About 300 yards from FIU Stadium, at U.S. Century Bank Arena, another FIU fall team coming off a disappointing season with new coaches is faring better in its transition than the face mask bunch.
FIU is at 6-6 going into Friday’s Conference USA volleyball opener at home against Charlotte after an early schedule that included 20th-ranked Purdue and 12-2 Alabama.
“The one thing you don’t have to question about this group is their heart. Their heart is in it,” coach Rita Buck-Crockett said. “They’re fun. I enjoy working with them. Do I think we should be 9-3? Yes. Am I happy about being 6-6 rather than 9-3? No. On the other side, they’ve worked very hard, and I’m OK.”
Buck-Crockett referred to FIU’s three five-set losses: They blew an 11-7 fifth-set lead on High Point (fifth sets only go to 15 points instead of 25); a 2-1 set lead on Jacksonville; and a 2-0 set lead on Syracuse.
“We lacked confidence, I would say,” freshman setter Anabela Sataric said. “We obviously could’ve done it because we were leading.”
Bad luck mugged FIU on its way to the 2012 season opener when all-conference player Jovana Bjelica sustained a broken hand in warmups before the season opener. FIU never completely righted itself on the way to a 10-20 season.
Buck-Crockett, who is also the assistant athletic director in charge of volleyball and the sand volleyball coach, dismissed coach Trevor Theroulde after one season. She brought in former University of Miami assistant Felix Hou to help her as associate head coach and kept assistant Travers Green from last year’s staff.
“Our style is more basic skills teaching, learning the game and then executing,” Buck-Crockett said, describing the way she and Hou coach.
“Felix will run the drills, Rita walks around making sure things are running smoothly and Trav will take certain people aside,” said senior middle blocker Kimberly Smith, who leads FIU in kills, blocks and points per set. “It’s more individualized and specialized instead of as a team, we’re working individually and bringing it together.
“I think it helps that we’ve been worked individually. At the beginning of the season, they kind of broke us down,” Smith said. “I was down to the fundamentals and just getting things right. Now, it’s starting to come naturally. Felix is always saying he wants our bodies to flow. Volleyball is all about flow and rhythm. They focus on rhythm a lot. Once we’ve gotten our rhythm, other things just kind of fall into place.”
As you would expect from a former two-time U.S. Olympian and all-world volleyball player, Buck-Crockett sets condo-building-sized goals.
In June just after taking the indoor coaching job, she said she wanted a conference title and Top 25 ranking for the indoor team (she’s thinking national title for sand volleyball).
“[University of Texas-San Antonio] is very good. Middle Tennessee … Tulsa is amazing, Marshall is a very good program,” Buck-Crockett said. “I think we can compete. If we are on, we can compete with any of them. That’s where you make the difference. Every coach says the same thing: ‘If we’re on, we can compete with all of them.’ So, I’m just going to leave it like that. And hope we continue to improve the way we’re doing. We’re definitely better than when we started.”