Fresh off its three-match sweep in the First National Bank/Arby’s Classic against Nebraska, Maryland and Ball St. in Lincoln, Neb., the Florida A&M Volleyball team returned home to prepare for the Boise State Tourney.
Spearheaded by eighth-year Head Coach Tony Trifonov, the Rattlers have not lost a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference match since 1998. They have won three consecutive conference championships (2000, 2001, 2002), and have already served notice to the top 25 ranked teams in the nation.
The Rattlers not only surprised the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers in their home opener in front of a sellout crowd of 4,151 but they became the first unranked, non-conference opponent to win in the Coliseum since Nebraska-Omaha in 1986.
After the Nebraska win, the Lady Rattlers are now ranked No. 27 in the Division One Poll.
“We beat [No. 2] Nebraska in Nebraska,” Trifonov said. “That doesn’t happen very often at all.”
Now, six games into the season, the Rattlers boast a 4-2 record and are getting set for their match against the No. 7 ranked Washington Huskies in the opening round of the Boise State Tourney.
“Our goal is to definitely do better than last year,” said Faydre Hawkins-Brown, graduate assistant coach.
Last season, FAMU posted a 27-4 record, going unbeaten in the MEAC for the fifth-straight year.
In the 2003 NCAA regional round, the Lady Rattlers captured FAMU’s first ever Division-IA opening round playoff win for an Olympic sport with a 3-1 win over Winthrop.
FAMU lost in the second round to host Georgia Tech, falling one game short of the “Sweet 16.”.
The Lady Rattlers received 27 points to rank 39th nationally in the Preseason American Volleyball Coaches Association poll. The latest AVCA poll, released on Sept. 13, ranked the Rattlers No. 27 nationally.
“The whole team returned from last season, except for one player, Ursula Jara, so we pretty much know what we have here,” Hawkins-Brown said during practice.
After falling in the second round of the NCAA tournament last year, the Rattlers understand how important experience really is.
“This year is all about ball control,” said Adriana Kostadinova, a junior outside hitter, who was recently named MEAC Volleyball Player of the Week. “We have more experienced girls this year, whom have played longer and know the game better.”
University of Maryland Eastern-Shore earned a second place finish in the conference standings, 44 points behind the Rattlers. They figure to be the biggest conference competition for the Rattlers, considering they also are returning with a strong team.
With the likes of Kostadinova, and seniors Tereza Arellano, Mariela Portocarrero and Jayli Jackson, the Lady Rattlers are poised to climb into national prominence in 2004.
“It is very possible for us to enter late round play,” Hawkins-Brown said. “If we can make the Sweet 16, we’ll be there in the Final Four.”
Until then, the Lady Rattlers will play their home opener Sept. 23 at 7 p.m. against Georgia State.
Contact Troy Weatherspoon at email@example.com.