I expect to hear soon that the school's given men's soccer coach Scott Calabrese a new deal after his second FIU team won the Conference USA tournament, spent part of the season ranked and lost a tough NCAA tournament road game to Tulsa. Calabrese gets a bump in pay from his $55,000 salary.
That's $55,000 in Miami. Up in Lexington, where you could buy several nice houses and the nearby Waffle House for the cost of one Kendall 3/2 with small side yards, University of Kentucky coach Johan Cedergren makes $105,000. South Carolina's Mark Berson's making $108,060 in a cheap market. OK, that's Kentucky and South Carolina, members of the SEC plutocracy who slum it in Conference USA to play the people's game. So, let's look at Charlotte...
Men's soccer head coach Kevin Langan makes $70,840. In Charlotte.
For those who've asked, FIU athletic director Pete Garcia's contract expires Oct. 15. If he's re-upped, look for it to happen over the summer.
When writing this story on recruiting Florida vs. recruiting International, I thought the following from volleyball coach Rita Buck-Crockett deleted from my recorder. So, obviously, I didn't use it. But Buck-Crockett's built both volleyballs, sand and indoor, with a mixture of players.
""If we need an instant game changer, then you're probably going to get that quicker by recruiting an international to come in as a freshman or a junior college, experienced player," she said. "If you have a program that's built, then you can bring freshmen that you're training and get them involved."
Expect a couple of transfers to be announced from Rutgers and Tennessee soon.
Curious about how FIU ranks among its Conference USA peers since moving from the Sun Belt Fun Belt in 2013, a curiosity prodded by several people inside and outside the athletic department asking the same thing, I did a little record hunting.
Now, obviously, the best answer to the above would be found by compiling the records of each CUSA school in each sport that FIU plays, weighting for things like missed conference tournaments, NCAA runs, conference tournament runs, individual brilliance (such as FIU's Meghan MacLaren tearing up the 2015 conference golf tournament). But all that would take up way too large a portion of whatever time I have left on this plane of existence. So, here's what I did:
I ranked the schools on overall and conference records since 2013 in football, men's basketball, women's basketball, baseball and then a wild card sport -- each school's best sport in which FIU also participates.
You play to win championships, so when ranking in conference play, the title winners eat first. When I assign point values later to determine an overall ranking, conference play will get greater weight. You get more credit for beating your peers than you do gorging on lesser punks.
I see the obvious flaws. With a relatively small sample size, one great or abysmal season can swing the results too hard in one direction. That's even more the case with schools that entered CUSA after the Great Sun Belt Migration of 2013 brought FIU, FAU, North Texas and Middle Tennessee State to the league. But, outside of Intelligent Benevolent Dictatorship, no perfect systems exist.
Here's the rankings for each sport:
1. Marshall – 33-8, three bowl wins
2. Western Kentucky – 20-7, two bowl wins.
3. Rice – 23-16, two bowl appearances, one win.
4. Louisiana Tech – 22-17, two bowl wins.
5. Middle Tennessee State -- 21-17, two bowl appearances.
6. Old Dominion – 11-13
7. North Texas -- 14-23, won one bowl game.
8. UTEP – 14-23, one bowl appearance
9. UTSA – 14-22 (ranked behind UTEP and North Texas despite a smidge better record because UTEP’s extra loss came in a bowl game and North Texas’ extra game was a bowl win).
10. Southern Mississippi – 13-25, one bowl appearance
11. FAU – 12-24
12. UAB – 8-16 (loses tiebreaker with FAU on, you know, the program being dead, then revived to two-season coma).
13. FIU – 10-26
14. Charlotte – 2-10
1. Marshall -- 20-4, one conference title
2. Western Kentucky -- 12-4, one conference title.
3. Rice – 15-9, one conference title.
4. Middle Tennessee State – 17-7
5. Louisiana Tech -- 16-8
6. UTSA – 12-12
7. Old Dominion – 7-9
8. Southern Mississippi – 9-15 (gets the tiebreaker over UTEP, North Texas and FAU based on a Conference USA West Division title.)
9. UTEP 9-15 (gets the tiebreaker over North Texas and FAU on combined head-to-head record)
10. North Texas -- 9-15 (head-to-head tiebreaker over FAU)
11. FAU -- 9-15
12. UAB – 5-11
13. FIU – 7-17
14. Charlotte – 0-8
MEN’S BASKETBALL OVERALL
1. Louisiana Tech – 68-19
2. UTEP – 55-27
3. Old Dominion – 53-32
4. Middle Tennessee State -- 51-31
5. UAB – 49-32
6. Western Kentucky -- 28-18
7. FIU – 38-40
8. North Texas 36-42
9. Charlotte – 17-28
10. Marshall – 27-52
11. UTSA – 25-50
12. Rice – 24-53
13. FAU – 21-53
14. Southern Mississippi – 41-36 (placed down here for two years of self-imposed postseason bans after fundamental NCAA violations, such as completing homework assignments for recruits).
