UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES
Friday -- Women's soccer vs. UCF, 7 p.m.
Friday -- Volleyball vs. North Florida, 7 p.m.
Saturday -- Volleyball vs. Alabama A&M, noon
Saturday -- Volleyball vs. South Florida, 6 p.m.
Thursday -- Men's soccer vs. Fairfield, 7 p.m.
While FIU women's soccer hosts formerly-ranked Central Florida in a measuring stick game tonight, men's soccer opens the season with a pair of measuring stick games that could easily turn into Big Mama yardstick spankings:
At No. 5 North Carolina in its season-opener tonight; at Wake Forest, which received Top 25 votes, Sunday.
Opening the season with Ali, then Frazier is the idea of head coach Scott Calabrese. The early damage it could do to the record he hopes gets countered by the later benefit in Conference USA, no ACC in soccer but home to two Top 25 teams (No. 17 Charlotte, No. 24 Old Dominion) and three others that received votes (UAB, Kentucky, New Mexico).
"When you play at Chapel Hill and you play at Wake Forest, they have an ability to expose things you do wrong and they'll punish you for it," Calabrese said. "We'll learn a lot about our team. UNC is a team that is usually in contention for a national championship. Playing them will set a standard for what it is to be in that position. The speed of play, how do we measure up to that?"
Last year's results reflected the reality of FIU men's soccer having a first-year coach being the third in four seasons of a program that's been buffeted by NCAA penalties and loss of national relevancy. Their 6-9-1 record included some fine performances but a 2-6 conference record left them outside the CUSA tournament.
Calabrese voiced similar hopes to those stated to me earlier in the day by volleyball's Rita Buck-Crockett.
(For that matter, all the fall sports -- men's soccer, women's soccer, volleyball, football -- spent their 2014 seasons malnourished on wins after losses during which they could smell victory cooking.
"You learn how to win games, not just play games as you mature," Calabrese said. "I think we have a group that's more mature and focused. Do we have an ability to turn good performances into results? Overall, I'd say this team that's starting to come together is more cohesive on and off the field.
They lost three-time All-Region striker Quentin Albrecht, who led or tied for the team scoring lead each of his four years. Senior midfielder Daniel Gonzalez is the leading returning scorer (nine points). Gonzalez, preseason All-CUSA defender Marvin Hezel and midfielder Donald Tomlinson tie as the leading returning goal scorers (two each).
Making up Albrecht's production (eight goals, two assists last year), Calabrese said, "might be a midfielder scoring four or five, a striker getting six or seven goals, another player chipping in with three or four. I do think we have multiple players who can help us score goals."
The coaches picked FIU sixth. Calabrese figures if the Panthers get into the top four, that'll mean they're playing at a Top 25 level.
Friday, they'll see if they can play at a Top 5 level.
Thursday, starting at 5 p.m., there's a watch party at the Chili's in the Graham Center ("The GC") for FIU's season opener at UCF. You veterans without Friday classes can start your weekend. Those of you with Friday classes can start your weekend, too, it's just that you might pay for it one way or the other.