Panthers post 13 wins this season
BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – As Panther volleyball entered the 2022 season, there was a sense of intriguing uncertainty surrounding the team.
Second-year head coach Ashlee Crowder had been hired less than a month before the start of the 2021 campaign, so this would be our first look at a team in her image.
What would they look like? How would they play? Would they be able to reverse the recent trend of results that had seen consecutive 4-27 seasons with three conference victories across the 2019 and 2021 seasons? There was so much unwritten.
The Panthers would post 13 wins in 2022, their highest total since 2015, and five wins in Sunshine State Conference play, their most since 2013. In the season’s first two weekends of non-conference tournaments, Tech defeated Charleston, Spring Hill, and West Liberty, all of whom made it to the NCAA Tournament.
Against SSC competition, Florida Tech went about re-writing recent history in a significant way.
The five-set thriller over Saint Leo on September 13th was just their third victory against the Lions since 2006 but also they’re second in as many years.
Eleven days later, facing match point while down four points in the fourth set on the road, the Panthers rallied to win in five sets against Palm Beach Atlantic, an NCAA Tournament fixture over the past decade, for the first time since October 1, 2010, and for the first in West Palm Beach since October 21, 2003.
The game that stands out the most among players and coaches alike is the trip to Embry-Riddle on October 18th.
The Panthers, fresh off a 3-0 stretch at the South Region Crossover in Birmingham the previous weekend, were even at a set apiece after being routed 14-25 by the Eagles in the second set.
Embry-Riddle was very much in the hunt for a third consecutive NCAA Tournament berth and had a boisterous home crowd on their side. Tech had dropped nine straight games and 17 consecutive sets to the Eagles coming into this meeting.
On this night, however, the Panthers would lay down another marker, that if the rest of the SSC thought Florida Tech was just another team on the schedule to make up the numbers, that was very clearly no longer going to be the case.
After being down six points midway through the third set, the Panthers went on to win the set in a marathon tiebreaker, 30-28. With the proverbial wind at their backs, they took command early in the fourth set to secure the victory, their first over the Eagles in almost six years and first in Daytona Beach since October 15, 2003.
For Crowder, the result was proof of concept that her team now had the ability to play with and beat the upper-echelon teams of the SSC.
“Going to Embry-Riddle is tricky. They’ve got their pep band; they’ve got lots of fans. Beating them in four [sets], not even five, but four on their court [is something to be really proud of],” says Crowder.
“We stayed at what I call a level two; there’s a level three where you’re off the charts, you’re out of control. Level one is a flat tire with no energy. Level two is kind of business-minded, focused tunnel vision, and we did just that.”
The 2022 campaign truly was one for the record books for Crimson and Gray. Katie Erdmann’s 459 kills were the fourth most in a season by a Panther and in the process, she became just the sixth player in program history to record 400 in one season.
In addition, she was the first Tech player to record 400 kills and 200 digs in a season since Jessica Reid did it in 2001.
Kenzie Delacher solidified the setter position for the seasons to come by posting the ninth season of 1,000 assists by a Panther ever with her final tally of 1,009. In the process, she broke the freshman assist record of 962 set by Michelle White in 2000.
Kari Bogen’s 539 digs were the sixth most in a season in Florida Tech history and the second most by a Tech freshman, trailing only Melissa Reinders’ 581 in 2006.
Following the regular season, Tech received confirmation that they officially had the league’s attention. Erdmann was named Second Team All-SSC, the first Panther to make the first or second team since Angie Lassman in 2012. Bogen, a libero, was named to the Freshman Team, the first Panther to do so since Olivia Hersey in 2015.
Erdmann was quick to point out that the recognition wouldn’t be possible if not for the nine-win turnaround that accompanied it.
“We cannot get any of these things without those that are around us,” says Erdmann. “So, these accolades are kind of supplementing that we are going in the right direction and things are gonna work out for us this way.”
Talk to anyone inside the program and you will find no resting on the gains made in the 2022 season.
While this past season provided belief, if the Panthers want to become a team that is regularly in the mix for an NCAA Tournament spot and eventually contends for a Sunshine State Conference championship, there is still much to be done. It’s something that players and coaches alike very much embrace and are ready to put into action during their upcoming spring season.
“All of them have come in their meetings and said it was a good year because A B and C and then their next statement typically was but we need to now win those games,” says Crowder.
“Our theme for the spring season is going to be discipline and that can go into all aspects. Volleyball, weight room, in the classroom, attention to detail, and I think teaching them through failure, teaching them through success are going to be ways to become a little bit more disciplined in everything that we do. I think discipline is what good teams, consistent teams have all the time.”
For senior middle blocker Kayla Mastin, who is set to graduate with a degree in biomedical engineering, she is eager to remind her teammates of the opportunity to be great that awaits them.
“I’ve just said take every opportunity that you can, I told them ‘You guys don’t realize how much change this program has had in the past two years,’ and I keep telling them don’t take this for granted,” says Mastin.
“I really am so jealous of this freshman group because there’s six of them, they’re all so close to each other but they play so well. I’m hoping that they can just gain from this experience and be a close-knit group and just keep pushing this program further because they are the stepping stones for this program.”
Panther volleyball will enter 2023 with an amount of optimism that has not been seen in quite some time. What lies ahead is very much to be determined and nothing is promised in a league as tough as the SSC.
What we do know is that taking the floor next fall at the Clemente Center will be a young, talented Panther team led by a determined, charismatic head coach. All of whom are eager to write the next chapter in program history, and who doesn’t love a great story?
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