Panther’s back and forth season deemed a success

Stefano Rivera/Contributing Writer

The 2015, Florida International University women’s volleyball team finished its season with a record of 15-13. Coming off its worst season in program history in 2014 when the team finished 7-23, the Panthers bounced back and proved to critics that last season was a fluke.

A constant theme occurred throughout the entire season as the team handled the easy teams and struggled against the difficult teams. By “easy,” I mean every team that was below FIU in the rankings and by “hard,” I mean every team that was above FIU in the rankings. I just believe that’s how mediocre the Panthers were this season.

Finishing behind the Panthers in the C-USA standings were Marshall University, Middle Tennessee State University, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, University of Texas at El Paso, Louisiana Tech University and University of Alabama at Birmingham. FIU went a combined 7-1 against these teams; outscoring them 21-7.

The Panthers dominated and took advantage of their opponent when they needed to, but could not translate that to when they faced better quality opponents. This was the situation all season.

Finishing ahead of the Panthers in the C-USA standings were Western Kentucky University, University of Texas at San Antonio, Rice University, North Texas University, Florida Atlantic University, and University of Southern Mississippi.

Flashes of the 2014 team appeared as the team went a combined 2-7, defeating the Owls of FAU twice. The Panthers got shut out 3-0 three times and proved to be a middle of the pack team in the C-USA, as they could not get the wins that mattered most.

During the middle of the season, the team went to a lineup which consisted of four starting middle blockers. It included senior Gloria Levorin, junior Katie Hogan and sophomores Jennifer Ene and Brianna Gogins.

As this lineup continued to win and succeed, I had to ask myself if this was the lineup or the quality of the opponent speaking. Unfortunately, it was the opponent. As soon as the team faced off against the quality conference teams, the lineup seemed to slip away a bit.

However, FIU managed to finish the season as the best blocking team in the C-USA; proving that the lineup worked just enough to gather some points here and there.

Undoubtedly, the team was led by senior outside hitter Lucia Castro. Castro finished the season with 317 kills, a team-high, and 287 digs; I award her the MVP of the team. Whenever the team was stuck on serve receive, Castro always seemed to be the reliable hitter to go to.

However as the season came to an end, I could see more defenses game planning for her specifically, which explains why she didn’t reach double-figure kills the final three games of the season. Castro finished the season Second Team All Conference and on the All-Academic Team.

Being only 5 feet 4 inches tall, senior libero Adriana McLamb was the “Energizer Bunny” for this team. What she lacks in height, she makes up for in heart, grit and determination. Each and every game, Mclamb was the vocal leader. She kept the team’s morale high and pushing her teammates to perform better. She ended her season with a team high of 356 digs.

If I could give an award for the most improved player from the beginning of the season, Ene would get it in a heartbeat. In the beginning of the season, Ene seemed to be lost in some occasions. As the season progressed, she grew very comfortable with the offense and landed herself in the Second Team All Conference with Castro. Ene led the team in total blocks with 100, and she’ll be the key for this team next season.

To begin the season, freshman setter Katie Friesen had the setter position locked. She was clicking on all cylinders with her hitters as she posted several 30-assist matches. However, midway through the season, fellow freshman Dominique Dodd started to take some of Friesen’s playing time due to inconsistencies. This trend continued as both setters would split time with each other to close out the season.

Personally, I would have liked to see one setter remain in the game the entire time. I think it gives more opportunities to build chemistry as opposed to hitters needing to adapt to the setter’s certain playing type. Both these setters are only freshman, so they have room to grow in the future.

I think the team’s record next year will be very similar to this past year’s. The Panthers will be mediocre in the C-USA, but will have a different style of playing. Losing Castro, Levorin and McLamb will definitely be a blow to the team. However, I think players such as Hogan, Ene, and sophomore middle blocker Tia Clay will carry the load for the team next season and will provide a more balanced offense.

This season was a surprise to many people, including myself. Although the Panthers had an early exit in the conference tournament, I think they’ll be back there next year to compete.

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