Semrau, womens’ hoops, move forward after canceled basketball tournament

By Tim Linafelt
Senior writer/

For Sue Semrau and the Florida State women’s basketball team, the hardest thing about “social distancing” in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic is, well, the distance.

Granted, the entire world is adjusting to life in a six-foot bubble, but that’s especially true for college hoops teams who typically are around each other constantly during March and April.

“I think the hardest part is everybody being spread out,” Semrau said. “We’re usually together this time of year. We’re usually playing this time of year. It’s almost like somebody just hit the pause button and put us on hold. And now we’re waiting for the elevator music to stop.”

More than three weeks since the sports world came to a standstill, that music is still playing and no one is yet sure when it might stop.

Sue Semrau said she aches for her seniors who missed their last chance to play in the NCAA
Photo special to the Outlook

For Semrau and the Seminoles, the world’s reaction to the novel coronavirus brought about a particularly painful end to a promising season.

FSU had a 24-8 record, a top-20 national ranking and had just wrapped up a deep run in the ACC tournament that finished a few minutes short of a league title.

Semrau thought the Seminoles were rounding into form at exactly the right time, and was looking forward to seeing that momentum continue into the Big Dance.

But, come that Thursday afternoon, when she watched on television as FSU’s men’s team was pulled off the floor prior to an ACC tournament quarterfinal, she had a sinking feeling about what was to come.

A day later, it became official: There would be no 2020 NCAA tournament.

“Everyone was in shock,” Semrau said. “I think we’re all still in shock that we’re not playing.”

Semrau said that she “aches” for her seniors – Kiah Gillespie, Nicki Ekhomu and Nausia Woolfolk – who were denied one last shot at a national title run.

But she’s just as saddened for the underclassmen, who came to Florida State with the expectation of playing in the postseason ever year and now must miss out on one of those years.

That said, Semrau has maintained her broad perspective.

The full scale of the COVID-19 pandemic has only widened over the last few weeks, and Semrau, like all coaches on Florida State’s campus, recognizes that sports can wait while the world navigates the road ahead.

“We can’t just overlook what’s happening,” she said, noting that her own parents are in their 80s and live in Seattle.

“It’s important that we acknowledge this is a really hard time for a lot of people.”

In the meantime, Semrau and her staff are doing their best to provide a network of support for their team – including international players Savannah Wilkinson (England) and Izabella Nicoletti (Brazil).

Semrau said that program is getting “creative” in its efforts to help the players continue their development, and that much is done through phones and digital conferencing.

The same goes for recruiting.

Whereas just a few weeks ago Semrau and her assistants were on the road for in-home visits, they’ve now been forced to exclusively use their phones thanks to social distancing policies and the NCAA-mandated recruiting “dead period,” which prohibits in-person contact.

Semrau doesn’t mind that, but it does come with some challenges.

“It actually takes a little more work and a lot more organization,” she said. “I’m having a really hard time keeping my (phone) battery charged. That’s the biggest thing for me.

“That’s how you have to communicate.”

Semrau’s most important message, the one that she wants relayed to players, parents, prospects and supporters, is that her program is still doing all it can to be there for its people for however long is necessary for things to get back to normal.

The coaching staff has worked to ensure that players have what they need academically, that they have a plan for strength and nutrition, and that they have someone to talk to if things get particularly tough over the next few weeks or months.

That policy, of course, will continue far beyond the course of the pandemic.

“We’re going to take care of them,” Semrau said. “Even from a distance.”