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35 posts from November 2012

November 11, 2012

Volleyball gets Western

In Sun Belt volleyball's version of "last hired, first fired," FIU fought gallantly to get into the tournament as a No. 8 seed so must face No. 1 seed Western Kentucky Thursday at 6 p.m.

That's "29-3 Western Kentucky." That's "15-0 in the Sun Belt this season" Western Kentucky. That's "on a 21-match winning streak" Western Kentucky (heck, FIU's only played 28 matches). That's also "hosting the tournament" Western Kentucky.

Oh, well. Maybe there's a good place in Bowling Green for chitterlings (or "chitlins" or "Kentucky oysters" as my family used to call them).

As expected in Boston, The Branch

On FIU's first basketball Sunday it was men down, women up, Coley cool.

FIU's women dusted North Florida, 63-44 at The Branch. Junior guard Jerica Coley put up 19 points, nine rebounds, an FIU-record nine blocks, five assists, four steals and only one turnover in 40 minutes. Marita Davydova put up 14 points and Zsofia Labady had 11. 

Earlier Sunday, FIU put the pressure on Boston College with a second-half run to tie the game 65-65 with more than eight minutes left. But BC kicked it home to win 84-70. Freshman Jerome Frink, playing undersized and inside, had 22 points and 10 rebounds. He was nine of nine from the free throw line and the team shot 15 of 19. Four of Malik Smith's five field goals were three-pointers.


Basketball season begins today; volleyball season keeps going

The basetball season opens today with sort of an FIU doubleheader except the games are in different cities.

Of course new FIU men's coach Richard Pitino begins his college coaching career with a game at Boston College. It follows Pitino's life pattern that's seen New England be a place of beginnings and transitions. He was born there while his dad was Boston University head coach. He went to Saint Sebastian's School, then Providence College. His first true assistant's job was at Northeastern.

Then, at 6 p.m. at The Branch, FIU's women host North Florida in what should be the first victory of another 20-win season. What FIU's athletic department would love to see, in addition to the win, would be a stellar statistical game by guard Jerica Coley. They're all set to campaign for Coley to get full All-America recognition after she was an Honorable Mention last year. When FIU says "posterize" with Coley, it means putting the junior on posters as a shining symbol of FIU's athletics.


A week and a half ago, if Nick Silver had been asked about the probability math on FIU's chances of getting into the Sun Belt Conference tournament, his summary likely would've been "Worse than Romney."

The plane crash sequence of events necessary involved 8-18 FIU beating FAU; Troy, which was 9-4 in the Belt and 19-10 overall; and completing a series of South Alabama losses by beating the Jaguars Saturday night at The Branch.

Friday, FIU beat Troy 3-1 (25-23, 25-20, 14-25, 25-21) as junior Kimberly Smith, freshman Lucia Castro and senior Marija Prsa ran up 40 kills. Smith also had six blocks, second for FIU behind sophomore Silvia Carli's seven. Senior Ryanne Milligan had 18 digs.

The day before FIU trounced FAU, South Alabama lost to middling Middle Tennessee (7-8, 10-22). USA followed with the predictable 3-0 loss to 29-3 Western Kentucky. Friday night, USA lost to FAU 3-2.

But, Saturday night, USA took a 2-0 lead on FIU. One set from extinction, the Panthers took the third 25-19, the fourth 25-20 and got hte last two points from 13-13 to clinch a spot in the Sun Belt tournament. Marija Prsa had 19 kills and 10 digs. Smith added 16 kills. Castro had 13 kills and 112 digs, freshman Ashlee Hodgskin had 38 assists, 10 digs and three service aces. Levorin had six blocks and Milligan had 29 digs.


Yeah, sure, it'll be the Western Kentucky Beatdown Invitational but getting in the tournament's an achievement for a team that's crashed through the season after losing its best player, Jovana Bjelica, in warmups before the season opener.

November 08, 2012

Coyle Sun Belt Golfer of the Month; Pitt still coming in '14

Wednesday, the Sun Belt announced an FIU club swinger as Golfer of the Month for the second consecutive month, junior Shelby Coyle getting the honor a month after freshman Meghan MacLaren.

