Members of the military, veterans and families of those currently serving overseas can get two free tickets to Saturday's FAU-FIU game with military, veterans or family identification. Said identification should be shown at the University Credit Union Box Office, which opens at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Hours before their exhibition against Florida Memorial, the men's basketball team officially announced the signing of 6-4 swingman Milton Doyle out of Chicago's Marshall High for the class of 2012. Doyle's verbal committment was reported on the blog last month.
FIU head coach Isiah Thomas grew up in the part of Chicago where Marshall is located and his late brother Gregory Thomas played there. You might've recall Marshall as the school Arthur Agee went to in the documentary Hoop Dreams after suburban private school St. Joseph's booted him, allegedly for unpaid tuition. With Agee as one of the leaders, Marshall wound up going "down state" to the finals of the 1991 Illinois State High School tournament by upsetting perennial power King High.
The baseball team announced three signings Wednesday
Right-hander Michael Franco, out of Corpus Christi, Texas and Howard College, was named Most Valuable Pitcher in the Western Junior College Athletic Conference last season. Franco had a 10-2 record, 2.84 ERA, 88 strikeouts and 31 walks in 79 1/3 innings.
Reliever Reid Scoggins went 4-0 with a 4.59 ERA with 38 strikeouts and 24 walks in 33 1/3 innings for Howard. He had two saves. Another reliever, Tyler Sullivan, bounced from the University of West Florida to Weatherford Junior College, where he had 32 strikeouts and 13 walks in 28 innings, a 4.82 ERA and 2-1 record.
Defender Anthony Hobbs, named All-Conference USA First Team earlier this week, was named to Conference USA's All-Academic team Wednesday.
FIU's first match in the NCAA women's soccer tournament will be at Central Florida (11-4-5) Friday at 7 p.m. The winner faces the winner of Florida Gulf Coast (14-4-2) vs. Florida (16-7), both teams FIU lost to at home early this season. FIU lost to Florida 2-0 on Aug. 21, and Gulf Coast 3-2 on Sept. 9, the latter after holding a 2-0 lead.
FIU coach Thomas Chestnutt said UCF was perhaps the one team in Florida he didn't know much about, but "I'm not concerned about that. They're always a good team."
Besides, Chestnutt feels his team is "in a good place" mentally and physically. Certainly, since beating Western Kentucky on penalty kicks for the Sun Belt championship, they've been bathing in joy.
"It's been crazy," sophomore Nicole DiPerna said. "We've all been on such an emotional high for a while. We were at dinner (Saturday night at Toots) and were like, 'We actually won!' Coach told us to order anything we want and we kind of went crazy. Right know, walking in to see who we'd play, we felt like we were going to another game, we were all so excited and hyped."
Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton has been invited to the 2012 Senior Bowl, Jan. 28 in Mobile, Alabama. Hilton's the first FIU player to be invited to the event, attended by almost every NFL scout, coach and agent.
Though it seems the jelly's out of the donut on the football season after Saturday's touchdown-free loss at Western Kentucky, there's still, somehow, a shot at a bowl for FIU. Although, frankly, I don't think there's a better argument that there are too many bowls than a fourth place Sun Belt team getting in one.
Over the weekend, Tampa Alonso safety Jordan Davis verbally committed to FIU as did Titusville Astronaut quarterback Favian Upshaw.
Long snapper Mitch McCluggage sprained his knee Saturday. If he can't go Saturday, expect freshman Brandon Taylor to take that job so underrated by most fans...until their team suffers an ill-timed bad snap. Mario Cristobal said defensive tackle Joshua Forney was "ready to go this week" despite not playing Saturday but free safety Chuck Grace wasn't as close as they thought.
