April 17, 2015

Weekend of Hope

This weekend at Camp Mitch will be about hope.

Not "hope" as a verb. To me, that connotates too much of dealing with things as you wish they were or as they will be if some long odds uncertainty comes through instead of dealing with things as they are. "If everything goes right this season, we'll win X games" describes sports hoping at its best.

"Hope" as a noun, on the other hand, means "a chance." That's what baseball, football and softball will be trying to give themselves or demonstrate they have starting Friday at 4 at the baseball stadium and running all the way through the finish of Sunday's 1 p.m. baseball and softball games.

Between those, at 7 p.m., the football team will try to nurture hope among its fans at the annual Spring Game. The "Friday Night Lights" promotion that starts at 6 p.m. includes schedule posters for the first 1,000 fans, a DJ, a meet-and-greet with the swimming & diving team (is there any other school, excluding Cal with Missy Franklin, who could use the swim team to draw fans to football stuff?) and all sorts of other giveaways.

Despite the running-in-place nature of spring football, there are things to be learned. Watching the 2013 Spring Game gave you that Otter-in-the-Dexter-Lake-Club feeling about the season. During last year's Spring Game, you could tell freshman quarterback Alex McGough possessed the bearing, style and enough smart decision-making that eventually Ron Turner would elevate him over incumbent E.J. Hilliard. Also obvious: running back injuries would give freshmen Alex Gardner and Napoleon Maxwell a shot at starting.

This year, the team wants to build a crowd, build hope in that crowd for 2015, build some kind of buzz, even muted buzz. Another year of dragging in the standings and in the stands by the athletic department's flagship sport puts a drag on the whole department. I'm interested to see how the inexperieneced safeties and wide receivers look as well as the offensive line. The defense, with advantages in experience and overall talent, should dominate.

Softball, Conference USA co-favorites in the preseason coaches' poll, can't get swept this weekend by C-USA best Western Kentucky or just making the conference tournament moves into sorcery-miracle category. The Panthers problem in that regard stands 5-6, Western pitcher Miranda Kramer. She's one of the best in the nation with a 0.91 earned run average, a 17-4 record and only 58 walks against 271 strikeouts. And one ace like her in softball can open up many options for a coach, especially over a doubleheader Saturday and a Sunday.

And then there's baseball, having one of those seasons when you feel like you're always spitting into the wind. The Panthers might get the eighth and final conference tournament spot by default. But if Charlotte or Old Dominion get hot for a weekend or two and FIU keeps taking one per weekend, as Richard Pryor used to say, "Cancel Christmas."

The baseball crew's also facing Hilltoppers, albeit slightly less scary. Western's Austin King, Josh Bartley and Ryan Thurston go 5.31, 5.44, 6.00 in earned run average. I expect some long games Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

April 14, 2015

Western Kentucky Suspends Swim & Dive

Usually, I don't make note of other schools censuring one of their programs. But when it's A) a program that's one of the best in FIU's conference and B) the school does something that makes you go WHOA! it's worth mentioning here.

Also, it's a cautionary tale for all coaches and athletes across the board. Before anybody throws out their chest, turns up their nose with a hop to the high horse and says "That's not us!" remember this: if you look at a peer's situation and say, "That's not going to be me" but don't take necessary steps to make sure it's not going to be you, guess what? Likely, some day, it's going to be you.

Western Kentucky has suspended the men's and women's swimming and diving teams for five years over, basically, acting way too much like the Deltas and the Omegas. The best reporting on this so far comes from the WKU Herald. Check it out.

The men won the mini-meet that is the Conference USA men's swimming title. The women finished second to FIU at the conference meet and were nationally ranked among mid-majors most of the year.

 

April 13, 2015

Monday Droppings

I'll be all over the place here.

FIU Arena's being prepared for its new seats and beach floor.

IMG_1808

The athletic department caught a big break when that CrossFit-like (but not CrossFit, CrossFit wants to make sure you know) competition broke the beach floor. Players and past coaches complained about how unforgiving the old floor could be on knees and ankles. Now, FIU gets a new floor and somebody else pays for it.

Looking at head coach Marlin Chinn's contract, the first thing that struck me was the five-year deal gets extended a year each time FIU wins 20 games and makes the NCAA tournament. His base pay is $161,000. He gets a $10,000 bonus for a single season team Academic Progress Rate of at least 970 (the team's been a perfect 1000 each of the last three reported years) and another $10,000 for team GPA over 3.1. He gets an extra $7,500 for each of these achievements: getting into the NCAA tournament, Conference USA Coach of the Year, sole possession of a regular season C-USA title. 

I heard the whole women's basketball coaching staff got sacked Monday by new coach Marlin Chinn. That's high on the expectation list when a new coach comes in after the disaster of 3-26, 0-18. I'd be willing to bet longtime assistant coach Inge Nissen winds up somewhere else in the department or university.

I wasn't at Sunday's Athletic Academic Awards Banquet (also known as "Dress Up for Food & Instagram Shots"), which would've been a great time for a sayonara ceremony to Nissen and former head coach Cindy Russo. Considering how long and well they coached at FIU, that would've been nice. I'm not sure Russo was even invited. In her last three full seasons, FIU went to two Women's NITs and got farther than Jerica Coley's superpowers should have taken the Panthers in last year's Conference USA tournament (the program was rewarded with being told the run took the team over its travel budget for the season). 

