NCAA men's soccer, first round.
NCAA men's soccer, first round.
Conference USA tournament champion FIU opens the men's soccer tournament Thursday at Tulsa. The winner gets the tournament's No. 7 seed, Notre Dame, on Sunday.
"Any team that's in this tournament is going to be very difficult team to play," FIU coach Scott Calabrese said. "We're unfamiliar with Tulsa. We haven't played them in recent times as they left (Conference USA). So we're going to have to study them, prepare for them and we'll be ready."
As for if he thought FIU would get a seed, Calabrese said, "I think we're very close. If you look at the RPI, we were one of the teams right on the bubble to be seeded. It doesn't surprise me we didn't get seeded. Had we been the 16th seed, I also thought that was possible."
FIU's RPI ranked 16th in the nation. None of the four CUSA teams -- FIU and the three Top 25 teams, regular season champion Kentucky, South Carolina, Charlotte -- received a seeding.
Calabrese, the co-winner of Conference USA's Coach of the Year, has a year left on his contract. FIU athletic director Pete Garcia said the school will extend Calabrese. Also, the coach and team will be honored at halftime of Monday's men's basketball game against Florida Memorial.
Midfielder Patrick Lopez's goal off a header in the 75th minute gave FIU the only goal it needed in Sunday's Conference USA championship game against Marshall. The 1-0 win gave FIU it's first Conference USA men's soccer title, the third conference title for the Panthers athletic department in 2015 (Swimming & Diving, Baseball, Men's Soccer) and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Midfielder Daniel Gonzalez was named Offensive MVP of the tournament. Goalkeeper Arthur Clapot was the defensive MVP. Lopez and defender Marvin Hezel also made the All-Tournament team.
FIU's last NCAA tournament appearance was 2004, the same year as their last conference title (Atlantic Soccer Conference). The NCAA announces the tournament pairings Monday afternoon.
"(Marshall) did a good job of limiting our space around the midfield," FIU coach Scott Calabrese said. "Once we got into position, you had to make a perfect pass and a perfect run. Still, we were close to scoring in the run of play. And they were dangerous on the counter and very dangerous on set pieces. They have a couple of guys who are good in the air.
"The statistics might look lopsided, but there were times in the game when we had to sharp defensively."
As conference titles go, this might be FIU's most impressive in any sport -- ever.
Conference USA's one of the best soccer conferences in the country. The last National Soccer Coaches of America Association poll included three CUSA teams (No. 11 Kentucky, No. 17 South Carolina, No. 24 Charlotte) and Old Dominion in the Others Receiving Votes. None of them made the conference tournament final. FIU knocked off Old Dominion, 4-2, and Kentucky, 1-0. Marshall took out Charlotte and South Carolina. Of the seven teams in the conference tournament, six had been ranked in the Top 25 at some point in the season.
I asked Calabrese when he thought FIU could finish on top of this savage battle royal of soccer.
"I think there were signs early on with how well we competed with UNC and Wake," Calabrese said, referring to close losses to teams now ranked No. 4 and No. 1, respectively. "It was clear we had players who could compete at that level. As the season went on, when we fell behind and were able to fight back into games, it showed we had the desire to win."
Whether within games or in the season, Calabrese liked the way FIU answered when challenged. They lost to Charlotte 1-0 in a game Calabrese felt they controlled. That was followed by a 4-3 loss to UAB when the Blazers came back from a 3-1 halftime deficit. Less than 20 minutes from a third straight loss, goals by Gonzalez and Lopez gave the Panthers a 2-1 win against Old Dominion.
"Every good team deals with adversity," Calabrese said. "What you do with it determines your season. We always fought our way back."
At least one more fight to go.
OK, you knew it could happen, maybe even felt it probably would happen, hoped it wouldn't happen, but it did. Marshall took FIU to Fiftyburger and got a Shutout Shake with it.
Playing on the road against a team that's better than they are anyway and on a day heavy with feeling, the Panthers gave up big plays early and got nothing steady going offensively. Then, they got crushed.
