Freshman Silvia Scalia's the first swimmer in Conference USA history to win five Swimmer of the Week awards after getting yet another one Tuesday.
No surprise after Scalia won three individual events -- 100 backstroke, 200 back, 200 individual medley -- against the University of Miami Saturday and the 100 back against FAU. She was also part of the 200 medley relay and 200 free relay winners against FAU and the winning 200 medley relay against the Hurricanes.
Freshman Rebecca Quesnel shares her sixth Diver of the Week honor with FAU's Alexa Eakins, who edged her in the 3-meter Friday. Quesnel won the 1-meter and put up a 300.90 score against UM in hte 3-meter Saturday.
Miami-Dade County approved the measure telling Mayor Carlos Gimenez or associates of Carlos Gimenez to go talk to FIU about using FIU Stadium as a temporary home for International Soccer Sex Symbol FC or whatever the David Beckham group's Major League Soccer franchise will be named. Beckham's been having problems finding a spot on which to build a privately-funded soccer joint for Miami's second swing at an MLS franchise.
This could be a most convenient and profitable occurrence for FIU Athletics. The official Twitter feed for Miami Beckham United (proves he's a neophyte to Miami, where NOTHING is united) says over four Tweets, posted this morning:
"Things are progressing in Miami & we are very much on track in our plans. Beckham is very positive about the future of the club & he continues to enjoy incredible support from the people in Miami. Right now, our focus is on identifying the location for a purpose built stadium that will be the team's permanent home. Careful consideration will be given to FIU when we address the opportunities for a temporary facility."
When Beckham toured FIU back in 2013, he smiled, said nice, non-committal things then didn't mention FIU again while pursuing sites in or around downtown. Aside from size, FIU Stadium's almost everything MLS says it doesn't want. But FIU athletic director Pete Garcia possesses a Squidward's worth of tentacles in local government. Don't be surprised if the county tries to horse Beckham's group into a deal with FIU with some light political blackmail around the building of a permanent site.
That would be government teamwork worthy of the name "Miami Beckham United."
Tem Lukabu is the new linebackers coach. Lukabu coached Colgate's outside linebackers last season. The two seasons before that, he was an defensive assistant with Tampa Bay's linebackers in 2013 and defensive line in 2012. That's when Lukabu shared a staff with FIU head coach Ron Turner.
The Miami-Dade County commission will vote today on a resolution that will tell representatives from Mayor Carlos Gimenez's to reach an agreement with FIU to use FIU Stadium as a temporary home for the Miami David Beckhams Major League Soccer franchise, according to ESPNFC.
MLS says it wants a stadium in urban areas, where fans can march from residences or stagger to/from drinking establishments. The Beckham group, clearly not understanding the down-the-rabbit-hole, out-of-your-wallet nature of Miami-Dade politics, expressed shock at being rebuffed in its first two attempts at getting a spot downtown.
Five home games, seven road games, no bye weeks. The athletics department bean counters ought to be happy, however -- of the seven road games, the Panthers can get on the bus, Gus, for two.
The demise of Alabama-Birmingham leaves Conference USA with another 13-team football season.
Sept. 5 -- at Central Florida. FIU did UCF a solid by agreeing to move this game from 2014 to 2015, giving the Knights a bye week after their overseas game with Penn State. Good measuring stick right out of the gate.
Sept. 12 -- at Indiana. Let's make this clear: I grew up in Indianapolis caring almost as much about IU football as IU basketball (it's against state law to care equally as much). My four years in Bloomington described the kind of college experience many people hope to have. They included covering the two best seasons of IU football in my cognizant lifetime.
And I will laugh from Kilroy's all the way back to the 305 if FIU takes down Indiana. It would be a win against a Big Ten school, mediocre as the Hoosiers football tradition is, but also Indiana thinks it bought a win. IU paid to get out of a game with South Florida to enter into a home-and-home with FIU that nets $800,000 to the Panthers.
Sept. 19 -- North Carolina Central. This year's FCS supplement for bulking up wins and statistics.
Sept. 26 -- at Louisiana Tech. FIU brings back its defense. West Division champion Louisiana Tech brings back running back Kenneth Dixon (1,299 rushing yards, 5.1 per carry). I'm tingly already.
Oct. 3 -- at UMass. You've got to come home with the bacon (or chowdah) from this game.
Oct. 10 -- UTEP. If Bill Clark wasn't Conference USA Coach of the Year for what he did at UAB (RIP for now), then it's Sean Kugler for turning UTEP from stink bomb to bowl team.
Oct. 17 -- at Middle Tennessee State. My preliminary pick for the East Division.
