As we head toward the middle of ASUN play, Florida Gulf Coast University’s volleyball, men’s soccer and women’s soccer teams have all gotten off to strong starts within the conference.
Many of the teams’ stars have had big years, but each Eagles squad has also received contributions from some players you may not know that well. These players may not see the field as much as they would want, or are coming back from injury, but when given playing time, they have delivered.
The Eagles have adjusted to life without their most prolific scorer, Albert Ruiz, who racked up 34 goals and 76 points while playing for FGCU from 2014-17. With a bunch of players taking on bigger roles this year, the Eagles have responded well — they’re 5-3-1 overall and 1-1-0 in the ASUN.
Defender Thomas Delplace had to work harder than anyone just to get back onto the pitch. He broke his leg early in his freshman year of 2016 and missed nearly a year and a half before he got back on the field with the Eagles.
“Once you get badly injured like I got, your body takes a long time to get back to normal,” Delplace said. “I’m practicing every day and getting the rhythm back is always good. I wouldn’t say I’m 100 percent back, but I am on the way.”
Delplace is one of four Eagles who hail from France. A member of France’s U-16 and U-19 national team camps, he also played for his hometown club team, Toulouse Football Club. Delplace has appeared in eight of the Eagles’ nine games this season and has registered two shots. He helped produce a shutout in three of those nine games, including the conference opener against NJIT.
“I think his leadership, quality and passing ability is really good,” FGCU coach Jesse Cormier said. “You can see how opponents shape the game away from Thomas because they know what he could do with the ball because he has such high-level technique.”
Miguel Perez has also been a key contributor for the Eagles. The junior from Venezuela has seen the occasional start, but he’s really been a useful piece off the bench.
Perez has yet to register a point this season but has seven shots so far, including three in a 5-3 win over USF on Sept. 15. During his freshman season, Perez’s first goal as an Eagle was the game-winner in a 6-5 victory over Rutgers. He added another tally that season in a 6-0 win over Stetson.
“He’s got magic in his feet. He has a wand for a left peg and every game he gets into, he has gotten an opportunity and a chance,” Cormier said. “He really delivers quality for us, and we really count on him.”
The Eagles were off to one of the best starts in program history this season, winning all of their non-conference games, before they hit a bump in the road with back-to-back ASUN losses to Lipscomb and NJIT.
FGCU (9-2-2, 3-2-0 ASUN) has been led by a couple of juniors: ASUN Player of the Year runaway Evdokia Popadinova, who has a conference-best 10 goals; and goalkeeper Melissa Weck, who already has seven shutouts this season.
One new addition who’s already making a name for herself is Kara Kyramarios. The freshman out of Titusville High School came off of the bench for the first three games of the season, but has started six of the last seven matches. She registered her first goal in the Eagles’ 5-1 win over FIU on Sept. 13; eight days later, she picked up her first assist in a 6-0 win over Jacksonville.
“I have been very impressed with Kara,” FGCU coach Jim Blankenship. “She has the drive to be a high level player. Her technical ability is also very good. She carries herself in a very dedicated way to make her a high level player.”
Alyssa Abbondandolo is another freshman who’s had an impact on the Eagles. The all-time leading scorer at nearby Oasis High School, Abbondandolo brought her knack for finding the net with her to FGCU. She’s appeared in 10 games and ranks fifth on the team in goals with two. Impressively, she’s played only 217 minutes, and three of her four shots this season have been on net.
Abbondandolo has made good use of the Eagles’ competitive practices to help keep her skills sharp. When her name is called, she’s ready.
“Our team is very physical, so when you face that in practice, you are ready for that in the game,” Abbondandolo said. “We are also a fast team, so I have to be faster in practice to be able to keep up with the pace, in turn, helping me for the game speed on the weekends.”
Reigning ASUN co-Player of the Year Amanda Carroll has led FGCU for the last four years. But she’s been injured for most of her senior season, forcing some other players to help the Eagles (11-5 overall) jump out to a 4-0 start in ASUN play.
Senior Kaitlan Krivdo and freshman Dana Axner have been invaluable to coach Matt Botsford.
Krivdo enjoyed her best season with the Eagles in 2017 and has picked up her game even more. She recorded seven kills in the Sept. 21 conference opener, a straight-set win over Jacksonville, and added four more the next day against UNF. Krivdo has 35 kills this season, with more than half coming in conference play.
It’s on defense where Krivdo — who has 21 blocks this season — has made her mark as an Eagle. She ranks among FGCU’s career top 20 in blocks per set, block assists and total blocks.
Speaking of defense, Axner has been as good as the Eagles could have hoped for. She has a team-best 251 digs this season, more than 100 clear of the next-closest Eagle. Her 39 digs in the Eagles’ five-set loss to West Virginia on Sept. 8 set FGCU’s Division I program record.
In just two months with the team, Axner has earned two weekly awards: ASUN Defensive Player of the Week and ASUN Freshman of the Week.
Earlier this season, Botsford had this to say about his rising superstar: “Dana is special. The speed and the range she is covering, the back row, her first contact skills – everything she is doing for the team is how we can grind out some of those moments where things aren’t going perfectly, and to think she’s just a freshman is even more spectacular.”