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.

November 05, 2011

Football Game Day IX, XX Futbol Game Day XXII, what makes Bjelica a baaaad hitter (shut yo' mouth)

Let's break it down -- FIU vs. Western Kentucky. Winner dances. Loser slumps home to cry in their chocolate.

Part I takes place in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on the campus of Middle Tennessee State. This would be the Sun Belt Conference tournament women's soccer championship. Standing between No. 2 seed FIU and an NCAA tournament bid as Sun Belt champion is No. 4 seed Western Kentucky. Now, I'd just offhand predict an FIU victory as the Panthers showed tremendous heart and leadership in turning their season around after several early games they controlled, but didn't win followed by a 7-0 wasting by Oregon State.

Remember my golf-auto racing analogy from the FIU-Arkansas State pregame post? Applied here would be a team spinning, heading for a low wall and an ugly fate. Instead, they didn't just survive, they kept it off the wall with a 2-1 win over Oregon two days after the Oregon State shellacking and motored to a 11-1-2 record since then. They pulled a team sport version of Danny Sullivan's Spin 'n' Win.

 

But keeping me from an instant prediction that FIU's train keeps a-rollin' is when the two teams met in the regular season both teams had 14 shots at goal, six shots on goal and no shots in the goal. Granted, that was at Bowling Green and this is a neutral site game. But Western lives by defense. In 21 games, the Lady Toppers (ridiculous name) have scored 29 goals and allowed only 17. FIU, with the same 13-6-2 record, has scored 33 goals and allowed 25. Granted, seven of those were in one game, so outside that game, the Panthers goals per game allowed almost equal Western's, 0.90 just above Western's 0.81. Western's Libby Stout got the All-Sun Belt goalkeeper spot.

I don't trust defense-heavy teams in big soccer games. They tend to get so tight, you want to feed them Ex-Lax like M&Ms. They forget that, at some point, you've got to score. I think back to how Italy, which hadn't attacked since World War II, faced wonderfully talented Brazil in the 1982 World Cup, they opened up and won 3-2. In the 1994 World Cup Final, Italy packed it in, barely had possession, got their 0-0 and lost on penalty kicks (as silly a way to decide a title as the shootout in hockey, which is as silly as counting points scored in college overtime the same in team and individual statistics as regulation point).

I say late in the first half, Chelsea Leiva sets up Ashleigh Shim for a goal. Western tries an early second half wave, but FIU's too good at possession. A counter goal puts FIU up 2-0. Forced out of a defensive posture, Western can't get what they want and only half of what they need. FIU comes home 2-1, wins the Sun Belt and a berth in the program's first NCAA tournament in 18 years.

At least, that's one black man's opinion. I could be wrong.

PART II -- FOOTBALL

Back when I was in elementary school, we had these Houghton-Mifflin readers. Early soft cover ones were named after animals such as "Tigers" and "Lions" then you moved up to hardcover books with names like "Rainbows," "Panorama" and "Kaleidoscope" with appropriately trippy 1970s art on the cover. The very first of these readers was "You Can Learn to Read."

I never stopped laughing at the cover and title -- "no kidding, did that three years ago," I thought -- but inside I suspect was the Western Kentucky offensive game plan.

It's the old Walter Payton game plan before the Bears collected quarterback Jim McMahon and the players for the 46 Defense: Walter right, Walter left, Walter up the middle, pass to Walter, halfback option pass from Walter, punt (or Walter quick kick). That's Rainey with Western Kentucky. He's even two for two passing for 48 yards and a touchdown.

Quarterback Kawaun Jakes completes 57.1 percent of his passes to Rainey and a receiving corps that's about as scary as undercooked pasta. Jakes' longest completion of the year is 42 yards...to Rainey, of course. Jakes can boast of a 39-yarder to Jack Doyle. By comparison, FIU has six players with a pass reception covering more than 42 yards. 

Defensive tackle Joshua Forney's supposed to play, but is questionable on how many plays. I don't know if he plays much, if at all. If FIU's defensive tackles, especially Andre Pound and Isame Faciane, dominate inside, Rainey will find himself handicapped by having to carry linebacker Winston Fraser.

On offense, FIU needs to do what they do. In the Panthers case, that means swing from the heels and for the fences. Embrace the big play. If ever there was a game to get all your big play people on the field and touching the ball early, this afternoon in Bowling Green, Kentucky is it. Nothing sucks a little bit of heart out of a team than to grind and push the ball down the field for nothing or a field goal, then get socked back with a three-to-five play touchdown drive. That happens a couple of times and it slowly drains the resolve, drip by drip.

Early in the season, I was convinced we'd have seen a kickoff return for a touchdown by now, either by T.Y. Hilton or against FIU's porous kick coverage. No fools they (at least as far as kickoffs), teams tend to kick away from Hilton. On the other side, the Panthers have improved greatly on kick coverage. Stil, Western averages 27.3 yards per return and has two players, John Evans and Antonio Andrews over 29 yards per return. 

Look for some quick openers early, maybe a counter or a misdirection. Western's athletic, but gives up 147.5 yards per game on the ground. And they have only 13 sacks. Look for Wesley Carroll to go deep after a few probing shots at Western.