Oct. 24 -- Old Dominion. Now, it's ODU coming to FIU with an inexperienced quarterback after four years of Taylor Heinicke.
Oct. 31 -- at FAU. On Halloween. With both teams still entertaining bowl hopes.
Nov. 7 -- Charlotte. FIU gets a home cupcake on the same weekend the women's soccer team hosts the Conference USA tournament.
Nov. 14 -- at Marshall. Let's see if they go from Thundering Herd to annoying Green Hornets without Cato.
Nov. 21 -- Western Kentucky. Remember the Sun Belt version of the Hilltoppers? Defense, severely limited quarterback while running a running back up the statistic charts and into the ground. Yeah, now they're Air Brohm with Drew Doughty. Unless the Over/Under exceeds 70, jump on the high side to get your Christmas and Hanukkah gift money.
Friday, I asked Ron Turner what he wanted most in recruiting this season.
"Always offensive and defensive line, that's first and foremost," Turner replied. "That's what you want to do. Either in numbers to get your depth or to get better players."
Of this week's two flips of FIU linemen commits, offensive linemen Richerd Desir-Jones (Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas) to Florida and Richard Williams (Miramar Everglades) to FAU, only the Williams one surprised me. Jones' visit to Florida this weekend was common knowledge when Turner said this Friday while answering a question:
"We had some guys who were committed and 'I think I need to look at this school' and I said, 'Well, I'm looking elsewhere, too.' Because I want guys who want to be here and believe in what we're doing. The guys we've got do. A lot of guys in this class have a lot of other options or potential options. Not all were offered by other schools, but they've had interest and taken visits, a good chance they would've been offered. Some were offered by some pretty impressive schools. They stuck to what they wanted to do. That's a sign of character."
I thought of Desir-Jones. I also thought of Deion Eakins, a long-committed offensive guard out of Jacksonville Trinity Christian who's getting preferred walk-on whispers in his ear from Oregon. But I really thought of Desir-Jones. Did Turner expect to lose Desir-Jones so made George Constanza preemptive breakup noises?
The upshot is I'm looking at four offensive linemen so far in this class and two defensive linemen, both of whom might wind up on offensive line. (Fermin Silva will be an outside linebacker). Interesting how schools such as Florida and the Hurricanes have poached FIU commits in the last few weeks.
One more thing -- Turner won't spend a scholarship on a punter or kicker coming in, but he said any new masters of the foot will have the chance to kick or punt their way onto scholarship.
Also, The Herald learned Saturday that wide receiver Fred Porter got the remainder of his scholarship for this year reinstated. So, he'll have the first semester of his graduate school paid without loans. Porter graduated in December, but was told he would no longer be on scholarship and wouldn't be back next season as a fifth-year senior.
FIU 150, University of Miami 149. The Panthers swimming & diving team ends the dual meet season with their first undefeated dual meet record, 10-0, by one point in the first dual meet or game between the schools in over four years.
Or by .09 seconds. Nine-hundredths of a second. Less than the time of the blink of an eye.
After FIU's Aquawomen left UM choking on wake in the 200 yard events -- medley relay, backstroke, breaststroke, individual medley -- led by senior Johanna Gustafsdottir and freshman Silvia Scalia; and after the Hurricanes figuratively clubbed FIU with the diving board in the 1-meter and 3-meter events the difference in the meet turned out to be the second place touch in the closing event, the 400 freestyle relay.
FIU freshman Paulina Zelazna outtouched Hurricanes senior Heather Arseth at the finish to bring FIU's A team (sophomore Jenny Deist, senior Klara Andersson, freshman Letizia Bertelli, Zelazna) home in 3:28.61, 1.95 seconds behind UM's A relay. More importantly, Zelazna touched those nine hundredths of a second ahead of the Hurricanes' B relay, giving FIU four points for second instead of just two for third.
Sometimes, you just get what you need and get out laughing.
In the end, the relays cancelled as my fellow Hoosier native Mike Emrick would say. UM's 13-4 advantage in the 400 free relay mirrored FIU's 13-4 advantage in the 200 medley relay. Scalia, Andersson, Bertelli, Deist won by .14 in 1:44.69 with Juliana Pettinger, Chase Harris, Maria Lopez, Ally Mayhew coming in third in 1:47.76.
What didn't cancel? Scalia, Gustafsdottir and just-added-freshman Kyna Periera.
