Dec. 15, 2011
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SAN ANTONIO, Texas (seminoles.com) - After enjoying its most successful season in the program's 44-year history, the 12th-seeded Florida State University indoor volleyball team had its magical run end on Thursday evening as it fell to ninth-seeded UCLA, 3-0, at the NCAA National Semifinal in the Alamodome.
The loss caps a riveting year for FSU that not only solidified its spot atop the Atlantic Coast Conference, but also across the nation. The Seminoles (28-7) end their 2011 campaign at the hands of a Bruins (29-6) team that found ways to hit through FSU's blocks and run an efficient offense that was set up by sound passing. Outside hitter Rachael Kidder exploited FSU with 21 kills, a .462 hitting percentage and 12 digs, as UCLA compiled a .328 team hitting percentage in the match.
"Obviously the match itself wasn't as we had hoped and was a disappointing loss," head coach Chris Poolesaid. "At the same time, we had a lot of wins this year and had a great season overall."
The Seminoles tried to stay within striking distance in each set, putting forth their best effort in the final set when they held an early 7-5 lead. However, UCLA was prone for big runs and was able to mount points consecutively. FSU was also unable to work its passing game well enough throughout the match to give the Bruins some easy points.
Senior outside hitter Jekaterina Stepanova led FSU with 11 kills, ending a two-year career in which she became the second non-honorable mention All-American in school history. Stepanova finishes her final year with 421 kills, the most by a Seminole since Mira Djurichad 438 kills in 2007.
"I'm certainly disappointed for the seniors, but it's like I told them in the dressing room afterwards, I'm proud of the fight that they put up," Poole added. "And to think this has just been four years of trying to build a program there, I'm certainly proud of the work that they've put in to try to get to this point."
A positive note was that FSU out-blocked UCLA, 9-8. Sophomore middle blocker Ashley Neffled the Seminoles with five blocks, giving her 197 for the season. The Kennesaw, Ga., native ends a remarkable season with the most total blocks by a member of the Garnet and Gold since Gabrielle Reece had 212 in 1989. Neff averaged 1.55 blocks per set in 2011. She also contributed with seven kills on 15 attacks and a .400 hitting percentage.
Visnja Djurdjevic also finishes a tremendous two-year career at FSU, posting eight kills and 16 digs in Thursday's match. Lone four-year senior Rachael Morgan, who has been a part of the entire resurrection of the FSU volleyball program, added four blocks. The New Zealand native entered the Seminole program in 2008 at the same time Poole, AVCA National Assistant Coach of the Year Holly Watts and assistant coach Gokhan Yilmazarrived in Tallahassee.
Redshirt freshman libero Katie Mosherends her season with a 16-dig effort versus UCLA. It was Mosher's incredible play in the Minneapolis Regional that guided the Seminoles to their unprecedented run, as she finishes the season with a school-record 604 digs.
UCLA's ability to hit through FSU's block gave the Bruins an early 1-0 overall advantage. The Seminoles relied on Stepanova offensively, as the senior delivered four kills in the opening set while FSU put together a .182 hitting percentage. UCLA responded with a .400 clip, as Tabi Love paced the Bruins with six kills. The Seminoles faced somewhat sizeable deficits throughout the opening frame, trailing by scores of 6-2, 15-8 and later 21-12 before the set ended on a Bruins block.
Midway through the second set the Seminoles held tough, trailing just 13-12 following a kill by Stepanova. UCLA responded by winning eight of the next nine points, which included four kills by Kidder in that span. Stepanova led FSU again with four kills in the set, while Neff added two kills and one block in the second set. Some strong UCLA serving kept FSU's defense off-balanced, allowing the Bruins to get favorable opportunities that were repeatedly exploited. FSU once again struggled with its attack, totaling a .114 hitting percentage in the frame.
Although the season comes to a close, the 2011 year could be indicative of more success in the future. Despite the departure of several talented student-athletes, FSU will look to reload next season as it tries to maintain its spot as one of the nation's most impressive programs.
"Somebody's got to lose at the end unless you win the whole thing," Poole said. "And I think the experience certainly that we gained this year, the experience we gained going through the tournament is going to help us in the future."