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22 posts from March 2014

March 21, 2014

Perez 13th at NCAAs, makes FIU history; open football practices

Senior Sonia Perez Arau's 13th place in the 400 individual medley Friday night, in 4:10.17, at the NCAA Championships was the first time an FIU swimmer scored points at the NCAA meet.

The previous highest placing by an FIU swimmer was 18th by 200 breaststroke school record holder Sara Giavannoni in 2007. 


FIU decided to open the doors to those willing to skip Saturday morning cartoons (they still have those on some channel, right?) for spring football. The practices Mar. 22 and Apr. 5, which start at 10 a.m., will be open to the public just like the previous practices essentially were to students who had classes at La Cage.

Perez makes 400 IM final

Swinning in her strongest event, senior Sonia Perez Arau made Friday night's final in the 400 individual medley. Perez's 4:10.27 brought her home 16th in the preliminaries, getting into Friday night's B group.

Junior Johanna Gustafsdottir finished 48th with a 54.82 in the 100 backstroke. Like Perez, Gustafsdottir has Saturday's 200 backstroke remaining. 

FIU Pro Day

It's not on the NFL.com website list of Pro Days yet, but FIU's will be April 3. That's when defensive linemen Greg Hickman and Isame Faciane run through football's Underwear Olympics for NFL scouts.



March 20, 2014

Perez 46th, Gustafsdottir 51st in the 200 IM

In their first 2014 NCAA Championship swims today, senior Sonia Perez Arau came in 46th in the 200 individual medley with a 1:59.91. Junior Johanna Gustafsdottir, the Conference USA 200 IM champion, swam a 2:00.15, coming in 51st.

Most of the swimmers were a second or two off their seeding time. Matching her conference record time of 1:57.94 still would've left Gustafsdottir free for the evening -- 1:57.35 was the cutoff for the final.

Friday brings Perez's best event, the 400 IM, and Gustafsdottir goes in the 100 backstroke, from which she was scratched in the conference meet.

Second Day of Spring on the First Day of Spring

Only a couple of things from this morning's practice...

E.J. Hilliard looked more consistently accurate this morning than Tuesday, at least in one-on-one drills.

Cornerback Wilkinson Myrtil picked off another sideline route, this time from quarterback Alex McGough. Both interceptions, the one today and the one of Hilliard on Tuesday, came off sideline throws to kicker-playing-wide receiver Cody Hodgens.

I was notified early in practice that head coach Ron Turner would not be speaking to the media post-practice. I was informed later no players would be speaking, either. And so does The Cone of Silence get lowered...


Escapes and Milestones

The second of two games with Florida Memorial, a replacement punching bag when Alcorn State pulled out of a pair of games originally scheduled for Mar. 11 and 12, turned out to be about as troublesome for the baseball team as fundraising is for the athletic department. But it made for drama that would've entertained a good many more than the 97 -- yes, I counted at peak -- folks been unable to resist the allure of baseball, "Angels in the Outfield" and a Miley Cyrus ticket raffle at FIU Baseball Stadium.


Afterwards, FIU coach Turtle Thomas threw all credit to FMU pitcher Eduardo Delgado. Early in the game, an FIU fan said he recognized the pitcher and "he's a good little pitcher. He'll give us trouble."

Junior L.K. Thompson said he cracked his two-run single off "a knuckleball or a splitter."

"It wasn't that we were swinging at bad pitches," Thompson said. "We were hitting them hard. We were hitting some right at people. They weren't really falling in. The right fielder had a few good plays. We had two line drives for sure that I remember in the infield right at people that could've been big runs for us."

I asked junior Aramis Garcia, who scored the winning run after his 10th inning single extended his hitting streak to 15 games, what Delgado had working.

"Just the fastball, slider, changeup. Nothing special. I don't know if we underestimated this team or we just didn't come out ready to play," Garcia said. "I think it was probably more we didn't come out ready to play."

Understandable, somewhat. FIU's just finished getting Teofilo Stevenson-ed by Rice over three rounds in a ranked team matchup of Who's Bigger in C-USA and a three-game set coming up against Marshall. The Panthers gangsta-slapped Florida Memorial 23-1 three weeks ago, leaving FMC looking like an easy sandwich game. But there was nearly strychnine in this sandwich.

Garcia acknowledged the first game might've been a factor.

"This is one of those games where we're glad we got the win, we've just got to focus on Marshall now," he said.

