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.

 

 

 

February 20, 2015

Night Moves

Rice loaded up the truck for its Moving Day at the Conference USA Swimming & Diving Championships Friday night. And by the time the Owls jammed the truck in gear, FIU hijacked it, unloaded it and drove it back to their house, GoodFellas-style.

And unless FIU's water women commit one of the seven deadly sins in each of Saturday's seven remaining events, they're 24 hours from winning the school's first conference title in swimming. It'll also be FIU's first Conference USA title in any sport and first Sun Belt or Conference USA title since women's golf in 2013.

But the golf team accomplished their championship without dismantling a highly-ranked, credentialed opponent. CollegeSwimming.com ranked two-time defending conference champion Rice No. 5 among the nation's mid-majors and FIU No. 22.

I asked senior Johanna Gustafsdottir what she'd say to the team as one of the senior leaders.

"Keep your head in it. We haven't won it. We all need to have a strong day tomorrow. Let's just keep having our fun and we'll do it," she replied. That said, being so close to what they've worked all year for, what the seniors watched the program build toward for four years, "I was almost halfway crying in my goggles as I warmed down."

FIU entered Friday morning's prelims 21 points to the good over Western Kentucky and 53 points up on Rice. They walked out of the Allan Jones Aquatic Center Friday night with a 73-point lead on Western and 104.5 on Rice.

Moving Day all right. FIU moved way out in front.

The wins came in the expected places from the expected people. Got an individual medley event? Got Gustafsdottir? Got 20 points for the win. Gustafsdottir took the 400 IM in 4:11.83, her personal best by over three seconds and .29 of a second under Sonia Perez's conference record set in winning last year's event for FIU. Now, Gustafsdottir owns both Conference USA IM records and nine Sun Belt or Conference USA individual titles.

She said she thought her 200 IM swim was the better of the two.

"I like the 200 better. I've been training more for the 200 this year," she said. "The 400 is definitely a good event for me. I think I can get a lot better at it. Too bad it's my last year. I died a little at the end tonight, but I brought it in and was happy to see the time."

Gustafsdottir's successor as the team's best all-around swimmer, freshman Silvia Scalia, first grabbed notice when she knocked off Gustafsdottir's long-held 100 backstroke record. That's the event she dominated Friday, resetting the record in the prelims (52.97) and the final (52.58), leading a one-three-five 50-point roll completed by Karin Tomeckova's 53.54 and Jenny Alfani's 54.39. 

But just like LeBron/Jordan/Gretzky/Brady/Messi alone guarantees zip when it comes to team titles, you can't just pile up individual gold to trade in for team gold. Here's how FIU motorboated away from the field Friday:

*By getting 48 points in the 200 freestyle without making the podium. Fourth place Skye Carey (1:48.18) was followed by Brittney Fant (1:48.72) in sixth. Paulina Zelazna (1:49.00) and Kyra Pereira (1:49.39) topped the consolation race.

"Those times were exceptional for those girls," FIU coach Randy Horner said. "And those are four freshmen, which is pretty exciting."

*By getting outscored only 42-35 by Rice in the 100 butterfly instead of 71-40 like last year. Valerie Inghels and Letizia Bertelli both hit in 54.13, splitting the fifth and sixth points. Horner took note to mention sophomore Jenny Deist's consolation race-winning 54.06 lopped 1.48 off her personal best while getting FIU nine points.

*By getting 48 points in the 100 breaststroke instead of 31 as they did last year. Seniors Klara Andersson (1:03.12) and Jean Madison (1:04.29) finished sixth and seventh. But fourth place Jessica Chadwick earned a near-gush from Horner after lowering her own school record by .04 to 1:02.80.

Chadwick missed all of last season after a severe reaction to jellyfish stings. This season, "She's had setbacks and complications," Horner said. "She's been out of the water, kicking only, for a month with a perforated eardrum. To come back from all that, she's got a lot of heart."

