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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Desiring a location at least some fans can reach on foot or via Miami's adequate-for-1962 mass transit system and with minimal nose-picking along State Road 836 during rush hours, the David Beckham Group has now stated they prefer to build a stadium alongside Marlins Park. Many local politicos can now smile that they've bent the soccer bringers to their will somewhat and can now discuss the fringe benefits for the local powers-that-be.
Not that FIU athletics acted as if the MLS fantasy still had even a Law & Order episode's basis in reality. FIU athletic director Pete Garcia's been in Brazil a few times to get popular soccer club Flamengo for an exhibition game at FIU Stadium and keep the lines of communication open with the top muckety-mucks of Brazilian soccer. The national team's trained at FIU twice before friendlies at Sun Life Stadium.
Speaking of soccer, I'm still unclear on what the school plans to do about the embarrassment of FIU Soccer Stadium before the school hosts women's soccer's Conference USA tournament. According to some folks I spoke with this week, the grounds crew does a good job with the pitch. But nothing says "first class institution" to people from other schools like picking 35-year-old splinters out of their butts from stands that look bought second hand from an early 1900s minor league baseball park. And the banners ringing the field look better than bare fences yet don't fool anyone that they're above being lipstick on a pig (and I'm not saying which end of the pig).
The place is beneath the soccer programs and beneath FIU as a school.
But soccer games, indeed all games, on PantherVision should look better this year. FIU's hired Brian Duval as a dedicated video coordinator.
When Cindy Russo retired after seemingly a century as FIU women's basketball head coach, she already counted as something of a dinosaur -- a female head coach at FIU. The hiring of Marlin Chinn as her replacement cemented Russo's brontosaurus status.
This article puts FIU's dearth of female head coaches in perspective. Only 29 of the 138 schools with FBS football or Big East basketball have a lower percentage of women coaching women than FIU's 30 percent. Of the 10 women's sports at FIU, only three have female head coaches and the school's getting three sports for two women -- Rita Buck-Crockett is the head coach for volleyball and sand volleyball. Katarina Petrovic coaches the tennis team.
A case-by-case look at FIU's women's teams coaches reminded me of the 1980s Boston Celtics, which often included three white guys among five starters. The bombastic declarations that this melanin split demonstrated racism in the Celtics organization were countered with, "OK, who do you not want to start? Perennial All-Star Larry Bird, perennial All-Star Kevin McHale or Danny Ainge, for whom every NBA coach would find a spot?"
Similar situation among FIU's women's teams. Randy Horner's turned FIU's swimming and diving team from what one former swimmer called "a glorified high school team" into one of the best mid-major programs in the nation. Before the last two disappointing seasons, FIU's most consistent winners played soccer under the direction of Thomas Chestnutt. Joe Vogel coaches golf. That covers FIU's last three conference championship programs before the baseball team battered Conference USA into submission in May.
Softball coach Gator Rebhan came recommended by some of his current players. Track & field and cross country's Ryan Heberling ascended to head coach of both programs off convenience and his work with FIU's women's throwers, the strongest part of the track program in recent years. As has been noted here often, the women's teams consistently perform well academically despite so many FIU female athletes growing up with English as a second or third language.
In the overall athletic department, coaches who have shown progress but yet to prove definitively they can get it done consistently -- football's Ron Turner, men's basketball's Anthony Evans, men's soccer's Scott Calabrese -- occupy jobs women's coaches won't get as things stand now.
And that's the legitimate beef women's coaches and their advocates have with the steady stream of men into jobs coaching women's teams. Nobody's truly an equal opportunity employer.
Pat Summitt racked up 1,098 wins over 38 years as Tennessee's women's basketball coach. If you sat on a pile of her credentials and honors, you do your best Mongo Santamaria on Shaq's head. Handling the Tennessee program from the days when she had to drive the van and wash the uniforms herself, Summitt's knowledge of running a successful college basketball program is oceanic. Tennessee reportedly twice approached Summitt about coaching the men's team.
Yet, you never heard of, say, Louisiana Tech, nosing around Pat Summitt about coaching its men's hoop team. But Tyler Summitt with two years as an assistant at Marquette and 23 chromosomes from his mother gets the women's basketball job at La Tech, where all the coaches of women's teams have a Y chromosome.
