Weirdness abounded Saturday night on Replacement Lime Court at FIU Arena.
The game briefly stopped while a little girl crawled under one of the new cabanas to retrieve a ball knocked under there. For the first time in all the basketball games I've covered courtside (my first was 1987), my computer got smacked by a ball. Poor job by me -- I saw the ball coming, but wanted to finish the thought I was writing -- but good show by the Dell, which never stopped working. The iPad with the in-game stats got knocked two screens silly.
On the court, instead of FIU turned scrambly by a press, UTEP looked overwhelmed when FIU raised its defensive energy in the second half. Instead of FIU looking like eight Shaquille O'Neals at the free throw line, the Panthers dropped in 15 of 19, an excellent 78.9 percent. Meanwhile, three times in the second half, UTEP players missed both free throws and the Miners finished 18 of 32, a near-comedic 56.3 percent.
After the game, FIU senior guard Dennis Mavin said, "It's frustrating because you want to win, but at the same time, it just shows we can play with anybody in this league and we're a tough team like anybody else."
Daviyon Draper, who had 21 points, seconded that with "We can play with anybody in this league, just some of the small things need to be cleaned up. We can definitely see improvement from the beginning of the season to now."
Mavin explained his hopping, well-defended, off-balance three-pointer at the horn off an inbounds play that began with 2.4 seconds left.
"The play wasn't even for me," he said. "I was supposed to come up, all the attention was going to be on me and it was going to be a flare screen for Kris (Gulley). But somehow it messed up. It wasn't the look was supposed to get because I wasn't supposed to get the ball."
Also, Conference USA's leading scorer in conference games left the game in the first half after taking a tumble to the floor. UTEP got a foul on the five-on-four power play as Mavin writhed.
"I just got tripped up and fell on my (left) hand," he said. "My hand's been bothering me for two weeks now."
I'm really sorry I missed the halftime acknowledgement at one of this week's home basketball games of the swimming & diving team's undefeated dual meet season, the first in FIU history. You know, when the team was brought out on the court, drizzled with applause and wished luck at the Conference USA meet. I know Athletics wanted to do this for them because the next really good event crowd probably will be the next men's basketball home games, by which time the water women will be starting the water fight with Rice and Western Kentucky at the conference meet in Knoxville.
Wait, that didn't happen? Oh...
The statheads at ESPN came out with their first FPI power ranking for 2015, based on offense, defense and special teams efficiency, returning starters and (most subjective of all) recruiting rank.
FIU's 87th and fifth in Conference USA behind Marshall, Western Kentucky, Louisiana Tech and Middle Tennessee State.
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.
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.
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.
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.
These things happen sometimes. Somebody takes Job A, leaving Job B open. The person who most recently had Job A needs work and sees an opening at Job B. When it's all done, it looks like a good old fashioned Ken Stabler-for-Dan Pastorini trade.
Paul Chryst left the head coaching job at Pitt to go back to Wisconsin. First reports put Matt House, Pitt's defensive coordinator the last three years, in the U-Haul as Chryst moved back to Madison. But then Chryst decided to keep Badger incumbent Dave Aranda as defensive coordinator. Meanwhile, new Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi hired FIU's defensive coordinator Josh Conklin and linebackers coach Rob Haley.
So, now, House has no home and FIU doesn't have a defensive coordinator. Wonder if that match is being made.
House's defenses ranked 34th and 33rd nationally in 2013 and 2014, although it helped greatly in 2014 that Pitt's pounding carnivore style of offense ranked fifth in time of possession, shrinking possessions per game and holding down total defense numbers.
Just a thought...
Reigning Miss Universe Gabriela Isler visited the FIU volleyball team Tuesday. Though she clearly fit in by height if not athleticism, does anybody see the irony in the symbol of the event costing FIU Athletics around $540,000 visiting one of the athletic department's most underfunded teams?
