Ricky Dagand / Staff Writer
The 2021-22 season for the FIU Women’s Basketball team was action-packed with many ups and downs throughout.
Coach Jesyka Burks-Wiley continues to prove that her methods for success are something that the women’s basketball team needed desperately.
The Panthers have transformed into a different team completely since Burks-Wiley became head coach and it’s led to two Conference USA tournament spots in a row.
This season could be considered one of the more normal seasons since the COVID-19 pandemic started. Protocols were kept and Conference USA lifted their 2020-21 format of having the two divisions, East and West, playing separately with each team playing an opponent twice in one location.
Games went according to schedule up until December 19, 2021, when four games had to be postponed due to COVID-19 cases spiking across the country.
The FIU Holiday Hoops Showdown games against Bingham University and UMass Lowell were canceled and FIU’s debut in Conference USA play versus Old Dominion and Charlotte were postponed.
Coach Burks-Wiley announced last September that the Panthers coaching squad would have a new assistant coach in Christelle N’Garsanet. N’Garsanet was the assistant coach for Southern Illinois University for 8 seasons and led them to six winning seasons. Before that, N’Garsanet was the assistant coach to Illinois Central College and led them to place third in the NJCAA Division II national tournament.
Since most of the squad last season consisted of Seniors and Graduate students, there were many new faces this season. Freshman guard, Tanajah Hayes, proved she belonged on the court, leading the team in assists and steals.
Sophomore forward Maria Torres was a mainstay on the defensive side of the ball as she led the team in blocks with 38 in total.
Then there was the breakout star, Ariel Colon. A Graduate Student from Orlando, Colon started the season coming off the bench as a forward and excelled on the offensive end, coming in second in points scored for the team and points per game.
FIU F Ariel Colon was a key contributor for the Panthers this season. Photo by FIU Athletics
Came Out Guns Blazing
Before the COVID spike stopped games from being played, the Panthers started their season red hot as they managed to get their best start since the 2006-07 season with a 6-3 record.
After losing a close game against George Mason 67-69 to start off the season, the Panthers found themselves in yet another nailbiter. This time, the Panthers would win against Florida Memorial by the slim margin of 72-69.
FIU hit the road to face Kennesaw State and beat them 67-57 before heading to Georgia Southern and losing 74-81.
The Panthers would return home to play in their Thanksgiving classic where they’d win both of their games against Chicago State, 64-46, and Eastern Michigan, 67-60.
FIU would play in three more games before heading into the Holiday Hoops Showdown that was unfortunately canceled. After a bizarre 33-35 loss to Jacksonville, the Panthers would come back and win their final two games against UNF, 53-51, and Bethune-Cookman, 68-57.
Conference USA Woes
As the season ramped up again and FIU finally faced teams in Conference USA, games began getting tougher and the Panthers would begin to lose their momentum. Struggles came from both ends as the defense would make too many fouls or the offense would fail to convert points and turn the ball over too much.
But when the Blue and Gold would get into a groove, they would become an unstoppable force thanks to outstanding offensive efforts coming from Forwards Kyla Nelson and Ariel Colon. Both of them managed to reach 1000 career points this season respectively.
But even when the Panthers would win games in an emphatic fashion, the games they’d lose would be just as resounding. FIU ended their regular season with a 14-15 overall and a 6-12 record in conference play.
FIU qualified as the sixth seed in the Conference USA tournament and had to face their rivals, the FAU Owls, in the first round.
The Panthers would mount a comeback and beat the Owls 68-60 and advance to the second round to face Southern Miss but would ultimately lose 78-60, marking the end to their season.
FIU G Kyla Nelson led the team in pts and 3-PTs this season. Photo by FIU Athletics
With Nelson, Colon, and Emerald Ekpiteta playing their final season as Graduate Students, Burks-Wiley and N’Garsenet will have to look into recruiting and the transfer portal to fill in the void that the three Grad Students will leave.
Raquel Ferrer-Bernad and Alma Danielsson, both seniors, have not decided if they will stay with the team for one more season as of yet.
With depth in the guard positions in Hayes, Zaida Gonzalez and Grace Hunter, Burks-Wiley and N’Garsenet should focus more on getting forwards and centers before the season starts. As the team stands, the future looks bright and with Burks-Wiley’s leadership, the sky’s the limit.