It was more than just a Halloween night victory for the Florida A&M University Lady Rattlers (16-6, 9-0 MEAC) on Tuesday.
Although the team enjoyed a 3-1 victory over the Mercer University Bears, the night ended on a more somber note as the Lady Rattlers said farewell to their celebrated senior class that includes setter Diana Genkova, outside hitter Maria Andonova and libero/designated setter Rosa Rojas.
The team’s final home game this season began with a presentation of roses and plaques to the departing seniors and ended with a drubbing of the Lady Bears at the hands of the Lady Rattlers.
FAMU enjoyed a dominant first game against Mercer, opening with a 30-18 win.
Despite the dominant game one performance, the Lady Rattlers played from behind for much of the second game and lost 30-26.
After tying up the score at 21-21, a 6-3 Mercer run put the Lady Bears in the driver’s seat for their only win of the match.The Lady Rattlers came back strong in match three, winning once again with a 30-25 score. Andonova used one of her 35 kills to put Mercer away in the match.
During a stretch early in the game, Andonova recorded 4 straight kills, which proved to be a huge momentum shift for the team.
“Mimi (Andonova) stepped up at key moments,” said Lady Rattler Head Coach Tony Trifonov.
Mercer Head Coach Noelle Hughes agreed Andonova’s presence was key in the FAMU victory.
“Hands down (Andonova) hurt us the most. She is just a really solid player,” Hughes said.
Such play has been evident all season for a team that has depended on Andonova and her senior counterparts for leadership.
“They (seniors) contributed to our season greatly,” Trifonov said.
Senior leadership also came into play after the Lady Rattlers stumbled out of the gate behind 6-2. Many of the team’s problems stemmed from a lack of chemistry. The seniors took it upon themselves to put the pieces back together.
“We talked a lot after every game, and each game we started to play better,” Rojas said.After a tough start this season, the team put together a 15-match win streak and added to a now 90-match win streak in the MEAC.
The victory against Mercer helped to ease the sad feelings of the departing class.
“I am really sad (to be leaving), but happy because we won. I will miss everyone a lot because now we are finally starting to play together,” Rojas said.
The team will especially miss its star outside hitter Andonova and her dominant performances around the net.
“I learned so much from her,” said sophomore Maritta Royster-Crockett. Although Royster-Crockett has studied under Andonova as the Rattlers’ second outside hitter, she has taken something from each of the seniors.
“They made it easy for me to adjust. With Rosa still managing to hit every ball, and Mimi telling me ‘to pick a position and hit there,’ I have learned so much,” Royster Crockett said.
Trifonov said the seniors have been a calming force all season.”Rosa is still 70 percent of our ball control. A lot of times some of the younger girls will be nervous and have an off night. Mimi will step up to help them in pressure situations,” Trifanov said.Trifonov will miss the presence of his seniors, but he is looking forward to the young crop of Lady Rattlers to carry the torch and continue the team’s winning ways.
Freshman blocker Cinthya Corzo put the cap on the Rattler victory in the fourth match with the final kill, giving the Lady Rattlers a 30-22 win. Freshman setter Zaira Manzo also impressed with a career high 62 assists.
“We have to move forward. We have a lot of young players who can step up. Tonight we had a freshman finish the game for us,” Trifonov said.
The Lady Rattlers will travel to Daytona Beach Monday to take on the Bethune-Cookman College Lady Wildcats at 6 p.m.