Can you imagine one of Mike Krzyzewski's daughters doing two years as an assistant men's coach at Butler then applying to be the head coach at FIU? Can you imagine one of Mike Krzyzewski's daughters getting the chance even to be an assistant at Butler?
Though I'm a black man with a daughter, I don't get crazy about the gender/race role model thing. It's too limiting. There's too much to be learned from too many people of all skin tones and genitalia. And if nobody who looks like you has achieved something before, I say to that person what my mother used to say to me: "Guess you'll have to be the first."
But what about when you don't even get the chance to be the first? Because there's too much to be learned from diverse voices, the reduced volume of female coach voices matters at FIU and elsewhere.
Former FIU safety Johnathan Cyprien's Cypsquad Celebrity Charity softball game, benefitting Cyprien's foundation that assists at-risk youth, will be 6 p.m. tonight at FIU Baseball Stadium.
The lineup includes former FIU football players Antwan Barnes, Anthony Gaitor and Tourek Williams; former FIU baseball hit streaker Garret Wittels; Dolphins safety Louis Delmas; Minnesota Vikings quarterback and Northwestern High graduate Teddy Bridgewater and a host of others. Tickets still available here.
Meanwhile, after FIU's camps, they've gotten a run of verbal commits for next season.
South Dade running back Jawon Hamilton, 5-10, 185, not rated by any of the major recruiting sites
Tampa Bay Tech safety Isaiah Brown, 6-1, 185, three stars by 247Sports, not rated by other sites.
Lake Nona wide receiver Ulice Gillard, 6-1, 190, not rated by the major recruiting sites
Tampa Countryside guard/tackle Wyatt Panaccione, 6-5, 280, not rated by the major recruiting sites
As the baseball team practiced (with adidas bats -- more on that later), the 2013-14 Academic Progress Rate numbers dropped. Not literally, but in the modern popular music vernacular.
Terry McMillan's Waiting to Exhale concerned African-American women and early 1990s relationships, not APR. But, it does tend to describe FIU around this time of the year. It's entirely possible one of the breezes I felt at the baseball stadium today came from the department exhaling over an APR report without any red flags or even yellow flags.
Men's track (indoor and outdoor), women's track, volleyball, softball, golf, women's cross country each registered perfect single-year APRs of 1000. Golf owned the lone perfect multiyear APR.
Proving that bad APR falls somewhere between tires and herpes in durability, men's basketball came in with the lowest multiyear APR, 879. That's still represents progress from 858 in 2011-12 and 866 in 2012-13 and allows basketball to proceed penalty free for the first time since the Richard Pitino-coached season of 2012-13.
Women's basketball 995
Women's cross country 987
Men's cross country 977
Women's outdoor track 977
Women's indoor track 975
Swimming & Diving 973
Men's soccer 970
Women's soccer 969
Men's outdoor track 958
Men's indoor track 956
Men's Basketball 879
2013-14 Single Year APR
Men's indoor track 1000
Women's indoor track 1000
Women's outdoor track 1000
Men's outdoor track 1000
Women's cross country 1000
Women's soccer 979
Women's basketball 967
Swimming & Diving 962
Men's basketball 933
Men's Soccer 932
Businesses show love by showing material and money. As detailed here in the February post "Getting Dressed," the FIU athletic team Adidas loves most is baseball. No other program gets the amount of equipment under Adidas' agreement with FIU Athletics that baseball does. No other FIU head coach gets $4,000 of free product annually as FIU's baseball coach does.
According to Camp Mitch sources, baseball's love of its Adidas clothes and gear didn't extend to the bats. So FIU brought other brands along with Adidas to the plate throughout the season.
Apparently, somebody at Adidas noticed FIU's bat diversity as the Panthers battered Conference USA tournament opponents. That's not a problem unless there's a clause in the agreement between the school and the athletic wear company stating "each Sport...shall exclusively use or wear Adidas products whenever School's athletic teams are playing one of the Sports (including games and practice sessions)..." and that failure to do so constitutes a material breach of contract.
FIU swung Adidas bats at practice Wednesday and you can bet they'll do so this weekend in Coral Gables.
