Volleyball making strides during first year of Conference USA

The Panthers went 2-1 last weekend at the FIU Classic, defeating Houston Baptist and University of North Carolina Wilmington 3-1 and falling to Alabama in straight sets on the Lime Court at the U.S. Century Bank Arena.

Redshirt Junior Ksenia Sukhareva led the offense for the Panthers with 43 kills last weekend but was also presented a yellow card after debating a close call during a game against UNCW. Loaded with skill and experience, the fiery Russian has the potential to take over a match but is easily flustered.

The Panthers will need their defense most of all this season if they expect to make noise in the new Conference USA. Sophomore Ashlee Hodgskin led the team with 59 assists over the course of the tournament but pressure is mounting on the other players to do just as well.

Satoric living up to buzz

Anabela Satoric was the buzz of Panther volleyball this preseason coming in from Biberist, Switzerland and has lived up to the billing so far. Satoric has started and led the team in assists multiple times this season for the Panthers; racking up 27 of them already in one game at the Gamecock Invitational.

“She has impressed but I think she can do a lot better, there is a lot of potential there,” Head Coach Rita Buck-Crockett said.

One of the many beneficiaries of these Swiss sets is Senior Kim Smith. Starting at middle blocker, anytime there is a chance to get Smith a spike going to the right, Satoric takes advantage knowing Smith rarely misses a kill shot from that side. With more practice and time to sharpen her skills, Satoric could be a valuable asset in crucial times this year for FIU.

Tower’s dominate the middle

Standing at 6’3” from Indiana and Italy, middle hitters Sylvia Carli and Smith anchor the FIU squad and are often the tallest players on the court. The middle blockers clog up air space at the net causing blocks and bringing powerful kills through the middle. After resting earlier in the season, Carli, a Junior, has really shown up for the Panthers the past couple weeks subbing in for Smith and even starting.

After watching just a few games, it is evident Smith has a knack for showing up when the team needs her the most. Whether in long droughts of bad play or the most clutch moments of closing out a set, she really rejuvenates the team with her play and competitive spirit. A leader through example, not words.

“Every game, before we go in, I have a moment where I just sit and listen to a song and pray. That gets me very focused and leads me out to the court and I honestly feel like I’m led by God in those important moments,” Smith said.

Mendoza’s energy

There are certain players that hold a team together like some sort of glue and can determine the whole vibe and flow of a game. Jessica Mendoza is one of those players and as a Senior, it is a role she embraces.

“I feel like my whole life I have been a positive energy leader, it’s something I’m used to, and as a floor captain I do have to be positive the whole game, which can be tough, but it is contagious and does rub off on others,” Mendoza said.

A stalwart on the defensive line, Mendoza consistently leads the team in digs, including a career high 18 versus UNCW. As a member of the FIU Sand Volleyball team as well, Mendoza is fully prepared to help the Panthers achieve their expectations.

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