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A little T.Y., lot of volleyball, XY soccer up, XX soccer down

Busy day here -- day before FIU-UCF, volleyball and the soccers in action and daughter underfoot because it's a half day at Cushman (what? Didn't the school year just start?). I'll be writing a bunch for print and the blog. I plan to update the blog often tonight with results and pregame stuff. Let's see how that goes.


As I Tweeted (http://twitter.com/DavidJNeal) a few hours ago, the folks at StiffArmTrophy.com now have T.Y. Hilton on their list. Stiff Arm's a site that polls a small, spread out number of Heisman voters each week. This is Hilton's first appearance on the list, sticking his nose in at No. 24.


While the football coaches try to temper and guide their team’s emotions as Central Florida comes to town, the volleyball coaches wanted their team to unleash some emotion as they headed to Orlando for the TownePlace Suites/UCF Challenge, which began Friday afternoon for FIU with a 3-0 win (25-16, 25-21, 25-15) over Jacksonville. Senior Sabrina Gonzalez had nine kills and Andrea Lakovic had eight. Renele Forde had 31 of FIU's 37 assists.

After Thursday’s practice, the team exchanged high fives in the end-of-match manner.

“We are working on bringing more energy to the team,” head coach Danijela Tomic said. “Becoming a more enthusiastic team, celebrating when we do things right, when we get a nice kill, get a nice block, get a dig. We need to be more enthusiastic and bring that energy. I challenged our players to start doing that.”

“It’s something for some of them that doesn’t come natural. They come from a background where they don’t talk a lot on the court and it’s a different style of play.”

Ironic that such a command comes from a European born-and-trained coach.

“There’s a lot of internationals, Europeans, who don’t talk too much because that’s the way we’re taught,” Belgrade-born outside hitter Jovana Bjelica explained.

Bjelica definitely heard another challenge from Tomic: be the hitter FIU could count on when they needed a kill to kill an opponent or opponent’s run. She also told Bjelica, a preseason all-conference pick, the unforced errors she was making were beneath her.

“I think that she was right,” Bjelica said of the mistakes. “She felt I was trying to do too much – like when the ball is out of bounds, I was still trying to get the kill. She felt that I need to concentrate on getting the ball into the court to keep the play going.”

Bjelica ranks 29th in the nation with 4.28 kills per set and has eight double-digit kill matches this year, four of which she also turned in double digit digs. Renele Forde has FIU’s other double-double so far this season.

Tomic says with Bjelica, Andrea Lakovic (“She’s gotten very good in doing something with every set she gets. Even when the set isn’t perfect, she betters the ball”) and Sunset High graduate Sabrina Gonzalez (“she’s been playing consistently well for us”) the offense has been fine. To move up to very good, she wants to see more from outside hitters Marija Prsa and Una Trkulja.

As for the team defense, improvement of which was a preseason goal, FIU’s at 2.28 blocks per set, a 36.5 percent improvement on last season. Gonzalez’s 1.19 blocks per set is third in the Sun Belt.

“I thought our defense was really good in California the first weekend,” Tomic said. “We had a relentless pursuit of defense. It was fun watching the team play like that. Even though we lost to California, I thought we competed really well. The last couple of weekends, I thought our defense took a step back. Our blocking has been right there. I think we’ve been outblocking most of the teams we’ve played against, which is new for us.”

“After the first two weekends, I had to talk to the team about having a process-oriented mindset instead of a results-oriented mindset. We went back to focusing on fundamentals on the things we need to do every time in every rally to make us successful.”

Sunday against Florida A&M, freshman Carolyn Fouts made her first start. Tomic said Hialeah native and Miami Christian graduate Nicole Beckelheimer, a 6-0 outside hitter, might be “the hardest working freshman in the nation” but probably would be redshirted this year.


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