Michael Vasquez's Sunday Herald article quotes FIU AD Pete Garcia, in an interview at least a week past, as estimating the pageant will bring "close to $400,000" to FIU. A Friday release by FIU Athletics estimated $330,000.
SWIMMING & DIVING
Perusing e-mails from a records request, I saw that FIU Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Jessell contributed $4,000 in November to FIU's water women for "the acquisition of training equipment," according to Jessell's e-mail to several athletic department folks. That'll be matched by Athletics to give $8,000 to the swimmers for new training equipment.
If you were wondering -- I was, I figured you might be too -- Jessell's salary is $329,250, according to Florida Has a Right to Know. Still, that's not that's not chump change he's throwing in the pool.
Freshman quarterback Alex McGough started 11 games for the football team while freshman running back Alex Gardner tied redshirt junior Anthon Samuel for the led the team in rushing. Freshman swimmer Silvia Scalia and freshman diver Rebecca Quensel each have compiled four Conference USA performer of the week awards.
And now redshirt freshman forward Kiandre'a Pound has four Conference USA Freshmen of the Week awards. Pound averaged 19.0 points and 9.5 rebounds in FIU's losses at Western Kentucky and Marshall.
Freshman swimmer Silvia Scalia won the 100 backstroke, 200 back and 200 individual medley in a meet with Texas Christian and Central Connecticut State. Then, at the FIU Relays, she set a Biscayne Bay Aquatic Center record of 54.78 in the 100 back while leading off the 400 medley relay and was part of the victorious 800 freestyle relay team.
Freshman diver Rebecca Quensel's 305.2 score in the 1-meter event and 288.28 in the 3-meter event are the best in Conference USA this year. Quensel also won the 3-meter in the meet earlier in the week.
And that's why Scalia is Conference USA's Swimmer of the Week for the fourth time this season and Quensel is Diver of the Week for the fourth time this season.
Swimming & Diving, vs. Central Connecticut, TCU and FAU, Thursday, noon
Women's Basketball, vs. Middle Tennessee State, Thursday, 6 p.m.
Swimming & Diving, FIU Relays, Saturday, 1 p.m.
Winning the 50 backstroke (26.51 seconds) and the 500 freestyle (5:03.83) at the FIU Sprint Invite along with a second in the 50 butterfly earned freshman Silvia Scalia her third Conference USA Swimmer of the Week Award.
By the way, FIU's last two meets before the Feb. 18-21 Conference USA meet: at FAU, Jan. 30 and at the University of Miami, Jan. 31.
Swimming & Diving, vs. Central Connecticut, TCU and FAU, Thursday, noon
Women's Basketball, vs. Middle Tennessee State, Thursday, 6 p.m.
Swimming & Diving, FIU Relays, Saturday, 1 p.m.
CollegeSwimming.com's mid-major rankings for the entire fall semester puts FIU at No. 10 among the nation's mid-major schools and No. 3 in Conference USA.
FIU finished second in last year's conference meet to Rice, currently at No. 9. Western Kentucky is the top-ranked C-USA school at No. 4.
Whether you want to characterize it as a Martha Stewart housecleaning, a Jimmy Johnson roster turnover or a Soviet-style purge, the football program's shedding players from the previous regime.
Wide receiver Fred Porter and linebacker Luis Rosado have joined the list of the leaving, although Rosado's departure has to do with time.
Porter walked on for two seasons before being put on scholarship during his redshirt sophomore season of 2013 as he caught eight passes for 92 yards in FIU's pop gun offense. Porter caught nine for 91 last year among a wide receiving corps that left head coach Ron Turner dissatisfied. Off the field, Porter achieved academically. The reaction I heard to his going on scholarship last year could be summed up as: oh, good, he's a really good kid.
