An even par 71 final round moved junior Meghan MacLaren up to a tie for seventh at 7-over 220 in the NCAA golf St. George Regional and qualified her for the NCAA Championship May 22-27 at Bradenton's The Concession Golf Club.
After a double bogey on the par-4, 343-yard 13th, MacLaren came home birdie, par, par, birdie, par to get back down to 7-over. That showed an upper echelon golfer's resiliency, much as the entire round did after the second round 6-over 77 that dropped her to 15th. MacLaren finished second among the golfers in the regional as individuals to earn a spot at the NCAA Championship as a solo player.
Whatever her finish over in Bradenton, it'll end one of the best seasons by an FIU athlete in 2014-15.
Speaking of season endings, Sunday afternoon should show us how badly the baseball team wants its season to continue or if they're only interested in keeping the party going if someone else does it for them.
Saturday's 5-3 loss to Alabama-Birmingham dropped FIU to eighth when Old Dominion beat Louisiana Tech. FIU sits just one game ahead of Charlotte and Marshall. FIU holds the head-to-head two-team tie tiebreakers on Charlotte and Marshall. But going into next week's three-game series at Rice with anything less than eighth place with a one-game lead on ninth is just playing with fire -- it's cooking bacon naked over an open flame.
On the schedule, Marshall's the bigger worry for FIU. The baseball Thundering Herd finishes its series against a fading Western Kentucky Sunday and closes the regular season next week with three games against playing-for-pride Louisiana Tech. Charlotte has Southern Mississippi today and Texas-San Antonio for three games next week.
With the way today's result sets up next week, no matter the Sunday result, the Panthers effort will show their desire.
Day 2 of the NCAA Golf St. George Regional looked a little homely for FIU junior Meghan MacLaren before going gargoyle ugly in the last two holes.
MacLaren sits in a four-pack tied for 15th with a 7-over 149s, six shots back of leader Annie Park from USC and five shots back of Stanford's Shannon Aubert and UNLV's Dana Finkelstein. They sit in the positions those playing as individuals, such as MacLaren, must make to get to the NCAA Championships.
At 2-over for the round going into the last two holes, MacLaren, who entered the day fourth, remained close to the top three. Double bogeys on Nos. 17 and 18 yanked her back down the leaderboard.
Jacksonville First Coast has an offensive guard who is 6-3, 285 with the last name Connell. Funny enough, they have a 6-3, 285-pound center with the same surname.
Two peas in a pod -- or, more accurately, one pea split in two -- guard/tackle Dallas Connell and identical twin center/defensive tackle Douglas Connell continue their close relationship by both committing to FIU, as announced Thursday via Twitter.
Of course, this reminded us of...
Junior Meghan MacLaren needs a top three finish in the NCAA Regional out in Utah to advance to the NCAA Championship, May 22-27 over in Bradenton. After the first of three rounds, MacLaren sits fourth, 1-over 72, four shots back of leader Pauline Loulier of Cal.
The day before FIU hosts the Conference USA softball tournament, the league announced it's postseason bests.
FIU's sophomore Stephanie Texeira, last year's Freshman of the Year, made Second Team All-C-USA after finishing third in all-games hitting with her FIU-record .444 average and second in slugging percentage (.798). In conference games, Texeira ranked 31st in average (.321) with a .500 slugging percentage.
(As a team, FIU finished 10th in hitting in conference games (2.64) and in earned run average (4.96). That's offense and defense. No special teams in softball.)
Ashley Belans was an All-Freshman team selection after hitting .277 with 19 RBI.
To no surprise for a team whose best players were juniors, sophomores and freshmen, the 2014 football Panthers saw nobody get their name called or miscalled during the NFL Draft. Nor did any of the 32 entertainment franchises under the NFL shield sign an FIU player as a free agent.
But, rookie camps need more bodies beyond the undrafted free agents scooped up in the draft's version of a Dec. 26 sale. So, they bring in rookie camp bodies to make the numbers up, as the British would say, and get a longshot's chance of hanging around. One Dolphins rookie camp, I did a story on Justin Wynn, a wide receiver with one year of junior college ball under his belt -- three and a half years before he came to the Dolphins camp. Wynn wound up hanging on until the second round of cuts in the main training camp.
