January 23, 2015

DC Swap Complete; Senior Swimmers' Sayonara

UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES

Swimming & Diving, vs. Florida Gulf Coast, Saturday, 11 a.m. (Senior Day)

Tennis, vs. Liberty, Sunday, noon

Women's Basketball, vs. Old Dominion, Thursday, 6 p.m.

FIU just announced what we hypothesized here two days ago (see the post linked to below) -- the replacement for departed defensive coordinator Josh Conklin, now at Pitt, is Pitt's last pre-Conklin DC, Matt House.

House had been Pitt's defensive coordinator for three years under Paul Chryst. Chryst didn't take House with him when he took the head coaching job at Wisconsin, leaving House available for FIU.

This reminds me of the Dolphins cutting center Samson Satele and signing Oakland Raiders center Jake Grove as a free agent in 2009. After their first season with the Dolphins, the Bill Parcells-Jeff Ireland-Tony Sparano ruling tribunal felt they needed a nastier, stronger center. Satele wound up signing with Oakland.

Epilogue: Grove started 10 games with the Dolphins in 2009, got injured during the season and never played in the NFL again. Satele's bounced around the league and back to the Dolphins this season.

SWIMMING & DIVING

Here's the who  being honored on Saturday's Senior Day for FIU's water women: Klara Andersson, Nadia Farrugia, Johanna Gustafsdottir, Jean Madison and Courtney Vander Schaaf.

Here's the what of the who being honored on Saturday's Senior Day for FIU's water women:

Six individual school records, five relay school records, eight individual conference titles and three relay conference titles.

Much of that comes from Gustafsdottir, arguably the best swimmer in FIU program history. But Andersson's FIU's speed queen. Her 23.24 at the 2013 Sun Belt Conference meet remains the school record in the 50 freestyle.

A year earlier, Gustafsdottir began rewriting the FIU record book over her freshmen and sophomore years so quickly, it seemed done by an instant search-and-replace command. Between the 2012 Sun Belt meet, in which she won three individual events and Swimmer of the Year, and the 2012 Mizzou Invite that fall, Gustafsdottir knocked down five individual records and was part of four school record relay teams.

She's lowered all those marks since then, of course. And, though freshman Silvia Scalia eclipsed Gustafsdottir's 100 backstroke record earlier this year, she added the 200 breastroke to her individual Best of FIU list: 100 free 50.01), 200 free (1:46.90), 200 back (1:54.40), 200 breast (2:14.20) and 200 individual medley (1:57.94).

Both Gustafsdottir and Andersson were on the 200 free relay (1:32.09), 400 free relay (3:20.74) and 400 medley relay school record teams (3:40.87). In the 2013 Sun Belt champion 400 medley relay, at the 2013 Sun Belt Championships, Gustafsdottir led off with the backstroke leg and Andersson finished with the free leg. At the same meet, they combined with Dani Albright and Marina Ribi to set a Sun Belt record in the 400 free relay (3:21.67) and set the current record with Jenny Alfani and Jenny Deist at last year's Conference USA meet.

Vander Schaaf was an All-Sun Belt swimmer in 2013, part of a then-school record 200 free relay and swam for distance. She ranks fourth in school history in the 1,650 free (17:08.27), fifth in the 1,000 free (10:21.18) and seventh in the 500 free (4:57.70). Last January, she picked up a Conference USA Swimmer of the Week award.

Farrugia anchored last year's Conference USA meet 800 free relay team (7:13.43) and, like VanderSchaaf, went long -- sixth fastest 500 freestyler (4:56.97) and 1000 freestyler (10:25.24) and third in the 1,650 free (17:04.33).

Madison was the fourth best in the 200 breast (2:17.16) and fifth in the 100 breast (1:04.19).

Madison, Farrugia, VanderSchaaf and Andersson made the Conference USA Honor Roll for having a 3.0 grade point average. Andersson was a Commissioner's Academic Medalist for having a 3.7 GPA.

 

 

From the Steele Mills

Phil Steele, producer of the most comprehensive preseason college sports magazines, also regularly blogs. His most recent post examined how many starters return for each FBS team after subtracting those that have declared for the NFL Draft.

FIU's 16 returning starters by Steele's count put the Panthers in a 12-way tie for 17th in FBS and tied with Western Kentucky for second in the conference. The Panthers and Hilltoppers each return eight starters on offense and eight on defense, according to him. I count nine defensive returning starters for FIU.

FBS and Conference USA football rookie Charlotte returns 19 starters, nine on offense and 10 on defense, leading each category. Steele says Southern Miss also returns nine offensive starters. 

Time for Russo to Rest

The surprise for many at FIU was that Cindy Russo returned for the 2014-15 season.

Since the start of the 2012-13 season, the standard prediction around the athletic department had Russo's retirement dovetailing with the end of star guard Jerica Coley's eligibility in 2014.

Last season's ineligiblity of 6-3 Marita Davydova infuriated Russo just as much at the end of the season as the beginning. She never flat said it, but she had to know that dropped the ceiling for Coley's last team and her last team with postseason potential. With some semblance of an inside/outside game, FIU could put together a winning season and would hold a puncher's chance in the Conference USA tournament. Without it, you get what happened -- FIU rising only to the level of Coley's superpowers. Once those ran out like a power ring's charge in the 25th hour against eventual champ Middle Tennessee State in the conference tournament semis, that was it.

Russo returned for one more year, I think, almost out of reflex. This is what she's done every fall since 1977. Routines beget full body muscle memory. But fatigue strikes earlier and earlier as the years pass until the time the remembering muscle tells the mind, "Forget this, I'm tired." 

All college coaches essay the role of parent on some level. For years, Russo had been the caretaker for her elderly mother. That's not a Wikipedia example of "sandwich generation" but it's still "sandwich generation." Most "sandwich generation" folks don't go on bi-weekly business trips to places like Bowling Green, Kentucky or Huntington, West Virginia (in January).

