November 16, 2012

Gameday XI: FIU vs. FAU; volleyball gets Western-cuted

Tonight’s pregame blog is sponsored by the letter E. My needle’s laying there. Might have to bring a colada with me to Boca Friday night.

 

A few things about FAU: Pelini’s a defensive guy and the Owls lead the Sun Belt in pass defense for conference games. Now, part of that is that they’ve had only 156 passes thrown on them, the fewest in The Belt and almost 10 percent less than second fewest Troy and Middle Tennessee. After all, they’re eighth in rush defense (guess who’s last). But the Owls also have allowed only 52.6 completion percentage. Second best is Western’s 57.1.

FAU’s last three Sun Belt games: a 37-34 overtime loss at South Alabama, where FIU needed its best half of defense this season to hang on to a win; a 34-27 home win against Troy, which came from 16 down in the second half to nip FIU, 38-37; and a 37-28 home upset of Western Kentucky, against which FIU’s managed five field goals the last two years.

That’s better results than FIU against the same opponents -- in the same places, for two of them – for a team with less raw talent and experience.

Particularly intrigued by the wins against Troy and Western, I checked them out as best I could. FAU outscored Troy, which had Corey Robinson at quarterback instead of Deon Anthony. FIU might’ve preferred facing Robinson’s experience instead of Anthony’s feet and a the Ken Anderson arm he leased for the day. Whatever, the point is there wasn’t anything special there.

But 37 points on Western? They moved the ball somewhat on the Hillbillies, 355 yards. Quarterback Graham Wilbert got hot on an 84-yard drive. But they also had two touchdowns set up by interceptions; a fumble return touchdown off the last second desperate hook-and-lateral attempt; a touchdown after a 48-yard punt return; and a long field goal after a failed Western fourth down at the FAU 43.

FIU head coach Mario Cristobal described FAU’s defense as one that plays a lot of man coverage. That explains the trouble Western had with FAU’s pass defense – quarterback Kawaun Jakes can’t throw downfield. FIU’s Jake Medlock can.

Cristobal also said FAU takes away some of what the spread really likes to do. At Sun Belt media day, Pelini was confident he’d be able to scheme well against the spread. Running back Kedrick Rhodes isn’t good for a whole game. I’m not sure what sin of Jeremiah Harden has gotten him buried on the bench. Darian Mallary’s wearing down. Perhaps Medlock’s mobility’s improved after a couple of weeks to rest a body with more dents than a rambunctiously driven taxi.

FIU’s been getting to the quarterback lately and, despite Graham Wiltert’s being tough to topple at 6-6, FAU’s given up 17 sacks in conference games. Only FIU’s given up more.  Also, Wilbert’s on a string of 214 passes without an interception.

Give FIU an intangible advantage for coming off a late season bye, but only slightly because FAU’s got to be feeling good about itself after taking out Western last Saturday.

FIU’s started quickly the last few games, getting big plays downfield to Willis Wright, Glenn Coleman and, against South Alabama, Jacob Younger. I see something similar here. And if the Panthers get up, they’ve got to keep strafing. They didn’t need to be so extremely Bo & Woody in the second half against South Alabama. For some reason, I’m also feeling a big kickoff return, though FAU’s had the Sun Belt’s best kickoff coverage in conference games.

(Late in the season, I like to use the conference games comparison – generally measures games against similar competition and the games tend to be more recent.)

I’m thinking FAU moves the ball through the air. Three long touchdown drives. But FIU gets a fumble somewhere, maybe giving the Panthers a short field. FIU gets points off of it so long as that’s not where their lost fumble (trends say there will be one) occurs.

If it comes down to the kicker, throw up the hands. Not in the “It’s good!” signal, but more in the “I have no idea what’s going to happen.” Neither FIU’s Jack Griffin nor FAU’s Mitch Anderson (six of 10) can claim Volvo reliability these days. Anderson’s shown more length this year.

Feeling 34-31, FAU. But, that’s just one black man’s opinion. I could be wrong.

VOLLEYBALL

FIU lost 3-1 to Western Kentucky during the regular season, the only Sun Belt match that Western didn't win 3-0.

The Panthers didn't fare as well Thursday in the Sun Belt conference tournament, getting zapped by the Hillpeople 25-12, 25-12, 25-19. FIU ends the season at 10-19. 

  

November 14, 2012

Prsa All-Sun Belt Second Team

At the pre-tournament banquet, where the Sun Belt volleyball teams get served before being served to host Western Kentucky, FIU senior Marija Prsa was named Second Team All-Sun Belt. Prsa led FIU in kills with 360 and was second to Ryanne Milligan with 259 digs. 

FIU faces No. 1 seed Western Kentucky Thursday night at 6 p.m. in the first round of the tournament.

Mentioning Milligan, a Jasper, Ind., native, reminds me that I meant to include this video in the previous post on her as the Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Week...

 

November 12, 2012

Milligan gets Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Week

Senior Ryanne Milligan's 61 digs in the 12 sets of FIU volleyball last week got her the Sun Belt's Defensive Player of the Week Award. Milligan had 29 digs in the five-set grind against South Alabama that got FIU into the Sun Belt Conference tournament.

Milligan transferred to FIU this season after three years at Marshall.

 

November 11, 2012

Volleyball gets Western

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

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

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

Basketball season begins today; volleyball season keeps going

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

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

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

VOLLEYBALL

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

October 20, 2012

Gameday VIII: FIU at Troy

Really quickly before we get started: yes, I should be at next Sunday afternoon's hoop hoopla. The swimming and diving team is hosting FSU and FAU this morning. And Friday night on the Birmingham-Irondale border featured Arby's and a Miller. Felt like I should've ripped off my sleeves, found Randy and tried to cross a few things off the list. Now, about this game...

Should these two teams play Saturday? Or, should they say forget that, hit Home Depot for some grills, Troy bring the burgers, FIU bring the beer and orange soda and everybody consume while commiserating over disappointing seasons?