MEN’S BASKETBALL CONFERENCE
1. UAB -- 20-15, one Conference USA title
2. Louisiana Tech – 31-6
3. UTEP -- 27-9
4. Western Kentucky -- 12-7
5. Old Dominion – 23-12
6. Middle Tennessee State – 22-13
7. FIU – 16-19
8. North Texas -- 17-21
9. Charlotte – 7-12
10. UTSA -- 13-23
11. Marshall – 12-23
12. Rice – 10-26
13. FAU – 7-27
14. Southern Mississippi -- 17-18 (See above)
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL OVERALL
1. Western Kentucky – 40-7
2. Middle Tennessee State – 60-20
3. Southern Mississippi – 60-22
4. UTEP – 52-25
5. UAB – 41-33
6. Old Dominion – 44-37
7. FAU -- 38-34
8. Marshall – 38-37
9. Charlotte – 22-22
10. UTSA – 34-40
11. Louisiana Tech – 33-42
12. Rice – 24-49
13. North Texas -- 23-48
14. FIU -- 20-54
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL CONFERENCE
1. Western Kentucky – 17-2, one conference title
2. Middle Tennessee State 30-5, one conference title
3. Southern Mississippi -- 27-8
4. Old Dominion -- 21-14
5. UTEP – 21-15
6. Charlotte – 10-9
7. UAB – 18-17
8. Louisiana Tech – 15-20
9. UTSA -- 15-21
10. FAU -- 14-21
11. Marshall -- 11-24
12. Rice – 11-25
13. North Texas -- 11-25
14. FIU – 6-29
1. Rice – 79-42, one NCAA at-large bid
2. Southern Mississippi – 71-43-1
3. FAU – 70-44, one NCAA at-large bid
4. UAB – 68-46
5. UTSA – 68-51
6. FIU – 66-51
7. Old Dominion – 63-54
8. Middle Tennessee State – 63-54
9. Western Kentucky – 24-28
10. Louisiana Tech – 40-62
11. Marshall – 40-63
12. Charlotte – 38-60-1
North Texas & UTEP – No team
1. Rice -- 45-15, one conference title
2. FIU – 29-31, one conference title
3. Southern Mississippi – 38-21
4. Middle Tennesse State – 37-24
5. UAB -- 35-25
6. FAU -- 33-26
7. UTSA -- 33-28
8. Old Dominion – 30-30
9. Marshall -- 22-37
10. Charlotte -- 21-38
11. Western Kentucky – 10-19
12. Louisiana Tech – 13-46
North Texas & UTEP – No team
WILD CARD SPORT
1. Western Kentucky – Volleyball. 62-10, 30-2 in conference, two conference tournament titles.
FIU's 3-0 (25-14, 25-17, 25-15) sweep Thursday at Louisiana Tech combined with Marshall's loss to Conference USA leader Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State's loss to North Texas put FIU back into the Conference USA tournament after a year's absence.
FIU likely will be the No. 7 seed, unless Florida Atlantic zombie dances through its match with La Tech and FIU whips Charlotte. In that case, the Panthers would move to the No. 6 seed. The probable first round opponent is Texas-San Antonio, which gave FIU the what for, 3-1 (25-17, 25-27, 25-9, 25-17) at FIU Arena Nov. 1.
Quickie summary then need to get the bald spot groomed at Mop City:
If FIU wins Thursday at Louisiana Tech, which is 10-18 overall and 3-11 in Conference USA, the Panthers are in the conference tournament.
Six of the eight spots in the Conference USA tournament have been filled. FIU sits seventh with a 7-7 conference record, one game ahead of 6-8s Marshall and Middle Tennessee State and two up on 5-9 Charlotte. Middle and Marshall close the season against each other. FIU's final match is at Charlotte, next Saturday.
So, an FIU win Thursday means the Panthers can't be caught by Charlotte and can only be caught by either Marshall or Middle, but not both because those two play each other.
A Panthers loss Thursday, while the kind of blown opportunity that calls into question if they deserve to be in the tournament, still could leave FIU in a great position. Marshall plays CUSA's best team, Western Kentucky. Middle plays North Texas, right now tied for the fourth seed. Charlotte plays FAU, the No. 6 team. If all three lose (not just a possibility, a probability), FIU's in the tournament.
If it comes down to tiebreakers, FIU has the head-to-head tiebreaker over Marshall. Middle has the head-to-head tiebreaker over FIU. Charlotte has it on Middle. Marshall and Charlotte met twice, splitting matches.
Swimming & Diving -- Saturday vs. Illinois, 10:30 a.m.
