espnW: Women's College Volleyball

Now there's time to be a fan

February, 13, 2014
Feb 13
USC VolleyballCourtesy Emily YoungThe USC men's swimmers and divers are the "brother team'' for women's volleyball, and they strongly support each other.

Offseason-itis is a real condition. I’m not talking about slacking off or not having passion for your sport during the offseason. That’s called being lazy and unmotivated. USC women’s volleyball has been in the gym every day working hard toward our upcoming fall season.

Offseason-itis is that itch and the twitch you have to get involved in anything and everything on campus that you don’t have the opportunity to do during the season. It hit our team hard this past week. We volunteered at two events and went to multiple sporting events, not to mention this past week was career week so many of us were at campus-wide networking events as well. It’s been a lot of fun being immersed in all the campus activities.

The grand re-opening of Heritage Hall was a premier event to get involved in on campus. Heritage Hall is our trophy showcase, athletic administration hub and now houses locker rooms for women’s soccer, lacrosse, rowing and both of the golf teams. The building has been going through a $35 million renovation for the past year.

[+] EnlargeUSC
Courtesy of Emily YoungThe women's volleyball team participated in Day in Troy, which draws hundreds of kids to campus.

The athletic department held a gala for the opening ceremony for all those who donated to that renovation and others around campus. It really was a grand, grand opening with a red carpet, our mascot Traveler (a beautiful white horse), and the Spirit of Troy USC marching band in attendance. As student-athlete ambassadors, our job for the evening was to escort some of USC’s most prestigious alumni and donors to and through Heritage Hall and answer any questions about the facility and our sports.

Since women’s volleyball is housed in the Galen Center, this was our first time in the newly renovated Heritage Hall as well. We marveled at the new state-of-the-art training facilities for women’s golf (a virtual driving range and indoor putting green) and rowing (a full 35-ergometer workout room), and checked out the athlete-designed women’s lounge that every female athlete now has access to.

The other community service event we participated in this week was Day in Troy. It draws hundreds of kids to campus. We lead them on a tour and host exclusive informational and autograph events before our women’s and men’s basketball rivalry games against UCLA. This is a really fun event because for most of these kids, this is their first time on the USC campus. Our informational talks and their positive experience gets them thinking about going to college.

Our team was divided into different shifts during the day. I was in the morning group that toured the kids around campus. It was amazing watching their faces light up as we walked around the John McKay Center. Some of the parents that tagged along asked questions, so it was nice to add my perspective to the athletic heritage we have at USC.

Our team went to multiple sporting events this week: women’s basketball, men’s basketball and men’s volleyball. But the most notable was supporting our “brother team,” men’s swimming and diving. Each team at USC is paired with another brother or sister team that participates in a different sport to help create a foundation within our athletic community. Generally, you are paired with a sport that participates at a different venue so you are encouraged to experience something new. Men’s swimming and diving came to our matches in the fall, most notably starting the human roller-coaster cheer that got everyone in the crowd riled up.

After practice Friday, our team made some stellar men’s swimming posters and watched their meet against Cal. We had a lot of fun. All the USC swim fans were really helpful in explaining to us what each race entailed, and I think we made a few new volleyball fans as well. The guys did really great, but unfortunately, they lost the meet to Cal. After their meet against Utah, they head to the Pac-12 championships and we hope to support them all the way.

It’s really been a phenomenal week seeing how much our team can contribute to the student-athlete community and the greater USC community. The university provides our team with so many opportunities and it was great to invest back and thank the Trojan family for all the support they give us. I’m excited to see what next week has in store.

Drop some knowledge

January, 24, 2014
Jan 24
USC volleyballCourtesy of Emily YoungDuring the USC volleyball team banquet, it struck Emily Young how lucky she was to be sitting in a room full of knowledge.

"When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at will change."
-- Wayne Dyer

This week, I've been looking at the world with a new set of eyes. I've been listening with a new set of ears. And I've been thinking with a different mentality. I owe it all to Emily. Emily Adams that is.

Two Saturday's ago, at our team banquet, record-holding three-time USC All-American middle blocker Emily Adams was our keynote speaker. Her message to us was about the lessons that she would like to impart to her 20-year-old self.

[+] EnlargeEmily Adams
Courtesy of Emily Young Former USC star Emily Adams offered four life lessons that made an immediate impact on Emily Young.

Those were:

• 1. Forget the mistakes.

• 2. Cherish the good.

• 3. Carry your goals in your pocket (literally).

• 4. When searching for a career path, take a step in any direction.

As coach Mick Haley and our three seniors (Natalie Hagglund, Alexis Olgard and Sara Shaw) took turns at the microphone, they too left behind memories and wisdom they had gained during their time here. Right then and there, it hit me how lucky I was to be sitting in a room full of knowledge.