Men's basketball guard Dennis Mavin and multi-titled swimmer Johanna Gustafsdottir won the Athlete of the Year awards of the appropriate genders. The entire golf team made the conference's academic honor roll, so no surprise it won the addidas Athletic Director's Award for best GPA of the year, 3.67. Women's soccer took the Paul Gallagher Community Service Award. The Michael Felsberg Spirit Award went to swimming & diving, which shared the Champs/Life Skills Challenge Cup Award with baseball.

Speaking of baseball, senior shortstop Julius Gaines gave the invocation for the entire event and received the team's Leadership Award. That capped a good Sunday individually for Gaines. Earlier in FIU's 5-4 11-inning loss to FAU, he cracked three singles to break out of an 0-for-18 plunge that also prompted a plunge down the batting order Sunday. Coach Turtle Thomas moved Gaines from leadoff to eighth.

"I definitely don't need to send a message to Julius Gaines. He's been with us for four years. He's a good baseball player," Thomas said. "He made some really good defensive plays today. (Moving down to eighth) gets you down there where you maybe see a few more fastballs, they're not killing you working you over in the top five of the batting order. It's just to give him a different look."

Gaines said at the plate, "I got out of my head. I just went up there and said I was going to put a swing on it and whatever happened, happened." As far as hitting eighth, he admitted, "There's not as much pressure. You worry about your at-bat at that time and whatever situation comes. Leading off, it's your job to get on base. It can weigh on you a little bit."

While Gaines shrugged off his defensive day as, "I did my job. It wasn't anything out of the ordinary," FAU coach John McCormack said, "Some plays that the shortstop made in this game? Wow. Julius played really well. Thank God he's leaving this year."

Gaines made a game-saving (for the moment) play in the eighth on pinch hitter Danny Murray's tough grounder with the bases loaded. McCormack marveled that Gaines operated efficiently enough to get control of the ball, see he'd be too late for the force out at second and still fired a Murray-beating throw to first.

McCormack said two other things I found interesting. He blamed himself for FIU's 6-5 win Friday. He said he should've gone to Seth McGarry immediately in the eighth with a 5-2 lead. Instead, he used lefty Devon Carr, who gave up two hits and a walk in four batters, sparking FIU's four-run eighth inning. 

He also said he didn't believe in any FIU-FAU rivalry.

"I don't believe in rivalries because the players continually change," McCormack said. "I'm not big on, 'Win this one for The Gipper, they're our biggest rivals.'"

Out on the football field, Ron Turner said FIU's lack of experience at wide receiver and abundance of tight ends and running backs wouldn't mean FIU would use double tight end sets more in 2015 because "we did a lot of it last year." But, Turner said, they'll use more sets with varying position numbers and groupings now that FIU's in the third year of running his offense. 

"I've told these guys from Day 1 I really believe in utilizing our personnel and moving them around. If you've got a guy and he's always in the same spot, they can take him away very easily. That's one of the biggest things I learned in the NFL -- get your playmakers involved, put in position to make plays. We've done a little bit of that the first couple of years, but not as much as we'll do this year. In that league, they pay those guys a lot of money. The owners say, 'I'm paying him a lot of money, why isn't he getting the ball? Why isn't he involved?'

"And we have some guys with versatility. Look at our tight ends. We've got three guys (Jonnu Smith, Ya'keem Griner, Akil Dan-Fodio) who can line up at tight end, line up in the slot, line up as a No. 1 receiver outside and, in some cases, line up in the backfield. Look at our running backs, same thing. We've got some guys who are strictly backfield guys or you've got some who can line up in the slot or outside. We've got a couple of wide receivers who can line up in the backfield and play some running back, quarterback or whatever."

After saying he was excited about all the different options for FIU, Turner joked once spring football ends, the coaches will have too much time to come up with too much other offensive stuff to teach. Or, maybe he was only halfway joking as staffs do make that mistake more often than is noticed.

 

 

April 10, 2015

FIU's Commissioner's Academic Medal Winners

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.)

Baseball: Mitchell Robinson, Zack Soria.

Men's Basketball: Kris Gulley, Hassan Hussein.

Women's Basketball: Katrina Epnere, Zsofia Labady, Nikolina Todorovic.

Women's Golf: Katerina Krasnova.

Sand Vollyeball: Anna Budinska, Morgan Crawley, Darija Sataric.

Men's Soccer: Luca Giovine, Adam Sibiski.

Women's Soccer: Ellen Crist, Johanna Volz, Ashley Westberry.

Softball: Rachel Dwyer, Dominique Grossman, Jessica Hallett, Michaela Mills.

Swimming & Diving: Klara Andersson, Valerie Inghels, Anna Jonsson.

Tennis: Giulietta Boha, Nerma Caluk, Yana Koroleva.

Men's Track & Field: William Offor.

Men's Cross Country: Orlando Rodriguez.

Women's Track & Field: Tiffani Hernandez, Celine Murton.

Volleyball: Tia Clay, Kari Peterson, Jovanna Santamaria, Anabela Sataric.

 

 

 

172 FIU Athletes Make C-USA Commissioner's Honor Roll

(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.

Golf (8 -- the entire team): Coralia Arias, Sophie Godley, Carla Jane, Katerina Krasnova, Meghan MacLaren, Camila Serrano, Ashley Shimmel, Jasmine Wade.

Sand Volleyball (9): Marina Boulanger, Anna Budinska, Morgan Crawley, Aren Cupp, Alexa Diaz, Alexandria Johnson, Giovanna Pasos, Darija Sataric, Tina Toghiyani.

