Stefano Rivera/ Contributing Writer
If one thing was expected from the women’s beach volleyball team, it was to have another stellar season in its books.
The Panthers tested that expectation in their first event of the season. Friday, March 4, and Saturday, March 5, the team hosted the FIU Fort Lauderdale Beach Invitational.
The two-day event saw the Panthers play the University of New Orleans, Jacksonville University and CCSA foe, Louisiana State University.
The team began in dominant fashion, defeating New Orleans 5-0 on Friday. FIU’s No. 1 duo, Aren Cupp/Martyna Gluchowicz, defeated Cara Sander/Shaylene Reimer 2-0 (21-10, 21-11). At the No. 2 slot, Marina Boulanger/Anabela Sataric defeated Celeste Ramirez/Milica Zmiric 2-0 (21-6, 21-10).
Tina Toghiyani/Dominique Dodd defeated Lauren Levy/Blessing Dunn 2-0 (21-14, 21-12) at the No. 3 slot.
The No. 4 duo, Anne Marie Taylor/Estefanie Bethancourt, defeated Brooklyn Frank/Samantha Uline 2-0 (21-14, 21-10). To cap off the sweep, Samantha Davis/Natalia Giron, defeated Madison Miller/Courtney Roblez at the No. 5 slot. The Panthers did not drop a set the entire match.
The second match on Friday was against LSU. The Panthers dropped a hard-fought contest 3-2. Cupp/Gluchowicz and Davis/Giron remained undefeated for the event and gave the team the two victories; however, Toghiyani/Dodd and Taylor/Bethancourt fell to their opponents to even the match 2-2.
It came down to the No. 2 duo, Boulanger/Sataric, for the final game. After winning the first set, the duo dropped the second to force a tiebreaker. The Tigers defeated Boulanger/Sataric (13-15) in the final set to take the match.
After splitting the first two matches on Friday the Panthers would take on Jacksonville on Saturday, the final day of the event. Once again, the team defeated the Dolphins in convincing fashion, winning 5-0.
FIU’s No. 1 duo, Boulanger/Gluchowicz, defeated Emily Laskelle/Mayara Prestes 2-0 (21-15, 21-12). Katie Hogan/Dodd defeated Cristina Finan/Mackenzie Swan 2-0 (21-17, 21-17) at the No. 2 slot, and the No. 3 duo, Sataric/Kari Peterson, were pushed to a third set against Kelly Koop/Katie Krawczyk, but won 2-1 (21-8, 17-21, 15-8).
At this point the Panthers had already clinched the match. Toghiyani/Bethancourt took care of business at the No. 4 spot, defeating Ashlyne Miller/Olga Nushtayeva.
To complete the perfect match, Davis/Giron defeated Jessica Armstrong/Shelby Babowicz at the No. 5 slot. Both Davis and Giron finished 3-0 throughout the weekend.
“I saw fierceness and a lot of heart [today]. Yesterday, I saw a lot of fear, and that gets you nowhere,” said Head Coach Rita Buck-Crockett, “today they really pushed through that and it made a huge difference.”
The Panthers were without team captain, Cupp, the final day against Jacksonville after suffering from cramps. However, the depth of the team showed how versatile it can be.
Two players, Hogan and Peterson, made their collegiate debuts and came out with victories.
“We’ve never had this kind of depth before. But to be able to go in after a loss yesterday with the way we lost that, and then put two new players and a freshman at such a high place,” said Buck-Crockett, “they commanded the win. It was awesome.”
The Panthers will have their first road test of the season as they travel to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to participate in the Tiger Beach Challenge.
The team will face off against familiar foes in New Orleans and LSU, No. 9 ranked Georgia State University, and the University of Louisiana at Monroe.