Volleyball -- Sunday vs. North Texas, 1 p.m. (Senior Day)
Women's Basketball -- Friday vs. Florida A&M, 5 p.m.
Men's Basketball -- Friday vs. Trinity Baptist, 7 p.m.
Before we get to what FIU needs to do Saturday at La Cage against Charlotte, let's give a quick update on the two fall sports mentioned above.
The water women keep doing what they do, leading Illinois 100-85 after the first of a two-day dual meet. Sophomore Kyna Periera won the 500 freestyle, 200 free and anchored the winning 200 medley and 400 free relays. But FIU owes its lead in the meet to the 16-2 advantage in platform diving. Illinois entered only one diver and FIU Sophomore Rebecca Quesnel, junior Lily Kaufmann, Laura Coronado and Natalia Coronado all beat her.
That meet resumes at 10:30 a.m. or one hour, 15 minutes before cops bike around the FIU Stadium parking lots and politely tell the few tailgaters to pack it up.
Everybody around FIU in the fight to make the volleyball tournament turned into Johanna Gustafsdottir and backstroked Friday. The top eight teams get into the tournament, but only No. 22 Western Kentucky and UTSA had clinched spots doing into Friday. FIU was tied with FAU, but with the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The Panthers, 7-6 in conference, lost to Western. And FAU beat North Texas. But Marshall, sitting behind FIU, got swept by Southern Mississippi, which clinched a tournament spot. With a chance to pull even with eighth place Marshall, Middle Tennessee State stumbled over Charlotte.
So FIU's alone in seventh, one game behind Rice, North Texas and FAU, but a game and a half ahead of ninth place Middle and two games up on 10th place Charlotte.
The regular season ends at Charlotte next Saturday.
As to Charlotte and FIU on the football field this Saturday, FIU's favored by 18-19 points, depending on your oddsmaker. That's the largest since kicking off the 2012 home opener a 23-point favorite over Akron, which took FIU to overtime before losing 41-38. That's No. 2 behind "a loss" on the Last Thing FIU Needs list.
Charlotte's a third-year program in its first FBS season and playing like it. If FIU's the bowl team it believes itself to be, then the Panthers come out intense and focused Saturday to do one thing: get in, get out, hit it and quit it.
Do to Charlotte what they did to UTEP in the other noon game, and get the starters out as soon as you can. That's a common sense move late in the season anyway. Doubly so for a team with a whose injury report sounds longer than the Warren Commission Report. Triply so for a banged up team that's got to get a win from one of a hard final pair of regular season games for bowl eligibility.
(And I'm sure FIU would like to thank Conference USA for making the Panthers bye week the final week on the overall schedule. That's like having a driver switch in the 24 Hours of LeMans after the checkered flag.)
Get sophomore running back Alex Gardner out of the game the week after he played every snap. Get sophomore quarterback Alex McGough, who was the pinata last week with FAU a bunch of Coke-bottle baby five-year-olds with bats looking for their sugar. Get the linemen out. Get whoever's playing tight end out because they've been dropping like leaves up north.
UTEP allows 9.7 yards per pass attempt in conference games, second most behind Rice's 10.0. Charlotte allows 8.6. Translation: FIU should be able to hit Charlotte with similar big plays to that which they hit UTEP. Charlotte will try to run the ball, as UTEP did. Well, they'll try to run the ball as Middle and FAU did on the Panthers. The run defense needs to show up this week or Charlotte will have a chance to shorten this game. Or just keep FIU's starters involved longer.
FIU's got mountains to climb the next two weeks. They need to stomp on the molehill, not stumble over it.
FIU 45, Charlotte 13
But that's one black man's opinion. I could be wrong.
It's been almost 31 years since the Miami Dolphins packed the team charter for a Super Bowl. That year's Ultimate Game, the 19th such event, sold easily as a potential classic with more points than a Big East basketball game -- the 14-2 Dolphins with NFL record resetting second-year quarterback Dan Marino vs. the 15-1 San Francisco 49ers with a pretty good offense themselves.
Beyond that simplistic comparison, I saw game San Franciso almost couldn't lose. For all Marino's greatness, the Dolphins were one-dimensional. They couldn't run. They'd be going up against a defense that won the NFC title game in a shutout; a defense whose secondary, perhaps the best ever, was the true propulsion in the 49ers rise from doormat to dynasty three years earlier; a defense with two or three devastating pass rushers.
Meanwhile, every part of the 49ers presented multiple threats. Joe Montana operated the West Coast offense expertly, led the NFC in passing and could run (he'd rush for 59 yards in the Super Bowl). Both running backs, 1,200-yard man Wendell Tyler and Roger Craig, could catch out of the backfield. And they'd get to see a Dolphins defense that had just given up 28 points to a 9-7 Pittsburgh team quarterbacked by Mark Malone.
