CORAL GABLES, Fla. - The Florida Gulf Coast University women's volleyball team earned its first victory of the season Saturday afternoon as it concluded its portion of the Hurricane Invitational with a 3-1 (25-19, 25-17, 25-27, 25-12) victory over Prairie View A&M at the James L. Knight Sports Complex in Coral Gables, Fla.
The victory moved the Eagles to 1-2 on the season while Prairie View A&M dropped to 0-3.
“We ran a lot of different players in and got a lot of different looks with the lineup,” FGCU head coach Dave Nichols said. “It was good to get some of the younger players in-game experience.”
FGCU came out hot in the first set as it quickly opened a 7-2 lead thanks to a kill from junior Emma Racila (Fort Myers, Fla.). The Eagles pushed that lead to 13-4 after a hitting error by Panther Cheri Lindsay. Lindsay’s kill brought the Panthers back within three at 14-11. That was as close as they would get as FGCU opened a seven point lead at 21-14 and eventually won the set 25-19 thanks to a kill by junior Jelena Simic (Lazarevec, Serbia).
The Eagles opened another big lead in the second set this time garnering a 13-5 advantage. The Eagles stretched that lead to 19-9 after an attack error by Lindsay that prompted a Panther timeout. Prairie View A&M cut the Eagle lead to five at 22-17 but FGCU closed the set with three consecutive points to claim the set 25-17 and take a 2-0 lead. Junior Amy Casteel (Hollywood, Fla) ended the set with her lone ace of the match.
The Panthers refused to go down without a fight as they captured the third set 27-25. FGCU led 10-6 early after a kill by freshman Lindsey Childs (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). The Eagles maintained that four point lead as far as 16-12 before the Panthers began to chip away at it and eventually tie the score at 22 apiece. FGCU had three match point chances but were unable to capitalize on any of the three. Trailing 25-24, the Panthers won the next three points to force a fourth set.
Losing the third set did not fluster the Eagles as they jumped out to another early lead in the fourth set. Simic blasted consecutive kills to put FGCU up 3-0 and two kills from junior Jacqueline Cowden (Danville, Calif.) helped give the Eagles an 11-5 advantage. FGCU led 20-12 and then won the final five points of the match to close out the Panthers 25-12. Cowden finished the set with six kills as FGCU’s hitting percentage was a blistering .565 (15-2-23) in the fourth and final set. Prairie View A&M hit just .048 (6-5-21) in the fourth set.
“The starters came back in cold off the bench and took care of business,” Nichols said of the fourth set. “It’s definitely a good thing to see. They picked it up and finished strong.”
For the match, FGCU’s hitting percentage was .220 (45-18-123) compared to the Panthers’ .111 (44-30-126).
Cowden and Simic each had a team-high 11 kills for FGCU while senior Ashley Yance (Fort Myers, Fla.) chipped in with six of her own. Senior Chandra Lefever (Fort Morgan, Colo.) led the Eagles with 23 assists while Casteel finished with 14. Sophomore Holly Youngquist (Fort Myers, Fla.) finished the match with 18 digs for the Eagles.
Nichols thinks the tournament, which saw also FGCU lose to in-state opponents Miami and South Florida, was a great experience for the program.
“Our objective was to be a better team at the end of the tournament and I think we are,” Nichols said. “When you play against teams like that they are going to expose your weaknesses and make players realize that we need to take another step forward in practice.”
The Eagles will be in action next at the Holiday Inn LA Center Trojan Invitational in Los Angeles, California on September 3 at 10 p.m. when they take on the University of Southern California. They will play Northern Arizona September 4 at 7:30 p.m. in Los Angeles and will take on Pepperdine September 5 at 4 p.m. before returning to Fort Myers.
FGCU opens the home portion of its schedule against Belmont on September 18 at 5 p.m. at Alico Arena.
Tourney Note: Emma Racilla earned a spot on the Miami Invitational All-Tournament Team