May 18, 2015

Gaines All-Academic; FIU Has C-USA's Fastest Man

Yeah, I know this comes late. After dealing with the major job changes now customary when I cover the Marlins and get a lightning fast game, I exhaled into vacation mode (it's late May).

So I didn't get up last night that junior Alton Eliphar, the fifth-seeded finalist, provided FIU's highlight of the Conference USA track & field championships by winning the 100 meters in 10.38. Or that junior Jaylaan Slaughter's 1:00.97 in the 400-meter hurdles got her a second, the weekend's best placement for the FIU women. Phillicia Fluellen's 20-foot, 2 1/2-inch long jump was good for third.

FIU coach Ryan Heberling confirmed what the results sheet suggested when they didn't include, among others, junior long jumper/triple jumper Marcus Ghent, throwers junior Miriam Pierre and senior Raqurra Ishmar -- injuries hit some FIU strengths. Both men's and women's teams finished last in their respective team standings.

BASEBALL

FIU senior leadoff hitter and shortstop Julius Gaines' 3.63 grade point average put him on the Conference USA All-Academic Team, announced Monday.  Gaines finished the regular season hitting .266 with 22 RBI.

The baseball team faces No. 1 seed Rice in the first round of the Conference USA baseball tournament Wednesday.

 

May 16, 2015

More Rice For Baseball

This is why you take care of business early.

Saturday's pair of losses to Rice dropped FIU to No. 8 in Conference USA, but, thanks to Friday's win and a series win at Marshall, no farther.

So the Panthers get into the conference tournament and open Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. against...No. 13-ranked and tournament top seed Rice, against which FIU won two of 12 games over the last four seasons. But, FIU beat Rice when it needed Thursday so Wednesday isn't exactly The Charge of the Light Brigade.

 

May 15, 2015

Whew

 

FIU avoided the indignity of missing the Conference USA tournament by taking care of its business in the first of the three-game season-ending series with No. 13 Rice. An 11-1 win, FIU's second against Rice in the last 10 games, finished the job with a flourish. Junior Edwin Rios clobbered another home run, drove in three runs and scored four.

The last two games will be for seeding position in the tournament, which will be next week in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The Panthers remain alive.

Not everyone got out of Thursday so fortunate. RIP B.B. King.

 

 

May 12, 2015

On the Beach

Can a bunch of Owls put a Turtle in jeopardy of the FIU sharks?

I'm hearing two things about the future of FIU baseball coach Turtle Thomas.

The First: he's safe. An FIU collapse against Rice this weekend might raze the season by keeping the Panthers out of the Conference USA tournament but won't damage the program foundation. Thomas' contract runs out at the end of the 2016 season, anyway.

Also Heard: a movement whipped up by one significant South Florida business and political figure and one significant baseball figure desires Thomas' dismissal. That's in addition to the FIU followers disenchanted with a program heading toward its second losing season in three years despite being a Division I program in one of the nation's most talent rich areas.

Despite FIU baseball completely escaping disappointment since NCAA appearances in 2010 and 2011, Thomas' seat remained room temperature. To begin, that made economic sense. Thomas' contract states that firing him without cause -- and disappointing seasons or low level NCAA violations of practice time one year don't count as cause -- means he gets the contract balance of his base salary.

Now, that's a relatively minor hit by Division I athletic department standards, just over $104,000. That turns into a major hit if, say, you're an oversubsidized athletic department faced with funding the full cost of attendance for your scholarship athletes next fall. That's the nut facing Conference USA schools beginning in 2015-16 and has FIU looking for revenue streams, creeks, trickles, spit. I won't be surprised if I see someone in one of those blue Adidas shirts with the snarly feline trying to move stuff on Hardcore Pawn

Money should keep Thomas in place until the end of his contract.

Now, in a nod to the baseball team that might be busing from Hattiesburg for the Conference USA tournament back to Miami...

 

 

 

 

May 10, 2015

On the Sunny Sunday Side of the Street...

FIU baseball showed Sunday it's not tired of this season just yet.

Against Alabama-Birmingham Sophomore pitcher Chris Mourelle gave up only one hit, one walk, no runs and struck out six in seven innings. Exceptional, yes, but on this year's Mourelle Scale it's Grass is Still Green, Dog Bites Man and Law & Order Reruns at 6 p.m. on Some Channel. Mourelle went into Sunday underwater at 5-6, but most of that debt's not on his side of the ledger.

The difference in FIU's third Sunday conference win this season: home runs by Edwin Rios, Jack Schaaf and Brian Portelli. Thirteen hits overall and seven runs in a 7-1 rout that, combined with other Conference USA results, sets FIU up to get a spot in the conference tournament with just a win. Or maybe not even that.

FIU sits tied for seventh with Old Dominion, so, technically, eighth, two games ahead of Western Kentucky, Marshall and Charlotte. A single win at Rice would put FIU into the tournament, barring a sweep by Western Kentucky alone or a three-way tie.

The only downside is that one win might prove tougher than Houston's Fifth Ward. Rice, the preseason conference favorite, has won 11 of its last 12 after sweeping FAU this weekend in the Owlmen Showdown. In nine games over the last three seasons against Rice, FIU's gone 1-8.

But, hey, all they probably need is one next week because they got one Sunday.

Saturday Blue (Baseball) and Gold (Golf)

An even par 71 final round moved junior Meghan MacLaren up to a tie for seventh at 7-over 220 in the NCAA golf St. George Regional and qualified her for the NCAA Championship May 22-27 at Bradenton's The Concession Golf Club. 

