FIU | Volleyball

FIU sand volleyball coach Rita Buck-Crockett adds indoor to duties

Kate Stepanova is shown at practice for FIU's sand volleyball team on March 20, 2013.
Kate Stepanova is shown at practice for FIU's sand volleyball team on March 20, 2013.
Walter Michot / Miami Herald Staff

Special to the Miami Herald

Rita Buck-Crockett, a two-time U.S. Olympic volleyball star who won a silver medal in 1984, keeps adding to her job titles at FIU.

She is in her second year as FIU’s assistant athletic director and sand volleyball coach. This season, she also has the added chore of coaching FIU’s indoor volleyball team.

“I love it,” Buck-Crockett said. “It keeps me busy. We’re in the indoor season, so that is taking up most of my time. But I’m still able to get to the sand practices.”

FIU’s hope is that with one coach running both sand and indoor, there will be continuity throughout the volleyball program. And as a former pro player in both branches of the sport, Buck-Crockett believes strongly that competing on sand helps indoor players.

In addition, FIU might have an advantage over the its local rival, the University of Miami, which does not have a sand program.

Buck-Crockett, though, treads lightly on the subject.

“I’m not looking to have an advantage over Miami,” she said. “I’m looking to build a top-20 program.

“If we meet them at some point, hopefully we will come out on top. But UM is a very good program, and we are striving to be top 20 as well.”

The Panthers, who entered this weekend at 5-4, are a long way from top-20 status at the moment.

Buck-Crockett is happy with her team overall but admits the record would look a whole lot better had the Panthers won a pair of five-set matches against Jacksonville and High Point. FIU lost 15-13 in the final set of each match.

“I think by midseason we would have won those matches,” the coach said. “Our girls are learning a new system with new coaches and a new philosophy.”

Making the quickest adjustments are Ksenia Sukhareva, a 6-0 junior outside hitter from Moscow who has already made three all-tournament teams this year, and Kimberly Smith, a 6-3 senior middle blocker from Zionsville, Ind. She has made two all-tournament teams.

“Ksenia comes to us already knowing the game,” Buck-Crockett said of Sukhareva, who is in her first year as an FIU indoor player. “She played for the Junior National Team in Russia and is very smooth, quick and competitive.

“Kim is a big, physical girl who has improved a lot since preseason.”

FIU started the season with a 5-1 alignment, featuring one setter. But Buck-Crockett quickly made the assessment that her team’s talent was more suited to a 6-2 with two setters.

Those setters — 5-9 sophomore Ashlee Hodgskin from Windermere and 6-0 freshman Anabela Sataric from Switzerland — are young and still making mistakes, the coach said. Consistency has been elusive so far.

Behind Sukhareva and Smith, the team’s third top playmaker is Lucia Castro, a 6-1 sophomore from Puerto Rico, one of 11 FIU players 6-foot or taller.

Jessica Mendoza, a 5-10 senior libero, leads the team in digs and has been “huge,” according to the coach.

Jessica Egan, a 6-2 junior from Maryland, leads the team’s role players.

Starting next weekend, FIU volleyball starts its first season in Conference USA.

“I’m excited about it,” Buck-Crockett said. “It’s a level up. Bigger competition helps with recruiting.”

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