Each individual on my team carries valuable experiences and insights far beyond the volleyball court, and when I heard our seniors speak, it really cemented for me that thought that you won't miss it until it's gone.

So I set a new goal for myself this semester: Be a sponge. Everything that someone tells us is some form of knowledge, and it is on us to hear it and apply this information in our lives. But the responsibility doesn't end there. Soon, I'll be a senior, and players will look to me to see what I have learned during my four years here.

Although classes just started, I'm amazed at what I’ve learned in just this first week alone. So I challenge you to open your ears, eyes and mind to the world around you.

As Emily Adams said, "Drop some knowledge."

A tall tale of a great game

December, 17, 2013
USC volleyballJon KondrathIn an emotionally and physically draining match, USC battled for every point but came up just short.

Once upon a time, there was the greatest volleyball team ever. The year before, they lost to the eventual national champions in the NCAA Elite Eight at Texas but were left with that unshakable feeling that they had more to give and more to prove, so they worked even harder in the offseason. They gained muscle and speed, and made sure they were the most physical team in the land.

The next fall, that team got six new freshmen, and each came in ready to fight. Altogether, this group was the 2013 Women of Troy, the USC women’s volleyball team. They were on a mission to win the national championship in Seattle.

During the season, they had their highs and their lows. USC beat Stanford at Maples Pavilion -- but later lost at Washington and Washington State. But one thing remained constant: They were always a team and they fought together through everything.

This team had all of the winning pieces in place for the NCAA tournament: a fierce lineup, home-court advantage, NCAA tournament experience and a chance to avenge two earlier losses to Washington in a regional final. Their spirit was so strong that no player, coach or fan doubted they would win.

[+] EnlargeSamantha Bricio
AP Photo/Alex GallardoThe first set showed how close the match would be as the Trojans fought off four set points to win 28-26.

The Trojans fought off four Washington set points to clinch the first set 28-26. On the winning point, Samantha Bricio jumped so high, she almost disappeared into the rafters and yet Washington dug up her attack. As fate would have it, their next attempt landed just a few inches long of the court. Hard-hitting warriors from both sides fought in the second set, but the Trojans won that as well by playing great defense.

Everyone exhaled when the teams went to their locker rooms for the break, but the battle was far from over. Like dark magic, Washington found a way to wheedle back in to win the third and fourth sets. The Huskies’ hits found spots on the floor untouchable by the greatest players and their defense magically picked everything up.

In both sets, the Trojans showed no letup. They, too, brought balls up like magic and their hits showed Washington a wrath of USC that it had never seen before. When it appeared some of the dust had settled, it was all down to the fifth and final set.

Both teams were hurting. Both were fighting. USC had the lead as the teams switched sides of the court, but the Washington force grew. A three-point run turned the tables and put the lead into the Huskies’ hands.

But then, with a loud NwaneBOOM, the Trojans fought back to earn the first match point at 14-13 and did it again at 15-14. The Huskies saved both and got one of their own at 15-16. The Trojans attacked gallantly on their last stand, but it was Washington that prevailed and put the last ball down.

Like all great champions, USC held its head up high. The Trojans did not back down. They looked their opponents in the eye. By then, it was the midnight hour and the Huskies had used the last of their magic. There was utmost respect from both teams when players met at the net and shook hands.

The Trojans knew if they played that match 150 times, the Huskies would maybe win half of the time. These are the kinds of games Trojans love most: a chance to prove their greatness, not just to play and coast to a victory.

Though the Huskies move on to Seattle, they knew it was not the last they would see of ’ol SC. That kind of loss only adds fuel to the fire for another Trojan championship journey. So next season, be ready. Huskies beware, and to all USC fans: You better be there!

A personal note

Any great story needs some embellishment. The match we played with Washington on Saturday is one that will go down in the history books, and I think it was important to tell it right. This is a story about two teams that battled for every point and put it all on the line on every rally. Both Washington and USC played at their best. While I am understandably still caught up in the emotions of losing, it’s more important to recognize why we all love and play volleyball, despite the fact that only one team can win.

What inspired me to write this final blog entry of the season was the words of our three seniors following what can only be described as a physically and emotionally draining match.

Natalie Hagglund said, “I’m not crying because we lost. I’m crying because it’s over and playing with you guys was one of the best opportunities of my life.”

Sara Shaw expressed how much these four years and her teammates have meant to her, adding, “It’s been an honor and a privilege to play with y’all.”

Alexis Olgard said she was proud of how we all fought and proud of every single player. She then added, “I wouldn’t have changed one player on this team for a different result.”

All three of these seniors left a legacy on our program to battle to the end, and that, as Trojans, is what we always aspire to do. Thanks to all who have supported us this season, and I hope the remaining four teams in the tournament leave it all on the floor just as we did Saturday. Fight On!

