At Sunday's close of the American Volleyball Coaches Association Sand Volleyball National Championships, FIU's Rita Buck-Crockett was honored as the national Coach of the Year. FIU went 20-3, 18-1 in the regular season, and entered the national championship tournament ranked No. 3. They went 2-2 at nationals, getting knocked out in the quarterfinal by Pepperdine 4-1.
A pair of injuries suffered in the second round loss to Long Beach State certainly hampered the Panthers. To what degree is, of course, unknown. But match scores, including the 5-0 swatting of Florida State in the first round Friday, say FIU peaked as the season continued. After the injuries to Kristine Monforte and Aren Cupp, the Panthers struggled Friday to beat a Stetson team it stomped 4-1 to end the regular season (and that loss was an injury retirement with FIU ahead).
Sand volleyball fell to Pepperdine 4-1 Saturday morning in the losers bracket of the AVCA Sand Volleyball Naitonals, closing its season at 20-3.
FIU edged Pepperdine 3-2 earlier this season. But with injuries removing Kristine Monforte from the No. 2 pair and Aren Cupp from the No. 5 pair for the second consecutive match Saturday, the Panthers lacked two of their most dependable pairs. FIU could muster only a win from No. 4 pair Anna Budinska and Martyna Gluchowicz. That pair won all their matches at Nationals.
Softball needed to go one, two, three at Charlotte this weekend, but the 49ers took Saturday's second game 2-1 in extra innings. That limits FIU's participation in the Conference USA tournament next week to host.
There's nothing quite so beautifully, crudely basic in sports as situations where the stakes are "win or die." That's why this weekend's English Premier League matches include a couple of relegation games.
Sand Volleyball's in that situation going into the second day of the AVCA Sand Volleyball Nationals. FIU did to Florida State what, in another part of Alabama Thursday night, Jameis Winston and his draft party did to the crab legs. Things looked pretty bright with the 5-0 destruction of the Seminoles combined with No. 7 Long Beach State upsetting No. 2 Hawaii seeming to smooth a strolling path through the winners' bracket for FIU.
Alas, water's surface can be smooth, too, and try to stroll on that. Long Beach repeated its voo-doo in a 4-1 upset that left FIU injured. Injuries to FIU senior Kristine Monforte, who combines with Summer Nash on the Panthers' No. 2 pair, and sophomore Aren Cupp, who plays No. 5 with senior Tina Toghiyani, took them out of the loser-leaves-town match with Stetson. That's the same Stetson that handed FIU its only loss outside of Long Beach and that FIU dusted 4-1 to end the season.
The match came down to a third set of the No. 5 pair, with Toghiyani playing with senior Alex Johnson. Their 15-7 triumph after trading 21-19 sets gave FIU a 3-2 win and got FIU through to Saturday. FIU faces No. 4 Pepperdine, the 2012 and 2014 AVCA national champions.
Two out of three ain't bad, but it'll leave FIU sad. Get a hat trick or go home sick. Sweep or weep.
One of the two remaining spots in the Conference USA tournament next week will be decided with the three-game series at Charlotte Saturday and Sunday. FIU needs all three games to get into the tournament it'll be hosting on Felsberg Field. Otherwise, Charlotte's in and FIU's watching other teams play in their sandbox.
Friday's rainout at Old Dominion means baseball also will be playing a doubleheader Saturday and one game Sunday. Though Old Dominion's the team that's almost in broom-or-gloom mode, FIU can use some buffer building before closing with series against Alabama-Birmingham and a recently-roused Rice team.
The sand women left FIU at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday to catch a pre-dawn flight out of Fort Lauderdale in a journey to Gulf Shores, Alabama. They could return as national champions.
The last AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball Championships will be this Friday and Saturday. Sand volleyball becomes a full-fledged NCAA sport next season and that Four Letter Organization will take over the championship in 2016. Hopefully, the West Washington Street Wackos, whose rulings sound formed from the logic of a Lewis Carroll character, will stage it someplace with more cool than Gulf Shores, Alabama.
As for this year, No. 3 seeded FIU, 18-1, faces No. 6 Florida State Friday and the Panthers beat FSU 3-2 earlier this season. When I talked to players and coach Rita Buck-Crockett for a story about a month ago, one thing they made clear: winning only whetted their appetite to destroy. Beat a top opponent 3-2, make it 5-0 next time. And they ended the season giving opponents the Godzilla, including lone conqueror Stetson. A 3-2 early season loss got avenged 4-1 with the lone match loss coming via retirement because of injury.
A win Friday morning against FSU puts FIU in a second round match with No. 2 Hawaii. Even if the Panthers lose there, they've still got a shot at getting to the championship match through the losers bracket in the double elimination tournament.
With freshman teammate Anja Licka clearly appreciating the effort, Maryna Samoday gets the ball over the net against FAU's Mandy McIntosh. Senior Summer Nash serving against FAU. Take cover.
As she descends from defending her net, senior Summer Nash turns to see what partner Kristine Monforte will do with the altered kill attempt.
When you win four Player of the Week awards and finish as medalist in the conference tournament with a record score for the tournament and single round, getting conference Player of the Year seems a "Duh!"
So, no surprise that junior Meghan MacLaren received that award, along with First Team All-Conference and sharing Most Improved Player with FAU's Heather Netti. MacLaren swings her sticks under the FIU visor in the NCAA Regional next week.
Sophomores Coralia Arias and Camila Serrano got Second Team All-Conference nods.
Another sad Sunday song aside, the baseball team got what it needed from the weekend. And, boy, did it need what it got.