Troy hasn’t won on the field named after its longtime-and-still coach. FIU hasn’t won outside La Cage. Troy’s 3-3, expected to be better after coming off the worst season since 1982, and doesn’t know how long concussed quarterback Corey Robinson, the Sun Belt’s passing yards per game leader even after getting KO’d early by Western Kentucky last week, will be out. FIU’s 1-6, expected to be light years better coming off the best season in its program history, and doesn’t know how long its defense will be out.

I watched Troy’s 31-26 loss to Western Kentucky and thought Troy could’ve won that game going away, even with losing Robinson early. Not a small statement considering Western’s only two losses in the last 12 games were blowout losses to Alabama and LSU. The Trojans were up 10-0 when they blew a great scoring chance, then missed the field goal. You go up 17-0 on Western, that can horse Western into turning quarterback Kawaun Jakes loose. And that’s a case of sit back, do your job and don’t get in each other’s way fighting for the interception.

Obviously, Troy’s offense changes with Anthony instead of Robinson at quarterback (this assumes Anthony plays. The Troy people have been hush, hush, Sid Hudgens, about Robinson’s health this week). With Robinson, Troy had the Sun Belt’s No. 1 pass offense as they let Robinson throw 40 times a game and Anthony fling a couple, too, as the change of pace quarterback out of the Wildcat (or, modified single wing, as us old timers see it). In over a half of starting time against Western last week, Anthony threw 16 passes. Though Anthony’s the Sun Belt’s passing efficiency leader, that’s off the small sample size of 29 passes over six games and coming in as that second guy.

Wide receiver Chip Reeves averages 16.8 yards per catch, but that’s with Robinson throwing to him the vast majority of the time. Maybe Anthony gets hot tonight or FIU’s laissez-faire pass defense gives him temporary Archie Manning powers, but expect Anthony and Troy, behind running back Shawn Southward to do more damage on foot than in the air. But Southward isn’t the John Shaft-baaaad back Middle Tennessee State’s Benny Cunningham was. (Yeah, I was wrong on that one slightly, huh?)

FIU had some notable numbers obscured by last week’s finish. Redshirt sophomore Jake Medlock’s 380 yards passing were the second most in FIU history and the most in an overtime-free contest. Only twice before has FIU had 100-yard receivers in the same game, as they did with junior wide receivers Willis Wright and Glenn Coleman (you’ve been paying attention or looking at the game notes if you recall that the second time was in the season opener against Duke, Kedrick Rhodes and Wayne Times).

Go long on Troy. The Trojans allow a Sun Belt low 51.9 completion percentage, but also 15.3 yards per completion and 8.0 yards per attempt (just to give you a gauge, FIU’s 13.1 and 7.8, respectively). Western got wide receivers open deep up the sideline. Jakes just blew throws that Medlock usually would hit. Jakes later hit wide open receivers up the seam, a circumstance set up by Western’s dominant running game. Those could be open to FIU’s tight ends if FIU’s run game can get going. The impediment there could still be how well Medlock can move on the read option. Last week, he was fine with pocket movement, but after a couple of early keeps that looked like he was showing Middle something just to show it, Medlock wasn’t a factor in the running game. That lets defenses sit on the running backs, thus limiting their effectiveness.

Still, FIU rolled up 30 points, had a self-imposed fumble in the red zone and came less than a yard from the end zone – or got in and weren’t given it – from more points. Again, on the whole, the offense produced. The defense and special teams failed at the pivotal moments.

As I wrote in today’s advance, which appears at http://www.miamiherald.com/sports, all but one FIU game this season featured a significant swing in the last minutes of the first half and first minutes of the second half. Within those swings, lay the key to this game – third down defense. FIU’s given up too many third-and-long conversions. Five of Middle’s six third down conversions last week came on third-and-7 or longer and a third-and-15 failure got them close enough to convert on fourth down.

Troy’s statistically the best third down defense in the Sun Belt. And I can see Anthony running for a first down out of a mess. But I can also see him making some mistakes in the air Robinson wouldn’t or on throws where Corey could, but Deon couldn’t.

Another tough call. I’ll take Troy, 31-27.

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

VOLLEYBALL

A rough season for the 6-16 volleyball team got some sunlight with a 3-0 (25-23, 25-17, 25-20) sweep at North Texas. Junior Brittany Spencer had six blocks. Four others – senior Kimberly Smith, fifth-year senior Renele Forde, freshman Lucia Castro and freshman Gloria Levorin – had five blocks each. Forde also had 33 assists.

September 24, 2012

Monday Morning Football; sunny Sunday for volleyball, women's soccer

Both E.J. Hilliard and Loranzo Hammonds Jr. took snaps with the first team today. Starting Hilliard sort of opens the door to using Hammonds as a change-of-pace back who happens to line up at quarterback. It's not something they would've done with Jake Medlock, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did it with a quarterback 10 months removed from high school in his first start.

Among the running backs, Kedrick Rhodes did practice and Darian Mallary didn't. Rhodes will be a Wednesday or Thursday decision, according to head coach Mario Cristobal. Also, Cristobal said, Mallary didn't suffer a concussion Saturday, but they'll still wait for midweek results of some testing before letting him practice.

After practice, left tackle Caylin Hauptmann doused Cristobal with a Gatorade birthday bath.

No line on this game is up yet from the sports books I've seen. Books don't like the first game following a quarterback injury.

VOLLEYBALL

Upset at The Branch Sunday afternoon in a match that surely exceeded that excruciating display up at Sun Life Stadium for entertainment value.

FIU, 4-10, dumped 10-7 Arkansas State 3-0 (26-24, 25-23, 25-19). Junior Kimberly Smith -- Zionsville in the house! -- had 10 kills. Freshman Ashlee Hodgskin threw in 17 assists and two service aces. Defensively, junior Brittany Spencer had six blocks, and sophomore Carolyn Fouts had 14 digs.

