills while recording a .378 hitting percentage and nine digs. All evening, Stepanova was crafty on her attacks as she switched the tempo with an array of shots. She recorded her 24th double-digit kill match of the season, and had 19 blocks in her two NCAA Regional matches.
Djurdjevic added 14 kills and was once again efficient in her receiving game with 19 digs. She amassed her 16th double-double of the season and fourth in the NCAA Tournament. The Zitiste, Serbia, native also was named to the all-tournament team.
Redshirt freshman libero excelled through FSU's two matches in the Minneapolis Region, recording 24 digs against Iowa State. Mosher was a steady defensive presence yet again as she kept several rallies alive by with a bevy of acrobatic digs. Junior setter Duygu Duzceler also came through with 35 assists and 14 digs for a double-double, and freshman setter Sarah Wickstrom also added a double-double with 18 assists and 10 digs.
Mosher's performance gives her 30 matches this season in which she has recorded 10-plus digs.
The victory on Saturday makes FSU the first-ever ACC team to reach the NCAA Final Four. FSU is now 9-13 all-time in NCAA Tournament play, with three of them coming at the Sports Pavilion.
"I think we panicked a little two years ago," Poole added. "It was our first experience. We went from being in an NCAA Tournament one time in 10 years to suddenly finding ourselves in the Elite Eight. It happened so fast that I think they panicked when they got there. We were fighting everything. I think the returning players learned from that. They learned not to panic."
FSU's big win is also important for lone four-year senior Rachael Morgan, who had four kills and six blocks. Morgan teamed with Freeman to form a tremendous defensive duo in the fifth set as she recorded three blocks of her own while competing in her team-leading 10th NCAA postseason match in the Garnet and Gold.
The Seminoles' win over Iowa State, which was ranked 14th in the latest AVCA poll, is their fifth over a nationally-ranked team this season. FSU is now 13-6 this season against 15 different NCAA Tournament opponents.
Sophomore middle blocker Ashley Neff added seven kills, a .357 hitting percentage and three blocks. Neff now has 192 blocks this year, the most by a Seminole since Gabrielle Reece had 212 in 1989.
FSU started the match clicking on all cylinders in the first set, putting together a .457 hitting percentage on 18 kills versus the Cyclones. The Seminoles were efficient at hitting over ISU's block, as Djurdjevic led the Seminoles with five kills. Freeman also made a difference in the set with three kills and two blocks. Neff, who recorded three kills in the frame, put FSU ahead at 23-19 on a kill from the middle, followed by another kill two rallies later. The set ended on an attack error from ISU's Tenisha Matlock.
The Seminoles had their chances in the second set but were unable to steal a comfortable lead. Stepanova paced FSU in the set with six kills and one block, as both teams traded points through a majority of the frame. FSU cooled off in its attack game, hitting .185, and succumbed to a 19-16 deficit late in the set after an incredibly long rally was finished off by an Iowa State kill from Matlock. FSU, however, rebounded by winning four of the next six points following Poole's timeout. The teams then went back and forth again, as Freeman's kill cut FSU's deficit to 24-23, but Iowa State went back to Matlock for a kill that knotted up the match.
FSU rebounded in the third set, proving much better offensively as it carried a .310 attack percentage. Duzceler recorded 10 assists in the set while Freeman expanded her all-around game with three kills and three blocks. FSU faced a 12-8 deficit after a kill by Iowa State's Kelsey Petersen, but eventually tied the set at 14-14 on a service ace by Morgan. Once again, both teams went back and forth until FSU won two consecutive points on a block from Morgan and Freeman and a kill from Djurdjevic. FSU won four of the next five points, ending the set on an attack error from Iowa State's Jamie Straube.
The 12th-seeded Seminoles will now face ninth-seeded UCLA at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, on Thursday, Dec. 15, at 7 p.m. ET. The match will air on ESPN2, with the winner facing third-seeded Illinois and the winner of seventh-seeded USC and 15th-seeded Pepperdine.