Indianapolis, which seems to be bringing in anything with a Miami connection short of a coffee window, has had an undrafted free agent make the final 53 in September 16 consecutive seasons.
According to FIU, safety Justin Halley will get the opportunity to extend that streak; strong safety Demarkus Perkins will be in the Jets rookie camp and the Dolphins pulled in offensive lineman David Delsoin.
I'm still trying to confirm these camp invites.
You can't blame the softball team's failure to make the Conference USA tournament on sophomore Stephanie Texeira.
Texeira set an FIU record with a .444 batting average, beating Ashley McClain's .409 in 2011. With her freshman year .408, she's got two of the three best hitting seasons in FIU history. McClain's FIU record for career batting average (minimum 200 at bats), is .357. Or, rather, was .357. Texeira's at .424 with 276 at bats with two seasons remaining.
Texeira's 51 RBI this season ties Kim Rodriguez's 2008 number for second behind McClain's 56 in 2010.
While FIU treads water, losing two of three weekly because Panther bats rest on the Christian sabbath (2-6 on Sunday in Conference USA play), Middle's been watching the Panthers' back by keeping their competitors back. If not for a surprisingly strong conference season from the Blue Raiders, FIU's chances of making the Conference USA tournament would sit at the somebody-kill-a-chicken stage instead of tied for sixth with Alabama-Birmingham.
This weekend, Middle swept Western Kentucky, leaving the Hill People on the outside for now, in ninth and two games behind FIU. The Hill People went two for three at Camp Mitch, including an embarrassing Sunday run rule win. You can find Old Dominion, another team Middle swept, tied with Western after taking two of three from FIU this weekend. The current eighth place team, Charlotte, got swept by Middle. So did UAB.
So Middle won all 12 games against FIU's peers in the conference standings. And, the Panthers should thank God and Conference USA scheduling lords that Middle's the one conference team FIU doesn't play this season.
Tied for sixth sounds more secure than it is. The FIU-UAB knot leads Charlotte by one game and the Western-Old Dominion knot by two. That's five teams going for three slots.
UAB can do the most to help itself, coming to FIU this week and Old Dominion the following week. The importance of this weekend's series to FIU gets enhanced by the following week's series, a trip to perennial C-USA power Rice. A series loss to UAB, especially via sweep, means the Panthers better be the Impossible Missions Force at Rice.
That is, unless Charlotte face plants against Southern Miss and UTSA. UAB closes with Old Dominion, which plays Louisiana Tech next week. Western ends with Marshall and FAU.
It's entirely possible FIU can muddle along and get into the tournament taking only two of six. But, like most jobs, better to do it your daggone self than relying on someone else to take care of your business while taking care of theirs.
At Sunday's close of the American Volleyball Coaches Association Sand Volleyball National Championships, FIU's Rita Buck-Crockett was honored as the national Coach of the Year. FIU went 20-3, 18-1 in the regular season, and entered the national championship tournament ranked No. 3. They went 2-2 at nationals, getting knocked out in the quarterfinal by Pepperdine 4-1.
A pair of injuries suffered in the second round loss to Long Beach State certainly hampered the Panthers. To what degree is, of course, unknown. But match scores, including the 5-0 swatting of Florida State in the first round Friday, say FIU peaked as the season continued. After the injuries to Kristine Monforte and Aren Cupp, the Panthers struggled Friday to beat a Stetson team it stomped 4-1 to end the regular season (and that loss was an injury retirement with FIU ahead).
Sand volleyball fell to Pepperdine 4-1 Saturday morning in the losers bracket of the AVCA Sand Volleyball Naitonals, closing its season at 20-3.
FIU edged Pepperdine 3-2 earlier this season. But with injuries removing Kristine Monforte from the No. 2 pair and Aren Cupp from the No. 5 pair for the second consecutive match Saturday, the Panthers lacked two of their most dependable pairs. FIU could muster only a win from No. 4 pair Anna Budinska and Martyna Gluchowicz. That pair won all their matches at Nationals.
