An Interview with Florida State President John Thrasher
By Ira Schoffel
As seen on Warchant.com
With the Florida State academic year about to begin, Warchant.com requested a sit-down interview with FSU President John Thrasher to discuss a variety of issues related to the Seminoles’ athletics department and the university in general.
Thrasher spoke with managing editor Ira Schoffel for about 30 minutes on Wednesday regarding a variety of topics, including the decision to launch a new ACC Network and the extension of the conference’s Grant of Rights agreement, as well as the decision to extend athletic director Stan Wilcox’s contract and the approval of the Seminoles’ new documentary-style series on Showtime.
Here is a complete transcript of that conversation. (Note: Some questions have been edited for clarity or to provide context.)
Q: Well, it looks like you’re getting a game in Jacksonville like you wanted. (The Seminoles reportedly have agreed to move their 2019 game against Boise State from Doak Campbell Stadium to EverBank Field.)
A: Well, that’s one of the things I’ve kind of pushed the athletics department folks on, and it looks like it’s working out. Rick Catlett (CEO of the Jacksonville Sports Council) has been a longtime friend and does a fantastic job over there with the Gator Bowl and the whole deal. And Stan tells me it looks like it’s going to work out, yeah, with Boise State in ’19.
Q: FSU football has had some pretty special moments in Jacksonville, with the most recent being Bobby Bowden’s farewell game after the 2009 season.
A: Coach Bowden’s last game was there, and like I said, Rick’s been a good, longtime friend. And I promise you, Jacksonville will do it up right. And that stadium – Shahid Khan has done some really amazing things with that stadium. It’s almost going to be as nice as our stadium. (laughing)
Q: Do you like these neutral-site games for college football?
A: Yeah, I think for a one-game experience, it’s good for the fans. And our fans will fill it up. I’m sure there will be some Boise State folks there as well, but I think our fans will really enjoy that experience. And again, Mr. Khan seriously has done a great job over there. He’s been a great friend of Jacksonville, and he’s invested an awful lot into the stadium and into the football facility and the players. And he’s got three of our great athletes who were here not long ago (Jalen Ramsey, Telvin Smith and Rashad Greene). That’s going to be fun, too.
Q: Another recent development for the FSU football program is the agreement with Showtime to document the season as part of their “A Season With” series. Did you have much input with that?
A: Been working on it for six months, man (laughing). You know, two of the producers are FSU grads … from our film school. So they came to us last summer, I believe, and kind of threw out the idea. And we didn’t know how the Notre Dame thing was going to go [last season]. But we did some due diligence and had a lot of conversations with Jimbo [Fisher] and Stan and with our lawyers. And with ESPN, I might add, because of our Grant of Rights issues and all that with the ACC. So finally, it came together. The last big thing I did was get on the phone with Jimbo and say, “You sure this is something you want to do?” Because it’s going to be somewhat intrusive. I don’t know that they (the cameras) will follow them to the bathroom, but they’ll be around.
But what an opportunity to showcase Florida State University in a very positive way. To me, if we could have done it, I thought it was going to be good. But I obviously wasn’t going to sacrifice certain things (from a competitive standpoint). But I’m proud of it, and I think it’s going to work out well.
Q: Jimbo said recently that he isn’t worried about players being presented in a negative light. If anything, he said the players might be motivated to be on their best behavior because they’ll know cameras are around everywhere.
A: I think it has a lot of benefits. But it is something these coaches won’t be used to. You get out there and start filming Coach [Rick] Trickett at practice … that might not be something you want to put on prime-time TV. I love him to death, but (laughing) … For Florida State generally, though, I think it’s going to be a positive thing. And Jimbo’s bought into it, and I’m happy about that.
Q: Could it help with some of the misconceptions about Florida State after some of the negative media scrutiny in recent years?
A: Absolutely. No question about it. To me, it’s going to be a positive thing for us. And we vetted it a lot. I talked to Father Jenkins (Rev. John I. Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president) about it, and he was positive about it. They felt it was a good thing for Notre Dame. Stan and I talked a lot about it, along with some of his folks. Coach Fisher and I talked a lot about it. I just think it’s going to be a positive thing for Florida State. And it’s going to be an exciting season, too. We’ve got some exciting games. So they’re going to showcase some exciting games.
Q: But if things aren’t going well, you can’t change your mind, right? They’re here for the duration of the season.
A: Can’t change your mind. We’ve got a contract. And we’re getting paid. We’re getting some resources for it. That wasn’t the big thing for me – it was part of it – but I think the exposure we’re going to get nationally is going to be a big positive thing for us.
Q: Speaking of finances, ESPN and the ACC announced a couple weeks ago that the ACC Network is finally going to happen. In one of our conversations a year or so ago, you predicted it would happen by 2016. So you were pretty confident all along?
A: Been working on it a long time, with the ACC. And Commissioner [John] Swofford, I’ll give him a lot of credit, he really kept pushing. He had a good committee together. We met with the ESPN people at different locations for our presidents’ meetings. It took a long time to kind of get it to the right place, but I vetted it with my board [of trustees], and they feel comfortable about where we are. Even though we’re going to start off a bit slower than some people wanted, I think by the time we get to ’19 and ESPN starts leveraging its distribution networks -- because a bunch of those contracts are coming up – I think it’s going to be a very positive thing for us. I really do. And it will give us a chance to do it the right way, as opposed to just jumping right in and maybe making mistakes.
Q: You understand, though, that fans were hoping to see it sooner than that.
A: I get it. They want it now, and they want the [financial] results. And I get that. College athletics is in an arms race. And this is just one more piece – another weapon in essence – to build up the programs. But what I see as another advantage is with some of the Olympic sports, where they’re going to be showcased. Athletes in those areas are going to be given opportunities to be seen and recognized for the quality of what they do. I mean, we’ve got some great athletes in this university … and some great student-athletes, I might add.
I did a speech recently (picking up a piece of paper) and I picked up some of these things: We have 12 teams, of our 19, that achieved a grade-point average of 3.0 or higher. We have 87 student-athletes on the Dean’s List. We have 17 on the President’s List. And you know the quality of our teams on the field – our softball, soccer, football, women’s basketball, golf teams, baseball … Mike Martin was one game away from going to the College World Series. And I told him the other day not to worry about that because the team that beat us and went there won as many games in the College World Series as we did. Whatever that team was that beat us … (laughing). So things are good in that respect. But I think with the ACC Network, when you lay it on top of some of these great athletic teams – outside of football, basketball and baseball – it’s going to be a showcase for them too.
Q: So even though you don’t know the numbers yet – how much revenue this network will actually generate – you’re confident that it will keep FSU well-positioned with schools from other conferences?
A: We have some ideas and projections (on the financials). And it’s going to be a positive impact. It’s no secret – our athletic budget’s over $100 million this year. We’re in an arms race, and we’re trying to keep up. We’re dealing with coaches’ salaries, and I just toured the Champions Club this morning. I’ve obviously been over there a couple of times, but I wanted to see where we are today, some 35 days out, and kind of get a feel for it. A lot of things are happening around athletics, and they all involve resources. We’ve got to position ourselves to handle that, and I think the ACC Network will do that. It won’t be in the next two years that much, but I think down the road it’s going to be very lucrative for us.
Q: Since you mentioned it, how is the Champions Club coming along?
A: I went over there with Stan and a couple of our senior staff people just to take a look at it. It’s amazing. It’s going to be an incredible football experience for people. They’ve sold about half the seats for [the full season], and I think once people start seeing it and feeling the atmosphere – and from that end zone, seeing that big scoreboard – it’s going to be a great experience. I think it will be one of the best things in college football. No question about it.
Q: I know they’ve been working feverishly all summer. Is the construction still on schedule for the home opener?
A: I think they’re on time. There may be some little small things to finish. But I think they’ll be ready to open up on Sept. 10.
Q: To have the history you have with Florida State, it must be something else to see the transformation of Doak through the years.
A: Oh, it’s amazing. I was here … I tell people my most favorite memory was in 1964 when we beat the Gators for the first time here. We may have had 30,000 people there. I don’t know how many we had, but it couldn’t have been much more than that. Everybody used the term, ‘Erector Set,’ and it was like that. It was basically just a steel stadium – no amenities, no nothing. But today, it’s world class. This stadium will have a ‘Wow!’ factor when you see it. And the ribbon boards and the sound system … I think it’s going to have the best sound system in America for a college football game.