FIU gets some early points, 10 maybe 14.Western uses special teams, probably a long kickoff return, to get back into it. Rainey breaks free and runs Western into position for the go-ahead score. That's when Jakes throws another interception. A few plays later, a bomb puts Western down. This time, unlike other times they've had 10-point season half leads, FIU finishes the job. They come home 27-14.

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

VOLLEYBALL

A sixth straight win, Friday’s 3-0 (25-17, 25-22, 25-18) blasting of Louisiana-Monroe, seems a good time to talk a little Bjelica.

TalkintoBjelica
(Photo by FIU's Maegan Azpiazu)

If you had to pick a pentathlon winner, the best athlete, from the volleyball team just on the eye test, you’d take hitter Jovana Bjelica, the Sun Belt Player of the Week each of the last two weeks. The 5-11 Bjelica possesses a look both sleek and mesomorphic, exuding explosiveness for the sprints and jumps and enough overall strength for the throwing events.

A peek at Bjelica’s genes certainly wouldn’t dissuade you. Dad played pro basketball. Mom sprinted for Yugoslavia’s national track team. Grandma played volleyball. And, yes, Bjelica tried the sprints, long jump and high jump when encouraged to run track as a teen.

“I was pretty good actually,” Bjelica said. “But that sport was boring. It wasn’t creative. You just know what you need to do. Nothing was changing. Not like here, in volleyball, everything is changing second to second.”

So, I felt comfortable assuming Bjelica’s superior athleticism produced her superior hitting ability when I asked FIU coach Danijela Tomic about that.

My assured spike got rejected.

“She’s not the tallest player, but she can jump, she’s very strong in her lower body,” Tomic said. “It’s not really physical. She has a very high volleyball IQ. That’s what separates her from other players. You can have a great athlete who can jump higher than her, can hit ball harder than her, but they don’t have same volleyball IQ.”

When I asked Tomic to explain how Bjelica uses her volleyball IQ, she elaborated, “She sees the block really well. Many hitters don’t see the block. She sees the other side of the court. For example, this past week (now, actually two weeks ago), the set was pretty tight, she had two blocks, she just tapped the ball, just played the ball off of the blocks so she could play it again. She didn’t try to swing it hard and get blocked, just intentionally soft hit or she could play it again or somebody behind in our defense. Or, if she sees two blocks, she’s going to use the outside hand of the hitter.”

Tomic pointed to Bjelica’s hitting percentage in her 31-kill match Oct. 21 against Arkansas State, when Bjelica pounded out the final points in a five-set win. In racking up the third most kills in FIU history, behind two matches by quadruple All-American Yamir Rosa, Bjelica’s hitting percentage was .424. That’s like knocking down 50 points on 60 pct. shooting from the field. Her situation recognition, Tomic said, made her hits count.

Athleticism did propel coaches to play Bjelica up – with 16-year-olds at 13, with grown women at 15 – once she took up volleyball. But, she felt her raw physical ability and knowledge of the game outdistanced weak fundamentals at 15.

Bjelica’s gotten on a roll even after losing main setter Renele Forde to a thigh injury in late September. Redshirt freshman Jessica Egan, also 6-2, adroitly assumed the position she’d shared with Forde. Friday, she got her second double-double of the season with 18 assists and 14 digs.  

“Egan is doing an outstanding job right now, the way she runs the offense, she’s making really good decisions,” Tomic said. “Tactically, she’s doing a very good job. She’s developing the personality of a setter, a leader on the court. She’s getting more confidence because of the way she’s playing, the way her hitters are hitting. You can see it in her demeanor on the court. Egan’s one of the hardest working player on the team.

“I told Egan after that first weekend she played when Renele was injured, this position is hers to lose.”

Bjelica said, “Renele was older, she knew the game a little better. I think Egan is doing a great job. I’m really proud of her. She’s improved so much in the month she’s played. I think she’s doing great and I think she can do much better.”

Using the way Bjelica’s worked with Egan as an example, Tomic said, “If she wants to go into coaching. She could be a very good coach. She thinks the game. “

Told that, Bjelica laughed, “No. Definitely not. Much more fun to be a player than a coach. I wouldn’t like to do it as my career. After I finish here, I would go play professional, then come back here to be an assistant. But I don’t want that to be my career. That’s why I came here to finish school.”

She sees herself using her business degree to work in sports administration.

Huh. I’d always believed what I heard on “The White Shadow:” “Those who cannot do, teach. Those who cannot do or teach, administrate.”

Bjelica’s doing it just fine.

October 31, 2011

Griffin, Bjelica Sun Belt POWs; Seedings, honors for soccers

FIU kicker Jack Griffin, now a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, won the Sun Belt Special Teams Player of the Week award for last week's games. Griffin knocked in three field goals against Troy, including the overtime 22-yarder, and kicked off well. His 15 field goals this season are only two behind his school record.

On the downside for FIU, nobody the Panthers needed to lose in the Sun Belt actually did so. Arkansas State beat North Texas to go to 4-0 in the conference. Louisiana-Lafayette spanked Middle Tennessee State, 45-20, so they're 5-1 in conference. Western Kentucky, this week's FIU opponent, outlasted Lousiana-Monroe in overtime as Bobby Rainey ran for another C-note.

VOLLEYBALL

This is the almost-weekly announcement that FIU hitter Jovana Bjelica has been named the Sun Belt's Player of the Week. Again.

In the 10 sets of FIU's three wins against FAU, Troy and South Alabama, Bjelica racked up 52 kills, 26 digs and six blocks. She had two 20-kill matches.