Coyle was medalist at the Rainbow Wahine Invitational this month. As a team, FIU's won three of four tournaments this season.


Chiapanther -- yes, Pitt's still on the home schedule for 2014.

November 07, 2012

Dates for FIU-Maryland football

FIU will open the 2013 season at Maryland on Aug. 31. Then after a two-season hiatus, Maryland will return the favor Sept. 10, 2016. Unless, that is, they try to buy their way out of the agreement.


November 06, 2012

Men's soccer all-conference picks

FIU men's soccer, 8-1-1 outside Conference USA, but 0-7-1 in C-USA, didn't place anyone on the all conference First Team. The Panthers did, however, put leading scorer Quentin Albrecht on the Second Team, three players on the Thirrd Team and two players on the All-Freshman team.

Albrecht, whose 10 goals and 23 points were the most for FIU since 2002, was fourth in points and goals in C-USA. Freshman midfielder Daniel Gonzalez, senior defender Anthony Hobbs and senior defender Jo Dawkins were named to the Third Team. Gonzalez, out of Killian High, and goalkeeper Robin Spiegel, who started every game this season, were on the All-Freshman team.

Crabcakes, baby...

Maryland likely will fill out FIU's 2013 football schedule. With Baltimore in one direction, Washington, D.C. in the other and College Park being OK if you're feeling lazy, it counts as a good road trip for fans.


November 05, 2012

Hunt gets Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Week

FIU senior linebacker Jordan Hunt led the team in tackles Saturday against South Alabama, caused a fumble, broke up two passes on third down plays inside the FIU 10 and ended USA hopes with an interception inside the final 10 seconds.

For those efforts, Hunt was named Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Week, the first player of the week award won by an FIU player this season.

November 04, 2012

Women's soccer's season ends; Hilton's happy

In a loser-goes-home Sun Belt Conference title match Sunday afternoon, FIU lost to North Texas 1-0 on a goal in the 63rd minute. FIU got outshot 21-9 and 14 of those North Texas shots came in the second half.

FIU ends the season 13-6-2.


Is it irony or appropriate that T.Y. Hilton's first big NFL game came against his hometown team which twice passed him over in the third round of the NFL Draft?

Hilton had 102 receiving yards and a touchdown for Indianapolis Sunday against the Dolphins. Ironically (no question here), the snallish Hilton's touchdown came by outjumping defenders while he dropped a sure touchdown on the play he outran the Dolphins secondary.

A few thoughts on FIU 28, South Alabama 20

You could almost see the exhale on the face of each person wearing an FIU polo around Ladd-Peebles Stadium. With reason.

What’s frustrating about this season for FIU is it’s not as if they’ve just been abysmal overall.  Each week, they’ve flashed the football team they expected to be for a quarter or a half. That makes each loss more crushing. And brought such relief Saturday.

The first half, FIU crushed the newcomers to FBS and the Sun Belt, devouring massive chunks of yards as effortlessly as Galactus sucks down an asteroid. Particularly the left side of the line, where Caylin Hauptmann and David Istanich work, pried open holes through which Kedrick Rhodes raced. Rhodes said after the game he was 80 percent back, not bad for a running back who admitted he’s been nursing two sprained ankles.

Rhodes isn’t the only one who thought FIU might have to pass to set up the run. Wide receiver Jacob Younger said they were told South Alabama plays a lot of man coverage, so the wideouts had to win those battles. In the first half, when the wide receivers did, FIU looked unstoppable. With the running game going, Younger and Willis Wright cruised to touchdown passes off play action. Younger made a nice brake-slide-jump move to outmaneuver cornerback Darrius Morrow for a slightly underthrown bomb and a 35-yard gain to set up another score.