WOMEN'S SOCCER

For the second consecutive day, an FIU soccer team won on a golden goal.

The men got by Stetson Saturday night. The women beat Troy 2-1 Sunday afternoon on the third game-winning goal of the season by Chelsea Leiva (of course). Despite a 26-7 shot advantage and 12-1 advantage in corner kicks, FIU found itself in overtime. That's because Troy struck on that one corner in the 70th minute to match sophomore Scarlett Montoya's 48th minute goal.

FIU's 5-4-1 overall, 2-0 in the Sun Belt Conference.

 

 

  

September 22, 2012

Gameday IV, 2012: FIU vs. Louisville; sand spike; soccers & indoor spikes

Remember Playmakers, the show the NFL didn’t like so ESPN cancelled it after one season instead of telling the league, “Most of the stuff you’re upset about is a cleaned up version of stuff that’s already happened in the NFL, so just take our rights fee billions and shut up before we go North Dallas Forty on you in the second season?”

One episode began with the Cougars head coach learning he’s got prostate cancer days before the team faces a Michael Vick-style quarterback named Hawkins. The coaches decide to use Olczyk, the linebacker clearly based on Zach Thomas, as a spy on Hawkins. Practices, game film and an improbable impromptu parking lot game with Hawkins convince Olcyzk that he’ll be humiliated on Sunday. After the coach tells the team he’ll keep working through cancer treatments in his pregame speech, Olzyck asks the coach, how do you keep working in the face of a more powerful opponent? The coach answers, “You just keep showing up. Guys like you and me, that’s all we can do.” Olczyk fails miserably throughout the game. But near the end of a shootout, he causes Hawkins to fumble. The Cougars recover, and get the winning touchdown. After the game, the coach hands Olczyk a game ball with, sotto voce, “You just keep showing up.”

That’s what it feels like it’s going to take for FIU to win this game. They’ll just have to keep showing up, keep staying around until a Louisville oopsy opens the door a sliver.

Otherwise, FIU faithful should pray for more of the kind of rain that’s been coming down all day. It’ll kill attendance, but also likely hurt the team that throws the ball better while bringing chaos. Chaos from the elements fuels many a big upset.

SATURDAY AFTERNOON LINE ALERT: And that might be why the line on this game has done a precipitous drop for one day -- from Louisville by 13 or 13.5 all week down to anywhere from 10.5 to 12. Bettors are watching this game after they took the books' lunch last year on this matchup by getting down heavily all week on FIU. END OF ALERT

Also, Louisville wants a piece of FIU. The score last year, 24-17, and the three big scoring plays masked how much FIU outmuscled Louisville on Louisville’s turf for long stretches. They got punked in their Papa John's house on national television and they remember.

FIU’s trailed by double-digits in each first half this season. Lousiville’s outscored opponents 76-21 in three first halves (that’s 25.3-7, even in the new math).

FIU’s been allowing 291.67 yards per game passing, 107th in the nation, and are 99th in pass efficiency defense. They’ve been having trouble with cohesion in the secondary. Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s throwing for 285.0 yards per game, and completing 81.8 percent of his passes. Louisville’s got it together – 10 different players caught passes last week against North Carolina.

Louisville’s averaging 4.23 per rush and that number gets dragged down by the 3.5 per rush the Cardinals put up against FCS punching bag Missouri State.

Looks as if this post should come with Lalo Schifrin them music.

Perhaps some tomfoolery in disguising coverages can throw Bridgewater off long enough for FIU’s pass rush to re-emerge from its year of slumber. But FIU doesn’t like to get too funky or too far from its scheme for fear of slowing down its athletes with too much thinking.

One of my least favorite things to hear is “run the ball well and keep the ball away from them.” That shrinks the number of possessions your defense must turn the trick of shutting down a high-powered offense. Maybe if you get some help from a bloated halftime, the juggernaut offense falls out of rhythm for a bit. Really, though, at some point, you still have to stop the other guys when they have the ball.

You hold it six minutes and get a field goal. They hold it two minutes and get a touchdown. Keep up that kind of trading and you’ll keep their offense off the field…for the fourth quarter, when it’s being rested with a garbage time lead.

On FIU’s first possession, if the defense wasn’t out for too long, FIU should give her the gun with the no-huddle. Louisville had some problems when North Carolina went scramble in the second half last week out of necessity (the Tar Heels trailed 36-7). If the defense got stuck out for several minutes, get a first down or two before going to it. Louisville’s 15th in rushing defense and allowing only 3.57 yards per rush, but look behind the numbers – against its two FBS opponents, they weren’t exactly The Great Wall. Kentucky ran for 93 yards on only 19 carries. Take out a 28 yards in Team Losses (two bad shotgun snaps) and the Heels got 75 yards on 15 carries, an even 5.0 per pop.

Everything for FIU works off the run. They learned – or had reaffirmed -- last week against UCF their chances of success without getting that going shrink to miniscule. What they can’t do is get so far behind they’re forced to become one-dimensional.

As I’ve written often, if you expected more from the offense overall so far, hey, we all have our fantasies. Jake Medlock, an inexperienced quarterback, has played one awful half out of six this year. It was in the game that set up as a problem, versus a good defense in its home opener, with a poor conceptual approach.

What’s gotten FIU in the hole each week are defense and special teams. Coaches not named Frank Beamer can live with special teams that don’t help you. People get fired over special teams that hurt you. Check out FIU’s track record so far on special teams.

Two of three games, they’ve given up points on special teams. Two of three games, a special teams turnover has led to an opposing touchdown. Two of three games, they’ve missed makeable field goals. And they’re 112th in net punting.

Not…getting…it...done.

That can’t be the case tonight if FIU’s to have a chance.

I don’t know how much Louisville’s going to score. Not sure the Cardinals will score as often as they want. It feels like they’ll score as often as they need.

Call it 38-24, Louisville.