Softball needed to go one, two, three at Charlotte this weekend, but the 49ers took Saturday's second game 2-1 in extra innings. That limits FIU's participation in the Conference USA tournament next week to host.
There's nothing quite so beautifully, crudely basic in sports as situations where the stakes are "win or die." That's why this weekend's English Premier League matches include a couple of relegation games.
Sand Volleyball's in that situation going into the second day of the AVCA Sand Volleyball Nationals. FIU did to Florida State what, in another part of Alabama Thursday night, Jameis Winston and his draft party did to the crab legs. Things looked pretty bright with the 5-0 destruction of the Seminoles combined with No. 7 Long Beach State upsetting No. 2 Hawaii seeming to smooth a strolling path through the winners' bracket for FIU.
Alas, water's surface can be smooth, too, and try to stroll on that. Long Beach repeated its voo-doo in a 4-1 upset that left FIU injured. Injuries to FIU senior Kristine Monforte, who combines with Summer Nash on the Panthers' No. 2 pair, and sophomore Aren Cupp, who plays No. 5 with senior Tina Toghiyani, took them out of the loser-leaves-town match with Stetson. That's the same Stetson that handed FIU its only loss outside of Long Beach and that FIU dusted 4-1 to end the season.
The match came down to a third set of the No. 5 pair, with Toghiyani playing with senior Alex Johnson. Their 15-7 triumph after trading 21-19 sets gave FIU a 3-2 win and got FIU through to Saturday. FIU faces No. 4 Pepperdine, the 2012 and 2014 AVCA national champions.
Two out of three ain't bad, but it'll leave FIU sad. Get a hat trick or go home sick. Sweep or weep.
One of the two remaining spots in the Conference USA tournament next week will be decided with the three-game series at Charlotte Saturday and Sunday. FIU needs all three games to get into the tournament it'll be hosting on Felsberg Field. Otherwise, Charlotte's in and FIU's watching other teams play in their sandbox.
Friday's rainout at Old Dominion means baseball also will be playing a doubleheader Saturday and one game Sunday. Though Old Dominion's the team that's almost in broom-or-gloom mode, FIU can use some buffer building before closing with series against Alabama-Birmingham and a recently-roused Rice team.
The sand women left FIU at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday to catch a pre-dawn flight out of Fort Lauderdale in a journey to Gulf Shores, Alabama. They could return as national champions.
The last AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball Championships will be this Friday and Saturday. Sand volleyball becomes a full-fledged NCAA sport next season and that Four Letter Organization will take over the championship in 2016. Hopefully, the West Washington Street Wackos, whose rulings sound formed from the logic of a Lewis Carroll character, will stage it someplace with more cool than Gulf Shores, Alabama.
As for this year, No. 3 seeded FIU, 18-1, faces No. 6 Florida State Friday and the Panthers beat FSU 3-2 earlier this season. When I talked to players and coach Rita Buck-Crockett for a story about a month ago, one thing they made clear: winning only whetted their appetite to destroy. Beat a top opponent 3-2, make it 5-0 next time. And they ended the season giving opponents the Godzilla, including lone conqueror Stetson. A 3-2 early season loss got avenged 4-1 with the lone match loss coming via retirement because of injury.
A win Friday morning against FSU puts FIU in a second round match with No. 2 Hawaii. Even if the Panthers lose there, they've still got a shot at getting to the championship match through the losers bracket in the double elimination tournament.
With freshman teammate Anja Licka clearly appreciating the effort, Maryna Samoday gets the ball over the net against FAU's Mandy McIntosh. Senior Summer Nash serving against FAU. Take cover.
As she descends from defending her net, senior Summer Nash turns to see what partner Kristine Monforte will do with the altered kill attempt.
When you win four Player of the Week awards and finish as medalist in the conference tournament with a record score for the tournament and single round, getting conference Player of the Year seems a "Duh!"
So, no surprise that junior Meghan MacLaren received that award, along with First Team All-Conference and sharing Most Improved Player with FAU's Heather Netti. MacLaren swings her sticks under the FIU visor in the NCAA Regional next week.