Men's Soccer (10): Quentin Albrecht, Roberto Alterio, Luca Giovine, Marvin Hezel, Nicholas Midttun, Deshawon Nembhard, Nico Pasquariello, Adam Sibiski, Robin Spiegel, Jesse Wear.

Women's soccer (16): Shelby Bowden, Ellen Crist, Marie Egan, Cyan Jean-Baptiste, Talia McMurtrie, Ryann Ramirez, Nikki Rios, Alyssa Robinson, Ashleigh Shim, Marlena Stablein, Sara Stewart, Nevana Stojakovic, Pat Tomanon, Johanna Volz, Madlen Weinhardt, Ashley Westberry.

Softball 10): Isabelle Barnes, Rachel Dwyer, Krystal Garcia, Samantha Green, Dominique Grossman, Jessica Hallett, Corinne Jenkins, Marisa McGregor, Michaela Mills, Rebekah Sanchez.

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. 

Tennis (6): Giulietta Boha, Valentina Briceno, Nerma Caluk, Yana Koroleva, Nina Nagode, Carlotta Orlando.

Men's cross country (7): Brandon Ballard, Ronny Greenup, Andres Magliano, Eli Monzon, Leonel Pozo, Daniel Puentes, Orlando Rodriquez.

Women's cross country (4): Adrienne Gerzeny, Katarina Rodriguez, Brittany Wasserbeck, Desmika White.

Men's track (10): Dylan Cook, Pablo Espitia, Garry Louima, Tyshawn Lytle, Desmond McGill, Luka Mustafic, Daniel Neptune, Wisdom Offor, Julian Santiago, Traivon Smith.

Women's track 12): Brittany Corbett, Phillicia Fluellen, Chandra Fulwood, Adrienne Gerzeny, Chelsea Gobourne, Anesha Gordon, Anna Heinzman, Tiffani Hernandez, Sharniece King, Symone Lindsay, Celine Murton, Lexis Shields.

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...)

 

 

 

April 08, 2015

FIU to Hire Marlin Chinn as Women's Basketball Coach; Swimmer is FIU's Spirit of Service Honoree

Sources around Camp Mitch say University of Maryland assistant Marlin Chinn will soon be announced as FIU's first new women's basketball coach since Cindy Russo returned to FIU in 1980 after two years at Lamar University.

Chinn's been a college assistant at Seton Hall, Mount St. Mary's and, for the last six seasons, Maryland. The Terrapins, migrants from the ACC to the Big Ten, dominated the latter conference this season on the way to a Final Four loss to eventual national champion Connecticut. This will be his first college head coaching job.

So, now, for the first time, all FIU's coaches officially have been hired by athletic director Pete Garcia. Also, FIU joins the trend of more women's basketball programs being coached by men as salaries for coaching women's teams make these jobs a viable way to live comfortably in even expensive markets like South Florida.

SWIMMING & DIVING

Freshman Ally Mayhew was FIU's Conference USA Spirit of Service Honoree for the winter sports. The award brings notice to those who contribute significantly in the community while achieving academically and athletically. Mayhew has a 3.78 grade point average in biology. 

April 01, 2015

More Swimming Honors; Sand Story Coming

Tomorrow's spring football practice starts at 9 a.m. Don't be late.

Conference USA announced its postseason swimming awards, meaning more hardware for the conference champs. FIU senior Johanna Gustafsdottir won Swimmer of the Year, freshman Silvia Scalia won Freshman Swimmer of the Year and diver Rebecca Quensel was named Freshman Diver of the Year. Only Old Dominion's Rachel Eckert, who won Diver of the Meet at the conference meet in the concussed Quensel's absence, broke up FIU's exclusivity.

I'm working on a story for tomorrow's print Herald (and online tonight) on the sand volleyball team, 12-1 and ranked No. 3 (DIG Magazine) or No. 6 (American Volleyball Coaches Association) going into this Friday and Saturday's meet on South Beach.

Favorite tidbit: No. 2 pair Kristine Monforte and Summer Nash, 16-4 this season with an 11-match winning streak recently snapped, met only this school year but quickly bonded off the court as foodies. Food Network's the default channel in their hotel room on the road. Monforte thinks Bobby Flay's the best of the Iron Chefs and her best dish is chicken parmigiana. 

So they have something in common with former FIU defensive tackle Isame Faciane. 

March 22, 2015

Silvia School Record, Gets 19th; Gustafsdottir 44th at NCAAs

Seems like I've read this before...

FIU freshman Silvia Scalia, the heir to Johanna Gustafsdottir as the top swimmer on FIU's roster, reset her own 200 backstroke record during the Saturday afternoon prelims at the NCAA Championships in Greenboro, North Carolina.

Scalia's 1:53.54 knocked 26 hundredths of a second off the record she set in taking the event at the Conference USA Championships. It placed her 20th in the field at the NCAAs.

Gustafsdottir swam the 200 breastroke, the last swim of her FIU career, Saturday in 2:13.57, the 44th fastest time. 

March 20, 2015

Scalia School Record, 20th; Gustafsdottir 33rd at NCAAs

FIU freshman Silvia Scalia, the heir to Johanna Gustafsdottir as the top swimmer on FIU's roster, reset her own 100 backstroke record during the Friday afternoon prelims at the NCAA Championships in Greenboro, North Carolina.

Scalia's 52.46 knocked 16 hundredths of a second off the record she set in taking the event at the Conference USA Championships. It placed her 20th in the field at the NCAAs.

Gustafsdottir swam the 400 individual medley Friday in 4:12.70, the 33rd fastest time. Saturday, the final day, Scalia swims in the day's first event, the 200 back, and Gustafsdottir swims in the 200 breaststroke.