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

SAND VOLLEYBALL

During The Andy Slater Show portion of 640AM's FIU marathon Friday, sand volleyball coach Rita Buck-Crockett announced that FIU would be hosting a tournament in late March bringing in Georgia Tech and volleyball powerhouse Pepperdine. Pepperdine won the sand volleyball national championship last spring, sanctioned by the American Volleyball Coaches Association while the sport grows into a fully-sanctioned NCAA beast.

Buck-Crockett said the courts being constructed on campus would host dual meets, yet FIU's tournaments would be held on South Beach.

MEN'S SOCCER

It's a date at 1-3 Stetson tonight for 5-1-1 FIU, which has a 20-3 lifetime record against Stetson. I like their chances of improving that.

WOMEN'S SOCCER

Get it whatever way you can.

A South Alabama own goal off a failed clear of a Chelsea Leiva shot gave FIU a 1-0 win in its first Sun Belt match of the season and got the Panthers back to .500 (4-4-1) after a tough early season schedule.

Senior keeper Kaitlyn Savage got four saves in her fourth shutout of the season.

VOLLEYBALL

A tough season continued with a five-set loss (25-17, 24-26, 26-24, 20-25, 15-7) to Arkansas-Little Rock in FIU's home opener. For the 3-10 Panthers, senior Marija Prsa had 25 kills, tying a career high. Freshman Ashlee Hodgskin had 50 assists and 16 digs. Junior Brittany Spencer's five blocks were a team high.

The other Sun Belt Arkansas team, Arkansas State, comes in Sunday at 1 p.m.

 

August 30, 2012

Hurts so bad and not so bad; road soccer

Wide receiver Dominique Rhymes' deep bruise is healed enough for him to make the trip to Duke. Otherwise, FIU doesn't have any new injuries to those on the two-deep as they head for North Carolina Friday.

By the way, the line favoring Duke is down to 3 points. The house likes Duke, but the handicappers like FIU.

VOLLEYBALL

Blame my lack of inquisitiveness for getting beat by FIU Student Media on this one.

As the volleyball results came in during Isaac weekend, I noticed a lack of Jovana Bjelica in the accounts. I shrugged, figured she'd had a bad weekend and went back to grinding out other work while trying to keep things from getting homicidal among the Sunset Harbour shut-ins.

Bjelica, FIU's best hitter and probably best player, will be out four-to-six weeks with a broken hand suffered during warmups before the first match. The team heads up to the FSU Volleyball Invitational Friday and Saturday, facing the hosts, Georgia and Florida A&M. FIU beat FAMU last weekend after losing to Florida and Florida Gulf Coast.

 

FOOTBALLERS

Like volleyball, both the men and women get on the bus this weekend.

Friday, the men (1-0) are at North Florida and Sunday at Jacksonville (0-2). FIU beat North Florida (1-1) 2-1 last year at home.

The women (2-0) get Florida Gulf Coast Friday night and Florida (1-1-1), ranked No. 22 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America/Continental Tire poll, Sunday night. Florida tied annually strong North Carolina 0-0 and beat also annually strong Duke 3-2. FIU's unranked, but got votes in the South Region poll in which Florida's No. 2. Inexplicably, No. 1 in the nation Florida State and Miami get put in the Southeast region.

The Gulf Coast game is a rematch of a loss that typified FIU's early 2011 season. A 2-0 halftime lead turned into a 3-2 loss after three Gulf Coast goals in 12:23 of the second half.

Hoppin' on the bus reminds me...

 

August 25, 2012

Of Water & Watch Lists & Volleyball

This is why you do don't put off doing stuff when you can, as happened around here after Coyote 3 dogpaddled back home last night from what became Deutchsland Night at FIU men's soccer.

Let's say a water main near your building bursts one morning just because that's what water mains do occasionally. You have no running water in your crib, turning you into a high rise Okie, and your surrounding streets look like this.

Miami Beach-20120825-00697
That packed dishwasher that didn't get run the night before with the dishes in the sink that didn't get rinsed off? That shower you didn't take, though you already felt icky from pre-dawn to late night rippin' and runnin'? Those errands you declined to run the day before? Now all you can do is pull out the proverbial jug of wine, loaf of bread and jug of water (didn't do the pre-storm bathtub fill yet and your kidneys do not care...)

And blog about yet another watch list. The first Senior Bowl watch list includes FIU defensive end Tourek Williams, safety Johnathan Cyprien and offensive tackle Caylin Hauptmann. T.Y. Hilton was the first FIU player to be named to the Senior Bowl.

MEN'S SOCCER

Eric Reyes started 12 games for FIU in goal last season. For Friday night's opener against Bryant, Reyes watched freshman Robin Spiegel, from Wipperfurth, Germany, get a three-save shutout win. Spiegel was a relatively late recruit, according to coach Kenny Arena, a June find. 

"At this point in the season, we started who we felt was doing the best," Arena said of the whole lineup. "Like I told the guys, it's game by game, practice by practice."

Spiegel's sophomore countryman, Quentin Albrecht, potted both FIU goals.

VOLLEYBALL

FIU sits at 1-2 after a four-set win against Florida A&M Saturday evening at the (big breath now) Campus USA Credit Union Invite in Gainesville.

Earlier in the day, the Panthers suffered a five-set loss to Florida Gulf Coast 25-23, 13-25, 25-17, 18-25, 15-12. Senior Marija Prsa compiled 25 kills while redshirt sophomore Jessica Egan racked up 25 assists. Hopefully, there's no three-knockdown rule if FIU loses this afternoon to Florida A&M.

Friday, freshman Lucia Castro, out of Puerto Rico's Caribbean School, led FIU with nine kills and Egan had 21 helpers in FIU's 3-0 (25-21, 25-14, 25-12) loss to No. 18 Florida. FIU actually led 19-17 in the first before a 5-0 run swung the game.

 

August 24, 2012

Men's soccer starting Friday; volleyball, too; football, see you next week

Both the soccer field and the men’s program needed a spruce up job. Friday against Bryant University, 7 p.m., will be the first showing for how far new head coach Kenny Arena is on both.