Making memories, and still going

December, 13, 2013
Texas VolleyballAP Photo/Nati HarnikOn a team as good as Texas, sometimes the toughest competition is in practice, as Bailey Webster, left, finds out when shes blocked by Chiaka Ogbogu, center, and Khat Bell.

Hello from Lincoln, Neb.!

[+] EnlargeTexas Volleyball
AP Photo/Nati HarnikBailey Webster and Texas are trying to soar to a second straight NCAA championship.

It's been a few weeks since I last checked in with espnW, and quite a bit has happened in that time. We ended the Big 12 Conference portion of our schedule with a perfect 16-0 record for the first time in Texas volleyball history, and we earned the No. 1 overall seed in the 2013 NCAA championships.

In addition to the ride we've been on this past month, fellow seniors Hannah Allison, Megan Futch, Sarah Palmer and I had Senior Night at Gregory Gym for our last regular-season home match against Baylor. I think I speak for all four of us when I say that we tried hard not to think of that match as our last in Gregory, but the emotions hit each of us when we were recognized with our families following the win. Sarah's family even brought us leis from Hawaii as a sign of congratulations and celebration. It was a very memorable moment for each of us and I'm grateful my family was there to share it with me.

The day after our last regular-season match, we lit the UT Tower in honor of our Big 12 Conference regular-season championship. The tradition at The University of Texas is to light the Tower burnt orange in honor of conference championships, and it's always an amazing feeling. It's a great moment for our team to celebrate our accomplishment, and this year it was a precursor to our third portion of the schedule -- the postseason.

After the Tower lighting we went to [coach] Jerritt [Elliott]'s home to watch the NCAA Selection Show and find out our position on the bracket. We expected to earn the No. 1 or 2 seed, and that held true.

After three days of practice, we faced Texas State in the first round and won 3-0 to set up a second-round match against our former conference rival Texas A&M. In front of our seventh sellout of the year, we sent the Aggies back to College Station after a 3-1 victory.

That's how we ended up in Lincoln, Neb., this week for the NCAA regionals. Tonight we'll take on American University. The Eagles advanced after upsetting Georgia and Duke last weekend in Durham. Our focus remains on one opponent at a time, and we're ready to hit the court and play the Eagles tonight.

Until next time, hook 'em Horns!!!

Set for a frenzied Sweet 16

December, 13, 2013
USC Volleyball Percy AndersonUSC knows it will face a challenge in the Sweet 16 as the Trojans host a hot BYU team that went into Hawaii and won in a sweep in the first round.

Now that the first weekend of the NCAA Division I volleyball tournament is over, we're down to the Sweet 16 teams. Who's left? Texas, American, San Diego, Nebraska, Florida State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Purdue, Washington, Kansas, BYU, USC, Stanford, Minnesota, Michigan State and Penn State.

To me, the first weekend of the tournament always feels like the beginning of a game of dodgeball, where it's each man for himself. In gym class, those first few seconds are frantic with balls flying everywhere. You're so focused on your own survival that you don't realize how many of your classmates are being eliminated around you.

After that initial rush, you can feel a flow to the game establish itself. The key players take their positions and you can figure out who is targeting whom. The game becomes a back-and-forth battle with ball-holding stalemates and sometimes a frenzy of fire.

Now that we have our Sweet 16 teams in established positions, you can expect to see some great battles. We've had our eye on our opponent, BYU. Even though USC and the Galen Center are hosting a regional championship and we get to play at home, make no mistake: Any team in the regional semifinals can win it all.

BYU is coming in hot after sweeping Hawaii at the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu. Our upperclassmen know from the 2011 regional that not many teams escape Stan Sheriff Center with a win. Some 10,000 Hawaii fans pack the arena, and the crowd creates an intense atmosphere.

We've been preparing for our match against BYU (10 p.m. ET, ESPN3) by ramping up the intensity in our own gym. At the end of each practice, we have been playing competitive 15-point games and we're using each practice to get our mindset right for Friday's game.

Sweet 16, prepare for frenzy fire!

Focusing on one game at a time

December, 10, 2013
USC volleyballCourtesy of Jon KondrathWith wins over New Hampshire and Cal State Northridge, USC advanced to the Sweet 16.

At USC, we do two things during the NCAA volleyball tournament. We speak in terms of championships, and we take one game at a time.

This might sound a little contradictory to some people. How can you talk about the championship if you are taking things one game at a time? Allow me to illustrate.

Picture hurdlers. Their goal is to be the first person to cross the finish line. To get there, they have to jump over every hurdle (in sequential order, of course). You can’t get past the second hurdle if you don’t jump over the first.

