Gainesville, FL - Outside hitters Visnja Djurdjevic, Stephanie Neville and Jekaterina Stepanova combined for 42 kills to help the Florida State University volleyball team get past a stingy opponent in Georgia Southern, 3-1 (25-20, 23-25, 25-22, 25-13), on Friday evening at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla.
The victory is a program-builder for the Seminoles (22-10, 12-8), marking the first time in the school’s history that it has reached the second round of the NCAA Championship in consecutive postseason appearances.
“Our girls have shown character all year. We’ve had to make adjustments in the middle of the year, and they continue to come back and step up,” head coach Chris Poole said. “Even in matches that we’ve lost, we’ve hung in there. Today we didn’t play great overall, but we continue to find ourselves. Visnja and Stephanie played great, and Kate (Jekaterina) came off the bench and played great as well. We weren’t sure if we were going to play her because she’s been sick, but we’re thankful that we did.”
Neville, Djurdjevic and Stepanova took turns taking over sets one, two and four. Neville, a Cambridge, Ontario, native, was as consistent as ever with 14 kills, a .419 hitting percentage and three blocks. It is the sixth time this year she has picked up at least 12 kills and a .400 hitting percentage in a single match.
Fellow All-Atlantic Coast Conference honoree Djurdjevic was just as productive, totaling a game-high 16 kills with nine digs. Stepanova, who sat out the first set after battling sickness, wound up with 12 kills, a .345 hitting percentage and nine digs in a gutsy effort.
FSU’s two setters in Duygu Duzceler and Patricia Figueiredo made a big difference in the match. Duzceler tied her season high with 31 assists, the third time she has reached that number this year. Patricia Figueiredo had 16 assists and 12 digs for her second double-double, contributing to FSU’s .266 hitting percentage overall.
Jenna Romanelli had 18 kills, giving her 485 on the season to move past Ashlee Moon for third on the single-season list. She also has 1,189 for her career to place her fourth past one of the school’s all-time greats in Maggie Philgence (1987-90).
FSU’s offense held strong in the first set, garnering a .265 hitting percentage against a tough Eagles squad. Djurdjevic recorded five kills in nine attacks for a .444 attack percentage, while Neville mustered four kills on seven attacks. FSU held GSU to a .200 clip and benefitted by four service errors from the Eagles (27-9).
One of the turning points of the set occurred when the Seminoles rattled off five consecutive points, turning a 10-9 deficit into a 14-10 lead. In that span, four different players in Fatma Yildirim, Lauren Young, Djurdjevic and Neville recorded kills, and Young and Neville combined on a block to give the momentum to the Seminoles.
FSU faced a tough stretch in the second frame, holding a 17-12 lead that turned into an 18-18 tie after GSU won six of seven points. GSU recorded two blocks in its run, while Rachael Morgan provided the lone point for the Seminoles on a kill down the right side. GSU took a late lead in the set at 21-20, and a later kill by Bethany Sanford gave the Eagles the second set to tie the match. Morgan led FSU with three kills and two blocks in the set, while Sanford totaled four kills for GSU.
Several ties and lead changes were exchanged in the third set. Keeping FSU alive in the frame was Stepanova, whose bevy of kills was highlighted by a hustling continuation ball that slipped over the head of an Eagle back-row player for a difficult kill to tie the set at 3-3.
Following a timeout by FSU with the third set knotted at 20-20, GSU took a brief lead on an attack error, but the Seminoles scored four unanswered points, including a tie-breaking kill by Ashley Neff on a set from Figueiredo to make it 22-21. GSU’s Hannah Nelson recorded two attack errors within the final four rallies, including an attack that went out of bounds on the right side to give FSU a 2-1 lead.
Heading into the first timeout of the fourth set, FSU built a 7-2 lead on the hitting of Djurdjevic, who recorded two kills in the early going. The Seminoles finally pulled away with ease to set up a possible match tomorrow against top-ranked Florida.
FSU is now 12-0 in its program history against past and present Southern Conference affiliated opponents. The Seminoles improve to 3-0 against Georgia Southern all-time.
Tomorrow’s match against either Florida or South Carolina State begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Fans can now watch streaming video of the match for free online at NCAA.com.