Scalia won the 100 back in 55.56, 2.19 seconds ahead of junior Karin Tomeckova in second. Mayhew came in fourth to give FIU a 15-4 advantage in that event. And, of course, she won the 200 back in 2:00.23, with Tomeckova in third and junior Becky Wilde in fourth. But it was the Scalia-led 200 IM sweep -- her in 2:04.89, Gustafsdottir in 2:06.36 and Wilde in 2:09.61 -- and 16-3 event win that put the Panthers up by 10 with only the 400 free relay left.
Gustafsdottir won the 200 breaststroke in 2:19.88 with Jean Madison and Harris in third and fourth. Periera, who joined the team this semester, won the 500 free in 4:58.45 with Skye Carey in third, then broke Sonia Perez's school record with a victorious 10:06.53 in the 1000 free. Courtney VanderSchaaf and Nadia Farrugia came in third and fourth, respectively.
The Conference USA meet is Feb. 18-21 at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. FIU finished second to Western Kentucky in the 2013 Sun Belt Conference meet, then second to Rice in the 2014 Conference USA meet.
According to South Florida High School Sports, FIU just flipped Marshall linebacker commit Sage Lewis out of Monsignor Edward Pace High, the high school alma mater of current FIU running back Anthon Samuel. Lewis is rated at three stars by ESPN.com and 24/7sports.com's composite ratings, two stars by 24/7sports.com, Rivals.com and Scout.com.
IMG Academy punter/kicker Stone Wilson announced his commitment to FIU via Twitter Wednesday. Wilson nailed all 22 extra point attempts last year. Kohl's Kicking Camps ranked Wilson No. 10 in the nation among punters in the 2015 class going into the season. Kornblue Kicking ranks him No. 5 among punters, No. 29 among kickers.
After the last two seasons of erratic (at best) punting and occasional offense, FIU should be checking into the next generation of Colquitts for punters. This slots right into a Panthers need.
Ironic, appropriate or both that the first women's basketball home game after Cindy Russo's retirement is against Old Dominion, alma mater of Russo and longtime associate coach Inge Nissen?
You don't need a shot of Old Grand Dad to know that FIU's got a shot at Old D if they find their defense. it's the only area of clear superiority for the Monarchs. In Conference USA play, Old Dominion has given up only 58.9 points per game and 35.9 shooting from the field. FIU's given up 74.5 and 45.8. And that's with a conference-leading three-point shooting percentage defense of 27.2 percent.
Old Dominion's men share four characteristics with the FIU men -- good defense and conference losses to Western Kentucky and at Alabama-Birmingham and Middle Tennessee State. But the Monarchs lead the conference in rebounding margin while FIU is last in assists per game and scoring offense. Not a good combination when you've got a ball stagnant team against a good defense. We'll see whether the 12-day gap swung FIU's offensive game toward the acutely sharpened or the obtusely dulled.
FIU's arena-based teams could move wholly back into their spaces today, the last day any Miss Universe people or stuff should be in the arena or parking lot.
That's according an FIU synopsis of the agreement between the school and Miss Universe.
A seat count from various photos taken late last week after the arena got set up for the contest comes up with 1,118 chairs + an estimated 1,500 bleacher seats on each side. That's 4,118, but the Miss Universe folks got 1,000 comp tickets per night. Preliminaries, Dress Rehearsal and the Finals sold out. FIU's $5 per ticket gets them approximately $46,770.
The Athletics release, which already downgraded the FIU benefit estimate from $400,000 earlier in January to $330,000, included $50,000 to $70,000 in ticket revenue and assumed $140,000 of state matching funds on the First Generation Scholarship Fund.
Anyway, it's back to normal for the FIU Athletics hoi polloi, whose staffing, workload and pay sometimes remind me of this scene from the 1985 classic DC Comics Crisis on Infinite Earths No. 8.
As we all know, three is a magic number. But it's two that's the operational number for FIU baseball in the preseason Conference USA coaches' rankings and all-conference team.
Two Panthers, sophomore pitcher Chris Mourelle and senior infielder Josh Anderson, made the preseason all-conference team. And FIU sits No. 2 in the preseason team rankings behind defending conference champion Rice, a unanimous pick to repeat.
Rice swept the preseason Player of the Year (senior catcher John Clay) and Pitcher of the Year (junior lefty Blake Fox) awards.
FIU opens the season Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. with the first of a three-game weekend series against Tennessee.
Freshman diver Rebecca Quensel's 1-meter and 3-meter wins against Florida Gulf Coast Saturday earned her Conference USA Diver of the Week for the fifth time this season. Coincidentally, that makes her the fifth diver to with a season's quintet of Diver of the Week awards.
Sorry that we missed forward Kiandre'a Pound racking up her second consecutive C-USA Freshman Player of the Week award Monday.
Women's Basketball, vs. Old Dominion, Thursday, 6 p.m.
