It was a silent bus ride back to Tallahassee for Florida A&M University. The Lady Rattlers’ volleyball team ended their season with a loss to the University of Florida Lady Gators in the first round of the NCAA tournament last Thursday. The Lady Gators swept the Lady Rattlers in convincing fashion (30-18, 30-16, 30-26.)
Despite ending the season on a sour note, the Lady Rattlers said they felt like they had a great season. The 2006 season included a dominant MEAC winning streak, a 19-game win streak coming into the tournament and impressive individual showings throughout the season.
One of the best individual season performances came from senior Maria Andonova, who ranked No. 2 in the nation in hitting percentage and received the MEAC Player of the Year award for the second year in a row.
Despite their notable performances this season, the Lady Rattlers fell short in their last game against the No.7 team in the country.
“It just wasn’t our day,” freshman outside hitter Maria Gomez said of the team’s first round exit.
Sophomore outside hitter Marrita Royster-Crockett said the team didn’t play its best for the entire game.
“By the time we started to play our usual game, it was too late. We were already down,” Royster-Crockett said.
Head coach Tony Trifonov said the 2006 MEAC champions got nervous on the court, and their nerves contributed to their struggle. Despite leading the Lady Rattlers to Gainesville three times since 2001, Trifonov wasn’t able to instill confidence into his team. With inexperienced players, a sense of intimidation, grew in the Lady Rattlers. This led to unforced errors.
Royster-Crockett, who said she believed they could have beat the Lady Gators, said that during the game, the coach tried his best to keep the team composed.
“‘Calm down’ was the quote of the night. ‘You have nothing to lose,'” Royster-Crockett said, repeating what her coach told the team.
Apparently the head coach’s advice didn’t take hold in the Rattler huddle. But Trifonov said the team’s youth didn’t stop them from putting forth a valiant effort.
“I started four freshmen against the No. 7 team in the country. I think they did all right,” he said.
The players said that the team’s youth didn’t excuse poor play.
“Yes, we are new to the floor, but our performance was still not good enough,” Gomez said.
After the loss, instead of trying to justify their last game’s performance, the Lady Rattlers coped with the end of the season. Even after the loss, Trifonov said the squad has been the best team he has taken this far.
“It happens,” Trifonov said of the loss. “They just were not mentally prepared. But no team I have ever taken scored 26 points on Florida.”
Trifonov said that the team’s communication and teamwork improved throughout the season.
Some of the players will prepare to take on the challenges of next season, while others prepare for life after FAMU volleyball.
Royster-Crockett said she would continue to train with Titus Sports Academy to prepare for next season. Senior Rosa Rojas will take some time off to heal her knee injury, while Andonova will attempt a career in professional volleyball overseas.