Defensive lineman James Jones did some extra drills after practice, a punitive measure for his unnecessary roughness penalty during Saturday's game. The penalty, after a third down stop, extended a Western Kentucky drive that eventually amounted to nothing, but in a defensive struggle, giving up 15 yards of field position is like giving up a 30-yard play in a normal game. On the game's most important call, the unnecessary roughness call on Isame Faciane that turned a Bobby Rainey 12-yard reception into a 27-yard play on the drive to the game-winning field goal.
"I just think that's playing hard football. At the end, it's a discretionary call. I'm not taking a shot at an official, they've got to call it as they see it," Cristobal said. "You're looking at two teams trying to find a way to win, trying to get their best player out of bounds. It wasn't like he took a shot at the young man or tried to hit him. He's trying to make sure he gets out of bounds and save us a few yards, whatever it may be, as they're trying to get into field goal range, that they're pushed back as far as they can be. That one's easy to talk about unless you're on the field and trying to hunt down that kid as fast as he is...that's a tough call."
Larry Milian, The Amigo on 640AM's "Armando and The Amigo" morning show (or, as this caffeine mainliner thinks it should be called since the addition of Chris Perkins, "Morning Sports Colada and Black Coffee"), will be doing the radio color on this week's FAU-FIU game. Rick Sanchez has a prior committment.
SWIMMING AND DIVING
Saturday: Drama Queens and Kings Day. The football team's loss in the late afternoon. The women's soccer team outlasting Western Kentucky on penalty kicks for the Sun Belt title earlier in the afternoon. And somewhere between all that, the swim team's meet with FAU and Florida Southern coming down to the 400 Free Relay.
Or, at least, that's how it seemed at the time.
Behind Stanley Cup playoff sudden death overtime, NFL playoff sudden death overtime and the last laps of a close auto race, I'll put a track or swim meet coming down to a final relay as the most exciting setup in sports. The speed and co-dependence involved might as well be an adrenaline IV to me. FIU trailed FAU by 12 and needed a 1-2 finish by their 400 Free Relay teams. So take the normal quality and depth involved in winning the relay and double it.
FIU's No. 1 team Vicnan Torres, Nadai Farrugia, Colleen Quinn and Johanna Gustafsdottir came home first in 3:35.89 and the No. 2 team of Kayla Derr, Kariann Stevens, Chelsie Kidd and Kelly Grace powered home in 3:37.05 to give FIU a 119-118 win over FAU (Florida Southern was drowned, 194.5-35.5).
FIU also won the 200 Medley Relay with Stevens, Sonia Perez Arau, Klara Andersson and Mariangela Macchiavello in 1:49.73; the 200 Back with Perez Arau in 2:02.66; and diving with Sabrina Beaupre rolling up 275.7 points.
But FAU protested the 200 Back result, claiming the electronic timing system showed Ivana Lefanowicz had outtouchced Perez Arau. Officials agreed and the reversal of the event meant FAU won the meet 123-114.
Well, at least one FIU team facing Western Kentucky in a defensive struggle got the job done in the clutch.
Freshman Johanna Volz probably barely knew what to do with her legs the only other time FIU made the NCAA tournament, in 1993. After all, she was 1.
Volz knew what to do with her kicking leg Saturday, burying the winning goal in a penalty kick shootout against Western Kentucky that gave FIU the Sun Belt title and an NCAA tournament bid.
"In penalty kicks, the shooter should theoretically score every time," FIU coach Thomas Chestnutt said. "But factor in the magnitue of hte game, fatigue and that goal starts to look smaller and the goalkeeper looks bigger."
On the philosophy that the first kick is the most important and wanting a cool head, Chestnutt chose senior defender April Perry. She got FIU off to a great start and Savage wound up stopping two penalties from Western.
After a scoreless regulation and overtime, FIU goalkeeper Kaitlyn Savage outdueled All-Sun Belt goalkeeper Libby Stout as FIU outscored Western 4-3 in kicks. Western outshot FIU 19-8 in regulation with all 19 shots coming after halftime.
"For a half, we had the better of a play," Chestnutt said. "In the second half, we were completely taken out of the game. In overtime, both teams had their chances.
