!Please Note!

You are using an outdated browser that may impact your experience on FCA.org.
Please upgrade to the latest version of Internet Explorer here or download another browser like Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome.
Once you upgrade, this notice will no longer appear.

Following Her Leader

Published on February 28, 2013

by Dave Pond

This story originally appeared in FCA Magazine. Subscribe today!

No one could have predicted the breakthrough year for the Florida State women’s basketball team before the 2004 season began.

Not even head coach Sue Semrau.

Although the once-downtrodden Seminoles had seen marked improvement in Semrau’s first few seasons, three consecutive middle-of-the-pack finishes in the ACC had the temperature of her seat getting warmer.

Then, tragedy struck.

Semrau’s starting center, 6-foot-5 sophomore Ronalda Pierce, died unexpectedly in June from an aortic aneurysm. Two months later, the starting point guard told Semrau she was pregnant. These rapid-fire events could have—and probably should have—irreparably shaken Semrau and the rest of her players. Instead, the team and community came together and chose to lean on God and one another for comfort and strength.

Sue Semrau
“[The gift of salvation is] like a basketball pass. You can choose to receive a pass, or you can do nothing and just let it go out of bounds. But once you receive the pass, the real question becomes what you'll do with it. I realized it was time for me to create scoring opportunities.”

A 24-win season and an ACC Coach of the Year Award later, Semrau’s seat wasn’t so hot anymore.

“It was our best season in 10 years,” Semrau said. “Truthfully, I didn't do much. I just tried to be faithful and obedient to God, but that’s all I had to do with it. The players and staff on that team did an amazing job locking arms and walking through pain together, and it set us up for an amazing run.”

The ‘Noles started the season with a 12-game win streak and went on to win more games than any other Florida State team since 1991.

“All blessings don't appear as blessings, but God works everything for good,” said Semrau, who will become president of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association in April. “Ronalda's family showed a strength that I’d never seen before, and it enabled me to learn a new strength to give to the women in our program.”

Quite the start to a six-year streak of 20-win seasons for Florida State, a school once labeled as one of the worst women’s programs in the ACC. Since 2004, Semrau, who’s now FSU's all-time winningest coach, has averaged 21 victories per year and had eight players selected in the WNBA draft. She's led the 'Noles to seven straight NCAA tournaments, including two trips to the Sweet 16 and one to the Elite Eight.

But it’s not all about the W’s for Semrau, who emphasizes work in the classroom and has seen 27 ladies earn Academic All-ACC honors. She’s done her best to create a culture of giv-ing back to Christ and the community, and for that she was elected to FCA’s Hall of Champi-ons in 2010.

“Sue is one of the few coaches at any level, particularly the Division I level, who sees her coaching as a ministry,” said FCA national director of events Donna Noonan, who nominated Semrau for the Hall. “She has a deep personal relationship with Christ that helps her represent Him to her players, other coaches and her community.”

• • •

A Washington native, Semrau played college basketball at the University of Puget Sound and then UC San Diego, where she still ranks 13th in scoring and fourth in assists despite playing for only two seasons. After graduation, she did several years of public relations work for a couple of professional soccer franchises before landing her first coaching job, or jobs, leading the women's basketball and soccer programs at Division III Occidental College in Los Angeles.

That came when Semrau was “studying to be something else” while earning a Master’s de-gree in athletic administration at USC.

Bringing It Home Devotional: Our Ultimate Coach

Sue Semrau’s Florida State athletes look to her for guidance and support on a daily basis. Whether it’s during practice or games or even away from the court, she’s their go-to leader. They listen to her to get the plan when the game is on the line, trusting she’ll have the answer and the right play drawn up to close out a victory.

Read More

“I didn’t think I would ever be a coach,” Semrau said. “But once I started, I just really fell in love with the game even more, and it brought about the merging of basketball and my faith.”

A lifelong believer in God, it was through a volunteer stint at an FCA camp that Semrau be-gan to understand what a relationship with Christ was really about. Basketball coach Debbie Haliday, the camp speaker and a former dual-sport national champion at UCLA and FCA staff person, really caught her attention.

Semrau had attended church since her youth, but she took Haliday’s testimony to heart and made an on-the-spot decision to begin a new walk with Christ. She began attending a vibrant local church and delved deep into the gift she had been given.

“It wasn't a decision about Jesus,” she said. “The Bible says that even Satan believes and shudders when it comes to Jesus. I always believed in Jesus, but so what? So does the devil. It's become less about believing in Jesus and all about truly accepting the gift of salvation I was being offered and what I would do with it.

