Florida State officially begins the 2009 season this weekend by hosting the Florida State Invitational Tournament. Featuring cross-town foe Florida A&M, North Dakota State and Central Michigan, the tournament will feature six matches played over the course of two days, Aug. 28 and 29. Following a trip to Gainesville, Fla. for a matchup with the University of Florida on Aug. 31, the Seminoles will play at New Mexico State in a two-day event and then will travel to Miami, Fla. for their third of four regular-season tournaments. After hosting the Seminole Tri-Tournament from Sept. 18 to 20, FSU will kick off its Atlantic Coast Conference slate on Aug. 25 at home against Virginia Tech. This season, the Seminoles will play 10 conference games at home and nine on the road. Florida State’s final regular-season game of the year will take place at Miami.
THE RETURN OF AN OUTSIDE HITTER
The Seminoles will get a huge boost in 2009 thanks to the return of outside hitter Mira Djuric. The fifth-year standout took a medical redshirt last season and will return to the court looking to build off an impressive junior campaign in 2007. A native of Belgrade, Serbia, Djuric led FSU in kills, points and service aces during her junior season.
THE 2009 FRESHMAN CLASS
Head coach Chris Poole’s first-ever class of freshmen features three talented athletes that all bring different skill-sets to Tallahassee. Duygu Duzceler (Istanbul, Turkey) was named “Best Setter” at the Turkish Championships while she was in high school and Fatma Yildirim (Istanbul, Turkey) was a member of the Turkish Junior National team as outside hitter. Florida State’s lone signee from the United States, Sareea Freeman, excelled as a middle blocker at Sunnyside High School in Fresno, Calif. before joining the Seminoles.
Nikki Baker returns for her final season at Florida State as the Seminoles’ lone player at the position with any college experience. Baker started all 30 matches as a junior a season ago as FSU’s lone setter. The Findlay, Ohio native had a terrific year despite not getting much rest as she earned a career-high 1,209 total assists and finished the season ranked first in the ACC with 10.89 assists per set. Duygu Duzceler may provide some relief for Baker this season as the true freshman was able to spend the duration of the offseason with her new team after enrolling at FSU in January.
THE DEFENSIVE SPECIALISTS
The Florida State roster features four quick and athletic defensive specialists. Juniors Jenna Romanelli and Taylor Wilson enter their third season together after both played in all 30 matches a season ago. Sophomore Drew Dudley played in 14 matches off the bench as a freshman and Courtney Zuber will get her first taste of college volleyball in 2009 after redshirting in her first season at FSU last year.
THE OUTSIDE HITTERS
Mira Djuric led FSU in three different categories in 2007 and junior Stephanie Neville returns after a sophomore season in 2008 that saw her set career highs in almost every statistical category. Junior Lauren Richardson is a 2008 All-ACC member that led the Seminoles with 321 kills, 958 total attacks and 18 solo blocks. Sophomore Rachael Morgan is a standout in the making as she earned a start in 26 matches as a true freshman last year. Newcomer Fatma Yildirim adds quality depth and skill to the position.
THE MIDDLE BLOCKERS
Featuring FSU’s senior team leader Brianna Barry, the middle blockers at FSU are once again very talented. Barry set a host of career highs in 2008 with her play in the middle despite missing significant time with an injury. Fellow senior Jordana Price also helps hold down the position as she earned an AVCA All-East Region Honorable Mention accolade for the first time in her career in 2008. Junior Lauren Young had a very promising spring season but unfortunately suffered a knee injury in preseason practices that may sideline her for the entire year. True freshman Sareea Freeman has the ability to be a talented player in the middle as well.
…building off his first year at FSU:
“Well, we really didn’t know what to expect coming into a new program. They had been solid but had not been great. The expectations were kind of, `let’s see what happens when we get started.’ We felt like the team progressed as the season went on. In the last third of the year we were very competitive and that’s exciting to me because I feel like we have a lot to build off from the last third of the season.”
…expectations for 2009:
“If we can stay healthy, I like our potential. We certainly are going into this year with the goal of making the NCAA Tournament, which they have only done one time in the last 10 years. I feel like that’s a big goal but it’s an obtainable goal. We had a great spring. The girls worked really hard. They know the seriousness of putting in the work in the summer. So I feel like we should be back ready to play. We are excited about the season and just everything will be different. We were able to put in our offense and talk about our defense more. So things will be more in place where last year it was an ongoing thing from week to week just trying to instill our philosophy.”
…the style that FSU will play this season:
“We certainly want to be a bigger, more physical blocking team than we were last year. We focused on that a lot in the spring. We want to run a faster offense than we did last fall and we feel like defensively we should be improved with our speed. We want to be more athletic. Typically a Chris Poole team is going to be a very dynamic, athletic team. So that is something we have worked hard on this year to get the girls’ speed up and jumps up and hopefully people will be able to see the difference in the fall.”
…returners and incoming players that everyone should keep an eye on:
“We had a lot of players that won awards last year. That’s exciting for us. Brianna Barry had a great year out of the middle as did Jordana Price. Both of those in the middle are as good as anyone returning in the conference. We feel very good about that position and we are excited about our middle attack. As for incoming players, I think all three have a chance to contribute in different ways. We have a setter (Duygu Duzceler) coming in that was here in the spring so that gives her a bit of an advantage. She already knows the offense and what we expect from her. We’ve got another young lady in Fatma Yildirim, who is very, very good. She’s going to bring a lot of experience to the team as she has played for the Turkish National Team.”
…a key component that will get the Seminoles back into the postseason:
“One thing that we have done much better with is the preseason schedule for this year. Last year it was too weak so our RPI was not as strong as it should have been last fall. We really put a lot of attention to that. This year we are playing a lot of teams that went to the postseason last year and a lot of teams that had good RPI so that will hopefully help our RPI. If we can get some wins there in the preseason, now it will mean something. There just really wasn’t much emphasis placed on scheduling here in the past and we are trying to fix that so we can give a reason to the NCAA Tournament Committee to put us in rather than leave us out.”