Conclusion: the 49ers would score as much as they needed to win and might score as much as they wanted. I announced "I'm giving Miami and 4 points" in Calculus class. By the fourth quarter of the 38-16 Dolphins loss, I was making "you going to have my money tomorrow?" phone calls.
Relevance to Old Dominion vs. FIU Saturday: That's exactly the feeling I have about this game after more than a cursory look. This is FIU's rout to lose.
If I'm wrong, I'll be here in the postgame blog eating my crow with salt and Bob Evans sausage. But that'll mean Old Dominion will have performed to a level it hasn't this season and FIU will have contracted an ineptitude virus causing football incontinence all over Ocean Bank Field.
Don't be fooled by Old Dominion being, as Monarchs coach Bobby Wilder pointed out last week, 5-5 in their 10 Conference USA games over the last two seasons. Or by David Washington switching back to quarterback from wide receiver, then going 25 of 43 for 365 yards and four touchdowns against Charlotte "a good football team with good players," according to Wilder.
This is why those of us who hear and must transcribe such claptrap took a few minutes to mourn when Steve Spurrier walked away. Whether or not we covered him, we thanked God/Adonai/Allah/Jah for a coach who had little use for false modesty, fake puffery of opponents or speaking to the media (and, by extension, the public) as if a little research couldn't puncture the balloon launched by all that hot air. Spurrier's words weren't the New New Testament, but they weren't the coaching equivalent of teenage girls calling each other's new outfits "cute."
I can't tell you how many times I heard "very good" to describe UTEP's players and team the week before FIU hosted the Miners. "Very good" is a team in the Top 25 or at least a contender for a conference title. It's not a banged up, handicap parking space-eligible team with one FBS win (in OT against an annually pathetic program) and losses by 31, 49 and 19 points.
Charlotte's players probably give great effort. Clearly, they've made great strides to be any kind of competitive in only Season No. 3 after restarting the football program. But that's not "a good football team with good players." Good football teams with good players don't give up 73 points as Charlotte did to Middle Tennessee State. Charlotte's wins are against Georgia State and Presbyterian, which sounds more like a local high school and probably has less talent than two or three local high schools down here.
And trying to link last year's fast finishing Old Dominion team to this year's should get you a job selling stuff on 3 a.m. infomercials. Last year's team had enough offense to play everybody on the schedule close, save Marshall, and pull a few upsets. This year's team got steamrolled by Appalachian State 49-0, NC State 38-14 and gave up 309 yards rushing to Charlotte.
You're going to tell me some team only in their junior year as a program, first year in FBS, can punk Old Dominion for 309 yards rushing (323 on 67 carries of Real Rushing, minus the sacks) at Old Dominion, but FIU can't pound the rock on ODU at La Cage? That the Panthers can't run the ball on the Monarchs the way they did on UTEP, then hit the Monarchs over the top, just as they did UTEP?
Also, career backup Washington lights up Charlotte, so I'm supposed to believe he'll do that to an experienced group that's got a tad more talent than Charlotte?
Translation: FIU will score as many points as it needs and might score when it wants.
FIU 48, Old Dominion 27.
But that's one black man's opinion. I could be wrong.
A nice five-set takedown at FAU Friday night puts FIU (13-8, 6-3) a step closer to solidifying a spot in the Conference USA tournament. The Owls hadn't lost a conference match at home this season before Friday.
Today's last two FIU meets in Dual-A-Palooza, FIU vs. FAU at 10 a.m. and FIU vs. Hurricanes at 3 p.m., have been moved from the Biscayne Bay campus to Gulliver Prep, 6575 Kendall Drive, in the lovely suburb of Pinecrest.
Pool malfunction, says an FIU source. Will it be fixed by the next home meet, Nov. 6 and 7 vs. Illinois? "Hope so."
Anyway, when I talked to FIU swim & dive coach Randy Horner last week, he downplayed the significance of Friday's meet against Conference USA's second best swim team, Rice. Some of the events aren't regulation NCAA events, it's early in the season, etc.
Bet Horner still puts that 133-90 win against Rice, however, with the other feelgood wins on the shelf. On the FIU whole, that almost balances out women's soccer losing 1-0 in double overtime to Western Kentucky and volleyball losing in 3-2 (21-25, 25-21, 11-25, 25-17, 15-8) to Southern Mississippi.
Middle’s first two Conference USA seasons, the Blue Raiders averaged 240.1 rushing yards per conference game. Bunches of running backs coming into the game to steadily move the ball in 4 to 8-yard cracks. Now, with head coach Rick Stockstill's son, Brent, at quarterback, they throw it for over 300 yards per game, 307.2 to be exact over their first six games. The run game's getting only 3.5 yards per crack, 3.9 under my Real Rushing stat, which discounts quarterback sacks.