A longer post on Bjelica will be coming in the next few days.

WOMEN'S SOCCER

FIU has the No. 2 seed in the Sun Belt Conference tournament, hosted by Middle Tennessee State, and will open against No. 7 Arkansas State Wednesday at 10 a.m., the tournament's first match. If they win, they'll play at 4 p.m. Thursday against the Denver-South Alabama winner.

In the regular season, FIU beat Arkansas State 2-1 in overtime; South Alabama 2-0 at home; and Denver 1-0 at home. The Denver win gives FIU the tiebreaker for the second seed. FIU also beat No. 1 seed North Texas this season.

MEN'S SOCCER

Sophomore goalie Eric Reyes shared the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week Award after stopping eight shots, including an overtime penalty kick, as FIU tied No. 25 Alabama-Birmingham 0-0 at UAB Saturday.

The PK was one of several things FIU coach Munga Eketebi didn't like about the officiating.

"I think the ref let the game get out of hand," FIU coach Munga Eketebi said. "It's the first time I've seen 20something fouls called in a game and there wasn't a single card given.The game was a typiical conference battle, but the ref just kept letting everything go. Players eventually started cheap shotting each other."

Saturday was the third time FIU's tied or beaten a ranked team this season, which ends Friday with a home game against Florida Gulf Coast. Senior Night also will be Message from Marli Foundation Night. The foundation raised $40,000 for ovarian cancer research.

October 27, 2011

Men's Hoop Belt Media Day, football injuries, volleyball pounds FAU

Meant to make this post yesterday afternoon, then last night, then fell asleep early after pounding blackened fish and Rice-A-Roni, still didn't win Lotto, so here I am getting my daily cup of Colombian from Europa with a little mini-jambalaya of topics.

FOOTBALL

Wide receiver Glenn Coleman got the wind blasted out of him on the play that resulted in Troy's fumble return touchdown, then spent Tuesday dealing with bruised ribs and a stiff neck.

According to FIU coach Mario Cristobal, defensive tackle Joshua Forney suffered a sprained ankle when we went down in the third quarter.

MEN'S BASKETBALL

 

Only on TV.

The Sun Belt coaches voted FIU 5th in the six-team Sun Belt East and honored only one player, DeJuan Wright, with a preseason All-Sun Belt selection (second-team at that). Somewhat predictably, FIU coach Isiah Thomas didn't show pique at the poll even if he felt it.

"We just want to play well every night," Thomas said during Wednesday's Sun Belt men's basketball teleconference. "Clearly, the people making the poll think other teams have better players than we do and they probably do."

But, Thomas said, he hopes the team learned from the way they lost several close games last year.

"We lost with a young  group that hopefully learned the importance of making foul shots, not making key turnovers in situations," he said.

Thomas also thinks the team's got a better grasp of defensive concepts he wants to execute, which involve a lot of trapping, switching and rotation. FIU's foul problems last season, he believes, came after they got seduced into "excessive gambling" by their success at making steals: "We were second in the league in steals. I think our team got too excited about trying to steal the ball rather than containing their man and forcing a tough shot."

By the way, FAU coach Mike Jarvis responded to being the East Divsion favorite and the consensus overall favorite with some suspicion and paranoia -- "I know there are people who pick us to win because they don't think we will. It's the ol' set up game" -- but also said, "every team I've coached that was expected to win has."

What Jarvis can't be happy about is the only place FIU's been shown any love, the Sun Belt Network schedule. The Panthers have three games on the Sun Belt Network while FAU has only one. That one is the game at FIU Jan. 21. FIU's also on against North Texas, a Feb. 9 home game, and on the road Feb. 16 against Arkansas-Little Rock.

The FIU women will be on Sun Belt Network Dec. 11 at Western Kentucky live. The women's Jan. 21 home game against FAU will be on the next day at 1 p.m. 

VOLLEYBALL

Sabrina Gonzalez had a team high 15 kills, Jovana Bjelica had 11 kills, freshman Silvia Carli had three service aces as FIU crushed FAU 3-0 (25-9, 25-22, 25-16) Wednesday night. FIU's 14-7, 6-4 in the Sun Belt. Or, put another way, 14-4, 6-0 in the Sun Belt against everyone except Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State. 

October 25, 2011

Football Gameday VIII, volleyball, smidgen of hoop mention

Even before I heard outside hitter Jovana Bjelica now had a hat trick of Sun Belt Player of the Week awards, I rolled over to The Bank with the intent of talking to the Serbian junior who had 31 kills against Arkansas State Friday and averaged 6.38 kills per set over weekend wins against ASU (five-setter) and Arkansas-Little Rock (1-2-3-and-out)

Though the volleyball team wasn’t practicing, at least not at the normal time, I did wind up talking to a tall, blond woman who was a pretty good college athlete – Inge Nissen, longtime FIU women’s assistant coach, a Hall of Fame player at Old Dominion way back in the day. Our short conversation reminded me that Sun Belt media days for basketball are nigh, Tuesday and Wednesday. FIU women’s coach Cindy Russo’s up late Tuesday morning. So, we’ll finally have some hoop here.

 

FOOTBALL

On to the What Happened To Us? Bowl, between Sun Belt favorites FIU and Troy Tuesday. The advance is at http://www.miamiherald.com/sports.