After a double bogey on the par-4, 343-yard 13th, MacLaren came home birdie, par, par, birdie, par to get back down to 7-over. That showed an upper echelon golfer's resiliency, much as the entire round did after the second round 6-over 77 that dropped her to 15th. MacLaren finished second among the golfers in the regional as individuals to earn a spot at the NCAA Championship as a solo player.

Whatever her finish over in Bradenton, it'll end one of the best seasons by an FIU athlete in 2014-15.

Speaking of season endings, Sunday afternoon should show us how badly the baseball team wants its season to continue or if they're only interested in keeping the party going if someone else does it for them.

Saturday's 5-3 loss to Alabama-Birmingham dropped FIU to eighth when Old Dominion beat Louisiana Tech. FIU sits just one game ahead of Charlotte and Marshall. FIU holds the head-to-head two-team tie tiebreakers on Charlotte and Marshall. But going into next week's three-game series at Rice with anything less than eighth place with a one-game lead on ninth is just playing with fire -- it's cooking bacon naked over an open flame. 

On the schedule, Marshall's the bigger worry for FIU. The baseball Thundering Herd finishes its series against a fading Western Kentucky Sunday and closes the regular season next week with three games against playing-for-pride Louisiana Tech. Charlotte has Southern Mississippi today and Texas-San Antonio for three games next week. 

With the way today's result sets up next week, no matter the Sunday result, the Panthers effort will show their desire.

 

May 04, 2015

What FIU Baseball Should Tell Middle Tennessee...

 

While FIU treads water, losing two of three weekly because Panther bats rest on the Christian sabbath (2-6 on Sunday in Conference USA play), Middle's been watching the Panthers' back by keeping their competitors back. If not for a surprisingly strong conference season from the Blue Raiders, FIU's chances of making the Conference USA tournament would sit at the somebody-kill-a-chicken stage instead of tied for sixth with Alabama-Birmingham.

This weekend, Middle swept Western Kentucky, leaving the Hill People on the outside for now, in ninth and two games behind FIU. The Hill People went two for three at Camp Mitch, including an embarrassing Sunday run rule win. You can find Old Dominion, another team Middle swept, tied with Western after taking two of three from FIU this weekend. The current eighth place team, Charlotte, got swept by Middle. So did UAB.

So Middle won all 12 games against FIU's peers in the conference standings. And, the Panthers should thank God and Conference USA scheduling lords that Middle's the one conference team FIU doesn't play this season.

Tied for sixth sounds more secure than it is. The FIU-UAB knot leads Charlotte by one game and the Western-Old Dominion knot by two. That's five teams going for three slots.

 

UAB can do the most to help itself, coming to FIU this week and Old Dominion the following week. The importance of this weekend's series to FIU gets enhanced by the following week's series, a trip to perennial C-USA power Rice. A series loss to UAB, especially via sweep, means the Panthers better be the Impossible Missions Force at Rice.

That is, unless Charlotte face plants against Southern Miss and UTSA. UAB closes with Old Dominion, which plays Louisiana Tech next week. Western ends with Marshall and FAU.

It's entirely possible FIU can muddle along and get into the tournament taking only two of six. But, like most jobs, better to do it your daggone self than relying on someone else to take care of your business while taking care of theirs.

 

May 01, 2015

Survival Saturday (and Sunday?)

There's nothing quite so beautifully, crudely basic in sports as situations where the stakes are "win or die." That's why this weekend's English Premier League matches include a couple of relegation games.

Sand Volleyball's in that situation going into the second day of the AVCA Sand Volleyball Nationals. FIU did to Florida State what, in another part of Alabama Thursday night, Jameis Winston and his draft party did to the crab legs. Things looked pretty bright with the 5-0 destruction of the Seminoles combined with No. 7 Long Beach State upsetting No. 2 Hawaii seeming to smooth a strolling path through the winners' bracket for FIU.

Alas, water's surface can be smooth, too, and try to stroll on that. Long Beach repeated its voo-doo in a 4-1 upset that left FIU injured. Injuries to FIU senior Kristine Monforte, who combines with Summer Nash on the Panthers' No. 2 pair, and sophomore Aren Cupp, who plays No. 5 with senior Tina Toghiyani, took them out of the loser-leaves-town match with Stetson. That's the same Stetson that handed FIU its only loss outside of Long Beach and that FIU dusted 4-1 to end the season.

The match came down to a third set of the No. 5 pair, with Toghiyani playing with senior Alex Johnson. Their 15-7 triumph after trading 21-19 sets gave FIU a 3-2 win and got FIU through to Saturday. FIU faces No. 4 Pepperdine, the 2012 and 2014 AVCA national champions.

SOFTBALL

 

Two out of three ain't bad, but it'll leave FIU sad. Get a hat trick or go home sick. Sweep or weep.

One of the two remaining spots in the Conference USA tournament next week will be decided with the three-game series at Charlotte Saturday and Sunday. FIU needs all three games to get into the tournament it'll be hosting on Felsberg Field. Otherwise, Charlotte's in and FIU's watching other teams play in their sandbox.

BASEBALL

Friday's rainout at Old Dominion means baseball also will be playing a doubleheader Saturday and one game Sunday. Though Old Dominion's the team that's almost in broom-or-gloom mode, FIU can use some buffer building before closing with series against Alabama-Birmingham and a recently-roused Rice team.

 

April 27, 2015

Good Weekend for Baseball

Another sad Sunday song aside, the baseball team got what it needed from the weekend. And, boy, did it need what it got.