"I'm just really proud of the girls, the way they fought. Credit to Western Kentucky, they did the same. Scarlett (Montoya) had a shot that one of their girls saved off the line."
Nicole DiPerna was named the tournament's outstanding player. Volz, Chelsea Leiva, Ashleigh Shim and Kim Lopez also made the All-Tournament team. Somehow, Stout was chosen over Savage as the all-tournament keeper. Yeah.
FIU's NCAA match will be announced Monday afternoon.
(For those wondering, it's my wife's birthday, so I wasn't in Bowling Green for the 10-9 football loss. There won't be an extensive postgame blog, at least not by me.)
Andre Fernandez here live at Houchens Industries - L.T. Smith Stadium at Western Kentucky Univrsity. I'll be filling in for David J. Neal for today's pivotal game between FIU and the Hilltoppers.
I'll be posting some scoring updates and key plays here. Feel free to comment if you wish. But I will mainly be tweeting so if you wanna follow me @AndreMHSports, that's where I'll be posting most of my updates.
FIU (5-3, 2-2 SBC) needs this one to stay near the top of the Sun Belt Standings and in realistic contention for a bowl berth. Western Kentucky (4-4, 4-1) comes in riding a 4-game winning streak.
Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State, the other two Sun Belt teams FIU is chasing are also in action this afternoon. I'll keep you posted on those games.
FIU drives into WKU territory, but settles for a Jack Griffin 40-yard FG. 3-0 FIU 11:36 left. Drive: 9 plays, 72 yards, 3:12.
FIU's Sam Miller recovers a fumble, but Panthers turn it back when Wesley Carecroll throws an INT. His fourth consecutive game with an INT.
WKU Kadeem Jones 2 yard run for TD. WKU 7-3. 5:08 left.
FIU Jack Griffin 34 yard FG. 7-6 WKU 0:38 left.
Teams have gone scoreless through second and third quarters.
WKU missed a field goal and FIU saw a promising drive come up short.
FIU driving as third quarter ends.
Jack Griffin 43 yard FG. 9-7 FIU 14:56 left.
Casey Tinius wins it for WKU with a 34-yard Field goal 10-9 WKU
Let's break it down -- FIU vs. Western Kentucky. Winner dances. Loser slumps home to cry in their chocolate.
Part I takes place in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on the campus of Middle Tennessee State. This would be the Sun Belt Conference tournament women's soccer championship. Standing between No. 2 seed FIU and an NCAA tournament bid as Sun Belt champion is No. 4 seed Western Kentucky. Now, I'd just offhand predict an FIU victory as the Panthers showed tremendous heart and leadership in turning their season around after several early games they controlled, but didn't win followed by a 7-0 wasting by Oregon State.
Remember my golf-auto racing analogy from the FIU-Arkansas State pregame post? Applied here would be a team spinning, heading for a low wall and an ugly fate. Instead, they didn't just survive, they kept it off the wall with a 2-1 win over Oregon two days after the Oregon State shellacking and motored to a 11-1-2 record since then. They pulled a team sport version of Danny Sullivan's Spin 'n' Win.
But keeping me from an instant prediction that FIU's train keeps a-rollin' is when the two teams met in the regular season both teams had 14 shots at goal, six shots on goal and no shots in the goal. Granted, that was at Bowling Green and this is a neutral site game. But Western lives by defense. In 21 games, the Lady Toppers (ridiculous name) have scored 29 goals and allowed only 17. FIU, with the same 13-6-2 record, has scored 33 goals and allowed 25. Granted, seven of those were in one game, so outside that game, the Panthers goals per game allowed almost equal Western's, 0.90 just above Western's 0.81. Western's Libby Stout got the All-Sun Belt goalkeeper spot.