Sophomores Coralia Arias and Camila Serrano got Second Team All-Conference nods.
Another sad Sunday song aside, the baseball team got what it needed from the weekend. And, boy, did it need what it got.
Saturday's pair of narrow wins over Louisiana Tech guaranteed a series win and softened the blow of FIU's now-customary lack of support for Sunday starter Chris Mourelle in a 1-0 loss. Meanwhile, Rice did FIU a solid by sweeping Western Kentucky, thus bumping FIU into the No. 7 spot in Conference USA. FAU took down Old Dominion in their second and third weekend games.
But Charlotte swept Alabama-Birmingham and Marshall took two of three from conference-leading Middle Tennessee State.
So, Louisiana Tech's done and FIU can finish off Old Dominion with a series win up in Virginia this week. Charlotte's got series remaining against Southern Mississippi and Texas-San Antonio. Marshall's plays Southern Miss, Western and La. Tech, now reduced to possible spoiler. After Old Dominion, FIU's hosts UAB and goes to Rice.
Best not to head into the Rice Paddy with any great needs.
The tennis team lost in the Conference USA semi-final round to eventual champion Rice, but cleaned up nicely in the C-USA postseason awards.
Senior transfer from Clemson Yana Koroleva picked up Newcomer of the Year, Outstanding Singles Player at the Conference Championship, a First Team All-Conference singles and, with sophomore Nina Nagode, a First Team All-Conference doubles honor. Nagode received Second Team notice in singles while Carlotta Orlando joined Koroleva on the First Team. Nerma Caluk made the Third Team in singles.
You had to figure the dollars worked for FIU in their second two-year deal with Indiana similar to the way the first home-and-home deal put FIU $800,000 to the good.
And they did. An FIU spokesman said today that the Panthers will get $800,000 for playing Indiana near Disco Briscoe Hall while the Hoosiers will get $200,000 for facing FIU across the street from Parkview Hall in 2018. Net: +$600,000 on this deal, +$1.4 million on the whole four years.
The profit from the second deal, at least, will go to summer school and helping pay the total cost of attendance for each athlete. Conference USA stated last summer they would begin paying the total cost of attendance for each scholarship athlete in 2015-16.
FIU announced another home-and-home series with Indiana University, tacking 2017 and 2018 onto the 2015 and 2016 set that starts Sept. 12 at Indiana.
Indiana's the perfect non-conference opponent for FIU and that opinion doesn't come from being born in Indianapolis, raised on IU football, basketball and soccer and spending four wonderful years in Bloomington.
No. 1: The current deal with Indiana makes money for FIU. Indiana's paying FIU $1 million to come to Bloomington this year while FIU's paying the Hoosiers $200,000 for coming to Camp Mitch in 2016. I don't know the financials on this new deal yet, but I find it hard to believe FIU won't turn a profit on the exchange.
No. 2: Widen the recruiting footprint. Why not? FIU's clearly getting a better foothold locally. That doesn't preclude getting some decent talent from the Midwest, especially along the line. Illinois & Ohio are talent thick. Indiana's no longer the Dollar General of football talent among states. It also puts you in front of Northern Kentucky.
No. 3: Indiana's Big Ten without being Big. Indiana admitted it wanted FIU on the schedule to soften their non-conference schedule up a bit. Don't overlook that this also gives FIU a shot at a very beatable Power Five conference team. A young, callow version of the Panthers played Pitt on even terms last year and, aside from a flurry of second quarter big plays, hung tough against Louisville. FIU lost both but Pitt and Louisville are better than Indiana was and better than Indiana likely will be. FIU should be more mature across the board.
I guarantee you the Hoosiers will come out in September, skipping and hopping across a sun-smothered field, feeling good about college life and ready to whip up on some G5 duck...leaving them vulnerable to being stunned by FIU's speed, at least.
The Panthers come as the hunted...but might wind up bagging some Big Ten Game.
