Dec. 14, 2016
The Florida Atlantic University volleyball team posted 15 wins in 2016, the third season in a row that the team had at least that many. It's the first time since 1992 that the Owls have recorded three consecutive 15-win campaigns.
The season opened with a dominant 3-0 win at home against Bethune-Cookman as part of the FAU Invitational. The Owls swept all three of their matches at the USF Invitational, sharing the team title with the host Bulls. Freshman Sigourney Kame was named co-MVP of the tournament.
Despite their success at the USF tournament, the Owls had a 5-10 record halfway through the season, although they played well in their Conference USA opener, a loss to then No. 25-ranked WKU on the road. That loss proved to be a turning point for the season, as FAU won their next eight matches, including back-to-back five set victories over conference foes North Texas and Rice. Over the course of that winning streak, seniors Ristic and Viera were named C-USA Offensive Player and Setter of the Week, respectively, and the Owls clinched a spot in the conference tournament for the fourth straight season. That momentum shift coincided with the decision to make Brianne Wojciakowski and Genesis Viera full-time starters.
"Brianne was amazing all four years in terms of leadership, but she really stepped up this season as a player. She worked really hard to show that she belonged in the starting lineup," said Nelson. "And Genesis was ready to run the offense the way we expected her to run it."
Nelson credits all four seniors (including Nathalie Rosado and Maja Ristic) for their leadership.
"When you bring in seven new players, you have to have help from your seniors. That process started over the summer. The way they got this group ready to work and not treating (the newcomers) as freshmen helped. We're going to miss them a lot."
After losing three matches in a row, FAU rebounded to win its final two regular season matches, sweeping both UAB and Charlotte in the final appearance for the senior class at FAU Arena.
The Owls advanced to the C-USA tournament, dropping a hard fought four-set match to UTSA.
In spite of the loss to the Roadrunners, there were still plenty of positives to draw from the season. Ristic was named First Team All-Conference for the second year in a row. She was also named to the conference All-Academic team for a second consecutive season.
"It's going to be hard to replace Maja because of her work ethic. I joked with her after the season that she had one bad practice in two years. She went through injuries and pushed through for her teammates. That is amazing to have. "
Sophomore Abbi Reid joined Ristic as First-Team All-Conference, despite playing out of position at middle blocker.
"Abbi bought in to playing (middle blocker) immediately. Right away when I said 'Hey, Abbi, we need your help in the middle,' she turned to me and said 'I'm ready. I'll do whatever it takes for the team.' We're very excited for her."
Kame, who finished second on the team in kills, made the C-USA All-Freshman team.
"Siggy has a unique personality. She's so focused on being the best volleyball player and student she can be. It's amazing how fast she adjusted to everything on and off the court. I couldn't be more proud of her."
FAU will have a good foundation for the future, with a dozen players from this year's squad expected to return. That stability also extends to the coaching staff, as Nelson has signed a contract extension through the end of the 2021 season. All of that gives Nelson plenty of reason to be optimistic.
"We have the right group of girls. They're ready to win. We already have a winning culture, and they're ready to put in the work. It's not going to happen by accident and they understand that. They have the work ethic and they enjoy being around each other."