So it’s a great experience for the fans. We want people to come here. And we’ve got a great schedule this year with Florida and North Carolina and Clemson. It’s going to be amazing for us.
Q: Back to the ACC Network deal. As part of that, you and the other conference presidents agreed to extend the Grant of Rights agreement through 2035-36, which basically means FSU is locked in with the ACC for another 20 years. A lot of FSU supporters weren’t happy with the original Grant of Rights, which went through 2026-27, so they’re really not happy about extending it another nine years.
A: Here’s the thing about the Grant of Rights. It’s an extension [of the previous deal], and I understand that. And everybody in the ACC went along with it … and, by the way, it was unanimous among the presidents. The one interesting thing is, once we get it started, there are three look-backs. So there are going to be three opportunities during the course of the contract to take a look at it. To take a step back and see how it’s doing: Do there need to be adjustments? Things like that. ESPN agreed to that. The ACC agreed to it. So the first one will be in 2021. So we’ll have about 2½ years of experience, and we’ll see where we are.
If we have to make some adjustments, we’ll make some adjustments. But college football’s evolving. You hear all of these ideas about super-conferences and all that. That could happen. But at least for the time being, we’re going to be well taken care of in the ACC. And I like the ACC personally. I’m a big fan of the ACC. I’m a fan of the schools that are in it. And I think it gives our student-athletes the best opportunity to compete at a very high level in all sports. Not just football.
Q: If things aren’t going well, what kind of action could the ACC take during those look-in periods?
A: Oh, I don’t know. I don’t want to speculate on that. But (the college sports landscape) is changing. And it’s all driven by economics. It’s driven by economics and TV. And it could be some big changes … who knows? Look at the College Football Playoff. Nobody knew where that would be five years ago, and it seems to be working all right, even though they are working kinks out of it with the announcement about the dates of the playoff games. That’s an evolving thing. And people are talking about going from four teams to eight teams (in the future) … and when you do that, it does kind of focus on: Are the arrangements with the conferences right? Then you have to look at a lot of those kinds of things, too. But that’s beyond my pay grade.
Q: A common question from Florida State fans is why don’t FSU and Clemson push for bigger shares of the conference revenue, since they frequently carry the conference from a football standpoint. Have you considered negotiating for something like that?
A: Well, you’re part of a conference. And some people before I got here made a decision about the Grant of Rights and us going into a conference – share and share alike. I’m sure we’re going to be good in football for a long time. I feel very confident of that. Jimbo and his staff have done a great job of recruiting, so I feel good about that. But who knows? We could have a couple years where we’re third in the conference, or somebody else comes up. I don’t know. And we don’t go to a playoff game. But we still get to enjoy, like last year, Clemson getting the rewards and everybody participating in that.
Look at basketball – this has become an incredible league in basketball when you think about it. So to me, it works out over the long run. To be in a conference and to share the way we do it now … that’s just part of being in a conference.
Q: I also wanted to ask you about Stan’s contract. You recently extended him through June 2020 even though he still had two years left on his original five-year deal. What was the impetus for that?
A: I think Stan’s done a good job, and I just wanted to reflect that. He’s a great administrator. He and I have a great relationship. I think he’s done a good job, and I wanted to reflect that. He certainly deserved it, and I think it will keep him here for a while. You never know about people – they may get opportunities to do other things and they may want to do other things. But I think Stan likes Florida State. I know his wife does. I think they’re here for a long time. And that’s a good thing.
Trust me, one of the biggest things in running any organization is stability. If you’ve got good people, you want to make sure you keep them. That goes to our faculty, too. Over the last two years that I’ve been here, I’ve tried to adjust those salaries of people who have been here a long time and that are really productive. And I think it’s making a difference in morale and how our faculty thinks that they’re being treated by the administration.
Q: Stan also was given the title of vice president. Does that just put him in line with the other members of your leadership team?
A: Yeah, it puts him in line with the rest of my vice presidents. That was something I thought was a positive thing to do. And he was OK with it, obviously. I have a vice president for finance, a vice president for research ...
Q: Does that kind of symbolize that athletics is part of the university like any other department?
A: Absolutely. Yeah, it does. And it is. No question about it. He’s on our cabinet. Every Monday after we finish cabinet, he comes in here and we review just about everything – anything that’s a major issue. Under the NCAA rules, as you well know, athletics directors report directly to the presidents. And I’m not one to delegate totally and not know what’s going on. I want to know what’s going on. And athletics is obviously a big part of what’s going on at FSU.
One other thing I wanted to mention to you was our Seminole Leadership program that we started last summer (after two players were charged with hitting women; one was later found not guilty). We had our first course last spring, and everybody did real well. They liked the program (which emphasizes good citizenship, conflict resolution and decision making). And we’re going to have 120 new athletes in that program this fall. Ashton Henderson, who is managing that for Stan, is doing a great job. I think it’s a very positive thing. The students seem to be getting good information out of it – it’s helping them. It’s not going to solve all the problems. You’re never going to do that. But I think it’s a classically good program that I think is making a difference – for the benefit of these student-athletes.
Q: Thanks for bringing that up. Is there anything else you wanted to add?
A: I did want to mention a couple more things about our coaches. All of them are working hard. We did have one turnover in swimming, and we have a good guy who’s going to take over that, Neal Studd. But I wanted to say that I’m really proud of Coach Fisher and Coach Trickett for the work that they did (with the flood relief effort) in West Virginia. And also Coach Fisher going to Orlando after the shooting there with Jameis [Winston]. That was really nice of Jameis to do that also. But I’m proud of those kinds of things. Those are things that people don’t realize that coaches do sometimes. And they’re very positive things for our university.
You know, a lot of people look at our university and say, ‘Their thing is athletics.’ And I get that. But we just recently moved up from 50th to 44th in the Forbes listing. That six slots, man, in one year. That’s a great indication that the academic situation at Florida State is doing well. We have the best incoming freshman class that we’ve ever had, in terms of GPA, SAT and ACT scores. And we’re attracting some great faculty, doing some great research. This is a university that I believe – not because of me – but I believe it’s a university that’s on the move. And any student-athlete who wants to come here is going to get a good education if they want to. And I think most of them who do come here want to.
Q: You’re also closing in on the $1 billion goal for the university’s Raise The Torch campaign, correct?
A: I can tell you exactly where we’re at -- $923 million. Tom (Block, the campaign manager) and I talk every day. Our due date on that was June of 2018, and we’re going to hit it next year. We’re going to hit the billion dollars next year. So we’re already talking about how we’re going to move it to another direction and maybe make another adjustment – maybe move it up a little bit. But I’m really proud of the support we’ve gotten. Just the Moran gift last year ($100 million to start The Jim Moran School of Entrepreneurship) was a transformational gift. And we’ve gotten some other big gifts, too. We just got a $3 million gift for our Panama City campus. People are starting to really step up and realize that an investment in FSU is a very positive thing for our students.
UNCONQUERED Magazine Story
ACC Softball Pitcher of the Year Jessica Burroughs Talks About Her Scholarship
By Bonnie Holub
Jessica Burroughs is enthusiastic, entrepreneurial, social minded, and pitches into the unexpected.
When you meet Jessica, or JB, as she is known to her teammates, you will notice, or actually feel, the energy rise in her midst. Jessica’s enthusiasm and vibrancy reaches anyone nearby. She is “all in” to the moment. She might be excitedly talking about her plans to open a restaurant serving authentic international cuisine, or describing her idea of offering customers an opportunity to buy an extra meal to help feed the hungry, or, as she did recently, sharing her thoughts about softball, life at FSU and how she has changed since becoming a Seminole in 2012.
Her path to Tallahassee began when Jessica was about ten. A natural athlete she was involved in several activities in her childhood, including dance, gymnastics, golf, basketball and softball. One day her parents, Alesia and Joe, strongly encouraged her to pick just one.
“I didn’t even have to think about it,” said Jessica. “I just blurted out ‘softball.’ I enjoyed the game and it turned out I was pretty good at it. In retrospect, I think I enjoyed pitching because it gave me a sense of individual purpose on the team. In other sports you play as a team, but you are doing similar things. As a pitcher, I have a defined purpose on the team, if you know what I mean.”