The line opened with FIU as 5-point favorites. It’s moved up to 6.5 in Vegas, 6.0 on some of the offshore sites. The money’s coming down on FIU. The over/under got set at 55.5 or 56 depending on the book or site. Despite having Sun Belt Preseason Defensive Player of the Year defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi, Troy’s averages giving up 34.7 points per game and 460.8 yards per game, both worst in the Sun Belt, which is akin to being the worst driver in Hialeah. And they play fast, so there’s lots of plays and possessions -- 77.5 plays per game on offense, a conference-highh 77.0 on defense. Ergo, that over/under number would be higher if FIU’s red zone offense didn’t look as confused as Kramer in a hospital.

 

Speaking of which, I keep wondering why FIU didn’t go to 6-4 tight ends Jonathan Faucher and Colt Anderson more in the red zone, where they have one red zone touchdown pass. In the NFL, good red zone offenses often involve good tight end usage. The Patriots in the red zone? Like a Rick Barry free throw. One of the reasons the Dolphins have struggled in the red zone the last two seasons is a) Anthony Fasano’s a C-list tight end and b) they don’t know how to make the most of what Fasano can do.

This isn’t the NFL, but the same logical principles apply. When shrunken space shrinks speed advantages, bring on the combination of quickness and size. When FIU threw to a covered Faucher against Duke, he jumped over the defender for the ball and the touchdown.

Why not do that more often? Mario Cristobal’s answer:

“We’ve seen things that are there for them to have. We plug it in, we rep it, we make it part of the game plan. When we feel they’re taken away or we feel it’s more advantageous to go another route, we do so as well. One thing we have been for the most part is pretty efficient with the football. We haven’t thrown many interceptions. We’d like to stay along those lines when we do throw it. We would like to use them. They are good football players. When the ball’s been throw to them, they have been effective. It’s always part of our regimen looking, not only for the tight ends, but the backs as well, getting the ball to them in the passing game. The outside guys as well, involving them more. That’s a challenge we’re working on consistently – continue to spread the ball around and find the holes in the defense.”

Uh-huh.

However FIU gets to the end zone, the Panthers likely will need to do it often. Stop me if you’ve heard this before – Troy quarterback Corey Robinson averages 296.5 yards per game not far off what Arkansas State quarterback Ryan Aplin did before he met FIU. But Aplin showed up for Tuesday’s game apparently fresh from using the WABAC machine to swipe the body of Turner Gill in his prime. Almost half of Aplin’s 341 rushing yards this season came against FIU.

Offensively, again, FIU should move the ball at will. Troy’s not stopping anybody. We’ll see whether another week at work gives FIU the ability to run their offense without a false start penalty or some basic scewup that brings the drive screeching to a General Lee halt.

Troy’s kicked only six field goals this year. I’ll take FIU 38-35.

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

October 17, 2011

Pregame FIU-Arkansas State blog coming late night...or tomorrow.

I've had a few days off. I planned to throw up a few blogs during that time as the women's soccer team got a big win, the guys soccer team suffered heartbreak in Dallas against SMU and the volleyball team again got KO'd in straight sets by Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State, but, well, it just didn't work out that way and I decided to use my days off to be...off.

I'm covering Dolphins-Jets tonight and have a 6:30 a.m. flight to start the journey to Jonesboro. This causes me to debate the necessity and practicality of sleep. Don't expect the usual pregame blog or if it's of usual length, it'll exceed the others in incoherence (no mean feat). It might get posted tomorrow morning between flights instead of the usual wee hours the night before the game.

Check out Armando Salguero on the Herald's Dolphins-Jets live blog over at http://miamiherald.typepad.com/DolphinsInDepth.

 

 

October 11, 2011

Soccer ties UCF 0-0, Colimon commits for football, Forde gets injured

FIU's men's soccer team's zeroed out their two Top 25 opponents this season after a 0-0 tie with No. 6 Central Florida Tuesday.

Lightning suspended the game with 4:49 left and the rain rendered the field unplayable. Officials called the game.

UCF brought in the nation's leading scorer, McKauley Tulloch, but FIU threw senior defender Jahbari Willis at him. Tulloch mustered only two shots at goal, none on goal. Freshman Rodney Greiling, who blanked No. 21 Kentucky, stopped all six UCF shots.

FOOTBALL

Been watching for when Riviera Suncoast safety Davison Colimon would make his decision on where to go. He'd said it was down to FIU and SMU before the season. He attended the FIU-Central Florida game with Suncoast teammate and close pal cornerback Abiade Granger (rivals.com says Granger has an FIU scholarship offer. Sources based around Camp Mitch say FIU has not offered Granger).

Monday, Colimon verbally committed to FIU. Colimon's a state high hurdles champion and could be moved down to linebacker in the Jimmy Johnson way adopted by FIU.

 

 

VOLLEYBALL

Jovana Bjelica was named Top Performer of the Week by The Collegiate Volleyball Update after her 20 kills and eight digs as FIU swept Flroida Atlantic 3-0 (25-22, 25-23, 25-17). Bjelica's 4.28 kills per set rans 23rd in the nation.

On the downside, setter Renele Forde suffered a thigh strain in practice Monday and coach Danijela Tomic said Forde was questionable for this weekend's matches. I'd go for less than questionable after seeing Forde hobble through the Graham Center this afternoon on crutches with left thigh wrapped. 