Obviously, the soccer team can't make up for 52-0 when it faces Marshall in the Conference USA Championship Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m., although FIU will be heavily favored. The Panthers smoked The Herd 5-1 earlier this season.
There won't be an official FIU watch party for that. There was for Saturday's game, at Carolina Ale House in Doral. I arrived early in the first quarter with Marshall up 7-0.
I've been in Miami long enough to know: heavy rain=light crowd, even indoors. There were 17 people there. That's 17 more than I saw or recognized from Athletics. Nor did I see the advertised giveaways of two basketball courtside tickets or two suite tickets for next week's regular season finale. And I heard that the circle of televisions on the game weren't on the game until after kickoff.
What's was up with that? The advertisements for the Watch Party didn't say canceled in case of rain.
Despite all the jokes about 1-0 soccer scores, FIU doesn't know anything about 1-0. The Panthers didn't win a single game by that score this season. Heck, they only managed two shutouts, 3-0 over Stetson and a 0-0 Senior Night game against New Mexico.
No. 11 Kentucky knows about 1-0. In fact, the ultra-defensive Wildcats beat FIU by that score in the regular season finale. They conceded only one goal in Conference USA play all season.
Make that two, as FIU advanced to the Conference USA title game with a 1-0 win over Kentucky Friday night. Daniel Gonzalez first half penalty kick held up for the Panthers, which play the winner of South Carolina-Marshall Sunday at 2 p.m. for the championship and NCAA bid.
FIU's first appearance in the Conference USA tournament since 2007 will go at least one more round after the Panthers knocked out Old Dominion, 4-2, Wednesday afternoon. Next up comes No. 1 seed Kentucky, which had a first round bye.
The Panthers scored the match's first two and last two goals for their second win of the season against Old Dominion.
Or on the laptop or desktop telly.
If you have Veterans Day off or if you're of a mind to be a corporate time-stealing weasel (not in the pejorative sense), you might want to click here to see No. 5 seed FIU vs. No. 4 seed Old Dominion in the first round of the Conference USA men's soccer tournament.
You'll see two Conference USA All-Academic Team members wearing the Former Sunblazers colors. Junior defender Marvin Hezel's a First Team All-CUSA defender and on the all-academic team for his 3.31 GPA in international business. Goalkeeper Arthur Clapot started three games in goal and has a 1.08 goals against average. More impressive: a 4.0 GPA in marketing.
Men's soccer, the best of fall sports at FIU back when the PC and DM comprised half the campus classrooms, returned to that station this fall with a 9-6-1 season and the first Conference USA tournament berth since 2007.
The CUSA coaches recognized this by voting Scott Calabrese Co-Coach of the Year along with sxxxx from regular season champion Kentucky. Defender Marvin Hezel got First Team all-conference honors. On the Second Team: midfielders Daniel Gonzelez, Ismael Longo and forward Luis Betancur. Defender Stefen Bohm made the All-Freshman team.
FIU plays Old Dominion Wednesday in the first round of the Conference USA tournament.
Men's soccer preceded the rest of the athletic program in joining Conference USA, which is sort of a conference for programs without a conference (nod to Men in Black's Casablanca exchange). And it preceded the rest of the program in failing to make its CUSA tournament, which it last did in 2007.
Or, rather, 2015. This weekend's results, including beating No. 9 Old Dominion Saturday, clinched a place in the Conference USA tournament for the men's soccer team.
It also moved FIU up in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll to just outside the Top 25. FIU's sits first among Also Receiving Votes with 32 points, seven points behind No. 25 Monmouth.
Old Dominion stayed ranked, falling only to No. 14. That keeps CUSA with four teams in the Top 25: No. 12 SMU, Old Dominion, No. 16 Kentucky, No. 22 South Carolina.
Now that FIU's swimming & diving team has opened its season swatting aside North Florida and Georgia Southern, CollegeSwimming.com puts FIU's water women No. 6 among the mid-majors.
