By: Alejandro Aguirre/Contributing Writer
By achieving two big conference wins on the road against University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Louisiana Tech University last weekend, the volleyball team is now riding a three-game winning streak into this weekend’s matches. The volleyball team looks to continue that streak when they go up against conference rivals Middle Tennessee State University and University of Southern Mississippi.
With two-thirds of the season already done, every conference game gets more and more important. FIU sits in seventh place in the Conference USA standings with a solid 3-3 record. These two matches can change the tide for the team, as it can either put them above .500 and go up in the standings or lower them to a losing record and could hurt their chance to make the conference tournament.
This Friday, Oct. 17, at 6 p.m. at FIU U.S. Century Bank arena, the Panthers will face their first opponent: Middle Tennessee, who has a conference record of 2-4 which has them, at the time of press, ninth in the C-USA standings. Coming into Friday’s match, the Blue Raiders have lost their last three games, which is why they put their conference record below .500. The Blue Raiders have had trouble playing outside of home, as they have a 1-4 away record.
This is something the Panthers have to take advantage of, since they have shown in the past games that they can beat other teams that struggle playing away. From a statistical standpoint, MT has been outscored 1005 points to 917 and has struggled on the defensive end as well only recording 971 digs while their opponents have recorded 1017 digs.
The key for FIU to win this match is to score consistently and early because MT has shown to be a bad team when playing from behind. They have a record of 1-7 when playing three-set matches. A sweep is the ideal scenario for the Panthers to win this match.
For the Blue Raiders, to get out of this losing streak they are going to rely on junior outside hitter Chelsea Ross. With an overall record of 6-14, she is going to be heavily involved in the offense and defense to try to turn their season around. Ross has started every match and she leads the team in kills with 327 and blocks with 79. She is also second on her team in digs with 191. It is obvious that she leads the offensive attack and anchors the defense as well.
FIU does the same to a certain extent with their own junior outside hitter Lucia Castro. Recently, with some lineup changes the coaching staff has put Castro more to the front so she can focus more on offense. Even though their game styles are slightly different, it is going to be a great matchup between Castro and Ross.
The following game is against Southern Mississippi on Sunday, Oct. 19, at 1 p.m. They have a conference record of 4-2 and sit two spots ahead of FIU in fifth place in the standings. Compared to MT on a three-game losing streak, the Golden Eagles have won their past three games and they will be riding that momentum into the match against the Panthers.
Southern Mississippi has an impressive overall record of 15–8 and they play well on the road as they have a solid 4-4 away record. As a team, the Golden Eagles have performed at a high rate compared to their opponents. The have outscored their opponents by a large margin of 1133 to 870. On the defensive side, they have recorded more digs with 1192 compared to 956 recorded by their opponents.
The Golden Eagles commit very little errors. Without many errors and a strong defense, it leads other teams to commit errors USM takes advantage of. The Golden Eagles so far have had their opponents commit 97 errors. For FIU to come out on top, they must limit the amount of mistakes they do and set the tone of the match early to keep USM off their game. This task can be difficult for the Panthers due to having a lot of youth in the starting lineup and with youth, mistakes are expected to happen.
Expect this game to have many players heavily involved for FIU as every game from here on out is practically a must win game. If they win, they gain ground to be one spot closer to Southern Mississippi and possibly pass them. If the Panthers are victorious in the next two home matches, they will be in a very good position as top five in the Conference USA standings. Top eight teams make it to the tournament so things are finally looking bright for the team as they spent the first half of the season constantly losing.
Photo by Carl Frederick- Francois