I don't trust defense-heavy teams in big soccer games. They tend to get so tight, you want to feed them Ex-Lax like M&Ms. They forget that, at some point, you've got to score. I think back to how Italy, which hadn't attacked since World War II, faced wonderfully talented Brazil in the 1982 World Cup, they opened up and won 3-2. In the 1994 World Cup Final, Italy packed it in, barely had possession, got their 0-0 and lost on penalty kicks (as silly a way to decide a title as the shootout in hockey, which is as silly as counting points scored in college overtime the same in team and individual statistics as regulation point).
I say late in the first half, Chelsea Leiva sets up Ashleigh Shim for a goal. Western tries an early second half wave, but FIU's too good at possession. A counter goal puts FIU up 2-0. Forced out of a defensive posture, Western can't get what they want and only half of what they need. FIU comes home 2-1, wins the Sun Belt and a berth in the program's first NCAA tournament in 18 years.
At least, that's one black man's opinion. I could be wrong.
PART II -- FOOTBALL
Back when I was in elementary school, we had these Houghton-Mifflin readers. Early soft cover ones were named after animals such as "Tigers" and "Lions" then you moved up to hardcover books with names like "Rainbows," "Panorama" and "Kaleidoscope" with appropriately trippy 1970s art on the cover. The very first of these readers was "You Can Learn to Read."
I never stopped laughing at the cover and title -- "no kidding, did that three years ago," I thought -- but inside I suspect was the Western Kentucky offensive game plan.
It's the old Walter Payton game plan before the Bears collected quarterback Jim McMahon and the players for the 46 Defense: Walter right, Walter left, Walter up the middle, pass to Walter, halfback option pass from Walter, punt (or Walter quick kick). That's Rainey with Western Kentucky. He's even two for two passing for 48 yards and a touchdown.
Quarterback Kawaun Jakes completes 57.1 percent of his passes to Rainey and a receiving corps that's about as scary as undercooked pasta. Jakes' longest completion of the year is 42 yards...to Rainey, of course. Jakes can boast of a 39-yarder to Jack Doyle. By comparison, FIU has six players with a pass reception covering more than 42 yards.
Defensive tackle Joshua Forney's supposed to play, but is questionable on how many plays. I don't know if he plays much, if at all. If FIU's defensive tackles, especially Andre Pound and Isame Faciane, dominate inside, Rainey will find himself handicapped by having to carry linebacker Winston Fraser.
On offense, FIU needs to do what they do. In the Panthers case, that means swing from the heels and for the fences. Embrace the big play. If ever there was a game to get all your big play people on the field and touching the ball early, this afternoon in Bowling Green, Kentucky is it. Nothing sucks a little bit of heart out of a team than to grind and push the ball down the field for nothing or a field goal, then get socked back with a three-to-five play touchdown drive. That happens a couple of times and it slowly drains the resolve, drip by drip.
Early in the season, I was convinced we'd have seen a kickoff return for a touchdown by now, either by T.Y. Hilton or against FIU's porous kick coverage. No fools they (at least as far as kickoffs), teams tend to kick away from Hilton. On the other side, the Panthers have improved greatly on kick coverage. Stil, Western averages 27.3 yards per return and has two players, John Evans and Antonio Andrews over 29 yards per return.
Look for some quick openers early, maybe a counter or a misdirection. Western's athletic, but gives up 147.5 yards per game on the ground. And they have only 13 sacks. Look for Wesley Carroll to go deep after a few probing shots at Western.
FIU gets some early points, 10 maybe 14.Western uses special teams, probably a long kickoff return, to get back into it. Rainey breaks free and runs Western into position for the go-ahead score. That's when Jakes throws another interception. A few plays later, a bomb puts Western down. This time, unlike other times they've had 10-point season half leads, FIU finishes the job. They come home 27-14.
That's one black man's opinion, I could be wrong.
A sixth straight win, Friday’s 3-0 (25-17, 25-22, 25-18) blasting of Louisiana-Monroe, seems a good time to talk a little Bjelica.
