Knoxville, TN - Opening the season with several new faces from last year’s historic team, the 12th-ranked Florida State indoor volleyball team showed no jitters on the road as it toppled No. 15 Tennessee, 3-0 (27-25, 25-15, 25-21), in front of 1,067 fans at Thompson-Boling Arena on Friday evening at the Comcast Lady Vol Classic.
The Seminoles (1-0) got an enormous boost from several of their returning student-athletes, led by junior right-side Elise Walch and junior middle blocker Ashley Neff offensively. Walch recorded seven kills and a .538 hitting percentage, earning more swings as the match progressed. Neff was also sharp with six kills and a .600 hitting percentage as well as a team-leading five blocks.
Playing in arguably the toughest season-opening tournament around the nation, it was important for FSU to be guided by its key returnees knowing that any victory at the Comcast Lady Vol Classic will not come easy.
“Tonight was really important for our mental state to open the season because of having such a big season last year and losing three All-Americans,” head coach Chris Poole said. “We needed our returnees to step up big. I’m proud of the way we played tonight and our three returning hitters were great. It was a total effort with everyone contributing. It makes a big difference early in the season because teams tend to make a lot of mistakes.”
Mistakes were aplenty for the nationally-ranked Lady Volunteers (0-1), who were bitten by 17 service errors in just three sets of play. Tennessee had a few spirited comeback bids in two of the three sets played, including a few set point opportunities in the opening frame, but were unable to capitalize and eventually lost momentum of the match.
Senior middle blocker Sareea Freeman finished with four kills and three blocks, while junior outside hitter Olivera Medic added five kills, all in the third set. The Seminoles were impressive up front with 12 team blocks, and also received good play from back-row players such as Katie Mosher (nine digs) as they held Tennessee to a .154 hitting percentage.
Setters Duygu Duzceler and Sarah Wickstrom combined for 26 assists, as both bring back experience in a critical area for FSU. Marija Milosavljevic recorded four kills and two blocks, while senior outside hitter Fatma Yildirim added five kills and three blocks.
Freshman Laura Dadowski also earned time in the match, putting together two quality serves.
An entertaining first set took place between the nationally-ranked squads as the Seminoles showed command early with their blocking. FSU racked up seven blocks in the first set, and also benefitted from six Tennessee service errors. Yildirim, Neff and Walch each recorded two kills in the frame, while Neff picked up where she left off a season ago with four blocks.
Florida State started to build a small lead midway through the first set when a Lady Volunteer attack error gave the Seminoles a 13-9 lead. A block by Neff and Nicole Walch followed by a kill from Nicole Walch forced a timeout from Tennessee as FSU held a 15-10 advantage. Later, the teams continued to trade points as an Elise Walch kill put FSU ahead at 21-17, but Tennessee fought back with a string of points before failing to put the set away.
Sareea Freeman recorded an enormous block to stave off a first-set loss as FSU tied the set at 24-24. The Lady Volunteers then held a 25-24 lead but served into the net. FSU followed with subsequent blocks from Neff and Yildirim, then Neff and Milosavljevic to win the set 27-25. The last rally of the set was saved by Medic, who kept the rally alive with an acrobatic pass over the net.
The Seminoles didn’t let the extra volleyball played in the first frame fatigue them in set two. FSU hit .435 in the second set as Elise Walch led the way with four kills, which included putting FSU ahead on margins of 14-9 and 18-11. Tennessee recorded 11 kills and forced nine attack errors as it was held to a .071 mark in the set, which was aided by some strong play from Mosher in the back row.
FSU held comfortable leads late in the set, leading by seven points when setter Duzceler put together a crafty kill in the center of the court to make it 22-15. Consecutive attack errors by Tennessee’s Leslie Cikra and a hitting error by DeeDee Harrison gave FSU the second set at 25-15.
Medic stepped up in the third set, putting together five important kills. Seemingly every time Tennessee developed some momentum in the last frame, a service error would impede their progress. Neff added three kills and a block in the last set as FSU recorded another strong hitting percentage at .286. Yildirim was strong defensively in the third, putting together six digs.
The winning point in the match came on a kill by Freeman, who worked extremely well with setter Wickstrom all evening.
The victory over No. 15 Tennessee ties for the 12th-highest nationally-ranked win in school history. Altogether, FSU has 18 wins against nationally-ranked opponents since the AVCA Poll came out in 1982, and six of them have come since the 2011 season.
Since 1976, FSU is now 31-6 in season-openers and has not lost a season-opening match since 2002.
The Seminoles finish the Comcast Lady Vol Classic on Saturday with two matches. FSU faces No. 10 Iowa State at noon, then plays Cincinnati at 5:30 p.m.