Once she decided softball was her sport she was off and running, and so was her dad. Joe had no special interest in softball, until Jessica did, and then he became one of her biggest fans. “He learned right along with me,” said Jessica. We travelled all over the country for softball games. I think now he actually has withdrawals when we are between seasons.”
Her other family fans include her mom, her older sister Chelsea and seven –year-old nephew Carter. “They are my best friends,” she said.
Jessica wears #16 because it seems good things happened for her in association with that number. “Also, my mom’s birthday is April 16. I guess it’s my lucky number.”
Jessica began attracting recruitment interests in her freshman year at Houston County High School in Warner Robins, Georgia, where she was a four-year varsity letter-winner. She also played club ball for nine years with the Atlanta Vipers.
Schools that expressed interest included Auburn, Tennessee, UCLA and Ole’ Miss, but they didn’t stand a chance once Jessica set foot on the FSU campus. “JB came highly recommended,” said Seminoles head softball coach Lonni Alameda. “But, I was told we had little chance of getting her.”
“I liked Ole’ Miss, but when I came to FSU to visit, it was like ‘I am going here!’ said Jessica. “It felt different here. I met Coacha (the team’s name for Coach Alameda), and I just loved the coaching staff. They were the kind of people I wanted to be around. The facilities were awesome. Everyone was so amazing. It was just a different experience when I came here. The coaching staff really tries to get you involved. I didn’t feel that in other places. I could see my potential would be better served here than anywhere else.”
But something unexpected happened when she came to FSU. Things didn’t go quite as Jessica planned. “Coacha wanted to redshirt me the first year. ‘What?, I thought. I came here to play!’ I was very disappointed. But Coacha wanted me to take my first year to develop and learn. She wanted me to get to know the ins and outs of everything about the program; to learn my routine from studying to softball to time management to eating. To get myself fundamentally sound. She wanted me to absorb and learn from Lacey (All-American pitcher Lacy Waldrop.) Instead of having one year of learning and three years of playing, she wanted me to have four good years of playing. And she was right. I used the time to learn and am much better for it. Coacha is smart. I respect her decision.” Jessica’s advice to younger players on the team is to listen and trust Coach and her staff. “We have a standard and a plan, so jump on board with us. Coacha and her staff want to pull the best out of you. They want you to be the best player, student and person you can be.”
Jessica said Coach Alameda exudes a high standard by being a great role model herself. “Part of it is how she treats everyone around her, not just those in the program, but everyone. The whole team respects her so much. Coacha gives her heart to this program and to us, and it shows. She has the utmost trust. She makes an effort to make sure everyone is included, the alumni and everyone who supports us. She helps each of us be the most well rounded person we can be, so when we leave here we are taking with us more than softball. We grow from being around her. How she carries herself reflects on us, too. She inspires us.”
Reflecting on Jessica and the team, Coach said, “Jessica is fun-loving and a free spirit. She reminded me somewhat of a ‘60s child,’ when she came to us. An “old soul” who listens to Fleetwood Mac. She’s fun to be around. She has really grown up as a Seminole. She has taken everything to heart and worked hard, including in the weight room, where she worked to get strong for her team. She really listened and learned from Lacey. Now she is a similar mentor for Meghan (upcoming redshirt pitcher Meghan King). Jessica is a leader. She is selfless, as is the entire team. This team is special. They are like sisters. Everyone’s in. It’s awesome.”
Jessica agrees that she has grown as a Seminole. “I’ve grown up a lot. I’m more confident as a pitcher, teammate and leader. I’ve become ten times better than I thought I ever could be. I have drive that I didn’t have before. I have more purpose in my life since coming to FSU. My scholarship from the Boosters has made such an impact on my life and I thank the Boosters so much for what they have given me. They have helped to make my college experience amazing. The Boosters make dreams happen.”
Coach Alameda adds, “As a coach first arriving on campus, I could feel the family atmosphere, an atmosphere that radiates out to the students. The genuine concern from every Booster, and how they care about the students, creates an amazing atmosphere for us in recruiting. I want the Boosters to know their help and genuine concern for our student athletes doesn’t go unnoticed by the coaches or the students. JB could feel that when she visited. That’s what JB was feeling when she said it felt different here.”
Jessica is majoring in social science with a concentration in economics and a minor in business. Her favorite class ever, she said, is taught by Bruce Manciagli, but it wasn’t what she expected when she signed-up. She registered for it because “entrepreneur” was in the class name, but later discovered it was not a regular business type class. The class focuses on social entrepreneurship and social change. Because of this class Jessica was inspired to come up with the idea of how she might help ease world hunger through her restaurant enterprise. “Every time I leave that class, I want to go do something good, she said. It’s such a great class.”
After graduation, and before she launches her restaurant dream, Jessica would like to continue playing softball. The United States’ National Pro Fastpitch league interests her, but even more so does the idea of playing overseas. “Our coaches encourage us to go beyond our comfort zone, to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Going out of the country would be out of my comfort zone and I think a good experience. In addition, I can research cooking different foods over there, too, while still playing softball. And, at some point, I want to attend culinary school.”
Jessica is naming her future restaurant “The Kitchen Sink.” “It’s a term we use in pitching to mean we are giving it all we got,” she said. Jessica appears to have no reservations about her future, and if her culinary skills prove as successful as her pitching skills, we may all be lining up for future reservations at “The Kitchen Sink.”
Paying It Forward
Former Softball Player Gives Back
Appreciative of her opportunities,Tatiana George- Buys helps others follow their dreams.
Although she was born and raised in Southern California, former Florida State softball star Tatiana George-Buys truly bleeds garnet and gold. It doesn’t matter how far she is from Tallahassee, she says that being a Seminole “is just part of my DNA.”
Growing up in SoCal, Tatiana excelled at softball at an early age. In the shadows of perennial softball power UCLA, the travel softball circuit in Southern California is a “very intense program.” As she progressed from youth leagues to Bloomington High School, Georges-Buy lettered in softball, basketball, tennis and volleyball, but softball was where her future was brightest.
“Pac 12 softball is always at the top, but I really wanted to go to a school where I could be a part of a program on its way up,” George-Buys said. “When I met Coach (JoAnne) Graf my junior year and took my trip to Tallahassee, I fell in love with FSU and the people. It was definitely the place for me.”
The four-sport high school star quickly adapted to college softball. She led all freshmen in every offensive category for the Seminoles in 2002, and helped the team advance to the Women’s College World Series that year. As fate would have it, the Seminoles’ first opponent of the 2002 WCWS was her hometown UCLA Bruins.
“One of my fondest memories at FSU is when we faced #1 UCLA in the World Series,” George-Buys said. “They were definitely the favorite to win, but when we won the game it was crazy. It definitely came full circle for me to beat them.”
Looking back at her four years as a studentathlete, George-Buys is appreciative of the opportunity she was afforded at Florida State. As an active donor to the FSU Dugout Club, George-Buys hopes that her financial support will do for someone what her softball scholarship did for her.
“What inspired me to support Florida State is the opportunity that we give young adults. I am well aware that had I not gotten the opportunity, and someone had not funded my education, things would look very different in my life,” George-Buys said. “So I wanted to give back and help give student-athletes the same opportunity, because other people helped pave the way for me.”
Even after her softball career and graduation, FSU was still opening doors for George-Buys. She spent the 2005-06 season as a graduate assistant for the softball team while pursuing another lifelong dream in working for Nike. She first put her Finance and Entrepreneurship degree to work in the summer of 2005 with an internship with Nike that she obtained through the FSU athletic department. She continued her internship with Nike the following summer, and has spent the last decade working for Nike in Los Angeles and living her dream every day.
“I wrote down the goal when I was a senior in high school to get an internship and job with Nike. The reason why I chose Nike is that I am very business-minded, but I love sports,” George-Buys said.“I felt that Nike was one of the companies that could mesh the two together. Now I get to do something that I am passionate about every single day.”
As important as being successful in life is to George-Buys, she finds it equally important to help lead today’s Southern California youths to success. In 2011, Tatiana and her husband Joe Buys created Dream Impossible, an organization that provides inspiration, knowledge and a sense of self-worth to all ages through music and inspirational speaking.
“We created this organization because we wanted to give back to the youth,” George-Buys said.“We speak to schools and teams and stress the importance of having a dream, setting goals and working hard.”