Can't blame junior Meghan MacLaren that FIU finished second, eight shots back of winner Middle Tennessee State in t Conference USA championship at Fort Myers' Verandah Club
Needing to lead FIU back from an eight-shot deficit on the final day, MacLaren handled the course with the flawless daring that recalled McLarens driven by Ayrton Senna at Silverstone (yeah, I know, she's British, the race cars are named after New Zealander Bruce McLaren, but go with me on this...).
An eagle on the 488-yard, par-5 5th started a six-hole, 6-under run that continued with a par, then four consecutive birdies. In the process, MacLaren hit the nine-hole turn with a scorching 5-under 31 that caught, passed and dusted Middle Tennessee State sophomore Samantha Gotcher. When Gotcher woke up Wednesday morning, she had a six-shot lead. By the time she woke up on the golf course, MacLaren held a two-shot lead. Gotcher recovered late, but MacLaren played the final nine at 2-under to finish with a 7-under 65 and a 10-under 206, both Conference USA records. She took medalist honors by one shot over Gotcher.
Aside from MacLaren, however, the back nine devoured FIU Wednesday almost as messily as it did Monday.
The Panthers got within one shot of Middle at one point and the Raiders' choke muscles seemed to be in spasm. But, subtracting Gotcher and MacLaren, Middle played the final seven holes at a collective 2-over and FIU played it at a collective 9-over. The closing holes proved to be the championship holes. Monday, FIU shot 13-over on Nos. 14-18 while Middle's five golfers shot 2-under.
Sophomore Coralia Arias came in tied for ninth at even par 216. Sophomore Camila Serrano fell from sixth to 13th on the final day with a 3-over 75 that brought her to 2-over 218. Freshman Katerina Krasnova's 6-over 78 final round dropped her 15 spots to 35th, 10-over 226. And junior Carla Jane's 5-over 77 Wednesday left her 14-over, 230, tied for 40th.
CBS Sports Network decrees that FIU's football season opener at Central Florida will be at 6 p.m. on Sept. 3.
FIU's on an island in the Conference USA golf championship -- Second Place Sandbar
Above the Panthers on the leaderboard by eight shots you find Middle Tennessee State (8-under overall), the other school that blew through Tuesday's 18 holes at a conference-record 7-under 281 for the day. Eight shots below FIU you'll find third place North Texas (8-over overall).
A 3-under 69 second round by junior Meghan MacLaren boosted the Panthers and got MacLaren up to second and 3-under after two days. That's still a fat six shots behind Middle's Samantha Gotcher. FIU's Camila Serrano played at 2-under 70 and is tied for sixth. Sophomore Coralia Arias' 3-under round brought her back to even and a ninth place tie.
FIU got better Tuesday, not from start to finish, but at start and finish. The Panthers five golfers played the first five holes at 6 under par and the last five holes at 1 over instead of the 12 over Monday disaster that cost FIU the lead and, possibly, the championship.
As expected, the sand volleyball team officially received an invitation to be one of the eight contenders at the American Volleyball Coaches Association national championship, May 1-3. The AVCA gave the Panthers a No. 3 seed, which makes sense because the Panthers ended the season in both the AVCA national sand volleyball poll and DIG Magazine's rankings.
The Panthers sent a pair to the pairs Nationals in the program's first year, 2013. They reached Nationals as a team a year ago and got dismissed from the double elimination tournament in two matches. This year, they're 18-1 and avenged that only loss, 3-2 to Stetson, with a dominant 4-1 win in the rematch.
Junior college swingman Novian Cherry Tweeted that FIU offered him a scholarship. For 6-20 San Diego Mesa College, Cherry averaged 17.5 points per game, 5.6 rebounds and 1.3 assists. Cherry wasn't the most efficient scorer -- 42.5 percent shooting on all field goals, 38.5 percent from three and just 54.5 percent from the line.
Most of Day 1 of the Conference USA women's golf championships, FIU maintained a gap on the field that would do Annika Sorenstam proud. The Panthers' team lead fluctuated between three and five strokes. Their team score held within a similar range, 3-under to 5-under. Junior Meghan MacLaren and sophomore Camila Serrano joined a gaggle atop the leaderboard.