Saturday's pair of narrow wins over Louisiana Tech guaranteed a series win and softened the blow of FIU's now-customary lack of support for Sunday starter Chris Mourelle in a 1-0 loss. Meanwhile, Rice did FIU a solid by sweeping Western Kentucky, thus bumping FIU into the No. 7 spot in Conference USA. FAU took down Old Dominion in their second and third weekend games.

But Charlotte swept Alabama-Birmingham and Marshall took two of three from conference-leading Middle Tennessee State.

So, Louisiana Tech's done and FIU can finish off Old Dominion with a series win up in Virginia this week. Charlotte's got series remaining against Southern Mississippi and Texas-San Antonio. Marshall's plays Southern Miss, Western and La. Tech, now reduced to possible spoiler. After Old Dominion, FIU's hosts UAB and goes to Rice.

Best not to head into the Rice Paddy with any great needs.

 

 

April 20, 2015

Small Ball Drop

Well, that descended quickly.

Most of Day 1 of the Conference USA women's golf championships, FIU maintained a gap on the field that would do Annika Sorenstam proud. The Panthers' team lead fluctuated between three and five strokes. Their team score held within a similar range, 3-under to 5-under. Junior Meghan MacLaren and sophomore Camila Serrano joined a gaggle atop the leaderboard.

Cruising along as if enjoying their new ACME Bat-Man outfits, when...

 

So why will FIU wake up tomorrow for Day 2 at Fort Myers Verandah Club tied for fifth with Southern Mississippi at 7-over 295, eight shots behind leader Middle Tennessee State? A five-hole collapse that ended with a THUD on the 18th.

With the golfers playing at different times, it's hard to pinpoint when FIU started to imitate Aaron Rodgers in the 2005 draft. Serrano owned a share of the lead when she triple-bogeyed the par-4, 382-yard 16th hole. That hole turned into the second of back-to-back bogeys for Katarina Krasnova, who bogeyed three Nos. 15, 16 and 18.

MacLaren bogeyed Nos. 15 and 18. FIU''s No. 2, sophomore Coralia Arias, got down to 1-over with a birdie on the par-5 13th. But she gave that back and then some with a double bogey on the par-4, 361-yard No. 14. A birdie on No. 16 was matched by a bogey on the par-4, 380-yard 18th (of FIU's five Round 1 golfers, only Serrano escaped a bogey on No. 18.).

FIU's five golfers played the last five holes at 12-over. Fortunately, two days remain for the Panthers to get revenge on the course and climb the leaderboard in the process. 

To see a collapse like that by an FIU team, you have to go all the way back to...Sunday. The 17-2 battering FIU took from Western Kentucky cost them the series with a team around them in the standings. It also dropped them to 2-4 on Sundays in Conference USA play, a big reason they're 8-10 in the conference with little room for error to make the conference tournament.

Head coach Turtle Thomas played off the tonnage of the beating, noting how many times the 1927 New York Yankees got slaughtered. But the team meeting after the game lasted a very long time. Senior shortstop Julius Gaines, who went three for four, theorized after the game and before the meeting that maybe the chemistry on the team still isn't right. Also, Thomas said sophomore Chris Mourelle, FIU's most reliable pitcher all season, threw only in the 81-82 mph range Sunday. Hopefully, there's not a problem there.

Truly, nothing went right for FIU.  Western got a run out of a pair of choppers to Gaines that hopped higher than Denver today. With two outs in the fourth, FIU third baseman Josh Anderson fielded a grounder from Danny Hudzina that looked fair to the top row of the press box. It was ruled foul, putting Hudzina back in the box.

BAM -- home run. Next batter, Ryan Church, ZOOM -- home run. Western scored two more that inning.

Church went six for six for the day, but a spectacular defensive play of his would've ended the game if umpires could stop a game the way boxing referees can stop a fight. First and second, one out in the fourth, FIU's Zack Soria blasted a missile down the first base line, a sure double for the half-second before first baseman Church snapped his arm out for the snag and stepped on first to double the stunned runner.

FIU trailed 8-1 at that point. If you're in Vegas, that's when you get up from the table, call it a night.

Bizarre game. FIU pitcher Garrett Cave's natural hat trick of hit batters, which loaded the bases and brought in two runs, then a walk that brought in a run. Dillon Maya hitting the first batter he faced to bring in another run. Third baseman Hudzina trucking his longtime pal Church as Church tried to settle under an infield fly ball (that actually put the first runner on before Church played Laser Snag in the fourth).

Also, FIU wasted its opportunities. First and second, no outs in the second? One run and that because Josh Anderson slid to break up a double play relay and keep the inning alive. Bases loaded, one out in the third? Bupkes. Anderson lined out hard to the shortstop and JC Escarra flied out to center field to end the inning.

Meanwhile, the softball team made the most of two hits against Western's superthrower Miranda Kramer and eked out a 2-1 win as Corinne Jenkins pitched a four-hitter. Freshman Jessica Hallett ruined Kramer's no-hitter and shutout with one swing that tied the game in the fifth. An RBI single by Gabby Spallone brought in Rebekah Sanchez. Jenkins finished the job from there. 

The win kept alive FIU's slim chances for making the Conference USA tournament, which will be at Felsberg Field May 7-9. To make the tournament, the Panthers probably will need to sweep Charlotte May 2-3 in the season-ending three-game series at Charlotte.

April 17, 2015

Weekend of Hope

This weekend at Camp Mitch will be about hope.

Not "hope" as a verb. To me, that connotates too much of dealing with things as you wish they were or as they will be if some long odds uncertainty comes through instead of dealing with things as they are. "If everything goes right this season, we'll win X games" describes sports hoping at its best.