When I asked Garcia if he thought at all about his hitting streak on the line in the 10th inning, he said, "What hitting streak?" At first, I thought he was just trying to make the point that he ignores such individual things after a team accomplishment, like a win.

Then, I realized the legitimate blankness on his face. He really didn't know he had a 15-game hititng streak working.

As information overloaded as everyone can be these days, that's more amazing than the hitting streak itself.


Up in the piece of America where Gophers rule and icing is bad unless you're under serious defensive zone pressure, senior Sonia Perez Arau and junior Johanna Gustafsdottir will start the NCAA women's swimming championships Thursday. Both will be in the 200 individual medley and 200 backstroke, each of which Gustafsdottir holds the FIU school record. Backstroke queen Gustafsdottir also is in the 100 back while FIU distance queen Perez's third event is her best, the 400 IM, which she won conference titles as a junior and senior with meet record swims. 


Softball coach Jake Schumann remains one win from 400 career wins. He'll likely get it during this weekend's three-game set at UAB. He went into last week's threesome at McNeese State on 399. FIU lost the first two games, then the third got rained out.


March 18, 2014

Football Practices With No Games, Day 1

Freshman Alex McGough very well could be FIU's opening day starter at quarterback.

I write that not because FIU coach Ron Turner, asked directly if he'd start a freshman quarterback, said he'd start the best player at any position regardless of class or scholarship status. And not because of the day of practice by E.J. Hilliard, who affirmed, correctly, he feels the starting job is his to lose. Hilliard looked OK, according to those who saw practice.

It's because of how McGough and fellow freshman Bud Martin looked on the first day -- like they belonged.

(Practice was closed to the public and media. But La Cage isn't Langley. Classes get held there. Athletes run through the stands. Eyes, ears and smartphones are everywhere. And so to me does information flow...). 

McGough and Martin's throws were accurate, catchable and got there in a hurry. Both came out of pro-style high school offenses and that familiarity showed.

"First of all, they're quarterbacks," Turner said. "They're very instinctive. You can see it. You can see the way handle themselves. They're freshmen. They should be in hgih school right now. And they're out here taking charge, being leaders. They have a quarterback demeanor. Both of them. We had them in camp, so we knew that. That's one of the advantages of our camps. You can see the ability on film, but we can get to know them. Things come to them pretty quickly. They were in pro-style situations. Probably the concepts are similar, so that helps. Definitely helps."

McGough looked the better of the two freshmen. Both got snaps with the second team and a few with the first team line. Hilliard got the majority of the first team work in team drills, of course.

Turner said they worked with more offensive sets than they did any time last season. To lay observers, it looked like pretty much more of the same. Then again, you don't overhaul the offensive concepts after everybody's spent a year getting into gear on this one.

Setting the first team offense: left tackle David Delsoin; left guard Jordan Budwig; center Donald Senat; right guard Byron Pinkston; right tackle Aaron Nielson; tight end Jonnu Smith; wide receivers T.J. Lowder and Dominique Rhymes; running back Lamarq Caldwell or Silas Spearman. So, pretty much the same as last year.

Second team offense: left tackle Dieugot Joseph; left guard James Cruise; center Danny Nunez or Michael Montero; right guard Chris Flaig or Trenton Saunders; right tackle Edens Sineace; tight end Ya'keem Griner and/or Cory White; wide receivers Glenn Coleman and Fred Porter; running back Spearman or Shane Coleman.

First team defense: defensive ends Michael Wakefield and Denzell Perine; defensive tackles Leonard Washington and Darrian Dyson; outside linebackers Patrick Jean and Davison Colimon; middle linebacker Luis Rosado; safeties Jordan Davis (with Justin Halley wearing the Home Depot orange injured jersey after shoulder surgery) and Demarkus Perkins; cornerbacks Richard Leonard and Jeremiah McKinnon.

Second team defense: defensive ends Giovanni Francois and Wonderful Monds II; defensive tackles Lars Koht and Imarjaye Albury; outside linebackers Caleb Vincent and De'Shawn Hazziez; middle linebacker Treyvon Williams; safeties Vontarious West and Deonte Wilson; cornerbacks Randy Harvey and Wilkinson Myrtil.

In one-on-one drills, Richard Leonard didn't allow a catch against him until the last rep, when Leonard lined up well off the ball and Fred Porter ran a short stop pattern for Hilliard. Hilliard threw the drill's only interception, a throw to the right sideline either too far inside or to a receiver who didn't compete hard enough inside. Either way, Myrtil easily stepped in for the pickoff.