The tournament is sort of the same way. We focus on one match at a time with one end goal to our journey: being the national champions.

In the first match of our championship journey, we faced the New Hampshire Wildcats. They are the winners of the America East Conference, and we used the week to prepare for them and the challenges we faced this past weekend.

New Hampshire presented our team with a different look with two senior lefties (one right side and the other middle). As a southpaw myself, I helped our team prepare by running some plays out of the middle. Don’t expect to see me subbing in for Alexis Olgard any time soon though!

Our team had a solid performance against the Wildcats. We established a strong rhythm in the first set, hitting a .636! It was a great way to show the dominance we want to carry throughout the tournament.

The second match was against Cal State Northridge. In the first round, CSUN defeated Colorado State in five sets. By watching the first two sets on Thursday night, our team picked out some key insights that we took to the court on Friday. On the court, we were met with a feisty Northridge team that was scrappy on defense.

The Matadors played hard, but in the end, they had no answer for our physicality. We advanced to the Sweet 16, where we play BYU in the regional semifinal at 10 p.m. Friday at Galen Center. Be sure to check back in before our match against the Cougars to see what we have been doing to prepare for the next step in our championship journey!

Winning when it matters most

December, 9, 2013
Florida State Women's VolleyballCourtesy of FSU AthleticsPlaying on Floridas home court, FSU won a hard-fought five-set match to advance to the Sweet 16.

After a hard-fought weekend in Gainesville, Fla., I am very proud to say we are heading to Champaign, Ill., for the Sweet 16!

We faced Georgia Southern in the first round of the tournament Thursday night. After sweeping the Eagles, we had fifth-seeded Florida next. There was a lot of excitement going into this match because it is a huge rivalry, and there is a little history between the two teams in the second round of the tournament.

We started off the match with a lot of excitement and energy. Even though we were swept in our match against the Gators earlier this season, we knew each set was close and could’ve gone in our favor. Our team has made tremendous improvements throughout the season, so we knew we were prepared for this match.

With the O’Connell Center full of Florida fans, we could still hear our parents, friends and fans in the FSU section cheering for us the whole time. In addition to our fans, the FSU cheerleaders made their way to Gainesville as well! We have loved the support from our cheerleaders all season and deeply appreciated them making the trip to support us.

While we got our NCAA tournament butterflies out in our first-round match, a different type of adrenaline filled our bodies. Every single person on our team wanted to win, and it took all 12 of us to ban together and pull out the upset over the Gators.

We took the first set 25-15 and then dropped the second and third sets by close margins. Going into the fourth set we found our energy from the beginning of the match. Knowing we were capable of winning, we got out in front and won the fourth set 25-22. Going into the fifth set we had all the momentum going our way, we all believed we could win and we were not ready for our season to come to an end.

We won the fifth set 15-9, taking the match in five sets and advancing to the Sweet 16! Not only was this a huge upset with Florida being seeded fifth, it was also the first time FSU has defeated Florida in Gainesville since 1990! We stormed the court, experienced tears of joy and celebrated this amazing feat.

Next we are heading to the Champaign regional in Illinois to face 12th-seeded Wisconsin. We are ready for any challenge, and fighting the cold weather will definitely be one. It has been shorts weather in Tallahassee the last few days, touching 70s and 80s, and looking at the Illinois forecast it looks as if we will need to prepare for 30 degrees and below.

Making the trip up north early Wednesday morning will give us two opportunities to practice and time to relax and clear our minds from finals week.

Also, come Friday, we will have two seniors, Olivera Medic and myself, who will be college graduates! While it is sad we will be missing the opportunity to walk at graduation, we are blessed to be able to continue our final season as Seminoles with fellow seniors Elise Walch and Aurora Davis and the rest of our amazing teammates.

Congratulations, and good luck to all the teams competing in the Sweet 16 this weekend -- and go Noles!

NCAA volleyball: Catching Fire

December, 4, 2013
USC volleyballCourtesy of Jon KondrathLike the Hunger Games, the NCAA volleyball tournament has action, love, rivalries -- and occasional violence, such as a spike to the face.

Everyone knows that new “Hunger Games: Catching Fire’’ movie is killing it at box offices, but that’s not this week’s top release or box-office smash for volleyball fans across the country. For them (myself included), it’s the NCAA Division I volleyball championships!

The NCAA tournament pairings came out Sunday night. Sixty-four teams out of 332 are selected based on overall season performance and RPI, which stands for “rating percentage index.” The top 16 seeds host first- and second-round matches this week. Some are on Friday and Saturday, but we’re hosting matches on Thursday and Friday.

The tournament is a single-elimination format and by the end of this weekend, only 16 teams will still be in the hunt for the championship. The following weekend, Dec. 13 and 14, play will continue at four regional sites (Champaign, Ill.; Lexington, Ky.; Lincoln, Neb.; and our very own Galen Center here in Los Angeles). The four regional champions will meet in Seattle to determine the national champion.

