Dec. 15, 2009
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - What a year it was for the Florida State volleyball team.
And even though FSU concluded its year with a loss in the Elite 8, the 2009 season will more than likely be remembered as the one that set the standard for the future of the program.
The Seminoles earned the first outright conference title in school history. They also set the record for most ACC wins in a row with 16. FSU rattled off a school-best 19 consecutive victories. The team was rewarded for its hard work all year with a program-best No. 3 national seed in the NCAA Championship - a place the Seminoles had only been one time in the last 10 seasons.
The 'Noles made it out of the second round for the first time ever and proceeded to make it all the way to the Elite 8 following a third-round 3-2 win over a Kentucky team that was having its best season in 15 years.
FSU even repeatedly set the new program standard for highest national ranking ever. Prior to the 2009 season, no FSU volleyball team had ever been ranked higher than No. 17. The 'Noles went into the NCAA Tournament with a No. 12 ranking. FSU even found itself ranked higher than rival Florida for the very first time in school history.
And the individual awards were just as staggering.
Senior middle Brianna Barry became the first FSU player in history to ever be named ACC Player of the Year. She was also one of four Seminoles - including senior Mira Djuric, senior Jordana Price and sophomore Rachael Morgan - to be named to the All-ACC Team, which set the school record for most selections in one season. True freshman Fatma Yildirim became the first ACC All-Freshman selection since Barry accomplished the same feat in 2006.
Barry, Price and Djuric were also named to the AVCA Division I East Region Team. Morgan was an East Region honorable mention selection. Djuric and Price earned ACC Player of the Week honors one time each over the course of the season. Morgan was recognized twice as an American Volleyball Scouting Report Player of the Week.
Head coach Chris Poole also got his fair share of worthy recognition.
The Seminoles' second-year head coach was not only named ACC Coach of the Year but he was also named AVCA Division I East Region Coach of the Year. Against Alabama A&M in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Poole earned his 600th career victory to become the 16th active Division I volleyball coach to earn that many triumphs.
Yes, 2009 was a great year for the Seminoles. But more important than all of the individual and team accolades and records broken, the manner in which the 'Noles went out and played volleyball was perhaps even more important.
Led by four seniors, some talented juniors and sophomores and a couple of "keep-your-eye-on" freshmen, FSU played fun and balanced volleyball all year long before unfortunately falling to a tough Minnesota team in the Elite 8 way up in Minneapolis, Minn.
"Minnesota presented some problems for us," Djuric said. "There wasn't a team in the ACC as great as Minnesota but there were still a lot of good ACC teams that helped us get into the postseason. The conference is a lot better than it was before and there is lots of really good young talent. There was a record five (ACC) teams in the tournament. But the younger girls on our team got to learn that each conference champion meets new challenges as it goes on in the tournament.
"I am just so proud of my teammates for how far we made it."
So, what does the future hold for a team that will be expected to be a force in an ever-growing ACC?
Poole must find a replacement for Djuric's incredible power on the outside and from behind the service line. Barry has graduated and her blocking, high-percentage hitting and leadership qualities will surely be missed. Price leaves FSU after a senior season that saw her lead the entire conference in blocks. Senior setter Nikki Baker concluded her career in the top five in school history in total assists.
But libero Jenna Romanelli returns for her final season. Defensive specialist Taylor Wilson will be back, as will rising star Stephanie Neville. Middle blocker Lauren Young makes her anticipated return after an ACL injury cost her the season. Lauren Richardson might make a return for her final year of eligibility.
Morgan proved she is turning into a force to be reckoned with after a career sophomore season and Courtney Zuber will continue to improve in the back row.
"Rachael was our most improved player from a year ago and continues to get better every week," Poole said. "Stephanie had a hitting percentage of .310 and would have made all-Conference in most seasons, but it shows how deep we were with our hitting position. Lauren Young was our most athletic middle entering the preseason and would have pushed for a starting spot. Her ACL recovery is ahead of schedule and we would expect her to be a force next season with the four years of experience she has already gained in college.
"Lauren Richardson was our 2008 MVP as a sophomore and due to a medical condition was not available full time. If she decides to come back for 2010 for her senior year she will add to our ball control and experience level."
And don't forget about the true freshmen.
Middle blocker Sareea Freeman showed flashes that she can be the next dominating force at the net. Duygu Duzceler split time with Baker at setter and proved she is ready to handle setting up the offense on her own next season.
Yildirim may never leave the court again in her Seminole career as the Istanbul, Turkey native displayed a stellar ability to pass, dig, serve and spike the ball at a high level.
"Fatma, Duygu and Sareea were outstanding and we could not have been as successful without them on the court," Poole said. "Of course I am disappointed in the loss but we opened the season without receiving a single vote in the AVCA Coaches Poll. This team finished the 2007 season with an RPI ranking of 84 and in the middle of the ACC. They accomplished a lot this season. I am sad to see the four seniors leave, but we do have talent returning.
"Jenna, Taylor and Courtney will all return in a very deep libero position and that competition will again open up this spring. We will add another libero with 2010 grad Katie Mosher joining us next fall and she has extensive experience in the USA National Team program. We are also excited about our Prep Volleyball No. 89-ranked player in Ashley Neff that plans to graduate early and join us in January. Although we lose two great middles, we are excited about having Young, Freeman and Neff all working in that position for the spring.
"The ACC was deeper than normal this season and a lot of teams in the 25 to 50 range," Poole added. "This league has great coaches and had a lot of talented young players. I would expect the ACC to continue getting better and better in the future."