Senior Andrea Lakovic said wanting to get work with a new setter is one of the was one of the reasons Tuesday's practice, run by the players after Tomic felt Monday's practice was flat, ran long.

 

October 08, 2011

Football Gameday VI; volleyball; soccers; Hong Kong Phooey

The question for many of you in General Seating for today's NBA all-star charity event at U.S. Century Bank Arena is, “When do I get in line to be sure I claim a good seat?”

My answer would be, “Now.”

FOOTBALL

Like most of the Midwest, Ohio’s filled with pleasant people who chase you down over several floors when they don’t give you back your credit card promptly and who upgrade you automatically to a gargantuan SUV then drop you to a Dodge Charger when you remind them you’re driving around Akron, not the Eastern front. As I was buying an Akron Beacon-Journal, a late 40s guy with scruffy face, jeans, work shirt and baseball cap stopped to tell me a juvenile joke he tells his grandkids. Just because he saw me buying a newspaper and wanted to make me laugh. And this is in an area even more abused by the economy than South Florida.

Ohio’s favorite son, Archie Griffin, is the original subject of the line, “he’s a better young man than he is a football player and he’s the best football player I’ve seen.” That’s Woody Hayes on Archie. Aside from Mister Only Two-Time Stiff Arm Winner (who really is a tremendous person), Ohioans at stadiums on football game days more often resemble Woody’s famed bursts of temper -- angry, gravely-voiced, rude, belligerent, often drunk. Some of these people I count as shirt-off-my-back friends.

As much of a homecoming crowd as you can get for a 1-4 team will be in Akron’s house (I’m not writing that full name until I have to), some riding their first beer buzz of the day. So this tilt should have atmosphere if not fans, about 14,000 actual attendance. It might have a fair amount of scoring, too.

Akron does what teams used to do – pound the ball and, when either you couldn’t do that anymore, or you were doing it so well they feared you, go up top with a play action pass downfield. That’s important – downfield. That’s where FIU’s looked discombobulated lately. Receivers are coming open quickly, then staying open, giving little time for a pass rush. There's been communication issues there not helped by Chuck Grace's absence. If Akron bangs away, I think FIU eventually takes away the run, forces Akron to become one-dimensional while playing from behind, then hunts down the quarterback.

But, Akron might decide early on, "to heck with it, these guys have been eating the run like a Bob Evans breakfast, but seriously refunding against the pass the last two weeks and they've lost two shootouts. Forget about that shortening-the-game stuff. Let's look to throw, especially play action on first and second down, and try to get some points." That's what I would do if I were the Zips. What's to lose?

It won’t matter. Akron can’t stop the run – 4.5 per carry, 204.2 yards per game. So FIU will work it until the Panthers get bored or impatient or decide, eh, we could use another couple of T.Y. bomb touchdowns to get us on a highlight show or two. The last two weeks, the Panthers outmuscled Duke and Louisiana-Lafayette with Darriet Perry handling the load against Duke and Kedrick Rhodes doing 30 carries against Lou-La.

Watch for a kickoff return touchdown or near touchdown by FIU. Akron’s opponents return an average of 25.6 yards per kick and FIU’s fifth in the nation in kickoff returns.

Akron’s bad. FIU shouldn’t be a homecoming miracle victim.

FIU 45, Akron 24

To paraphrase an ex, that’s just one black man’s opinion. I could be wrong (as we've seen the last three weeks).

I won't live blog. I will Tweet throughout, http://twitter.com/DavidJNeal as I won't have the deadline pressure of night games.

VOLLEYBALL

After getting shoved toward the back of the bus by Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State last weekend, the volleyball team marched up to FAU to redeem themselves. FIU got some of that with a 3-0 (25-22, 25-23, 25-17) victory. Jovana Bjelica ripped 20 kills, Renele Forde and Jessica Egan, a redshirt freshman, each got 15 assists. This is travel partner week, so no Sunday match for FIU.

WOMEN’S SOCCER

A tie is like kissing your roommate. Or, something like that. FIU played Western Kentucky  to a 0-0 tie Friday night that ends FIU’s winning streak at five, but stretches their unbeaten streak to six. They’re 7-5-1 and 4-0-1 in the Sun Belt.

The men’s soccer team, last seen knocking off No. 21 Kentucky, is at Memphis for a 7 p.m. game tonight. Akron, which is ranked No. 4, would have a much better shot at FIU in this futbol than the American version.

Because it's the kind of sunny, 57-degree Saturday that reminds me of my youth...

 

October 05, 2011

Catching up with football losses, futbol wins, all-star game ticket sales

To get started after a day off Monday...

Serious hoits: Apparently, suddenly getting work with the ball can be hazardous to your health.

Wide receiver Glenn Coleman will miss his second consecutive game with a shoulder injury suffered against Louisiana-Lafayette while catching four of his eight receptions this season. Wide receiver Jacob Younger’s two catches for 26 yards against Duke, one pass completion for 44 yards to Dominique Rhymes and two key penalties apparently came with a shoulder injury. He’s officially questionable for Saturday.

Don’t expect Coleman or free safety Chuck Grace back this week. Guard Curtis Bryant (thumb sprain) is questionable. 

The Line: FIU opened a 19-point favorite. It’s up to 19.5 or 20 depending on which sportsbook you check. Translation: some light FIU money by serious bettors who like to get down on games before the sportsbooks figure out they might’ve miscalculated on a line. 