According to Fred Porter, Sr., his son had been accepted into FIU graduate school, but got a phone call just before receiving his undergraduate degree in December that his scholarship wouldn't be renewed for a fifth year. He's also been informed this year's scholarship doesn't continue for the rest of this academic year, thus putting off the start of graduate school
Rosado's FIU official bio says he redshirted in 2012, thus making 2014 his redshirt junior year. I heard that's what he expected also. But he actually played as a reserve in the 2012 season opener against Duke, thus eliminating the redshirt and making 2014 his senior season. He had knee issues in 2012, although that's not the reason he didn't play more.
It's remarkable there weren't more eligibility misunderstandings from that year. After the Mario Cristobal firing, the stop work order given to the coaching staff and operations and the stream of football operations directors the first few Ron Turner months, there were necessary clerical things that didn't get handled for a while. In a strictly football sense, I can't see FIU jumping through many NCAA hoops to attempt to get Rosado another year with their current linebacking corps and who they've got coming in this recruiting class.
So as of right now, those who won't be back as seniors or fifth-year seniors are: Porter, quarterback EJ Hilliard, wide receiver Dominique Rhymes, wide receiver De'Andre Jasper, wide receiver Richard Burrows and running back Lamarq Caldwell.
You could take a cynical view and note that each of those players disappointed the coaching staff on the field. Off the field, none were knuckleheads or program problems. Quite the opposite in a few cases.
Then again, as head coach Ron Turner said in the season wrapup Q&A posted here last month, there's no assurances fifth-year seniors return to the program -- they have to want to return and the program has to want them to return.
Swimming & Diving, vs. North Florida, Wednesday, 11 a.m.
Before we get to my postseason chat with football coach Ron Turner, cleaning up a couple of things:
Upon The Herald sports gods realizing the writers schedule as written left the No. 15 men's basketball team in the country uncovered last Saturday, I got switched from FIU women's basketball Saturday night home game against Central Florida.
Maybe that helped. While the men's team in Coral Gables fell to Wisconsin-Green Bay and the David J. Coverage Voodoo that's wrecked the Panthers, the Dolphins and FIU, the women's team picked up its first win of the season by upsetting UCF 66-57. The most important statistic in the game wasn't FIU's three players in double figures, led by Taylor Shade's 18, or Kiandre'a Pound's double double (15 and 11), but UCF's 31.9 percent shooting from the floor and 13 turnovers. Previously, the Panthers' defense should've been sponsored by Sun Pass because it doesn't slow anybody down either.
Also, big ups to senior forward Quentin Albrecht for his First Team All-Region selection.
Now, to the other football.
A week and a half after FIU finished its 4-8 season, I sat down with Ron Turner for something of a postmortem. Though it's no "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," "Fingertips" or "Keep On Truckin'," I decided to go multipart with this one.
You said a few weeks ago, even if you don’t make a bowl game, the season is a positive, you’re moving forward. After a while to ponder, do you still feel the same?
I think there’s a lot of positives, a whole lot of positives. I think we did make progress. We didn’t win as many as we wanted, as many as our goal was. We did make tremendous progress. Not only in what we did on the field, off the field. Establishing the attitude, the culture, the togetherness, the bonding in the locker room that we want. It’s not where we want it, but it’s very, very close. It’s 100 times better than the year before.
We won four games and we lost four by three or less. There’s no consolation there because we’re in here to win those games. But the next step is we’ve got to learn how to win them. I’ve been in this before. I’ve been in turnaround programs and it doesn’t happen overnight, unless you take over a team that’s got no off the field issues and is a really good team. It was a total rebuilding. We took the steps the first year. Didn’t show up on the field. But as far as establishing our identity, establishing who we are, what’s expected of them, I thought we made great strides this year. The next step is to learn how to win these games. It reminds me a lot – and I’ve told some of the players this – when I was at Illinois. We went 0-11 my first year. We went 3-8, the next year, we had some close games. And then we we went 8-4 the next year, including a bowl win down here. Just because it happened there doesn’t mean it’s going to happen here. But I’m excited about where we’re going. I’m excited about the future. We’ve got a ton of guys back. We lose some seniors who were some good players, but not very many of them. We’ve got guys behind them who can step in and be every bit as good of players. They just need experience.
