COMMENTARY: Golden Panthers are at a critical juncture in season

Photo by Roberto Jimenez

Photo by Roberto Jimenez

By: Rico Albarracin / Asst. Sports Director

Volleyball has already reached the mid-point of the season. Dreams of becoming a champion are either coming to fruition or are fizzling out. The Golden Panthers are at a fork in the road and it is time to choose the correct path.

Coming off a bounce-back win against Florida Atlantic, the Golden Panthers are faced with a challenge to exact their revenge on Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee. On Sept. 30 and Oct. 2, respectively, the Hilltoppers and Blue Raiders went into U.S. Century Bank Arena and embarrassed FIU on their home floor. Championship caliber teams will have a few slip ups from time to time, if any, on their way to a title. What the Golden Panthers must prove is that the two-game skid was just a bump in the road on the way to a possible championship and not a team that took the wrong turn.

The pieces to win a championship are in place; Junior Jovana Bjelica is the leader in the SBC with 4.28 kills per set, senior Sabrina Gonzalez is tied for fifth in total blocks with 68, the team is second in blocks per set with 2.39 and under head coach Danijela Tomic, the Golden Panthers have not lost more than two games at home in any season. Everything points to a successful season, but this is not even the best team that FIU has trotted out on to the court, which can be a troubling sign.

Seniors Andrea Lakovic and Gonzalez came into the season with a goal: win the SBC title. A noble goal, yet FIU has not won the conference title since 2001, even when All-Americans Yarimar Rosa, Natalia Valentin and Isadora Rangel led the 2009 squad to an unprecedented 32-4 record, including a 17-0 record in the SBC.

This season’s team has a chance to buck the trend and put an end to the title-less drought. Currently sitting in third place in the East division of the SBC, this is the weekend for the Golden Panthers not only to avenge their losses against two conference foes, but to speed up and gain ground in the standings. FIU is currently 3-2 in conference play, sitting two games back in the standings, behind both WKU and MTSU, who are 6-1.

If the Golden Panthers drop both games on Oct. 14 and 16, respectively, they can kiss the number one seed goodbye. The Hilltoppers are playing at an elite level, the Blue Raiders are the defending champs and Arkansas State Red Wolves are the leaders of the West division. If the tournament started today, The Golden Panthers would be the fourth seed, facing a Denver team who is 4-5 in the SBC in the first round. Put FIU in the hypothetical pole position and they play a Troy team that is struggling in the conference with a 2-4 record.

The goal for any team in the SBC should be to go into the conference tournament as the number one seed. Nothing can be truer for the Golden Panthers, who host the SBC Volleyball Championships on Nov. 17-19. FIU will be the hometown favorite, and the crowd will be in their favor, but they will need the help of the number one seed to have an easier path to the title. Although the Golden Panthers have an excellent track record at home, 58-11 at U.S. Century Bank Arena since 2005, they’ve already suffered two crushing losses this season to conference rivals, showing that FIU is far from invincible at home.

The point of the number one seed is to avoid as many good teams in the tournament as possible, and if the Golden Panthers can avoid WKU, MTSU or ASU at any point, then the road to the title will be a lot smoother. Let’s just hope that FIU does not get lost on the way there.

Be the first to comment on "COMMENTARY: Golden Panthers are at a critical juncture in season"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.