Panthers snap 10 game losing streak in win over Blazers

By: Alejandro Aguirre/Contributing Writer

After dropping their 10th straight match Friday against Western Kentucky, the volleyball team finally put an end to their losing ways and got their first win in Conference USA play against the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Sunday afternoon.

Going into Sunday’s game, Head Coach Rita Buck-Crockett simply had one thing to address to her team before the game, “Today is your day and we need to make a change.” The team responded the right way by winning the match three sets to one. It was the team’s first win since Sept. 6.

Leading the way for the Panthers, which you wouldn’t normally see at the top of the box score for FIU, was freshmen Jennifer Ene who posted a match high 13 kills and had a .381 hitting percentage. Not only was this a good game for Ene, but another freshman on the team, setter Kiona McSwain, had a terrific game with 38 assists and averaged 9.5 assists per set. This was a new career high in assists for McSwain, who also added a match high nine digs.

Expect to see more of Ene and McSwain in the lineup as Buck-Crockett mentioned that there will be a few lineup changes. “We made a few changes in the lineup we just have to keep working with that to see if that does make a difference, and if it does then we will stay with the lineup but we have to keep building our players because we are very young.” Youth has been a problem to deal with this season but it did not show today as two freshmen led the way for the team to get the win and there were three freshmen in total in the starting lineup.

There were also lineup changes that had to deal with one of the team captains, Lucia Castro. Buck- Crockett said that this was an important key to Sunday’s win. “We are having Lucia not play so much in the back row so she can come out and focus on offense.” This new strategy played in favor for the Panthers and it was important it worked because they have been struggling with their offensive game lately. When asking Lucia about this new lineup change involving her new role she said, “This past week we finally found what wasn’t working and we were able to bring the new energy in a new lineup to today’s game … I’m also in a funk right now so I am trying to not hurt the team and if I am not hitting well I just have to focus on other things to try to get the point.”

The new energy Lucia mentioned was quickly shown from the very first serve as they jumped out to an early lead against the Blazers. The Panthers had a hitting percentage of .476 in the set and had 12 kills with only two errors against 21 attacks. FIU had the lead the whole set and easily won 25-13. The second set was completely different though as it was a back and forth game early in the set that had five ties and two lead changes in total. Unfortunately though, UAB was able to win the second set 25- 18. The third set was crucial for both teams as the match was tied going into that set and it was still any team’s game. The Panthers were able to come out of a close one winning 25- 23 and even though they had the lead the whole set, there were still three ties. In the fourth and final set the Blazers were no match for the new and improved Panther’s offense as they finished UAB off with a 12-5 run to take the set and match.

With Sunday’s win, it improved the Panthers’ record to 4 -13 and 1-3 in Conference USA play. The team is now in the second half of the season and from here on out the bulk of the conference games will be played during this stretch.

When asked what to expect for the rest of the season and how the team is going to get back to .500 Castro said, “Well today we finally saw again how it felt to win and we are definitely going to use that and just keep winning from here on out.”

Up next the Panthers will be on the road for two games, the first on Friday Oct. 10 against Charlotte and the second on Sunday Oct. 12 against the Louisiana Tech.

 

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