I’m excited. I’ve been meeting individually with every one of our players. I’m probably three-fourths of the way through the roster right now. There is a ton of confidence right now, a ton of energy and enthusiasm because they know what we have coming back.
Look at the production we have coming back, and I went over this with the team as a positive. Look at our returning production on defense – 77 percent of our solo tackles are coming back, 80 percent of our assisted tackles, so, overall, 78 percent of our tackles. Tackles for loss, 85 percent coming back. 85 percent of the guys who made tackles for losses. 79 percent of our sacks. 82 percent of our quarterback hurries. 86 percent of our interceptions. I’m rounding off here a bit. 86 percent of our interception return yardage. Pass breakups 79 percent. Whatever category I’m talking about defensively, a high high percentage of it is coming back.
Offensively, you look at the rushing yards – 99.7 percent of our rushing yards are coming back. 100 percent of our rushing touchdowns. 99.6 percent of our total carries. 86 percent of our passing, 93 percent of our passing touchdowns. Same with receiving – 85 percent of our receptions, 74 percent of our receiving yards all the way across the board, we’ve got a lot of guys coming back. Special teams, all of it’s coming back. 100 percent of our kicking, not that that was very good, and punting, 100 percent of that’s coming back -- not that that was very good, we’ve got to get better there. Almost all of our return stuff. We know who that was and he’s coming back.”
You’re sure Richard Leonard’s coming back?
Nothing’s 100 percent. I’m confident he’s going to come back. We’re doing a lot of research. I’ve talked to him and I’ve talked to his parents. I told them, "Richard, I honestly want what’s best for you. If you’re going to go in the first or second round, the third round, go. No question about it. If you’re not, you’ve got to make a decision."
I’ve talked to quite a few GMs, I’ve talked to a lot of personnel people. I told them I would do that. They have a thing you can do with the advisory committee, I’ve done the paperwork for that. So they’ll give us a projection of where he’s going to go. If you’re going to go in the first second, maybe the third round, go. If not, the consensus is to stay in. I’ve talked to several GMs, several personnel people, they’re watching film. Some have gotten back to me, several more will get back to me, based on what they see on film. Besides the advisory committee, these are guys I know, I trust and they will give me an honest evaluation. It depends what it is. But I think he’s coming back. If not, then we’ve still got a lot of production coming back.
Offensively, a freshman quarterback, two freshmen running backs, a guy who hadn’t played in a couple of years at running back, not always a recipe for success or improvement. Even with all those things hampering you, how much more had you expected to see out of your offense this year (last in Conference USA again)?
I expected to see more, especially in the passing game. There are reasons why – we’ve got a true freshman quarterback. But I think he’s a very good true freshman quarterback.
Receiver-wise, I was a little disappointed we didn’t have anyone step up and do what I wanted to do. We were shuffling a lot of guys in there. I didn’t like doing that, but no one really stepped up, took it and made it clear, ‘I’m your guy.’” One guy, the next week, somebody else is in there. That’s very hard on the quarterback to establish continuity. Ideal situation, "here’s our top five receivers, here’s who we’re going with. One guy gets hurt, you put somebody else in there." We didn’t have that. I think that hurt.
Offensive line-wise, we got better as the season went on, especially the running game. The second half of the year, we ran the ball pretty well. We just couldn’t complement it with the passing game. Part of it was protection. Part of it was the receivers. The whole thing never really clicked. The passing game part of it, we’re not even close to where I envision this offense being. I’m not calling many games like I want to call them. There’s things I might have in mind to do that I can’t do. I probably said the same thing last year. This year, wasn’t to that same degree for other reasons. Still, there were some things I wanted to do I saw was there, we just weren’t able to capitalize on them. I think we’ve got things in place. We’ve just got to execute at a higher level.
With Christian Alexander enrolling early, is Alex going to enter as the No. 1 guy or will you say “everything’s open again?”
