March 04, 2015

NCAA officially selects swimmers; Golfer in World Top 50

UPCOMING HOME MATCHES/GAMES

Baseball: vs. UConn, Friday, 7 p.m.; Saturday, 6 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m.

Softball: vs. Marshall, Saturday, 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m. 

Barring incredible breaking news, the forecast predicts light blogginess over the next few days as I'm sent to my yearly arranged marriage with Doral and the PGA Tour. A couple of things before I go back to cleaning out my car, Publix apple strudel and Law & Order: SVU...

Senior Johanna Gustafsdottir and freshman Silvia Scalia were selected for the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships, Mar. 19-21, in Greensboro, North Carolina (nice people, ehh town). Gustafsdottir will swim the 200 and 400 individual medley while Scalia will handle the 100 and 200 backstroke.

Last year, Sonia Perez finished 13th in the 400 IM at the NCAAs, scoring the first swimming points for FIU at the championships.

WOMEN'S GOLF

Junior Meghan MacLaren's eight-stroke rout in the rain-shortened Amelia Island Collegiate moved her up 13 spots to No. 49 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings. She was also Golfweek's National Player of the Week.

Not sure how she wasn't Conference USA's player of the week, but you know how that goes...

 

 

March 03, 2015

Football Staff Filled Out

When Chitlin Circuit and comedy record legend Redd Foxx got the starring role in his own TV series, Sanford & Son, he took care of his friends. Lawanda Page, who played Aunt Esther, was his oldest friend and introduced Foxx to his first wife. Don Bexley and Pat Morita also benefited from their friend in the way of recurring supporting roles, valuable work to actors and comedians. Other Chitlin Circuit stars such as Slappy White did guest star one shot appearances.

The coaching business is packed with Redd Foxxes.

FIU announced the hiring of Ron Cooper as assistant head coach-defensive backs assistant. This completes the football coaching staff, although even an auto racing history geek like myself wouldn't call it a Cooper Climax.

Cooper's connection to FIU head coach Ron Turner: they were both on the Tampa Bay staff in 2012. Cooper's been a head coach at Alabama A&M, Eastern Michigan and Louisville and an assistant on enough staffs to fill a walk-in closet with coaching polo shirts.

There's some shuffling of responsibilities. Tem Lubaku, hired as linebackers' coach last month, now will handle the defensive line. Defensive coordinator Matt House takes over the linebackers.

Not a great Sanford & Son clip, but it's got Aunt Esther, The Big One and nothing that'll offend or cause too many folks discomfort in our sensitive age. 

 

 

Building Stuff

Funny what you can learn sitting around the arena on a Friday afternoon.

Executive director for sports and entertainment Pete Garcia passed with Senior Associate ADs Julie Berg and Heath Glick and invited me along to look at the choice of new chairs for FIU Arena.

IMG_20150227_133226

At least all the lower bowl chairs in the arena will be replaced. That's the "Bleacher Project" referred to in the pre-Miss Universe e-mail to Glick as "likely scrapped." 

The other project mentioned as "likely scrapped" in that e-mail, the softball/golf locker room, should be started after FIU hosts Conference USA softball championships, according to Garcia and Berg. The new practice area for the track and field throwers, also part of the Women's Sports Initiative, should be done before the year's out. Garcia said a major upgrading of the baseball stadium will be coming in the next year or two. 

A major donation should be announced soon that'll pay for the baseball stadium and arena seat replacement. The other projects should be covered under what's been collected for the Women's Sports Initiative.

Recently, I heard again from someone close to the situation, as I did last fall, that the long-awaited soccer/track stadium will become a reality once FIU takes over the Youth Fair land. Don't confuse this with any drive to get Major League Soccer as a temporary FIU tenant. This pitch would be for FIU and youth teams.

Considering the amount of time we've been waiting on this project, all skepticism until dirt gets disturbed is warranted.

 

March 02, 2015

Ball So (Diamond) Hard

The Felsberg Invitational on Felsberg Field at FIU Softball Stadium went thusly for FIU: three for three against Bethune-Cookman, even 1-1 split with Michigan State (shutout win, close loss to Big Ten dregs) and a loss in their only game against Ole Miss (resident of the SEC softball's Bikini Bottom).