In seven-on-sevens, McGough made the best completion of the day, hitting Fred Porter on a 15 to 20-yard slant in stride. Martin dropped a nice bomb in to Coleman behind Xavier Hines.

Hip-hop music thumped throughout practice, a change from the norm of that being confined to the pre-practice stretching. The quarterbacks' red no-touch jerseys had three white stripes on the shoulder. Hilliard said the rest of the team gave the quarterbacks guff over looking "fancy." This old man thought they looked like 1970 Nebraska jerseys.



March 17, 2014

Spring Football Starts Tuesday

Ah, Spring Football, the significance of which is shown that everybody starts 0-0 and everybody ends 0-0.

But I'll keep you abreast of things as best I can this week starting with tomorrow's 9 a.m. practice. In their finite wisdom, running counter to what you'd expect for a football program that needed a late rush of internal ticket sales to keep from running afoul of the NCAA, FIU is closing all practices to the public. The Spring Game will be open.

The most interest, of course, centers around the quarterback spot. E.J. Hilliard starts spring as the only quarterback with college game experience. Freshmen Bud Martin and Alex McGeough, early enrollees as Hilliard was two years ago, fit the suit but can they play? Turner's got to be happy he's got quarterbacks he actually recruited out of want, as opposed to brought in out of 3 a.m. desperation like last year's freshmen, Travis Wright and Israel Paopao.

(I was reminded of the Samoan Paopao, who seemed like a nice young man, just hefty for a quarterback, the other night while watching Pulp Fiction.)

Also, FIU needs to start finding a new defensive quarterback to play middle linebacker and two new defensive tackles to replace Greg Hickman and Isame Faciane. Last year's transfer from West Virginia, Northwestern High graduate Imarjaye Albury might be half the answer there.

There's a 762 other questions -- special teams? offensive line? wide receivers? running back?-- that barely will start to be answered this spring. But we'll be there for Tuesday's first day of rehearsal.




March 16, 2014

A few thoughts on FIU vs. Rice

Some scatter shots from the two FIU-Rice games I covered this weekend:

*The Rice coaching staff doesn't play. When centerfielder Charlie Warren caught a short fly ball for the second FIU out in Saturday's eighth inning with Rice up 10-1, he either miscounted the outsm forgot that Aramis Garcia was on third or didn't think Garcia would try to score on such a short fly ball. Garcia tagged and scored as Warren lazily jogged with the ball. Warren got yanked before the next batter got out of the on-deck circle. Even at 10-2, brain flatulence is not tolerated.

*The ump blew a call and probably cost FIU at least one run on L.K. Thompson's grounder in the fourth inning Sunday. With runners on first and second, Rice third baseman Shane Hoelscher grabbed the slow grass hugger and ran back to the bag. Hoelscher leaped over a sliding J.C. Escarra and, seemingly, the bag. FIU coach Turtle Thomas got in the umpire's face at Barry Allen speed to energetically argue the out call. Without that call, if all following at bats stay the same, FIU gets at least one more run out of the inning, probably two.

*Then again, Saturday's second inning play at the plate off a great throw by FIU left fielder Roche Woodard looked safe to me. The out call cost Rice a run they eventually didn't need anyway.

*Rosenberg's Rowdies showed up Saturday and got under some of the Rice fans' skin. From what I heard, the team didn't complain, the fans did. Not sure if I put this here or on Twitter, but they prompted some of the Middle Tennessee basketball staff to say amongst themselves, "We need to put our student section near the opposing bench," noting with admiration how annoying the Rowdies can be for such a small group.

*That I was outside at a table for the two games wasn't some athletic department punishment toward The Herald. It's a function of FIU's paucity of press box space. Anything less than me and two other scribes works. Radio, with its equipment, expands to space. When Stetson brought its radio team earlier this year and the radio equipment, there was one relatively narrow space in the press box for me. This time, with Rice radio, no room at the inn.

Sitting outside allowed me to meet some parents and darken the skin. But laptops don't take direct sunlight any better than melanin-deficient skin does. And in case of rain, well... 

My first thought as I watched FIU turn a 6-2 sixth inning lead into an 11-7 loss Sunday, thus going 0 for 3 against ranked Rice, was Trilogy of Terror, the TV movie cult classic best remembered for the third of three stories that starred Karen Black.


(When this popped up one night between my then-girlfriend-now-wife and I late one Friday night back in 1995, we got so giddy, I sprinted from Morton Towers to Blockbuster to rent it. That whole sentence looks archaic now...)