Soon after Russo's mother died in late December, rumors began around FIU athletics that she'd retire. Worn down even before being weakened by the flu that refuses to leave her -- I almost wanted to pour chicken soup through the cell phone when we spoke Thursday afternoon, she sounded so bad -- she saw the rest of the season looming like K2.

The vastness of Russo's career can't be overstated, both as far as FIU and women's basketball.

When she began as an assistant coach at 1970s powerhouse Old Dominion, many families actively discouraged their girls from participating in team sports. Heck, many girls actively discouraged girls from participating in team sports. Not feminine enough, you know. Many states didn't have high school girls basketball tournaments. Indiana, home of the most storied boys high school tournament, didn't start a girls counterpart until 1976, the same year the Summer Olympics first included women's basketball. Pro leagues? Please. The NCAA didn't sanction college women's basketball, but rather the AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) did. The first AIAW national championship game to be nationally televised ended the 1977-78 season, Russo's first at FIU, where a few structures dotted a lot of space. Parking not a problem back then.

Now, well, look around. Despite the roles sexism and homophobia still play in college women's basketball, if you don't see the vast differences from 37-plus years ago, you're too obtuse to read this blog. FIU continues to grow an inexorably as The Blob.

Of course, Cindy Russo would've liked to finish this season, though it looks headed for a C-USA tournament one-and-done. No woman in sports Russo's age with any stature got there by leaving anything unfinished. All those women fought more battles than Patton just to get to the game time fight.

Russo's earned the right to say she's too tired to keep fighting.

January 22, 2015

Russo Retires, Effective Immediately

Associate head coach Inge Nissen will coach the team the rest of the season.

Story at http://www.miamiherald.com/sports

FIU to Announce Russo Retiring

See the story at http://www.miamiherald.com/sports

Football's 2015 FCS Victim; Baseball Timing

Needing an FCS punching bag to fill out the 2015 home schedule, FIU will bring in North Carolina-Central, which went 7-5 last year, 6-2 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, 0-1 vs. FBS (52-7 loss to East Carolina) and 0-1 vs. transitional FBS (40-28 loss to Charlotte).

NC-Central will be the only non-conference home game, a stark contrast to the four non-conference home games that opened the 2014 season. The four Conference USA home games will be decided once the league finishes the realignment caused by Alabama-Birmingham football's demise.

BASEBALL

FIU will move its Saturday games back to 6 p.m. from 4 p.m. Smart move. It gives families time to finish their Saturday activities and errands and cuts the roasting time in the stands on sunny days.

January 21, 2015

Top Dollar

FIU's softball team enters this season as the Conference USA co-favorite with Alabama-Birmingham. Why that's to be expected is detailed in an earlier post. But that got me thinking...

When Jake Schumann left the softball coach last summer with an obvious potential conference champion and NCAA tournament team coming back, he insisted it was because of salary. Living the coaching life with wife and kids in the Broward suburbs, Schumann insisted he needed more than the just-under $60,000 per year FIU paid. He took an associate coach job at Ole Miss for more money in a cheaper area.

So, FIU's last team to be a preseason conference favorite: softball, 2015. Head coach Gator Rebhan's salary: $59,700. 

FIU's last team conference title: women's golf, 2013 Sun Belt tournament. Head coach Joe Vogel's current salary: $58,590.

FIU's last team conference title in a completely team sport: women's soccer, 2011 Sun Belt tournament or 2012 Sun Belt regular season, if you count that. Head coach Thomas Chestnutt's current salary: $63,024.

FIU's highest ranked team nationally: sand volleyball, 2014. Head coach Rita Buck-Crockett's current salary: $60,000 (for being in charge of sand and indoor volleyball).

FIU's best team over the last four years when combining athletics and academics: swimming & diving. Head coach Randy Horner's current salary: $57,590.

FIU athletic director Pete Garcia's bonuses during the 2013-14 academic year: approximately $99,550.

Numbers according to either contracts in possession of The Herald or Florida Has a Right to Know website.

 

FIU Gets Lubin

North Miami Beach wide receiver/defensive back Emmanuel Lubin, Class of 2015, announced his verbal commitment to FIU via Twitter Wednesday. Lubin caught 32 passes for 278 yards at NMB, alma mater of FIU alumnus and current Jacksonville Jags safety Johnathan Cyprien.

Lubin's rated at two stars by Rivals.com, unrated by ESPN.com, 247Sports.com and Scout.com.

Softball C-USA Preseason No. 1 (or 1A); S-Tex Preseason All-Conference

Five of the dozen Conference USA coaches took the easy way out on voting. They saw an FIU team that finished 33-20, 15-9 in Conference USA last season and returns almost everybody, including pitchers Corinne Jenkins and Shelby Graves and C-USA Freshman of the Year Stephanie Texeira.

So those five coaches voted FIU as the preseason conference favorite. FIU shares that spot with last year's conference runner-up, Alabama-Birmingham, which also pulled five first-place votes. FAU and Marshall got the other two. Texeira, who hit .408 with 11 homers, 41 RBI and a .740 slugging percentage last year, was the only Panther on the preseason all-conference team.

FIU hosts the Conference USA tournament this year on Felsberg Field at FIU Softball Stadium. Hopefully, they'll have a replacement for this Reagan Era-locker room building they share with tennis by then.

IMG_1157

 

Baseball on Fox

Conference USA just announced FIU's regular season finale, at defending conference champion Rice on May 3, will be broadcast nationally on Fox Sports Networks.

By the way, the annual baseball Diamond Dinner, which will have Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson speaking and Miguel Cabrera appearing, will be on Feb. 7. Tickets still available.