Both. First snap we get of spring ball, Alex is our starter. If someone’s going to win the job, they’re going to have to beat him out. I’ve got a lot of confidence in Alex. I think he can be a very, very good player, especially when we get help around him. He’s got everything you look for. He’s got some things he’s got to work on. When he gets more confident in the guys around him and what we’re doing, those things he needs to work on will improve. So he’s going in as the starter, but I told him when I met with him and I told the other two quarterbacks we have on the roster (freshmen Bud Martin and Luke Medlock) and I’ll tell Christian the same thing when he comes in in January: I want them to come in with the mindset that they’re competing for and going to win the job. And if they do, the job will be theirs. I told Alex the same thing. He’s got to go out there ready to compete.
I tell these guys all the time, that’s how it is in life. Just because you do something one year, somebody else comes in and does a better job, they’ll take your job. So, you’ve got to maintain your edge and compete. Christian will come in, he’ll be right in the mix. He’s a guy we’re excited about. He’s a high school senior right now, so you don’t know how he’s going to respond.
Where do you expect to find the wide receiver or the wide receivers that’ll make a difference on this offense?
I think Dennis Turner’s going to be a really good player. He shouldn’t have played this year. He’s a true freshman, weighed 160 pounds on a good day. Late in the year, he started to come on. The last two weeks of the season, maybe three, he looked like the guy we thought he was as far as playing with confidence and running fast. I’m talking about in practice. It didn’t always show up in games because he didn’t have opportunities. But I think he has a chance to really good. I think Thomas Owens has a chance to be good. He’s big, physical, strong receiver with great hands. He’s got to work on his speed. Work on techniques in getting off press coverage. But he’s big and strong and got an unbelievable knack for timing it to go up and catch the ball over people. Even though he’s never going to be a speed guy, he’s got a chance to be a good player. He and Dennis will compliment each other well.
Clinton Taylor’s got a chance to be a good player, in the slot, especially. He came on late in the year. We probably should’ve used him more than we did. But we were so comfortable using (sophomore tight end) Jonnu (Smith) in that slot and using him. But I can see Clinton coming on and definitely being a factor. De'Andre Jasper has some good ability. I think he can help us. Juwan Caesar who redshirted this year, a transfer from Michigan State, 6-5, 218 pounds. I saw him today about a half hour ago, I said “Don’t get too big. Unless you want to go to tight end.” And Akil Dan-Fodio can be a guy who was a tight end, but more of a slot tight end. Can pick up some slack in that part of the game as well.
I’m leaving some guys out, who I think can step in and, hopefully, take the next step. Plus the guys we’ve got committed, we’ve got recruited. I think those guys will have the ability to contribute right away.
What do you need more, possession guy or stretch guy?
Stretch guy. Need both, but we need a speed guy, we need a big play guy. I’m hoping Dennis will give a bunch of that, I’m hoping Juwan will give us some of that. In recruiting, we’ve got to bring in at least one guy who can do that. We’ve got a couple of guys who can do that who are more the slot or possession type guys, but they’re very, very good. We’ve got our eyes on a couple of speed guys who I think we’re going to get.
The individual player I’m asked about most often is Jasper, who came out of high school as a speed guy, scored on a reverse as a freshman and ran back kickoffs well. What does he have to do to get on the field more?
He’s got ability, no question. I’m hoping he can take that next step. I think it’s just a matter of adjusting to Division I football and competing at a higher level. He’s got ability. We’ve got to make sure we do a good job and probably do a better job of putting him in positions, utilizing him and giving him some more opportunities to compete and show what he can do. We’re going to make a concerted effort to do that more this spring with he and Clinton.
Sunday, women's basketball, vs. Cleveland State, 2 p.m.
Friday, women's basketball, FIU Thanksgiving Classic vs. Arizona 6 p.m.