All of FIU's goals -- a 40-win season, conference title, NCAA tournament regional berth -- remain in play for the preseason Conference USA co-favorites when the conference season starts Friday with a three-game home series against Marshall. And after losing their Felsberg opener to Ole Miss 5-0, they came two runs from sweeping the remaining five games.

After the loss to Ole Miss, FIU coach Gator Rebhan immediately criticized sophomore Stephanie Texeira for impatience at the plate with runners in scoring position. In the next five games, Texeira went eight for 12 with three doubles, a home run and six RBI. Pitcher Corrinne Jenkins pitched a perfect 2 1/3 relief innings in the 4-3 loss to Michigan State, and gave up only two hits in five innings that comprised the 4-0 shutout. 

That first game featured Rebhan-coached FIU vs. FIU Past -- Ole Miss with last year's FIU head coach Jake Schumann and a former FIU assistant Sharon Palma as assistant coaches to Mike Smith.

This wasn't just one of 54 on the schedule for FIU. Unfortunately, it wound up being closer to zero of 54 after FIU managed three hits on Ole Miss pitcher Emily Gaitan.

"Obviously, it was a little bittersweet," Schumann said. "This is my team now and I would've been really upset if we'd lost the game. Part of you really wants those kids at FIU to do well. You brought them in, you put the time in. I'm not as excited as I would be, like I was in game 1 when we came back and won that game (after four last inning runs on Bethune to send the game to extra innings)."

Ole Miss carries the same "SEC team" designation that 2014 College World Series winner Florida and runner up Alabama carry and with all that means. That's about where the similarity ends. The preseason SEC poll picked Ole Miss last and the program's history of losing almost matches that of the Florida Panthers.

"A couple of things I've had to adjust to: I've been a head coach for 14 years. So, not being the boss, but being OK with the decisions being made," said Schumann, who handles the infield and the hitters. "Obviously, going to a town of 16,000 people in the middle of a forest from Miami is a big shock. There's not much to do especially on Sunday when everything's closed."

Schumann's first coaching job above mid-major level opened his eyes about the current state of college athletics. 

"It's obviously haves and have nots. The Power Five conferences definitely have an advantage over all the other conferences in the country. Coming from both, and actually seeing it, it is a big difference," he said. "Hopefully, the NCAA will do something to even it out, but I think it's just going to keep becoming a wider span (between the Power 5 and Group of 5 conferences). Not that teams like FIU shouldn't beat SEC schools or ACC schools or Big 12 schools, but the resources -- from academics to food to travel to everything -- is just so vast. It takes a lot of pressure off of you as coach. All you have to do is coach."

An FIU coach told me that at most schools, they fund raise for extras. At FIU, coaches fund raise to survive.

"Don't have to fund-raise at all," Schumann said. "All I have to do is coach and recruit."

And for more money in a cheaper market.

This is why, without some of the fund-raising groups you see at Rice or snagging someone tethered to South Florida, FIU's non-baseball head coaching jobs always will have a problem avoiding being seen as stepping stones.

BASEBALL

FIU took three of four from Manhattan College, outscoring the Jaspers 46-12. FIU got in batting practice. Manhattan got to escape the emasculating cold of New York. Call it a win-win.

 

February 27, 2015

Swim & Dive Lauded for Water & Land Achievements; Gore to Marian

FIU's Conference USA championship win last week prompted a shuffling of the CollegeSwimming.com national mid-major rankings. FIU's now No. 4 among mid-majors.

Behind them in the rankings as they were in the pool are Florida Gulf Coast at No. 5; Conference USA's second place team, Rice, dropped from No. 5 to No. 8, incongruously one spot behind the conference's third place team, Western Kentucky.

FIU's team grade point average of 3.17 put it on the College Swimming Coaches Association of America's list of Scholar All-America teams, comprised of teams with a 3.0 GPA. Earlier this week, butterflier Valerie Inghels made the C-USA All-Academic team.

 

FOOTBALL PAST

FIU life didn't go well for Jakhari Gore. While sitting out the 2012 season as a transfer from LSU, the former Columbus High running back star crashed academically in 2012-13. He got arrested on a charges of robbery and false imprisonment in late August 2013. FIU coach Ron Turner jettisoned Gore, who entered a not guilty plea before the charges were dropped.

But Gore's apparently gotten things together. He Tweeted at me today that "God is Good and blessed me with another chance Marian University!"