To swim down the fault stream of FIU Soccer Field just sends anyone who cares screaming for tequila, so let’s just use the old reliable “What a dump.” But Thursday morning, Arena stood at the field checking out some of the improvements being made that’ll make the field more presentable.

 “We’ve tried to make the players understand that this is a very important program with a very rich tradition,” Arena said. “We’ve tried to upgrade everything from the way we practice to our facilities, to make this an environment that not only looks very professional, but operates very professionally. It’s what this program deserves based on what the program has achieved.

The nod to that tradition comes from the replacement for the last connection to that tradition. Munga Eketebi – All-American player on the great mid-1980s FIU teams that were as good as any at any level, longtime assistant coach, then head coach – couldn’t beat NCAA sanctions and Conference USA. A 5-8-2 record last year left him at 27-51-9. Sacking Eketebi as the program finally got back to full scholarships reeked of both unfairness and an understandable desire to just start anew.

FIU showed signs of being something like what it once was last season. Against ranked teams, they went 1-0-2 and lost in overtime to perennially good SMU. But it also included a loss to Georgia state and getting smoked badly at Tulsa and Memphis.

“We definitely had a strong squad,” said senior defender Anthony Hobbs, FIU’s lone representative on the preseason All-Conference USA team. “It was whether we were going to turn out to play or not. Against the better teams we did well, we competed with them. Against teams we should beat, we just didn’t show up.”

In addition to Hobbs, FIU returns sophomore forward Quentin Albrecht, who lead the team in goals, and senior midfielder Lucas Di Croce, third on the team in scoring. Freshmen outnumber seniors, 8-5.

Perhaps it’s a good thing, then that Hobbs notes Arena brings a more positive vibe. Positivewavesbutton

When I asked Arena about his emphasis on the postive, he covered more ground than grass in an interesting answer:

“There’s going to be times you have to critique, but if you do it in the right way, everybody enjoys learning. So, it’s my responsibility to make sure that they want to come to work every day. That they enjoy this experience. But also that the experience is very challenging.

“I respect the fact that they have a lot of responsibility, being student/athletes and playing. We demand a lot out of them as an athletic department to serve in the community. Being a student-athlete today is one of the hardest jobs. When we’re done as an athlete, I don’t think the first couple of years when we have careers that it’s as hard as it is when we’re here. These guys train from 8 to 10 in the morning. that means they’re up at 6 eating breakfast. Then they have treatment, weights, they have classes, they have community service. Then they have to study, they have games. It’s a very exhausting, but very rewarding experience.

“If you’re asking them to do that much, then it’s our job to make it a positive environment so that you keep them going.”

Just as men’s hoop coach Richard Pitino clearly got his half his chromosomes from Rick Pitino, Kenny Arena couldn’t be more recognizable as the son of former U.S. National Team coach and current Los Angeles Galaxy coach Bruce Arena. I asked Arena, 33 hours ahead of his first game as a college head coach, to name the one or two biggest things he’s learned from each coach he’s worked under.

“Bob Bradley was very disciplined. He made sure everyone was held accountable all the time,” Kenny Arena said. “My father, he treated each player with an incredible amount of respect and gave them their freedom, but found a way to have a culture that every time they stepped on the field, they gave it everything they had.

“The last coach I worked with, (UCLA’s) Jorge Salcedo, he was very organized,” Arena said. “He found a way to make life easier for the players, whether it was during practice or traveling. From the details of the hotel to what they’re eating to the timing of all that stuff, he made sure everything was organized so all operations ran smoothly and I found that helped the overall psyche of athletes. When everything’s organized and thought of ahead of time, they can just concentrate on playing.”

 FOOTBALL

Last week, Mario Cristobal declared Jeremiah Harden "1A," close to Kedrick Rhodes at running back. I asked the pecking order and if Harden and Rhodes were even going into the season. 

"Ked is No. 1. Ked's going into the game first," Cristobal said. "Those other guys have earned playing time. Both Harden and Mallary have pushed really hard. They've got to play. theyr'e smart, they're tough, they've made good plays in practice. Shane Coleman, he's getting better. He's not at the level of Harden and Mallary yet, but he's a guy you feel comfortable putting in the game as well."

Just throwing out there: don't sleep on freshman defensive lineman Fadol Brown. Brown and Darrian Dyson might have some problems early in the season as they get used to dealing with pushing and shoving against nearly grown men for 60 minutes. But both possess the size and athleticism that'll eventually get you a few plays a game if they're rotating off the bench.

Tonight's the free food, drink, stuff meet the Panthers event at The Stadium Club in FIU Stadium.  

VOLLEYBALL

As change marks the men’s soccer program, so does the volleyball program head into its Friday night season opener at the Campus USA Credit Union Invite in Gainesville against Florida handling grand metamorphoses.

And we do mean grand – big group of newcomers containing bigger young women playing a vastly different style for a very different head coach.

Daniela Tomic rolled up a .721 winning percentage in seven seasons, easily the best by any FIU volleyball coach, before leaving for Bowling Green last winter. Former Tomic assistant and Trinidad and Tobago national team coach Trevor Theroulde took over, then added assistant Travers Green.

Redshirt sophomore setter Jessica Egan said, “The coaching staff is more in sync, which is vital.”

One consistency left from Daniela Tomic’s seven years as head coach: Jovana Bjelica making the preseason All-Sun Belt team. The senior outside hitter’s third such honor was announced Thursday morning. Bjelica led The Belt in kills last year and realizes as the established best player on the team as well as being a senior

“In a playing sense, I’m playing the same, but I think it’s harder now,” she said. “there’s a lot of younger girls who need some kind of role model and we older ones, upperclassmen, we need to be more of a role model. So, I have to talk more, which I don’t like.” Bjelica laughed at her shyness. “We need to talk a lot because many of them are still shy and don’t feel the freedom to talk.”

