July 5, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (seminoles.com) – Florida State indoor volleyball student-athletes Sareea Freeman (senior MB/Fresno, Calif.) and Sarah Wickstrom (sophomore S/Stuart, Fla.) combined to help lead USA Blue to a 4-1 record at this week’s United States Women’s National Volleyball A2 Tournament in Columbus, Ohio.
Both Seminole players were selected among some of the top student-athletes in the country to participate in the four-team pool that was held in conjunction with the USA Volleyball Girls’ Junior National Championships. Both were among 48 players split into four teams, with Wickstrom and Freeman competing on the same USA Blue squad that earned third place but held the best overall record among the participating teams.
Freeman and Wickstrom, whom were a large part of FSU volleyball’s NCAA Final Four run last season, arrived at Ohio Dominican University on June 26 to begin training before participating in matches from June 30 to July 4. For both, the summer tournament served as a tremendous experience filled with great competition that only made them better.
“Overall I would have to say it was a great experience being in the same gym with the best volleyball players in the nation and playing with them is an experience that is not granted easily,” Freeman said. “I am really happy that I was able to go my last year. I met some great people and made new friends.”
With indoor volleyball being longer than a three-month season including the NCAA Tournament, it is a grind for student-athletes that go through the rigors of practice and preparing for each and every opponent. Summer tournaments like the A2 championship sponsored by USA Volleyball allow many collegiate players to develop a familiarity with others and learn of each other’s makeup more-so away from the court.
“Bonding with these girls and knowing them by their personality instead of their team was a big difference and was something I most enjoyed,” Freeman added.
It was also beneficial for Freeman and Wickstrom to rekindle a bond of their own that developed well last season. With fall practice slated to begin Aug. 8, each player used the competitive tournament as a head start to get one another’s timing down on their sets. In 2011, it was noticeable that Freeman got better as the season wore on and much of that development could be attributed to Wickstrom putting her in great position at the net to attack as each built a general knowledge of where one another would be on the court.
“It was great playing with Sareea again,” Wickstrom said. “I haven’t been in a game situation with her since the final four and playing together for 10 straight days will definitely put us at an advantage going into season.”
Last year, Wickstrom went from possibly redshirting the season to becoming an All-ACC Freshman after splitting time with setter Duygu Duzceler. Freeman made plenty of noise defensively, finishing 37th nationally in blocks per set with a 1.25 average while being named to the Minneapolis Region All-Tournament Team for her ferocious play against opposing hitters.
However, Freeman’s offensive game and her ability to put down balls were on display throughout the 2011 year. The more she gets to play with Wickstrom and work on sets, the more trust that accumulates between the two talented players.
“Sarah is a young player with a lot of experience. I feel like she is starting to trust me now to make the big point and giving the ball to me and giving me these opportunities with the A2 program,” Freeman mentioned. “Trust is a big thing in volleyball and I finally think we are getting to that point. With her and I making the A2 program and playing for the same team, it was a blessing because we got that little something that was missing and this experience can only make us better. I am really glad we shared this together.”
The rise of the Seminole indoor volleyball program has been well-documented in many ways, ranging from two Atlantic Coast Conference titles in the last three seasons, the team’s No. 7 final ranking last year or the fact that they’ve won eight NCAA Tournament matches since 2009.
But another factor in FSU’s success is its presence of players taking part in national tournaments during the offseason. Last year, student-athletes Katie Mosher and Elise Walch competed for the A2 squad and won the European Global Challenge championship in Croatia. With Wickstrom and Freeman’s participation in this year’s tournament that wound up being an entirely different format, it only bodes well for the program.
“I think it’s beneficial (for FSU) because you are getting the best training and coaching right before you start the season. I think the A2 team can only help you,” Wickstrom said. “Training with some of the best girls in the country automatically improves my game. The balls are coming faster and the rallies last longer and experiencing that definitely improved my game.”
USA Blue started off the tournament 3-0 in the pool play portion, defeating Red, White and Gold before falling in the semifinals to White in four sets. However, it won its final match to assure a third-place finish, which paled in comparison to the overall experience enjoyed by both Wickstrom and Freeman.
In nearly a month, both Seminoles will revert back to their colors of garnet and gold and begin preparing to face many of the players they competed with and against at the A2 Tournament. With last year’s incredible run fresh in the minds of many across the NCAA volleyball parameters, FSU will once again have a target on its back not only in the ACC but across the nation. But as Wickstrom and Freeman return from holding their own against some of the top collegiate volleyball players, they are out to prove that the Seminoles are no longer looking back on their own success story, instead being more focused on doing what it takes to write the next chapter.