“It's like a basketball pass. You can choose to receive a pass, or you can do nothing and just let it go out of bounds. But once you receive the pass, the real question becomes what you'll do with it. I realized it was time for me to create scoring opportunities."

Ironically enough, the next day, Semrau’s car was stolen. Not just any car, but her first “really cool sports car.” God was, as she put it, giving her a “new outlook on life.”

“In total, there were three or four things in a row that God allowed to be taken from me so that I could really learn that my identity was in Him,” she said. “Not in performance, how many games I won or in material possessions.”

As Semrau's faith grew, FCA continued to play a role in shaping both her career and spiritual paths. While volunteering at an FCA basketball camp in Marshall, Ind., Semrau met fellow FCA Hall of Champions inductee Jane Albright. The coaches hit it off and, a few years later, Albright added Semrau to her coaching staff at Northern Illinois.

“Jane's been such a great mentor to me,” Semrau said. “It was crazy. When she called and asked me to come work with her, I went from Southern California to DeKalb, Ill. It was a huge step of faith, but I knew it was what God wanted me to do.”

Three seasons later, Albright took over at the University of Wisconsin and brought Semrau with her as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator.

“Her enthusiasm, hard work ethic, skill, energy and overall character made her a super as-sistant,” said Albright, now the head coach at the University of Nevada. “For six years we were alongside one another, building basketball programs and sharing our faith.

“To find a friend who keeps me accountable to the principles of 'Kingdom coaching' and someone whom I can trust and explore my faith and basketball with, it's one of the best rela-tionships I've ever had.”

Sue Semrau
“...if I could have planned my life in advance, this would not be what I planned. It's been incredible. It’s like an adventure. What’s God going to do next?”

During the summer of 1997, the same FCA camp in Marshall was the backdrop for another career door swinging open. Florida State, a school that routinely found itself at the bottom of the ACC standings during that era, hadn’t had a winning record in 10 seasons, and had burned through two coaches in two years, wanted an interview with Semrau.

“I had no desire to go to Florida State,” Semrau recalled.

But thanks to her renewed relationship with God, she was able to hear His call as clearly as the one she received from FSU administrators. Semrau felt Him telling her to take the next step and go where He was leading.

The day after the interview she returned to FCA camp in Marshall, and the head coaching offer was official. But Semrau’s first inclination was still a resounding, “No.” Looking back today, the three-time ACC Coach of the Year said she's glad she didn't make an impulsive decision but rather lifted the situation up in prayer.

“I really felt like God was asking me if I feared Him or the world more,” she said. “The world said the head coaching position at Florida State was not a good job and that the Seminoles would never be good at basketball. It was a football school. The world also said that you don't take your first Division I head coaching job in the ACC.”

But God said, “Go.”

So, with fear and trembling, Semrau agreed to head to Tallahassee to take over a team that hadn't reached double figures in wins in four seasons.

• • •

From day one she began to steadily build the Seminoles program, and she continued to pour into the FCA community, serving as a coach and speaker at various FCA camps and clinics throughout the country.

“Sue really has a heart for young people and knows how to love them well,” Albright said. “Obviously, she competes at the highest level and has proven to be one of the best coaches in the country, yet she still makes time for the ‘little person’ who is hurting, for a young coach, for anyone whom the Lord puts in her path.”

Semrau has remained especially involved in FCA activities around FSU, said campus repre-sentative Denise Bernath, who serves the area middle and high schools as well as the Semi-noles’ female athletes and coaches.

“Sue is always very willing to come and speak at the FCA Huddle at FSU,” Bernath said. “Each summer, she partners with FCA for one of her basketball camps. Young ladies are sponsored to come to the basketball camp for a day of fun, and at the end of the day they can choose to break out into the vacation Bible school portion of the camp where college and high school students, along with FSU basketball players, lead the students in small group Bible studies, music and games.”

In addition, Florida State holds a “Faith and Family Day,” where FCA has "Game Day" each year at a selected Seminoles’ women’s basketball game. Aspiring high-school basketball play-ers from Florida and Georgia come to campus and attend the game and a short postgame program where players and coaches share their Gospel testimonies.

“Coach Semrau is an incredible coach whose character, integrity and dedication are key el-ements to the success of her program,” FSU athletic director Randy Spetman said. “She is a role model for the athletic administration as well as her student-athletes. She walks the walk each and every day and positively touches the lives of those she comes in contact with.”