"Hope" as a noun, on the other hand, means "a chance." That's what baseball, football and softball will be trying to give themselves or demonstrate they have starting Friday at 4 at the baseball stadium and running all the way through the finish of Sunday's 1 p.m. baseball and softball games.

Between those, at 7 p.m., the football team will try to nurture hope among its fans at the annual Spring Game. The "Friday Night Lights" promotion that starts at 6 p.m. includes schedule posters for the first 1,000 fans, a DJ, a meet-and-greet with the swimming & diving team (is there any other school, excluding Cal with Missy Franklin, who could use the swim team to draw fans to football stuff?) and all sorts of other giveaways.

Despite the running-in-place nature of spring football, there are things to be learned. Watching the 2013 Spring Game gave you that Otter-in-the-Dexter-Lake-Club feeling about the season. During last year's Spring Game, you could tell freshman quarterback Alex McGough possessed the bearing, style and enough smart decision-making that eventually Ron Turner would elevate him over incumbent E.J. Hilliard. Also obvious: running back injuries would give freshmen Alex Gardner and Napoleon Maxwell a shot at starting.

This year, the team wants to build a crowd, build hope in that crowd for 2015, build some kind of buzz, even muted buzz. Another year of dragging in the standings and in the stands by the athletic department's flagship sport puts a drag on the whole department. I'm interested to see how the inexperieneced safeties and wide receivers look as well as the offensive line. The defense, with advantages in experience and overall talent, should dominate.

Softball, Conference USA co-favorites in the preseason coaches' poll, can't get swept this weekend by C-USA best Western Kentucky or just making the conference tournament moves into sorcery-miracle category. The Panthers problem in that regard stands 5-6, Western pitcher Miranda Kramer. She's one of the best in the nation with a 0.91 earned run average, a 17-4 record and only 58 walks against 271 strikeouts. And one ace like her in softball can open up many options for a coach, especially over a doubleheader Saturday and a Sunday.

And then there's baseball, having one of those seasons when you feel like you're always spitting into the wind. The Panthers might get the eighth and final conference tournament spot by default. But if Charlotte or Old Dominion get hot for a weekend or two and FIU keeps taking one per weekend, as Richard Pryor used to say, "Cancel Christmas."

The baseball crew's also facing Hilltoppers, albeit slightly less scary. Western's Austin King, Josh Bartley and Ryan Thurston go 5.31, 5.44, 6.00 in earned run average. I expect some long games Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

April 13, 2015

Monday Droppings

I'll be all over the place here.

FIU Arena's being prepared for its new seats and beach floor.

IMG_1808

The athletic department caught a big break when that CrossFit-like (but not CrossFit, CrossFit wants to make sure you know) competition broke the beach floor. Players and past coaches complained about how unforgiving the old floor could be on knees and ankles. Now, FIU gets a new floor and somebody else pays for it.

Looking at head coach Marlin Chinn's contract, the first thing that struck me was the five-year deal gets extended a year each time FIU wins 20 games and makes the NCAA tournament. His base pay is $161,000. He gets a $10,000 bonus for a single season team Academic Progress Rate of at least 970 (the team's been a perfect 1000 each of the last three reported years) and another $10,000 for team GPA over 3.1. He gets an extra $7,500 for each of these achievements: getting into the NCAA tournament, Conference USA Coach of the Year, sole possession of a regular season C-USA title. 

I heard the whole women's basketball coaching staff got sacked Monday by new coach Marlin Chinn. That's high on the expectation list when a new coach comes in after the disaster of 3-26, 0-18. I'd be willing to bet longtime assistant coach Inge Nissen winds up somewhere else in the department or university.

I wasn't at Sunday's Athletic Academic Awards Banquet (also known as "Dress Up for Food & Instagram Shots"), which would've been a great time for a sayonara ceremony to Nissen and former head coach Cindy Russo. Considering how long and well they coached at FIU, that would've been nice. I'm not sure Russo was even invited. In her last three full seasons, FIU went to two Women's NITs and got farther than Jerica Coley's superpowers should have taken the Panthers in last year's Conference USA tournament (the program was rewarded with being told the run took the team over its travel budget for the season). 

Men's basketball guard Dennis Mavin and multi-titled swimmer Johanna Gustafsdottir won the Athlete of the Year awards of the appropriate genders. The entire golf team made the conference's academic honor roll, so no surprise it won the addidas Athletic Director's Award for best GPA of the year, 3.67. Women's soccer took the Paul Gallagher Community Service Award. The Michael Felsberg Spirit Award went to swimming & diving, which shared the Champs/Life Skills Challenge Cup Award with baseball.

Speaking of baseball, senior shortstop Julius Gaines gave the invocation for the entire event and received the team's Leadership Award. That capped a good Sunday individually for Gaines. Earlier in FIU's 5-4 11-inning loss to FAU, he cracked three singles to break out of an 0-for-18 plunge that also prompted a plunge down the batting order Sunday. Coach Turtle Thomas moved Gaines from leadoff to eighth.

"I definitely don't need to send a message to Julius Gaines. He's been with us for four years. He's a good baseball player," Thomas said. "He made some really good defensive plays today. (Moving down to eighth) gets you down there where you maybe see a few more fastballs, they're not killing you working you over in the top five of the batting order. It's just to give him a different look."

Gaines said at the plate, "I got out of my head. I just went up there and said I was going to put a swing on it and whatever happened, happened." As far as hitting eighth, he admitted, "There's not as much pressure. You worry about your at-bat at that time and whatever situation comes. Leading off, it's your job to get on base. It can weigh on you a little bit."