FIU just announced what we hypothesized here two days ago (see the post linked to below) -- the replacement for departed defensive coordinator Josh Conklin, now at Pitt, is Pitt's last pre-Conklin DC, Matt House.
House had been Pitt's defensive coordinator for three years under Paul Chryst. Chryst didn't take House with him when he took the head coaching job at Wisconsin, leaving House available for FIU.
This reminds me of the Dolphins cutting center Samson Satele and signing Oakland Raiders center Jake Grove as a free agent in 2009. After their first season with the Dolphins, the Bill Parcells-Jeff Ireland-Tony Sparano ruling tribunal felt they needed a nastier, stronger center. Satele wound up signing with Oakland.
Epilogue: Grove started 10 games with the Dolphins in 2009, got injured during the season and never played in the NFL again. Satele's bounced around the league and back to the Dolphins this season.
SWIMMING & DIVING
Here's the who being honored on Saturday's Senior Day for FIU's water women: Klara Andersson, Nadia Farrugia, Johanna Gustafsdottir, Jean Madison and Courtney Vander Schaaf.
Here's the what of the who being honored on Saturday's Senior Day for FIU's water women:
Six individual school records, five relay school records, eight individual conference titles and three relay conference titles.
Much of that comes from Gustafsdottir, arguably the best swimmer in FIU program history. But Andersson's FIU's speed queen. Her 23.24 at the 2013 Sun Belt Conference meet remains the school record in the 50 freestyle.
A year earlier, Gustafsdottir began rewriting the FIU record book over her freshmen and sophomore years so quickly, it seemed done by an instant search-and-replace command. Between the 2012 Sun Belt meet, in which she won three individual events and Swimmer of the Year, and the 2012 Mizzou Invite that fall, Gustafsdottir knocked down five individual records and was part of four school record relay teams.
She's lowered all those marks since then, of course. And, though freshman Silvia Scalia eclipsed Gustafsdottir's 100 backstroke record earlier this year, she added the 200 breastroke to her individual Best of FIU list: 100 free 50.01), 200 free (1:46.90), 200 back (1:54.40), 200 breast (2:14.20) and 200 individual medley (1:57.94).
Both Gustafsdottir and Andersson were on the 200 free relay (1:32.09), 400 free relay (3:20.74) and 400 medley relay school record teams (3:40.87). In the 2013 Sun Belt champion 400 medley relay, at the 2013 Sun Belt Championships, Gustafsdottir led off with the backstroke leg and Andersson finished with the free leg. At the same meet, they combined with Dani Albright and Marina Ribi to set a Sun Belt record in the 400 free relay (3:21.67) and set the current record with Jenny Alfani and Jenny Deist at last year's Conference USA meet.
Vander Schaaf was an All-Sun Belt swimmer in 2013, part of a then-school record 200 free relay and swam for distance. She ranks fourth in school history in the 1,650 free (17:08.27), fifth in the 1,000 free (10:21.18) and seventh in the 500 free (4:57.70). Last January, she picked up a Conference USA Swimmer of the Week award.
Farrugia anchored last year's Conference USA meet 800 free relay team (7:13.43) and, like VanderSchaaf, went long -- sixth fastest 500 freestyler (4:56.97) and 1000 freestyler (10:25.24) and third in the 1,650 free (17:04.33).
Madison was the fourth best in the 200 breast (2:17.16) and fifth in the 100 breast (1:04.19).
Madison, Farrugia, VanderSchaaf and Andersson made the Conference USA Honor Roll for having a 3.0 grade point average. Andersson was a Commissioner's Academic Medalist for having a 3.7 GPA.
Phil Steele, producer of the most comprehensive preseason college sports magazines, also regularly blogs. His most recent post examined how many starters return for each FBS team after subtracting those that have declared for the NFL Draft.
FIU's 16 returning starters by Steele's count put the Panthers in a 12-way tie for 17th in FBS and tied with Western Kentucky for second in the conference. The Panthers and Hilltoppers each return eight starters on offense and eight on defense, according to him. I count nine defensive returning starters for FIU.
FBS and Conference USA football rookie Charlotte returns 19 starters, nine on offense and 10 on defense, leading each category. Steele says Southern Miss also returns nine offensive starters.
The surprise for many at FIU was that Cindy Russo returned for the 2014-15 season.
Since the start of the 2012-13 season, the standard prediction around the athletic department had Russo's retirement dovetailing with the end of star guard Jerica Coley's eligibility in 2014.
