TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A standard has been set.
At Florida State, NCAA Tournaments are an expectation. It’s the type of program Sue Semrau and her staff have worked tirelessly to create. The goals are ACC Championships and Final Four appearances, and it’s a mindset the players embrace each season.
“We’re all hungry to get to the Final Four,” senior Shakayla Thomas said prior to a preseason practice at FSU’s Basketball Training Center. “We established that goal early. We’ll do whatever it takes to get there, and we’re all on the same page.”
As the Noles hit the practice courts in preparation for another year, the new campaign welcomes a slew of fresh faces. FSU must replace four seniors off a team that reached the Elite Eight last season. While the leadership will be missed, the Noles are confident they’ll be able to replicate, if not surpass, the abilities of the group before it. This senior class includes five players in their final year at the school and they all return plenty of big-game experience.
“Even more so,” Semrau said when asked about if the team had the leadership qualities of last year’s team. “I think they all knew that they were next and to have big senior classes, they feed off each other.”
“We lost a lot last year but we still have five seniors this year,” senior center Chatrice White added. “We had great leadership last year and (the younger players) are looking to us carry that this year.”
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The likes of Leticia Romero, Brittany Brown, Ivey Slaughter and Kai James have departed to begin their professional careers. But the Seminoles do return a key piece in Thomas, who led the team last season in scoring (14.9 ppg) and was named a second-team preseason All-American this week by Street & Smith’s.
They will also welcome back seniors in Imani Wright (10.7 ppg) and White (8.9 ppg), both of whom will be counted on to heavily contribute in the starting rotation this season.
“We are really good on offense and we’re a tough team,” White said.“We’re also working hard on our defense. The coaches expect a lot from us (in that department).”
Perhaps the biggest veteran addition comes in the form of AJ Alix, another talented player in a long line of successful transfer hauls by Semrau’s program. The graduate student made a name for herself in the Big 12 for three seasons at TCU, averaging 13.1 points per game last season for the Horned Frogs on her way to All-Conference honors.
The Houston native has already made her impact felt in the early-goings of her career at FSU, as she’s slotted to be the team’s point guard this season.
“She is a born leader, someone who wants to connect all the dots and pull everyone together,” Semrau said. “She wants to get everyone involved and she’s already got everyone to buy in and respect her.”
“She’s a great point guard, extremely intelligent on the court,” Wright said. “She’s very experienced and that will be important for our team.”
An overseas trip to Europe provided the squad an extra opportunity to play some exhibition games, get 10 extra practices, and bond as teammates. Their time in Spain and Italy was a valuable experience that the Seminoles hope to turn into a successful season this year.
“We’ve come together so quickly that you’d think we’ve been playing together for four years,” Thomas said with a smile. “Everyone is clicking, coming together, and on the same page.”
“They are here to work, there is a very business-like sense about them,” Semrau said. “They are very inclusive, no one feels like they have to do it all. They are very willing to be a great team.”
With a few weeks left until first tip, Florida State continues to grind away on perfecting the details of the game that will help the school towards another deep run at the Final Four. Every player that dons the Garnet and Gold is aware of the expectations of being a Seminole. The goal is clear, the pieces are in place, and the team is ready to continue its ascension as one the game’s upper echelon programs.
“The standard here is effort, energy, and the ability to execute,” Semrau said.
“If we do those things at a very high level, we have chance to continue on the same successful path.”