Whether it was earning a scholarship to play softball at FSU, landing her dream job at Nike, or inspiring the youth of Southern California, Tatiana George-Buys is achieving her lifelong goals and making the Seminole nation proud that she bleeds garnet and gold.
New faces, veteran talents lead ‘Noles into outdoor track & field season
In a coaching career spanning four decades, there isn’t a lot that Florida State’s Bob Braman has not seen. Entering his 13th year at the helm of the Seminoles’ track and field team, Braman has celebrated a pair of NCAA team titles, groomed dozens of Olympians and has enjoyed dominant ACC Championship runs.
And yet, he has seldom entered an outdoor season with so many new faces on his men’s and women’s rosters. In all, 47 athletes — 29 women and 18 men — will be competing in garnet and gold uniforms for the first time this spring. The fresh faces include a pair of first-season assistants in the program, signaling a changing of the guard.
At many schools, that kind of youth and inexperience would smack of a rebuilding campaign. Given the Seminoles’ consistent success over the years, Braman doesn’t view his squads through that kind of prism.
“It’s real exciting,” Braman said of his young squads. “You get a sense that we’re going to be a good ACC team. I really believe that all of our new kids, with all they have done and how they’ve looked so far, they look like conference scorers.”
There is ample reason for optimism. Start with FSU’s history of success at the conference level. The men’s team hoisted their 10th ACC Outdoor Championship trophy last May on Mike Long Track and will be back at home again for the three-day conference meet, May 13-15.
Certainly the influx of youngsters will come with some growing pains, but both the first-year men and the women represent a lot of talent. Track & Field News rated the Florida State men’s signing class as the fifthbest in the country. And the women’s newcomers are clearly among the better groups nationally as well.
“There’s no question we’re going to have some growing pains,” Braman said. “You can’t predict it for the whole group, but there are going to be times when people are going to be at a level they haven’t seen before. There’s an adaptation that takes place. The key is to get them in these good meets and get them some experience.
“The really fun part of a young group is seeing the next star, whoever it is. There is enough talent there that there is an unknown national champion in that group. Not necessarily in 2016, but there is a national champion on our team. You just know it’s out there.”
On the men’s side, the Noles have restocked the sprint group under the direction of former FSU captain and first-year assistant Ricky Argro. Darryl Haraway was one of the top high school sprinters in the U.S. as a senior at DeMatha Catholic in Maryland and is joined by a group of talented Jamaican sprint stars, including Raheem Robinson and Edward Clarke.
First-year distance standout Harry Mulenga, the national junior college track performer of the year last season, is a star on the rise. Princeton transfer Sam Pons was ninth last spring in the 10,000 at the NCAA Outdoor Championships and has aspirations of cracking a scoring spot this time around. First-year triple jumpers Armani Wallace and Ashton Butler have tremendous upsides. So does another transfer, long jumper Keniel Grant, who was an indoor All- American at Texas Tech last year.
Optimism abounds among the women as well, where the top first-year talents include Bahamian Shaquania Dorsett, who won gold in the 400 and 800 at the Carifta Games last spring and was named her country’s top senior women’s track athlete.
FSU also dipped into the Jamaican talent pool for the ladies, with hurdle sensation Peta-Gay Williams, sprinter Shauna Helps and high jumper Safia Morgan bringing extensive international experience to Tallahassee.
First-year women’s distance coach Kelly Phillips helped freshman Spaniard Carmela Cardama Baez get her collegiate career off to a fast start in cross country, and has every reason to believe that the All-ACC and All-Region performer will be equally effective on the track.
A handful of high-end transfers figure to leave their mark as well in their first year as Noles. Meme Jean, a graduate student transfer from Charleston Southern, is the Big South Conference record holder in the 100 hurdles. Sasha-Ann Lebert, another grad student who sat out last spring after coming over from Florida A&M, figures to bolster an already stout throws group. From Nebraska, the Seminoles picked up a potential NCAA qualifier in the heptathlon in Australian Melissa-Maree Farrington.
While the youth will be challenged by an ambitious spring schedule, they will also benefit from outstanding veteran leadership.
On the men’s side, fifth-year long jumper Stefan Brits has three All-American honors to his credit along with the ACC outdoor record. In addition to his significant skills, he is also a three-time Academic All-American who holds the distinction of being FSU’s first track athlete to be chasing a doctoral degree — in chemistry — with eligibility remaining.
Senior Zak Seddon is the lone returning scorer from last year’s NCAA Outdoor Championships, after placing eighth in the steeplechase, and the veteran from Great Britain has designs on a big tune-up with a potential spot on his country’s Olympic team ahead this summer. In veterans Otniel Teixeira and Jake Burton, Braman welcomes back a pair of former ACC 800-meter champions. Stanley Linton, in his final year before heading off to Naval Flight School, is chasing an NCAA berth in the 10,000 after a breakout cross country season.
The men’s throws are in good hands with Ben Bonhurst and Emmanuel Onyia returning in the shot put and discus, respectively. And senior Cristobal Hurtado-Arteaga will look for a return trip to the NCAA East Preliminary meet in the high jump.
FSU’s women welcome back a pair of NCAA Championship scorers in senior long jumper Der’Renae Freeman and redshirt junior discus thrower Kellion Knibb. Freeman, a three-time All-American, was sixth last season. Knibb, the one-time Jamaican national record holder, was fifth in 2014 before sitting out last year with an injury.
Redshirt junior Grete Sadeiko, who holds the FSU record in the heptathlon, wants nothing more than to improve on her 15th-place NCAA finish in 2015 on the way to a spot on Estonia’s national team at the Rio Olympic Games.
Senior Georgia Peel’s turn to grab the spotlight in the 1500 has arrived in her final spring, while redshirt sophomore Bridget Blake hopes to build on a regional appearance last year in the steeplechase. Veterans Hannah Acton in the pole vault, uber-talented high jumper Kiara Wright and 2014 NCAA hammer qualifier Katja Vangsnes contribute to the Seminoles’ balanced attack.
So, too, do sophomores Chelsea Jarvis, a potential NCAA qualifier in the 800, and long jumper Jogaile Petrokaite, who was an NCAA qualifier last season. Add junior Canadian hurdler Nicole Setterington to the potential scoring mix and it’s clear that the Noles have strong enough representation in all event areas to be a threat at the conference and national levels again.
Volleyballer Plessy Found Plenty of Plusses at Florida State
Beach volleyball player Katherine Plessy was born in Dallas and, more than once, her family moved from Texas to Georgia and back again. But it was Texas, not Georgia, that was always on her mind. Her high school days were spent in Georgia, but Texas was where she wanted to attend college.
She planned to choose among Texas State, the University of Houston and Rice. That is, until she was introduced to Florida State.
“The atmosphere at Florida State was — and still is — amazing,” Plessy says. “When I visited, I felt surrounded by champions. I was surrounded by athletes who wanted to be better every day, better than the day before. I felt these were people who would push me to reach my potential. This type of atmosphere is very motivating. I fell in love with Florida State.”
Just as Florida State was a surprise to her, so was her eventual involvement in beach volleyball. For business reasons, Reva and Antoine Plessy and their children, Katherine and older brothers David and Chris, moved from Georgia back to Texas during Katherine’s middle school years. At the time, Katherine wanted to play lacrosse, but lacrosse was not offered at her school in Texas.
She tried out for volleyball instead. Not only was it a good fit, she excelled. Later, during her years playing for the Walton High School team in Marietta, Georgia, Katherine and her teammates won two state championships.
A friend and teammate, Mara Green, inadvertently brought about Plessy’s initial contact with Florida State. Plessy and Green were playing on the same club team when coach Chris Poole came to watch Green play.
“Coach Poole was the reason I got my foot in the door at FSU,” Plessy says. “He had watched me play many times while scouting Mara.” Former beach volleyball head coach Danalee Corso approached Plessy at Poole’s suggestion.
Formerly known as sand volleyball, beach volleyball was designated an emerging collegiate sport until recently. An emerging sport must become part of at least 40 varsity NCAA programs to move from “emerging” status to championship status. For beach volleyball, which is entering its fifth year at Florida State, that happened in the summer of 2015. The first NCAA championship in beach volleyball will be awarded in spring 2016. Beach volleyball gained Olympic sport recognition in 1996.