Timeouts and such: As I forgot to ask about the timeout usage in the postgame and had Monday off, I brought it up to Mario Cristobal Tuesday. He gave a full explanation of those and threw in a side swipe at me for questioning in the blog them not running Perry on third and 1 in the fourth quarter on the play Wesley Carroll bounce passed a hitch to Wayne Times. One of you tattletales definitely told him about the latter and probably the timeout section, too. I couldn’t help envisioning some guy my age in t-shirt and khakis yelling in Eric Cartman voice down Collins Avenue, “Coach Cristobal! Coach Cristoballll! David just said you waste timeouts and, for the third time in three weeks, called out your running back usage!”

(How do I know someone told him? He said someone called him on the Perry thing. When I expressed mock disappointment that he didn’t read the blog, he gave an explanation that could be summed up thusly: I don’t know enough to make it worth his while to read me. I thought, “Aw, SNAP.”)

After I stopped laughing at all of that, I thought of this…

 

Anyway, as he’d said Saturday after the game about the second timeout in the second half, a player got rocked and disoriented. The first timeout of the half, off the fourth and 1, he said was caused by “a personnel issue.” He wouldn’t elaborate, but I have the feeling that it wasn’t all about FIU’s personnel.

The first half timeout on a second and 3, he said, “They jumped into something that was very foreign and did not match up with the play or the check to it. We hoped that they were bluffing or disguising something and they didn’t. So we used it for that purpose.”

He did admit they perhaps would’ve liked to have had one of the first half timeouts back. While talking timeouts, without segue, he jumped to:  

“And third down over here, that is a run play. I know you had written that it was a throw out on third down with Perry getting hot. It is a run first play. That’s a read option. When there’s six guys in the box, plus a seventh safety coming in the corner where we’re playing it, you’re outnumbered by two. It’s all option football. So you have to pull it. You keep it there, you’re going to get blasted for minus two.”

SOCCER STUFF

For shutting out No. 21 Kentucky 1-0 on six saves in his first collegiate game, freshman goalkeeper Rodney Greiling got the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week honor. Usual starter Eric Reyes got sidelined by an illness, moving Greiling's debut up by several games.

She didn't get Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week, but few players have been as tangibly hot as freshman forward Ashleigh Shim. In the women's team's current five-game winning streak, Shim's picked up a point in four games and her two goals Sunday against South Alabama gave her four goals and an assist in the streak.

ALL-STAR GAME TICKET SALES

A line at FIU for basketball tickets? A line two or three times greater than the actual attendance for most of the games I’ve covered at FIU? I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see that. So I swung by Alfonso Field at FIU Stadium at Camp Mitch Monday morning after dropping the kid off at school. Ticket sales for "LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh present The South Florida All-Star Classic" figured to be amusing, at least. 

Some snapshots from the morning.

 South Westside-20111003-00143

South Westside-20111003-00142 
South Westside-20111003-00141 

 

Two young women left the southeast window with Lower Bowl reserved seats, which were sold out in about 40 minutes. Immediately, a guy in a white shirt and sunglasses descended on them asking if they would sell. “No.” He left.

I said to them, “You didn’t even want to hear his offer?”

One said, “No! We just paid $100 a piece for these!”

And probably could’ve sold them right then for at least $200. I understand you camp out for royalty seats to what you think is a once in a lifetime event that’s going to be The Scene, man. Been there. I’m not sure how much money you would’ve had to offer my 9-year-old butt for my 1977 Indy 500 ticket, but you don’t have it on you and probably can’t get your hands on it. But I was 9.

As a college student and as a full adult, with food to buy and rent to pay, I’ve at least thought about going for the money – Publix and FPL don’t cash memories. To not even listen to the man’s offer says you have too much money or too little sense.

It was nice meeting those of you who stopped me to say hi or ask if I knew what was going on as far as if or when they would stagger the opening of the windows. Oh, for those of you who saw me being so absorbed doing a crowd estimate count that I went on the wrong side of the open gate at the southwest corner of the stadium and ran into a fence: I hope you saw the whole thing and laughed really hard.

At first, surely to create buzz and a great scene for media, tickets were to be sold only at the Fieldhouse University Credit Union Box Office. Great idea, I thought. About as pure as it gets, gives an advantage to students and the scarcity of tickets in the hands of ticket brokers would really drive up the secondary market prices, multiplying the buzz.

Upon rolling up Monday, I saw lines running from ticket windows on the south side of the stadium, in addition to the one at the main box office. And two of the south side ticket windows had signs announcing “Upper Level GA $50 CASH ONLY” while others were marked “Lower Reserved $100 Upper Level GA $50.”

Uh, oh.

This is where old school concert ticket buying training would’ve come in handy. Back when TicketMaster was young, jheri-curls were cool and if somebody said an album dropped, we figured it broke, concerts meant camping out at a record store with a TicketMaster machine and as much cash as you could scrounge. Nobody used credit cards to buy tickets. Too much could go wrong with credit cards. Machines could get slow (happened Monday at one window) or just stop working. And, a cash transaction was faster, a big consideration when a few seconds could cost you a few rows or even a section.

