February 1, 2016
Poole, Florida State Volleyball Setting Stage for Success in Professional Ranks

Experience, family, mentor, confidence, mental strength and enormous passion are among the words and phrases used interchangeably by six former Florida State volleyball players who described their experience in Tallahassee and the ways that it groomed them for a professional volleyball career.

A collection Florida State standouts, which include Duygu Duzceler, Sareea Freeman, Olivera Medic, Marija Milosavljevic, Nicole Walch and Sarah Wickstrom are peppered throughout the globe as they pursue their careers as professional volleyball players.

Head Coach Chris Poole and his staff have prepared these and other individuals in the Seminole volleyball program for success both on and off the court. They have graduated 100 percent of student-athletes from Florida State, over the last five years since his first true class enrolled in 2011, and set the stage for success both inside and outside volleyball. Among those graduates, 15 have gone on to play in the professional ranks, seven have received their master’s degree and seven are in the coaching ranks, including Freeman who returned to the court after a brief coaching stint

One of the primary reasons for success after graduating from Florida State can be attributed to the opportunity to compete against the nation’s elite programs. Coach Poole, who joined the program in 2008, began overseeing the scheduling process in 2009 and as a result the Seminoles have gone head-to-head with 33 non-conference opponents that were ranked in the top 25 of the American Volleyball Coaches Association polls.

“If you want to be a top 25 program, you need to be willing to play the top 25 teams,” said head coach Chris Poole. “I want our players to understand the highest level and to be comfortable handling pressure.”

Facing those upper echelon programs has made Florida State’s slate one of the most difficult in the nation for the last seven years. According to richkern.com the Seminoles strength of schedule has ranked seventh, eighth and fourth in succession in each of the last three seasons. That followed a pair of top 10 strength of schedule rankings in 2009 (seventh) and 2011 (fifth), which proved instrumental in Florida State reaching the Elite Eight and Final Four to conclude those campaigns.

“I am a big believer that if you teach your players to compete at the highest level, you train them mentally and physically to handle any situation,” added Poole. “Our players know that we aren’t just looking for wins in the non-conference schedule, but we are instead looking to challenge and push ourselves.  We may not always win the match, but we gain valuable experience playing the top programs and that makes a difference going into the NCAA Tournament at the end of the year.”

Another key to the success for these individuals at Florida State is the attention to details during the developmental stages. The focus on particular facets of the game is integrated in the daily in-season and complete off-season practice plans of Poole and Associate Head Coach Jeff Hulsmeyer.

“We have the same fundamental training techniques used by the United States National Team,” said Hulsmeyer. “Those techniques are applicable both with the national team and on a professional level so it is easy to make the transition to the higher levels of volleyball.”

Seminole players are also being tutored by 12-year professional, turned collegiate coach, Anna Khrystenko. Khrystenko, who is entering her third season at Florida State, is a native of Ukraine and played three seasons on the National Team while playing professionally in her native land.

“The biggest difference between professional and college volleyball is that at the professional level they are trained twice a day for a few hours, not counting the gym,” said Khrystenko. “Additionally, their season is 9-10 months long, so they have a lot more time to work on technique and various the elements.

“Realizing all this I try to help players to be ready for a professional career,” added Khrystenko. “I make this attempt in the way that they choose their position on defense and at the block, rapidly and efficiently moving on the court, lightly correcting their setting of hands and feet as well as their enhanced technical skills in attack and on the service. By working well on these volleyball techniques it will help the student-athlete in the future.”

Understanding the process of earning a professional contract, Khrystenko went onto say that “the top European clubs like to invite players after graduation, focusing on volleyball players from top 25 teams and those that were listed as an All-American. The club’s managers have a very good understanding that playing against top 25 teams not only provides technical and physical qualities, but also shapes the character of the leader, the ability to act effectively—not standard in difficult situations—and the courage to take on responsibility. Therefore, scheduling and playing against top tier competition, while at Florida State, helps prepare current Seminole players for success in the international professional leagues.”

 

 

Duygu Duzceler / 2009-12 / Turkey

How did playing against top tier competition, while at Florida State, help prepare you for success in the international professional leagues?

Playing at Florida State really helped me a lot. Before I came to Florida State, people in Turkey were telling me that I should not go there because it was going to affect my volleyball life negatively. Obviously, I did not listen to people and had four great years there. We won three ACC championships and went to the Final Four and competed against the best teams in the country. Playing against different teams all over the country had taught me a lot and improved me and my teammates. After four years, I knew that I was going to play professionally in Turkey and I did not even hesitate to play in one of the best leagues in the world.

 

Describe the ways that Coach Poole has helped to develop your skillset for success, both on and off the court, at the professional level?

Chris Poole is a great coach, because he is a perfectionist. He always wants the best for us on and off the court. He always wants more in a good way. Also his communication with the players is great. You can go up to him and talk about anything you want, which is why he is really successful.