FIU's 1-0 loss to Charlotte this weekend on the men's soccer pitch ended a seven-game winning streak. It also ended FIU's time in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Top 25 for now.
No. 14 FIU skidded down to "receiving votes" with 59 points. No. 25 Maryland had 68 points. Between them is North Carolina-Wilmington (61 points).
FIU men's soccer stock looks like it's pulled from the bull markets of the program's first glory era, the 1980s.
In the latest National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll, the Panthers zoomed from No. 24 to No. 14. Since the last poll posted last Tuesday, FIU beat Marshall 5-1. I'm not sure if some coaches sent in their ballots last week before FIU stomped FAU 7-2 Monday night, so that might factor into the 6-2 Panthers Jordanesque vertical leap.
Put up a hat trick in a conference game, you'll probably be in line for conference offensive player of the week if you do anything more than navel cleaning the second game. So, when FIU junior Luis Betancur followed up his hat trick in the No. 24 Panthers' 7-2 scorching of FAU with a goal in Friday's 5-1 stomping of Marshall, Conference USA could've started doing the press release.
Conference USA's Offensive Player of the Week for women's soccer split her scoring evenly. Fifth-year senior Scarlet Montoya picked up one goal and one assist in each of FIU's wins last week, 3-1 over UTSA and 3-2 over UTEP. She stuck in free kick for the last minute game winner against UTEP.
UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES
Men's Soccer -- 7 p.m. vs. Marshall
Women's soccer -- 1 p.m. vs. UTEP
Before we get to the ball-and-butt kickers that have been the nationally-ranked men's soccer team, here's a couple of quick hits.
Freshman safety Tyree Johnson proudly announced via Twitter that he's making his first collegiate start today against Louisiana Tech.
Video coordinator Brian Duval's on this trip. Also let's hope unlike the last road game and last week's home game, the ESPN1210 radio broadcast team of Mike Levine and Wesley Carroll will be able to analyze the game at halftime. The last two weeks, they've been forced to spend halftime talking to a stream of Burger King executives, suite buyers and other assorted FIU hangers-on who have nothing to say about the game being broadcast.
Pregnancy is the reason last year's Conference USA Freshman of the Year Kiandre'a Pound will miss this season. Pound and her boyfriend, junior football safety Wilkenson Myrtil, found out three weeks ago that she's in the family way.
Looking on the on-court upside, a very good player doesn't use up a year of eligibility during the transition year that usually follows a coaching change.
The five-game win streak No. 24 FIU takes into today's match with Marshall has its roots in the two-game losing streak against soccer royalty North Carolina and Wake Forest that opened the season.
"When you play Chapel Hill and Wake Forest, you have to defend well," FIU coach Scott Calabrese said. "You have to defend from your forwards, your midfield, back and you have to get good play from your goalkeeper. The biggest change this season is all 11 players on the field was committed to working hard to defend. That's reflected in the goals against, but also the goals scored because we tend to win the ball higher in the field."
The Panthers' team effort is such that when I asked Calabrese for who he'd call standout players aside from the obvious -- defender Marvin Hezel, leading goal scorers Luis Betancur and Daniel Gonzalez -- he couldn't. He pointed out FIU's had 10 different goal scorers and "all 11 are defending."
Clearly, he's happy with where the team is seven games into his second season at FIU.
"The goal for our teams as coaches was to try to create a positive environment where players were committed to each other and committed to high standards," he said. "I seen the players have committed themselves to things on and off the field."
UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES
Volleyball -- Thursday vs. Bethune-Cookman, 1 p.m.
Volleyball -- Thursday vs. Central Florida, 7 p.m.
Women's Soccer -- Friday vs. UC-Irvine, 7 p.m.
Volleyball -- Friday vs. Seattle, 7 p.m.
Football -- Saturday vs. North Carolina-Central, 6 p.m.
Volleyball -- Sunday vs. FAU, 1 p.m.