“I chose my school before I chose my sport,” Plessy says. “I didn’t know much of anything about beach volleyball. I took a chance, and it’s paid off.”
Plessy has learned that she enjoys the diversity of elements that affect the sport.
“I like playing outside where weather can be a factor,” she says. “One day it can be sunny, another day rainy and another day windy. One day you can be playing on a beach and another day in a park in a sand court. You never know what the environment will be like. Also, with doubles, it’s just you and your partner, unlike six on six. So, if you have a problem, it is up to you to fix it. You have to rely more on yourself. You can’t sub out.”
During Plessy’s routine health checkup upon her arrival at FSU, doctors discovered a previously undiagnosed heart irregularity. Her play was delayed for a month while several tests were run.
“Once again, I was so impressed with FSU,” Plessy stresses. “Everyone, including my teammates, coaches and staff, was so supportive. I felt they were all more concerned about my health, and how I was doing, than what I could give to them.” Fortunately, Plessy was cleared for play, with her only restriction being a ban on scuba diving.
Katherine was red shirted and again sidelined for a month during her sophomore year because of an ankle injury, which required surgery, combined with a concussion from a car accident. None of these challenges has dampened her enthusiasm for the sport or for FSU.
Regarding life at FSU, she’s all in.
Plessy remembers what senior associate athletic director Vanessa Fuchs said to students during orientation: “You will receive so much more from this university than what you put in. Florida State will give to you over and over again throughout the years.”
“Knowing how much Florida State has already given me, I’m motivated to give everything I have and see what happens,” Plessy says. “I know I will be rewarded with job opportunities, lifelong friends and meeting a large network of people. When I think of Florida State, I think opportunity — opportunity to grow as a student, as a leader and as a person.”
Plessy is kept busy demonstrating her leadership skills on campus and beyond. She is Student-Athlete Advisory Committee president, Atlantic Coast Conference SAAC chair, a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Leadership Team and captain of the beach volleyball team. Plessy participated in the ACC’s annual fall meetings as one of two student-athletes. She was also a member of the 2015 Homecoming Court.
Plessy admires NFL quarterback Drew Brees.
“He is the type of leader I try to be,” she says. “He overcame injuries and came back stronger, just like his book title.” In the same breath, Plessy acknowledges her uncle, Ray McDonald, who she said has the same characteristics as Brees and who brought him to her attention. McDonald played collegiate football at North Texas University and Purdue.
Plessy finds her head coach Brooke Niles inspiring.
“Coach walks the talk,” Plessy says. “She is still training and playing. She gets it. She’s been in our shoes and she still is. Our team is having a great experience because of her experience. She’s very knowledgeable and up-to-date about beach volleyball. Her assistant coaches are awesome, too.”
Katherine quotes a saying often heard among student-athletes: “There’s your social life, sleep and homework. Pick two.” Her homework gets its due. She is a member of the Dean’s List and President’s List. She is majoring in psychology, although sports administration and sports management are of interest to her, too. Working at Florida State is on her wish list of future job possibilities.
“Katherine doesn’t have a lot of free time, but I’ve noticed she always makes time to help others, from individuals to community service work,” said Coach Niles. “She is one of the hardest workers on our team. She shows up and gives 100 percent each and every day. She is very competitive and always wants to play fair. If a call goes her way, but she knows she touched the ball before it went out, she’ll call it. She doesn’t let it go. I admire that. She wants to beat you, fair and square. I could talk about Katherine and her attributes all day.”
Katherine is the first female in her family to attend college. “I would not have been able to afford college if it were not for my scholarship from the Boosters,” she acknowledges. “I thank the Boosters for that. And to be able to play a sport at a Division I school like FSU is such a blessing. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be here at Florida State.”
Winning Battles On And Off The Golf Course
From ice cream to All-American golfer with some major road bumps along the way. That is the unlikely and rocky road that FSU’s Hank Lebioda traveled to get to where he is today.
When Lebioda was little, his dad, David, would bribe him with the promise of ice cream to get him to go to the driving range with him after dinner. He recalls, “We would go hit balls on the driving range for 45 minutes or so, then get some ice cream and head on home.”
Inspired by his father’s influence, Lebioda started playing golf competitively when he was 11, but there was something else diverting his attention from the links: baseball.
When Hank was “10, maybe younger,” the Lebidoas traveled from Orlando to visit his grandmother in Tallahassee. During that stay, Lebioda’s uncle took him to Dick Howser Stadium.
“He threw me over the fence and then he jumped over and we ran around the bases and pretended we were hitting home runs,” Lebioda fondly remembers. But his passion for baseball proved temporary. Despite hitting .407 for Trinity Prep in Winter Park his freshman year, Lebioda decided to drop baseball and focus solely on golf.
He recognizes now that “I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to come and play at a university like Florida State in baseball, whereas in golf I have.” Initially, Lebioda’s father wasn’t sure that he was making the right move. He was satisfied that his son was better at baseball than golf.
Those doubts went away when Lebioda played in the Future Masters Golf Tournament in Dothan. Seminoles Coach Trey Jones recalls his first look at Hank.
“I went up to Dothan, ironically, to watch two campers, Jonathan Keppler and Tom Lovelady, play,” Jones recalls. “They had just finished golf camp here. Hank, I think, was 13 years old and was playing in the group with Lovelady, who now plays for the University of Alabama. I think Hank shot a 64 or 65 in front of me that day, and he had a Seminole golf bag. I walked up to him and complimented him on his bag.” Let the recruiting begin.
Coach Jones kept an eye on Lebioda who rose to number four in the World Junior Rankings his senior season. Throughout his high school years, his interest in FSU never waned.
Lebioda became a member of the FSU golf team, but then the “everything- is-coming-up-roses” picture deteriorated. He recalls, “I would lose 20 pounds playing four rounds of golf, but as an ignorant college student, I thought I could deal with it.” Truth was, he couldn’t.
He kept to himself and tried to handle the situation, but it only got worse. He says, “That December, things really caught up with me. I got really sick. Then I was hospitalized. That was a really bad time.”
His dad, a gastroenterologist, was sitting in the hospital room with his son when Hank’s doctor rendered his diagnosis. Lebioda had Crohn’s disease, a disorder associated with inflammation of the digestive tract.
“I’m sitting there with my dad, a big former football player (Washington University, St. Louis), and a doctor by my bedside. So much pain. I had IVs hooked up to both arms when I heard him say, ‘You have Crohn’s, and you are going into surgery. You won’t be able to do much for about three months.’ ”
It was a major blow. All kinds of thoughts were going through Hank’s mind.
“I look over at my dad, who probably knows way too much about the disease,” Lebioda says. “I think it scared him a lot when he pictured what my life was likely going to be with this.”
Lebioda was in the hospital for five days toward the end of December 2012. He was told that he wouldn’t be able to start back to school right away. He would spend a lot of time in bed recovering. He was facing limited activity until the fall of his freshman year in 2013.
In his hospital bed, Lebioda decided to make the most of the situation.
“You can be part of the problem, or you can be part of the solution,” he says. “I told myself I might as well be part of the solution and see what I could do to turn the situation around. I decided to do everything I could to get myself healthy.”
Lebioda entered a treatment program usually reserved for cases less severe than his and by mid-January 2013, he was ready to go back to school. Now, the rest of the story. Hank Lebioda did not just get back into school.
He started playing golf again. Not just playing, but playing the game well — so well that he was named 2013 ACC Freshman of the Year with a 72.11 stroke average. He was also named All-ACC and earned a spot on the All- ACC Academic team. It was an incredible year for a young golfer battling Crohn’s disease.
Crohn’s necessitated difficult adjustments and compromises. Most golfers walk a golf course before a tournament and note the trouble spots. Hank walked courses to scout out rest areas. He knew he would have to take breaks during the course of a round.
“We notify the rules officials when we go into a tournament that his group could fall behind. He learned not to fight that,” says Coach Jones. “He must make a conscious effort not to hurry and make it up all at one time and cost himself strokes.”
How well has Lebioda managed that? Jones points out that Hank is now No. 1 all time at Florida State in number of rounds played at par or better. And that’s especially remarkable considering the tour pros who have come through the program: Hubert Green, Paul Azinger, Jeff Sluman and Kenny Knox from the past and current tour players, Mark Koepka, Jonas Blixt and Daniel Berger.
