Trifonov's method over the years is to play a series of top nationally-ranked teams at the beginning of the season, to see exactly where his team fares. That opportunity comes next week as the Lady Rattlers participate in the Campus USA Credit Union Invite hosted by the University of Florida Gators in the O'Connell Center. The Lady Rattlers will face Florida Gulf Coast University in their season opener on Friday, Aug. 24th. On Saturday, the Lady Rattlers will face the AVCA No.18 Gators at noon, followed by Florida International at 5:30 p.m.
This schedule leaves no room for error. With a core of veterans returning, Trifonov expects this team to gel quickly. "It's good to have some seniors on the team. Led by Maria Ceccarelli and Pamela Barrera, who were a big part of the 2009 MEAC championship team, we hope their experience and leadership can bring this team together," Trifonov said.
The former Bulgarian volleyball player is focused with tunnel vision after enduring the pain of watching the Bulgarian national team defeated by Russia in the 2012 Olympics. "They were right there. They were up two games on Russia and they let it get away," a visibly frustrated Trifonov said.
Now, all concentration is fully on the Lady Rattlers and molding them into a MEAC contender. With All-MEAC libero Karol Marquez set to anchor the team, the Lady Rattlers return a core of veterans with a load of experience. Marquez, a defensive specialist, crafted 447 digs last season, making it hard to score kills on FAMU.
"I guess we'll see where we are on next Friday," a smiling Trifonov said. "We have two players that will arrive this weekend and we'll be ready for a good full week of practice. We will evaluate all of the players as soon as possible and develop a rotation that we think will be successful. We won't have any scrimmages before the first match. We'll lineup at the first tournament and adapt our lineup as necessary," he added.
Katherine Huanec, returns with the luxury of playing a more natural role at outside hitter. Huanec made the 2010 All-MEAC tournament team after leading the Lady Rattler attack. She carded 270 kills last season. Injuries to other players over the last two years forced her to try to compensate within the team. With a solid team this season, she should be allowed to play a more natural role, leading to a more aggressive attitude when she's on the floor.
Setter Diana Gonzales came in with great expectations last season. While the transition was not as brisk as Trifonov expected, over the course of the season, Gonzales came into her own and solidified herself as the Lady Rattlers' primary setter dishing out 899 assists in 2011. Assisting Gonzales this season will be Patricia Figueiredo, a transfer setter from Florida State.
"We have a unique situation this season, as we have kids having to compete for positions. Positions will be based on performance. In next week's tournament, whoever plays well on Friday's game against FGCU, will have the opportunity to start on Saturday's doubleheader. We'll experiment with lineups and evaluate their performances against some of the top teams in the country over the first two weekends. Int he second weekend, it doesn't get any easier, as we play the AVCA No.12 Florida State Seminoles, who as we all know made it to the final four last year, " he added.
Another versatile player for the Rattlers is Kilani Davis. Davis came on at the end of last season and excelled, pulling of 26 digs in just 43 matches played. She was one of the main reasons for the successful run in the MEAC tournament, allowing the Lady Rattlers to overcome the disadvantage endured with injured players. Joanie Del Castillo, who was effective as a reserve, will be depended on more heavily in 2012. She scored 28 service aces and 143 digs last season.
Rounding out the team, and probably the most improved player during the season was Andrea Soriano. The lengthy middle blocker came on strong for the Lady Rattlers last season. Trifonov was highly impressed with the way she ended last season and expects a big performance out of her in 2012.
Ceccarelli and Barrera, who came in as freshmen together, have had a successful career at FAMU with one championship and two runners-up. Both have a focused desire to return to the top spot their senior season.
Ceccarelli was the Lady Rattlers' leading scorer last season. The 6'1" outside hitter led the Lady Rattlers with 342 kills last season. She also had 26 service aces and plays well defensively.
Barrera had 153 kills last season, but also was a force in the middle as a blocker. She is the team's leading blocker and will be heavily depended on to thwart attacks on the front line.
"The offseason conditioning was great for these young ladies. It's paying dividends right now. Everybody seems much improved, which is what you want in an offseason. This team is a lot more explosive, confident and experienced than we've been int he past," Trifonov concluded.
The Lady Rattlers open their home slate on Aug.31 in the FSU/FAMU Tournament. The Lady Rattlers will face the Bulldogs of the University of Georgia in a 6:30 p.m. start. The Lady Rattlers then face FIU on Sept.1 at 11 a.m. and Florida State at 5 p.m. Admission is free to all Lady Rattler volleyball games.