Minneapolis, MN - Behind an enormous defensive effort both in the blocking and digging game, the 12th-seeded Florida State University indoor volleyball team defeated fifth-seeded Purdue, 3-1 (25-23, 21-25, 25-20, 25-19), on Friday evening at the Sports Pavilion to advance to yet another Elite Eight round in Minneapolis.
Two seasons ago, the Seminoles (27-6) emerged victorious in a five-set win over Kentucky to reach the Elite Eight and put themselves on the national radar. On Friday evening, with the help of 15 team blocks and a season-high 104 digs, FSU controlled the pace of the matchup against one of the Big Ten’s best programs in Purdue and proved that the 2009 year was not a fluke for the program. The Boilermakers (29-5) carried one of the nation’s better hitters in Ariel Turner, but the Seminoles found a way to contain her as she amassed 16 kills and a .105 hitting percentage.
“I’m proud of the girls,” head coach Chris Poole said. “They’ve worked hard all season. We’ve talked about the motivation we’ve had, we were within one point of knocking out Florida in Gainesville last year (in the second round), and that’s something Purdue did a week later It was after that match where we had the motivation to try to do even better this season. The girls have fought through much adversity the last couple years and even the last few weeks, and they continue to impress me. We did what we needed to do tonight against a very good Purdue team.”
Throughout the match, FSU showed off its athleticism by extending rallies and getting to balls quickly. Redshirt freshman libero Katie Mosher came up with one of the best performances of her short career, racking up 28 digs while Visnja Djurdjevic and Jekaterina Stepanova recorded career highs of 26 and 22 digs, respectively.
A key edge held by the Seminoles was the battle of the middle blockers. Sophomore Ashley Neff registered 11 kills and four blocks, while junior Sareea Freeman nearly had a double-double with 10 kills and a season-high tying nine blocks.
Neff now has 189 blocks for FSU this season, by far the most in school history since the rally scoring era began in NCAA volleyball in 2001. It is the most blocks by a Seminole since Gabrielle Reece also recorded 189 in 1990.
Friday’s victory is momentous for several reasons – FSU has reached its farthest point in school history for the second time in three years and is bidding for the school’s first-ever berth in the Final Four on Saturday evening. Poole, in his fourth year at FSU, has guided the Seminoles to a postseason record of 7-2.
The Seminoles’ win also adds more intrigue to the Atlantic Coast Conference – for the third consecutive season, the ACC has had a team reach the Elite Eight round. FSU’s early-season nonconference schedule has also paid dividends, as it now shows a 12-6 record versus 13 different NCAA participants throughout the course of the season.
Also, FSU’s victory over fifth-seeded and eighth-ranked Purdue ties for the program’s best win over a nationally-ranked opponent since Poole arrived in 2008. In 2009, the Seminoles defeated No. 8 Illinois by a 3-0 score on Sept. 4 in Las Cruces, New Mexico. FSU has defeated seven ranked opponents during that span.
On Friday, the Seminoles held Purdue’s attack to a .129 clip, while FSU recorded a .215 hitting percentage. With both teams tied at 1-1 going into the intermission, FSU answered the challenge in the third set by recording a .424 hitting percentage on 16 kills. The frame featured seven tied scores but one lead change, as a 16-16 score in the set was broken open by kills from Elise Walch and Freeman while Purdue was forced into some difficult attacks.
Walch was a reliable offensive force for the Seminoles on Friday, recording 11 kills and adding two blocks. Stepanova (11) and Djurdjevic (10) also added double-figure kill totals. Sarah Wickstrom recorded 19 assists and two service aces, while Duygu Duzceler contributed with 20 assists.
Late in the third set, FSU took a 22-18 lead on an important kill from Djurdjevic, then got a couple attack errors from Turner before Walch’s big kill ended the set and gave FSU a 2-1 overall advantage.
The fourth set was tight once again, but FSU found momentum late to ride past Purdue. Neff, Stepanova and Djurdjevic each recorded four kills apiece while Mosher and Djurdjevic added 10 digs in the set alone to propel the Seminoles to another big victory.
The turning point in the fourth set came during FSU’s final timeout when it found itself down 19-17 on a kill by Purdue’s Tiffany Fisher. Following the break, FSU reeled off eight consecutive points to end the match, which included three blocks by Freeman. The match ended on a kill from Stepanova.
FSU mounted a large comeback in the opening set, trailing by as much as 21-13 against the Boilermakers. The Seminoles came back with a 6-0 run to cut their deficit to 21-19, then used a 5-0 run to end the set. Tied at 23-23, FSU got an attack error from Purdue’s Kierra Jones, then received a short kill from Stepanova to win the set. The difference came in the blocking game, where FSU garnered five blocks in the set while the Boilermakers were unable to muster any.
The Seminoles will face the winner of fourth-seeded Iowa State and 13th-seeded Minnesota on Saturday evening at 8:30 p.m. CT at the Sports Pavilion. The match will be televised on ESPNU, with play-by-play commentator Beth Mowins and color analyst Karch Kiraly on the call.