Lebioda is fifth all-time in career stroke average and tournament finishes. And, when he plays in a tournament, his score has counted a record 97.5 percent of the time. This means that when they tally up the team score by adding the top individual scores, Lebioda’s scores are almost always counted.
“Hank doesn’t really have a weakness as a golfer,” Jones says. “He has great club speed, really moves it out there off the tee. And he can hit a lot of good shots in a row. Whereas some people will hit three or four good shots, then three or four bad ones, Hank can string together a lot of good shots.”
Lebioda gives Jones a lot of credit.
“Coach Jones and his assistants have changed my game from a really raw high school golfer to someone who can compete at the highest level and is not afraid to,” Lebioda says.
Last year at the historic Olympia Fields Golf Course in Illinois, Lebioda achieved a first. The eighth hole of the tournament, Lebioda vividly recalls, “was a par three. The pin was on the front right 240 yards out. I hit a hybrid, the ball took one hop and rolled dead center into the cup. It was my first hole-in-one in competition. I was jumping up and down.”
Jones witnessed the shot and then had to settle his golfer down so that the ace wouldn’t affect the rest of Lebioda’s round. No worries. He birdied the next hole.
As Lebioda approaches his final season, he points out that his success would not have been possible without the outstanding support for athletes available at Florida State University.
“I have had a nutritionist working with me, and she brought in a chef to build a special menu for me,” Lebioda points out. His diet is much different from that of the average college student and includes lots of fish and soups. In fact, Jones and Lebioda share what they call the “old man’s diet” since the coach, too, is a very careful eater.
“The support that the Seminole Boosters have given me since I have been here has been unreal,” Lebioda says. “I owe them a lot and without their help in supporting this department, there is no chance I would have been able to make it.”
From Walk-On to Captain
As John Sansone parks his car behind Mike Martin Field at Dick Howser Stadium and walks through the gate into center field, he can’t help but smile. “I always get a smile on my face walking through center field early in the morning with the dew still on the grass. It is a sight to see every day,” said Sansone, called Soni by his teammates.
Soni has lots to smile about. As the 2016 season gets underway, he has started 162 consecutive games in the Seminole infield. His is an unlikely story, and Coach Mike Martin (referred to as #11) calls it “a great example of someone who wanted to be a Seminole so much he was willing to do whatever it took.” Growing up in New Castle, Pennsylvania, a town of just over 23,000 located 50 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, Sansone did not attract a whole lot of attention from scouts. Not many star athletes from New Castle have made big names for themselves. The most famous success story from there would probably be Chuck Tanner, major league player and manager who led the Pittsburgh Pirates to a World Series Championship in 1979 and finished his 33-year MLB career with the Atlanta Braves. Sansone was a three-sport star at Neshannock High School, but he was destined to play baseball. Soni smiles as he recalls when he was a toddler, “My first word was ‘ball.’ I would run to the fridge, get the eggs out and scream ball. When they heard me running to the fridge, they would try to catch me before I got to the eggs.”
Sansone comes from an athletic family. His dad, John Jr. (Soni is John III) played college baseball. His mom, Mirella, was a softball player. When they met, John Jr. said, “Let’s go get a ball and play catch.” When she agreed, he said, “I’ve got to marry this girl.” Obviously they take playing ball seriously in the Sansone family. Soni’s twin sisters, Lina and Maria (five years older) also played sports. The family has owned a popular restaurant in New Castle, featuring Italian-American cuisine, for over 20 years. It is called Soni’s and is established enough that John and Mirella have been able to rent a condo in Tallahassee during baseball season so they can see all of their son’s home games.
The story of Sansone’s circuitous trip to Florida State is one of improbable connections being made. Coach Martin had heard of New Castle because one of his best friends in junior college, John Miller, was from there. Miller went on to become a high school coaching legend in Pennsylvania with 583 wins.
Then, a cousin, Anthony Cananzi, who was a graduate student in the Florida State School of Music, called the Sansones and sung the praises of the school and the baseball program. “I surprised John when he was 14 or 15 years old when I told him we were going to the Mike Martin baseball camp in Florida,” his dad remembers. “He said, ‘No, I don’t want to go.’ He was not a confident kid. I told him you are not going there to make the team but to see how they teach baseball. He hit a ball off the scoreboard, and I guess that drew some attention to him.” Fast forward seven years later to May 24, 2015. The Seminoles are playing for the ACC Championship against North Carolina State at the Durham Bulls ballpark. There are two runners on for the Seminoles, and John Sansone is at the plate. The Wolf Pack pitcher starts him off with a slider that misses. Then comes back with a fastball. Big mistake. “Got lucky a little bit. Closed my eyes and swung at the 1-0 pitch,” Soni says kiddingly.
“Then I took off running hard because I wasn’t sure it would clear the wall. I hit one the night before that I thought was hit better and it didn’t go out. It hit the top of the wall. This time I wasn’t taking any chances.”
Soni may not have thought it was out of the park but everybody else did. It landed atop the Blue Monster, the 32-foot high wall in left field. Coach Martin remembers it well: “He smoked that ball, I’ll tell you that.” The three-run homer spurred the ’Noles on to the ACC championship and a host role for the regionals.
Since winning the starting job in his freshman season, Sansone has earned a scholarship and has gotten better each season. So much better in fact that he will be a captain and counted on to lead the team in 2016. Martin credits him with having a “true captain mentality.” Mike Martin Jr., hitting instructor and third-base coach, addressed his leadership attributes. “We knew he had those leadership qualities. What he brings is hard to find. Toughness. Mental toughness. A selfless kid who will do whatever it takes to get on base and score a run.” Sansone’s value to the team extends to many areas, not the least of which is his productivity with men on base. In his last 444 at-bats he has only hit into four double plays. Those are rally-killers. He bats tough with men on base. Shaking his head, No. 11 says with a laugh, “Some guys hit into that many DPs in a week.” In 2016, after starting for three years at second base, Sansone will take his team-player approach to a new level. The coaches have asked him to move to third base to strengthen the team. “Makes sense for the team to move me over to third. I feel I have made a pretty quick adjustment there,” he said. But he may have had some doubts early on. “First time over there they hit a rocket shot off my shin,” he said. “I was kinda running in, not even trying to catch it just trying to get out of the way. It caught me good.” Soni had learned first hand why they call it the hot corner.
Not many players start every game because of bouts with the flu, bruises, pulled muscles, slumps, attitude, etc. John Sansone’s record of 162 consecutive starts is remarkable. His dad says he has always been that way. “Even in high school, he would have so many things happen like a high ankle sprain and he would still play,” he said. “He even played with a broken hand.” Sansone has improved every year as a hitter. He attributes a lot of his success to Mike Martin Jr., who is called Meat. “When it’s just me and Meat in the batting cage area, he picks me apart so much. You wouldn’t even think someone could see what he sees without watching tape. He just knows so much about the game. It is awesome to have someone like that in your corner.” Meat’s observation on Sansone is, “He has an offensive game. A lot of guys are good hitters, but the run production is not there. If you look at Soni’s numbers, he is very productive in batting average, on-base percentage, scoring and driving in runs. He is a special player in a lot of ways.”
In 2016, Sansone will focus on striking out less. “I want to improve on battling with two strikes. I want to cut down on strikeouts. I improved on that this summer in the Northwoods League and in fall practice,” he said.
John Sansone enters the 2016 season as a confident player. How confident? Well, he had his sister, Maria, change her wedding date from June to July because he plans to be otherwise occupied in June at the College World Series.
Lock Returns For Senior Season
Ben Lock leads tennis team on and off the court
Hey, Rafael, there’s someone who would like to make your acquaintance. He’s a tall blonde guy from Zimbabwe, and, if you can swing it, he would like to meet you at Centre Court in the not-too-distant future.
“Rafael Nadal is a great competitor with a lot of class, on and off the court,” said FSU’s number one tennis player Ben Lock.
“I like the way he plays, the way he carries himself and his attitude. He’s suffered through injuries and he comes back strong. He’s a role model. I hope to play against him one day.”
Those who have watched Ben develop his game will not be surprised when his dream comes true. The surprise would be if Ben played a collegiate sport other than tennis, which appears to be a family tradition.
