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Women's soccer opens season Friday; P Chris Ayers commits.

After 17 practices in 13 days, FIU football coach Mario Cristobal decided to give his guys the day off. First, he gave them a schedule for a long day of practice, then surprised them by loading them onto two buses and taking them over to South Beach for fun and frolic. They won't be on the field Friday, either, instead going for film study and off-the-field conditioning.

As it was, the football team ranked only No. 3 among large muscular groups on the beach behind South Beach Residents Between Workouts and the jellyfish. See the story on http://www.miamiherald.com on how South Beach has become Jellyfish Fields lately. Photos by Peter Andrew Bosch.

Also somewhere on the sand Thursday morning was FIU's women's soccer team, engaging in a little team bonding before boarding the bus to DeLand. That's where they'll open the season against Stetson and Stetson's coach, former FIU player Julie Orlowski.

Often, when a coach says “team unity” is his or her team’s greatest strength, you can smell trouble at the door. An intangible as your lead superpower, especially when it’s the sports team version of “he’s a nice guy” or “she’s got a great personality?”

Usually, I can almost hear a Margo Channing-like voice murmuring, “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy season.”

Not the case with the women’s soccer team, where head coach Thomas Chestnutt unhesitatingly lists “team unity and willingness to work for one another” as their No. 1 asset and the Sun Belt coaches expect FIU to be a major player in the league. They voted FIU the conference’s second best team in the preseason poll and Chelsea Leiva as preseason Player of the Year.

Besides, they really are a cohesive bunch, at least off the field, i.e., even by the standards of college athletes, there’s a heavy amount of Twitter camaraderie among the players.

“We pretty much spend 24 hours together all the time,” sophomore midfielder Nicole DiPerna said. “We do a lot of team building activities.”

They’ll find out about themselves quickly. After the opener, they come home to face No. 9 Florida on Sunday. They host Akron Aug. 27 before the late-add Aug. 29 game against Florida Tech, a Division II Final Four team last year.

Check back here Friday night for results from upstate. Though I’ll be part of The Herald army at the Dolphins preseason game, I’ll try to get the score and some details up here as soon as possible.

Compared to last year, “I think we’re looking for consistency in our performance and a higher level of aggression in our play overall,” Chestnutt said.”We’re more technical than we’ve ever been, fitter than we’ve ever been. Now, it’s about consistency in performance. Also, just being more aggressive all over the field…Always looking to unbalance the other team and be able to attack the goal. Defensively, being aggressive to win the ball back as soon as the chance shows itself.”

To soccer fans of my ilk, it’s entertaining to watch that high pressure style for 90 minutes. It’s exhausting to face it and to play it. So, Chestnutt better be right about the conditioning.

“As a whole, we came in way better shape,” said senior midfielder Victoria Miliucci, who was voted team captain. “Expectations were higher in the summer leading into preseason, so everyone takes it way more seriously.

“I think it started last year, when her freshman class came in in really good shape,” she said, pointing at DiPerna. “It just goes through the whole team. Everyone’s competitive with each other. Nobody wants to be the one not pulling their weight.”

As for the technical improvement, Miliucci points to what Chestnutt calls “the strongest recruiting class” he’s had at FIU. Eight freshmen are on the roster.

“The new players who came in definitely have a lot of technical skill, individually,” Miliucci said. “We have a lot more players on the field that are really good with their feet, where before maybe we had a couple.”

Chestnutt also lauds Miliucci’s class.

“This class is the class that’s been through it for four years with me," he said. "Six to eight of them started as freshmen. They’ve been a big part of where this team has been. They’ve continued to bring it in.”

Now, it’s time to see what they and their younger teammates can bring home.

A punter with a highlight video? It's new FIU commit Chris Ayers, out of Hollywood South Broward.  

Off to finish my preseason football section stuff. Wish me caffeine.



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