That's why Middle's thrown 10 more passes than they've run, 21 more subtracting sacks and kneeldowns. That's also why FIU's most worried about wide receivers Ed'Marques Batties, a fifth-year senior, and redshirt freshman Richie James, each of whom has 49 receptions. Expect a bubble screen bath from Middle and the usual Lawrence Welk Show of bubbles and 5-yard Stop-and-Pops from FIU, too. Safe passes, get elusive or strong players in space and see what happens.
If FIU uses 6-5 senior wide receiver Juwan Caesar, it would make sense to use his big body not only as a chain mover, but a people mover. Run the edges to his side, run bubble screens with him making the 3-or-30 block (the block that determines whether the play goes 3 yards or 30 yards). When FIU’s run bubbles using sophomore wide receiver Dennis Turner or sophomore Thomas Owens as the blocker, you can see the play’s potential right before the block gets shed and the receiver upended.
Middle’s defensive backs didn’t look good against Western. Yeah, I know, Western could make the Seahawks secondary look confused and pregnant. But tackling’s tackling. Or, rather, not tackling is not tackling, in the case of Middle. That's a problem when if you have to deal with El Dorados with acceleration like tight end Jonnu Smith, Ya'Keem Griner, Caesar and Thomas Owens.
As far as the defense Middle runs, FIU coach Ron Turner said, "Very similar to ours -- 4-3, quarters coverage, like a lot of people. They're fairly basic on first and second down, as most people are. But they've got a very good third down package that schematically presents a problem."
Middle's picked off 10 passes this season already. Could be some jumpy defensive backs, especially if they start to think they can time FIU's Stop-and-Pops. With some patience and time, quarterback Alex McGough could find himself with some receivers running relaxed through the secondary like a cigarette ad couple strolling by a country pond.
For what it's worth, this game’s at 11 a.m. Murfreesboro time. Middle looked sleepy for its 11 a.m. start against Western Kentucky last week. FIU had UTEP down for an afternoon nap by noon. Temperatures should be a little nippy for FIU, low 60s, but good football weather.
Both teams, on both sides of the ball, do their job in the red zone partially because both defend the run better than the pass. Both teams also have shown vulnerability to the big play. And I think we'll get several of those. As noted in today's advance story, things tend to get weird when FIU and Middle get together.
Middle's at home. Alabama, Vandy, Illinois and Western in-conference might make the Blue Boy Group a little more competition tempered than FIU.
Middle Tennessee State 30, FIU 24.
But that's one black man's opinion. I could be wrong.
What happens when you put away your bombs just because the defense says it won't let you drop them?
Sophomore quarterback Alex McGough completes 24.4 passes per game, 13th nationally. His completion percentage, 64.6, is 36th. FIU's team yards per completion? A mere 9.3, 127th out of 127. Scoring offense, 21.4 (113th) and total offense, 356.6 yards per game (99th).
Not getting it done.
La Tech's Skip Holtz, like his old man and most other college coaches since Bear Bryant, knows how to either poormouth his own team or make the next opponent sound like 2004 Southern Cal. But in possibly buttering up Texas-San Antonio, he threw some kind words toward FIU's Michael Wakefield and Denzell Perine:
"I think they (UTSA) are the best defensive football team we've played to this point. They definitely have the best front four. I thought Kansas State had the best interior players. I thought FIU had the best defensive ends."
After a weekend sweep of Marshall and UTEP, 10-6 FIU sits at 4-2 in conference play, sixth in the standings. You say "big deal" but after missing the CUSA tournament last year, yeah, it's kind of a big thumbs up so far.
For what it's worth, FIU's RPI ranks 168th in the nation.
Women's soccer -- Friday vs. Texas-San Antonio, 7 p.m.
Men's soccer -- Saturday vs. Marshall, 7 p.m.
Women's soccer -- Sunday vs. UTEP 1 p.m.
For those of you who missed last Friday's video report on FIU volleyball's 1-2 performance at the FIU Invite, click here. Or go to MiamiHerald.com and scroll down through the videos.
The current Conference USA standings start with FIU after the Panthers dumped FAU Sunday to move to 2-0 in the conference and 8-4 overall, already exceeding last year's win total.
This is the fourth year of Rita Buck-Crockett as Czarina of All FIU Volleyball and the third year she's been the indoor coach. She denied being more hands on with the indoor team this year than in previous years, but pointed to the roster.
"Recruiting-wise, these are, primarily this year, all my recruits," Buck-Crockett said. "There are seven freshmen. Last year, we had five freshmen. It takes three to five years to build your team. You want to recruit your personality. I think the team now is molding to the personality and style. You can see it. They're a little more feisty and I think I'm feisty."
