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There could hardly have been a better beginning to the 2020-21 basketball season for the Florida State women’s team. Beating their archrivals, the Florida Gators, for the fifth straight time put a smiley face where the pandemic-caused frown had been.

There was so much uncertainty surrounding the start of this season. At times it seemed questionable if there would be a season at all due to the virus that was raging throughout the country.

The season opener against FAMU was cancelled. Then the originally scheduled Sunday game against Florida was postponed to Tuesday.  But it was worth the wait for interim head coach Brooke Wyckoff’s team to get such a big win in her first game. With head coach Sue Semrau watching the game on TV 2,800 miles away in Seattle, where she is caring for her mom who is battling cancer, her hand-picked, long-time assistant Wyckoff kept up the tradition with the 81-75 win.

Once again right in the middle of the action — grabbing rebounds, making baskets, stealing passes and doling out assists — was the Seminoles’ rim protector, Valencia Myers. The 6-foot-3 junior forward from Ohio looked comfortable once again vs. the Gators with 14 points and 11 rebounds. As a sophomore she had contributed 10 points and six rebounds against them in Gainesville.

For Wyckoff, filling a new role as head coach for the first-time and seeing Myers take control was a good thing.  “We need that inside presence,” said Wyckoff, whose team started four guards with Myers. 

Wyckoff talked further about the advantage that Myers gives them: “We need someone who is a rim protector. We need someone that is physical. We need someone that can be a threat around the basket, someone that can be a problem for the opponent on the defense.”

Myers said she felt comfortable with Wyckoff, who was a dominant inside force for the Seminoles in her playing days, running the show.  “Luckily the way that Coach Sue ran the program, she allowed the assistant coaches and associate head coach Brooke to speak a lot and and help a lot in practice. In that regard it wasn’t much different without Coach Sue being here. Coach Brooke and the other coaches are doing an amazing job (in Coach Sue’s absence).” 

Bianca Jackson, the 5-foot-11 transfer from South Carolina redshirted last year, but she practiced with the team all year and has observed Myers’ improvement as a player and a leader:

“I think she is going to be very important to our team’s condition. She’s gonna take a bigger step up this year. She’s been practicing very well and has turned into a great leader for us.”

The Seminoles lost three exceptional players to graduation in Kiah Gillespie, Nausia Woolfolk and Nicki Ekhomu. Those are some big shoes to fill. Myers needs to be a major help in filling that vacuum. Jackson feels that Myers’ personality and approach to the game will be a major plus in helping to fill that gap: “Valencia is very energetic. Very encouraging. Always loud and happy for everyone. She’s just a great teammate. She gives off a lot of energy all the time.” Because of the way she plays and works hard she is able to correct a teammate without causing friction.

One of the areas that Myers is working to correct is curbing her temper when something goes wrong in a game. Previously she had a tendency to overreact in negative situations like an unfair foul call, missed shot or a frustrating possession. That could carry on to the next play with a negative outcome.

To her credit Valencia has worked hard to change that: She said: “I would like to say that I have matured a lot over this past year. I think the coaches are able to back me up on this. I’ve been able to push myself more and not let my mistakes or big mistakes affect me. I’ve been showing my maturity a lot in practice. Hope that will transfer over to the court in games. I would like to think that I have overcome that immaturity.”

Her coach has noticed the difference: “Yes, she has been so emotionally steady this year. Whether she’s fatigued, whether she’s frustrated, whether something has gone wrong she has just really turned the corner and is being emotionally, mentally strong and steady,“ said Wyckoff. “She no longer disappears for a few minutes or a few plays after something goes wrong and that’s been so huge.  I’m just so proud of her growth in that.”

In the season opener against Florida, Morgan Jones, a 6-2 guard, led all scorers with 22 points and also pulled down seven rebounds.  Wyckoff is looking for Jones, who played in 33 games as a sophomore to couple with Myers to give the team leadership. She feels Jones and Myers have the most game experience so she will rely on them to keep things under control during the games. That was the case in the game against Florida.

Afterwards Wyckoff said: “We know that to be a great team we have to have Valencia and Morgan play really well. They are the ones that have the experience on the court and have started a lot of games for us.”

Valencia’s Mom signed her up to play basketball when she was in the fourth grade and she has been playing roundball ever since. At Solon (Ohio) High school she scored over 1,000 points and was one of 24 senior girls out of 700 nominees named to the McDonald’s All-American team.

Myers came to Florida State because after meeting the players and coaches.

“I really felt like I belonged here,” Myers said. “The academics, the environment, everything just seemed to fit here.”

The best part of it all according to Myers is her scholarship: “Having a scholarship to play basketball and get an education and my degree for free is truly amazing. It is a great opportunity that I am thankful for because so many have supported women’s basketball and they are so kind. They have welcomed us with open arms. As we have traveled to different states it has really been fun to get to know many of the boosters. I feel like they know me personally and it is fun for them to watch me grow. I appreciate getting to know so many of them.”

As her game on the court continues to improve, her academic achievements have been stellar. In both her freshman and sophomore years Myers made the ACC Academic Honor Roll.

Meanwhile as the season rolls on Myers is establishing herself as a dominant player who handles the “rim protector” role she is called on to fill in a way she wants to be remembered.

“I would like to be known for my aggressiveness but also for being a smart player. Hopefully the fans will see how my game changed as I matured throughout the years,” she said.

Valencia’s coach is excited about the way her story is being written and is confident it will be a good one: “She is such a great kid. Has a great spirit and great energy,” Wyckoff said.  “I’m just really proud of that girl because she is taking a huge step. It will be great for that to be recognized.”