In so many ways, the NCAA tournament is like the “Hunger Games.” It’s a fight to “stay alive” and it’s an annual tourney that determines who is the best. Looking for reasons why the NCAA tournament is as good as, or better, than the “Hunger Games”? I’ve got ’em:

1. The NCAA tournament has 32 times the amount of entertainment! With each match averaging about two hours and 63 total matches, you get 126 hours of gut-wrenching entertainment compared with a mere four-hour sit-down movie.

2. Like the “Hunger Games’’ series, this volleyball tournament has action, love, rivalries and just enough of that occasional violence, you know, when someone takes a spike to the face. We call that a six-pack in the volleyball world.

3. The tournament is a lot like the “Catching Fire’’ movie because each of the champions of the respective volleyball conferences is represented. Each one is a respected opponent that brings its own unique qualities to the court.

4. We’ve got teams like District 2, Cato and Clove, which have a strong reputation for winning. Penn State won four titles in a row between 2007 and 2010. That’s four of the last six!

5. There are teams like Rue from District 11 that are great and fly under the radar. Last year, Michigan entered the tournament ranked 33rd and ended up in the final four.

6. Can’t decide between Team Peeta and Team Gale? Try that times 64.

7. We’ll gladly volunteer for tribute. If your team loses, that’s basically the end of our volleyball lives this season, as we know it. It’s single elimination and for players that are seniors, it’s their last chance to play collegiately. Every team wants to be in the tournament because that elusive prize of being the best is worth the fight.

8. The NCAA is better than President Snow and Seneca Crane. First, the NCAA is not evil. It ranks the teams fairly based on RPI and overall performance so it can organize the whole tournament. Plus, it can’t control the matches by dropping burning logs and creating crazy force fields to try to kill us!

9. We’ve got Jennifer Lawrence beat. Sixty-four teams times 15 girls equals 960 top female athletes in spandex. Enough said.

10. You can’t read the books to find out what’s going to happen!

Good Luck to all the teams participating and “may the odds be ever in your favor.”

Feeling ready for anything

December, 3, 2013
FSU volleyball celebrationCourtesy of FSU AthleticsFSU has made it to the postseason for the fifth year in a row and faces Georgia Southern in the first round.

It is that time of the year that everyone works hard for all season -- NCAA tournament time! It is such a joyous time for those 64 teams that have made it into postseason, and we are thankful to have made it to this point.

Coach Poole always says our season is made of three parts: preseason tournaments, conference matches and postseason. Once you make it into the field of 64, it’s as if you press the reset button on your record and anything can happen.

This season will be the fifth year in a row we have made it into postseason, which is a program best.

We sat together as a team in the locker room Sunday night to watch the selection show. We learned we would be heading to Gainesville, Fla., for the first and second rounds, which is part of the Champaign, Ill., regional. In the first round we have been paired with Georgia Southern, putting us in the same set-up as my freshman year.

Postseason is a time for teams to take everything they’ve learned throughout the season and showcase their improvements and lessons learned.

I have seen this team make huge strides, and looking back, we have improved tremendously despite the adversity and ups and downs we have encountered. There is no doubt in my mind we can face whatever challenges are thrown at us and overcome any obstacles we might run into. We have grown as a team and as a unit, and we are ready.

There is a lot of success going around in the Florida State athletic department. Our football team is ranked No. 1 in the nation, our women’s soccer team is heading to the College Cup, and our men’s and women’s basketball teams have started off their seasons strong. Also, our women’s cross country team won FSU’s first ACC title of the year before taking eighth at nationals.

We take pride in our fellow athletes’ successes, so we are ready to jump on the train. Whatever losses we have had up to this point are only lessons to be learned. It is a whole new season, and we are ready to travel the road to Seattle.

It is a great time to be a Florida State Seminole!

All together for Thanksgiving

November, 30, 2013
VolleyballCourtesy of Pete StevensThe USC womens volleyball team is joined by associate head coach Tim Nollans daughters, Avery, center, and Emma, for Thanksgiving at the Galen Center.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is about being thankful. Yes, we had practice on Thanksgiving morning, and we didn't have the chance to go home because of the way our match schedule worked out, but I am thankful that I have the opportunity to be a part of USC women's volleyball. I am at one of the greatest universities in the world, playing the sport that I love at the most elite level. What our team does every day is something that so many volleyball players can only dream of doing.

Most importantly, I am thankful I get to go through this experience with my teammates. My teammates are the most incredible individuals, and they are my family. During my time at USC, their families have grown to become my family as well. I really have 15 mothers, 15 fathers, brothers, sisters and countless cousins. We'll consider our volunteer assistant coach John Xie as that crazy uncle on the far side of the family.