Seniors lead the team in kills (Lucia Castro), blocks (Gloria Levorin, also CUSA leader) and digs (Adriana McLamb). But Castro and Levorin make up only half those who've played in all 44 sets. Last year's C-USA Freshman of the Year, 6-2 Jennifer Ene, and 5-11 freshman Katie Friesen (75.3 of FIU's assists) comprise the other half. Junior Katie Hogan, 6-4, is the other player at or over 40 sets.
"I think (freshman) Dominique Dodd is also going to be step up and help us a lot," Buck-Crockett said. "I think (sophomore) Tia Clay has really started understanding that she's very athletic and can do a lot. We have Chelsea Hudson, whom you haven't seen yet. She's a work in progress, but she's going to be a big player like Jennifer Ene. Same style athlete."
FIU finds out about itself this weekend as far as Conference USA. Not so much at Rice on Friday but, Sunday, at 12-2 (13-2 by then) Western Kentucky, which has received votes in the latest Top 25 poll.
Late night post, so let's close with something a little funky...not a bad cover.
Volleyball -- Thursday vs. Bethune-Cookman, 1 p.m.
Volleyball -- Thursday vs. Central Florida, 7 p.m.
Women's Soccer -- Friday vs. UC-Irvine, 7 p.m.
Volleyball -- Friday vs. Seattle, 7 p.m.
Football -- Saturday vs. North Carolina-Central, 6 p.m.
Volleyball -- Sunday vs. FAU, 1 p.m.
Women's Soccer -- Sunday vs. Florida, 1 p,m.
The men's soccer team took care of an Ivy League quinella over the weekend, dumping Penn and Princeton to stretch their winning streak to four games. The 4-2 Panthers impressed enough folks to move up to just outside the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Top 25, 27th with 29 voting points. FIU's two losses were on the season-opening road trip to No. 3 North Carolina and No. 7 Wake Forest.
On a weekend during which senior Lucia Castro surpassed 1,000 career kills, volleyball won the Stetson Invitational with wins against Stetson (3-2) and Mercer (3-0). Senior Gloria Levorin slammed 19 kills and made 11 blocks for the 6-2 Panthers.
Thursday and Friday's Panther Invite features FIU in three matches over two days, timed perfectly for skipping class or taking in an athletic contest before starting the weekend.
Men's soccer -- Thursday vs. Fairfield, 7 p.m. (way to coordinate)
To be fair, the title fits only two out of three from the last football-free weekend until after Thanksgiving. Volleyball's pair of 3-0 wins Saturday over Alabama A&M and South Florida pushed them to 2-1, a nice rebound from Friday's 3-1 loss to North Florida.
Men's soccer is 0-2 after a weekend in the Carolinas but could feel more gold than blue. The Panthers played No. 5 North Carolina and almost-ranked Wake Forest, from the best soccer conference in the country, on even terms.
The Tar Heels held a statistical edge on FIU, but the game remained scoreless until a penalty kick in the 82nd minute when Marvin Hezel got convicted on a hand ball charge. The Tar Heels buried the penalty kick, of course for a 1-0 win. Sunday, FIU took a 1-0 lead on Wake Forest, fell behind 3-1 before losing 3-2. Coach Scott Calabrese said he'd learn a lot about his team quickly. He learned they can go iris-to-iris with top notch ACC teams, even if the Panthers blinked first.
Women's soccer played Central Florida on even terms, at least in the second half. But that's also when an FIU defender bounced off UCF's Ashley Spivey, allowing Spivey the space to take a step to the right and bury a gorgeous shot into the far upper corner in the 55th minute.
Freshman defender Lyrik Fryer showed some wonderful dribbling skill, the type that allows her to beat an opponent two or three times, although once and on your way does the job. FIU's best scoring chances came from junior Alyssa Robinson, who put one shot over the net and eschewed another shot from scoring range for a pass that went awry.
Like the men, the women fell just short of a good, nationally-respected opponent.
Volleyball -- Friday, Panther Invite vs. North Florida, 7 p.m. (ADMISSION IS FREE TO ALL)
vs. Women's soccer -- Friday vs. UCF, 7 p.m.
Volleyball -- Saturday, Panther Invite vs. Alabama A&M noon
Volleyball -- Saturday, Panther Invite vs. South Florida 6 .m.
FIU volleyball czarina Rita Buck-Crockett speaks in a stream of confidence. She'll compare an incoming freshman to FIU's greatest indoor volleyball player, four-time All-American Yarimar Rosa. She's got no problem telling you she picked the Panthers as No. 1 in Conference USA for the preseason coaches' poll because that's where she wants the Panthers want to finish. The rest of the conference so lightly regards FIU that even with Buck-Crockett's vote, FIU finished ninth.
Not that she does so without providing reason for her confidence. FIU, which opens the season Friday night against North Florida in the Panther Invite at 7 p.m., went 0-4 in five-set matches last year with a young team. Combine experience with results on close games evening out, that's likely an extra two or three wins right there.
