FSU holds off Iowa State for semifinal spot

MINNEAPOLIS -- In a quiet hallway near the arena floor two hours before the Minneapolis Regional volleyball final, two players from Iowa State stood beneath an overhead television, watching the Florida-Illinois match in Gainesville. Twenty minutes later, when Florida State walked down the same hallway to its locker room, some of its players slowed and did the same.

Nothing wrong with scoping out a possible NCAA tournament semifinals opponent, right? First, though, one of the teams had to get there, something neither school had ever done. And in an NCAA tournament with just enough surprises to keep people guessing, 12th-seeded Florida State provided another, ousting No. 4 seed Iowa State 25-21, 23-25, 25-20, 19-25, 15-11.

The Seminoles (28-6) will meet UCLA, which stunned top-seeded Texas in four sets in the Lexington Regional, in a semifinal Thursday at the Alamodome.

This might as well have been a home match for Iowa State, as several hundred Cyclones fans as well as the school pep band, cheerleaders and mascot Cy made the three-hour drive up I-35 to the Sports Pavilion. They watched Florida State win the first and third sets, then go ahead 16-15 in the fourth set before Iowa State (25-6) tightened up its sloppy hitting to even the match.

But in the end, the Seminoles made just enough plays at the net to win. With Florida State trailing 8-7, Sareea Freeman scored three straight points on a tip, a kill and a block to put the Seminoles ahead. The teams traded points to 12-11 before a kill by FSU's Visnja Djurdjevic, who then served out the match.

The tournament's most outstanding player, Jekaterina Stepanova, had 20 kills and Djurdjevic 14 for Florida State. Iowa State, one of the nation's best defensive teams, had 100 digs but could not overcome 31 attack errors. Victoria Hurtt led the Cyclones with 24 kills.

Florida State won the first set with a near flawless attack, committing only two errors while hitting .457. A tight second set with 12 ties and four lead changes saw Iowa State edge ahead 17-15 on a Tenisha Matlock kill and a Florida State attack error. Five times the Seminoles had chances to tie, but the Cyclones held them off each time to even the match.

The third set was nearly as close. An Ashley Neff kill put FSU ahead 22-20, and the Noles scored the final three points on Iowa State attack errors. The Cyclones had a similar stretch of shaky hitting in the fourth set to trail 16-15 before regrouping with a 10-3 run to force a deciding set.

Coming in, the Minneapolis bracket figured to be the most open of the NCAA tournament. None of the six teams that rose to No. 1 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll this season landed here. Regional host Minnesota, a poor blocking team, seemed to lack the firepower and depth to ride its home-court advantage at the Sports Pavilion, where it attracted the third-highest average attendance (3,991) in NCAA Division I.

When Iowa State beat Minnesota and Florida State topped Purdue in the quarterfinals Friday, the region was guaranteed a first-time Final Four participant. Florida State had won only five NCAA tournament matches in 13 appearances before this season. Four came in 2009 and 2010 after coach Chris Poole arrived from Arkansas to revive the program.

A quarterfinal victory over Kentucky at the Sports Pavilion in 2009 represented Florida State's deepest run in the tournament before Saturday; Minnesota eliminated the Seminoles the next day. In-state rival Florida knocked out the Noles last year in five stressful sets in Gainesville, the last ending 17-15.

"We were within one point of being able to knock off Florida last year, and that's something that Purdue then did a week later," Poole said. "It was after that match that I think there was a motivation to get back and try to do even better this year, and show our team is capable of playing at a very high level."

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