Nov. 21, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (seminoles.com) - Florida State volleyball junior middle blocker Ashley Neff earned the league's highest individual honor on Wednesday as she was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, announced by conference commissioner John Swofford.
As part of the league's annual year-end All-ACC awards, Neff also joined teammates Sareea Freeman and Fatma Yildirim on the All-ACC Team composed of 18 student-athletes from nine institutions in the conference. Neff, a Kennesaw, Ga. native, became Florida State's second ACC Player of the Year winner after fellow middle blocker Brianna Barry earned the honor in 2009.
"Gaining a player of the year honor in a major conference like the ACC is an honor for any athlete and is well deserved," head coach Chris Poole said. "Ashley has matured a lot over the past two years and continues to work hard on and off the court to be the best she can be every day. Ashley is the only player in the ACC to be in the Top 10 of two major categories nationally. I feel like that strength of playing at a high level in blocking, as well as hitting percentage helped to make a lasting impression on each opponent."
Neff has emerged as one of the country's most dominant middle blockers over the last two seasons. After leading the nation with 197 total blocks and earning AVCA All-America honors in 2011, she has been able to keep pace with her impressive defensive showing from a year ago and excel even more on offense.
This season, Neff is one of just two student-athletes who ranks in the Top 10 nationally in hitting percentage and blocks per set. She is sixth with 1.65 blocks per set, her exact pace through the same amount of matches last season, and is 10th in hitting percentage at .403. Her offensive improvement has allowed her to have her best all-around season yet, recording 230 kills and averaging 2.25 kills per set.
After missing most of her freshman campaign in 2010 because of a late switch from redshirting, Neff is already eighth in school history with 422 total blocks while climbing the charts against previous players from the non-rally scoring era. She has been one of the guiding forces toward Florida State's impressive 2012 season that includes victories over four AVCA Top 25 opponents in Florida, Tennessee, Iowa State and Ohio State. Neff's selection to the All-ACC Team is the second of her career.
Freeman, a senior middle blocker from Fresno, Calif., has been a savior at times on the offensive end and has become widely known as the team's go-to option. Her selection to the all-conference team is the first of her career as she is tied for the national lead with a .451 hitting percentage.
"Sareea has had another unbelievable year," Poole added. "In fact, Sareea has also put herself in a position to be recognized at a high level by currently leading the nation in hitting percentage. It is my opinion that we have one of the top middle blocker duos in the nation and we have been able to count heavily on their play throughout the season. Sareea has made huge gains on and off the court over the past two years and has gained attention for her play from many different organizations."
In conference play this year, Freeman has hit .476, a mark that is over 100 points better than the next player in the conference not named Ashley Neff. She has been named the ACC Player or Co-Player of the Week twice this season and three times in her career, tying with two former players for the most in program history. Freeman was also honored as one of three NCAA.com Players of the Week on Oct. 31. She has 10 double-digit kill performances this season and has hit above .400 in 17 matches.
Yildirim, a senior outside hitter from Istanbul, Turkey, leads the Seminoles with 2.91 kills per set this season. In 2009 she earned a spot on the All-ACC Freshman Team and is a member of the All-ACC Team for the first time in her career. Aside from her hard-hitting style as an outside hitter, Yildirim has been a reliable presence defensively with 262 digs and 2.62 digs per set.
One of the highlights to Yildirim's season thus far was her performance at the Flo Hyman Collegiate Cup in Houston, Texas. In three matches versus Pepperdine, Ohio State and Houston, she led the Seminoles with 45 kills, 4.5 kills per set and a .400 hitting percentage. She was rewarded as the ACC Co-Player of the week.
"Fatma has been one of the hardest workers and most dedicated players I have ever had as a coach," Poole said. "Fatma walked onto campus as a true freshman and was thrown into a starting role among a heavy upperclassman team in 2009. She earned great respect from the coaching staff and her teammates for the way she gave her best in every situation. She earned a captain's role this season and has been a big part of leading us into the Top 10 in the country again."
Florida State volleyball has now had 27 selections to the All-ACC Team since 1991. The Seminoles wrap up their regular season schedule hosting No. 23 Miami on Friday, Nov. 23 at 1 p.m. at Tully Gym. The winner of the match earns the ACC title.
Duke junior libero Ali McCurdy was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year, while North Carolina freshman middle blocker Paige Neuenfeldt earned freshman of the year honors and Miami head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch is the ACC Coach of the Year award winner.