That was the last first down pass FIU threw other than a poorly run flea flicker to a triple-covered Younger in the third quarter. FIU played rope-a-dope in the second half – two first downs, 31 yards of offense. South Alabama started sitting on the give to the running back. Rhodes’ pregame shot wore off. Darian Mallary didn’t have it Saturday. Medlock ran for a touchdown in the first half, but got hammered a few times early in the second half, slowing him down. With FIU almost refusing to pass on first down, this left the Panthers living at second or third in long most of the second half. Receivers weren’t beating coverage as they did in the first half. And some of the route running and improvisation was, well….On one play, as Medlock stepped outside the pocket, three receivers not only adjusted late, but ran so close together that with the defensive backs, it looked like a mini-flash mob doing the Thriller video dance.

Fortunately for FIU, the defense held South Alabama to two field goals after the Jaguars opened the second half swinging, connecting on a 75-yard bomb to Corey Besteda behind Junior Mertile (Mertile got grounded to the sideline after that). They gave up yards. South Alabama clearly noticed that FIU sometimes had trouble setting the edge against Western Kentucky and got T.J. Glover and Terrance Timmons around the left flank early. And tight end Wes Saxon led a pride of Jaguar receivers who nestled into the soft spot in FIU’s middle area coverage. Ross Metheny went 19 of 37 for 270 yards and a touchdown and ran for 56 yards (really 68 yards on six carries – that colleges count sacks as part of the rushing total is archaic and stupid). I’m not sure why FIU doesn’t play a more aggressive coverage in the short zones against quarterbacks unlikely to beat them downfield.

Though the defense gave up more than you might expect, they also got turnovers and timely plays. They created fumbles (Winston Fraser, Jordan Hunt), hung onto interceptions (Johnathan Cyprien, Hunt again), broke up passes. It wasn’t just defense by offensive failure. And USA showed a lack of composure at perhaps the pivotal sequence in the second half.

Down 28-17 with second and goal at the 4, Metheny seemed to have trouble getting the play from the sideline. He called USA’s second timeout of the half. Then, Metheny, with way too much time for down there, found Brynt Lavender near the goal line. Lavender’s dive for the pass landed him on the goal line. I thought he was in, but heard later that the replay showed his right shoulder was in while the ball was still outside the goal line.

Third and less than a yard for a touchdown. Demetre Baker, a running back lined up at tight end, jumped early. That pushed USA back to just outside the 5. More trouble with the play, more confusion. USA blew its last timeout. Jordan Hunt almost picked off Metheny on third down. USA took the field goal.

Now this is where coach control freakness, particularly at the college level, costs teams badly. Bad enough that you’re having problems getting a play in when it’s this late in the season and you’re not exactly playing in Death Valley. But blowing a timeout instead of taking a delay of game penalty? Bad trade. You’ve only got three timeouts and, in a close game, odds are, you’ll need them. It was the worst wasting of timeouts I’ve seen during an FIU game and that’s saying something, considering how FIU will call a timeout if the blades of grass lean an unexpected way.

Why not just do something wacky and just let the quarterback, who should be well versed in your offense and personnel, call the daggone play? Because coaches, instinctively, are risk averse. College coaches feel out of control as it is – much of your job relies on getting a bunch of 18-to-22-year-old men to go to class, stay out of trouble and do what they’re supposed to do on a football field. To let even the best of those kids decide what path the team will take in an important situation goes against instincts.

(Which is why FIU coaches get some big ups for letting the defense talk them into challenge a ruling that Baker was down before he fumbled in the third quarter. Winston Fraser dough-popped Baker, the ball came out, Sam Miller jumped on it while officials were signaling Baker was down. The whole defense mimed throwing a challenge flag. Greg Hickman was still doing it as he lined up with the punt team. FIU challenged and the call got reversed, their first challenge win of the season.)

Knee jerk conservatism also got FIU a break when USA decided to take the field goal on fourth and 4 from the FIU 6 with 5:17 left. The previous field goal made sense – early in the fourth and the Jaguars could figure they’d be back near the goal line with the way they were moving the ball. And, indeed, they were back. Hunt, who should get Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Week consideration, knocked away a third down pass with Saxon open in the end zone.