(Besides, you couldn’t give up your credit card to the person buying your tickets. You never bought your own tickets. There was a 12-ticket per person limit. As we were suburban spawn but no longer in an area so rural we had fields that needed tending by a large brood, nobody had that many brothers and sisters. So, the first person in line bought their ticket, their best friends’ tickets and probably those wanted by No. 2 in line. The No. 2 person did the same and so on. For Van Halen in 1984, I was 16th in line at the Georgetown Road Karma, but my money was up at No. 4. A lot of camaraderie and trust in those concert camp outs, now that I think about it. Each of us in line was holding hundreds of OPM (Other People’s Money), but beyond No. 3 or 4 in line, most of the people whose money we held, we had met at the camp out. Once, when I had to work a Mickey D’s shift a 15-minute drive away, I was given a ride and marked as present for the eight hourly attendance checks of my shift.)

What ensued Monday was predictable. First, came the complaints from those in the main box office line about the other windows opening at the same time. The main Fieldhouse box office opened approximately 20 minutes early, I’m told (I left at 11:15 to run an errand and came back at noon). And heeeere come the complaints from those in Upper Level Only lines that they didn’t know this line was Upper Level Only until they got near the window (reading is fundamental, folks.). Some of that group complained when they weren’t allowed to slide over into the front of the All Tickets Cash or Credit line. And, predictably, those lines moved more ponderously than Vince Wilfork does with a football.

When the cash only lines cleared quickly, the remaining desperate ticket brokers whipped out cash and lumbered through a couple more times. In the following video, you see a stampede for the last open window.

 

Angry folks still without tickets at the 1:49 p.m. announcement of "sold out!" griped they didn’t know there would be separate lines or that it would help to have cash or that some tickets were flipped on the spot for decent whip-out. My brow wrinkled with incomprehension -- how could they be surprised? – before I realized most of these students were used to buying tickets online.

“It’s socialism!” shouted one young man whom I hope isn’t a student.

No, son, it’s about as pure a form of capitalism as you’re likely to see.

October 03, 2011

Football recruiting, soccer winning, volleyball, well...

Saturday's loss to Duke didn't hurt recruiting. FIU's engaged to be engaged to a couple of more prospects.

Lemarq Caldwell, a 6-0, 210-pound Tampa Bay Tech High running back making his visit this weekend, verbally committed to FIU Sunday, according to sources around the Mitch Madique Campus. Caldwell's a power back as well as the kind of taller, heavier durable back that FIU would like to add.

Sources around Camp Mitch confirmed that Tampa Jefferson wide receiver Adrian Jenkins also has committed verbally to FIU. Jenkins is 6-3, 195 who looks like a possession receiver among the class of pass catchers the Panthers have coming.

Interesting stat: With Wesley Carroll at quarterback, FIU has 9 touchdown plays of 15 yards or longer, 3 touchdown plays shorter than 15 yards and 3 field goals shorter than 32 yards.

So when FIU snaps the ball inside the opposing 15-yard line with Carroll at quarterback, they're as likely to get a field goal as a touchdown.

THE SOCCERS

Freshman Roberto de Sousa's goal with 33 seconds left in the first overtime pushed FIU over No. 21 Kentucky 1-0 and pushed FIU (4-4-2, 1-1) back up to .500 Sunday afternoon.

Following de Sousa's heroics, another freshman, Ashleigh Shim, scored twice to lead the women's soccer team to its fifth consecutive win, 2-0 over South Alabama.

VOLLEYBALL

Defending Sun Belt champion Middle Tennessee State walked into U.S. Century Bank Arena, spanked FIU 3-0 (25-20, 25-12, 25-18). This left FIU (10-5, 2-2) 0-2 on the weekend, 0-6 in sets against Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee. Jovana Bjelica had a team-high 10 kills. Judging from following this match on Twitter, you took about as long to read this summary as long it took Middle Tennessee to wax FIU Sunday. Must have been angry over having to miss church.

October 01, 2011

Football Gameday V & other balls, including ticket info on Wade, LeBron, Bosh game

The first part of this is a rerun from Friday afternoon's blog post. If you saw that, feel free to skip past this to the football, volleyball, futbol or whatever ball-type thing gets you groovin'.

 PSEUDO-NBA BASKETBALL

The NBA put an All-Star Game in Miami in the second year of the Heat and Miami Arena, a building that was outdated about 15 minutes after it opened. Why the NBA hasn't brought it's winter showcase back to Miami, despite American Airlines Arena downtown on the bay and South Beach nearby (maybe that's the reason), is a mystery. Which makes it all the more ironic that the next time a near all-star game gets played in Miami, it's at a small college arena in the suburbs.

Tickets for that game, "LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh present the South Florida All-Star Classic" at FIU's U.S. Century Bank Arena, 7 p.m., Oct. 8 will go on sale Monday at noon at the University Credit Union Box Office on the first floor of the Fieldhouse adjacent to at FIU Stadium. No phone or online orders will be taken. Tickets will cost $50 for upper bowl general admission, $100 for lower bowl reserved. Fans can buy two tickets per person until 3 p.m., four tickets per person after that.

The game, which Wade billed on Twitter as DWade vs. King James, will include the Heat's Big Three, the Knicks Carmelo Anthony and A'mare Stoudemire, Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, New Orleans' Chris Paul, and many other stars.