(Photo by FIU's Maegan Azpiazu)
If you had to pick a pentathlon winner, the best athlete, from the volleyball team just on the eye test, you’d take hitter Jovana Bjelica, the Sun Belt Player of the Week each of the last two weeks. The 5-11 Bjelica possesses a look both sleek and mesomorphic, exuding explosiveness for the sprints and jumps and enough overall strength for the throwing events.
A peek at Bjelica’s genes certainly wouldn’t dissuade you. Dad played pro basketball. Mom sprinted for Yugoslavia’s national track team. Grandma played volleyball. And, yes, Bjelica tried the sprints, long jump and high jump when encouraged to run track as a teen.
“I was pretty good actually,” Bjelica said. “But that sport was boring. It wasn’t creative. You just know what you need to do. Nothing was changing. Not like here, in volleyball, everything is changing second to second.”
So, I felt comfortable assuming Bjelica’s superior athleticism produced her superior hitting ability when I asked FIU coach Danijela Tomic about that.
My assured spike got rejected.
“She’s not the tallest player, but she can jump, she’s very strong in her lower body,” Tomic said. “It’s not really physical. She has a very high volleyball IQ. That’s what separates her from other players. You can have a great athlete who can jump higher than her, can hit ball harder than her, but they don’t have same volleyball IQ.”
When I asked Tomic to explain how Bjelica uses her volleyball IQ, she elaborated, “She sees the block really well. Many hitters don’t see the block. She sees the other side of the court. For example, this past week (now, actually two weeks ago), the set was pretty tight, she had two blocks, she just tapped the ball, just played the ball off of the blocks so she could play it again. She didn’t try to swing it hard and get blocked, just intentionally soft hit or she could play it again or somebody behind in our defense. Or, if she sees two blocks, she’s going to use the outside hand of the hitter.”
Tomic pointed to Bjelica’s hitting percentage in her 31-kill match Oct. 21 against Arkansas State, when Bjelica pounded out the final points in a five-set win. In racking up the third most kills in FIU history, behind two matches by quadruple All-American Yamir Rosa, Bjelica’s hitting percentage was .424. That’s like knocking down 50 points on 60 pct. shooting from the field. Her situation recognition, Tomic said, made her hits count.
Athleticism did propel coaches to play Bjelica up – with 16-year-olds at 13, with grown women at 15 – once she took up volleyball. But, she felt her raw physical ability and knowledge of the game outdistanced weak fundamentals at 15.
Bjelica’s gotten on a roll even after losing main setter Renele Forde to a thigh injury in late September. Redshirt freshman Jessica Egan, also 6-2, adroitly assumed the position she’d shared with Forde. Friday, she got her second double-double of the season with 18 assists and 14 digs.
“Egan is doing an outstanding job right now, the way she runs the offense, she’s making really good decisions,” Tomic said. “Tactically, she’s doing a very good job. She’s developing the personality of a setter, a leader on the court. She’s getting more confidence because of the way she’s playing, the way her hitters are hitting. You can see it in her demeanor on the court. Egan’s one of the hardest working player on the team.
“I told Egan after that first weekend she played when Renele was injured, this position is hers to lose.”
Bjelica said, “Renele was older, she knew the game a little better. I think Egan is doing a great job. I’m really proud of her. She’s improved so much in the month she’s played. I think she’s doing great and I think she can do much better.”
Using the way Bjelica’s worked with Egan as an example, Tomic said, “If she wants to go into coaching. She could be a very good coach. She thinks the game. “
Told that, Bjelica laughed, “No. Definitely not. Much more fun to be a player than a coach. I wouldn’t like to do it as my career. After I finish here, I would go play professional, then come back here to be an assistant. But I don’t want that to be my career. That’s why I came here to finish school.”
She sees herself using her business degree to work in sports administration.
Huh. I’d always believed what I heard on “The White Shadow:” “Those who cannot do, teach. Those who cannot do or teach, administrate.”
