Loss prelude to new beginning

Published March 24, 2005

Even though the Florida State women's basketball team's magical season ended Tuesday night against defending national champion Connecticut in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, coach Sue Semrau sees it as a start.

"We've talked about it from the beginning that this was something we were entering into, a different phase of our program," she said Wednesday. "This is phase two for us."

By that, she means she has players not just with ability but those with an "elite commitment level." Too often, past teams lacked that refuse-to-lose attitude, that I'll-do-anything to win.

Not this one.

" Roneeka ( Hodges) infused something into this program that players need to infuse," Semrau said of her star senior's leadership.

Hodges, a transfer from LSU, is done, as is senior Linnea Liljestrand, but Semrau is confident that some younger players have had a chance to learn from Hodges what it takes to succeed and seem poised to fill her sneakers. For example, a handful of minutes before FSU's NCAA opener against Richmond, junior guard Holly Johnson urged her teammates to play "Seminole defense."

"They're the ones saying the things to each other that are important," Semrau said.

But for FSU (24-8) to build on this season, it needs Johnson, sophomore guard Alicia Gladden, junior guard Ganiyat Adeduntan, junior guard LaQuinta Neely to continue to improve. It needs dazzling guard Shante Williams, who sat out this season for personal reasons, to come back eager to re-establish herself as one of the ACC's premier players. It must have freshmen centers Christie Lautsch and Nikki An thony to blossom.

Newcomers Kyria Buford, a 6-2 forward, 5-11 guard Tanae Davis, 6-1 guard Mara Freshour and 6-3 forward Cayla Moore need to contribute so FSU won't rely on its six guards as it did this season. Semrau could try to add another post player in the late-signing period. A trip to Europe, most likely Italy for four games in 10 days in August, should help all of them develop and bond.

"We've grown a lot, but obviously we have a lot more to do," Semrau said. "But the phase two mentality, that's been set."

ACID TEST COMING: The baseball team (24-4 entering Wednesday night's game at Jacksonville) hasn't played the most arduous schedule so far, but that's about to change.

In the next couple of weeks , the Seminoles play Florida, perennial ACC power Clemson (three times), Jacksonville and another strong league team, Wake Forest (three times).

"We've got our work cut out for us, but this is fun," coach Mike Martin said. "This is what you're working for when you start work in August."

And he does like what he's seen so far, despite the competition.

"The big thing I've learned about the ball club is it will fight you," he said. "There's still an opportunity for us to get better. When you have as many freshmen and sophomores as we have on our club, you can just sense the improvement is coming literally daily and it's fun to watch that."

BIG-TIME ADDITION: Volleyball coach Todd Kress is calling the signing of heralded outside hitter/middle blocker Gabrielle Rivera as "Gaby, Part 2" at FSU. Back in the day, Gabrielle Reece was a pretty fair player for the Seminoles.

"She's had some unbelievable experiences playing for her junior national team in Puerto Rico," Kress said. "Once she catches on to our system and the speed of play here in the United States, she will be a big-time player for us."

Brian Landman covers Florida State. Reach him at 813 226-3347 or at landman@sptimes.com