Nov. 19, 2011
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ATLANTA, Ga. (seminoles.com) – Another huge performance by outside hitter Jekaterina Stepanova helped the 21st-ranked Florida State University indoor volleyball team win its third Atlantic Coast Conference title, including its second in the last three seasons, in a 3-1 (25-20, 17-25, 25-20, 25-15) victory at Georgia Tech on Saturday night at O’Keefe Gym.
Another rowdy crowd tried to deter the Seminoles (24-5, 18-1) from clinching another conference crown, but FSU fought off the noisy atmosphere by relying on its potent attack. Stepanova stepped up once again to the tune of 18 kills and a .410 attack percentage and used a .298 team hitting clip to get past the Yellow Jackets (15-15, 8-11).
“I think this season so far has been a carry-over of the second round last year in NCAAs when we played so well,” head coach Chris Poole said. “Nationally, teams saw what type of team we had although the injuries really limited our potential. We had a good group coming back this season and that experience really helped us get another ACC title.”
Picked to finish second in the preseason conference poll, FSU has relied on its blocking throughout the year and it came through once again on Saturday. The Seminoles totaled 12 team blocks while Georgia Tech recorded five as junior middle blocker Sareea Freeman was a force at the net again with a team-leading eight blocks. Senior right-side hitter Rachael Morgan finished with five, while Ashley Neff added four blocks.
Sophomore right-side hitter Elise Walch added to FSU’s offense with six kills and a .417 hitting percentage. Visnja Djurdjevic nearly recorded another double-double with nine kills and a team-high 15 digs.
FSU was helped by Georgia Tech’s 12 service errors in the match. The Seminoles allowed 15 kills by Georgia Tech’s Monique Mead, one of the nation’s leading hitters, but forced her into a .167 attack percentage.
FSU’s attack dictated play in the first set as it registered 15 kills and a .464 hitting percentage. The Seminoles trailed 4-0 in the early going but got on track with the help of Stepanova’s five kills in the set. FSU took its first lead at 9-8 on a block by Freeman and Morgan and never relinquished it. A two-point swing later in the set on consecutive points from Djurdjevic and Morgan created a 20-16 advantage, and a block by Stepanova and Freeman on Mead’s attack ended the first set.
“Our offense had been a little off the past couple of weeks and did much better this weekend,” Poole added. “We played with a lot of confidence in front of big crowds this weekend and I think the Duke loss really got everyone’s attention and helped us get back to business.”
Georgia Tech came back with a .379 hitting percentage in the second set, and was helped by some unsteady passing from the Seminoles. Morgan led FSU with three kills and one block in the set, but FSU was only able to put together a .071 attack percentage and the Yellow Jackets used an important 6-0 run late in the set to pull away.
The third set was played closely by both teams, trading points through a large portion of the frame. With the set tied at 16-16, FSU strung together three consecutive points which included a Freeman kill and a block by Morgan and Freeman to create a 19-16 lead. Six of the next 10 points went in FSU’s favor as Neff and Stepanova blocked an attack by Mead to take a 2-1 overall lead.
The final set was tight in the beginning, but a 9-9 tie was broken wide open by FSU as Walch and Stepanova picked up momentum-changing kills to take an 11-9 lead. Shortly after, FSU won three consecutive points again to take a 14-11 lead. Following a couple more runs, Stepanova fittingly ended the match and clinched FSU’s conference crown off a nice set from Duzceler that she put down, resulting in a mild celebration from the Garnet and Gold.
The Seminoles will attempt to tie its best ACC record in school history when it travels to No. 22 Miami on Nov. 26 for its final regular-season match. First serve is set for 5 p.m. For information on FSU’s position in the upcoming NCAA Championship, check back with Seminoles.com or follow the Seminoles on Twitter at @FSU_Volleyball.