So it continues to be with conference realignment. The Big East, originally put together as a big, sexy package of voluptuous TV markets to satiate television's college basketball lust of the late 1970s-early 1980s, now finds itself struggling to stay together as football dictates many schools' next move. Now, the Big East must put together a brew of schools that'll allow it to keep a BCS bid as well as the attentions of TV partners. It hunts for parts of Conference USA as the Southeastern Conference and ACC bulk up, the Big Ten and Big 12 solidify. Conference USA gets into an alliance with Mountain West to bond through bulk if not strength (that reminds me of Maryland teammates and road roomies Darryl Hill, the ACC's first black football player, and Jerry Fishman, the lone Jewish player on the team, bonding to help each other through the mine fields of the day. Fishman summarized it on an HBO documentary as Hill helping him get through economics class and he keeping an eye out for Hill on the practice field and in society).
Nobody knows how long anything's going to take. The Big East wants to make West Virginia go through the legal separation before divorce while West Virginia just wants to split. If some moves get held up, gridlock could ensue for other moves.
So where does this leave FIU, now in the Sun Belt Conference, which is on the bottom of the food chain?
"We're trying to talk to as many people as possible just to see what the landscape is like -- and the landscape is constantly shifting," FIU athletic director Pete Garcia said Friday morning. "We're looking for what's best for the university, not just the athletic department. But we're going to be proactive."
FIU's already got a toe in Conference USA, the Panthers men's soccer affiliation. Yet they're not exactly ready to say "see ya!" to the Sun Belt yet, either. Certainly, the Conference USA-Mountain West blob would love to get some of the South Florida television market. Nobody's saying FIU is the University of Miami, Ohio or Coral Gables. Both as an athletic and football program, it's going through adolescence. But having a conference that fat without a footprint in a football area like Florida seems illogical. Same thing with Texas, which is why the conventional wisdom is North Texas to Conference USA to replace SMU (Dallas-Fort Worth area replacing Dallas-Fort Worth area) and FIU to replace UCF (massive school, growing program in South Florida replacing massive school, growing program in Mid-Florida).
I've said all along I expect FIU's next move to be to Conference USA. But geography matters for jack anymore, especially if we have a bunch of superconferences. Basketball teams might play each other only once each season, thus reducing the geographic consideration for travel. So FIU's next move might be to a conference based far, far away. Or, once the plates stop shifting and the earthquakes end, FIU might find they really can't improve their lot by moving. In that case, you don't move. Stay in the Sun Belt.
Will it leave them outside the velvet rope of whatever big boy football party created by some of the bulked up conferences? Maybe. Might any move they make leave them outside the velvet rope, just in a different spot? Maybe. But, as we've seen this year, there's little permanence in collegiate alliances.
You might've seen senior guard DeJuan Wright hobbling around campus on crutches Friday. Wright said trainers are just being cautious today with the knee he sprained in August and he would be fine for this week's exhibitions.
On Senior Night, two freshmen and a sophomore gave FIU a 3-2 win over Florida Gulf Coast to close out the season at 5-8-2.
Goals by freshmen Andri Alexandersoon and Colby Burdette sandwiched Florida Gulf Coast goals to send the game headed for overtime at 2-2. It never got there as sophomore Nicolas Rodriguez-Fraile struck in the 88th minute.
So ended the sayonara for Nicholas Chase, Lucas Di Croce, John Kite, Leonardo Martinez, Mario Uribe, Jahbari Willis and Chris Lamarre.
"Overall, I have to thank them for being part of the rebuilding of the program," coach Munga Eketebi said. "With what we've been through (playing without the full complement of scholarships), we are very close. I feel bad that they're going to miss out on the final touch."
When I asked him for prideful moments from this class, Eketebi pointed to this year's games against ranked teams such as UCF (0-0), SMU (2-1 overtime loss), Kentucky (1-0 win) and Alabama-Birmingham (0-0): "We've demonstrated we can hang with anybody."