Today, we started a new tradition and celebrated Thanksgiving as a volleyball family at the Galen Center's Founders Room after our morning practice. For the past two years, I've spent Thanksgiving with Hannah Schraer and her family and had the privilege of saying grace at the Schraer household, so I was asked to lead grace for our team. I wanted to pass this blessing on to you and wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving and happy holidays!

Dear lord,
Today is a joyous occasion
We gather here with your love
Thankful for each other
And what you have provided from above

Our table is blessed and bountiful
With a large turkey so fine
Stuffing, gravy and fixings
That surely will taste divine

All together, beaming, laughing
And my, that pie looks so kind
When I eat three pieces
I hope Mick won't mind

Those closest to thy heart
Sharing this meal under one roof
You mean the world to me
And that's the truth!

Thanks to all the Gator fans

November, 29, 2013
UF Volleyball Jim Burgess/UF CommunicationsThe Gators played their last match of the regular season Wednesday and now wait to begin their postseason journey.

I can’t believe how fast the season has flown by. We celebrated senior day last week and played our last regular-season match at Kentucky on Wednesday. In honor of senior night versus LSU -- and with Thanksgiving this week -- I want to take a moment to reflect on what it’s meant for me, a Gainesville native, to have been a Gator and played at Florida in front of the best fans in the country at the O’Connell Center.

Words are insufficient to express how much fun I’ve had playing for the Orange and Blue over the past five years. I knew from the second I started playing volleyball there was no other program I could imagine myself playing for. Growing up in Gainesville and hearing of all the storied success the UF volleyball program has had made it obvious that playing here was something special. There's so much that goes into making this place so amazing, but I truly believe it’s the constant backing of the fans that makes the O’Dome the best venue to play college volleyball.

The generous support and loyalty Gator fans have shown me the past five years has been overwhelming. Through the shouts of victory and the tears of defeat, I never felt alone because I always had a sea of fans behind me, no matter what. The impact the Gator fans have had on my career is invaluable, and I will cherish all the love and encouragement they have given me.

I'm so thankful I was given the opportunity to play for my home town. To be able to run out on the court, look into the stands every home match and see so many excited faces of friends, family and familiar fans is one of the many reasons why I know no matter where I go in the future, I will always be able to call UF/Gainesville home.

I feel truly blessed and especially thankful for the past five years, and I hope I've made you all proud. It’s great to be a Florida Gator because of you, the fans. Thank you for your unwavering support throughout my entire career!

As a way of giving back to this special community, every year the team goes to Shands Hospital on Thanksgiving Day (or the week of if we’re on the road, like this year) and visits with some of the sick children. It’s always such a blessing to spend a little bit of our time lifting their spirits. They think we’re giving back to them, but really they give us so much more.

The most rewarding thing about doing this every year is that I come back out with such a renewed sense of thankfulness for the blessed life I live. There are so many things in life we take for granted, and this visit serves as a reminder that simply to be living and healthy is the greatest blessing one could ask for. I can’t wait to go this Sunday.

As my last regular season draws to a close, I’m still hoping to be playing volleyball for a few more weeks as we (fingers crossed) start a new “season’’ next week. I’m really proud of the way this team has finished and developed down the stretch of the SEC season, and we feel confident we are playing our best volleyball right now.

Every time tournament time rolls around it’s nerve-racking knowing every game could be your last. But “last” really has a whole new meaning for me this year. Even through the anxiety, I still can’t wait for what the future holds for us in the NCAA tournament.

Until next time, Go Gators!

“Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our Thanksgiving.” -- W.T. Purkiser

Seniors have one last journey

November, 29, 2013
FSU Volleyball FSU AthleticsWhile the end of the regular season is near, the seniors have one last postseason journey to look forward to.

We are in the final weekend of conference play. Last weekend we had strong performances against Wake Forest and Duke. It was exciting to see how strong we performed as a team. I would say it was the most fun we’ve had all season. Then we had senior day Wednesday against Clemson.

Senior day is always bittersweet. Although it is the end of one group’s journey, it is also a celebration of the successes over the past four years. As a senior, I could never imagine my senior day would come so quickly, but while the end of the regular season is near, I know our year is far from over.

My time at Florida State has exceeded my expectations that I had when I committed my junior year in high school. During my freshman season I was supposed to redshirt, but due to a few unexpected injuries I was forced to come out of that planned redshirt. While I was disappointed at the time, I feel like with the experiences I have had, that time was made up.

My sophomore year seems like a dream. We won the ACC Championship and were also able to host the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament. Next thing we knew, we were celebrating in Minnesota after winning in the Elite Eight! It was the first time in school history that we had a team heading to the national semifinals.