If USA goes for it and gets it, they have a shot at tying the game. If they don’t get it, an FIU offense that hasn’t moved the ball starts inside its own 10. With a field goal, they would’ve kicked off, FIU likely gets the ball in better field position and the Jaguars still would need a touchdown.

That’s with a made field goal. The Jaguars missed the chip shot. And FIU, starting at the 20, went three and out.

Still, it worked out for FIU. Sort of like the game overall.

November 03, 2012

Gameday X: FIU at South Alabama

It’ll be interesting to see if FIU takes as long to get off the ground Saturday as their plane did Friday. A two-hour delay got them into Mobile a few hours later than planned. The same thing happened on the way to Louisiana-Lafayette. Some at FIU don’t want to tip Allegiant Air, but rather run the tip of something sharp through Allegiant Air.

Though South Alabama’s only in its fourth season of football, it’s in a talent thick area with in-state competition for local talent from Alabama, Auburn, Troy and Alabama-Birmingham. So, they’re going to get some OK players. The only Sun Belt team to truly give South Alabama the what for is Troy, 31-10, in USA’s Sun Belt debut. Since then, the Jaguars lost by seven to Arkansas State, beaten FAU in double overtime and lost by 14 to Louisiana-Monroe.

Though coach Joey Jones said Monday, in essence, the offense is catching up to the defense, the numbers in USA’s four conference games, say the phrase “catching up” is being used looser than the belts on some ghetto kids’ jeans. USA has the worst scoring defense in conference games; and is last in total offense and pass offense. USA’s giving up a respectable 3.9 yards per carry, almost a full yard better than the 4.7 allowed by the blue and gold team giving up the most yards per carry in the Sun Belt. They’ve allowed a Sun Belt-worst 68.0 percent completion percentage and 8.3 yards per attempt. The only other Sun Belt team allowing that in conference games? Middle Tennessee. Look how FIU lit them up downfield.

Add it up and FIU should take it to USA early and often through the air off play action, after a few reminder runs. Quarterback Jake Medlock’s foot seems to be healing enough that he’s back to being a running threat. Sure, Medlock running makes all wearing FIU colors gulp air (and perhaps a shot), but Medlock’s gotten his worst hurts this year in the pocket.

Defensively, FIU looked terrific last week – one real scoring drive allowed, two fourth down stops -- against a Western offense that’s been putting up points despite their limited quarterback. South Alabama’s Ross Metheny has thrown six touchdowns and only two interceptions the last three games, but he’s only rushed for 70 yards in four conference games this season. FIU’s been hounding the quarterback lately with 10 sacks in three games after only three sacks in the first six. Put that together and I’d bet more on the Jaguars working Demetre Baker, who had his first 100-yard rushing game of the season, 115 on 14 carries, against ULM. Western held FIU to six points, but the South Alabama coaches surely realize that’s so far from the norm as to be an almost irrelevant statistical anomaly for FIU this season, especially with Medlock at quarterback. The Jaguars won’t want to get into a track meet with the Panthers. They’ll want to limit possessions with long drives, as Western did, because they know keeping FIU off the scoreboard as Western did is a longshot.

Don’t be surprised if Shae Smith’s doing the longsnapping today after two weeks of Mitch McCluggage grounders leading to two game-changing touchdowns. If you’re a long snapper and you can’t sell don’t-think-about-it dependability, you don’t have a job.

Huh: there hasn’t been a punt return or kickoff return touchdown in a Sun Belt conference game this season. I’m not saying either will happen today, as South Alabama doesn’t do either particularly well and FIU’s put the dramatic peril of a Bond movie action sequence into the punt return. Just kind of something I found interesting.

I’ll stay with my preseason pick of FIU. Call it 27-13.

But that’s just one black man’s opinion. I could be wrong.


Why they're here

Promised this post earlier on Twitter. But, travel and soccer delayed it until now. So...

Today at FIU men's basketball media day, I asked several players why they came or stayed at FIU. While FIU's got a new coach, it has neither a great tradition, a "college town" feel nor great atmosphere at games.

But just like everybody's somebody's hottie, there's a reason for players from every school.