"That comes down to experience, which we didn't have a lot of," Buck-Crockett laughed. "But, we fought. The team did not get blown out. I do believe that this year's team is better than last year's team, even though there are young players out on the court. They're more experienced young players. They kjnow the game. I think the culture is getting where I would like it to be.
"The team is better than it was last year. Wins, losses, we'll see."
FIU's last winning record, 20-10, 10-6 in the Sun Belt Conference, came months before Danijela Tomic left for Bowling Green University, unhappy with upper athletic administration. (Bowling Green, Ohio? That's a lot of unhappy.)
Buck-Crockett let former Tomic assistant Trevor Theroulde handle the 10-17, 7-8, 2012 season before he had to be dismissed (tip for you future job seekers in college sports: if you commit a minor NCAA violation that nobody but your Compliance head and a few NCAA geeks care about, bite the bullet. Don't commit the major life violation of lying about it.)
Seasons of 13-17, 6-8 in Conference USA; and 7-23, 4-12 followed.
"It's hard to see from the outside in but even though our team won (six) matches last year, I think the team grew as a whole," Buck-Crockett said. " We did have a lot of young kids. We're trying to jell a past generation with a new generation. That takes time. You have to change cultures. You have to find the motivation for the new culture. I think there are a lot of positive things that happened last year."
In addition to returning senior outside hitter Lucia Castro, senior middle blocker Gloria Levorin and conference All-Freshman team member Jennifer Ene, they signed 6-4 Katie Hogan out of Miami-DAde College.
"Her job is to kill. She's The Terminator. For me, she's our No. 1 hitter. She goes after it. We didn't have that last year," Buck-Crockett said.
"We have a freshman setter from Canada, (5-11) Katie Friesen, who runs the team. She's a leader on the court. I think we missed that last year. We didn't have the quarterback we needed to run the team. This year, we have a year more experience with the one who played last year and then we have (5-11) Katie Friesen and (5-10) Dominique Dodd.
"They're freshmen, but they're gamers. Also, (5-11) L1na Bernier. She's a freshman, but this kid is...to me, could be the next Yarimar. She's just a firecracker and she's a leader on the court."
If any FIU fans want to give Bernier the first time once over, admission to FIU Arena for volleyball matches is free to all. That's right, all. Students, parents, students who are parents, their baby mamas and daddies, friends, enemies, freniemies, frenemies with benefits...
When Cindy Russo retired after seemingly a century as FIU women's basketball head coach, she already counted as something of a dinosaur -- a female head coach at FIU. The hiring of Marlin Chinn as her replacement cemented Russo's brontosaurus status.
This article puts FIU's dearth of female head coaches in perspective. Only 29 of the 138 schools with FBS football or Big East basketball have a lower percentage of women coaching women than FIU's 30 percent. Of the 10 women's sports at FIU, only three have female head coaches and the school's getting three sports for two women -- Rita Buck-Crockett is the head coach for volleyball and sand volleyball. Katarina Petrovic coaches the tennis team.
A case-by-case look at FIU's women's teams coaches reminded me of the 1980s Boston Celtics, which often included three white guys among five starters. The bombastic declarations that this melanin split demonstrated racism in the Celtics organization were countered with, "OK, who do you not want to start? Perennial All-Star Larry Bird, perennial All-Star Kevin McHale or Danny Ainge, for whom every NBA coach would find a spot?"
Similar situation among FIU's women's teams. Randy Horner's turned FIU's swimming and diving team from what one former swimmer called "a glorified high school team" into one of the best mid-major programs in the nation. Before the last two disappointing seasons, FIU's most consistent winners played soccer under the direction of Thomas Chestnutt. Joe Vogel coaches golf. That covers FIU's last three conference championship programs before the baseball team battered Conference USA into submission in May.
Softball coach Gator Rebhan came recommended by some of his current players. Track & field and cross country's Ryan Heberling ascended to head coach of both programs off convenience and his work with FIU's women's throwers, the strongest part of the track program in recent years. As has been noted here often, the women's teams consistently perform well academically despite so many FIU female athletes growing up with English as a second or third language.
In the overall athletic department, coaches who have shown progress but yet to prove definitively they can get it done consistently -- football's Ron Turner, men's basketball's Anthony Evans, men's soccer's Scott Calabrese -- occupy jobs women's coaches won't get as things stand now.
And that's the legitimate beef women's coaches and their advocates have with the steady stream of men into jobs coaching women's teams. Nobody's truly an equal opportunity employer.
Pat Summitt racked up 1,098 wins over 38 years as Tennessee's women's basketball coach. If you sat on a pile of her credentials and honors, you do your best Mongo Santamaria on Shaq's head. Handling the Tennessee program from the days when she had to drive the van and wash the uniforms herself, Summitt's knowledge of running a successful college basketball program is oceanic. Tennessee reportedly twice approached Summitt about coaching the men's team.
