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Transfering schools & conferences; volleyball, men's soccer start Friday

 James Louis went from wide receiver to FIU’s version of Elvis Thursday. Sightings of Louis around the Modesto Madique Campus dotted message boards and Twitter, leading to rejoicing that he was enrolled.

While Louis probably was around Camp Mitch, I wasn’t able to confirm his enrollment Thursday. Not that it won’t happen, not that it won’t happen soon, just that it hadn’t happened yet. 

The football team had Thursday off and will have a walk-through Friday afternoon.

 TRADING SPACES, CONFERENCE EDITION

Texas A&M sent the Big 12 a letter saying, basically, it wants to see other conferences. Houston, of Conference USA, is considered one of the favorites for replacement should A&M bolt. SMU tells The Dallas Morning News that it wants to leave Conference USA, preferably for the Big 12.

Watch these developments and anything that involves an opening in Conference USA.  That’s the next landing spot for FIU, their Queens house as they try to George Jefferson up to the Big East Side someday.

MEN’S SOCCER

FIU’s already in Conference USA for men’s soccer, which opens its season with 7 p.m. home games Friday against Nova Southeastern and Sunday against FAU. This year, completely out from under scholarship limitations for the first time since 2007, they pulled in a recruiting class of that had head coach Munga Eketebi smiling when I ran into him on campus earlier this week.

The nine freshmen include two players from Iceland, forward Andri Alexandersson and midfielder Arnthor Kristinsson; two goalkeepers, Belen Prep graduate Daniel Mion and Covington (Wa.) Kentwood High graduate Rodney Greiling; German forward Quintin Albrecht; forward Colby Burdette from Boca Raton High; midfielder Esteban Castro from Miami Ferguson High; forward Roberto De Sousa from Davie Nova High; and forward Arley Londono Jr. from Miami American High.

(If that last name sounds familiar, perhaps you’ve heard Arley Londono Sr. on Gol TV as a play-by-play announcer. If you go way back, he sealed a unique place in South Florida sports history by being part of the Florida Panthers Spanish-language radio team that called all the Panthers home games and a few road games.)

The attempted talent injection’s working thus far. Nicolas Rodriguez-Fraile (six goals, two assists) led the team in scoring last year as a freshman despite playing in only 10 of the 17 games and starting only one. Junior defender Anthony Hobbs is FIU’s lone preseason all-conference pick and by late in the season, he could be one of the few upperclassmen still holding down a starting spot.

VOLLEYBALL

(One of several team photos from their Facebook fan page: https://www.facebook.com/#!/photo.php?fbid=238485542862699&set=a.140623319315589.26356.139604556084132&type=1&theater

The team leaders on the group that flew out to Berkeley to open their season at the Cal Moten Classic believe they already have more of an actual team than the bunch that went 20-11 last season and lost in the semi finals of the Sun Belt tournament.

“I feel like there was a lot of frustration because a lot of the girls didn’t know each other,” senior Sabrina Gonzalez said. “We were in different zones. There were six different players instead of playing as one team. I feel like this year, we were able to get to know each other a little more in the summer and we prepared a lot better than we did last year.”

Head coach Danijela Tomic said bluntly, “We were a dysfunctional team."

When it was pointed out that dysfunctional team still managed a pretty good record, Tomic said, “We had a decent season. But we set such a high standard for ourselves. In 2009, we were 32-4. It’s hard to top that.

 “That team never really clicked,” she continued. “We were just up and down. This year, it seems like everybody’s on the same page. I think we as coaches, I as a coach, did a better job of explaining the expectations and what FIU volleyball is all about during the recruiting process.”

Of the 2010 recruiting class, only redshirt freshman Jessica Egan and sophomore Una Trkulja remain. Gonzalez said she believes team leaders such as she, Andrea Lakovic and Renele Forde have already established a tone for the freshmen.

“From the beginning, we set some goals for what we need from the newcomers,” Lakovic said. “Last year, we were kind of easy on them. I don’t want to say, (they were) not working hard. But we kind of went easy on them: ‘they need to adjust to a new school, new environment…’ This year, we were a little bit tougher. They need to know why they’re here. We set some standards they need to know since the first day how we want them to work and adapt to our team.”

They’re definitely bigger. With All-American setter Natalia Valentin moving to student coach after her eligibility ran out, FIU’s setters now are Forde, 6-3, and Egan, 6-2. While that alters the setter-hitter timing, it’s also an lengthening that should improve FIU’s defense.

 “We needed to become a better blocking team, a better defensive team. When you have a big block in front, it’s easier to play defense behind that block,” Tomic said. “Our middle blockers, Sabrina and Andrea, they’re small for middles, but Sabrina’s in the best shape of her life, she’s jumping very high. Andrea’s also playing at a high level. Sylvia (Carli), our freshman, is 6-3. She’s going to be a big help. Right now, she’s a better blocker, which we need, than a hitter.

“Our defensive specialists, Carolyn Fouts, a walk-on freshman from Gainesville (Buchholz High), I think she pushed Chanel Araujo, a junior, to play at a higher level. Rachel Fernandez, another a walk-on from Miami (Westminster Christian), she’s playing extremely well defensively.”

One of this year’s team goals is going undefeated at home. That’s logical. For one thing, FIU lost only two at home in 2008, then one in 2009 and 2010 each. Secondly, FIU hosts this year’s Sun Belt Conference tournament, Nov. 17-19.

“There is one thing our seniors have not accomplished in their four years and I haven’t accomplished as a coach and that’s winning the Sun Belt championship,” Tomic said. “We need to get over that, I think, mental hurdle of winning the Sun Belt tournament.”

This year’s team theme, as set by Tomic, is Crossing The Line, the title of a Sam Parker book about making the choices in peers, work ethic and commitment to cross the line between good and great. By the time the Sun Belt tournament comes around, we’ll know whether FIU’s crossed the line going forward or backwards.

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