Margherita Bianchin and Federica Frasca knew each other while growing up in Italy, but they weren’t friends.
Bianchin is from Venice, and Frasca is from Rome, and there was a North-South rivalry thing. There were cultural differences, too, and Bianchin and Frasca often played against each other in youth volleyball.
But, as fate preferred it, these two budding standouts were paired together while competing for Italy’s beach volleyball youth national team.
“It wasn’t our choice,” Frasca said of the pairing.
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When it came time for college, Bianchin, who is one year older than Frasca, chose St. John’s. One year later, she decided to transfer to FIU.
Meanwhile, Frasca, who had no idea Bianchin was transferring, chose FIU, too. Frasca didn’t find out about Bianchin’s plan until three days before she boarded her flight to Miami.
“Maybe it was God,” Bianchin said of the unexpected reunion.
Fast forward two years to 2018, and this once-reluctant duo is now ranked seventh in the nation at the No. 1 position. They are 27-6 this year and 47-11 since last season.
On Friday, Frasca, Bianchin and the rest of the FIU team will be in Gulf Shores, Alabama, competing in the NCAA championships. FIU (22-10) is one of just eight teams that qualified for the single-elimination tournament.
FIU, seeded eighth, will play No. 1 UCLA at 10 a.m. on ESPN U. If the Panthers win, they would face the winner between No. 4 Florida State and No. 5 Southern Cal. That semifinal match will be at 4 p.m., also on ESPN U.
Also in the tournament are No. 2 Pepperdine, No. 3 Hawaii, No. 6 South Carolina and No. 7 LSU. Southern Cal is the two-time defending national champion.
This is the first time FIU has made the field since beach volleyball became an official NCAA sport, and Bianchin, 22, and Frasca, 21, have a lot to do with the Panthers’ success.
Bianchin and Frasca each have two more years of college eligibility after this season, and despite the rocky start to their relationship they are now determined to stick together.
They agree on everything. Well, almost everything — which destination is best for vacation can still spark a debate.
“Go to Venice!” Bianchin said.
“Go to Rome!” Frasca said.
THIS AND THAT
▪ Alex McGough, selected in the seventh round by the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday, became just the eighth FIU player — and the first quarterback — drafted in program history.
Russell Wilson is Seattle’s starter. To make the team, McGough will likely have to beat out Austin Davis, a 28-year-old who served as the Seahawks backup last year; and former Hurricane Stephen Morris.
Davis, who went undrafted out of Southern Miss, has made 10 NFL starts but has already been cut by the Rams (twice), Dolphins, Browns and Broncos. Morris, also undrafted, has been cut five times.
ESPN’s Todd McShay said McGough has an “almost shot put” delivery but “gets rid of the ball quickly.” McShay said he “showed some touch and trajectory on the deep ball.” McShay added that the Chiefs and Patriots had also shown interest in McGough.
▪ FIU’s baseball team (21-22, 10-11 Conference USA) went 3-1 this past week, averaging 10.8 runs per game. FIU beat Miami 14-6 and then outscored host Marshall by 18 runs, taking two of three games. FIU took both games against Miami this season and has won six of the past eight in the series.
The biggest FIU baseball hero this week was second baseman Eddie Silva, who went 9-for-15 with four homers and 12 RBI. He leads the team with 12 homers this season.
▪ FIU’s softball team (29-23, 13-7) concluded its 2018 home schedule, sweeping three games from Charlotte. FIU sophomore Shannon Saile broke the school single-season strikeout record with 247.