Center Joey De La Rosa, who had originally told me he wanted to transfer after the firing of Isiah Thomas: "I wanted to stick around and see how everything was going to be. I had a lot of schools calling me, but I didn't want to move to a different school. I've been doing that my whole high school career. I went to St. Raymond's in the Bronx, went to Impact Academy in Las Vegas, I went to Mount Vernon in Orlando. I didn't want to do that anymore. I just wanted to stick to the plan."

De La Rosa said it was a decision he and his family made. Pitino told De La Rosa if he wanted to be part of FIU's program, he needed to lose weight and tighten up physically, which he did.

Malik Smith, junior college transfer, who said North Texas, Sam Houston State, Bradley, Rhode Island, Tulsa and Utah State were among the schools who had talked to him: "When Coach Pitino called, it just felt like the perfect opportunity. Him coming off the Final Four (as a Louisville assistant) and just knowing the recipe of winning, I felt like it was a good situation.

"My visit was the first time I came here and I fell in love with it. Coming from Boston, where it's always cold, I just fell in love with it the first time."

Tymell Murphy, junior college transfer: "I had just come off a visit with another school. I wasn't sure what I was going to do. I knew I still had time, but the clock was ticking. The call from Coach Pitino made me confident I was going to decide to come to FIU. I just felt that Coach Pitino has the experience and the situation was new to him and was going to be new to me. I felt if I'm going to make a decision to come anywhere, then a new situation is probably the best situation to go to.

Murphy, a Brooklyn native, said he'd never been to Florida. The closest he'd been was four hours in Altanta between flights.

November 02, 2012

Women's soccer climbs past Middle to meet North Texas at the top

Unlike the football team, which planned to be at the FIU-Middle Tennesssee State Sun Belt Conference women's soccer semifinal but got into Mobile late after a two-hour delay in Fort Lauderdale, my flight got me into Mobile ahead of schedule. So, I had a choice -- grab dinner and hit the hotel or race over to catch the last 30 minutes of FIU vs. Middle regulation.

I chose the game. Hope I chose my Lotto numbers as well. It was the kind of finish that would've given the football team an extra bounce that would've stayed with them through Saturday.

Junior Kim Lopez's second goal of the game, 5:34 into sudden death overtime, gave FIU a 2-1 win against Middle Friday night. Lopez's goal, off a feed from Chelsea Leiva after Leiva spun around a Middle defender then drove deep right of the goal to draw the goalkeeper to her, came after the Blue Raiders almost won the game twice late in regulation. Middlle hit the right post on a hopeful long ball and FIU sophomore Marie Egan cleared a header from Regina Thomas off the line in the final minute of regulation. Both teams had back-to-back corner kicks in the last 14 minutes of regulation.

"I saw Chelsea make the run and I was just trying to get to the box, get myself open," Lopez said. "I screamed for it. The ball came kind of bouncy. I took a touch and I tried to lean over it. I struck it well. The goalkeeper (Jessica Gilchrist), the defender was kind of in front of her, blocking her."

FIU hadn't beaten Middle in Chestnutt's six seasons as coach. During the regular season, FIU lost 3-1.

"When we knew Middle was coming up in the regular season game, we knew that was a big game to prove ourselves. Unfortunately, we fell short the first game," freshman defender Jazmin Jones said. "We told ourselves this time, 'we don't care what happened in the past. It doesn't matter anymore. We're coming out here, we're going to win this game and we're going to show them who's better."

Jones said FIU began the game playing balls over the Middle defense because they were playing so high, then shifted to playing to feet on the wings, particularly Lopez ("All Day Kim!" laughed Jones). Working off the left side, Lopez ate up the Middle back line, a tall, broad group that can look lumbering or gawky when dealing with Lopez's shiftiness. 

Lopez scored in the first minute, also off an assist from Leiva. Middle got its goal off a penalty kick -- "An absolutely bad call, they actually fouled our keeper," FIU coach Thomas Chestnutt said -- following a hand ball call in the area. Chestnutt acknowledged that Middle had the better of it late in the first half.