In a 2011 blog post about Bjelica, I noted that on the eye test, you’d pick her as FIU volleyball’s best pentathlete. On this year’s team, that athleticism blends almost as much as her height (5-10) does among the team’s 10 players 6-foot or over (last year’s team had seven).

“We’ve added a lot of height and we’re very stacked in positions, you could say,” Egan said. “Last year, we kind of ran into an issue where ran out of people with injuries. This year, we’re not going to have that problem. There’s competition at every position.”

Egan's playing time increased after 6-3 Renele Forde suffered a season-ending injury. Forde is back as a fifth-year senior.

Four or five of the new players walked through the Graham Center two weeks ago while I was working there around lunch time. You never saw that place get so quiet. Palpable awe.

“We are much bigger than before,” Theroulde said. “We are playing way above the net. We are much more athletic. We could be big and slow, but we’re not big and slow. We’re big, quick, athletic. We’re more aggressive.

“My style of coaching, we’re going to be more aggressive. We’re really going after the opponent.” Theroulde laughed, “I prefer to be the predator than the prey. I want to be the real Panther.”

Which brings us to FIU’s nemeses, Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee, picked to finish first and second in the Sun Belt’s East Division. FIU’s picked to finish where they have the last two years, third.

“We’ve been changing our style,” Egan said. “There’s still some kinks to it. It’s a powerful style we’re going for. Western and Middle have really different styles. Middle Tennessee is very fast. The way we’re playing, we’ll be able to handle that, no problem. Western Kentucky, they’re simple, but they’re good at what they do. It’s just a matter of zoning in on those players and executing our side of the court.”

Theroulde said the team must play up to its ability, but getting that out of them is his job.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself. I said, ‘if we do not do it this year, we have to analyze ourselves as a coaching staff,’” he said. “We have all the pieces. We need to put those pieces together. And make sure they’re able to function effectively. Then, we’ll see that beautiful picture. We’re trying to play a different style of volleyball. It’s faster, it’s powerful.

They’re strong teams, too. They’ve added parts, too. It’ll be interesting to see how they deal with us. It’s a totally different team than we had in previous years.”

Wednesday, Theroulde watched video of FIU’s 32-4 2009 team.

He estimated, “In key positions, we’re way better. We’re still trying to develop that mental toughness that last team had. If we’re able to get that and a level of consistency, nothing is impossible.”

 

August 08, 2012

Committment...Or, "new players;" Hobbs preseason All-Conference USA soccer

The football team's got the day off. FIU got a verbal commitment for 2013 from Miami Columbus High linebacker Jordan Guest, who attended Monday's practice. Guest, unrated by Rivals, Scout or ESPN, is 6-3 or 6-4 and looks like he'll be 200 to 210 easily.

Check out today's story on Sam Miller and Richard Leonard at http://www.miamiherald.com/sports

BASEBALL

State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota pitcher Robby Kalaf has joined former Valrico Bloomingdale High teammate and pitcher Cody Crouse as a verbal commitment to FIU. Crouse, a a 6-6 right handed senior at Valrico this season, committed in July for 2013.

 Kalaf, a righty, went 2-4 with a 3.92 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 11 innings for State last season.

VCLLEYBALL AND MEN'S SOCCER

Wednesday was the first day of official practice for two fall programs with new head coaches, former volleyball assistant Trevor Theroulde and Kenny Arena assuming the positions.

Conference USA coaches voted senior defender Anthony Hobbs to the preseason all-conference team. 

 

April 20, 2012

Volleyball assistant gets a bump; Karaoke in the afternoon; Mayock loves T.Y.; Tennis pulls a Panthers

Trevor Theroulde, an FIU assistant coach for four seasons, has been promoted to head volleyball coach, the school announced Friday. Theroulde was head coach of Trinidad and Tobago's national team from 1995-2002. He's also been an assistant at Central Florida and Marshall.

BASEBALL TIMES

Saturday's baseball home game will start at 1 p.m. Presumably, Arkansas-Little Rock also has been informed. As fan karaoke -- with prizes -- will be on the non-game entertainment bill, UALR might wish they'd showed up at the originally scheduled time. 

T.Y. TALK

NFL Network's Mike Mayock, their scouting ace, spoke kindly of T.Y. Hilton when I brought up the wide receiver on a conference call Thursday:

"He's really an exciting player because he's one of those guys that's not just quick, but fast. He ran in the 4.30s on his pro day and very quick with the ball in hand and added value in the return game.

So, when you add all those things up, I think he's going to be a late two to a mid three. He's going to be a return specialist. He's dangerous with the ball in his hand. Some teams will look at him as a slot receiver because he's so darned quick but I don't think you can lump him in there and say he's just a slot and return specialist, because he also has long speed.

But give him a chance to earn a spot outside, because there's some value there, but ultimately, he's going to be, I think, one of the better inside receivers in the game along with a return specialist."

 WOMEN'S TENNIS

Over in the Panthers-Devils NHL playoff series, a 3-0 lead has been taken in each game. In Tuesday's Game 3, the Panthers came back with four unanswered goals for a 4-3 win. Friday, FIU's tennis team, getting whipped 3-0 by Troy, stormed back for a 4-3 match win that gets them a 9 a.m. Saturday court time with Middle Tennessee State.

Stormed might be appropraite, as the rains came Friday after Troy took the 3-0 lead. After a rain delay long enough to play What's Goin' On a few times ended, FIU's Sarah McLean routed Lyubov Dorofeeya 6-2, 6-2. Giuletta Boha then beat Rosaura Ramirez-Vega 6-3, 7-6. Christine Serendi tied the match with a 6-4, 6-4 win against Samya El-Hsissen.

Karyn Guttormsen and Candela Munoz decided the whole affair with, fittingly, a three-setter. Munoz took the first set 6-1, but Guttormsen answered by taking the final two sets 6-3, 6-4.