Women's Soccer -- Sunday vs. Florida, 1 p,m.
The men's soccer team took care of an Ivy League quinella over the weekend, dumping Penn and Princeton to stretch their winning streak to four games. The 4-2 Panthers impressed enough folks to move up to just outside the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Top 25, 27th with 29 voting points. FIU's two losses were on the season-opening road trip to No. 3 North Carolina and No. 7 Wake Forest.
On a weekend during which senior Lucia Castro surpassed 1,000 career kills, volleyball won the Stetson Invitational with wins against Stetson (3-2) and Mercer (3-0). Senior Gloria Levorin slammed 19 kills and made 11 blocks for the 6-2 Panthers.
Thursday and Friday's Panther Invite features FIU in three matches over two days, timed perfectly for skipping class or taking in an athletic contest before starting the weekend.
UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES
Men's soccer -- Thursday vs. Penn, 7 p.m.
Women's soccer -- Friday vs. North Florida, 7 p.m.
Men's soccer -- Saturday vs. Princeton, 7 p.m.
The opening lines, out of Vegas and the offshore sites, installed FIU as a 7.5-point underdog to Indiana. The Hoosiers struggled to beat FCS foe Southern Illinois at home after game-time suspensions of nine players, most of them on defense.
Still, that seems a strangely large line for favoring IU or putting FIU as an underdog.
As I watched the replay of Thursday's game, I realize forgot to address the two-point conversions in the postgame blog.
The second two-point conversion try, well, yeah -- 15-14 to 16-14, so what? You still lose on a field goal and you're a touchdown behind if you give up a touchdown. Might as well go for 17-14.
As for the first, during the game, I thought, "Oooo, just take the point." Later, though, the logic came clear. It wasn't about momentum, but math and cold-eyed reality.
After Alex Gardner's 7-yard run pulled FIU to 14-9, each team had allowed one real touchdown drive in two-plus quarters. UCF got a quick, 26-yard touchdown drive off the Alex Gardner fumble. You should hope you'll reach the end zone again. You can believe you'll reach the end zone again. But you have to know there's a decent probability you won't reach the end zone again.
A customary conversion still leaves FIU needing a touchdown to avoid defeat. Getting two would've left FIU just a field goal short of tying the game. The two teams allowed only one more score, as it turned out (that it was an FIU touchdown is immaterial -- we're talking about what the coaching staff knows at that moment in the third quarter).
Going for two at 14-9 describes greedy if you're in the first half of a game where points flow at a normal pace. But in the situation facing FIU, the Panthers made a smart move.
Alex Lamars, a National Weather Service meteorologist, updated his College Football Climatology for 2015.
The two FBS schools in Miami-Dade County tie for second in Average Rainfall from September to November and fifth in Most Rainy Days from September to November. To find the leader in both those categories you have to go all the way north...to FAU.
After two almosts in ACC country last weekend, the men's soccer team rebounded with two wins this weekend. Sunday, FIU went over to Deland and put DeFoot into Stetson's DeBooty 3-0. Brad Fountain, Santiago Patino, who assisted on Fountain's goal, and Jamar Campion-Hinds scored for the 2-2 Panthers
The women (2-3) got it done late again. Madlen Weinhardt, who assisted on the overtime game-winner in the season opener, struck in the 81st minute to give FIU a 1-0 win against Miami of Ohio.
UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES
Men's soccer -- Thursday vs. Fairfield, 7 p.m. (way to coordinate)
To be fair, the title fits only two out of three from the last football-free weekend until after Thanksgiving. Volleyball's pair of 3-0 wins Saturday over Alabama A&M and South Florida pushed them to 2-1, a nice rebound from Friday's 3-1 loss to North Florida.
Men's soccer is 0-2 after a weekend in the Carolinas but could feel more gold than blue. The Panthers played No. 5 North Carolina and almost-ranked Wake Forest, from the best soccer conference in the country, on even terms.