When you're a mid-major program who gets a transfer from an SEC school who was a national junior champion in the 200 butterfly, how long would you guess before your 200 fly school record falls like Marvis Frazier?
Anybody guessing "the first major meet," give yourself a Pop Tart. Junior Valerie Inghels, a transfer from Auburn, took FIU's 200 butterfly record from Marina Ribi on the last day of the Mizzou Invite while senior Johanna Gustafsdottir added to her collection of school records in the 200 breaststroke.
Inghels. from France, cranked a 1:59.44 in the Saturday morning prelims, the first sub-2:00.00 200 fly in FIU history, then came back with 1:59.37 in the final. That brought her in 1.01 seconds behind the host school's Sharli Brady. FIU also got a second out of freshman Silvia Scalia, who finished second in the 100 backstroke for the meet and in FIU history in 1:55.55. Junior Karin Tomeckova came in fourth, clocking 1:57.73.
The 200 back record holder at 1:54.40 and, before Scalia's leadoff 400 medley leg Thursday, the 100 back record holder snagged the 200 breast record Saturday. Gustafsdottir's 2:14.20 lowered her previous best by six seconds for the day, got her sixth place in the event and toppled the oldest timed event record at FIU, Sara Giovannoni's 2:14.38 from the 2007 NCAA meet.
FIU's A team -- Gustafsdottir, sophomore Jenny Deist, Paulina Zelazna and Tomeckova -- got fourth place points in the 400 free relay in 3:23.64, the only event time that's behind the best of what FIU posted last year at the Mizzou Invite. Then again, last year's 400 relay had Gustafsdottir and Sonia Perez, probably the two best swimmers in the program's young lifetime, Jenny Alfani and school record speedster Klara Anderssson.
On the platform, freshman Rebecca Quensel and sophomore Lily Kaufmann finished second and fourth, respectively.
To recap the three days: it's clear FIU's going to be much tougher at the Conference USA meet, where they finished second to Rice last year, because they've got the kind of depth that eventually triumphs at big meets. Scalia and Inghels give FIU two more consistent point scorers as well as swimmers for the relays. If FIU gets similar points from diving, the conference meet could come down to the relays.
Sunday, Women's Basketball, vs. Cleveland State at 2 p.m.
How do you judge whether or not you win?
It seems simple in sports. That's part of the appeal to the masses. Life's complex. When you crush your spouse in a debate over where to spend Thanksgiving, are either of you better for it? Is your relationship? Could you wind up down by coming out on top? Push your child, don't push, gently steer? Who's right in the Middle East and why?
Sports provides the simplicity, right? You score more points than your opponent, you win. You don't, you lose. You get to the finish line ahead of your competition, you win. You don't, you lose. And winners can claim rightness rides with them. That's why championship coaches functionally separated from their wives and estranged from their bailed-out kids get to sell books telling you how to win at life. They won. They must know what they're doing.
Friday night, FIU did nothing to special to promote the home men's basketball game against Florida Memorial. For last Friday's season opening duel gender doubleheader, the athletic department all but drove students to the game, carried them to their seats and burped them after halftime. This week, nothing. Plus, rain. Plus again, traffic in the Doral-Sweetwater-Kendall area snarled in such knots, some of the game staff worried they wouldn't make tipoff. So did the writer coming from The Miami Herald building in Doral. (Seriously, the clogging made apparent that anybody thinking an MLS team should play anywhere west of the Palmetto Expressway with the already inadequate roads and lack of good public transportation isn't just wrong, they've slotted thsmelves solidly between "idiot" and "moron.")
So, what happened? A packed student section, well-filled in grown folks side, even two of the cabanas in use. Great crowd even sans grading on the curve of the given conditions. Did FIU win by having a full house for the seating provided? Or did they lose in comparison to what they could've gotten if they'd tried to pump a little rah-ran into this game, could they have gotten even more?