March 19, 2015

Gustafsdottir Starts NCAAs; Horner Extended -- UPDATED

The swimmer who most helped Randy Horner lift FIU from mud to magnificent, senior Johanna Gustafsdottir, begins the benediction of her fantastic FIU career with the 200 individual medley at the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships this morning. FIU chose this same morning to announce a contract extension for Horner through 2018-19.

Horner's deal was set to expire at the end of April.

Regular blog readers know the transformation that's occurred under Horner on all fronts: from Sun Belt non-entity to 2015 Conference USA champion and a No. 5 national ranking among mid-majors by CollegeSwimming.com; the most consistently academically strong team at FIU; the most consistent supporter of fellow athletes by attending their games (and that's saying something on a campus where the athletes tend to be each other's biggest fans.).

 

This started with Horner's first recruiting class, in 2011. CollegeSwimming.com thought the ace in that deck was Gustafsdottir, a stud international swimmer for Iceland at one point. Funny because Horner certainly didn't. Neither did she. She spent most of her freshman season shedding weight and the crust from burn out and two years away from competitive swimming.

Her emergence at that year's Sun Belt Championships, at which she won Swimmer of the Year, ignited a career that put firmed up a soft FIU record book and picked up enough hardware for an aisle at Ace: 2012 Sun Belt Swimmer of the Year, 2015 Conference USA Swimmer of the Year, 10 individual conference titles, four relay titles, including the baddest relay anchor leg you'll ever see in this year's C-USA Championships 400 freestyle relay.

Gustafsdottir loves FIU. She said she cried during that relay. She cried when FIU beat the Hurricanes to finish this year 10-0 in dual meets. At the welcome home from the Conference USA meet, when FIU CFO Kenneth Jewell recounted the 400 free relay for those gathered, she almost lost it again. After the conference meet, she sounded almost giddy when talking about the program's future and that she can't wait to be a proud alumnus.

(She also said "I've got to get ready for NCAAs. Hopefully, I do better than I have in the past.")

I asked her before the conference meet if she at all envisioned her FIU life going this way when she first came.

“No, never," she replied. "I didn’t swim for two years before I came here. I was happy that I was started back up. I never thought my success would be this good. I’m happy with it.So now after conference and NCAA, I have the Olympics to focus on. I’ll stay here. I’ll most likely stay here (to train).”

UPDATE

Gustafsdottir, with a 1:57.33 seed time that was 27th fastest, swam 1:58.18 Thursday morning, the 28th fastest time.

Friday, Gustafsdottir swims the 400 IM and freshman Silvia Scalia does the 100 backstroke.

 

March 16, 2015

Lifesavers

During Spring Break, swimmers Jessica Chadwick and Chase Harris did the greatest deed -- extended themselves in an effort to save the lives of two people they didn't know who got caught in rip currents.

Here's the most recent report from WPBF-Channel 25.

 

 

March 11, 2015

Next Steps

A few things about FIU's Conference USA tournament opener against Texas-San Antonio today at 1 p.m. while I try to find somewhere that'll consistently update me on the NCAA Zone Diving stuff...

*When teams see a future opposing player and say, "That right there is a problem," they either deal with the problem or figure they'll live with it and deal with everything else. FIU's opponents tend to take the latter approach.

Adrian Diaz, all 6-10 of him, is the problem FIU presents opponents. He's got good touch with decent range at the offensive end -- 60.9 percent from the field -- and is sixth in the nation in blocked shots without being so slap happy he gets way out of position. 

(Digression: Is the person who nicknamed Diaz "the Hialeah Hammer," a name that belongs on a well-known thug or fantastic handyman, the same person who came up with "Paws Up," which makes it sound like the animal in question is on its back and dead? If so, stop naming stuff. Or make your next suggestion, "Sunblazers.")

Teams have learned to let Diaz get his, try to make things difficult for senior guard Dennis Mavin then say to the rest of the Panthers "And, what?" FIU needs to get an offensive answer to that from Daviyon Draper mid-range or inside, Ray Rodriguez/Marco Porcher Jimenez from three or Kris Gulley from anywhere.

*Inability to consistently move the ball for open outside shots makes FIU too reliant on Diaz inside. There's a negligible difference in success percentages in conference games -- 32.3 for FIU, 33.7 for opponents -- but the Panthers drown in the volume. Opponents have hit 136 three-pointers to 76 for FIU or 7.56 per game to  4.22. That's nearly a 10-point per game difference.

*FIU gets the defensive side of the game, tying UAB for the conference lead in allowing only 41.0 percent shooting from the field. They can't let teams shoot 25 to 30 free throws a game, however. Speaking of which...

*I don't think I've covered a season with more consistently bad free throw shooting from both teams. The only reason FIU's opponents, 64.3 percent from the line, aren't more embarrassed is that FIU sank them at only 63.5 percent. In a tournament situation, it's tough to win four games in four days without at least above average free throw shooting.

I first heard this old saw -- "My Daddy says there are two things that don't last too long -- dogs that chase cars and teams that don't hit their free throws" -- from Wyoming coach Benny Dees early in the 1987 NCAA tournament. Over the next two weeks, I watched Indiana win the national championship partially because three consecutive opponents went four of 10, 11 of 19 and 10 of 20 from the line, including missing late one-and-ones.

*It goes without saying if a 20-turnover game gets FIU tickets on a next day flight home.