In such games, you can't help but wonder what could've been had the Panthers had either of their top two goal scorers from last year. Well, actually, they had Rodriguez-Fraile, but injuries limited him to four games. He still managed three goals and an assist. The real world came calling for Michael Muehseler while he still had eligibility left.
"He got a job with a Swiss bank and he had to take it," Eketebi said. "He graduated in December and had done an internship with the bank. He was a 4.0 student. At first, they told him 'We're going to hire you upon graduation' but they decided not to wait."
40 degrees with a wind chill in the 30s. Raining. And down 1-0 to a good team that was controlling play.
That's the situation FIU's women's soccer team found itself in during the Sun Belt Semifinals against Denver Thursday evening. Yet instead of checking out when the book says Florida-based teams are supposed to do so, they checked in with a game-tying goal by Ashleigh Shim before halftime and two more, from Johanna Volz and Nicole DiPerna, for a 3-1 win that puts them in Saturday afternoon's final against the North Texas-Western Kentucky winner.
A win Saturday and FIU's in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Catherine Liller-Sue Moy Chin 1993 team got into the NCAAs and ran into North Carolina (which, back then, was kind of like running into the Bullettrain).
After Denver took a 1-0 lead, FIU coach Thomas Chestnutt said, "It seemed like we woke up. Our level of determination and pride went up."
Chestnutt called Shim's game-tying goal "probably one of the nicest goals we've scored all season." Chelsea Leiva took a pass from April Perry, then found Shim making "a fantastic weak side run," Chestnutt said.
In that weather, it figures that FIU's Pacific Northwest import, Portland native Volz, would get the game-winner. "Chelsea put another brilliant ball to Johanna. The goalkeeper made a good save, but Johanna finished the play. We talk all the time about constantly finishing the play. That's something we've struggled to do all year."
DiPerna's goal came off a penalty kick awarded for a hand ball in the box. Keeper Kaitlyn Savage made the lead last long enough for FIU's season to extend to Saturday. Denver, which will be leaving the Sun Belt, knocked FIU out of the tournament last season, 1-0.
"Last year against them (Denver) in the second half, it was 10 shots to one and they scored late," Chestnutt said. "It made it better that we had to go through them. I told their caoch, I'm disappointed that we're not going to be playing them anymore in the regular season. I think we bring out the best in each other."
FIU opened a three-point favorite at Western Kentucky and has stayed there on most boards. Translation: not much money coming down on either side as serious bettors, the hardcore handicappers, really aren't sure about this game. It's a Sun Belt game. Western's at home and is having a season that surprises most. But they've surely seen FIU more, know that the Panthers have harnessed most opposing running backs and also have made or lost a dime on the Panthers' inconsistency.
Sources at Camp Mitch say Haines City linebacker Josh Glanton verbally committed to FIU Tuesday night, though he hasn't made an official visit to FIU. Glanton, 6-2, 210, could be used as an outside linebacker/defensive end, but also middle linebacker.
Despite Dieugot Joseph's Tweets that have all but declared he's coming to FIU, the 6-6 defensive end out of Orlando Freedom High hasn't made an official verbal commitment yet.
First half goals by Kim Lopez and April Perry moved FIU past Arkansas State 2-0 in the first game of the Sun Belt Conference tournament Wednesday at Middle Tennessee State.
"We did well taking advantage of our first half chances, disrupting their play, then sealed them off and got the win," coach Thomas Chestnutt said. "What we stressed to the team -- it's tournament time. You just have to find a way to get results. It doesn't matter how ugly it is, it doesn't matter how pretty it is."
That's because FIU's only chance of making the NCAA tournament lay in winning the Sun Belt tournament. FIU now plays Denver tomorrow at 5 p.m. Before Denver beat South Alabama Wednesday afternoon, I asked Chestnutt about Denver, which has both the Sun Belt Player of the Year Kristen Hamilton and a 1-0 loss at FIU this season.