Then, my mind jumped to another trilogy, the Chuck Jones-directed Duck Season/Rabbit Season Warner Bros. cartoons with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd bouncing off each other. Although I know a few people got upset when I equated FIU to Daffy and Rice to Bugs in a Tweet, this seemed to fit. After talking to folks after the game and thinking about it on the drive home, it seemed even more tailored. Stay with me here:

Animation historian Joe Adamson, in Bugs Bunny: Fifty Years and Only One Grey Hare, writes, "...what becomes apparent is that Bugs is rooted in the forest, secure in his place there. Daffy is still trying to figure himself out."

Adamson quotes Richard Thompson, discussing the cartoons: "Bugs stands back from a situation, analyzes it, and makes his move; Daffy becomes emotionally involved, loses his distance, and blows it."


Now, listen to what pitcher Ty Sullivan said when I asked him just "What happened?"

“Looking at the way both of our teams played, Rice and us, we are as good if not better than them," Sullivan said. "But what went wrong with us was when one thing would happen, we would let things snowball instead of just minimizing (the damage). When we got into situations when our guys needed to make the big pitch or get the big hit, our guys started pressing, started trying to force it to happen instead of just relaxing, doing what we’ve done all season long, which is just compete at the plate and the mound, regardless o the score, the outs, who’s on base or who’s on deck. I wouldn’t say it’s a good thing we lost these games, but it shows what not to do in these situations against good opponents because we pretty much beat ourselves all weekend."

FIU didn't react to tight or bad situations this weekend with the cool confidence of believing in how good they are. Rice did. FIU's errors and misplays seemed to come in Costco packs. Rice's went solo. I don't know if the Panthers felt less sure of themselves because Rice looks like the best opponent on their schedule and clearly possesses the best pedigree.

"Sometimes, in baseball, you can try too little or you can try too hard," FIU coach Turtle Thomas said after Sunday's game. "Trying too little can mean you don't swing at enough pitches. Trying too hard means you chase too many bad pitches. We definitely chased a bunch."

Thomas figured FIU swung at 100 pitches outside the strike zone over the three days, then adjusted that up to 150 because "we chased more than three bad pitches per inning." 

By the end of Sunday's game, every fly ball and grounder seemed to come with a suspenseful drum roll. That hasn't been this season's FIU, day games or not. I covered Games 2-8 this season. I saw third baseman Josh Anderson steal more hits than Linda Ronstadt. He did again late Sunday, a diving spear that was almost as good as second baseman Edwin Rios' game of Laser Snag that ended the third inning. Left fielder Roche Woodard sailed to turn an extra base hit into an out, then doubled the runner off first.

That's more the Panthers I've covered this season than the Josh Anderson who spent Sunday losing arguments with grounders or the outfielders who flubbed fly balls. Thomas estimated FIU gave Rice Sunday's difference, four runs, on two misplayed fly balls alone. FIU had three errors Saturday, three Sunday and that's with a home official scorer judging with a grandparent's generosity. I hadn't seen FIU make a baserunning error yet. Sunday, when Edwin Rios tried to score Sunday from third on a grounder to first, it seemed the epitome of wanting too badly to do something significant.

It's only one series. FIU's still 16-4. As far as black and white, getting swept only hurts in terms of eventual conference tournament seeding.

“I think this series will probably help us more than hurt us because it shows us where our weaknesses are," Anderson said. "We’ve been tested in the games before but playing a top-ranked team like Rice really tested us. Our weaknesses stand out like a sore thumb. This is a team we need to beat to win Conference USA. There’s a lot of positives to take out of this weekend, too.

"We know our weaknesses. We know what we need to fix. We saw good pitching. We know we can hit good pitching. We know we can compete with that team. We know we belong where we’re ranked. We only lost one game before this series.”


March 14, 2014

This is the end: 64-57

Conference USA Player of the Year Ebony Rowe played like exactly that against FIU Thursday.

Rowe pumped in 25 points on 11 of 15 shooting, pulled down 14 rebounds, had an assist, a block and a steal as Middle Tennessee State ended FIU's season, 64-57, in the semifinal of the Conference USA women's basketball tournament. FIU led early before Middle took over with a run early in the first half.

Senior guard Jerica Coley ended her career with 19 points, 12 rebounds, two assists and two steals. Her 115 points were a tournament record and her 3,107 points were fifth in NCAA history.