 

December 20, 2011

December 13, 2011

On Quarterbacks and Bowl Practices; volleyball recruits (avec video)

Jake Medlock or Wesley Carroll at quarterback for FIU next Tuesday night in the Beef O'Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl against Marshall?

"Both of those guys are doing a good job," head coach Mario Cristobal said. "We'll let it play out for a few more days, see where we're at. Heck, they've seen enough film on both guys that they'll be preparing for both quarterbacks. I don't think it changes anything for them or us.We'll keep repping those guys. Whoever looks best will go."

They run the same offense, but they run it different ways, which is why I'm sure FIU would love to keep the decision as secret as Formula 7X as long as possible. Medlock's the better runner, creates more space for the rest of the running game and was improving his accuracy before the shoulder bruise. Carroll's more experienced, generally a better decision-maker -- a huge edge in this offense -- and can do enough damage to win if he's hot for just two quarters.

Practicing for bowl games is a funky business. NFL coaches complain about the unnatural rhythms of Super Bowl preparation and that's bang-bang compared to bowl game prep. Bear Bryant once said he never figured out how to properly set up bowl game prep. Even taking into account The Bear's typical poor-mouthing, it's not an easy business.

"Many teams around the country don't have these practices, six of them are in our conference and a couple of others are opponents for next year," Cristobal said last week. "They're going to hear us use the word "develop" a lot. whether a guy is an all-conference or all-American guy or whether he's on the scout team, we can never ever stop developing."

Cristobal feels these practices afford the opportunity for the younger players to get in more work with more specialized attention, which should help in special teams for the bowl game (Marshall's teams play concerns FIU) and in setting the team up for next season. He said the early practices they've found a couple of young players who can play special teams next Tuesday.

"I thought last year's 15 days did wonders for us. Giancarlo Revilla is an example. What he did last year in thos epractices determined what he was in the spring adn what he was coming in as a starter. These practices are priceless."

Wide receiver T.Y.Hilton and kicker Jack Griffin received honorable mention notice on SportsIllustrated.com's All-America team.

ESPN's announcing crew for the game will be Mike Patrick on play-by-play, Craig James on color, Jeannine Edwards in the thankless sideline reporting role.

VOLLEYBALL

During the early signing period, FIU signed Ashlee Hodgskin, Gloria Levorin, Gabriela Roman, Hayley Miller.

Hodgskin, a 5-10 setter from Windemere, went to three high schools in four years.

 

Levorin's a 6-1 middle blocker from Padova, Italy. Playing for Logitronic Fidas Vicenza, she was the 2009 MVP of the Bleu Girl League. She also was the MVP in 2008-09 for her scholastic team.

Gabriela Roman, 5-11, is a hitter from Puerto Rico, a member of 2011 Puerto Rico's Junior National Team.

Hayley Miller, a 5-4 defensive specialist, was a three-time all-county pick at St. John's Creekside High.

 

 

 

December 12, 2011

New sport in 2013: women's sand volleyball; told ya' so on Godfrey

Women's Sand Volleyball becomes FIU's 18th interscholastic sport in the 2013 spring with Rita Buck-Crockett as the head coach. FIU will field five doubles teams.

NCAA Division I sand volleyball began in August. According to the American Volleyball Coaches Association, in addition to FIU, adding the sport will be FAU; FSU; Florida Gulf Coast; North Florida; Jacksonville; Stetson; Mercer; CSU Long Beach; Pepperdine (possibly the most beautiful campus in America); USC; Hawaii; College of Charleston; UAB; Tulane; and Georgia State.

Buck-Crockett was the head coach of volleyball programs at FSU (2004-06) and Iowa (1998-2004) as well as the Swiss National Team (1995). As a player, she was on the U.S.'s 1984 silver medalist team and was a world beach champion parntered with Jackie Silva in 1989.

FOOTBALL

Central Florida quarterback Jeffrey Godfrey will be transferring from UCF, his father confirmed to the Orlando Sentinel. The elder Godfrey said a new school hasn't been decided upon yet. According to the story, the sophomore from Miami Central High is prevented from transferring to a Big East or Conference USA school, covering UCF's new and old conference. Godfrey will have to sit out a season, then have two years of eligibility left.

FIU's in the Sun Belt (for now). FIU also has redshirt freshman Jake Medlock, who started two games this season, and two recruits from the high school class of 2012. So, maybe there's no need. But you can bet there's interest.

An interesting thought...

November 19, 2011

Medlock hurt on 2nd play of the game; and other sports stuff.

FIU redshirt freshman quarterback Jake Medlock hurt his right shoulder when tackled on the second play of the game Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe and left the game.

Medlock, making his second consecutive start, kept on an option run around left side, put his shoulder down to crash through several defenders. This time, it was Medlock who remained down. He went to the locker room and returned by first quarter's end -- out of uniform.

Fifth-year senior Wesley Carroll came into the game and guided FIU to a 7-0 lead after the first quarter, 28-10 at halftime. Carroll threw for 196 yards and 3 touchdowns in the first half helped by two spectacular catch-and-runs by Glenn Coleman and T.Y. Hilton.

 

No live blogging here for FIU vs. Louisiana-Monroe. Follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/DavidJNeal

VOLLEYBALL

After Western Kentucky pulled another natural hat trick (3-0) on FIU to end the Panthers season Friday night in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, senior hitter Andrea Lakovic was named to the All-Tournament team. In FIU's two tournament matches, Lakovic pounded 24 kills, six blocks and two service aces. Lakovic ends her career as the rally-scoring era leader in hitting percentage (.302), block assists (351) and total blocks (388) and second in solo blocks (37). Her 1,005 kills rank fifth in the rally-scoring era.

SWIMMING & DIVING

For the first time in the program's history, FIU's ranked in the Top 25 of CollegeSwimming.com's Mid-Major rankings. FIU is No. 24 in the season's first poll.

November 18, 2011

FIU vs. Western Kentucky (one more time); bowl business; Carroll in Battle of Florida

Here we go again. November's become FIU vs. Western Kentucky Month in the Sun Belt Conference.