I couldn’t believe it, but it felt so good. Our trip to San Antonio was a great experience. Unfortunately, our journey ended when we lost to UCLA, which went on to become national champions. Once we got a taste of the national championship, we wanted another shot.

My junior year was another year of breaking records and another ACC title. With a difficult preseason schedule, and after our six matches of the season, we found ourselves ranked No. 6 in the AVCA Coaches Poll. Unfortunately, that ranking didn’t last long when we lost to our ACC and in-state rival Miami. But we moved on and continued to fight for another ACC title.

In October, we beat the University of Florida, another in-state rival, snapping a 21 match-losing streak against the Gators. Our last regular-season match, against Miami, would determine the ACC champion. In front of one of the biggest crowds in Tully Gym, we pulled out the huge win in four sets! Again we were given the opportunity to host the first and second rounds. In the second round we met up with 2011 Sweet 16 opponent Purdue. We took the match to five but lost on our home court for the first time since 2010.

Our motto for my junior season was “Unfinished Business,” and I believe we still have unfinished business to attend to. We got a taste of the national championship, and we want to get back there. In our last few matches this year, we have played the best we have all season. We are finally finding our rhythm going into the last match of the regular season and into postseason.

It’s crazy how fast this season has seemed to flash before my eyes, but really my whole career has done that. It feels as if my freshman year never happened, and our national semifinal season was more than just two years ago.

I’ve learned so much in my time of being a part of the Seminole family. It wasn’t the easiest transition moving from home in Georgia, but at the end of the day it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

I’ve learned a lot about the importance of teamwork and trusting your coaches and teammates. Teamwork is a huge part of many sports, but I think in volleyball, you can’t win without it. While a player can “out shine” others with the amount of kills they get, that doesn’t matter if the team isn’t functioning as one, and it is very hard to be successful.

It is sad to see an end of one chapter in my life, but exciting to start the next. But, until that can happen, we have a long postseason journey ahead, and I can’t wait to see what this talented team can really do.

Until next time, Go Noles!

United for Movember Madness

November, 28, 2013
USC MovemberJon KondrathThe moustache has become a symbol just like the pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness.

Hey, readers!

I’m sure you’ve been thinking, “where’s Emily’s latest blog? I haven’t seen one since the beginning of November.” More realistically, you’re probably thinking, “where has the time gone, is it really Thanksgiving?”

I must admit time has flown, but I may have been too busy to notice. There’s been a certain special project I’ve been working on all month that I want to share with you. It’s something called Movember Madness Games!

Movember is a global campaign where men from all around the world grow mustaches to raise awareness and funds for prostate and testicular cancer. The foundation originated in Australia when a group of men decided they wanted to bring back the mustache. The first year, they didn’t raise money for a cause, but they realized growing a mustache created many new conversations. The next year, the Movember foundation was formed and they used the power of the mustache to raise money and awareness for prostate cancer research.

According to Movember’s latest calculations, one mustache can create as many as 2,413 conversations through face-to-face encounters, Facebook posts, e-mails, phone calls and on Twitter. The mustache is becoming a symbol, just like the pink breast cancer awareness ribbon.

USC athletic teams got involved in Movember three years ago. At first, efforts were splintered among individual teams as captains took it upon themselves to create a Movember webpage and rally their teammates to support the cause. This year, as the co-president of our USC Trojan Athletic Senate, I wanted to change things up and unite our athletic and USC communities. After attending the Pac-12 Student-Athlete Advisory Council conference, the idea of a USC Movember Madness basketball game was born.

Behind the support of the athletic administration, USC student-athletes used the Movember Madness Game in our campaign to change the face of men’s health. The event would not have been possible without the help of Senior Associate Athletic Director Donna Heinel, who graciously provided the funds for all the mustaches the Trojan Athletic Senate would need. StacheTats also helped make our mission possible by donating USC tattoo mustaches. This allowed us to provide more than 400 underprivileged kids with a Thanksgiving meal on Monday and a sweet (temporary) mustache tattoo.

We had two Movember Madness games. The first took place at halftime of a men’s basketball game on Nov. 21, and the second happened during a women’s basketball game on Nov. 25. The Trojan Athletic Senate handed out mustaches and made fun posters to raise Movember awareness.

Our USC marketing staff also helped us with a Movember promotional video that was shown on the video board to all the fans in attendance. The Movember Madness Games raised a lot of awareness and was even mentioned by Pac-12 Networks announcers Tammy Blackburn and Ann Schatz. The two broadcasters even went out and bought their own fuzzy mustaches to wear and gave us a shout-out during their broadcast. Totally cool!

