Volleyball team unites to take sixth consecutive conference title

When it comes to championships, the Florida A&M University Lady Rattlers volleyball team (20-6 overall, 10-0 MEAC) knows a thing or two about winning. FAMU won its sixth straight MEAC championship after defeating Morgan State University 3-0 Saturday at Hampton University.

The Lady Rattlers have left many opponents winded and dazed as they closed the regular season on a 91-match win streak in the conference. But besides the team’s winning ways, there is something else that makes the Lady Rattler volleyball team a special group.

The team, which has players from countries including Bulgaria, Peru, Germany, Ecuador and Serbia, is very diverse

“When I go to recruit, it is not about who is from where – overseas or stateside – I am trying to get the best player,” said Tony Trifonov, head coach of the FAMU volleyball team. 

Every one of these woman is talented at their position, Trifonov said. They all bring something different to the stage. One woman might be great at serving and the next might be good at spiking. As a coach, it is something to which you look forward, Trifonov said.

“I love my girls,” said Marrita Royster-Crockett, 19, an outside hitter from Long Beach, Calif.  The team spends a lot of time together and the girls learn a lot from each other, said the all-conference performer.

Royster-Crockett is the only member of the team from the United States. She said she enjoys the chance to learn new things from her teammates.

“They have taught me some Spanish; I have taught them some English,” said the sophomore who was named outstanding tournament performer at the 2006 MEAC Championships.

A common struggle for much of the team, is learning to speak English.

“At first, it was hard – the language – because when I came, I couldn’t speak English. I could only understand it,” said Rosa Rojas, 21, a senior Spanish literature and translation student from Lima, Peru.  It took two years to learn, but the process is now easier, Rojas said.

Senior Maria Andonova said she could relate to her teammates’ struggle.

“I think it is the language for everyone,” said Andonova, 22, a senior criminal justice student from Sofia, Bulgaria. The transition from Bulgaria to FAMU is different because we are adapting to this environment, said the MEAC player of the year.  

Players must also adjust to the Tallahassee weather for training purposes. 

“Back home, the practices were mostly indoors, and training outdoors in the heat takes a toll,” Andonova said. “But the level of playing is also harder so as a team we must train harder.”   

Despite the language barrier, the team gels come game time.

“I get along with the entire team well; I lived in Italy for five years and Switzerland for another,” Royster-Crockett said.  The adjustment wasn’t hard to make because of the time spent overseas, said the outside hitter.

“Starting off, it took some getting used to, as far as communication, but we took to each other very well,” Royster-Crockett said. 

As a team, the women are their own support system. They rely heavily on one another.  The cultures vary for the team, but the players still establish a common ground.

“I love playing here at FAMU. It’s very different but enjoyable,” Andonova said. 

Rojas said the team shares the most important thing that a team should – the will to win.

The MEAC conference is different, Rojas said, and the teams are built stronger, smarter, and more competitively.  It is a whole new ball game here, but as champions, we have to continue to excel, Rojas said.