Tallahassee, FL - Junior right side hitter Rachael Morgan returned for the first time since Oct. 22 to spark the Florida State University volleyball team to a 3-0 (25-21, 25-20, 25-20) victory over third-place Maryland on Friday evening at Tully Gym.
Morgan’s return signified a fully healthy lineup for the Seminoles (19-9, 11-7), who were without the returning AVCA Honorable Mention All-American for the last seven matches after she suffered a stress fracture. The New Zealand native finished with eight kills, one block and one dig, but more importantly allowed the rest of her teammates to return to their normal positions on the floor.
“I thought even the first couple swings Rachael was hitting well. After the first game she was hitting around .500,” head coach Chris Poole said. “She was a big lift in that first set. She set the tone for everyone else to settle down in their positions. She’s been out for the last month, and that caused some of our players to overplay in making up for some lack of experience.
“We haven’t used this group in six weeks. It was good to get in our positions and be playing again. Maryland certainly played hard and gave us some runs, but it was good for us to shut those down and win those games.”
The match was as important as any for FSU, which entered the contest in a four-way tie for third place in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Seminoles shared their spot in the standings with Georgia Tech and Miami as well, but now hold just a tie with the Hurricane after losses by the Yellow Jackets and the Terrapins (19-11, 10-8) tonight. Miami defeated upcoming opponent Boston College this evening, and face FSU in a regular season home finale next Friday at Tully Gym.
Junior Jekaterina Stepanova was an offensive force yet again, recording a match-high 13 kills, 10 digs and three service aces. She finished the night with 16 points, another match high, while Visnja Djurdjevic added nine kills and five digs.
Sophomore Sareea Freeman played well, recording five kills and six blocks. She came up big in set No. 3 for the Seminoles, recording four kills and two blocks to help FSU recover from its five-set loss to Maryland on Oct. 17.
Senior Jenna Romanelli was solid on the back line for FSU, recording 16 digs to match her season-high in a three-set match. Romanelli also had 16 digs earlier in the season against Florida and last weekend against N.C. State.
Duygu Duzceler added 19 assists on the night, while Patricia Figueiredo had 17. FSU managed just a .178 hitting percentage, but Maryland had three players with negative numbers as it mustered just a .101 attack percentage. Freshman Mary Cushman led the Terps with 12 kills and a .370 hitting percentage.
Morgan came back strong in her first match in seven contests, getting consecutive kills for FSU’s first two points as it won a close first set. Stepanova tallied three service aces and six kills in the frame, making good on half of her total attacks. Morgan posted a .500 hitting percentage in the frame, and Duzceler added two aces. Maryland helped the Seminoles with six attack errors and two service errors.
FSU fell behind in set No. 2, trailing 15-12 midway through. FSU then won eight of the next 10 points, which included a solo block by Freeman to take a 17-16 lead. Djurdjevic posted five kills in the set, while Stephanie Neville added three kills and two blocks. The Seminoles did not record a service ace in the frame, but used 16 kills to its advantage. Through two sets, FSU tallied six blocks and held the Terrapins to a .114 hitting percentage.
The third set was also close, but Maryland’s five attack errors allowed FSU to break away at the end. Both teams exchanged leads throughout, and Maryland seemingly took control when Lisa Scott blocked an attack by Lauren Young to put the Terrapins ahead at 17-15. A service error by Maddi Lee was followed by a block from both Freeman and Neville to tie the set at 17-17.
After a 20-20 tie, FSU took control of the next five points to win the match. Young countered with a block to take a 22-20 lead, two attack errors followed by Maryland before Djurdjevic ended the match on a well-placed kill.
FSU has now defeated nine teams in the Top 60 of the current RPI standings. The Seminoles will look for their 20th win in their next match, which would mark the first time in school history FSU has had three consecutive 20-win seasons since joining the ACC in 1991.
The Seminoles return with a televised match against Boston College on Sunday at Tully Gym. The match will be televised on FOX Sports Florida, with an official start time of 1:06 p.m. Following the match, the Seminoles will run their second “Paint it Pink” clinic of the season.