At the Movember Madness basketball games, we had mustaches and a lot of fun, but this event didn’t come without challenges. I definitely took away some key lessons from trying to plan an event of this scale. It was a steep curve, but I learned about all the effort that goes largely un-thanked behind the scenes to coordinate some of our volleyball events. So, thank you, friends for all that you do.

As my Movember efforts come to a close, I urge you to let yours begin. You can get more information about Movember at and can visit our USC Athletics page to help our USC teams change the face of men's health. Fight On!

Nothing tops playing as a team

November, 21, 2013
FSU Volleyball FSU AthleticsFSU traveled a lot early in the season, but the payoff is playing the last five regular-season games at home.

Where has the time gone? It seems like just yesterday we were headed to California for our first matches of the season. Now we are in the home stretch of conference play -- literally the home stretch. Since we spent the majority of our season traveling, we get to finish our regular season at home in Tully Gym.

Our season has had a lot of ups and downs, and there has never been a dull moment. We have had to learn to fight adversity and play as a team with one beating heart.

It is hard to believe our season is winding down and the NCAA tournament is right around the corner. With only four matches left, we are excited to go out with a bang. While it is really hard to travel a lot, it is worth it when we are able to play the last five matches of our season in our gym.

We love playing in our gym. While it isn’t the biggest gym, it is a perfect environment to keep us motivated with our crowd behind us. In our past few matches, we have been reminded how much fun it is to play as a team. While individual awards and breaking individual records is fun, nothing is better than coming together as a team and winning. My favorite matches have been those where we have played like a team.

One of my proudest moments was when we beat Miami last week for the second time this season. We kept reminding ourselves to play together as a team. For the first time in my career, we won both matches against Miami. Normally we have split.

Monday was our day off and we got the opportunity to have dinner with Coach Mac’s wife. She made us a homemade meal, which we were all in desperate need of. We got to have breakfast for dinner; she made pancakes that melted in our mouths. After we were done eating she revealed the special ingredient for the pancakes -- cottage cheese. We thought they were normal pancakes, but to our surprise, the cottage cheese pancakes were really good and healthy as well.

This weekend we will be playing Wake Forest and Duke for the second time this season. We know the importance of winning out, and we are excited to use our newly found team unity to finish conference play strong and start preparing for the NCAA tournament.

"Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishment toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results." – Andrew Carnegie

We're unified through sports

November, 8, 2013
Pac 12 Student AthletesErik PriceThe Pac-12 student-athletes participated in a community service project at the Redwood Family House, installing an irrigation system and planting grass for a playground.

Beavers, Bears, Bruins, Buffs, Cardinal, Cougars, Ducks, Huskies, Sun Devils, Utes, and Wildcats. While this might sound like a Trojan’s worst nightmare, this past weekend I wasn’t among rivals. I was surrounded by family: the Pac-12 family.

I had the remarkable opportunity to be a part of our All-Pac-12 Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) meeting. Two representatives from each school’s SAAC traveled to San Francisco to meet at the Pac-12 headquarters to learn more about the conference, give back to the community and share and exchange ideas.

During the time we spent together, I made an important discovery. All of the student-athletes shared a common goal as we strived to better our respective athletic communities. Together we can foster immense social change.

Although each school in the Pac-12 has its own version of a Student-Athlete Advisory Council, we share the same goals and visions. All of the Pac-12 SAAC groups organize community service events, career panels and nutrition events, and attend “go-to” games of fellow sports in order to enrich the full student-athlete experience. In fact, over half of us choose to call our go-to games “Golden Games.”

What is unique from one school to another is how we organize our groups to accomplish these different events and the wide range of charities and causes we support. The Wildcats shared their Arizona Movember efforts to raise money and awareness for prostate and testicular cancer. Now, with the help of the Wildcats we initiated our own Movember movement at USC, and it’s currently in full swing.

As a break from our meetings, we undertook a community service project at the Redwood Family House. The house is a transitional shelter for homeless families in Redwood City, Calif., that provides a safe place for them to stay and rebuild their lives after the adversity that led them to lose their homes.

We spent the day installing an irrigation system and planting grass for a children’s play area. As athletes, we love action, so it was a fun opportunity to get our hands dirty, digging and planting grass to give back to the local community.

The most memorable moment of the entire trip was when we played sports with the children who lived at the Redwood Family House. What really unified us as a Pac-12 family over the weekend was sports. All of the representatives are from different backgrounds and different schools, but together we shared the same love, drive, respect, devotion, teamwork and perseverance that we’ve learned from participating in sports.

Whether athletics provide an avenue to college, an outlet of some sort, a distraction, plain exercise, or even a smile for those kids, we were happy to play and to bring sports into their lives. Having the ability to share our passion for sports with those families was a bonding experience that brought all of the Pac-12 representatives together and truly uncapped the power that our teamwork has to be a vehicle of great change.