 

 

 

March 04, 2015

NCAA officially selects swimmers; Golfer in World Top 50

UPCOMING HOME MATCHES/GAMES

Baseball: vs. UConn, Friday, 7 p.m.; Saturday, 6 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m.

Softball: vs. Marshall, Saturday, 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m. 

Barring incredible breaking news, the forecast predicts light blogginess over the next few days as I'm sent to my yearly arranged marriage with Doral and the PGA Tour. A couple of things before I go back to cleaning out my car, Publix apple strudel and Law & Order: SVU...

Senior Johanna Gustafsdottir and freshman Silvia Scalia were selected for the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships, Mar. 19-21, in Greensboro, North Carolina (nice people, ehh town). Gustafsdottir will swim the 200 and 400 individual medley while Scalia will handle the 100 and 200 backstroke.

Last year, Sonia Perez finished 13th in the 400 IM at the NCAAs, scoring the first swimming points for FIU at the championships.

WOMEN'S GOLF

Junior Meghan MacLaren's eight-stroke rout in the rain-shortened Amelia Island Collegiate moved her up 13 spots to No. 49 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings. She was also Golfweek's National Player of the Week.

Not sure how she wasn't Conference USA's player of the week, but you know how that goes...

 

 

February 27, 2015

Swim & Dive Lauded for Water & Land Achievements; Gore to Marian

FIU's Conference USA championship win last week prompted a shuffling of the CollegeSwimming.com national mid-major rankings. FIU's now No. 4 among mid-majors.

Behind them in the rankings as they were in the pool are Florida Gulf Coast at No. 5; Conference USA's second place team, Rice, dropped from No. 5 to No. 8, incongruously one spot behind the conference's third place team, Western Kentucky.

FIU's team grade point average of 3.17 put it on the College Swimming Coaches Association of America's list of Scholar All-America teams, comprised of teams with a 3.0 GPA. Earlier this week, butterflier Valerie Inghels made the C-USA All-Academic team.

 

FOOTBALL PAST

FIU life didn't go well for Jakhari Gore. While sitting out the 2012 season as a transfer from LSU, the former Columbus High running back star crashed academically in 2012-13. He got arrested on a charges of robbery and false imprisonment in late August 2013. FIU coach Ron Turner jettisoned Gore, who entered a not guilty plea before the charges were dropped.

But Gore's apparently gotten things together. He Tweeted at me today that "God is Good and blessed me with another chance Marian University!"

The school on what's called "the near northwest side" of Indianapolis started football in 2007 and plays at the NAIA level. Good for him.

February 26, 2015

Field Work; Felsberg Invitational Familiarity; Manhattan Holiday; Coaching Matters

The City of Birmingham, quivering like Rock Ridge before Mongo, closed all public facilities Wednesday in fear of what places in the former Confederacy consider major snowfall. This condensed the Conference USA Indoor Track & Field Championships to a one-day event.

Not so condensed were the throws of FIU junior Raquarra Ishmar, who turned today into Throw Forward Thursday by winning the women's weight throw and finishing second in the shot put.

Ishmar (63 feet, 4 inches), junior Chelsea Goburne (59-1/4) and sophomore Chandra Fullwood (56-3 1/4) gave FIU its strongest team performance of the day, a 1-4-6 finish, in the weight throw. Going into the last two throws, the 61-2 from Western Kentucky's Janessa Jackson held the lead. Ishmar cranked off a 62-footer to take the lead, then muscled out the 63-4 on her last throw to hammer home who the alpha female was in this event.

Ishmar finished a solid second in the shot, her 50-8 3/4 being 1-8 1/2 ahead of third place Rachel Polk of Southern Miss and 8-2 behind Rice blowout winner, Claire Uke.

In the men's triple jump, junior Marcus Ghent reached 50-2 3/4 to finish second by 4 3/4 inches behind Western's Cyrus Johnson. Ghent also picked up points with a sixth place long jump of 22-8 1/2. 

The team standings found the women finishing ninth of 13 and the men finishing ninth of nine. 

SOFTBALL

Jake Schumann, FIU's coach the last three seasons, knows the way to Felsberg Field. So does former FIU pitching assistant coach Sharon Palma.

So, the Ole Miss bus shouldn't get lost on the way to Felsberg Field at FIU Softball Stadium for Friday's opening of this weekend's Felsberg Invitational. The 8-4 Rebels are scheduled to play Bethune-Cookman at 2. Bethune will rest while FIU and Ole Miss get it on at 4:30. FIU plays Bethune at 7 p.m.

Last week, FIU saw the fourth member of last year's coaching staff (current FIU head coach Gator Rebhan was an assistant last year), current Texas State assistant coach Kelly Kretschman. It wasn't a happy reunion for the Panthers, losing 8-0. 

BASEBALL

Manhattan comes down for its four-game winter beating from FIU. Two years ago, the Jaspers got bombed in the first two games and outscored 40-17 for the three-game series.

By the way, did you know that FIU got back from last week's tournament in South Carolina around 7:30 a.m. after a 13-hour bus ride and some players had to hit class immediately? That's unfair to the student-athletes.

There should be a rule that teams have to fly if the road trip ends over a set number of hours away from the main campus and the team has class the next day. 

Break time...

 

SWIMMING & DIVING

FIU coach Randy Horner's contract is up at the end of April, two months after FIU won the Conference USA women's swimming & diving title. That's producing when the time's right.

Horner makes just over $57,000 in a contract that began when FIU wasn't close to competitive in the Sun Belt and ends with FIU being one of the nation's best mid-major teams. They've also been the top academic team on campus three of the previous four years.