Ben’s father, Martin, represented Zimbabwe in the Davis Cup. His mother, Lindsay, played on Zimbabwe’s National Team. Both older sisters, Emma and Stacey, played and his younger brother, Courtney, is a sophomore playing for the University of Louisville.
The tennis “gene” reaches back even further. His grandmother played competitively for Rhodesia (which is now Zimbabwe) and his great uncle played at Wimbledon.
Ben began playing at age 8 on the family’s tennis court. He remembers his father coming home after work on many days and taking all the siblings out to volley.
“That’s where we learned to compete. We always wanted to beat each other,” said Ben.
Fortunately for the Seminoles, Louisville and Ole Miss lost out to FSU when it came to recruiting Ben. He made visits to each of the schools before making a decision. He said his parents were especially impressed with the friendliness of the FSU campus and the family atmosphere created by the coaches and staff.
“It was an easy decision for me to make in choosing Florida State,” said Ben. “I am really happy I came here. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Dwayne (Hultquist). He cares deeply about his athletes. He tries to support us in every way possible. He is very family oriented and has our best interests at heart. He is a great man. He and coach Nick (Crowell) have helped me a lot.”
Ben arrived at FSU for his freshman year in January 2012 and immediately made a good impression. What was in store for him is one of Ben’s favorite tennis memories. Ben was in a singles match with an opponent from Boise State in the first round of the NCAA championship.
It was Ben’s first semester at FSU. He was down, 4-2, in the third set. Match point. It was a grueling game and Ben remembers both he and his opponent were cramping. Ben, as a freshman, looked up to his senior teammates and felt he would be letting them and his coaches down if he lost the match.
“It was going to be the last time some of my teammates would be playing for FSU if I lost,” he said. “I was fighting like crazy to keep them alive.”
Adding to the pressure, his parents were watching the match and supporting him from their home in Zimbabwe. “I wanted to make them proud,” said Ben. “I also wanted to prove that I could come through in big moments.”
When Ben won match point, he remembers, “The whole team came rushing onto the court. I’ll never forget it.” Two other favorite tennis memories occurred just this year. He followed in his father’s footsteps by representing Zimbabwe in the Davis Cup, and he won his first professional singles title as an amateur.
In May, Ben will graduate with a degree in finance and wants to pursue an MBA at some point in his future. “When the time is right,” he said. But first, he plans to turn pro.
Swimming Runs Deep in Hensley Family
Sue Hensley passed along passion for swimming to sons
Christa Salerno, FSU Sports Information
The former Florida State swimmer, then known as Sue Lowe, pursued a coaching career in the sport after her days as a Seminole. She later married Don Hensley and the couple had two boys — Cole and Noah.
Since they could walk, Cole and Noah could be found poolside with their mom. And even as the Hensley boys grew and tried other sports, swimming surfaced as their love.
“We started (swimming) when we were so young,” Noah said. “We both were around four years old. Compared to everything else we tried, we were so much better at swimming.
Everything else felt like a hobby, or we did it if we had time. We’ve done triathlons with our mom and running, but swimming was always there.”
Originally from Tallahassee, the Hensleys swam for ATAC at Trousdell Aquatics Center until 2004, when they moved to Winter Springs, Florida, and joined the Blue Dolphins.
They were coached by former FSU All-Americans Charlie Rose and Joel Roycik.
You could say the boys have been around Florida State swimming their entire lives.
Now, Cole and Noah, can contribute to that legacy together.
A senior who has stepped into the role as team captain, Cole is looking to continue the success from a season ago when he swam in the “A” final of the 200 fly at the 2015 ACC Championships. Noah is a freshman, with his entire FSU career in front of him.
As a high school senior in 2011, Cole originally planned to attend either George Washington or Kenyon, before a late offer from Florida State led him to reconsider.
He came to the program hoping to make progress in the butterfly, and instantly found himself behind Connor Knight and eventually Pavel Sankovich, who respectively hold the fastest 100 and 200 fly times in FSU history and ranked among the NCAA’s best. After three seasons, Cole Hensley is now the guy.
“I’ve been chasing Connor every year, and I’ve gotten better and better every year,” Cole said. “It’s wild to be the flyer everyone is chasing. Connor is still here, and there are others that push me. I’m not used to being that guy.”
Florida State swimming coach Frank Bradley has a great deal of respect for Cole Hensley’s approach.
“Cole’s progress has happened because he bought in and thrived on a huge learning curve,” Bradley said. “He had to learn so many things about training, along with the technical side and mechanics, and had to work on that every day. He’s done a great job. He’s doing things now that I’ve seen Connor and Pavel do every day in some of the most stressful conditions. Not too many people can do that.”
After just missing out on the NCAA field in 2015 with a time of 1:44.68 in the 200 fly — which he swam at the ACC Championships — Cole set his goal to score at the NCAA Championships meet to finish out his career.
“That was the best swim of my life,” Cole said of his ACC swim. “I had never made it to a championship final at a big meet before, and I’ve steadily dropped time each year. I’m grateful for Frank and all of the coaches for all they’re doing. It was really awesome.”
In Cole’s eyes there is no better way to finish off his career than having the opportunity to train and compete with his little brother each day.
As one of the top recruits in the 2015 class — a two-time 4A state champ and junior national qualifier — Noah Hensley had seen how Florida State helped his brother develop as an athlete and a person. In fact, academically, Cole is one of the brightest on the team, majoring in physics with two Golden Torch honors along with a 2015 ACC All-Academic team selection.
Noah became familiar with FSU from watching his brother’s meets and attending football games, but his recruitment experience was a little different than Cole’s. In addition to FSU, Noah talked to a host of bigger schools, including Indiana, Auburn, Florida and Wisconsin. Making the decision to follow his brother as a Seminole was not easy.
In fact, during his senior season at Oviedo High School, he wanted to go to Florida.
“For a long time, I wanted to go to Florida,” Noah said. “That was from the swimming aspect, not from a college-life perspective. Being here, I knew a lot of people on the team and it was just a lot nicer and an easier transition. The academics you’re going to get anywhere, and I thought I could be more at home here. I went through the recruiting process and when I told our high school athletic director that it was down to FSU and UF, he told me to take swimming out of the equation and figure out where I’d want to go. That’s what did it for me.”
“There were connections with Noah and it helped open the door, because he knew everything about the program from his brother and from some of his former teammates that are on the team,” Bradley said.
Once his decision was made, Noah could not wait to get to Tallahassee to begin training with the team this past summer.
“Noah saw this as a program where he can develop rapidly, and that’s what he did when he came this summer,” Bradley said. “He didn’t come in like a normal freshman. He came in comfortable and confident in his ability to work with eyes and ears wide open, wanting to learn everything he could.”
From the start, Noah didn’t act like a shy freshman. There were times in workouts when he would be encouraging others, including some of the professionals that still train with the team.
“Noah has established himself right away as a utility guy, because he can do some many different things,” Bradley said. “It’s going to be a matter of how we can develop him and dial into different areas as we get to the end of the year. He’s a really good leader given his work ethic and how he attacks everything and it’s easy for me to use him as an example. He’s vocal for a freshman. Maybe having big brother here helps.”
Although they’re brothers, they’re very different.
Cole specializes in the 200 fly, is a double-major in physics and math and leads by example. Noah can swim a plethora of strokes and distances, just chose sport management as his major and is quite vocal at the pool.
“Recruiting siblings are hit or miss,” Bradley said. “It depends on the connection. They’ve matured as brothers. The two of them feed off each other. Having Noah here is great for Cole, and for Noah with Cole here, he helps him get exposed to different situations and not having to deal with the stress or unknown of it.
“It’s been great. Having a guy like Cole opens the recruiting door, not just for his brother but for anyone. Here is a super bright kid in a difficult major, excelling on a pretty strong level and a very good 200 flyer. It’s opened a lot of eyes as to what athletes can achieve here at FSU.”
Spirit Squads: In The Beginning
Cheer and dance have become integral to the FSU Game Day Experience
By Jeff Romance
From its humble beginnings on the sideline of Centennial Field at FSU’s inaugural football game against Stetson in October 1947, to its current 75-member all-girl, coed and dance teams, the Florida State University Spirit Program has grown by leaps and bounds.