While Gaines shrugged off his defensive day as, "I did my job. It wasn't anything out of the ordinary," FAU coach John McCormack said, "Some plays that the shortstop made in this game? Wow. Julius played really well. Thank God he's leaving this year."

Gaines made a game-saving (for the moment) play in the eighth on pinch hitter Danny Murray's tough grounder with the bases loaded. McCormack marveled that Gaines operated efficiently enough to get control of the ball, see he'd be too late for the force out at second and still fired a Murray-beating throw to first.

McCormack said two other things I found interesting. He blamed himself for FIU's 6-5 win Friday. He said he should've gone to Seth McGarry immediately in the eighth with a 5-2 lead. Instead, he used lefty Devon Carr, who gave up two hits and a walk in four batters, sparking FIU's four-run eighth inning. 

He also said he didn't believe in any FIU-FAU rivalry.

"I don't believe in rivalries because the players continually change," McCormack said. "I'm not big on, 'Win this one for The Gipper, they're our biggest rivals.'"

Out on the football field, Ron Turner said FIU's lack of experience at wide receiver and abundance of tight ends and running backs wouldn't mean FIU would use double tight end sets more in 2015 because "we did a lot of it last year." But, Turner said, they'll use more sets with varying position numbers and groupings now that FIU's in the third year of running his offense. 

"I've told these guys from Day 1 I really believe in utilizing our personnel and moving them around. If you've got a guy and he's always in the same spot, they can take him away very easily. That's one of the biggest things I learned in the NFL -- get your playmakers involved, put in position to make plays. We've done a little bit of that the first couple of years, but not as much as we'll do this year. In that league, they pay those guys a lot of money. The owners say, 'I'm paying him a lot of money, why isn't he getting the ball? Why isn't he involved?'

"And we have some guys with versatility. Look at our tight ends. We've got three guys (Jonnu Smith, Ya'keem Griner, Akil Dan-Fodio) who can line up at tight end, line up in the slot, line up as a No. 1 receiver outside and, in some cases, line up in the backfield. Look at our running backs, same thing. We've got some guys who are strictly backfield guys or you've got some who can line up in the slot or outside. We've got a couple of wide receivers who can line up in the backfield and play some running back, quarterback or whatever."

After saying he was excited about all the different options for FIU, Turner joked once spring football ends, the coaches will have too much time to come up with too much other offensive stuff to teach. Or, maybe he was only halfway joking as staffs do make that mistake more often than is noticed.

 

 

April 11, 2015

Bounce Back Friday

Baseball began with high hopes and went into Friday just hoping to keep spot in the Conference USA tournament.

FIU sat at 6-6 in conference play, inside the top eight, and none of the basement quartet of Charlotte, Old Dominion, Marshall and Louisiana Tech looks like they'll be going Big Red Machine any time now. But who thought FIU would be in this position in the first place? Also, the Panthers schedule included three-game series against each of the two conference teams ranked in the Baseball America Top 25, FAU and Rice, plus a three-gamer against Western Kentucky. Lose a few series, get swept by one or both of the ranked teams, somebody else gets hot and it's "Cancel that bus to Hattiesburg."

And, Friday, FIU went into the eighth inning down 5-2 to Del Boca Vista University. A four-run eighth inning with the Panthers doing what they haven't -- hittin' 'em where they ain't (or at least where they can't make a play) with runners in scoring position -- often enough this season. Brian Portelli's double, JC Escarra's and Mitchell Robinson's ground outs drove in runs and Portelli scored on a wild pitch.

That gave FIU the buffer for Saturday's 8-3 loss. They can steal the series with a win Sunday afternoon.

SAND VOLLEYBALL

Only a 3-2 loss to Stetson kept the women of sand from being FIU's second undefeated team this academic year in games/dual meets. The Panthers got a second shot at the Hatters Friday on Siesta Key.

The Panthers won the Nos. 2 through 5 matches in straight sets and the No. 1 pair of Maryna Samoday and Anja Licka led 12-5 after winning the first set before an injury to Licka forced retirement.

4-1, FIU. Now, then.

Nationals come next for FIU, No. 3 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll.

April 10, 2015

FIU's Commissioner's Academic Medal Winners

If you're a full-time student-athlete and bring in a 3.75 grade point average, Conference USA honors you with the Commissioner's Academic Medal. FIU had 34 such athletes for the 2014-15 school year, 10th among full Conference USA member schools (Kentucky, South Carolina and New Mexico are in the league for men's soccer only.)

Baseball: Mitchell Robinson, Zack Soria.

Men's Basketball: Kris Gulley, Hassan Hussein.

Women's Basketball: Katrina Epnere, Zsofia Labady, Nikolina Todorovic.

Women's Golf: Katerina Krasnova.

Sand Vollyeball: Anna Budinska, Morgan Crawley, Darija Sataric.

Men's Soccer: Luca Giovine, Adam Sibiski.

Women's Soccer: Ellen Crist, Johanna Volz, Ashley Westberry.

Softball: Rachel Dwyer, Dominique Grossman, Jessica Hallett, Michaela Mills.

Swimming & Diving: Klara Andersson, Valerie Inghels, Anna Jonsson.

Tennis: Giulietta Boha, Nerma Caluk, Yana Koroleva.

Men's Track & Field: William Offor.

Men's Cross Country: Orlando Rodriguez.

Women's Track & Field: Tiffani Hernandez, Celine Murton.

Volleyball: Tia Clay, Kari Peterson, Jovanna Santamaria, Anabela Sataric.

 

 

 

172 FIU Athletes Make C-USA Commissioner's Honor Roll

(Thought I posted this last night. Apparently, I only saved it. A face-down-on-the-keyboard mistake.)