Middle held Coley, Durant and Taylor Shade to a combined 10 of 44 from the field. Tynia McKinzie had 15 points and six rebounds in 37 minutes.

FIU's tournament run put a nice gloss on a 15-18 season. As this season ends, it does so at a major fork for the program -- no more Coley and, if not this year then probably a year from now, no more head coach Cindy Russo. It'll be interesting to see where the program goes over the next 24 months.

Got a $1 million for women's sports?

What Senior Associate Athletic Director Bobby Staub didn't get to tell the Athletics Committee meeting two weeks ago, FIU's athletic department announced Friday: a campaign to raise $2 million for projects having to do with the softball, golf, track, sand volleyball, tennis and swimming & diving teams.

As I put on the blog a week and a half ago, FIU says they've got $1 million of the money raised.

Softball and golf will get new locker rooms, a lounge and golf gets a new putting and pitching practice area. Track's throwers, now practicing in that field between The Branch and the soccer field (no improvements for that, same as it ever was), will get a practice area with the appropriate cages and rings. Sand volleyball and tennis get new locker rooms. The water women get a new scoreboard over at the Biscayne Bay campus pool.


March 13, 2014

FIU women through to TV & Middle Tennessee

Jerica Coley's teammates didn't have the greatest home finale or regular season finale. But they're more than making up for it at the Conference USA tournament.

Playing better than they have all season in successive games, FIU's Upset Special kept a-rollin' Thursday with a 69-55 win against No. 4-seeded Tulane. That's the third consecutive higher seed that FIU's made vulnerable to the old FHSAA tournament chant, "Get your hat...your coat...and LEAVE!"

Now, FIU faces No. 1 seed Middle Tennessee State at 11 a.m. Friday live on CBS Sports Network in a game that matches the team with the Conference USA Preseason Player of the Year (Coley) against the team with the Player of the Year (Ebony Rowe). Middle knows better than to take FIU lightly.

During the regular season, Middle beat the Panthers at The Branch 65-58, giving up 29 points to Coley but holding everyone else under double figures. FIU actually led 25-24 at the half. Last year, in the Sun Belt Tournament sayonara for each, after splitting during the regular season, FIU lost to Middle 68-59.

Thursday, FIU again shot well from the field, 28 of 56, but really sat on Tulane defensively, holding the Green Wave to 31.8 percent shooting from the field. This time, FIU owned the defensive boards getting 33 there, getting only five fewer offensive rebounds than Tulane did defensive rebounds. Tynia McKinzie had 10 rebounds to go with her 15 points. Coley and junior guard Kamika Idom came down with eight rebounds each. Taylor Shade had 13 points.

Of course, to paraphrase an old Soviet hockey coach about Bobby Hull, Ms. Coley, she got her points -- 34. She needs 28 against Middle to move into fourth all-time in NCAA scoring.



March 12, 2014

Coley gets 42, FIU gets another day on the border

On Tuesday's first day of the Conference USA women's basketball tournament, it was low trump. All the lower seeds won, including No. 13 FIU over No. 12 Rice.

Wednesday, after UAB stopped the run by trashing No. 16 Marshall, FIU picked up the tune again with an 87-75 win over No. 5 seed East Carolina in El Paso, Texas. FIU got 42 points from senior guard Jerica Coley and a pair of good 11s, points and rebounds, from Tynia McKinzie. Kamika Idom almost had a double double with nine points and 10 rebounds. Arielle Durant had 12 and eight.

FIU plays Tulane Thursday at 3:30 p.m. eastern time. The Panthers lost at Tulane 66-55 during the regular season. Coley had 22, but FIU shot only 30.8 percent from the field as a team and Tulane owned the glass at that end, with 37 defensive rebounds to FIU's nine.

Coley not only came one point from the Conference USA tournament single-game record, but passed USC's Cheryl Miller, Tennessee's Chamique Holdsclaw, UConn's Maya Moore and Delaware's Elena Delle Donne, four of the biggest stars in women's college basketball history, on the all-time scoring list. She's 61 points behind Drake's Lorri Bauman.


March 11, 2014

FIU fries Rice, 85-65

Guard Taylor Shade, forward Arielle Durant and forward Tynia McKinzie all were in double figures for FIU Tuesday afternoon against Rice. You know Jerica Coley was, even though Rice held her to four points in the first half. That's why FIU stomped Rice 85-65 in Tuesday's first round of the Conference USA tournament at UTEP.

FIU faces East Carolina Wednesday at 3:30.