On the court, the score said the men's basketball team clobbered Florida Memorial 74-48 to go to 3-0. Winning, right? Not to FIU coach Anthony Evans, who displayed his deadpan wit after the game when I asked him if there was anything he thought his team did well tonight.
“I’ll have to watch the film," he replied after holding silence for a second. I laughed. Understand that Evans usually reels off fairly detailed, analytical answers in postgame media sessions. He's not filled with one-liners, but he's the coach for hoop junkies. Have to watch the film? Clearly, on this night, he didn't want to be unkind to his team.
"I just think as a team, we have to take advantage of every opportunity when we step on the floor to get better," he said. "I didn’t think we got much better tonight. I thought we reverted back to some old habits. And those are things we have to break.”
So did they win by going to 3-0 or did they lose by not rising above the basketball slop more of the night?
"I think it's important for us (starting 3-0) because we haven't had a lot of time together on the court because of injuries," Evans said. "Getting off to a 3-0 start gives us confidence. It shows us some of the things we can do as a basketball team when we're playing together. When we do that, we're solid. When we don't do that, you can see some of the defienceies we have. As long as, when we step on the floor, whether it's practice, shootaround or a game, looking to get better every day...that's the most important part for us."
That's the almost the whole deal in swimming. Get better compared to you. To compare to others can get be soul-crushingly overwhelming. One of my best friends, husband of a swim coach and father of three daughters who swam until they left for college (then one walked on for four years at a Big Ten school), said with a smile I could hear, "There's always somebody better..."
Unlike last year, FIU hasn't finished first in one Mizzou Invite event yet. Friday night, senior Johanna Gustafsdottir came closest, finishing second in the 400 individual medley in 4:14.86. She wasn't No. 1. She came in second by 3.33 seconds. Still, she lopped 3.02 seconds off her prelim time and that time beat her previous personal best by 7.18 seconds. Sounds like a win to me. Also sounds like a win for 400IM school record holder Sonia Perez, whose 4:09.59 at last year's Mizzou Invite remains the school record by a fat 5.27 seconds.
FIU also finished second in the 800 freestyle relay with Gustafsdottir, freshman Brittany Fant, freshman Skye Carey and junior Karin Tomeckova coming home in 7:20.85. That's 35 hundreths of a second ahead of last year's 800 free relay time at the Mizzou Invite with a more experienced team (Perez and Gustafsdottir were the first two legs). The 7:27.50 this year B team (freshmen Silvia Scalia and Paula Zelazna, juniors Becky Wilde and Jessica Chadwick) swam is 7.71 seconds faster than last year's B team did it.
The 200 medley relay (freshman Silvia Scalia, senior Klara Andersson, sophomore Jennys Alfani and Deist) came home fourth, but with a new FIU record of 1:41.78. That beat the 1:42.16 mark set by Gustafsdottir, Andersson, Valerii Popova and Kelly Grace at the 2013 Sun Belt Conference meet. And Tomeckova, Chadwick, Zelazna and Mayhew's 1:42.90 is the fourth fastest in FIU history.
Scalia's backstroke led off that relay just as her school record 100 backstroke led off Thursday's 400 medley relay. Friday, in the 100 back itself, she was third in 53.38 seconds just a blink off the 53.30 that started Thursday's relay. Also under Gustafsdottir's former school record was fourth place Tomeckova in 53.75. Alfani got sixth place points for FIU in 55.67.
Fant's 1:49.65 brought her home fourth in the 200 free. Jessica Chadwick got in with a 1:03.39, getting FIU sixth place points in the 100 breast.
Friday, Men's Basketball, vs. Florida Memorial, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, Women's Basketball, vs. Cleveland State, 2 p.m.
There's a new 100 backstroke sheriff at FIU -- no, her name's not Regina Hammond -- and the old sheriff's still kind of good.