Of the 230 schools ranked, FIU placed 90th in total revenue ($28,104,962), 92nd in total expenses ($27,542,910), 16th in subsidy ($22,540,365) and 36th overall, second to Eastern Michigan among FBS football schools, in percentage of total revenue that comes from subsidies (80.2%).
Click here to see the current real world job of former FIU running back Darian Mallary.
If you're a full-time student-athlete and bring in a 3.75 grade point average, Conference USA honors you with the Commissioner's Academic Medal. FIU had 34 such athletes for the 2014-15 school year, 10th among full Conference USA member schools (Kentucky, South Carolina and New Mexico are in the league for men's soccer only.)
(Thought I posted this last night. Apparently, I only saved it. A face-down-on-the-keyboard mistake.)
A 3.0 GPA gets you on the Conference USA Commissioner's Honor Roll, which 172 FIU athletes have done this year. FIU ranks eighth most among Conference USA's full membership schools. That's an improvement after 154 and tied for 12th last year.
The names are submitted to the conference by the schools.
Baseball (16): Brandon Cody, Charles Cormier, Cody Crouse, Ian Exposito, Julius Gaines, Evan Holland, David Lee, Spencer Levine, Dominic LoBrutto, Carlos Lopez, Andres Nunez, Mitchell Robinson, Austin Rodriguez, Jack Schaaf, Eduardo Silva, Zack Soria.
Men's Basketball (3): Larry Dennis (Huh? He transferred to a junior college at midseason), Kris Gulley, Hassan Hussein.
Women's Basketball (13): Jade Cheek, Jerica Coley (Say what? Everybody's happy she's still around campus doing graduate work, but how is she counting for this year? Was somebody just throwing names in there to see if C-USA was paying attemtion?), Marita Davydova, Arielle Durant (Uh, director of basketball oerations this year, not a player), Katrina Epnere, Aajah Hawkins, Amari Hawkins, Zsofia Labady, Tynia McKinzie (dismissed from the team at midseason), Taylor Shade, Nikolina Todorovic, Ciera Wheatley, Brianna Wright.
Football (17): Chris Ayers, Richard Burrows, Christopher Cummins, Akil Dan-Fodio, Ricky Fernandez, Chris Flaig, Adrian Francois, Cody Hodgens, Yousif Khoury, Jose Laphitzondo, Fred Porter, Anthon Samuel, Donald Senat, Yohan Soares, Delmar Taylor, Scott Wade, Cory White.
Swimming & Diving (20): Klara Andersson, Sabrina Beaupre (she's been off the eligibility clock since the 2014 NCAA's), Jessica Chadwick, Jenny Deist, Nadia Farrugia, Valerie Inghels, Anna Jonsson, Lily Kaufmann, Maria Lopez, Jean Madison, Alex Mayhew, Melissa Moreno, Sonia Perez-Arau (oh, come on! the only C-USA swimmer to score at the 2014 NCAAs. Lazy times in ), Valeriia Popova, Rebecca Quensel, Silvia Scalia, Alaina Smith, Kayley Tepe, Courtney VanderSchaaf, Becky Wilde.
Volleyball: Lucia Castro, Tia Clay, Maria Coukolis, Briana Gogins, Gloria Levorin, Anja Licka, Natalie Martinez, Kristine Monforte, Kari Peterson, Jovanna Santamaria, Anabela Sataric, Tina Toghiyani (wait, she already got counted back at sand volleyball...)
Funny what you can learn sitting around the arena on a Friday afternoon.
Executive director for sports and entertainment Pete Garcia passed with Senior Associate ADs Julie Berg and Heath Glick and invited me along to look at the choice of new chairs for FIU Arena.
At least all the lower bowl chairs in the arena will be replaced. That's the "Bleacher Project" referred to in the pre-Miss Universe e-mail to Glick as "likely scrapped."
The other project mentioned as "likely scrapped" in that e-mail, the softball/golf locker room, should be started after FIU hosts Conference USA softball championships, according to Garcia and Berg. The new practice area for the track and field throwers, also part of the Women's Sports Initiative, should be done before the year's out. Garcia said a major upgrading of the baseball stadium will be coming in the next year or two.