A 3.0 GPA gets you on the Conference USA Commissioner's Honor Roll, which 172 FIU athletes have done this year. FIU ranks eighth most among Conference USA's full membership schools. That's an improvement after 154 and tied for 12th last year.

The names are submitted to the conference by the schools.

Baseball (16): Brandon Cody, Charles Cormier, Cody Crouse, Ian Exposito, Julius Gaines, Evan Holland, David Lee, Spencer Levine, Dominic LoBrutto, Carlos Lopez, Andres Nunez, Mitchell Robinson, Austin Rodriguez, Jack Schaaf, Eduardo Silva, Zack Soria.

Men's Basketball (3): Larry Dennis (Huh? He transferred to a junior college at midseason), Kris Gulley, Hassan Hussein.

Women's Basketball (13): Jade Cheek, Jerica Coley (Say what? Everybody's happy she's still around campus doing graduate work, but how is she counting for this year? Was somebody just throwing names in there to see if C-USA was paying attemtion?), Marita Davydova, Arielle Durant (Uh, director of basketball oerations this year, not a player), Katrina Epnere, Aajah Hawkins, Amari Hawkins, Zsofia Labady, Tynia McKinzie (dismissed from the team at midseason), Taylor Shade, Nikolina Todorovic, Ciera Wheatley, Brianna Wright. 

Football (17): Chris Ayers, Richard Burrows, Christopher Cummins, Akil Dan-Fodio, Ricky Fernandez, Chris Flaig, Adrian Francois, Cody Hodgens, Yousif Khoury, Jose Laphitzondo, Fred Porter, Anthon Samuel, Donald Senat, Yohan Soares, Delmar Taylor, Scott Wade, Cory White.

Golf (8 -- the entire team): Coralia Arias, Sophie Godley, Carla Jane, Katerina Krasnova, Meghan MacLaren, Camila Serrano, Ashley Shimmel, Jasmine Wade.

Sand Volleyball (9): Marina Boulanger, Anna Budinska, Morgan Crawley, Aren Cupp, Alexa Diaz, Alexandria Johnson, Giovanna Pasos, Darija Sataric, Tina Toghiyani.

Men's Soccer (10): Quentin Albrecht, Roberto Alterio, Luca Giovine, Marvin Hezel, Nicholas Midttun, Deshawon Nembhard, Nico Pasquariello, Adam Sibiski, Robin Spiegel, Jesse Wear.

Women's soccer (16): Shelby Bowden, Ellen Crist, Marie Egan, Cyan Jean-Baptiste, Talia McMurtrie, Ryann Ramirez, Nikki Rios, Alyssa Robinson, Ashleigh Shim, Marlena Stablein, Sara Stewart, Nevana Stojakovic, Pat Tomanon, Johanna Volz, Madlen Weinhardt, Ashley Westberry.

Softball 10): Isabelle Barnes, Rachel Dwyer, Krystal Garcia, Samantha Green, Dominique Grossman, Jessica Hallett, Corinne Jenkins, Marisa McGregor, Michaela Mills, Rebekah Sanchez.

Swimming & Diving (20): Klara Andersson, Sabrina Beaupre (she's been off the eligibility clock since the 2014 NCAA's), Jessica Chadwick, Jenny Deist, Nadia Farrugia, Valerie Inghels, Anna Jonsson, Lily Kaufmann, Maria Lopez, Jean Madison, Alex Mayhew, Melissa Moreno, Sonia Perez-Arau (oh, come on! the only C-USA swimmer to score at the 2014 NCAAs. Lazy times in ), Valeriia Popova, Rebecca Quensel, Silvia Scalia, Alaina Smith, Kayley Tepe, Courtney VanderSchaaf, Becky Wilde. 

Tennis (6): Giulietta Boha, Valentina Briceno, Nerma Caluk, Yana Koroleva, Nina Nagode, Carlotta Orlando.

Men's cross country (7): Brandon Ballard, Ronny Greenup, Andres Magliano, Eli Monzon, Leonel Pozo, Daniel Puentes, Orlando Rodriquez.

Women's cross country (4): Adrienne Gerzeny, Katarina Rodriguez, Brittany Wasserbeck, Desmika White.

Men's track (10): Dylan Cook, Pablo Espitia, Garry Louima, Tyshawn Lytle, Desmond McGill, Luka Mustafic, Daniel Neptune, Wisdom Offor, Julian Santiago, Traivon Smith.

Women's track 12): Brittany Corbett, Phillicia Fluellen, Chandra Fulwood, Adrienne Gerzeny, Chelsea Gobourne, Anesha Gordon, Anna Heinzman, Tiffani Hernandez, Sharniece King, Symone Lindsay, Celine Murton, Lexis Shields.

Volleyball: Lucia Castro, Tia Clay, Maria Coukolis, Briana Gogins, Gloria Levorin, Anja Licka, Natalie Martinez, Kristine Monforte, Kari Peterson, Jovanna Santamaria, Anabela Sataric, Tina Toghiyani (wait, she already got counted back at sand volleyball...)

 

 

 

March 22, 2015

MacLaren, Golf Rolling Well; Spring Practice, Day 2

After going almost two years between conference team titles in all sports, FIU could get two in three months.

The golf team, which brought home the 2013 Sun Belt Conference title, finished second in the Mountain View Collegiate with junior Meghan MacLaren (7-under 209) getting medalist by three shots. Freshman Katerina Krasnova (2-under 214) tied for 10th.