Saturday's pair of narrow wins over Louisiana Tech guaranteed a series win and softened the blow of FIU's now-customary lack of support for Sunday starter Chris Mourelle in a 1-0 loss. Meanwhile, Rice did FIU a solid by sweeping Western Kentucky, thus bumping FIU into the No. 7 spot in Conference USA. FAU took down Old Dominion in their second and third weekend games.
But Charlotte swept Alabama-Birmingham and Marshall took two of three from conference-leading Middle Tennessee State.
So, Louisiana Tech's done and FIU can finish off Old Dominion with a series win up in Virginia this week. Charlotte's got series remaining against Southern Mississippi and Texas-San Antonio. Marshall's plays Southern Miss, Western and La. Tech, now reduced to possible spoiler. After Old Dominion, FIU's hosts UAB and goes to Rice.
Best not to head into the Rice Paddy with any great needs.
The tennis team lost in the Conference USA semi-final round to eventual champion Rice, but cleaned up nicely in the C-USA postseason awards.
Senior transfer from Clemson Yana Koroleva picked up Newcomer of the Year, Outstanding Singles Player at the Conference Championship, a First Team All-Conference singles and, with sophomore Nina Nagode, a First Team All-Conference doubles honor. Nagode received Second Team notice in singles while Carlotta Orlando joined Koroleva on the First Team. Nerma Caluk made the Third Team in singles.
You had to figure the dollars worked for FIU in their second two-year deal with Indiana similar to the way the first home-and-home deal put FIU $800,000 to the good.
And they did. An FIU spokesman said today that the Panthers will get $800,000 for playing Indiana near Disco Briscoe Hall while the Hoosiers will get $200,000 for facing FIU across the street from Parkview Hall in 2018. Net: +$600,000 on this deal, +$1.4 million on the whole four years.
The profit from the second deal, at least, will go to summer school and helping pay the total cost of attendance for each athlete. Conference USA stated last summer they would begin paying the total cost of attendance for each scholarship athlete in 2015-16.
FIU announced another home-and-home series with Indiana University, tacking 2017 and 2018 onto the 2015 and 2016 set that starts Sept. 12 at Indiana.
Indiana's the perfect non-conference opponent for FIU and that opinion doesn't come from being born in Indianapolis, raised on IU football, basketball and soccer and spending four wonderful years in Bloomington.
No. 1: The current deal with Indiana makes money for FIU. Indiana's paying FIU $1 million to come to Bloomington this year while FIU's paying the Hoosiers $200,000 for coming to Camp Mitch in 2016. I don't know the financials on this new deal yet, but I find it hard to believe FIU won't turn a profit on the exchange.
No. 2: Widen the recruiting footprint. Why not? FIU's clearly getting a better foothold locally. That doesn't preclude getting some decent talent from the Midwest, especially along the line. Illinois & Ohio are talent thick. Indiana's no longer the Dollar General of football talent among states. It also puts you in front of Northern Kentucky.
No. 3: Indiana's Big Ten without being Big. Indiana admitted it wanted FIU on the schedule to soften their non-conference schedule up a bit. Don't overlook that this also gives FIU a shot at a very beatable Power Five conference team. A young, callow version of the Panthers played Pitt on even terms last year and, aside from a flurry of second quarter big plays, hung tough against Louisville. FIU lost both but Pitt and Louisville are better than Indiana was and better than Indiana likely will be. FIU should be more mature across the board.
I guarantee you the Hoosiers will come out in September, skipping and hopping across a sun-smothered field, feeling good about college life and ready to whip up on some G5 duck...leaving them vulnerable to being stunned by FIU's speed, at least.
The Panthers come as the hunted...but might wind up bagging some Big Ten Game.
Can't blame junior Meghan MacLaren that FIU finished second, eight shots back of winner Middle Tennessee State in t Conference USA championship at Fort Myers' Verandah Club
Needing to lead FIU back from an eight-shot deficit on the final day, MacLaren handled the course with the flawless daring that recalled McLarens driven by Ayrton Senna at Silverstone (yeah, I know, she's British, the race cars are named after New Zealander Bruce McLaren, but go with me on this...).
An eagle on the 488-yard, par-5 5th started a six-hole, 6-under run that continued with a par, then four consecutive birdies. In the process, MacLaren hit the nine-hole turn with a scorching 5-under 31 that caught, passed and dusted Middle Tennessee State sophomore Samantha Gotcher. When Gotcher woke up Wednesday morning, she had a six-shot lead. By the time she woke up on the golf course, MacLaren held a two-shot lead. Gotcher recovered late, but MacLaren played the final nine at 2-under to finish with a 7-under 65 and a 10-under 206, both Conference USA records. She took medalist honors by one shot over Gotcher.
Aside from MacLaren, however, the back nine devoured FIU Wednesday almost as messily as it did Monday.
The Panthers got within one shot of Middle at one point and the Raiders' choke muscles seemed to be in spasm. But, subtracting Gotcher and MacLaren, Middle played the final seven holes at a collective 2-over and FIU played it at a collective 9-over. The closing holes proved to be the championship holes. Monday, FIU shot 13-over on Nos. 14-18 while Middle's five golfers shot 2-under.
Sophomore Coralia Arias came in tied for ninth at even par 216. Sophomore Camila Serrano fell from sixth to 13th on the final day with a 3-over 75 that brought her to 2-over 218. Freshman Katerina Krasnova's 6-over 78 final round dropped her 15 spots to 35th, 10-over 226. And junior Carla Jane's 5-over 77 Wednesday left her 14-over, 230, tied for 40th.
CBS Sports Network decrees that FIU's football season opener at Central Florida will be at 6 p.m. on Sept. 3.