The Tar Heels held a statistical edge on FIU, but the game remained scoreless until a penalty kick in the 82nd minute when Marvin Hezel got convicted on a hand ball charge. The Tar Heels buried the penalty kick, of course for a 1-0 win. Sunday, FIU took a 1-0 lead on Wake Forest, fell behind 3-1 before losing 3-2. Coach Scott Calabrese said he'd learn a lot about his team quickly. He learned they can go iris-to-iris with top notch ACC teams, even if the Panthers blinked first.
Women's soccer played Central Florida on even terms, at least in the second half. But that's also when an FIU defender bounced off UCF's Ashley Spivey, allowing Spivey the space to take a step to the right and bury a gorgeous shot into the far upper corner in the 55th minute.
Freshman defender Lyrik Fryer showed some wonderful dribbling skill, the type that allows her to beat an opponent two or three times, although once and on your way does the job. FIU's best scoring chances came from junior Alyssa Robinson, who put one shot over the net and eschewed another shot from scoring range for a pass that went awry.
Like the men, the women fell just short of a good, nationally-respected opponent.
The first game is in three days. That is all.
UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES
Friday -- Women's soccer vs. UCF, 7 p.m.
Friday -- Volleyball vs. North Florida, 7 p.m.
Saturday -- Volleyball vs. Alabama A&M, noon
Saturday -- Volleyball vs. South Florida, 6 p.m.
Thursday -- Men's soccer vs. Fairfield, 7 p.m.
While FIU women's soccer hosts formerly-ranked Central Florida in a measuring stick game tonight, men's soccer opens the season with a pair of measuring stick games that could easily turn into Big Mama yardstick spankings:
At No. 5 North Carolina in its season-opener tonight; at Wake Forest, which received Top 25 votes, Sunday.
Opening the season with Ali, then Frazier is the idea of head coach Scott Calabrese. The early damage it could do to the record he hopes gets countered by the later benefit in Conference USA, no ACC in soccer but home to two Top 25 teams (No. 17 Charlotte, No. 24 Old Dominion) and three others that received votes (UAB, Kentucky, New Mexico).
"When you play at Chapel Hill and you play at Wake Forest, they have an ability to expose things you do wrong and they'll punish you for it," Calabrese said. "We'll learn a lot about our team. UNC is a team that is usually in contention for a national championship. Playing them will set a standard for what it is to be in that position. The speed of play, how do we measure up to that?"
Last year's results reflected the reality of FIU men's soccer having a first-year coach being the third in four seasons of a program that's been buffeted by NCAA penalties and loss of national relevancy. Their 6-9-1 record included some fine performances but a 2-6 conference record left them outside the CUSA tournament.
Calabrese voiced similar hopes to those stated to me earlier in the day by volleyball's Rita Buck-Crockett.
(For that matter, all the fall sports -- men's soccer, women's soccer, volleyball, football -- spent their 2014 seasons malnourished on wins after losses during which they could smell victory cooking.
"You learn how to win games, not just play games as you mature," Calabrese said. "I think we have a group that's more mature and focused. Do we have an ability to turn good performances into results? Overall, I'd say this team that's starting to come together is more cohesive on and off the field.
They lost three-time All-Region striker Quentin Albrecht, who led or tied for the team scoring lead each of his four years. Senior midfielder Daniel Gonzalez is the leading returning scorer (nine points). Gonzalez, preseason All-CUSA defender Marvin Hezel and midfielder Donald Tomlinson tie as the leading returning goal scorers (two each).
Making up Albrecht's production (eight goals, two assists last year), Calabrese said, "might be a midfielder scoring four or five, a striker getting six or seven goals, another player chipping in with three or four. I do think we have multiple players who can help us score goals."
The coaches picked FIU sixth. Calabrese figures if the Panthers get into the top four, that'll mean they're playing at a Top 25 level.
Friday, they'll see if they can play at a Top 5 level.