The school on what's called "the near northwest side" of Indianapolis started football in 2007 and plays at the NAIA level. Good for him.

New Football Spring Practice Schedule & a Caveat for Athletes

The spring football practice schedule got modified. This matters to those who wish to take advantage of this year's practices being open to the public instead of conducted under a giant Cone of Silence.

FIU reminds everybody attending that photos, video or live reporting is a no-no inside La Cage (because, hey, it's not like there's two years of FIU film and nine years of Chicago Bears film to clue you in on what FIU's going to do offensively).

Anyway, here's the schedule:

Mar. 19, 21, 24, 28, 31, Apr. 2, 6, 7, 9, 13, 14, 16: 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Mar. 26: 10 a.m.

Apr. 3: 7 p.m.

Apr. 17: Spring Game, 7 p.m.

WORDS OF CAUTION

Repeat of a message to current and future student-athletes: you are representing your school, your family and yourself in your communication that's going out to your followers (and, perhaps, their followers). And while your current coach might not care, future employers could have limited appreciation for words and photos demonstrating sexist or racist attitudes. And your commentary on, say, oral sex, while entertaining to some, could be construed as showing yourself deficient in discretion (or good sense).

By the way, I'm cool with being blocked (I know FIU requested it of some teams). It doesn't change the above one bit. Nor does it change how I cover you or your sport. 

 

February 26, 2015

Field Work; Felsberg Invitational Familiarity; Manhattan Holiday; Coaching Matters

The City of Birmingham, quivering like Rock Ridge before Mongo, closed all public facilities Wednesday in fear of what places in the former Confederacy consider major snowfall. This condensed the Conference USA Indoor Track & Field Championships to a one-day event.

Not so condensed were the throws of FIU junior Raquarra Ishmar, who turned today into Throw Forward Thursday by winning the women's weight throw and finishing second in the shot put.

Ishmar (63 feet, 4 inches), junior Chelsea Goburne (59-1/4) and sophomore Chandra Fullwood (56-3 1/4) gave FIU its strongest team performance of the day, a 1-4-6 finish, in the weight throw. Going into the last two throws, the 61-2 from Western Kentucky's Janessa Jackson held the lead. Ishmar cranked off a 62-footer to take the lead, then muscled out the 63-4 on her last throw to hammer home who the alpha female was in this event.

Ishmar finished a solid second in the shot, her 50-8 3/4 being 1-8 1/2 ahead of third place Rachel Polk of Southern Miss and 8-2 behind Rice blowout winner, Claire Uke.

In the men's triple jump, junior Marcus Ghent reached 50-2 3/4 to finish second by 4 3/4 inches behind Western's Cyrus Johnson. Ghent also picked up points with a sixth place long jump of 22-8 1/2. 

The team standings found the women finishing ninth of 13 and the men finishing ninth of nine. 

SOFTBALL

Jake Schumann, FIU's coach the last three seasons, knows the way to Felsberg Field. So does former FIU pitching assistant coach Sharon Palma.

So, the Ole Miss bus shouldn't get lost on the way to Felsberg Field at FIU Softball Stadium for Friday's opening of this weekend's Felsberg Invitational. The 8-4 Rebels are scheduled to play Bethune-Cookman at 2. Bethune will rest while FIU and Ole Miss get it on at 4:30. FIU plays Bethune at 7 p.m.

Last week, FIU saw the fourth member of last year's coaching staff (current FIU head coach Gator Rebhan was an assistant last year), current Texas State assistant coach Kelly Kretschman. It wasn't a happy reunion for the Panthers, losing 8-0. 

BASEBALL

Manhattan comes down for its four-game winter beating from FIU. Two years ago, the Jaspers got bombed in the first two games and outscored 40-17 for the three-game series.

By the way, did you know that FIU got back from last week's tournament in South Carolina around 7:30 a.m. after a 13-hour bus ride and some players had to hit class immediately? That's unfair to the student-athletes.

There should be a rule that teams have to fly if the road trip ends over a set number of hours away from the main campus and the team has class the next day. 

Break time...

 

SWIMMING & DIVING

FIU coach Randy Horner's contract is up at the end of April, two months after FIU won the Conference USA women's swimming & diving title. That's producing when the time's right.

Horner makes just over $57,000 in a contract that began when FIU wasn't close to competitive in the Sun Belt and ends with FIU being one of the nation's best mid-major teams. They've also been the top academic team on campus three of the previous four years.