Cruising along as if enjoying their new ACME Bat-Man outfits, when...
So why will FIU wake up tomorrow for Day 2 at Fort Myers Verandah Club tied for fifth with Southern Mississippi at 7-over 295, eight shots behind leader Middle Tennessee State? A five-hole collapse that ended with a THUD on the 18th.
With the golfers playing at different times, it's hard to pinpoint when FIU started to imitate Aaron Rodgers in the 2005 draft. Serrano owned a share of the lead when she triple-bogeyed the par-4, 382-yard 16th hole. That hole turned into the second of back-to-back bogeys for Katarina Krasnova, who bogeyed three Nos. 15, 16 and 18.
MacLaren bogeyed Nos. 15 and 18. FIU''s No. 2, sophomore Coralia Arias, got down to 1-over with a birdie on the par-5 13th. But she gave that back and then some with a double bogey on the par-4, 361-yard No. 14. A birdie on No. 16 was matched by a bogey on the par-4, 380-yard 18th (of FIU's five Round 1 golfers, only Serrano escaped a bogey on No. 18.).
FIU's five golfers played the last five holes at 12-over. Fortunately, two days remain for the Panthers to get revenge on the course and climb the leaderboard in the process.
To see a collapse like that by an FIU team, you have to go all the way back to...Sunday. The 17-2 battering FIU took from Western Kentucky cost them the series with a team around them in the standings. It also dropped them to 2-4 on Sundays in Conference USA play, a big reason they're 8-10 in the conference with little room for error to make the conference tournament.
Head coach Turtle Thomas played off the tonnage of the beating, noting how many times the 1927 New York Yankees got slaughtered. But the team meeting after the game lasted a very long time. Senior shortstop Julius Gaines, who went three for four, theorized after the game and before the meeting that maybe the chemistry on the team still isn't right. Also, Thomas said sophomore Chris Mourelle, FIU's most reliable pitcher all season, threw only in the 81-82 mph range Sunday. Hopefully, there's not a problem there.
Truly, nothing went right for FIU. Western got a run out of a pair of choppers to Gaines that hopped higher than Denver today. With two outs in the fourth, FIU third baseman Josh Anderson fielded a grounder from Danny Hudzina that looked fair to the top row of the press box. It was ruled foul, putting Hudzina back in the box.
BAM -- home run. Next batter, Ryan Church, ZOOM -- home run. Western scored two more that inning.
Church went six for six for the day, but a spectacular defensive play of his would've ended the game if umpires could stop a game the way boxing referees can stop a fight. First and second, one out in the fourth, FIU's Zack Soria blasted a missile down the first base line, a sure double for the half-second before first baseman Church snapped his arm out for the snag and stepped on first to double the stunned runner.
FIU trailed 8-1 at that point. If you're in Vegas, that's when you get up from the table, call it a night.
Bizarre game. FIU pitcher Garrett Cave's natural hat trick of hit batters, which loaded the bases and brought in two runs, then a walk that brought in a run. Dillon Maya hitting the first batter he faced to bring in another run. Third baseman Hudzina trucking his longtime pal Church as Church tried to settle under an infield fly ball (that actually put the first runner on before Church played Laser Snag in the fourth).
Also, FIU wasted its opportunities. First and second, no outs in the second? One run and that because Josh Anderson slid to break up a double play relay and keep the inning alive. Bases loaded, one out in the third? Bupkes. Anderson lined out hard to the shortstop and JC Escarra flied out to center field to end the inning.
Meanwhile, the softball team made the most of two hits against Western's superthrower Miranda Kramer and eked out a 2-1 win as Corinne Jenkins pitched a four-hitter. Freshman Jessica Hallett ruined Kramer's no-hitter and shutout with one swing that tied the game in the fifth. An RBI single by Gabby Spallone brought in Rebekah Sanchez. Jenkins finished the job from there.
The win kept alive FIU's slim chances for making the Conference USA tournament, which will be at Felsberg Field May 7-9. To make the tournament, the Panthers probably will need to sweep Charlotte May 2-3 in the season-ending three-game series at Charlotte.