Thursday, starting at 5 p.m., there's a watch party at the Chili's in the Graham Center ("The GC") for FIU's season opener at UCF. You veterans without Friday classes can start your weekend. Those of you with Friday classes can start your weekend, too, it's just that you might pay for it one way or the other.
UPCOMING HOME MATCHES/GAMES
Volleyball -- Friday, Panther Invite vs. North Florida, 7 p.m. (ADMISSION IS FREE TO ALL)
vs. Women's soccer -- Friday vs. UCF, 7 p.m.
Volleyball -- Saturday, Panther Invite vs. Alabama A&M noon
Volleyball -- Saturday, Panther Invite vs. South Florida 6 .m.
FIU volleyball czarina Rita Buck-Crockett speaks in a stream of confidence. She'll compare an incoming freshman to FIU's greatest indoor volleyball player, four-time All-American Yarimar Rosa. She's got no problem telling you she picked the Panthers as No. 1 in Conference USA for the preseason coaches' poll because that's where she wants the Panthers want to finish. The rest of the conference so lightly regards FIU that even with Buck-Crockett's vote, FIU finished ninth.
Not that she does so without providing reason for her confidence. FIU, which opens the season Friday night against North Florida in the Panther Invite at 7 p.m., went 0-4 in five-set matches last year with a young team. Combine experience with results on close games evening out, that's likely an extra two or three wins right there.
"That comes down to experience, which we didn't have a lot of," Buck-Crockett laughed. "But, we fought. The team did not get blown out. I do believe that this year's team is better than last year's team, even though there are young players out on the court. They're more experienced young players. They kjnow the game. I think the culture is getting where I would like it to be.
"The team is better than it was last year. Wins, losses, we'll see."
FIU's last winning record, 20-10, 10-6 in the Sun Belt Conference, came months before Danijela Tomic left for Bowling Green University, unhappy with upper athletic administration. (Bowling Green, Ohio? That's a lot of unhappy.)
Buck-Crockett let former Tomic assistant Trevor Theroulde handle the 10-17, 7-8, 2012 season before he had to be dismissed (tip for you future job seekers in college sports: if you commit a minor NCAA violation that nobody but your Compliance head and a few NCAA geeks care about, bite the bullet. Don't commit the major life violation of lying about it.)
Seasons of 13-17, 6-8 in Conference USA; and 7-23, 4-12 followed.
"It's hard to see from the outside in but even though our team won (six) matches last year, I think the team grew as a whole," Buck-Crockett said. " We did have a lot of young kids. We're trying to jell a past generation with a new generation. That takes time. You have to change cultures. You have to find the motivation for the new culture. I think there are a lot of positive things that happened last year."
In addition to returning senior outside hitter Lucia Castro, senior middle blocker Gloria Levorin and conference All-Freshman team member Jennifer Ene, they signed 6-4 Katie Hogan out of Miami-DAde College.
"Her job is to kill. She's The Terminator. For me, she's our No. 1 hitter. She goes after it. We didn't have that last year," Buck-Crockett said.
"We have a freshman setter from Canada, (5-11) Katie Friesen, who runs the team. She's a leader on the court. I think we missed that last year. We didn't have the quarterback we needed to run the team. This year, we have a year more experience with the one who played last year and then we have (5-11) Katie Friesen and (5-10) Dominique Dodd.
"They're freshmen, but they're gamers. Also, (5-11) L1na Bernier. She's a freshman, but this kid is...to me, could be the next Yarimar. She's just a firecracker and she's a leader on the court."
If any FIU fans want to give Bernier the first time once over, admission to FIU Arena for volleyball matches is free to all. That's right, all. Students, parents, students who are parents, their baby mamas and daddies, friends, enemies, freniemies, frenemies with benefits...
...the same thing about FIU men's soccer that the conference's women's soccer coaches said about FIU women's soccer: sixth in the conference, one preseason all-conference player, a defender (junior Marvin Hezel).
Charlotte ranked as the favorite, getting six of the nine coaches first place votes.