That's the kind of work that'll attract attention if a Power Five school with manatees in the pool wants someone who can transform the team into motorboats. And that school will offer a significant raise. Just as an example, Michigan State clearly doesn't care about its swim program. The Spartans annually finish in the bottom two at the Big Ten meet and have for two decades. Yet, head coach Matt Gianiodis has held that job since October 2003.

All those signs of department apathy toward a sport and Gianiodis still gets paid over $76,000 while living in East Lansing, Michigan, a cheaper market than Miami. They might be paying Gianiodis extra for staying in East Lansing, which one Michigan State graduate I talked with Thursday called "Siberia" and about which Sports Illustrated writer Dan Jenkins quipped, "It looks like Stalingrad."

Anyway, that's just an example of why FIU might want to give Horner more than a little bump when it puts rings on the swimming & diving women's fingers.

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

Some might wonder if former FIU assistant coach Desma Thomas Bateast, now an assistant coach at South Florida, might want to come back to rebuild the program. Putting the hard hat on to deal with this catastrophe takes a relatively young, energetic coach and she's familiar with the place.

That doesn't always work in the school's favor, understand...

 

February 24, 2015

C-USA Indoor Track Starts Wednesday, Golf Wins & Other Stuff

We know at least one FIU winter sports team will head for the Conference USA championship gathering in Birmingham.

Women's basketball? Nope. Men's basketball? Probably. The indoor track team's already in Birmingham for its conference meet, which runs Wednesday and Thursday.

FIU brings the most muscle in the field events, such as the women's weight throw, where junior Raquarra Ishmar has the top seed throw at 19.01 meters and junior Miriam Pierre ranks second at 18.26. Ishmar's also got the No. 2 seed throw, 15.35 meters, in the shot put. Junior Phillicia Fluellen's 6.13 meter long jump has her as the top seed. Tikiera Relaford, third in the high jump last year, should be in the mix again this year.

Junior Luka Mustafic holds the top seed in the men's shot put, 18.01 meters. In the long jump, junior Marcus Ghent should contend for second or third. 

GOLF

A rained out final round left FIU as the winners of the Amelia Island Collegiate event. Junior Meghan MacLaren's 11-under 133 got her medalist honors.

SWIMMING & DIVING

FIU's new butterfly queen, Valerie Inghels, has a 3.92 grade point average as a communications arts major in addition to her Conference USA third in the 200 butterfly, fifth in the 100 fly and place on the second place 400 medley relay, all via school records. Which is how Inghels is on the Conference USA All-Academic swimming team.

SOFTBALL

The Sunday, Mar. 8 home game against Marshall will be televised nationally on Fox Sports.

FOOTBALL

FIU announced what The Herald reported first last week: Tim Harris Jr. will coach the running backs this year.

Harris Jr., son of "Ice" Harris, served as Booker T. Washington High's offensive coordinator for several years before taking over the head coaching job last year when his father went to Coral Gables to be the Hurricanes' running backs coach.

 

 

 

 

Alumni Association statement on Athletics

The FIU Alumni Association put a message on its Facebook page today in semi-reaction to the statement from Alumni Association President Frank Pena calling for a change in FIU Athletic Department leadership:

"The FIU Alumni Association would like to clarify that recent statements made by Alumni Association President Frank Peña do not necessarily represent the views of the Alumni Association's Board of Directors or its members. Peña himself has said that he was expressing personal views regarding the Athletics Department leadership.

The FIU Alumni Association unequivocally support our student athletes, our coaches and President Mark B. Rosenberg, and strive to continue our mission of serving and supporting FIU's alumni by providing lifelong connections to the University. The Alumni Association is focused on furthering key University priorities such as the expansion project and FIU's Next Horizon Capital Campaign."

Conspicuous by its absence on the Alumni Association support list: Athletic Department leadership.

That's not an accident.

 

February 23, 2015

Pound C-USA Freshman of The Week (again)

The worst FIU women's basketball season in memory contains at least one Crunch Berry among the soggy losses -- redshirt freshman Kiandre'a Pound. Pound won her sixth Conference USA Freshman of the Week award,

The ever-upbeat Pound scored 21 and 19 points in losses at Rice and North Texas, and grabbed 15 rebounds over the two games.


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