Women’s basketball returning players expected to step up to replace star alumna

By: Rebecca Charur/Staff Writer

The 2013-2014 season was nothing short of a Cinderella story for FIU. After finishing the regular season below .500, the Panthers went on to defeat Rice, East Carolina, and Tulane, all by double figures in the Conference USA tournament. As the 13th seed, they landed in the semi final game against none other than the wicked stepmother: Middle Tennessee State University. Just as the story has been written for three consecutive seasons, FIU fell to MTSU en route to the C-USA championship game.

The obvious difference between last season and this upcoming season is none other than the presence, or lack there of, of Jerica Coley. Coley led the nation with an average of 29.5 points per game last season. Moreover, she finished her collegiate career with over 3,000 points. This feat landed her name in the NCAA record books alongside only ten other women.

Still, with the exit of one Coley comes the reemergence of senior center Marita Davydova. Although Davydova may not provide anywhere near the scores that Coley provided, she contributes her verticality to a Panther team that is generally lacking in that department. At 6’3, Davydova stands as the tallest player on the roster and as the only true center on the roster as well.

Returning players senior forward Tynia McKinzie and junior guard Taylor Shade are also prepared to pick up the defensive and especially offensive responsibilities of a Panther team missing Coley. McKinzie emerged as a key player during FIU’s C-USA tournament run, contributing to the team as an efficient rebounder and double-double machine. Shade also showcased her scoring ability during the tournament by recording double figure scoring performances in three of the four games.

Both players hope to pick up right where they left off and provide some of the experience they have earned to better the team this season in a way that goes beyond the box score.

One of the more significant and familiar returning faces this season is the head coach herself, Cindy Russo. With this 2014-2015 season, Russo will have coached her 36th season at the University, and her name will only be etched deeper into the record books of FIU and the NCAA.

Although pre-season exhibition games are often overlooked, they give sports fans and opponents a look at a new and improved, or not so improved, team. The new-look Panther basketball team has given the fans of FIU something to look forward to. In all the talk questioning whether the Panthers will be the same team they were last year without Coley, multiple players quietly emerged in the pre-season as potentially significant role players.

In FIU’s first exhibition game against Palm Beach Atlantic, the Panthers came out strong with a 73-46 victory. Sophomore forward Kiandre’a Pound led the way with a double-double, 16 points and 13 rebounds. McKinzie also contributed to the win with 18 points.

A week later, the Panthers faced Barry University in an exhibition game that came down to the wire and relied on the scoring of multiple role players. Junior guard Destini Feagin, senior guard/forward Zsofia Labady and sophomore guard Nikolina Todorovic all played an important role in the victory proving that FIU has more than just a couple scoring threats.

The women’s basketball team will open their season at home against Tennessee Technological University today, Nov. 14th, at 5:30 p.m. Last season the Panthers defeated Tennessee Tech 70-65. At the time, the team was still trying to find their rhythm after losing four straight games in their four opening match ups against Florida Gulf Coast University, University of Central Florida, Harvard University, and Boston College, respectively. This season, FIU looks to start off strong with a victory at home and avoid having to comeback from a losing record early on.

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