“Beach Bum” Leads FIU through C-USA play

As the volleyball team grinds through their inaugural campaign in Conference USA, one thing has remained a constant: the leadership and top tier play of Jessica Mendoza. On multiple occasions this season she has led the team in digs, and she’s been the Panthers’ floor captain all year long.

Mendoza’s story begins at Winter Park High, where she was a four-year letterwinner and helped contribute to a state championship as a sophomore with the Wildcats. Volleyball, surprisingly enough, was not her first love, basketball was actually her favorite sport followed by soccer; whereas volleyball was more of a social thing to see friends at the time.

Head Coach Stephanie Gibson would change all that as soon as she entered high school. During Mendoza’s time as a Wildcat, Gibson built up the Libero’s confidence to a point where she was able to realize she could play in college one day and Mendoza recognizes her as “the most influential person,” in her in volleyball life.

Mendoza then bounced around a few different colleges including Valencia, Broward and St. Leo’s University; an experience that she says “really helped me figure out which kind of coach I wanted to play for, and teammates I blended in well with.”

After a year of playing outdoor volleyball for the Panthers, the senior is helping guide the team through the unknown waters of Conference USA play this year.

“That’s what makes this team so unique, were all basically sisters. There is no drama and everyone is very honest and upfront; if this team were any different I wouldn’t want to play but they’re great,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza’s role as the Libero on the team is crucial. The Libero is chosen by the team before a match or tournament and that person must remain the Libero for the entirety of the match. As the only player on the court who can legally talk to the referee, Mendoza is quick to exercise her power as floor captain and isn’t afraid to debate a close call. Her responsibilities don’t end there because as a Libero, dressed in contrasting colors as the rest of the team, everyone in the arena is expecting excellent defensive play. She cannot block or attack the ball when it is entirely above net height and when the ball is not in play either.

She can also replace any back-row player without prior notice to the officials and it doesn’t affect the substitution limit per set. This gives Head Coach Rita Buck Crockett the flexibility to plug her in whenever she needs extra defensive help.

Constantly keeping the team’s spirits up, even during stretches of bad play, it is obvious to anyone who watches Mendoza is the most vocal player on the team. She isn’t afraid to get into an opposing player’s head and her confidence grows as the game goes on. Her positive impact on the team and matches can be directly correlated to her attitude and personality.

“My mom was a psychologist so she raised me to speak my mind and didn’t really punish me for vocally disagreeing with something when I was younger. My aunts would always argue with her, but she felt it was more important to raise someone who knew how to express how they felt,” Mendoza said.

The self described beach bum enjoys more dangerous forms of exercise as well. Recently introduced to spear fishing, attending college in south Florida couldn’t be a more ideal locale to hit the many reefs off of the coast and take on a daring way to hunt.

When Mendoza isn’t on the court she also enjoys ceramics and is currently taking a class at FIU. Hoping to open a yoga studio one day, she would like to be a personal fitness trainer with an emphasis on yoga for its physical and meditational benefits when she graduates.

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