A major donation should be announced soon that'll pay for the baseball stadium and arena seat replacement. The other projects should be covered under what's been collected for the Women's Sports Initiative.
Recently, I heard again from someone close to the situation, as I did last fall, that the long-awaited soccer/track stadium will become a reality once FIU takes over the Youth Fair land. Don't confuse this with any drive to get Major League Soccer as a temporary FIU tenant. This pitch would be for FIU and youth teams.
Considering the amount of time we've been waiting on this project, all skepticism until dirt gets disturbed is warranted.
Swimming & Diving, vs. North Florida, Wednesday, 11 a.m.
Before we get to my postseason chat with football coach Ron Turner, cleaning up a couple of things:
Upon The Herald sports gods realizing the writers schedule as written left the No. 15 men's basketball team in the country uncovered last Saturday, I got switched from FIU women's basketball Saturday night home game against Central Florida.
Maybe that helped. While the men's team in Coral Gables fell to Wisconsin-Green Bay and the David J. Coverage Voodoo that's wrecked the Panthers, the Dolphins and FIU, the women's team picked up its first win of the season by upsetting UCF 66-57. The most important statistic in the game wasn't FIU's three players in double figures, led by Taylor Shade's 18, or Kiandre'a Pound's double double (15 and 11), but UCF's 31.9 percent shooting from the floor and 13 turnovers. Previously, the Panthers' defense should've been sponsored by Sun Pass because it doesn't slow anybody down either.
Also, big ups to senior forward Quentin Albrecht for his First Team All-Region selection.
Now, to the other football.
A week and a half after FIU finished its 4-8 season, I sat down with Ron Turner for something of a postmortem. Though it's no "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," "Fingertips" or "Keep On Truckin'," I decided to go multipart with this one.
You said a few weeks ago, even if you don’t make a bowl game, the season is a positive, you’re moving forward. After a while to ponder, do you still feel the same?
I think there’s a lot of positives, a whole lot of positives. I think we did make progress. We didn’t win as many as we wanted, as many as our goal was. We did make tremendous progress. Not only in what we did on the field, off the field. Establishing the attitude, the culture, the togetherness, the bonding in the locker room that we want. It’s not where we want it, but it’s very, very close. It’s 100 times better than the year before.
We won four games and we lost four by three or less. There’s no consolation there because we’re in here to win those games. But the next step is we’ve got to learn how to win them. I’ve been in this before. I’ve been in turnaround programs and it doesn’t happen overnight, unless you take over a team that’s got no off the field issues and is a really good team. It was a total rebuilding. We took the steps the first year. Didn’t show up on the field. But as far as establishing our identity, establishing who we are, what’s expected of them, I thought we made great strides this year. The next step is to learn how to win these games. It reminds me a lot – and I’ve told some of the players this – when I was at Illinois. We went 0-11 my first year. We went 3-8, the next year, we had some close games. And then we we went 8-4 the next year, including a bowl win down here. Just because it happened there doesn’t mean it’s going to happen here. But I’m excited about where we’re going. I’m excited about the future. We’ve got a ton of guys back. We lose some seniors who were some good players, but not very many of them. We’ve got guys behind them who can step in and be every bit as good of players. They just need experience.
I’m excited. I’ve been meeting individually with every one of our players. I’m probably three-fourths of the way through the roster right now. There is a ton of confidence right now, a ton of energy and enthusiasm because they know what we have coming back.
Look at the production we have coming back, and I went over this with the team as a positive. Look at our returning production on defense – 77 percent of our solo tackles are coming back, 80 percent of our assisted tackles, so, overall, 78 percent of our tackles. Tackles for loss, 85 percent coming back. 85 percent of the guys who made tackles for losses. 79 percent of our sacks. 82 percent of our quarterback hurries. 86 percent of our interceptions. I’m rounding off here a bit. 86 percent of our interception return yardage. Pass breakups 79 percent. Whatever category I’m talking about defensively, a high high percentage of it is coming back.
