A different start without Semrau, but FSU women return to court

The first day of practice for the Florida State women’s basketball team on Wednesday was very different. For the first time since the 1996-97 season, Sue Semrau was not leading the team in workouts.

But the comfort level of having longtime assistant coach Brooke Wyckoff elevated for the 2020-21 season in the interim has made the transition smoother.

“It’s a little different just not having her there, seeing her there, because we’re used to it,” junior Kourtney Weber said. “But I wouldn’t say it’s that different because coach Brooke already had such a big spot in the program. And she was really hands on with coaching.”

Wyckoff had been leading small-group workouts since late August as they were able to spend eight hours each week with players in accordance with NCAA rules as part of how to safely return to the court in the coronavirus pandemic. College basketball programs were eventually allowed to expand to 12 hours and now the clock begins with a 20-hour week, Wyckoff said.

“We’ve been able to do everything besides coach without masks on,” Wyckoff said. “That’s been the biggest challenge sometimes but, other than that, the girls, have been routinely tested, so has the staff, anybody that’s involved on the court is routinely tested. So we feel good about them being able to practice normally in as big of a group size as needed. We do try to limit their numbers when they’re in smaller spaces like the weight room or the training room or film room. We keep them in small groups, no more than six.”

FSU will likely open the season on Nov. 25, the first day that men’s and women’s programs are allowed to schedule games. The Seminoles are in discussions with non-conference opponents.

“We do have a really good idea of what the ACC season will look like,” Wyckoff said. “Those days are just being finalized in terms of arena availability … The ACC, obviously, will take up a large part of our season, but we are working on a couple non-conference games. It’s a big puzzle for everybody, it’s a bunch of moving parts, it’s so weird.”

FSU loses three big pieces of the program in seniors Kiah Gillespie, Nicki Ekhomu and Nausia Woolfolk (they were the team’s top three scorers in 2019-20). But the Seminoles do have a talented roster returning, which includes Weber, Morgan Jones, River Baldwin, Sammie Puissis and South Carolina transfer Bianca Jackson (who sat out last season and is eligible to play this winter). Tiana England, a grad transfer from St. John’s, is also expected to step into a role as a point guard.

The Seminoles will miss the experience and leadership of the veteran players but this should be deep roster that is strengthened by Jackson, England and other transfers. FSU has been one of the ACC’s top teams under Semrau, and that likely won’t change with Wyckoff taking over.

Wyckoff said she and Semrau talk frequently. Semrau is able to watch practice film once it is uploaded and talk to recruits as she will live in Seattle and help care for her mother, who is battling cancer.

“She’s been great to give me the freedom to kind of have the authority to take control of what’s needed to be done day to day as well, though, as just being there day to day if needed anytime I need to pick up the phone,” Wyckoff said. “She definitely is paying attention to what’s going on, she’s keeping tabs, she’s still in communication with our players to a degree and with recruits as well. I know it’s a hard position for her to be in because she’s definitely not just completely stepping away and shutting the door, but she’s done an amazing job of just kind of allowing me and the rest of the staff to have the freedom to, because we’re in the day to day, run the show for right now.”

Wyckoff feels it has been an offseason of so much change, from Semrau’s decision to the impact of COVID-19 to the fight for racial equality and more. In an interview with the Osceola this summer, Wyckoff even mentioned that the goal was for all of the Seminoles to register to vote and be informed about their choices on Election Day.

And now, the basketball season will start in about six weeks.

“We’re just grateful to even be having this season, honestly, without the uncertainty of even knowing who we’re going to play,” Weber said. “We’re just taking every day and we’re gonna go in there, work our hardest and not take anything for granted.”

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