Nov. 17, 2011
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With every upcoming match growing in importance, the two-match stretch that the 21st-ranked Florida State University indoor volleyball team has ahead of them at Clemson and Georgia Tech is crucial toward FSU’s aspirations of winning a third ACC championship and earning a high postseason seeding.
The Seminoles (22-5, 16-1) have enjoyed a banner season that endured a minor skid last Sunday when they lost their first ACC match of the season in a five-setter at Duke. However, FSU controls its own destiny in its pursuit of a conference title, and with two victories this weekend in two difficult road environments, FSU can clinch the ACC crown for its second championship in three seasons.
Another scenario, one that FSU isn’t looking for, is if it were to split the road trip while the second-place Miami Hurricanes (23-3, 14-3) also fall in a match, FSU can also win the ACC championship. Miami, which is two matches behind but hosts FSU on Nov. 26, plays at Georgia Tech on Friday evening at 7 p.m. and at Clemson on Saturday at 6 p.m. Miami also fell at FSU on Sept. 14 by a 3-0 score.
FSU opens the road trip with a matchup versus the Tigers (18-10, 10-7) that can be seen worldwide on ESPN3.com. Play-by-play announcer Michelle Smith and color analyst Jennifer Hoffman will be on the call.
Clemson is coming off consecutive losses at N.C. State and North Carolina and will look at its match with FSU as one of the biggest of the season in terms of boosting its 61st-rated RPI. Junior Sandra Adeleye is one of Clemson’s best offensive options as she shows the fifth-best hitting percentage in the ACC at .353. Adeleye is also seventh in kills per set (3.29) and points per set (3.85).
The Yellow Jackets (15-13, 8-9) have one of the nation’s best attackers in Monique Mead, who averages close to five kills per set. As Clemson’s travel partner, Georgia Tech also fell victim at N.C. State and North Carolina last weekend and looks to rebound against the Seminoles.
In FSU’s last match at Duke, the Seminoles were vying to become the first Atlantic Coast Conference team to ever show a 17-0 record in conference play. Unfortunately, their hopes were dashed when they fell to the Blue Devils, 3-2 (20-25, 25-14, 20-25, 25-22, 7-15).
The 2011 Seminoles will at least join the 2004 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and the 1996 and 1997 Maryland Terrapins as the only teams to show 16-0 ACC records, which is the highest number of wins for an undefeated team in conference play. Both Maryland and Georgia Tech dealt with a 16-match regular-season format at the time, while the current format is 20 ACC matches.
With its upcoming match against Clemson, FSU is now trying to become the first team in the ACC to only hold one loss since the 2009 Seminoles went 19-1. Prior to that, Clemson went 21-1 in 2007.
Last Time Versus Clemson
The Seminoles and Tigers have already met once this season in Tallahassee, as FSU won 3-0 (25-22, 29-27, 25-12) on Oct. 16 at Tully Gym.
The win marked one of FSU’s top offensive performances of the season as it compiled a .389 hitting percentage. The percentage is FSU’s highest in conference play and the third-highest overall, trailing only its victories over Kentucky (.465) and California-Irvine (.481).
While the match was competitive for the first two sets, what stood out was how crisp the Seminoles’ passed throughout the match. It was one of the smoother performances of the season for FSU. Middle blocker Sareea Freeman recorded 10 kills and a .571 clip in the match, while right-side hitter Rachael Morgan (11/.409) and senior outside Jekaterina Stepanova (10/.500) also posted strong performances.
Battle of the Blockers
Two of the ACC’s best blocking teams, as well as student-athletes, will face off on Friday evening.
The Seminoles are first in the conference and fourth in the nation with 3.08 blocks per set, a number that has actually gone down over the last four matches. In conference matches, FSU is first with 3.29 blocks per set.
Clemson is second in the ACC, averaging 2.71 blocks per set. The figure puts them at 20th in the nation, while it averages 2.88 blocks per set in conference matches.
FSU sophomore middle blocker Ashley Neff continues to lead the country in blocks per set at 1.69, but her lead has shrunk to one-hundreth of a block over Megan Plourde of Colorado State, who has 1.68. Neff has held or shared the national lead for six consecutive weeks, longer than any other middle blocker.
Clemson’s Alexa Rand will pose a strong threat against FSU’s attack as she is sixth in the nation with 1.51 blocks per set.
Competitive All-Time Series
Since Oct. 10, 1981, FSU and Clemson have waged a competitive battle as the `Noles lead the all-time series by a 26-20 margin. Since both teams have been in the ACC, however, FSU only holds a slight 22-20 advantage.
The series has seen its share of winning spurts by both teams. Currently, FSU has won five of the last six matches, with its lone loss coming last season in a 3-0 sweep at Clemson. Between the 2006 and 2008 seasons the Tigers won five straight.
Overall, the Seminoles are 8-12 against the Tigers when playing them on the road.
Can You Dig It?
Redshirt freshman libero Katie Mosher has averaged 4.72 digs per set this season and totals 458 for the year. In just her first season of actual court time, the Fort Myers, Fla., native is eighth on the single-season digs list and has a legitimate chance to break the record of 513 set by Summer Weissing in 2005.
The Future Is Bright
Florida State volleyball has added four highly-touted players for the 2012 season, with all four being ranked in the Top 53 of the PrepVolleyball.com Senior Class rankings.
The list includes 15th-rated Sarah Burrington (MB/Tampa, Fla.), No. 23 Mara Green (MB/McDonough, Ga.), No. 39 Leah Mikesky (OH/Schulenburg, Texas) and No. 53 Nicole Walch (OH/Stuart, Fla.).
FSU is one of just four programs to have four players ranked in the Top 53, joining Stanford, Washington and Texas.
The All-American Case
It has been quite the season for sophomore middle blocker Ashley Neff, who very nearly redshirted her first season until having to play the last half of the year due to the team’s large amount of injuries.
Neff, the current NCAA leader in blocks per set, has been the main reason for FSU’s prominent defensive play at the nets. She has enjoyed an All-America caliber season that includes four double-digit block performances coming in a 3-0 win over Kentucky (10 blocks), 3-1 win over UNC (12 blocks), 3-2 win over N.C. State (14 blocks) and a 3-2 win over Wake Forest (10 blocks). Against Kentucky, which has emerged as one of the nation’s better teams, she amassed double-digit blocks in just three sets.
The Kennesaw, Ga., native recorded her first career double-double at N.C. State, adding 10 kills to her career-high 14 blocks. She has three double-digit kill performances as FSU has played 10 three-set matches. Her 14 blocks versus the Wolfpack are tied for the most by an ACC player this season.
Neff is on the doorstep of having one of the best blocking seasons in school history. Her 164 blocks are tied for the most in one season at FSU since Vicki Zinkil recorded the same amount in 1993. Neff will try to surpass former volleyball/model extraordinaire Gabrielle Reece’s 189 total blacks in 1990, which stands as the next highest.