Oct. 14, 2011
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It’s not hard to figure out Chris Poole’s coaching philosophy. Just look at the Florida State volleyball team’s year-by-year statistics since he took over in 2008.
“Every coach has a different philosophy and mine is certainly to have a strong blocking front row to take on big offensive teams,” Poole said this week.
After turning his former program Arkansas into one of the nation’s most formidable blocking squads, Poole and his staff have the Seminoles on the verge of the same feat.
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
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FSU averaged 2.32 blocks per match in Poole’s first season, 2.46 in 2009 and then 2.42 in 2010. Each of those totals was enough to be sixth, second and second, respectively, in the Atlantic Coast Conference. This year, that average has blossomed to a league-leading 3.15 blocks per match as the ‘Noles head into their home contest against Georgia Tech Friday night.
“We always were one of the more dominating programs in blocking not only in the SEC but nationally,” Poole said. “We tried to bring that same philosophy here where we have big, athletic players in the middle and right side who can really step up and try to take on the best attackers that are going to be on the other side of the net.
“It’s a matter of discipline, it’s a matter of really working on the players’ timing and trying to make sure that they are watching the ball and getting over the net at the right time.”
No student-athlete has epitomized the philosophy of the FSU coaching staff better than sophomore Ashley Neff. The Kennesaw, Ga. native not only leads the ACC with an average of 1.74 blocks per match but is currently the national leader in the category.
Coincidentally, this was supposed to be Neff’s redshirt freshman season but a rash of injuries last year forced Poole to abandon his plans of letting the 6-foot-3 budding standout learn from the sidelines. Neff wound up playing in 15 matches as a rookie and helped guide the Seminoles into the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Because of that early experience and her hard-working practice effort, Neff has seen her stock skyrocket and propel her into the nation’s defensive elite.
“I had to work really hard especially because I have only been playing volleyball since my freshman year of high school and only played two years of club,” Neff said. “I had a lot of room to grow and the coaches have really helped me get better; especially at blocking.”
Neff has seen her blocks-per-match average increase since last season and in turn her total number of stops have increased too. She finished last year with a total of 57 blocks and already has 106 this season.
“It was about this time last year that we had to take her out of redshirting because of those injuries,” Poole said. “This year she is doing a great job because she is so athletic, has great hand-eye coordination and works really hard at it.”
Neff spoke about the coaching staff’s role in her development and associate head coach Holly Watts has been the driving force.
A former standout middle blocker at the University of Texas, Neff said that Watts “played at a high level so she has been where we are now and she knows how to explain to us how we can be successful blockers.”
Each day, Watts works with the team on the intricacies of halting attackers.
“Every practice we start off with blocking with just Holly on the other side of the court,” Neff said. “One of the things that we work on with her is hand placement, which is the most important part of blocking. It doesn’t matter how high you jump if you can get your hands over and in the right area each time.”
And judging by her statistics and the team’s overall results, Neff has certainly taken those lessons to heart.
“She works so hard,” senior outside hitter Rachael Morgan said. “In practice every day Ashley is somebody that gives 100 percent effort the entire time so to see that hard work pay off and show up in the stats, she deserves that.”