Proceeds will go to Mary's Court Foundation, a foundation established by FIU coach Isiah Thomas in honor of his strong-willed mother, the late Mary Thomas

FOOTBALL

This is going to look like a Reader’s Digest Condensed Book version of my usual pregame posts. I’m tired, have a stuffy nose, a Long Island waiting and a dissatisfaction with how much I’ve seen of Duke.

This is the kind of wacked team that drives fans and coaches crazy, makes prognosticators look stupid and keeps bettors away from like the team came Chernobyl-dipped. Losing to Richmond (what?), drilled by Stanford (expected), then punking Boston College (everybody’s doing it) in a comeback win, then blowing Tulane off the field.

Take that BC game. Duke allowed BC only three first downs on the ground, but trailed BC 19-7 in the third quarter. They came back to win 20-19 after a last second BC field goal attempt went awry.

When a line finally came up for this game after FIU coach Mario Cristobal said quarterback Wesley Carroll would play, it was FIU by 3. That’s moved to 3.5 to 4, depending on where you look. Translation: some money on FIU, probably not much, and even less on Duke. Bettors are staying away from this one.

Duke lost defensive end Kenny Anuike, their best pass rusher, to injury early against Tulane. FIU will be without free safety Chuck Grace (right knee) and wide receiver Glenn Coleman (shoulder).

Duke undoubtedly saw the trouble Louisiana-Lafayette caused FIU with the quick wide receiver screen. FIU’s defensive backs couldn’t get off the Lou-La wide receivers’ blocks, thus allowing at least 5 to 7 yards before ball carrier contact. Eventually, they’ll draw FIU up, fake a hitch and throw the go. Until you prove you're not a fool, you'll get played for one.

FIU failed in both ends of its pass defense last week, but the pass rush gets the bigger they pass/you fail grade because that grew into a given after three weeks. When it didn’t get there last week, even by blitz, the secondary couldn’t maintain coverage. FIU coach Mario Cristobal uses “big” to describe every offensive line the Panthers face. But for Duke’s, he also used “long.” Long arms…that’s what scouts look for when searching for linemen that’ll keep the quarterback from being treated like a piñata at Westchester triplets birthday party. Cristobal’s worried about the pass rush getting erased for a second consecutive week.

One thing Lou-La did to loosen up FIU that the Dukies will do just because it’s their wont is throw on first down.

Duke allowed only eight rushing first downs against Tulane and BC. Take away the sacks and they allowed a combined 161 rushing yards on 43 carries, 3.7 per carry. Not overly permissive, but not The Great Wall of Durham, either. Richmond ran for 95 on 31 carries (no sacks). Duke coach David Cutliffe felt Tulane and BC were more straight ahead, physical teams. Cristobal called defensive tackle Charlie Hatcher “as good as we’ve faced” and, remember, Duke lost defensive end Anuike.

Add it up and I see another game where the shifty Kedrick Rhodes gets the bulk of the carries for FIU.  

Wesley Carroll’s back at quarterback for FIU. Despite an ankle that might still be bothering him, he needs to be a better passer than the Wesley Carroll who played against Central Florida and Louisiana-Lafayette. Against UCF, he was just a bit scattershot. Though the play calling got stale against Louisiana-Lafayette after the opening drive, Carroll’s decision-making wasn’t exactly Manning-esque before his injury. Carroll takes too many Ken O’Brien sacks/hits, where he holds onto the ball too long. By contrast, one play last week, he threw a panicky pass with the nearest upright Lou-La player pondering Kierkegaard on the sideline.

As well as Jake Medlock – the name just sounds like it should be followed by “A Quinn Martin production” – played against Lou-La, there were moments when Carroll would’ve made better reads. Against Duke, FIU needs to put more of the game in Carroll’s hands and he needs to be the senior leader in performance he can be. The plays -- small, medium, large and T.Y. Hilton – were there against Louisville and should be there against Duke.

Richmond’s Tre Grey got Duke for eight catches and 129 yards. That’s a secondary that should fear Hilton, even at 80 percent Hilton, or Wayne Times.

Let’s say both teams move the ball well. There’s been a defensive score in every FIU game so far, so figure on one here by FIU – a jumped route, a post-reception fumble, something along those lines. That score could wind up being the difference in a game where the punters should be able to spend the game arguing with the cheerleaders over who's the better athlete.

FIU 38, Duke 35.

But that’s just one black man’s opinion. I could be wrong (and have been the last two weeks).

VOLLEYBALL

In less time than it took my daughter to finish two bowls of matzoh ball soup, Western Kentucky swept FIU out of U.S. Century Bank Arena 3-0 (25-17, 25-22, 25-19). Jovana Bjelica had 13 kills and Chanel Araujo had 14 digs as Western left the former Sunblazer Arena with a win for the second consecutive season.

Defending Sun Belt champion Middle Tennessee State visits Sunday at noon.

WOMEN’S SOCCER

Since the humiliation by Oregon State two weeks ago, the women footballers have run off four in a row, the latest a 3-0 spanking of Troy Friday that gets them to 3-0 in the conference. They’re also 6-5 overall, their first time above .500 this season.

Chelsea Leiva and April Perry, striking early and late, each got her second goal of the season. In the middle, sub Deana Rossi sent FIU into halftime with a 2-0 lead off an assist from Kelly Ann Hutchinson. Hutchinson and Nicole DiPerna, who set up Leiva’s goal, are tied for the team lead with three assists.

South Alabama’s up next, at 2 p.m., Sunday.


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