Despite sitting on Coley, Rice was getting drilled 37-28 at halftime because the support cast that let FIU down when the Panthers saw Rice in January rose up and smote the Owls several mighty blows. While Shade had 18 points, McKinzie 16 (with 11 rebounds) and Durant 14 to go with the 20 Coley eventually ended with, this time it was Rice star Jessica Kuster who wound up unsupported. Kuster had 26 points and 11 rebounds or exactly 40 percent of Rice's offensive output. Those are numbrers usually associated with Coley.

Coley now has 3,012 points, the 10th player in NCAA history with 3,000 career points.

This will be the second time this season FIU plays East Carolina and, coincidentally, the second time they do so right after playing Rice. FIU won 76-75 at The Branch in January.

Coley's or Kuster's last stand?

FIU plays Rice today at 2:30 in the first round of the Conference USA women's basketball tournament in El Paso in what could be the last game for senior guard Jerica Coley, only eight points from becoming the NCAA's 10th 3,000-point woman.

Coley was on the verge of another milestone, the FIU career scoring record, the last time these two teams played and got it with 15:18 left in the game. Rice blasted FIU 59-41 at The Branch with senior Jessica Kuster (yes, I know it's spelled differently than the infamous general) putting up 20 points and 15 rebounds. What really killed FIU was getting 31 offensive rebounds and only five second chance points as the Panthers made executing the layup look more difficult than running a supercollider.

Rice double-teamed Coley all game whenever she got the ball within spitting distance of the three-point line. Should the Owls do that again, FIU could make things interesting by actually taking advantage of their man advantage on the rest of the court. The non-Coley Panthers shot nine of 49 from the field in that first game. 

March 10, 2014

Aramis Garcia, Hitter of the Week; FIU ranked in more polls.

A busy awards Monday in the Conference USA offices -- FIU senior guard Jerica Coley lost Player of the Year to Middle Tennessee State's Ebony Rowe -- included FIU junior catcher/first baseman Aramis Garcia getting Hitter of the Week honors after FIU slapped around Bethune-Cookman and swept Charlotte in their first C-USA series.

Garcia cracked three home runs, two doubles and a single with five RBI.

Collegiate Baseball ranks FIU No. 19

FIU plays perennial Conference USA favorite Rice this weekend at Camp Mitch to determine the best team in C-USA right now.

Rice is No. 19 in the USA Today Coaches poll in which FIU received votes. FIU isn't in the Baseball America Top 25, while Rice is No. 15. FIU is up to No. 29 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association poll while Rice is No. 18. Perfect Game's poll puts Rice at No. 15 and FIU among Five Others to Watch.


Coley First Team All-Conference, Murphy Second Team; Spring Football in the dark

No surprises from the Conference USA All-Conference basketball teams announced Monday -- senior guard Jerica Coley First Team for the women and one of Coley's biggest fans, senior guard Tymell Murphy, Second Team for the men.

Coley, conference and national leader averaging 29.6 points per game, also leads FIU in assists, steals, blocked shots and minutes. This is her fourth recent conference, regional or national honor, but the first to be only about basketball and not include her excellent academic record.

Murphy averaged 16.6 points per game on 58.4 percent shooting. He's the seventh highest scoring player in FIU history with 984 points despite playing only two years at Camp Mitch. His 57.9 career shooting percentage is an FIU record. This season, he also averaged 7.4 rebounds, 1.94 steals per game and 1.52 blocks per game (average speed on those blocks: bazooka).


The spring football schedule of 15 practices, beginning March 18 and ending with the Spring Game April 12 has been released. A bunch of 9 a.m. practices, but that's irrelevant to you because all practices before the 11 a.m. Spring Game are closed to the public.



March 09, 2014

Felsberg Field dedication

I've got more coming on this -- doing the annual Doral Hustle today -- but,for now, here's the video from FIU Softball Stadium this morning.


March 05, 2014

Mourelle mowing; Coley Academic All-C-USA; JoGus, Perez, Beaupre going NCAA

Last year, Bethune Cookman won two out of two against FIU baseball. Wednesday, Bethune got two hits against FIU.

Specifically, two hits against freshman Chris Mourelle, who walked none and sent down the final 23 Bethune batters in a 6-0 FIU win. FIU opens Conference USA play this weekend at 2-7-1 Charlotte, which is on a seven-game winless streak. The true yardstick series for the 12-1 Panthers, however, comes the following week, at home against perennial Conference USA favorite Rice.


