Written by Zoe Chin/Sports Director
The beach volleyball team is off to an incredible start to their season after winning all four of their matches during the ‘Stetson University Spring Fling’ from Friday, Feb. 22 to Saturday, Feb. 23.
These wins put the team at an overall record of 4-0 and a Coastal Collegiate Sports Association record of 1-0. The Panthers saw back-to-back wins against Saint Leo University, Eckerd University, Stetson University and Georgia State University.
Although the team will be in California to participate in the ‘East Meets West Invitational,’ the Panthers will back in Florida to host the ‘FIU Fort Lauderdale Tournament’ on Friday, March 15 at South Beach.
The University will host the tournament in Fort Lauderdale against Florida Atlantic University and the University of Southern California. Their match against FAU will count towards their conference record.
The beach volleyball program went from playing five universities in 2015 to playing in out-of-state tournaments and championships. For eight-year indoor and beach volleyball coach Rita Buck-Crockett, the program has ‘come a long way’.
“Starting the process from scratch to being a powerhouse is just amazing,” said Buck-Crockett.
When Buck-Crockett was hired by the University to build the volleyball program from scratch, there wasn’t a beach volleyball court, according to her. With the court being laid out, she went through the recruiting process for getting players and a staff for the team.
There are nine pairs within the beach volleyball team, according to Buck-Crockett.
“Every team is different,” said Buck-Crockett. “From there, we work on their strengths and weaknesses as individuals.”
The Panthers are ranked ninth in the National Collegiate Athletic Association with a 23-12 overall record during their last season.
With the current team, however, Captain Margherita Bianchin has high hopes for the season.
“We have always had skilled players,” said Bianchin. “I do believe we have a real good chance to win [the] conference.”
Bianchin, along with her doubles partner Federica Frasca were placed on the preseason All-CCSA Beach Volleyball team.
The senior and the junior pair played a role in securing the win for FIU. During the Spring Fling, Bianchin and Frasca won all four of their matches. The pair ended their last season with a 27-8 overall record.
The coaching staff has also played a big role in helping the team become as strong as they are, according to Bianchin. Buck-Crockett’s eight year coaching experience and extensive volleyball background has been essential in the development of the team; as well as the help of assistant coach Carlos Galleti and volunteer assistant coach Adriana Behar.
“We by far have one of the best coaching staffs in the nation. All of our coaches have competed in the Olympics and been very successful at that and I honestly don’t see how it could get better for us,” said freshman player Abbie Hughes.
Hughes started playing at the University on the indoor volleyball team where she played 113 sets and averaged a score of 167 points. Now in the beach volleyball season, she was added to the ‘CCSA Preseason Watch List.’
“That put some pressure on me, but I like that pressure,” said Hughes.
The expectations on Hughes encourages her to push herself at practice and during games to show people that she deserves to be on this team.
Hughes and her doubles partner Ali Denney also closed out their matches against the rivaling universities.
Going undefeated at the spring fling was no surprise for Buck-Crockett. As FIU is ranked higher than the other four competitors, she knew that her team would come out victorious. Her team also felt excited with their winning streak.
“After seeing this weekend, we can beat anyone,” said Hughes.
When they go to the ‘East Meets West Invitational,’ the Panthers will be facing four universities ranked among the top five collegiate beach volleyball teams, according to the American Volleyball Coaches Association.
“They’re going to be the big teams, but we’re ready,” said Hughes.
One of these matches will be against the University of California of Los Angeles, the NCAA beach volleyball champions.
When they come back to Florida for the FIU hosted tournament, the Panthers will go against six more universities. Three of these matches will count towards the Panthers’ CCSA record.
“Our expectations are to always win our tournaments and as many duals as we can to get ready for conference,” said Buck-Crockett.