Any Division I basketball coach's schedule is hectic, and Semrau's is no different, which makes finding time for God her top priority.

“The main thing is that you have to carve out time for Him,” Semrau said. “It's similar to tith-ing, where those first fruits need to go to God. I need to spend that quality time with Him. There's nothing like it.”

Every Thursday morning, Semrau, Haliday and Gordon College (Mass.) head coach and former FCA staff person Julie Brown hold a conference call to discuss their faith, encourage one another, and hold one another accountable.

Sue Semrau
Semrau lined up with her team.

“One of the joys of God's Kingdom is how He crosses our life path with different people,” Haliday said. “Sue's friendship has been a gift from God for many years, and I'm thankful to be able to talk openly about any and every aspect of my life with her. We both value authenticity, so it's a safe place for us to wrestle with the hard issues. When you have friends who've walked with you across the years and the many stages of life, there's depth and understanding that goes beyond words.”

• • •

As Semrau concludes her 16th season with the Seminoles, she no longer worries about what’s next, a fear she fell into during the early days of her FSU career, particularly before that memorable 2004 season. Her stint as president of the WCBA will carry into 2016, and she continues to enjoy her time coaching, teaching and serving God in Tallahassee.

“I just don’t pay a lot of attention to the future, because, if I could have planned my life in advance, this would not be what I planned,” she said. “It's been incredible. It's like an ad-venture. What’s God going to do next? What does He want me to do next? I certainly never guessed I'd be at Florida State for 16 years, so whatever He wants me to do and wherever He wants me to go, I'm open to it.”

When the Holy Spirit is equally as evident in your walk and talk, it makes for a more powerful witness, something Semrau takes to heart as she helps guide Seminole players through their time in Tallahassee.

“St. Francis of Assisi said, ‘Preach the Gospel always and, when necessary, use words,’” Semrau said. “I strongly believe as Christians that it is not our job to judge. I want to live in a way where people see Christ in me and in the way I live my life, and live it in such a way that when things are hard people say, ‘What is it about you? How can you handle this?’ I know I can’t handle anything. When I start to drift away and things become my choices and my problems, that’s when they fall apart. It’s His choices for me, it’s His work in me, and all of it is for His glory.

“We’ve got to give our time to God. I don't want to hoard my life’s plan. I want it to be God’s, to really give of my time and let God do what He wants to do. I’m not very smart, but God uses the foolish to confound the wise, so I’ll let Him do His thing. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Originally Published: March 2013

 Photos courtesy of Mike Olivella and Dave Pond.

Bringing It Home Devotional: Our Ultimate Coach

Sue Semrau’s Florida State athletes look to her for guidance and support on a daily basis. Whether it’s during practice or games or even away from the court, she’s their go-to leader. They listen to her to get the plan when the game is on the line, trusting she’ll have the answer and the right play drawn up to close out a victory.

Much like her athletes, Semrau also turns to a coach for direction and provision. He is the game planner and crunch-time strategist in her life—the ultimate Coach of coaches—her Heavenly Father.

What about us? We’ve all been in situations that feel as difficult and pressure-packed as a neck-and-neck game in the final minute. In those moments, we all would like to turn to a coach who has seen the setting before and can assure us that everything is going just as planned. We long for someone who is in control and can walk us through the situation, teaching us to trust that the outcome has already been decided. A coach who is also a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. Sound familiar?

Here’s the great news: We all have access to that omniscient Coach, God Almighty, who in His infinite wisdom has given us His game plan called the Bible. In His Word He explains how we have all fallen short of glory because of the sin of our original ancestors, Adam and Eve. Their sin set our lives on a crash course with destruction, but God loved us so much that He sent his one and only Son to pay the price for their sin and everyone’s sins since. The price was paid when Jesus was put to death on a cross and when He rose from the grave on the third day. The victory over sin, death and the grave is available to each of us; all we have to do is accept God into our hearts by beginning a relationship with Jesus Christ and allowing His Spirit to change us from the inside out.

The ultimate Coach is waiting for each of us to implement His winning game plan. Open His Word and see what it has to say about your life. Trust us—you will never be the same after you follow His instructions.

Have questions about accepting Christ into your heart, beginning a relationship with Him, or what it means to be saved? Call FCA’s National Support Center at (800) 289-0909 or visit www.morethanwinning.org.