Jerica Coley was named Academic All-District and Third Team Academic All-American. So, of course, she made Conference USA's Academic All-Conference team.

Then, Wednesday night, Coley scored 29 in a 67-65 last-second loss to Louisiana Tech in Ruston. She's eight points away from 3,000 for her career. Only the Conference USA tournament remains in the career of one of FIU's finest student-athletes.


The song remains the same with the names from FIU going to the NCAA Championships.

That's three times in a row for junior Johanna Gustafsdottir, who'll swim the 100 backstroke, 200 back and 200 individual medley; two years in a row for senior Sonia Perez, who'll do the 200 back, 200 IM and 400 IM; and would be the fourth consecutive year for diver Sabrina Beaupre, but she skipped last year's NCAAs to get surgery on her long-injured ankle.

Beupre and freshman Lily Kaufman will dive in the NCAA Zone Regional next week. The swimmers will be in Minneapolis for the NCAA Championships, Mar. 20 through 22.


March 04, 2014

SAAC up & get some Compliance

Friday's Board of Trustees Athletics Committee meeting featured so much conversation on Compliance and the Student Athlete Academic Center, places that define "turnover" and "fumbling" better than a bad wishbone offense could, that Senior Associate AD Bobby Staub didn't get to make his presentation on the $2 million initiative to build up facilities for women's sports -- finishing the softball stadium, locker rooms for softball and golf and the like. Allegedly, the department already has $1 million of the $2 million.

Let's be blunt about Compliance and the SAAC. Nobody notices when Compliance slips up on a shot putter. A softball starter lost to academics? The interest barely makes it out of the locker room. Not that shot putters and softball outfielders don't work just as hard in class or at their craft. I'm talking just interest here.

But when ineligible basketball players take the court (Ray Taylor), key players can't take the court (Marita Davydova, whose loss FIU coach Cindy Russo again Saturday called "catastrophic"), the basketball team can't go play after school with the other boys and the football team loses three of its most talented players to GPAs that look like breathalyzer tests, many notice.

So, Compliance is considered a problem. The SAAC is considered a problem, though men's basketball and football are the only teams with more GPAs under 3.0 than above and three sports (women's basketball, women's tennis and men's cross country) have none under 3.0.

Committee chairman Jorge L. Arrizurieta opened the meat of the meeting by asking about Compliance and the SAAC, "What’s the game plan to fix the issues that have taken place in the past? We’ve come too long a way in athletics at this great institution to risk falling behind in some of these issues. It’s not an option. My concern from a mangement standpoint is from Compliance, we’ve had three program directors and two interims in the last six years. In the case of the SAAC, as I understand it, three program directors, three interim in the same time period. That’s got to stop. Something has to change.”

While Arrizurieta said he wanted to look forward and not belabor FIU's failures in those departments, that's hard to avoid. So Christopher Schoemann, a long-used compliance consultant in the Collegiate Sports Practice Group of the Kansas law firm Bond, Shoeneck & King, was called up to explain Davydova and Taylor's ineligibility.

Taylor's problem, as reported often, was that he didn't withdraw his declaration for the 2012 NBA Draft soon enough (Digression: shouldn't somebody have told him, "Ray, you're a nice mid-major player. But you're a 5-6 point guard who isn't exactly dominating the Sun Belt. What business do you have declaring for the NBA Draft?).

Davydova's problem is that she, apparently, played some games for Russian State Agrarian University and should've had to sat out a season upon transferring to FIU. Some members of the committee seemed surprised Compliance whiffed on situations that turned on basic, factual information that Compliance had. It is sort of like watching someone strike out in batting practice.

New Compliance head Hank Harrawood introduced himself to the committee, which discussed Compliance being moved under the Athletic Department's roof.

"I believe the Compliance officer should report to the General Counsel," opined Trustee C. Delano Gray, whose bio speaks of his great experience with internal auditing (speaking of internal auditing, that audited 2013 football attendance report should've been ready in late January...). "I prefer that the head coaches or the folks in athletics doesn't have the influence that is likely to happen. I used to be an internal auditor. I have experienced that every now and then, the people you are working with have some kind of influence in what you do."

Schoemann, a former Compliance director himself, said, "Nationally, it is a mixed bag. Has the trend been to have these offices report outside of athletics? The trend has been. I've seen these programs work well solely from an athletics perspective where there is no outside tether to the office of the general counsel, president or provost; and I've seen them work poorly when they're placed entirely of the athletics purview. Hank Harrawood becomes a de facto assistant athletic diretor because of the nature of his job. He becomes a member of Pete's staff. That's true whether or he would report to the general counsel or the office of the president or directly to Pete.