Offensively, you look at the rushing yards – 99.7 percent of our rushing yards are coming back. 100 percent of our rushing touchdowns. 99.6 percent of our total carries. 86 percent of our passing, 93 percent of our passing touchdowns. Same with receiving – 85 percent of our receptions, 74 percent of our receiving yards all the way across the board, we’ve got a lot of guys coming back. Special teams, all of it’s coming back. 100 percent of our kicking, not that that was very good, and punting, 100 percent of that’s coming back -- not that that was very good, we’ve got to get better there. Almost all of our return stuff. We know who that was and he’s coming back.”
You’re sure Richard Leonard’s coming back?
Nothing’s 100 percent. I’m confident he’s going to come back. We’re doing a lot of research. I’ve talked to him and I’ve talked to his parents. I told them, "Richard, I honestly want what’s best for you. If you’re going to go in the first or second round, the third round, go. No question about it. If you’re not, you’ve got to make a decision."
I’ve talked to quite a few GMs, I’ve talked to a lot of personnel people. I told them I would do that. They have a thing you can do with the advisory committee, I’ve done the paperwork for that. So they’ll give us a projection of where he’s going to go. If you’re going to go in the first second, maybe the third round, go. If not, the consensus is to stay in. I’ve talked to several GMs, several personnel people, they’re watching film. Some have gotten back to me, several more will get back to me, based on what they see on film. Besides the advisory committee, these are guys I know, I trust and they will give me an honest evaluation. It depends what it is. But I think he’s coming back. If not, then we’ve still got a lot of production coming back.
Offensively, a freshman quarterback, two freshmen running backs, a guy who hadn’t played in a couple of years at running back, not always a recipe for success or improvement. Even with all those things hampering you, how much more had you expected to see out of your offense this year (last in Conference USA again)?
I expected to see more, especially in the passing game. There are reasons why – we’ve got a true freshman quarterback. But I think he’s a very good true freshman quarterback.
Receiver-wise, I was a little disappointed we didn’t have anyone step up and do what I wanted to do. We were shuffling a lot of guys in there. I didn’t like doing that, but no one really stepped up, took it and made it clear, ‘I’m your guy.’” One guy, the next week, somebody else is in there. That’s very hard on the quarterback to establish continuity. Ideal situation, "here’s our top five receivers, here’s who we’re going with. One guy gets hurt, you put somebody else in there." We didn’t have that. I think that hurt.
Offensive line-wise, we got better as the season went on, especially the running game. The second half of the year, we ran the ball pretty well. We just couldn’t complement it with the passing game. Part of it was protection. Part of it was the receivers. The whole thing never really clicked. The passing game part of it, we’re not even close to where I envision this offense being. I’m not calling many games like I want to call them. There’s things I might have in mind to do that I can’t do. I probably said the same thing last year. This year, wasn’t to that same degree for other reasons. Still, there were some things I wanted to do I saw was there, we just weren’t able to capitalize on them. I think we’ve got things in place. We’ve just got to execute at a higher level.
With Christian Alexander enrolling early, is Alex going to enter as the No. 1 guy or will you say “everything’s open again?”
Both. First snap we get of spring ball, Alex is our starter. If someone’s going to win the job, they’re going to have to beat him out. I’ve got a lot of confidence in Alex. I think he can be a very, very good player, especially when we get help around him. He’s got everything you look for. He’s got some things he’s got to work on. When he gets more confident in the guys around him and what we’re doing, those things he needs to work on will improve. So he’s going in as the starter, but I told him when I met with him and I told the other two quarterbacks we have on the roster (freshmen Bud Martin and Luke Medlock) and I’ll tell Christian the same thing when he comes in in January: I want them to come in with the mindset that they’re competing for and going to win the job. And if they do, the job will be theirs. I told Alex the same thing. He’s got to go out there ready to compete.
I tell these guys all the time, that’s how it is in life. Just because you do something one year, somebody else comes in and does a better job, they’ll take your job. So, you’ve got to maintain your edge and compete. Christian will come in, he’ll be right in the mix. He’s a guy we’re excited about. He’s a high school senior right now, so you don’t know how he’s going to respond.
Where do you expect to find the wide receiver or the wide receivers that’ll make a difference on this offense?
