Panthers bow out in second round of conference tourney

By: Rico Albarracin / Staff Writer

The Panthers had a good thing going over the past few weeks. Jovana Bjelica was hitting her stride after coming back to the team. The team was riding a nine-game winning streak heading into the second round of the Sun Belt Tournament.

Yet, with all things, it must come to an end.

No.3 seeded FIU suffered a loss to No. 2 seed Western Kentucky in the second round of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament on Nov. 19, thus ending the Panthers season with a 20-11 record. Both the Panthers and the Hilltoppers came into the match after 3-0 sweeps of their respective first round opponents.

In the first set, the Panthers fell behind quick as the Hilltoppers held a 19-13 lead. FIU began to climb back into the game, as they went on a 4-2 run to bring the score to 21-17. The teams began to trade points, which favored WKU. With the score 23-19, WKU scored to give them the set-point which was followed by a Panther error to give the set to the Hilltoppers 25-19.

The second set, both teams fought back and forth as neither team could build a beg lead. WKU held a 19-17 lead. The Panthers went on a 3-1 run to tie the set at 20. Once again, the Panthers fell behind and gave the Hilltoppers a 24-22 lead. A kill by junior Andrea Lakovic brought the Panthers to within one, but WKU went on to finish the set 25-23.

It seems as the heartbreaking second set took out the energy from the Panthers, as they fell behind 19-15. A WKU mistake and Lakovic kill would give the Panthers hope, as they now only trailed 19-17. The hope quickly dissipated, as WKU went on a 5-0 run to hold a set-point advantage before committing an error to give the Panthers one last point before winning the set 25-18.

Bjelica led all the Panthers in scoring with 11 kills, while Lakovic added 10 kills of her own. Valentin led FIU in assists with 37, also adding a service ace. Defensively, sophomore Chanel Araujo had a team-high 12 digs and Lakovic led the Panthers with three blocks.

The Panthers will have two spots to fill on the team in the off season, as both seniors Natalia Valentin and Ines Medved will be graduating. The foundation will be in place for Tomic to make a run at the Sun Belt title next year.

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