"What's imperative, is that in any type of analysis that the NCAA does with respect to institutional control -- despite the fact they operate with the old Supreme Court adage with respect to pornography that they "know it when they see it" but have never defined it -- that's the litmus test that gets applied to you once that bell gets rung and the NCAA shows up on your doorstep. When we're doing our analysis of institutions, we want to make sure those outside tethers are engaged. That (new Compliance director) Hank (Harrawood) and his counterparts have the necessary access to those offices (of general counsel and president)."

Arrizurieta, referring back to the instability at the top of the department, said part of the reason he supported the move was "Whatever we've done hasn't worked."

General counsel Kristina Raattama said in dealing with Compliance outside Athletics, “Pete feels like he has accountability and no control and I feel like I have responsibllity and no control. When you combine that function into the athletic department, you have a situation where everybody knows what they're responsible for.”

Pete Garcia said, "Hank has been given a directive by all of us that if there's a major issue...his first phone call is to the president’s office, his second phone call is to the legal department." 

The SAAC remains outside athletics. It also remains without a director. Dr. Stephen Fain, the most recent past faculty athletic representative, has been serving as the interim director. Dean of Undergraduate Education Douglas L. Robertson presented the State of the SAAC Report. A committee with the task of finding a new director has a start date of July 1.

"We anticipate filling the director's position with a director who will die in the position," Robertson said. After that brought unintended laughter from the room, "I meant of old age. I meant retire in the position. I anticipate his start date will be July 1, but hope it will be sooner."

(How is it FIU can replace a head basketball coach in a week but takes 10 months to start to find a new SAAC Director?)

The next director comes into a SAAC that gets a budget bump of around $80,000 next year to just over $840,000. Here's how some of that money will be spent:

$60,000 for a business analyst working out of the SAAC who's involved in the building and care of an automated NCAA player certification system and provides tech support.

$26,000 for a bump in the SAAC Director's salary. Dr. Phil Moses salary was $105,000 when he was hired in 2011.

$5,000 as an "equity salary adjustment" for the SAAC Tutor Coordinator, who now makes $35,000.

$16,000 for an "equity adjustment" for the SAAC tutors.

$84,000 for a "significant increase in tutoring hours and staffing."

$10,000 for "additional staffing for book distribution."

$9,000 for "productivity tools for SAAC staff (cell phones and service...)"

$7,000 for GradesFirst, an academic tracker designed for student-athletes.

Those are yearly recurring costs. Under one-shot costs, ther are...

$252,000 for "automation of the NCAA player certification process."

$21,000 for replacing all 35 desktop computers in the SAAC Computer Lab ($600 per computer)

$6,000 for replacing all eight SAAC staff desktop computers.

$176,000 to "improve the SAAC environment" and add five offices. 

Dean Robertson seemed quite excited about bringing Graduation Success Initiative-like metrics, which helped boost on-time grauation rates from 41 percent to 50 percent at FIU in two years, to the SAAC.

"We have invested significantly in predictive analytics to target students who are at-risk or who are on track to graduate, but may not know it an need some additional support," Robertson said.

All this means not much if you don't have athletes who give a good darn enough to crack a book. After all, you can lead a horse's butt to water, but you can't make him think.

Arrizurieta asked why some of these GSI-like ideas and technologies, including real-time updating, "weren't initiated before? Or, was it and it wasn't executed?"

Robertson answered with something that I think of almost as the FIU mantra: the school grew faster than the infrastructure.

"The institution has invested heavily in creating the infrastructure for the GSI that involves a big investment in predictive analytics and various kinds of academic tracking tools that are expensive to build have now been built," he said. "Those tools and expertises -- for example, we now have an office with five behavioral scientists doing these kinds of analytics -- is now in place. That allows the proper support of a SAAC diredctor in providing these kinds of analytics that was not there before."

As for information reporting, Garcia said when Robertson spoke to the faculty senate some time back, Robertson asked for progress reports on the student-athletes.

"There has been a very small percentage return on progress reports (13 percent)," Garcia said. "The reason I’m saying this is they need to know what kids need what tutoring now. They don’t need it at the end of the semester when they’ve failed. As good as I think our SAAC people right now, they can’t help these kids if they don’t know what classes they need help with." 


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