Sept. 2, 2011
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NEWARK, Del. (seminoles.com) – Showing once again that it can go toe-to-toe with some of the nation’s best, the Florida State University indoor volleyball team got off to a desirable start against 14th-ranked Northern Iowa before falling in five sets (25-23, 25-15, 21-25, 21-25, 13-15) at the opening match of the Delaware Invitational on Friday evening.
Statistically, the Seminoles (3-2) had the edge in some of the most important facets of the match. FSU won the hitting percentage battle (.277-.260), produced more kills (74-73) and less attack errors (20-22), but could not hold its early advantage against another nationally-ranked opponent.
“We need to regroup and come back mentally,” head coach Chris Poole said. “There is a reason why UNI is ranked 14th. We did a lot of good things tonight but again did not find a way to win at the end. We didn’t win the big points at the end of the last three sets.
“The results are disappointing. We were very much in control of the first two sets but really relaxed in set three and let them gain confidence. Give credit to Northern Iowa, they never quit and kept pushing us.”
FSU won the first set courtesy of some quality hitting from senior Jekaterina Stepanova, who finished the match with a team-high 19 kills and a .288 hitting percentage. In the first set alone, the Riga, Latvia, native had four kills which included consecutive put-downs late in the frame that broke a 20-20 tie to give FSU a two-point lead.
Sophomore Elise Walch proved to be just as effective as she compiled 16 kills and a .355 clip while registering FSU’s final two kills in the set to put the Seminoles ahead early. The Stuart, Fla., native has become one of FSU’s go-to players after having the team’s best offensive performance earlier in the week against No. 9 Florida.
Senior outside hitter Rachael Morgan added 11 kills and six digs for FSU. Stepanova’s line also included 12 digs to mark her second double-double of the season, with both coming against nationally-ranked opponents. Freshman setter Sarah Wickstrom continues to earn plenty of time on the floor, playing in all five sets and finishing with 27 assists and 11 digs for her third double-double of the year.
FSU’s most impressive stretch of play came in the second set, winning 25-15. The Seminoles sprung out to a 5-0 lead and peaked to a 17-7 advantage on one of Walch’s six kills in the set. Duzceler later followed with a set-kill and the frame came to a close on a put-down from Stepanova. The Seminoles hit .533 in set No. 2.
From there, UNI showed enough resolve to merit its No. 5 national seed from a season ago. FSU held various leads in the set, including an 18-17 advantage on a block by Sareea Freeman and Stepanova and a 19-18 lead on a Stepanova kill, but UNI countered by winning four consecutive points that involved two FSU attack errors. The Seminoles cut the deficit to 22-21 on kills by Freeman and Visnja Djurdjevic, but UNI won the next three points to take the third set.
After the Panthers won the fourth set, a deciding fifth frame featured a strong start for the Panthers. Michelle Burow’s kill gave UNI a 9-4 lead, but FSU fought back to an 11-9 deficit on a kill by Morgan. After the Panthers received consecutive kills from Krista DeGeest, the Seminoles kept it close by winning three consecutive points. However, Burow buried a match-ending kill to complete the comeback for the Panthers.
The Seminoles will look to rebound on Saturday with two matches. They face their sixth reigning NCAA postseason participant in tournament host Delaware at 12:30 p.m., followed by a 5 p.m. contest against UC-Irvine.