"We feel we controlled a large part of the second half," he continued. "The rhythm passing was much better. Chelsea got in on a one-on-one, she hit it right to the keeper, the keeper makes the save. She hits the corner after that, heads it, they make the save. So we had opportunities that were starting to come. Then, late, they got a couple of opportunities. They've got some very dangerous players on their team. The No. 8 (Tori Hawkins), 10 (Kate Loye) and 12 (Paige Goeglein) are fantastic players for them and did a good job tonight.

"We talk about this doing One More -- one more sprint, one more tackle, find one more opportunity," he continued. "Tonight, the ladies did it. It was the first time beating MTSU since I've been here. We've lost every time to them and they've always scored multiple goals."

Now, FIU, the 2011 Sun Belt tournament champions, face top seed North Texas Sunday for the championship and the right to go to the NCAA tournament. When the two teams met in the regular season at North Texas, it ended 1-1.



Men's Ball Media Day

Richard Pitino spoke to a media corps even lighter on cameras than usual with the Marlins managerial announcement of Mike Redmond a couple of hours later tractor beaming media to Little Havana.

Much of what Pitino said appeared in The Herald last week or will appear in The Herald Tuesday in our FIU college preview story. He said he and his father, Louisville coach Rick Pitino, actually talk (or text) more now, asking each other how practice is and such. "I think he's like most fathers -- not worried, but he wants to kjnow what's going on with his son, how he's doing, making sure he's checking up on me. Their program has always been my life. And certainly FIU's become almost his life a little bit."

Pitino said about the 30-pound slimmer Joey De La Rosa, who is also down to 11 percent bodyfat from 18 percent, "Thing I love about Joey is he's got heart, he's a dreamer. Joey thinks one day he's going to be playing at the highest highest level. He's going to work extremely hard, listen to everything you say. He's still got a ways to go, but from when I took the job until now, he's improved tremendously."

I'll have another post later from De La Rosa on why he stayed and some of the transfers on why they came to FIU. 


November 01, 2012

Football & futbol in Mobile; the team of the fall

Darian Mallary will continue to get the majority of snaps at running back Saturday at South Alabama with Kedrick Rhodes spelling him occasionally. Don't look for senior Jeremiah Harden.

The game won't be televised or streamed. So, it's FIU radio or Twitter (I'm at http://twitter.com/DavidJNeal)


Last Friday night, the Western Kentucky football team turned out en masse to support their volleyball sisters at The Branch against FiU. A 7 p.m. start will be a little late for the FIU football team to do the same Friday night in Mobile for the women's soccer team against Middle Tennessee State in the Sun Belt Tournament semifinal.

Middle, which tied North Texas and FIU for the regular season title, dropped the Panthers 3-1, FIU's last loss. Beating Middle Friday would set up a Saturday showdown with the winner of No. 1 seed North Texas and Western Kentucky, which FIU beat last year in a shootout for the Sun Belt championship.

"North Texas for us is always more of a physical battle. It's always more of an aggressive game," junior forward Chelsea Leiva said. "Aganist Middle Tennessee, you have to keep the ball a lot more. If not, they will create opportunities." 

"Middle Tennessee is far more of a possession team. whereas North Texas just likes to hit the ball forward. They don't look to possess the ball, they just counterattack," sophomore midfielder Nicole DiPerna said Monday, still dressed as a Star Wars stormtrooper and as "Stayin' Alive" played in the background.

I fought off the 1977 flashback to ask how she analyzed the loss to Middle and the 1-1 with North Texas.

"I don't think either of them were our best game," DiPerna said. "We didn't keep possession as much as we'd like nor were we getting open as we have the past several games." 


So far, the most successful team of the fall has been women's golf, which won its third team title at the Rainbow Wahine Invitational on the 6,2228-yard Leilehua Golf Course in O'ahu, Hawaii. Junior Shelby Coyle was medalist, the third such one for FIU this year.

Wouldn't have guessed that as November began women's golf would have more team event wins and more medalist wins than the football team would have wins. 


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