Let's start with the beginning of our season. We went into the Florida State Invitational feeling positive and believing that our preparation throughout preseason training brought us to the level we needed to be at. As we sat in the locker room down in the basement of Tully Gym, it finally hit me that my senior season is starting and I got butterflies in my stomach! I knew that we were going to do big things, but little did I know what the future held for us (which if you keep reading you will find out!)
We were victorious in our three matches in the Invitational - beating Central Michigan, North Dakota State, and FAMU - and our very own Rachael Morgan was named MVP. Our coaches were pleased with our performance, but made it clear that we knew there were things we needed to work on to get better. And we didn't have much time at all to work on those because we had to play No. 5-ranked Florida that very next Monday!
Oh my, the UF match - a battle between two rival teams - and always a very emotional, exciting, stressful one! Going into this match we were prepared the best we could be and believed that if we were to play the best we could that things could fall our way. Being in the O'Connell Center is definitely an amazing experience - having over 4,000 fans being extremely loud and cheering for your opposing team bring so much energy that you want to prove each and every single person in the gym wrong.
And of course it's my senior season and I wanted to win! But the last ball fell and the score was 17-15 as we lost in the fifth match. Still, I didn't regret anything we did that night. We fought until the very last point and I was extremely proud of my team. The only thing we could do from that heartbreak of a loss was to move on. We got some uplifting thoughts from our head coach Chris Poole (or as we call him, CP) He said to us, "In 1998 (while coaching at Arkansas), we lost in five games to No. 5 Wisconsin on the road, but again it led to huge things for the season. We finished the season with the No. 9 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and went to the Sweet Sixteen."
Going into the rest of our week - we had practice Tuesday and Wednesday due to the fact that we left for New Mexico Thursday morning for the New Mexico State Tournament. Traveling is always fun during volleyball season - we start off at the Tallahassee airport, which is pretty tiny to most of the airports the girls on my team are used to. We then flew to Dallas and had a layover before flying to El Paso. Once arriving in El Paso we drove to Las Cruces, New Mexico to our hotel. That night we watched game film on the University of Illinois, who at the time was ranked No. 8 in the nation. After we woke up the next morning we made our way to the New Mexico State gym. I had numerous thoughts going through my head - what if we beat the No. 8 team in the nation? ...I hope we play well today ... I know we can be so good this season. As we sat in the locker getting ready for the coaches to come in and talk to us before going out onto the floor I had a surge of confidence come into me and I knew that today was going to be a great day.
As we walked in the gym and saw some flashes of garnet and gold (my parents and Jenna Romanelli's parents) I got excited all over again. As we warmed up to some interesting music (we are talking 90s hits and disco) we were feeling pretty good. As Jenna and I went to the captains meeting to see who would win the coin toss, I felt confident in my team behind me and we finished our warm-ups. Then boom! We were off. We won the first game 26-24 ... a little close but we pulled through in the end. We changed sides and we were calm and collected and no signs of stress were evident on our faces. As the match continued we played better and better with each point and won the second game 25-22.
Running into the hallway for halftime it hit me; we have the No. 8 team down two games! The coaches told us to keep up the good work and that things aren't over yet ... we still have to win one more game. Then the third game started and once again things were flowing smoothly and the final score was 25-17. We just beat a top ranked team! CP said, "The girls played incredible today. I'm very proud of how hard they are working and they deserve the credit." It's always a plus to hear that your coach is proud of you!
We didn't have much time to celebrate our win because we had to get ready for the New Mexico State match that night. We watched game film and prepared ourselves with what the coaches told us to look out for in this team. We arrived back at the gym after pregame meal and went to the locker room to get dressed for our match. We knew that the atmosphere for this match would be a little more intense since we were in New Mexico State's own gym. Warm-ups started and things were looking pretty good. You could tell that we were dragging a little because of the match earlier in the day but we were determined to end the night in a good way! The match started and we remained calm and collected even if we were down a couple points or up by a lot. One thing that I notice as being different about my team this season is that we have the ability to remain calm and not show any sign of stress when we are playing, which is a huge accomplishment for myself and my team! As the match came to an end and we won 3-0, we were a very happy team! CP said in his interview after the match, "The key is that we are learning how to play in crucial matches and under pressure. We are very pleased with that." Winning two big matches on the road is a great accomplishment and everyone on our team pulled together!
As Friday came to an end part of me was so ready to go back home to Tallahassee, but since it was a tournament weekend we weren't done yet. Saturday morning we had an exhibition game against the Italian National Team. I was pretty excited to play against them. It's cool when we get to see how different countries play the same game that I have been playing for most of my life! Warm-ups began and I went to the captains meeting, which was pretty interesting because the captain for the Italian team didn't understand any English! Warm-ups ended and as we lined up our coaches handed us FSU lanyards to give to the Italian team and in return we received pins and pendants. The match went well - we won in three and pretty much everyone on our team got the chance to play. And the best part of the weekend was after we were done playing we got the chance to go shopping! Always a good relief after a long weekend!
Beep ... beep ... beep! I look at my cell phone and see my alarm going off at 3:30 a.m. the next morning! Sunday was quite possibly one of the longest travel days I have ever had! We had to leave our hotel at 4 a.m. to get back to El Paso for our flights back to Tallahassee. We got back into Tallahassee around 1:30 with our heads held high because of what we accomplished that weekend. Stephanie Neville was named MVP of the tournament and Mira Djuric was named to the All-Tournament Team. Now all we had to do was wait ... for the national rankings to come out on Monday.
We practiced Labor Day morning then we had the rest of the day off. While my teammates and I were getting ready for the FSU-Miami football game I got an email from the AVCA (the American Volleyball Coaching Association) and I screamed so loud that my dad, who I was talking to at the time, thought I was being robbed or something. I was looking at the Top 25 Division 1 volleyball rankings just casually scrolling the list before I stopped a saw a familiar name listed at No. 22. Florida State ...wait, what? ... Florida State is No. 22 in the nation! I immediately texted my teammates and family members and I couldn't stop smiling! This is exactly how I wanted my senior season to start! CP emailed us later in the afternoon and it made me even more excited. We have so much potential this year and I can't wait to see where we go from here!
Well, that's about it for now. We leave for FIU this Friday for our last preseason tournament. Come back next week to see how your Lady 'Noles are doing!
-# 5 Bri-