First, the two schools faced each other in the Sun Belt Tournament women's soccer final, which FIU won on penalty kicks. Later that day, Western hung around until FIU screwed up just enough to lose a key football game at Western. Now, they'll meet in the Sun Belt Volleyball Tournament, Friday at 7:30 after FIU got rid of Denver, 3-1 (25-21, 23-25, 25-21, 25-18) Thursday and Western Kentucky dismissed Troy.

FIU, as host of the tournament, will enjoy a home court advantage. And they don't have an antiquated nickname like "Lady Toppers" (is that a brand of wigs?). Other than that, the preponderance of the evidence suggests another Western win. Only Middle Tennessee State, among Sun Belt schools, emerged victorious from a meeting with Western Kentucky. It'll be FIU"s third match against WKU and FIU's still waiting for their first set win. WKU zapped FIU twice this season, both 3-0 sweeps.

Listening to FIU coach Danijela Tomic's analysis of Western sounded like both the women's soccer and football breakdown: great defense, simple offense. 

Thursday, junior hitter Jovana Bejelica rolled up 18 kills and 15 digs. Marija Prsa banged down 15 kills and 11 digs. Andrea Lakovic had a season-high 16 kills. Jessica Egan rolled up 51 assists and 12 digs.

No. 2 seed Middle Tennessee faces No. 6 North Texas in the first game of the night, a 5 p.m. contest.

FOOTBALL

Quaterback Wesley Carroll might've lost his starting quarterback job to Jake Medlock, but he didn't lose his spot in The Battle of Florida, to take place Jan. 21 in Boca Raton. The game involves NFL draft eligible players who played high school or college in Florida or were born in Florida. Outgoing FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger will coach one team and FSU's former longtime coach Bobby Bowden will be on the opposite sideline.

BOWLING FOR DOLLARS

As expected, sources tell The Herald, if Arkansas State wins Saturday, the Sun Belt tie-in bowls will be Louisiana-Lafayette to the New Orleans Bowl and Arkansas State into the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Everybody else will have to get what they can get.

November 17, 2011

Bjelica All-Sun Belt 1st Team, Sun Belt tourney starts Thurs. at The Bank

OK, just found out I didn't win the lottery. So, might as well file this blog...

FIU junior outside hitter Jovana Bjelica was named All-Sun Belt first team at the Sun Belt Volleyball Awards banquet held at FIU Stadium's Stadium Club.

Bjelica led the Sun Belt in kills per set, 4.60, and was 13th nationally. She was Sun Belt Player of the Week four times, including back-to-back late in the season.

Western Kentucky's Jordyn Skinner was named Sun Belt Player of the Year. The Lady Toppers -- a nickname dumb, dated or nasty to anyone with more than 42 working brain cells -- put three players on the all-conference team, including Ashley Potts, Defensive Player of the Year.

No. 4 seed FIU opens against No. 5 seed Denver. Should FIU beat Denver, which they spanked 3-1 (25-20, 23-25, 25-20, 25-19) at Denver, they'll likely face No. 1 seed Western Kentucky ("likely" translated as "will happen unless the entire Western team gets lost after being sent to look for downtown Sweetwater"). The expected tournament final is Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State, both of which skunked FIU 3-0 twice.

So I asked FIU coach Danijela Tomic what made Western and Middle the two preeminent teams in the conference. 

"Very, very different teams. Western is very efficient. It's a simple offensive system they play, but they're very efficient in what they do," Tomic said. "Their hitters don't make too many errors. They play an unbelievable defense. They're just very solid. Solid in every position.

"Middle Tennessee, they're just so athletic. Their game is really, really quick. Their middles, their outsides, right sides, they all probably reach over 10 feet. they're just very physical. The speed of the game against those two teams is very different. Western Kentucky sets a little bit higher, one and a half as we call it in volleyball. Middle Tennessee goes really quickly. Two different teams. It's hard when you play them in two days. You have to adjust one style of play to another." 

FOOTBALL

Time set for the FIU-Middle Tennessee State regular season closer: 3:30 Eastern time. No TV, radio only, maybe online streaming. I recommend beaching yourself on the couch, fat and happy with Thanksgiving leftovers, tuning in on the radio and following me on Twitter (http://twitter.com/DavidJNeal).

November 12, 2011

Football Gameday X, many XX games

I had a furlough day Friday and I'm still chaperoning a sleepover this morning. So, while they're playing Trouble and before I take them out for a wagon ride:

FAU's young. Unless FIU comes out flatter than the Eggo Minis I just served for breakfast or makes some incredible mental screwups -- like taking a 13-yard sack when you're up by two in the last two minutes -- it should be a happy home senior sayonara for FIU.

FIU 33, FAU 10.

That's just one black man's opinion. I could be wrong.

WOMEN'S SOCCER

A 2-0 loss at Central Florida Friday night ended FIU's NCAA tournament after one game. They finish the season 13-7-3. I might have more later on the game and season wrapup.

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

Sophomore Jerica Coley put up 22 points and 11 rebounds as FIU routed Jacksonville, 63-37 at The Bank in the season opener for both. Coley, starting at point guard this season instead of two-guard, also had eight assists and seven blocked shots. One freshman, Kamika Isom, chipped in 12 points and , another, Zsofia Labady pulled down 10 rebounds.

Monday, FIU hosts Florida Gulf Coast at 6 p.m.

VOLLEYBALL

FIU hadn't lost to South Alabama in seven years, almost two full classes. The Panthers hadn't dropped a set to South Alabama in three years. The Jaguars were 9-17, 4-10 in the Sun Belt and figured to be a fodder on the front end of a regular season-closing Alabama Weekend for FIU.

And FIU lost 3-1 (25-2, 22-25, 18-25, 20-25).

Jovana Bjelica had 15 kills. Sabrina Gonalez had 11. Marija Prsa had 11 kills and 11 digs. Jessica Egan racked up 47 assists.


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