 

How has the coaching staff, which also includes former Ukrainian professional standout Anna Khrystenko, proven beneficial about adjusting to professional volleyball?

I did not have the chance to meet Anna Khrystenko because she came after I graduated. However, the coaching staff in my time was great. Coaches Poole, Watts and Yilmaz were inseparable. They all had an impact on me. Even though I was really far away from my home country, I was practicing like I was in Turkey because Yilmaz’s knowledge of being from Turkey and having worked with professional teams there. That’s why it wasn’t hard for me to go back and keep playing volleyball.

 

 

Sareea Freeman / 2009-12 / Portugal

How did playing against top tier competition, while at Florida State, help prepare you for success in the international professional leagues?

Playing at a high level has benefited my career overseas greatly because I bring that top tier experience. I have confidence in myself to perform at a high level when the team is counting on me and I am in a high-pressure environment.

 

Describe the ways that Coach Poole has helped to develop your skillset for success, both on and off the court, at the professional level?

Coach Poole is awesome, he is more than a coach, he is a role model, a mentor – he is like a father. He has helped me on and off the court in my professional career as a coach and player. Coach Poole always checks in on me to make sure I am okay, and to see if I need help with anything. It is great to have and know that someone is still concerned about your life and career path after you have graduated. At Florida State he gave me confidence by trusting me in various pressure situations on the court. That instilled confidence in me as a player and a young lady. Florida State has helped mold me into the person I am today, and I am so thankful for my time there and I hope I can get back there soon!

 

How has the coaching staff, which also includes former Ukrainian professional standout Anna Khrystenko, proven beneficial about adjusting to professional volleyball?

I had the pleasure of working with Gohkan Yilmaz and he still keeps in touch with me to this day. He is very active in my career and always there to lend a helping hand if needed internationally. Anna, who I met briefly at a club tournament told me to reach out if I ever needed help in Europe or coaching advice. Coach Poole is great at hiring great coaches that really care about their players past, present and future.

 

 

Olivera Medic / 2012-13 / Romania

How did playing against top tier competition, while at Florida State, help prepare you for success in the international professional leagues?

Playing at Florida State made me a mentally tougher and more disciplined player. Besides having to be tough in the weight room (interesting fact: I’ve lifted more weight in America than anywhere else) I had to be much stronger on the court if I wanted my teammates to be able to depend on me, which was one of my bigger goals. I needed my coaches and teammates to know they can trust me and lean on me. I don’t know if I succeeded then, but setting that as one of my top goals was well worth it because I am a consistently stable player for my current team, CSU Medicina Targu Mures, in Romania. Being a Seminole also helped me develop a higher work ethic. When coach says touch the lines, I make sure I go pass them; when he says do ten repetitions I make sure I do all or extra. I don’t cheat and I do everything with max effort. There are days when I can barely get out of bed and I don’t want to set a foot in the gym, but I push myself and those are the days I work best. I developed a better perspective of the game. Covering players, seeing and reacting quickly, and playing with my head.

 

Describe the ways that Coach Poole has helped to develop your skillset for success, both on and off the court, at the professional level?

Coach Poole and I had an understanding for almost everything, which we developed on my visit to Tallahassee. On the court he observed a lot. He always found a better solution when something wasn’t working. I used to spend hours sitting in his office talking strategy, summarizing our practices and games to come up with things I can do better to improve, and just life in general. Of course we haven’t always agreed on things, but it was comforting to know I could honestly speak my mind to him and he wouldn’t take it personally. He likes to take care of his players, to play the father figure role, and I really appreciated this quality in him, especially because I was so far away from home. We still keep in touch every once and awhile. Even though I am not in Tallahassee anymore, he still likes to know how I am doing and what I have new in my life.

 

How has the coaching staff, which also includes former Ukrainian professional standout Anna Khrystenko, proven beneficial about adjusting to professional volleyball?

Having Gohkan Yilmaz and Ryan McGuyre as my coaches was one of the best things that happened to me in my volleyball career. Coach Yilmaz demanded hard work and maturity. He treated us as professionals and we had to behave accordingly. I would say my finer work ethic comes from him.

Coach Watts was our second mom and she was the backbone of the team. I can’t thank her enough for always taking care of us, making sure we had everything we need. When it came to arrangements, she was the master and we were sharp and organized thanks to her and she had a sense for seeing things on the court and for discretely approaching us to point out our mistakes. She was also the first one to celebrate our team and individual success.

Caitlin Quinn is one of the best conditioning coaches I have had so far. She pushed us over our limits because she knew we could handle it, but she also had the ability to feel when to hit the brake so we don’t break. Any time I wanted to get extra work in, she would welcome me in the weight room and give me different kind of programs to do. It was a pleasure to work out in that weight room.

