STATE OF DENIAL; RAMS BLOCKING AT ELITE LEVEL

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Elite blocking has become a VCU trademark in recent years. The Rams (19-3) are currently ranked sixth nationally in blocking.

RICHMOND, Va. – Volleyball players say there’s a special emotion that comes from blocking an opposing hitter and halting the enemy’s offense with a demoralizing thud.

“You feel like you’re on top of the world. You feel strong,” says VCU freshman middle blocker Martina Samadan.

“I think that’s the most exciting way to get a point for me,” adds senior middle Jasmine Waters. “You just kind of feel like you shut down the other team.”

If that’s the case, it’s been a joyful season for the VCU Volleyball team. The 19-3 Rams lead the Atlantic 10 Conference and rank sixth nationally in blocks per set (3.13). They’ve outblocked their opponents 260-137 this year and have been outblocked in a match just two times. Samadan, a 6-foot-5 rookie from Croatia, ranks fourth in the country in blocks per set (1.64). With numbers like those, VCU should have smiles to spare.

VCU didn’t transform into the Great Wall of China overnight. It takes a lot of work to be this stingy.

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TRANSFERS’ CAREERS INTERSECT, STEER VCU IN NEW DIRECTION

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Jasmine Waters (front) and Anett Farkas (back) transferred to VCU in 2010 and are two of the driving forces behind VCU’s 13-2 record.

RICHMOND, Va. – The volleyball careers of Jasmine Waters and Anett Farkas have been similarly important to the revival taking place at VCU this year. Both transferred to the school three seasons ago and have become integral parts of a team that has chugged to a surprising 13-2 record.

Farkas, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter, is third on the team in kills and digs, and fourth in blocks. Waters, a 6-foot-4 middle blocker, is second in blocks and hitting percentage. Farkas was the MVP of the VCU/Third Degree Sportswear Invitational earlier this year, while Waters earned similar honors at the season-opening Active Ankle Challenge at Ball State.

Although their volleyball careers have serendipitously intersected to lift VCU, their journeys to this place and this period in program history contrast dramatically.

A native of Budapest, Hungary, Farkas started playing volleyball when she was eight years old and trained under Hungarian legend Kotsis Attilane, who led the country fourth place finishes at the 1976 and 1980 Olympic Games.

Farkas attended an English-speaking school in Budapest until the fifth grade. When tuition became too expensive, she moved to an Austrian-speaking school, where she stayed until graduation. Meanwhile, Farkas excelled at volleyball and earned a spot with Hungary’s Junior National Program.

A Landover, Md. native, Waters didn’t play organized sports until a classmate all but dragged her to volleyball practice during her junior year of high school. She played on the jayvee team that first year and moved up to varsity for her senior season.

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BATTLE-TESTED RAMS SET HISTORIC PACE

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After years of tough scheduling, the 2012 Rams have looked composed and experienced on the way to a 12-1 record, the best start in school history.

RICHMOND, Va. – August and September haven’t always been friends to VCU Volleyball. In recent years, the Rams have been pinned with some ungainly non-conference records during those months.

But after years of bruising gauntlets during the early weeks of the season, VCU is reaping the benefits. On Sunday, the Rams completed a sweep of the field at the West Point Challenge to improve to 12-1 for the first time in school history. VCU has played four non-conference tournaments this season and won each one. On Friday, Sept. 21, the Rams will begin Atlantic 10 Conference play at Duquesne. They hope their gaudy record is evidence that VCU is ready to chase down its first league championship and NCAA bid since 2005.

“I’m absolutely thrilled,” said Head Coach James Finley, 138-111 in eight seasons with VCU. “It’s so exciting to start like this. I think it allows the girls to have a great level of confidence going into conference.”

Finley firmly believes in challenging non-conference schedules, even if the payoff is years down the road. In 2010, the Rams played six ranked teams. Four core members of this year’s team were either freshmen or sophomores on that squad, which VCU limped to a 2-14 record before winning 11 of its last 17.

Last season’s schedule was similarly tough and included matches with Purdue, Baylor, Xavier, Michigan State and others. The Rams were 4-11 at one point, but won eight of nine down the stretch to reach the Colonial Athletic Association Championship match.

If there was a turning point for VCU, that was it. The Rams are 18-4 since Oct. 22 of last season.

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VOLLEYBALL CHASING CAA TITLE

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I know a lot of  fans will be in Charleston this weekend, but there’s a VCU team chasing a CAA title in Newark, Del. and I plan to be there. The VCU Volleyball Team, seeded sixth, will take on No. 3 Towson Friday at 4 p.m. in the CAA Tournament Quarterfinals. A win earns the Rams a date with Northeastern Saturday in the semifinals.

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