Chadwick swam the breaststroke leg of the 400 medley relay as FIU lined up its record holders -- Scalia (100 back), Chadwick, Inghels (100 fly), Gustafsdottir (100 free) -- to shoot for their first relay title since the 2013 Sun Belt meet. They came in second to Western by .86 while their 3:38.04 undercut the 3:40.87 by the 2013 Sun Belt championship team of Gustafsdottir, Chadwick, Marina Ribi and Andersson.

Meanwhile, Rice got disqualified. Horner said the breaststroker (Rachel Moody) left less than a blink too early and the electronic start pad picked it up.

"We hate to see that," he said, noting FIU played it safe on their exchanges.

The 1-meter diving turned into, essentially, 24 bonus points for FIU. Sophomore Lily Kaufmann took second, freshman Natalia Coronado got 10th, Rice had no divers and Western's lone diver didn't score.

Asked what he'd tell the young women Friday night, Horner said, "They've set themselves up to do something special. All they've got to do is do what they've been doing -- stay loose, have fun, go out and race. Based on my gut feeling and how they are, I think they'll do that." 

  

 

Maintaining The Gap; Softball So Hard

 

FIU owned Thursday at the Conference USA Swimming & Diving Championships. All indications pointed to Friday being when two-time defending C-USA champion Rice kicked in its Torqueedos while FIU tried to diminish, maybe even eliminate, the loss of its lead.

That's kind of how Friday morning's preliminaries played out. Still, the numbers indicate FIU still should find itself in the lead come Saturday morning.

Rice will make a push in the 400 individual medley, though FIU's Johanna Gustafsdottir's 4:18.59 topped the prelim times; the 100 butterfly, where Valerie Inghels took down Marina Ribi's FIU record 54.78 with a 53.88; and the 100 breaststroke. FIU will slow the charge in the 200 freestyle, as freshmen Skye Carey (1:48.27) and Brittney Fant (1:49.10) made the final and freshmen Kyna Pereira (1:49.14) and Paulina Zelazna (1:50.85) could finish high in the consolation race.

And the Panthers could make a late move of their own in the 100 backstroke. Silvia Scalia broke her own FIU record of 53.30 with a 52.97 that led FIU going 1-3-5 in the prelims. Sophomore Jenny Alfani (53.96) and junior Karin Tomeckova (54.13) put the Panthers into position to dominate this event the way they did the 200 IM and the 50 free Thursday.

Tonight's the 400 medley relay. FIU's seeded third behind Western Kentucky and Rice and came home fourth in this event last year. That won't happen again.

SOFTBALL

Sophomore center fielder Gabriella Spallone went one for 3 Friday against Villanova at the EMU Madeira Beach Tournament. Spallone's lone hit produced the only RBI of the afternoon for FIU. Sometimes, you only need one bullet.

Especially if it's a grand slam. FIU pitcher Brianna Bartuccio made Spallone's homer stand up for a 4-0 win by holding Villanova to four hits. Bartuccio struck out one and walked four.

 

 

 

February 19, 2015

Throw It Down Thursday

Remember the first Clubber Lang-Rocky Balboa fight in Rocky III, when Rocky comes out and rips about six shots off Clubber's noggin, then gets the Philly beaten out of him by Clubber? If you don't, well, that's what happened.

FIU went all Clubber Lang on the Conference USA Swimming & Diving Championships Thursday night.

One-two-three in the 200 individual medley. One-three-four in the 50 freestyle. And FIU went from 55 points down to exiting the night 21 points up on Western Kentucky and 52.5 points up on Rice. 

"It put us into position to battle for the next two days," FIU coach Randy Horner said. "Our girls see themselves at the top of the scoreboard, which they've never seen (at a conference meet)."

Western Kentucky did its damage in the 500 free, taking first, third, sixth, seventh and 15th while FIU answered with Kyla Pereira's fourth in 4:48.49, second best in FIU history behind Sonia Perez, and Courtney Vander Schaaf's 4:55.52, only .07 off her prelim time and bettering her personal best by over two seconds. The Hill People came out with 137 points, 29 up on Rice and 55 up on FIU.

Then, FIU inflicted the pain.