Freshman Silvia Scalia smoked Johanna Gustafsdottir's 100 back school record, lowering 53.94 to 53.3 Thursday night in leading off FIU's 400 medley relay, then swam a 53.61 in Friday morning's prelims at the Mizzou Invite. Also qualifying for the 100 back final and beating Gustafsdottir's former record was junior Karin Tomeckova in 53.72. Sophomore Jenny Alfani's 55.73 was the eighth fastest finals qualifying time.
Gustafsdottir swam the second fastest prelim time in the 400 individual medley, 4:17.82. which is also the second best in FIU history to Sonia Perez's 4:09.59 at this meet last year.
Finishing eighth in their prelims were freshman Brittany Fant in the 200 freestyle (1:50.94) and junior Jessica Chadwick in the 100 breaststroke (1:03.72).
Tonight's finals will include those events, the 200 medley relay and the 800 free relay.
Friday, Men's Basketball, vs. Florida Memorial, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, Women's Basketball, vs. Cleveland State, 2 p.m.
No wins for FIU's water women, but plenty of beating the clock on the first night of the Mizzou Invite.
FIU's best placing of the night came in the 200 Individual Medley, where defending meet champion and senior Johanna Gustafsdottir came home third in 1:59.67. Junior Karin Tomeckova's 2:00.91 puts her third in FIU history (counting each swimmer's best time) behind Sonia Perez's 1:58.65 at last year's Mizzou Invite and Gustafsdottir's 1:57.94 at the Conference USA championships. Freshman Silvia Scalia came in seventh, 2:03.80.
In the relays, the 200 freestyle relay B team of Scalia, Tomeckova, freshman Ally Mayhew and Gustafsdottir not only beat FIU's A team of sophomore Jenny Alfani, senior Klara Andersson, freshman Paulina Zelazna and sophomore Jenny Deist, but did so in 1:33.46, the second best time in FIU history. That time pushes last year's Mizzou Invite 200 free relay (Gustafsdottir, Alfani, Courtney VanderSchaaf, Andersson in 1:33.58) down to third. Gustafsdottir, Alfani, Deist and Andersson set the school record, 1:32.09, in February's Conference USA meet.
The 400 medley relay finished fourth in 3:43.10, second best on the all-time FIU charts and 3.18 seconds faster than last year's Mizzou Invite best time. The record, 3:40.87, is held by Gustafsdottir, Jessica Chadwick, Marina Ribi and Andersson in the 2013 Sun Belt Championships.
UPDATE: According to FIU, Scalia's leadoff 100 backstroke smashed Gustafsdottir's school record 53.94 (relay leadoff legs can count for records) with a 53.3. This would be a bit significant. Since the 2012 Sun Belt Conference meet, Gustafsdottir's owned the 100 back, 200 back and 200 IM in the FIU record books.
Alfani's 23.47, just six hundredths off her best time, was good for eighth in the 50 free. That's also where junior Valeri Inghels finished in the 100 butterfly with her 55.60. Her 55.12 in the prelims is the second fastest in school history behind butterfly queen Ribi's 54.78.
Friday, Men's Basketball, vs. Florida Memorial, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, Women's Basketball, vs. Cleveland State, 2 p.m.
It's only November. Conference swim meets remain on the far side of holidays, Valentine's Day and NHL and NBA dog days. Still, strong performances at the Mizzou Invite, which began this morning and continues through Saturday, have presaged strong seasons for the FIU swim team the last couple of years.
FIU's best showing in this morning's prelims came in, predictably, the 200 Individual Medley. FIU brought the defending champion, senior Johanna Gustafsdottir. Not so predictably, FIU junior Karin Tomeckova edged Gustafsdottir in the prelims, 2:01.23 to 2:01.45, the third and fourth fastest times. Freshman Silvia Scalia's 2:02.30 got her in with the seventh swiftest.
Sophomore Jenny Alfani's 23.31, fifth fastest, got her into the 50 freestyle final. Junior Valerie Inghels made the 100 butterfly final in 55.12. Freshman Brittany Fant's 4:55.39 in the 500 free was good enough for the ninth best time, just outside the final.