Finishing ahead of FIU: Ohio State. Among the 18 teams finishing behind FIU: Purdue, Kansas State, Iowa State, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and BYU. 

BASEBALL

Junior Edwin Rios went into Saturday's game against Charlotte barely hitting his weight. He came out a chunk closer to C.C. Sabathia's weight, up to .256, after going four for four with three home runs in a 23-1 Saturday mercy rule rout of Charlotte. It was the first homer hat trick in Conference USA since June 5, 2010.

Senior Brian Portelli went four for five with four RBI and a homer as FIU finally stopped making every lefthanded opposing pitcher look like Warren Spahn. The Panthers need to use this weekend against Charlotte and next weekend against Marshall to turn around this 10-13 season that's been the epitome of underachievement.

(I'm sure all the FIU players and coaches had the same thought you just did -- boy, wish they could store some of those runs...)

FOOTBALL

FIU football held its second spring practice Saturday morning. Ron Turner would address the outside media for the first time this spring. Practice was closed.

Not enough of a draw for me to wrestle South Florida/South Beach traffic on a scheduled day off with the NCAA tournament, naps and vacation staring me in the face. If something serious happens while I'm on vaca (i.e., coach firing, notable player transferring in or out, players showing full or just too much monty at the beach), I'll suit up and get back in the game. Otherwise...

IMG_1495

 

March 19, 2015

First Day of Spring Football Quick Hits

Practice was closed, sort of -- classes in the suites weren't cancelled, so someone who cared to look noticed that junior Anthon Samuel got the first running back reps of the drills seen with sophomores Alex Gardner and Napoleon Maxwell behind him.

Alex Gardner's laptop screen saver is a shot of the play against Marshall on which his season ended last year. It reminds him of how much he missed.

Freshman Anthony Jones said he lined up at wide receiver Thursday. Not a tall young man, but a thick one -- big chest and arms, looks sturdy enough to take some hits without breaking.

BASEBALL

An injury to the groin area will cost senior third baseman Josh Anderson a month of this season. And so does FIU's baseball season continue to spin out. The 9-12 Panthers get a chance to turn things around with Charlotte coming in for three games this weekend.

 

 

March 03, 2015

Building Stuff

Funny what you can learn sitting around the arena on a Friday afternoon.

Executive director for sports and entertainment Pete Garcia passed with Senior Associate ADs Julie Berg and Heath Glick and invited me along to look at the choice of new chairs for FIU Arena.

IMG_20150227_133226

At least all the lower bowl chairs in the arena will be replaced. That's the "Bleacher Project" referred to in the pre-Miss Universe e-mail to Glick as "likely scrapped." 

The other project mentioned as "likely scrapped" in that e-mail, the softball/golf locker room, should be started after FIU hosts Conference USA softball championships, according to Garcia and Berg. The new practice area for the track and field throwers, also part of the Women's Sports Initiative, should be done before the year's out. Garcia said a major upgrading of the baseball stadium will be coming in the next year or two. 

A major donation should be announced soon that'll pay for the baseball stadium and arena seat replacement. The other projects should be covered under what's been collected for the Women's Sports Initiative.

Recently, I heard again from someone close to the situation, as I did last fall, that the long-awaited soccer/track stadium will become a reality once FIU takes over the Youth Fair land. Don't confuse this with any drive to get Major League Soccer as a temporary FIU tenant. This pitch would be for FIU and youth teams.

Considering the amount of time we've been waiting on this project, all skepticism until dirt gets disturbed is warranted.

 

March 02, 2015

Ball So (Diamond) Hard

The Felsberg Invitational on Felsberg Field at FIU Softball Stadium went thusly for FIU: three for three against Bethune-Cookman, even 1-1 split with Michigan State (shutout win, close loss to Big Ten dregs) and a loss in their only game against Ole Miss (resident of the SEC softball's Bikini Bottom).

All of FIU's goals -- a 40-win season, conference title, NCAA tournament regional berth -- remain in play for the preseason Conference USA co-favorites when the conference season starts Friday with a three-game home series against Marshall. And after losing their Felsberg opener to Ole Miss 5-0, they came two runs from sweeping the remaining five games.

After the loss to Ole Miss, FIU coach Gator Rebhan immediately criticized sophomore Stephanie Texeira for impatience at the plate with runners in scoring position. In the next five games, Texeira went eight for 12 with three doubles, a home run and six RBI. Pitcher Corrinne Jenkins pitched a perfect 2 1/3 relief innings in the 4-3 loss to Michigan State, and gave up only two hits in five innings that comprised the 4-0 shutout. 

That first game featured Rebhan-coached FIU vs. FIU Past -- Ole Miss with last year's FIU head coach Jake Schumann and a former FIU assistant Sharon Palma as assistant coaches to Mike Smith.

This wasn't just one of 54 on the schedule for FIU. Unfortunately, it wound up being closer to zero of 54 after FIU managed three hits on Ole Miss pitcher Emily Gaitan.

"Obviously, it was a little bittersweet," Schumann said. "This is my team now and I would've been really upset if we'd lost the game. Part of you really wants those kids at FIU to do well. You brought them in, you put the time in. I'm not as excited as I would be, like I was in game 1 when we came back and won that game (after four last inning runs on Bethune to send the game to extra innings)."

Ole Miss carries the same "SEC team" designation that 2014 College World Series winner Florida and runner up Alabama carry and with all that means. That's about where the similarity ends. The preseason SEC poll picked Ole Miss last and the program's history of losing almost matches that of the Florida Panthers.