That's the kind of work that'll attract attention if a Power Five school with manatees in the pool wants someone who can transform the team into motorboats. And that school will offer a significant raise. Just as an example, Michigan State clearly doesn't care about its swim program. The Spartans annually finish in the bottom two at the Big Ten meet and have for two decades. Yet, head coach Matt Gianiodis has held that job since October 2003.

All those signs of department apathy toward a sport and Gianiodis still gets paid over $76,000 while living in East Lansing, Michigan, a cheaper market than Miami. They might be paying Gianiodis extra for staying in East Lansing, which one Michigan State graduate I talked with Thursday called "Siberia" and about which Sports Illustrated writer Dan Jenkins quipped, "It looks like Stalingrad."

Anyway, that's just an example of why FIU might want to give Horner more than a little bump when it puts rings on the swimming & diving women's fingers.

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

Some might wonder if former FIU assistant coach Desma Thomas Bateast, now an assistant coach at South Florida, might want to come back to rebuild the program. Putting the hard hat on to deal with this catastrophe takes a relatively young, energetic coach and she's familiar with the place.

That doesn't always work in the school's favor, understand...

 

February 24, 2015

C-USA Indoor Track Starts Wednesday, Golf Wins & Other Stuff

We know at least one FIU winter sports team will head for the Conference USA championship gathering in Birmingham.

Women's basketball? Nope. Men's basketball? Probably. The indoor track team's already in Birmingham for its conference meet, which runs Wednesday and Thursday.

FIU brings the most muscle in the field events, such as the women's weight throw, where junior Raquarra Ishmar has the top seed throw at 19.01 meters and junior Miriam Pierre ranks second at 18.26. Ishmar's also got the No. 2 seed throw, 15.35 meters, in the shot put. Junior Phillicia Fluellen's 6.13 meter long jump has her as the top seed. Tikiera Relaford, third in the high jump last year, should be in the mix again this year.

Junior Luka Mustafic holds the top seed in the men's shot put, 18.01 meters. In the long jump, junior Marcus Ghent should contend for second or third. 

GOLF

A rained out final round left FIU as the winners of the Amelia Island Collegiate event. Junior Meghan MacLaren's 11-under 133 got her medalist honors.

SWIMMING & DIVING

FIU's new butterfly queen, Valerie Inghels, has a 3.92 grade point average as a communications arts major in addition to her Conference USA third in the 200 butterfly, fifth in the 100 fly and place on the second place 400 medley relay, all via school records. Which is how Inghels is on the Conference USA All-Academic swimming team.

SOFTBALL

The Sunday, Mar. 8 home game against Marshall will be televised nationally on Fox Sports.

FOOTBALL

FIU announced what The Herald reported first last week: Tim Harris Jr. will coach the running backs this year.

Harris Jr., son of "Ice" Harris, served as Booker T. Washington High's offensive coordinator for several years before taking over the head coaching job last year when his father went to Coral Gables to be the Hurricanes' running backs coach.

 

 

 

 

February 23, 2015

Coming Home

The buses fired up Sunday to bring everybody home after their wins. Well, except for the women's basketball team, which came home by plane after another two-loss road trip, leaving them zero for Conference USA.

Softball, now 11-6, came back from the EMU Madeira Beach Invitational after battering Villanova, Columbia and North Dakota by a combined 26-2, edging Wichita State 6-5 and getting mercy-ruled 8-0 by Texas State (with 2014 FIU assistant coach Kelly Kretschman).

Brianna Bartuccio threw the four-hit shutout in the opening 4-0 win against Villanova and Shelby Graves whipped a one-hit shutout on Columbia, 7-0. Gabby Spallone's grand slam accounted for all the scoring against Villanova. Stephanie Texeira knocked two out of the park against Columbia while Krystal Garcia went two for three with a homer and two RBI.

A Texeira homer provided half the scoreboard total for FIU against Wichita State. In the bottom of the sixth, down 4-3, Texeira doubled and was replaced by pinch runner Marisa McGregor. Krys Garcia singled in McGregor. After a walk to Dominique Grossman, Aleima Lopez doubled the two runs home. Corinne Jenkins went the distance, giving up only five hits. But, two were solo shots to Melanie Jaegers, two other batters reached base by being hit and defensive errors put two others on base.

This weekend's Panther Invitational opens Friday with a game against Ole Miss and associate head coach Jake Schumann, FIU head coach 2012-14.

Hours after the softball bus left Madiera, in a Carolina weekend's gloaming, the baseball bus revved to leave South Carolina. The arctic weather that sent southerners calling northern friends and family to learn about starting the car in the morning wrecked the weekend schedule for the Caravell Resorts Baseball at the Beach. So, FIU wound up playing a doubleheader Sunday against North Carolina Central before the long bus ride back.

(That's the same North Carolina Central you'll see during football season as FIU's lone non-conference opponent).

Andres Nunez got the win in the 4-0 opener after pitching six and two-thirds, striking out four and giving up four hits. All four runs came in the third inning, two on a Brian Portelli double and Portelli came on on Zach Soria's single.

The nightcap (afternoon cap?) provided fans with the one thing FIU didn't need -- bonus baseball. Better than a loss, however. That's what FIU avoided when Portelli doubled in Jack Schaaf in the bottom of the seventh. In the bottom of the 13th, a Jack Schaaf home run brought in Ray Perez and a 7-5 win.  Now at 4-4 after a tough early schedule, FIU swings bats at Manhattan this weekend.

