Nova Southeastern prepares for its first NCAA tournament in volleyball since 2009

·4 min read
Wilnick Donice/NSU Athletics

Brian Rosen coaches 20 women’s volleyball players. In addition, he and his wife have two daughters, 8-year-old Bryce and 8-month-old Brady.

So, what is it like being around so many females who have key roles in his life?

“No one listens to me enough,” Rosen joked. “I’m always in trouble.”

Rosen must be doing at least something right because his 21st-ranked Nova Southeastern University Sharks (24-5) have qualified for the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009.

The third-seeded Sharks’ first playoff match in a field of 64 teams is set for Thursday in Pensacola against sixth-seeded Alabama-Huntsville (21-9).

Hired in time for the 2019 season, Rosen came to NSU from Davidson, where he was the associate head coach. In his first year running a collegiate program, Rosen led the 2019 Sharks to a 20-11 season, a huge improvement from NSU’s 6-24 mark in the previous season.

Still, the Sharks were left out of the NCAA tournament, beaten out by Thursday’s opponent, Alabama-Huntsville.

“That adds a fun edge to [Thursday’s] game,” Rosen said.

Rosen, an Orlando native, said his Sharks were one of the only teams in the country that didn’t even get to scrimmage last year — a nod to COVID safety protocols.

If that weren’t enough adversity, the Sharks lost their best player — first-team All-Sunshine State Conference middle blocker Marianna Fiocco — to a season-ending injury eight games ago.

Despite those obstacles, the Sharks still set several program records, including longest win streak (19) and most conference victories (16-4).

The Sharks run a two-setter system with Madison Cook, who led the team in assists and made third-team All-SSC, and Bruna Avila.

Another key player is outside hitter Elizabeth Price, who made second-team All-SSC. She led NSU in kills and also made the league’s All-Freshman team.

NSU’s other starters are middle blockers Brittany Landrum and Emily O’Neil; outside hitter Alex Psoma; libero Preslee Brooksbank; and right-side hitters Amanda Hall and Julia Bernardes.

“One of my best skills is my ability to recruit,” said Rosen, who has six Division I transfers on his roster. “With our facilities and our weather in South Florida, I believe we can continue to bring in top players.”

MEN’S SOCCER

After FIU’s 3-2 NCAA tournament loss to Wake Forest on Nov. 21, Panthers coach Kyle Russell went to bed at 1 a.m.

But by 5 a.m., he was awake and texting his assistant coaches about how to improve the team for next season.

Russell also reviewed the advanced metrics from the Wake Forest game, which he said confirmed his notion that FIU dominated the contest everywhere except the score.

“We tripled them in shots on goal (18-6), we had them 8-1 on corner kicks, and we had 60 percent of the possession,” Russell said. “We spent a majority of the game in their end, attacking.

“If we play that game 10 times, we win nine. Our game plan worked. It’s frustrating that we allowed three goals on six shots, but it was good to see our boys didn’t quit. We were pushing for the equalizer until the end.”

Russell said he has been on other teams where the players carried on normally after a season-ending loss.

That was not the case with FIU.

“Everyone was in tears,” Russell said. “We had to help the players get off the field and into the locker room.

“Our seniors spoke to the team and said. ‘Don’t forget what we accomplished. We’re leaving, but you are in a good spot to do this and more.’”

FIU is set to return nine of 11 starters next season, with only midfielder Mauro Bravo and center back Kareem Riley out of eligibility.

Russell said his vision is for FIU to emulate the Akron Zips, a mid-major turned national power in men’s soccer.

That’s why FIU will open its 2022 season against Akron. Russell wants his players to have an up-close look at an Akron program that won the 2010 national title and finished second three times, most recently in 2018.

“I’m really excited about FIU,” said Russell, who could be in demand from bigger-budget schools wanting to hire him. “This program could be the Akron of the south.”