Yet, you never heard of, say, Louisiana Tech, nosing around Pat Summitt about coaching its men's hoop team. But Tyler Summitt with two years as an assistant at Marquette and 23 chromosomes from his mother gets the women's basketball job at La Tech, where all the coaches of women's teams have a Y chromosome.
Can you imagine one of Mike Krzyzewski's daughters doing two years as an assistant men's coach at Butler then applying to be the head coach at FIU? Can you imagine one of Mike Krzyzewski's daughters getting the chance even to be an assistant at Butler?
Though I'm a black man with a daughter, I don't get crazy about the gender/race role model thing. It's too limiting. There's too much to be learned from too many people of all skin tones and genitalia. And if nobody who looks like you has achieved something before, I say to that person what my mother used to say to me: "Guess you'll have to be the first."
But what about when you don't even get the chance to be the first? Because there's too much to be learned from diverse voices, the reduced volume of female coach voices matters at FIU and elsewhere.
Former FIU safety Johnathan Cyprien's Cypsquad Celebrity Charity softball game, benefitting Cyprien's foundation that assists at-risk youth, will be 6 p.m. tonight at FIU Baseball Stadium.
The lineup includes former FIU football players Antwan Barnes, Anthony Gaitor and Tourek Williams; former FIU baseball hit streaker Garret Wittels; Dolphins safety Louis Delmas; Minnesota Vikings quarterback and Northwestern High graduate Teddy Bridgewater and a host of others. Tickets still available here.
Meanwhile, after FIU's camps, they've gotten a run of verbal commits for next season.
South Dade running back Jawon Hamilton, 5-10, 185, not rated by any of the major recruiting sites
Tampa Bay Tech safety Isaiah Brown, 6-1, 185, three stars by 247Sports, not rated by other sites.
Lake Nona wide receiver Ulice Gillard, 6-1, 190, not rated by the major recruiting sites
Tampa Countryside guard/tackle Wyatt Panaccione, 6-5, 280, not rated by the major recruiting sites
As the baseball team practiced (with adidas bats -- more on that later), the 2013-14 Academic Progress Rate numbers dropped. Not literally, but in the modern popular music vernacular.
Terry McMillan's Waiting to Exhale concerned African-American women and early 1990s relationships, not APR. But, it does tend to describe FIU around this time of the year. It's entirely possible one of the breezes I felt at the baseball stadium today came from the department exhaling over an APR report without any red flags or even yellow flags.
Men's track (indoor and outdoor), women's track, volleyball, softball, golf, women's cross country each registered perfect single-year APRs of 1000. Golf owned the lone perfect multiyear APR.
Proving that bad APR falls somewhere between tires and herpes in durability, men's basketball came in with the lowest multiyear APR, 879. That's still represents progress from 858 in 2011-12 and 866 in 2012-13 and allows basketball to proceed penalty free for the first time since the Richard Pitino-coached season of 2012-13.
Women's basketball 995
Women's cross country 987
Men's cross country 977
Women's outdoor track 977
Women's indoor track 975
Swimming & Diving 973
Men's soccer 970
Women's soccer 969
Men's outdoor track 958
Men's indoor track 956
Men's Basketball 879
2013-14 Single Year APR
Men's indoor track 1000
Women's indoor track 1000
Women's outdoor track 1000
Men's outdoor track 1000
Women's cross country 1000
Women's soccer 979
Women's basketball 967
Swimming & Diving 962
Men's basketball 933
Men's Soccer 932
Businesses show love by showing material and money. As detailed here in the February post "Getting Dressed," the FIU athletic team Adidas loves most is baseball. No other program gets the amount of equipment under Adidas' agreement with FIU Athletics that baseball does. No other FIU head coach gets $4,000 of free product annually as FIU's baseball coach does.
According to Camp Mitch sources, baseball's love of its Adidas clothes and gear didn't extend to the bats. So FIU brought other brands along with Adidas to the plate throughout the season.
Apparently, somebody at Adidas noticed FIU's bat diversity as the Panthers battered Conference USA tournament opponents. That's not a problem unless there's a clause in the agreement between the school and the athletic wear company stating "each Sport...shall exclusively use or wear Adidas products whenever School's athletic teams are playing one of the Sports (including games and practice sessions)..." and that failure to do so constitutes a material breach of contract.
FIU swung Adidas bats at practice Wednesday and you can bet they'll do so this weekend in Coral Gables.
Of the 230 schools ranked, FIU placed 90th in total revenue ($28,104,962), 92nd in total expenses ($27,542,910), 16th in subsidy ($22,540,365) and 36th overall, second to Eastern Michigan among FBS football schools, in percentage of total revenue that comes from subsidies (80.2%).
Click here to see the current real world job of former FIU running back Darian Mallary.
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.)