Hours before, FIU's swimming & diving team got on a bus for the three-hour ride to Atlanta with the Conference USA Championship Trophy. The trophy got prize seating and was the first off the bus when the team arrived back on campus to a nicely whipped up welcome in the Parkview Hall breezeway.

 

 

From what I gather, Senior Associate AD Julie Berg did much of the heavy lifting to organize this. She and Senior Associate AD Bobby Staub were present.

Good for President Mark Rosenberg to mention the team's athletics-leading academic accomplishments, too, because that's one of the things that really makes this the department's best all-around team.

Rosenberg handed the mike to FIU Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Jessell for a review of the Conference USA meet. Jessell, by the way, donated $4,000 to the program last fall. His son, John Jessell, was a good swimmer at Florida State for four years.

Head coach Randy Horner, named Conference USA Coach of the Year Saturday, arrived in 2010. At that time, forget a conference champion, the school hadn't had an all-conference swimmer in any event since 2007. So, no individual or relay team in the top two of the Sun Belt.

Now, a perfect dual meet season. A Conference USA title with six swimming, one diving and one relay title. The third conference Swimmer of the Year award in the last four years (should be four for four -- Gustafsdottir got ripped off in 2013 after two firsts, a second, leading off three relay winners at the Sun Belt meet). And freshman and sophomore classes that look as if they'll make FIU a mid-major problem for everybody else the next several years.

I'm sure his contract has bonus clauses for a conference title and conference coach of the year (and adidas chips in $1,000 retail of product for the latter). But it sounds like somebody needs a bump from $57,590.

 

 

February 22, 2015

Job Done

 

That's how you finish a job.

FIU could've cruised to the Conference USA Swimming & Diving Championships Saturday night. Instead of cruising to the title, the Panthers crushed to it.

They struck Rice and Western Kentucky repeatedly with inspired performances. Definitive blows never let their competition experience hope. Then, with the title clinched, the women completed the season with a team and individual flourish, a school-record victorious relay swim capped by an aquatic soul shout by the greatest swimmer in program history.

They won the Conference USA title by a British Airways First Class comfortable 103.5 points over second place Rice, the two-time defending champion.

“Everyone was crying in tears of joy," senior Jean Madison said. "Everyone was so happy. We’re happy for each other, too.”

No matter the sport or gender, you should want to see an athlete cry after a major competition.

It's an indisputable sign what just happened reached inside them, caressed the heart while opening the memory doors in the head. Whether for hours or just a few seconds, their mind's eye sees the sweep of the team's season or several seasons or their career or their lives. And that taps the emotional well. Nobody cries over just that win or that loss. They cry for the story that event ends.

Where do you want to start this story? With head coach Randy Horner's first season? With his first recruiting class, ranked No. 23 by CollegeSwimming.com, now the seniors on a championship team?

“I’m very proud of the team and the seniors who believed in us and signed with us when we didn’t have much to believe in," Horner said. "I’m also thankful for the girls who were here and helped change the culture. We had three alumni here watching. This is as much their championship.”

Senior Johanna Gustafsdottir, Conference USA Swimmer of the Year, said, "We were joking about coming from the bottom and now we’re here at the top. It shows how great our coaching staff is and how far you can come as a team in three years. This is going to help us in recruiting. I’m excited about our future. I’m ready to be a proud alumni.”

When I talked to Gustafsdottir Friday night, the first event she mentioned wasn't either of her wins or even an event FIU won. She brought up the 200 freestyle because the four point scorers for FIU were freshmen. Madison feels that kind of solidarity played a role in FIU consistently getting one or two "WHOA!" swims each event.

“The team and us being behind each other. We wouldn’t be here without each other," she said. "That’s where all the tears of joy came from.”

FIU entered Allan Jones Aquatics Center Saturday night with a 73-point lead on Western Kentucky and a 104.5-point lead on Rice for the Conference USA Swimming & Diving Championships Saturday night. The absence of Rebecca Quesnel didn't entirely eliminate FIU's diving advantage on the other two contenders, so, really, Rice and Western had six swimming events to catch FIU.

Rice's Erin Flanigan won the 1650 freestyle, but FIU struck back with body blows. Kyna Pereira put up a 16:47.84, second best on FIU's all-time list, to finish fourth. Senior Courtney Vander Schaaf's 16:55.60, third best on that list and almost 13 seconds better than her personal best, got seventh. Freshman Skye Carey's 17:19.07 bettered her PB by just over 13 seconds and got the last points position, 16th. FIU led Rice by 101.5 and Western by 76.

Then came the 200 backstroke and a 1-2 Senna-Prost finish by freshman Silvia Scalia and junior Karin Tomeckova. Scalia broke Gustafsdottir's FIU record in 1:53.80, 2.2 seconds ahead of Tomeckova (1:56.00). Rice had two swimmers in the final, three in the consolation round and still trailed by 95.5 points. Western trailed by 72. Four events left.

“We knew coming in we had everything in our control," Horner said. "When we went 1-2 in the backstroke it was “game on.” I had no doubt we were going to finish it."

Rice pulled ahead of Western in the 100 freestyle, and closed on FIU, though FAU's Agi Bucz kept Rice senior ace Casey Clark out of first. Freshmen Paulina Zelazna (50.31, fifth) and Letizia Bertelli (51.23, eighth) and sophomore Jenny Deist (50.72, seventh) had done the job just getting into the final. Damage limited. FIU up by 75.5 and Rice running out of time.

