Aug. 7, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (seminoles.com) - The Florida State indoor volleyball team begins preseason camp with a different feel this season as it comes off a record-breaking year that has been the tipping point for the program's recent success.
On Wednesday, Aug. 8, the Seminoles regroup for another fall season in what is the first official day of practice. FSU will put together several two-a-days at Tully Gym in an effort to build a unit that returns many key pieces from last year's NCAA Final Four squad while bringing in seven newcomers.
"Our staff is very excited about the 2012 season," head coach Chris Poole said. "We have a great core returning from our NCAA Final Four run. We have the No. 3 best recruiting class in 2012 ready to push for playing time and we will again have one of the top non-conference schedules in the nation. Our goal early will be to find replacements for the three young ladies that earned All-America status at Florida State during their career. Those three seniors were instrumental last season in leading our team."
FSU returns nine letterwinners from a year ago but also loses three important starters in graduated seniors Jekaterina Stepanova, Visnja Djurdjevic and Rachael Morgan. All three departed players have at least one AVCA All-America credential to their name as the Seminoles look to replenish their losses at the outside hitting position with some new talent.
"We have a lot of talent, but we also have a lot of inexperience," Poole added. "In fact, this will be one of the most inexperienced teams I have coached with half the girls new to our program. How well we play early will depend on the returning players' ability to step up big and how quickly we can transition some of the new players into a Top 20 level Division I program."
Looking to make a strong statement in preseason camp is senior outside hitter Fatma Yildirim, an Istanbul, Turkey native who was honored as an All-ACC freshman in 2009 when she finished the year with 232 kills. Yildirim is one of just three current Seminoles who were on both the 2009 Elite Eight squad and 2011 NCAA Final Four team, joining fellow Turkey native Duygu Duzceler and middle blocker Sareea Freeman.
While the Seminoles search for their key performers in the attacking game, they return one of the top middle blocking units in the nation. Freeman, who finished 37th nationally in blocks per set in 2011, is joined by the reigning national leader in total blocks in junior Ashley Neff. Last season, Neff finished with 197 total blocks to mark the second-most by a Division I collegiate player since NCAA volleyball switched to a 25-point scoring format in 2008.
FSU also returns another talented middle blocker in senior Marija Milosavljevic, who showed her potential with a 12-block match that the Seminoles sorely needed to defeat Wake Forest last season.
Junior Elise Walch will try to replace Morgan's talents at right-side hitter, making her mark in 2011 with high-velocity kills and several outstanding offensive performances. Her sister, Nicole, is part of FSU's third-ranked recruiting class that will add substantial depth to this year's squad.
Comprising the highly-touted class are middle blockers Sarah Burrington (Ruskin, Fla.) and Mara Green (McDonough, Ga.) and outside hitters Walch (Stuart, Fla.) and Leah Mikesky (Schulenburg, Texas). All four student-athletes were ranked in the Top 53 of Prepvolleyball.com's 2012 senior class ratings.
FSU also added three more players in the spring, including junior college outside hitter Olivera Medic. Twin sister liberos Caroline Dadowski and Laura Dadowski, both from Pittsburgh, Pa., also joined the team.
Another important returnee is redshirt sophomore libero Katie Mosher, who emerged as one of the best at her position in the conference last year. The Fort Myers, Fla., native set a single-season school record with 604 digs in 2011, and highlighted her season with a tremendous two-match performance in NCAA Championship wins over Purdue and Iowa State at the Minneapolis Regional.
The Seminoles return both their setters in Duzceler and sophomore Sarah Wickstrom, who earned All-ACC freshman honors last year. Both student-athletes combined to make FSU's attack one of the best in the nation last season.
Prior to the season opener at Tennessee on Aug. 24, fans are encouraged to attend the annual Garnet and Gold intrasquad scrimmage which takes place Saturday, Aug. 18 at 4 p.m. at Tully Gym. The event is open and free to the public.
Follow the FSU volleyball team all season long on Facebook at facebook.com/FSUVolleyball, as well as on Twitter at twitter.com/FSU_Volleyball.