"They're a possesison-oriented team. When we played them at our place, I think we had slightly more possession -- 52-48, 51-49," Chestnutt said. "We generally outpossess other teams. It's two teams who are philosophically somewhat similar. We feel like we match up well with them."
Chestnutt did have two minor beefs. He didn't like that North Texas, the Sun Belt regular season champion by a half game over FIU, didn't have to make up a rained-out match with South Alabama. A North Texas loss or tie would've given FIU the regular season title.
That only came up as he answered me about the lack of FIU players on the All-Sun Belt First Team, especially compared to Denver (4), North Texas (3) and Western Kentucky (3). FIU? 1, defender April Perry.
"Certainly, we look around the conference and say, "You know what? We have some good players,'" Chestnutt said. "We don't produce big time numbers in stats. The way we play, it's rare that you're going to have big time numbers in goals.
Also, he said, the Panthers tough non-conference schedule doesn't allow them to pump up their stats by pumping in a bunch of goals on demonstrably weaker opponents.
"But I think the (other schools') players who recevied votes certainly are quality players and deserving as well."
SWIMMING & DIVING
Junior freestyle swinner Mariangela Macchiavello, a Peruvian native out of Bradenton Prep, helped set two Peruvian records at the Pan-American Games as a member of both the 400 and 800 Meter Freestyle Relay teams. In the 4:00.06 400 Free Relay, she swam a 58.8 split. She had 2:11.00 of the 8:35.50 800 Free Relay.
Wish the Scorpio swimmer a happy birthday if you run into her Sunday.
6-9 Wendale Glinton from Lake Worth, a junior at Grandview Prep after starting at Lake Worth High, has verbally committed to FIU for 2013. Glinton plays center, although he'll have to bulk up to play any position at the college level. He weighs "210, 215. I've got to get up to 250," he said Tuesday night.
Glinton has played AAU ball with Amar'e Stoudemire's Each 1 Teach 1 AAU basketball program.
The first game of the Sun Belt Tournament, which begins Wednesday at 11 a.m. Eastern time, in Murfreesboro, Tenn., is FIU vs. Arkansas State. Tuesday night, the Sun Belt announced their regular season awards at a get-all-gussied-up banquet.
Freshman of the Year went to forward Ashleigh Shim, the third consecutive FIU player to win the award, succeeding forward Chelsea Leiva (2010) and goalkeeper Kaitlyn Savage (2009). The Jacksonville Sandalwood graduate had four goals and three assists, second in scoring to Leiva's five goals and six assists.
FIU missed the regular season conference title by only a half-game. Yet,the All-Sun Belt First Team had four players from Denver, three from North Texas, three from Western Kentucky and one, senior defender April Perry, from FIU. Shim, Leiva, Savage and senior midfielder Kelly Hutchinson were named to the Second Team. The conference's 12 coaches selected the teams.
The headline, one of the few times I'll refer to FIU Stadium by its given nickname, pretty much says it all: game time for The Shula Bowl between FIU and FAU on Alfonso Field at FIU Stadium will be 6 p.m., Nov. 12.
Wide receiver Glenn Coleman's bruised ribs apparently have healed and he'll be fine for Saturday at Western Kentucky. Defensive tackle Joshua Forney (sprained knee) and free safety Chuck Grace (sprained knee) both are day-to-day -- officially. Grace was fielding punts out of pads before the Troy game and Cristobal allowed that he'll probably play Saturday. It's no accident FIU's pass defense, lowlighted by a gold kryptonite vulnerability to the play action pass, went into a recession when Grace went down before the season's fourth game.
SWIMMING & DIVING
For the second consecutive week, Sabrina Beaupre has been named the Sun Belt's Women's Diver of the Week.
Beaupre won the 1-meter and 3-meter competitions at FIU's meet with North Florida, Campbell and FAMU Saturday in Jacksonville.