Gustafsdottir, Madison, Jessica Chadwick and Chase Harris drained the rest of the sand from the hourglass in the 200 breaststroke.

Gustafsdottir said two years ago that breast was her worst stroke. Yeah, well, FIU used her in the 200 breast this year and she set a school record that she broke by 1.85 seconds Saturday in 2:12.35. And she came from 1.43 seconds behind to do it. Madison's 2:19.86 got eighth. Chadwick won the consolation race in 2:16.77 and Harris (2:18.94) took third. FIU's lead porked up to 88.5 points. Two swimming events left. Game over.

"She was behind after 100," Horner said. "She ran that girl (Western's Clair Conlon) down."

Junior Valerie Inghels -- "she had a great week," Horner said -- made sure of it with a third place in the 200 butterfly in 1:58.31, .07 off her school record swim in the prelims. Sophomore Jenny Alfani, who didn't even have a seed time, did 2:05.01 in the morning to make the consolation race and 2:04.93 at night. Freshman Brittney Fant came in behind her at 2:05.77. 

Up on the platform, sophomore Lily Kaufmann won the event with Natalia Coronado sixth. 

"I said someone would have to step up (without Quesnel)," Horner said. "That's what it takes to win by over 100 points when you have a loss like that, a total team effort."

So, time to close with a great team effort. The 400 free relay remained. FIU finished all the previous relays third in the pool, getting a second in the 400 medley relay when winner Rice was disqualified for an early start. (A goof worth 42 points, but FIU came to the meet without the conference's best diver, Quesnel, who's worth about 50 points. Cancels out.)

“We have a lot of pride. We’ve been shut out in the relays," Horner said. "That was a pride relay.”

Scalia's opening leg left FIU in fourth. Zelazna edged FIU into third. Sophomore Jenny Deist pulled away from fourth place FAU along with Rice and Western and sent off anchor Gustafsdottir in third place, 1.04 behind first place Western Kentucky.

Coming into this year, every FIU record relay started with Gustafsdottir leading off. She said teammates could see on her face her determination before the 200 breast. Now, a former swimming burnout victim who revived her career at FIU and held 10 individual conference titles, part of three relay titles and five school records launched into her final team swim as anchor.

And she swam a water version of that final note Nina Simone hits from the soul in the above video.

“I’m a relay person. I live for relays. I’m usually the first person. Being the last just pumped me up even more," she said. "I didn’t even feel any pain through the relay. As I passed the girls…I was crying before I even got on the wall.”

A win by .75 of a second in a school record 3:18.85. Gustafsdottir's anchor leg of 48.48 was .96 of a second faster than second place Rice's Melissa Konicke and over two seconds faster than all the other anchor legs.

That's getting it done. That's how you leave it all out there, tears and all.

Hope they saved something for the party.

 

 

February 21, 2015

FIU Wins Conference USA Swimming & Diving title

FIU 765, Rice 661.5, Western Kentucky 645 and four other teams that never were in contention. Johanna Gustafsdottir was named conference Swimmer of the Year, the second such honor of her career (2012 Sun Belt Conference) and the second consecutive for FIU with Sonia Perez getting it last year.

Be back with a longer recap later.

 

 

Saturday in the Pool

 

 

Half FIU's swimmers DQ. Every swimmer from Rice and Western Kentucky shows up with Kornelia Ender's shoulders, Tracy Caulkins knees and Missy Franklin's feet.

That covers the two ways FIU might not raise the Conference USA team championship trophy tonight.

On the participant numbers, Rice remains the top threat to FIU despite being 104.5 points behind to Western's 73 points down. The Owls, as they did Friday, could take a couple of chunks out of FIU's lead early. They won't be enough chunks, however, or big enough over the course of the day.

(It could get close enough that Rice leaves deeply regretting getting disqualified in Friday night's 400 medley relay, which the Owls won solidly, but got dinged on an early departure. That's a 42-point mistake -- cost Rice 40 for the win, gave 2 points to FIU as the Panthers got second instead of third.) 

Each of the top three teams put two in the 200 backstroke final. Rice has three in the consolation race. FIU and Rice each have three in the 100 freestyle final and Rice has two in the consolation race. FIU has two, Rice has two, Western has one in the 200 breaststroke final. FIU has two in the consolation race as does Western while Rice has one. In the 200 butterfly final, Rice and Western each have three while FIU has only one, but FIU has two in the consolation race.

And, remember, Rice doesn't have divers. The best divers in the platform event all wear FIU or Western colors.

Realistically, it's going to take some sweeps by Rice and some belly flopping by FIU. Neither looks likely.

Because FIU freshman Silvia Scalia had the top prelim time in the 200 back, 1:55.53, and junior Karin Tomeckova's 1:58.90 was fourth. Because the way this meet has gone, freshman Paulina Zelazna (50.37), sophomore Jenny Deist (50.54) or freshman Letizia Bertelli (50.64) will crank off a big swim in the 100 free and limit the cut there.

Because seniors Johanna Gustafsdottir (2:15.84) and Jean Madison (2:17.51), second and eighth in prelims, will be swimming their last individual events in the 200 breast and freshman Chase Harris (2:19.14) and junior Jessica Chadwick (2:20.04) should finish high in the consolation. Because freshmen Valerie Inghels, who broke her own school record in the 200 fly with a 1:58.24 Saturday morning, Brittney Fant (2:03.78) and sophomore Jenny Alfani (2:05.01) won't let Rice get what it needs.

Time for the Panthers to go get theirs on what should be their night.

 

 

 


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