FAMU finds fighting spirit

The Florida A&M volleyball team is finally learning to win together after a forgettable September, compiling four back-to-back wins after entering its conference schedule.

Head coach Tony Trifonov attributed the 11-game losing streak to a lack of intensity and chemistry from a mostly freshman squad.

“You have only freshmen and sophomores and one senior,” he said after a loss to the Mercer Bears. “Mostly freshmen. We have an injury to a key player as well and they just didn’t respond well. I mean injuries are a part of the sport and when one player goes down the rest of them need to pick it up. That didn’t happen at all.”

The nine-time Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champions suffered through quiet games and injuries for nearly a month before putting together a successful game against the University of North Florida.

The success continued Friday and Sunday with wins against North Carolina Central and conference opponent South Carolina State. Sophomore outside hitter Bianca Rucker said the team is coming together after a rough start.

“I feel like we play best when we’re calm,” she said. “Volleyball is line an assembly line. It works best when everyone does their job. Everyone is doing their job right now.”

The team on the floor now is a far cry from last month’s model. The team that lost to the Bears was quiet and described by its coach as “totally flat and unready.”

The defending MEAC champions talked to each other Friday and Sunday, shouting encouragement and various instructions.

“They’re getting used to each and they’re maturing,” Trifonov said. “We have a lot of freshmen on the court and the sophomores don’t have a whole lot of experience so we might as well count them as freshmen.”

Coming together to rout the MEAC is nothing new for the team that has not lost a conference game since Oct. 17, 2008. The Rattlers won both games over the weekend but Trifonov said he was far more pleased with the energy against South Carolina State.

Coincidentally, South Carolina State is the last MEAC team Trifonov and the Rattlers lost to.

“We played with a lot more energy against South Carolina State,” Trifonov said. “We still made unforced errors but the energy was there.”

Whatever energy the team channels against MEAC opponents came out against UNF and North Carolina Central, at least partially, elevating the Rattlers for their first two out-of-conference wins.

The Rattlers, now 4-11, start a three-game conference stretch before traveling to Mercer, Ga., to square off against the Bears again.

The chemistry is still a work in progress, but Bianca Rucker said she is confident the team’s leaders will emerge and the chemistry between the players will reignite the spark.

“With our team it’s more about actions,” she said. “It’s more like, just do your job and when I feel like when I do my job it makes my teammates do their job and want to play harder.”