As the university transitioned from the Florida State College for Women to Florida State University in the fall of 1947, the FSU coed cheerleading team was an integral part of the athletic department. The cheerleaders supported the “Garnet and Gold Gridders” from their inception. The football team officially became known as the “Seminoles” in the third game of 1947.
The coed cheerleading team was led by its first captain, Margaret “Maggie” Strum Allessee, for the 1947 football season. Maggie cheered for two years and became Florida State’s first female letter winner. She has proudly cheered at 36 of the last 37 homecoming football games wearing her letter sweater from that inaugural season.
“It was really exciting to cheer for FSU that very first year,” Allessee said. “We had no organized cheers, so everything that we did we were the first to ever do so. I was the only senior on the 10-member team, so I was chosen to be the captain.”
Through the early years of FSU cheerleading, the team operated on a small budget, and it was not unusual for them to sew their own uniforms and only travel to away games that they could afford to get to on their own.
“I loved everything about cheerleading at FSU, including every minute of every practice and game,” 1972-74 cheerleader Kathleen Armstrong Moore said. “I even cheered just as enthusiastically during our 1973 0-11 season.”
The coed cheerleading team that motivated fans and supported FSU athletics for years finally began competing on its own in the early 1980s. The team finished sixth nationally in its first competition in the 1982 UCA Cheer Finals. As competitive cheerleading grew in popularity, the FSU coed team made regular appearances in national competitions throughout the 1980s and 90s. The coed team earned consecutive national runners-up finishes in 1998 and 1999.
“I was truly honored to be the head coach and Spirit Coordinator from 1994 to 1998,” 1990-1994 cheerleader Jennifer Jarrett said. “Our coed team took second place two years in a row, but it was Andy McNeill, the previous coach, who took the cheerleading program at FSU to new heights.”
Under the guidance of former coed cheerleaders Andy McNeill and Jennifer Jarrett, FSU fielded its first all-girl cheerleading team in the fall 1995. The team finished second nationally in its first competition in 1996. In only its second year of existence, the 1996-97 all-girl cheerleading team captured the National Cheerleaders Association National Championship.
“We had a couple mistakes at finals, so I think we were all surprised when we still pulled off the win,” 1996-97 cheerleader and current FSU head cheerleading coach Staci Sutton said. “I was thankful for being a part of the team and honored to share the title with such amazing and talented women.”
In addition to the coed and all-girl cheerleading teams, the Golden Girls are also a fixture on the sidelines of Doak Campbell Stadium for football games. The inaugural Golden Girls squad was formed in the early 1980s as a student-organized program that appeared at all men’s basketball home games where they performed innovative and dynamic dance routines. The first Golden Girls Dance Team consisted of 11 members who self-choreographed, fundraised and performed locally and nationally.
“All of the girls brought extensive dance and performance backgrounds to the team. That is how we were able to lay the foundation and build the image of the Golden Girls,” 1984-86 Golden Girl Lisa Spaulding Albee said.
The Golden Girls began competing in the 1990s and placed fourth nationally in the 1991 Universal Dance Association College Spirit Championship with a self-choreographed routine. Under the direction of former Golden Girl Wendy Laman Crawford, the team became a regular participant at football games in 2008, and in 2009 received its highest ranking with a second place finish at the 2009 UDA Collegiate Championship. The program is now under the direction of Brittani Richards who was a member of the 2004-2008 Golden Girls squads.
“Our goals are to continue to be present in the FSU/Tallahassee community through our community service efforts and to get back into the top five at the UDA competition in January,” Richards said.
The Florida State Spirit Program has a rich history and is an integral part of the FSU athletics program. Although they are not officially considered varsity sports, the spirit teams train, practice and compete like all FSU athletes. Additionally, the spirit program utilizes trainers, strength coaches and a nutritionist to stay among the nation’s elite.
The coed and all-girl cheer teams and the Golden Girls dance team can be seen throughout the year at football, basketball and volleyball games. All three teams also are involved in a variety of community service activities and make appearances at numerous FSU and local events. Tryouts for all three teams are in the spring, and more information can be found at FSUspirit.com.
Florida State Soccer
Setting The Standard: FSU soccer makes another run for the College Cup
By Scott Moriak, FSU Sports Information
The Florida State women’s soccer team earned its first NCAA National Championship in 2014, but the foundation for success had been built for many years under the leadership of head coach Mark Krikorian.
Now in his 11th season at Florida State, Krikorian has established the Seminoles as one of the premier teams in women’s college soccer. FSU has reached three national finals, eight College Cups and earned four Atlantic Coast Conference titles. The ’Noles have also reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament every season under Krikorian.
Winning and being successful does not happen by accident. It is only achieved through deliberate effort and sustained focus. That professional mindset has been a cornerstone at Florida State for many years.
“I think that’s certainly an element we’ve established over the course of time at Florida State — this professional approach to training, professional approach to preparation and the approach of helping prepare our players to play post-college,” said Krikorian. “It has taken us a long time to establish this level of commitment to excellence that we have. I think through the last couple of senior classes, we’ve been able to establish this professionalism and the approach of coming to training every day with the intent of getting better and all of these other elements of player development.”
Each class of newcomers that enters the Seminole Soccer Complex can see the groundwork and foundation of success that previous teams have accomplished, as well as the continued expectation to carry the program to greater levels of success.
There are trophies and accolades throughout the Mary Ann Stiles and Barry Smith Team Building signifying the team and individual awards that have been earned by Seminoles throughout the years. The ’Noles have received at least one First Team All-America honor each year since 2005, a total of 64 All-ACC accolades and have placed 57 student-athletes on the All-ACC Academic Team.
“Coach Krikorian doesn’t rebuild, he reloads — and we love that about him,” said Garnet and Goal member Rick Potluck. “One unique thing about our squad is how well Coach Krikorian integrates international players with the domestic players. They seem to always have great chemistry.”
Mami Yamaguchi earned the sport’s highest honor in 2007 as the Japanese native won the MAC Hermann Trophy, which is given to the top female player in NCAA Division I soccer. Dagny Brynjarsdottir was a runner-up for the award in 2014, and the Icelandic native was also named the National Player of the Year by Soccer America and was selected as the ACC Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
As a team, FSU has put together eight 18-win seasons and four conference championships. They have finished in the top 10 of the national polls each year since 2005 and have played in the national championship game three times, culminating in FSU’s first title at the 2014 College Cup in Boca Raton.
“When Krikorian came on board, our team became really good, really quick,” said Garnet and Goal member Danny Drummond. “His ability to recruit talent, especially internationally, is incredible. As a soccer fan, FSU soccer is the highest level soccer in this area. It’s come along way over the past dozen years. And the fan base has grown with it. The fans’ enthusiasm for the program is the best in the country. And the players so appreciate our support.
“I was there in Boca last year and would not have missed it. Winning was amazing and being a part of it and witnessing that celebration was so special. Just indescribable.” The success on the field has translated into enormous support from the community, as the Seminole Soccer Complex is routinely filled for matches throughout the year. The ’Noles have played in front of over 2,000 fans at “The Plex” 11 times, including three times during the 2015 season.
The local support makes Tallahassee a tough place to play for opponents as Florida State ended the 2015 regular season on a 20-game home unbeaten streak and are a combined 123-9-5 (.916 winning percentage) in Tallahassee since 2005.
“The most significant support structure here is the commitment by the university and the athletic department toward excellence,” added Krikorian. “Through the assistance of the Boosters, they’ve given us outstanding facilities and have funded us in a way that has allowed us to recruit some of the best players in the U.S., as well as internationally.
“When you add in the local fan support with the group of Renegades that are now out here supporting and creating a soccer culture here in Tallahassee, a lot of teams don’t want to come play here. We have a great home-field advantage and a lot of that is due to the fan support and the support of the local community.”
“The fans and Boosters making a home-field advantage for us is extra special,” said senior defender Carson Pickett. “We can obviously play well on other fields, but being at home boosts our confidence and it helps us get through those games. For Boosters especially, all the events we go to and they are always there supporting us, it makes us feel really special.”
The success of the Florida State soccer program is not based on any individual person or single event. It is truly a team effort — both on the field and off — that has developed the Seminoles into one of the country’s best. As the Noles pursue another championship in 2015, their previous successes teach them what it means to be elite, and they also have a growing support base to help push them over the top to become champions.