Last season's ineligiblity of 6-3 Marita Davydova infuriated Russo just as much at the end of the season as the beginning. She never flat said it, but she had to know that dropped the ceiling for Coley's last team and her last team with postseason potential. With some semblance of an inside/outside game, FIU could put together a winning season and would hold a puncher's chance in the Conference USA tournament. Without it, you get what happened -- FIU rising only to the level of Coley's superpowers. Once those ran out like a power ring's charge in the 25th hour against eventual champ Middle Tennessee State in the conference tournament semis, that was it.
Russo returned for one more year, I think, almost out of reflex. This is what she's done every fall since 1977. Routines beget full body muscle memory. But fatigue strikes earlier and earlier as the years pass until the time the remembering muscle tells the mind, "Forget this, I'm tired."
All college coaches essay the role of parent on some level. For years, Russo had been the caretaker for her elderly mother. That's not a Wikipedia example of "sandwich generation" but it's still "sandwich generation." Most "sandwich generation" folks don't go on bi-weekly business trips to places like Bowling Green, Kentucky or Huntington, West Virginia (in January).
Soon after Russo's mother died in late December, rumors began around FIU athletics that she'd retire. Worn down even before being weakened by the flu that refuses to leave her -- I almost wanted to pour chicken soup through the cell phone when we spoke Thursday afternoon, she sounded so bad -- she saw the rest of the season looming like K2.
The vastness of Russo's career can't be overstated, both as far as FIU and women's basketball.
When she began as an assistant coach at 1970s powerhouse Old Dominion, many families actively discouraged their girls from participating in team sports. Heck, many girls actively discouraged girls from participating in team sports. Not feminine enough, you know. Many states didn't have high school girls basketball tournaments. Indiana, home of the most storied boys high school tournament, didn't start a girls counterpart until 1976, the same year the Summer Olympics first included women's basketball. Pro leagues? Please. The NCAA didn't sanction college women's basketball, but rather the AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) did. The first AIAW national championship game to be nationally televised ended the 1977-78 season, Russo's first at FIU, where a few structures dotted a lot of space. Parking not a problem back then.
Now, well, look around. Despite the roles sexism and homophobia still play in college women's basketball, if you don't see the vast differences from 37-plus years ago, you're too obtuse to read this blog. FIU continues to grow an inexorably as The Blob.
Of course, Cindy Russo would've liked to finish this season, though it looks headed for a C-USA tournament one-and-done. No woman in sports Russo's age with any stature got there by leaving anything unfinished. All those women fought more battles than Patton just to get to the game time fight.
Russo's earned the right to say she's too tired to keep fighting.
Needing an FCS punching bag to fill out the 2015 home schedule, FIU will bring in North Carolina-Central, which went 7-5 last year, 6-2 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, 0-1 vs. FBS (52-7 loss to East Carolina) and 0-1 vs. transitional FBS (40-28 loss to Charlotte).
NC-Central will be the only non-conference home game, a stark contrast to the four non-conference home games that opened the 2014 season. The four Conference USA home games will be decided once the league finishes the realignment caused by Alabama-Birmingham football's demise.
FIU will move its Saturday games back to 6 p.m. from 4 p.m. Smart move. It gives families time to finish their Saturday activities and errands and cuts the roasting time in the stands on sunny days.
FIU's softball team enters this season as the Conference USA co-favorite with Alabama-Birmingham. Why that's to be expected is detailed in an earlier post. But that got me thinking...
When Jake Schumann left the softball coach last summer with an obvious potential conference champion and NCAA tournament team coming back, he insisted it was because of salary. Living the coaching life with wife and kids in the Broward suburbs, Schumann insisted he needed more than the just-under $60,000 per year FIU paid. He took an associate coach job at Ole Miss for more money in a cheaper area.
So, FIU's last team to be a preseason conference favorite: softball, 2015. Head coach Gator Rebhan's salary: $59,700.
FIU's last team conference title: women's golf, 2013 Sun Belt tournament. Head coach Joe Vogel's current salary: $58,590.
FIU's last team conference title in a completely team sport: women's soccer, 2011 Sun Belt tournament or 2012 Sun Belt regular season, if you count that. Head coach Thomas Chestnutt's current salary: $63,024.
FIU's highest ranked team nationally: sand volleyball, 2014. Head coach Rita Buck-Crockett's current salary: $60,000 (for being in charge of sand and indoor volleyball).
FIU's best team over the last four years when combining athletics and academics: swimming & diving. Head coach Randy Horner's current salary: $57,590.
FIU athletic director Pete Garcia's bonuses during the 2013-14 academic year: approximately $99,550.
Numbers according to either contracts in possession of The Herald or Florida Has a Right to Know website.