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FSU Ready for Big Stage
Katie Mosher and Rachael Morgan embrace after reaching the national semifinals


Katie Mosher and Rachael Morgan embrace after reaching the national semifinals

Dec. 14, 2011

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SAN ANTONIO, Texas (seminoles.com) - The 12th-seeded Florida State University volleyball team will look to make more history on Thursday evening in front of a nationally-televised audience when it faces UCLA in the NCAA national semifinals at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

The Seminoles (28-6) are set to make their first NCAA Final Four appearance in the program's 44-year history, and are also the first ACC team ever to make it to the national semifinals. FSU advanced to the NCAA Final Four in San Antonio after winning the only regional that featured all nationally-seeded teams in the Sweet 16. FSU defeated No. 5 seed Purdue, 3-1, in the Sweet 16 on Dec. 9 and followed with a 3-2 win over No. 4 Iowa State on Dec. 10.

FSU makes its first NCAA Final Four after being picked to finish second in the Atlantic Coast Conference preseason poll. USC was picked to finish first and UCLA fifth in the Pac-12 poll, while Illinois was predicted second in the Big Ten poll.

FSU is 5-3 this season at neutral sites, with seven of those eight matches coming against NCAA Championship participants and four (UNI, Pepperdine, Purdue, Iowa State) being against teams currently ranked in the AVCA National Poll.

The Seminoles have a 9-13 NCAA postseason record in 14 appearances that span back to 1983. Since head coach Chris Poole arrived in 2008, he has led FSU to eight of those postseason victories. Poole's postseason record at FSU is 8-2.

FSU is this year's lone double-digit seed in the NCAA Final Four. Since the NCAA introduced the current seeding format of 16 national seeds in 2000, seven double-digit seeds have made appearances in four national semifinals (including FSU). The Seminoles would be the lowest seed to ever win a national championship, topping No. 11 Stanford in 2004.

Stepanova Receives Honor from AVSR
In what has been a magnificent season for senior outside hitter Jekaterina Stepanova, the accolades keep on coming as the Riga, Latvia, native was named the American Volleyball Scouting Report Global Player of the Year on Monday, Dec. 12.

The high-flying attacker has been FSU's go-to option all season, leading the Seminoles to their first-ever Final Four berth. For the season, she leads FSU with 410 kills, is hitting .266 and is averaging 2.80 digs per set. Stepanova also totals 59 blocks, averaging 0.47 per set to add to her all-around numbers.

The AVCA All-America candidate now has 24 double-digit kill performances in 34 matches. Stepanova plans to retire from the sport she has played nearly her whole life following her senior season, and looks to go out in style on the NCAA Final Four stage.

Sareea Saves the Day
Junior middle blocker Sareea Freeman has enjoyed a strong season for the Seminoles. Her substantial play has stood out the most, however, since the NCAA postseason began two weeks ago. In victories over Albany, Cincinnati, Purdue and Iowa State, Freeman has been FSU's defensive force. In the aforementioned four matches, Freeman shows 26 blocks, 1.53 blocks per set, 35 kills and a .361 hitting percentage.

In the Minneapolis Regional alone, Freeman combined for 19 blocks against fifth-seeded Purdue in the NCAA Sweet 16 and fourth-seeded Iowa State in the Elite Eight. The Fresno, Calif., native recorded her second career double-double with 12 kills and 10 blocks, including three critical blocks in the fifth set versus the Cyclones. Freeman will have an opportunity to lead the Seminoles against one of her in-state schools in UCLA on Thursday evening.

Redemption
Speaking of FSU's big rival, it is conceivable to think that the Gators indeed provided the necessary drive and hunger for the Seminoles to reach a point they've never reached before.

In the second round of the 2010 NCAA Championship in Gainesville, the Seminoles very nearly knocked off the top-seeded Gators in five sets. FSU led 13-9 in the fifth set before falling to their rivals in a 17-15 heartbreaker. With several student-athletes returning from last year's team, the motivation was there to correct any mistakes in the offseason and progress even further into the postseason knowing how well they played a year ago in Gainesville.

The mindset has certainly worked so far for the Seminoles.

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