I think Dennis Turner’s going to be a really good player. He shouldn’t have played this year. He’s a true freshman, weighed 160 pounds on a good day. Late in the year, he started to come on. The last two weeks of the season, maybe three, he looked like the guy we thought he was as far as playing with confidence and running fast. I’m talking about in practice. It didn’t always show up in games because he didn’t have opportunities. But I think he has a chance to really good. I think Thomas Owens has a chance to be good. He’s big, physical, strong receiver with great hands. He’s got to work on his speed. Work on techniques in getting off press coverage. But he’s big and strong and got an unbelievable knack for timing it to go up and catch the ball over people. Even though he’s never going to be a speed guy, he’s got a chance to be a good player. He and Dennis will compliment each other well.
Clinton Taylor’s got a chance to be a good player, in the slot, especially. He came on late in the year. We probably should’ve used him more than we did. But we were so comfortable using (sophomore tight end) Jonnu (Smith) in that slot and using him. But I can see Clinton coming on and definitely being a factor. De'Andre Jasper has some good ability. I think he can help us. Juwan Caesar who redshirted this year, a transfer from Michigan State, 6-5, 218 pounds. I saw him today about a half hour ago, I said “Don’t get too big. Unless you want to go to tight end.” And Akil Dan-Fodio can be a guy who was a tight end, but more of a slot tight end. Can pick up some slack in that part of the game as well.
I’m leaving some guys out, who I think can step in and, hopefully, take the next step. Plus the guys we’ve got committed, we’ve got recruited. I think those guys will have the ability to contribute right away.
What do you need more, possession guy or stretch guy?
Stretch guy. Need both, but we need a speed guy, we need a big play guy. I’m hoping Dennis will give a bunch of that, I’m hoping Juwan will give us some of that. In recruiting, we’ve got to bring in at least one guy who can do that. We’ve got a couple of guys who can do that who are more the slot or possession type guys, but they’re very, very good. We’ve got our eyes on a couple of speed guys who I think we’re going to get.
The individual player I’m asked about most often is Jasper, who came out of high school as a speed guy, scored on a reverse as a freshman and ran back kickoffs well. What does he have to do to get on the field more?
He’s got ability, no question. I’m hoping he can take that next step. I think it’s just a matter of adjusting to Division I football and competing at a higher level. He’s got ability. We’ve got to make sure we do a good job and probably do a better job of putting him in positions, utilizing him and giving him some more opportunities to compete and show what he can do. We’re going to make a concerted effort to do that more this spring with he and Clinton.
Senior forward Quentin Albrecht ended his FIU career on the upswing, though the team didn't make the Conference USA tournament: Third Team All-Conference USA his freshman year, Second Team All-CUSA as a sophomore and junior, First Team as a senior after an eight goal, two assist season.
Junior midfielder Daniel Gonzalez (two goals, five assists) made the Third Team and redshirt freshman midfielder Donald Tomlinson (two goals, one assists) was named to the All-Freshman team.
Going against an experienced multi-faceted offense with point totals that resemble Super Bowl ratings, you'd kind of want good health for the very physical strong safety you consider a team leader. Alas, FIU plsyed the whole same Saturday without fifth-year senior Demarkus Perkins. Junior Jordan Davis played strong safety with Richard Leonard moonlighting at free safety.
"He had a quad contusion," FIU coach Ron Turner said. "We were hoping he was going to be able to go, thought he was going to be able to go. He didn't do much in practice, we knew we weren't going to start him, but we were hoping he'd be able to go. Doctors thought he would be able to go. But, he couldn't. He should be fine this week."
All FIU's ouches from Saturday's game -- center Donald Senat, left tackle Dieugot Joseph -- apppear to have been healed.
It would've been nice if some of the coaches or higher up suits in the FIU football contingent had gone over to Old Dominion's soccer field or taken some of the players to show support for FIU's men's soccer team in its season finale Friday night. The football charter arrived soon enough. FIU's athletes often show solidarity with one another. It would be cool if the post-college adults would show a little love, too, even off a disappointing season.
If that sounds wacky, consider that two years ago, Mario Cristobal planned for the football team to go en masse to the FIU-Middle Tennessee State women's soccer Sun Belt tournament game at South Alabama. The Panthers' charter plane managed to get to Mobile late enough to make that impossible.