"A couple of things I've had to adjust to: I've been a head coach for 14 years. So, not being the boss, but being OK with the decisions being made," said Schumann, who handles the infield and the hitters. "Obviously, going to a town of 16,000 people in the middle of a forest from Miami is a big shock. There's not much to do especially on Sunday when everything's closed."

Schumann's first coaching job above mid-major level opened his eyes about the current state of college athletics. 

"It's obviously haves and have nots. The Power Five conferences definitely have an advantage over all the other conferences in the country. Coming from both, and actually seeing it, it is a big difference," he said. "Hopefully, the NCAA will do something to even it out, but I think it's just going to keep becoming a wider span (between the Power 5 and Group of 5 conferences). Not that teams like FIU shouldn't beat SEC schools or ACC schools or Big 12 schools, but the resources -- from academics to food to travel to everything -- is just so vast. It takes a lot of pressure off of you as coach. All you have to do is coach."

An FIU coach told me that at most schools, they fund raise for extras. At FIU, coaches fund raise to survive.

"Don't have to fund-raise at all," Schumann said. "All I have to do is coach and recruit."

And for more money in a cheaper market.

This is why, without some of the fund-raising groups you see at Rice or snagging someone tethered to South Florida, FIU's non-baseball head coaching jobs always will have a problem avoiding being seen as stepping stones.

BASEBALL

FIU took three of four from Manhattan College, outscoring the Jaspers 46-12. FIU got in batting practice. Manhattan got to escape the emasculating cold of New York. Call it a win-win.

 

February 26, 2015

Field Work; Felsberg Invitational Familiarity; Manhattan Holiday; Coaching Matters

The City of Birmingham, quivering like Rock Ridge before Mongo, closed all public facilities Wednesday in fear of what places in the former Confederacy consider major snowfall. This condensed the Conference USA Indoor Track & Field Championships to a one-day event.

Not so condensed were the throws of FIU junior Raquarra Ishmar, who turned today into Throw Forward Thursday by winning the women's weight throw and finishing second in the shot put.

Ishmar (63 feet, 4 inches), junior Chelsea Goburne (59-1/4) and sophomore Chandra Fullwood (56-3 1/4) gave FIU its strongest team performance of the day, a 1-4-6 finish, in the weight throw. Going into the last two throws, the 61-2 from Western Kentucky's Janessa Jackson held the lead. Ishmar cranked off a 62-footer to take the lead, then muscled out the 63-4 on her last throw to hammer home who the alpha female was in this event.

Ishmar finished a solid second in the shot, her 50-8 3/4 being 1-8 1/2 ahead of third place Rachel Polk of Southern Miss and 8-2 behind Rice blowout winner, Claire Uke.

In the men's triple jump, junior Marcus Ghent reached 50-2 3/4 to finish second by 4 3/4 inches behind Western's Cyrus Johnson. Ghent also picked up points with a sixth place long jump of 22-8 1/2. 

The team standings found the women finishing ninth of 13 and the men finishing ninth of nine. 

SOFTBALL

Jake Schumann, FIU's coach the last three seasons, knows the way to Felsberg Field. So does former FIU pitching assistant coach Sharon Palma.

So, the Ole Miss bus shouldn't get lost on the way to Felsberg Field at FIU Softball Stadium for Friday's opening of this weekend's Felsberg Invitational. The 8-4 Rebels are scheduled to play Bethune-Cookman at 2. Bethune will rest while FIU and Ole Miss get it on at 4:30. FIU plays Bethune at 7 p.m.

Last week, FIU saw the fourth member of last year's coaching staff (current FIU head coach Gator Rebhan was an assistant last year), current Texas State assistant coach Kelly Kretschman. It wasn't a happy reunion for the Panthers, losing 8-0. 

BASEBALL

Manhattan comes down for its four-game winter beating from FIU. Two years ago, the Jaspers got bombed in the first two games and outscored 40-17 for the three-game series.

By the way, did you know that FIU got back from last week's tournament in South Carolina around 7:30 a.m. after a 13-hour bus ride and some players had to hit class immediately? That's unfair to the student-athletes.

There should be a rule that teams have to fly if the road trip ends over a set number of hours away from the main campus and the team has class the next day. 

Break time...

 

SWIMMING & DIVING

FIU coach Randy Horner's contract is up at the end of April, two months after FIU won the Conference USA women's swimming & diving title. That's producing when the time's right.

Horner makes just over $57,000 in a contract that began when FIU wasn't close to competitive in the Sun Belt and ends with FIU being one of the nation's best mid-major teams. They've also been the top academic team on campus three of the previous four years.

That's the kind of work that'll attract attention if a Power Five school with manatees in the pool wants someone who can transform the team into motorboats. And that school will offer a significant raise. Just as an example, Michigan State clearly doesn't care about its swim program. The Spartans annually finish in the bottom two at the Big Ten meet and have for two decades. Yet, head coach Matt Gianiodis has held that job since October 2003.

All those signs of department apathy toward a sport and Gianiodis still gets paid over $76,000 while living in East Lansing, Michigan, a cheaper market than Miami. They might be paying Gianiodis extra for staying in East Lansing, which one Michigan State graduate I talked with Thursday called "Siberia" and about which Sports Illustrated writer Dan Jenkins quipped, "It looks like Stalingrad."

Anyway, that's just an example of why FIU might want to give Horner more than a little bump when it puts rings on the swimming & diving women's fingers.

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

Some might wonder if former FIU assistant coach Desma Thomas Bateast, now an assistant coach at South Florida, might want to come back to rebuild the program. Putting the hard hat on to deal with this catastrophe takes a relatively young, energetic coach and she's familiar with the place.

That doesn't always work in the school's favor, understand...

 


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