I remember the hot and humid summers of Tallahassee when we ran so much I thought I would stop breathing. However, she always knew what she was doing and we trusted her, which always paid off in the season. Coach Quinn was that one person I could talk to about anything. It didn’t matter if we were getting stronger in the weight room or doing rehab in the training room, both she and Amanda Robinson were the ones we spent the most time with. So naturally, when we had any kind of problems, we would go to them.

All of my coaches impacted my life in the best possible ways and made me a better person. I will forever be thankful to them. If I had to do it all over again, when the time came for me to decide where to transfer, I would pick Florida State again.

 

 

Marija Milosavljevic / 2010-12 / Austria

How did playing against top tier competition, while at Florida State, help prepare you for success in the international professional leagues?

It is definitely important to play against strong teams in order to improve your own performance. But playing for Florida State meant not just having the strong opponents, but having 15 other girls in every practice who are just as strong as you are, and the competition for the first line up was happening in every practice. Such practices and games teach you how to always give 100 percent. That is definitely a valuable thing to have when playing overseas.

 

Describe the ways that Coach Poole has helped to develop your skillset for success, both on and off the court, at the professional level?

Coach Poole has amazing work ethic and enormous passion for his job. Honestly, I wouldn’t even call it his job since he breathes and lives volleyball. I saw on a daily basis how much he values the game of volleyball and it definitely makes you work harder. Being so far from home, he was like a father figure to me. He took care of us and was the first person to go to whenever we had a problem. He showed me how being well informed and on top of what you do brings you success. He was constantly teaching us that being good on the court is only a small part of being an athlete. We needed to take care of how we represent ourselves in the community; in the classroom, at the airport and even restaurants. Coach Poole installed in us that being a Seminole means striving for excellence in every aspect of life. That is what still constantly pushes me to improve myself on and off the court.

 

How has the coaching staff, which also includes former Ukrainian professional standout Anna Khrystenko, proven beneficial about adjusting to professional volleyball?

By the time I graduated the coaching staff looked completely different. Coach Poole’s assistants at that time were two of the best coaches I’ve worked with, Gokhan Yilmaz and Holly Watts. Coming from Turkey, Coach Yilmaz was also very familiar with the international scene, which is important because volleyball in Europe is structured so differently. It is based on clubs only and not many of them care about the studies. Also, the structure of the game is different in some cases. Being used to such system in Serbia, Coach Yilmaz helped me to make the transition to college system and I really appreciated their patience through my development. When I was getting ready to return to the European scene after graduation, the coaching staff was very supportive, from helping me with videos to connecting me with agents and clubs. What I know for a fact is that Coach Poole definitely knows how to bring in good quality people, both coaches and players.

 

 

Nicole Walch / 2012-15 / Puerto Rico

How did playing against top tier competition, while at Florida State, help prepare you for success in the international professional leagues?

Playing top teams for the last four years at Florida State has really helped me so far in Puerto Rico because when we play a good team it’s not a surprise. I got to see a lot of different players and teams in college and I know how to play against them because of the experience. I also played with a lot of different players while at FSU and knowing how to quickly adapt and become a team was a very important skill I learned which I am putting to good use.

 

Describe the ways that Coach Poole has helped to develop your skillset for success, both on and off the court, at the professional level?

Coach Poole and the other coaches I had at Florida State (Gohkan Yilmaz, Holly Watts, Ryan McGuyre, Jeff Hulsmeyer and Anna Khrystenko) have all helped me in many ways on and off the court. I wouldn’t be where I am today without all of them because they all bring something different and formed me to how I play whether it was mental, physical, on the court or off the court. I am very thankful to the supporters that pushed me through the low points and helped me to get to where I am today.

 

 

Sarah Wickstrom / 2011-14 / Germany

How did playing against top tier competition, while at Florida State, help prepare you for success in the international professional leagues?

Playing at the top level volleyball in college prepared me for professional volleyball in many ways. In my collegiate career I learned how to push myself to certain limits, achieve mental strength, and to never give up. All of which I’m still using in my professional career now. Playing for Florida State definitely prepared me for the international professional league.

 

Describe the ways that Coach Poole has helped to develop your skillset for success, both on and off the court, at the professional level?

Coach Poole has made a huge impact on my life on and off the court. He is the most hardworking and dedicated coach I’ve ever experienced. He would do anything for us to make each one of us a better player on and off the court.

 

How has the coaching staff, which also includes former Ukrainian professional standout Anna Khrystenko, proven beneficial about adjusting to professional volleyball?

I am so grateful for all of the coaches I had in my four years at Florida State. Each of them had their own coaching technique, but I was able to take so much from each one of them. Because I was able to learn different techniques and systems from each of them it prepared me for anything. Playing in a new country there are definitely going to be changes but because of the great coaches I experienced that would not be a problem for me.

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