By Dean “The Sportsman” Greenaway
With her mother Sayretta, father Amos and sister Sharona looking on, Sharonda Pickering helped the Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles Women’s Volleyball team to its first Atlantic Sun Conference title since 2012, in her last home game Saturday, on Sr. night. The Eagles advanced to Friday’s Conference Tournament in Kennesaw, Georgia, as the top seed and is eyeing its first trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Pickering led her team with 12 kills while hitting .647 and had five blocks, during a four set 20-25, 25-21, 25-18 and 25-16 victory over the Liberty University Owls, as they wrapped up the conference title with a 15-1 conference record and 24-6 overall this season.
The victory was the team’s 13thstraight win, surpassing the 2008 team for the fourth longest streak in school history, after becoming a Division I School in 1985. They have lost just three sets over the last 10 matches, which include victories in 30 of the last 33 sets.
“The past three years, we have been close but never able to snatch the regular season title,” Pickering told Island Sun Sports. “Last year, we finished second with was still a great position heading into the conference tournament. This year, having a lot more playing time, being able to be a part of this is something great and going all the way, it’s exciting.”
Pickering and her team spent the summer touring Europe and playing different teams as a way of bonding and preparing for the season. They lost their senior Libero/defensive specialist, but had a freshman coming in and dominating the position.
“Going to Europe, we had basically the same roster so working day in and day out with the same group of girls, made our team even better,” Pickering noted. “So Dana (Anxer) our new Libero, is really stepping up as a freshman and making a great impact on the floor.”
Pickering from Sea Cows Bay who attended Jr. College at Hillsborough Community College and earned a NCAA Jr. College Championships bronze medal in her freshman year, said her senior season has definitely been her best season in college.
“Starting off at Hillsborough as a freshman, there was a lot of adjusting to do, especially the pace of the game,” the Elmore Stoutt High School graduate pointed out. “From then until now, I have developed and grown a lot more as a player and continue to be able to help my team as best I can.”
Pickering said having her family in the stands on senior night was a very special treat.
“Senior night was really special knowing that it was the last time you’ll play on your home court, with your home crowd,” she said. “It was extremely special for me because I was able to celebrate with my parents and sister who saw me play at this level for the first time.”
As the top seed by virtue of winning the conference title, the Eagles have a bye to the Conference Tournament semifinals and will face the Liberty vs Stetson winner. Pickering said this year, they have seen the growth of a lot of teams since last year, which will make the tournament very challenging.
“Our biggest rival is indeed host Kennesaw State as we lost to them in the championship match last year and they’re the only team we lost to in conference this year,” she noted. “Lipscomb, Liberty, Stetson and North Florida, are all teams that continue to challenge us and very possible that we’ll be matched up against.”
With a victory, the Eagles would earn their first NCAA Tournament berth.