Senior Johanna Gustafsdottir did what she's done twice before: won the 200 IM with a school record, this one 1:57.33, knocking .61 off her school and Conference USA meet record. Behind her were freshman Silvia Scalia in 1:59.58 and junior Karin Tomeckova in 1:59.90 in second and third. Jessica Chadwick (2:03.97) and Becky Wilde (2:04.01) got nine points by coming in 13th and 14th, respectively. Hey, those loose change points pay off when it's time to count your bank after everything's done Saturday night.

"That 200 IM time is almost certain to get her invited to the NCAA Championships," Horner said. "That kind of takes the pressure off her going into the rest of the meet."

Then, Letizia Bertelli, who laid down a 22.90 in the prelims, FIU's first sub-23.00 50 free, led the rout in that event. Her 22.94 edged FAU's Agi Bucz by the slimmest margin, one hundredth of a second. Not one tenth, one hundredth. Not a blink, the time it takes to think about blinking. Jenny Deist came in third in 23.03. Jenny Alfani and Marshall's Danica Ross dead-heated for fourth in 23.04. As they did in the morning, all three came in under what had been the school record at the start of the day, Klara Andersson's 23.24 from the 2013 Sun Belt Conference meet.

"The 50 free is a crapshoot," Horner said. "Everybody's so close in time. You can come out great or you can come out badly. This was as good as could be expected."

Freshman Paulina Zelazna chipped in 4.5 points by taking 12th in a dead heat with Rice's Cora McKenzie.

And, lo! FIU took the lead in the team points.

Lily Kaufmann's third and Natalia Coronado's ninth gave FIU a 25-3 advantage over Western in the 3-meter diving event.

After diving boosted FIU's lead, the third relay of the competition, the 200 free relay, brought the Panthers' third third place behind Western and Rice. But Alfani, Bertelli, Tomeckova and Deist came home in 1:31.72, bettering the 1:32.09 by Gustafsdottir, Alfani, Deist and Andersson at last year's Conference USA meet. Western outtouched Rice by two hundredths of a second for the win.

Horner sounded a tad disappointed again, but pointed out both Rice and Western threw their best swimmers in this relay. For example, Rice opened with senior Casey Clark, who swam the leg in Wednesday's 800 free relay that pulled the Owls back into contention.

Friday, expect Rice to make a move in the 100 butterfly while FIU should pile up points on Rice and Western in the 1-meter diving (the loss of Rebecca Quesnel is a shame. She could've won at least one of the three diving events blindfolded). Expect the depth of the three contending schools to come into play in the 100 back and the 200 free. FIU's seeded third in the 400 medley relay.

Welcome to Fun Friday.

 

 

Moss' Stone Rolls Uphill; Getting Hot In the Cold

Before we get to this morning's prelims from the heated cement pond in Knoxville, let's get to Ron Turner moving chips around on the football coaching staff as announced earlier today.

(See the later blog post for the day's major football coaching staff hire.)

Former FIU player Greg Moss moves from defensive quality control to coaching the cornerbacks. Kort Shankweiler, who handled the tight ends, moves to quarterbacks and wide receivers, continuing the second generation tradition at the job held by Cam Turner. Jason Brooks moves from defensive backs coach to tight ends.

All this leaves two assistant jobs open. For now.

SWIMMING & DIVING

This morning in Knoxville, thermometers stopped at 1 degree. Fahrenheit, not Celsius. As local ponds froze for the first time since maybe glacier days, things got hot at the Conference USA Swimming & Diving Championships Thursday morning prelims, where FIU let Western Kentucky and Rice know things just got real.

Freshman Letizia Bertelli broke Klara Andersson's school record in the 50 freestyle with a 22.90 that led a 1-2-5 Panther romp into tonight's final. The sophomore Jennys, Alfani and Deist, also got under Andersson's 23.24 mark by swimming 23.00 and 23.14 respectively. 

FIU also put three in the final for the 200 IM. Senior Johanna Gustafsdottir won this event as a freshman in the Sun Belt and a junior in Conference USA. No Scooby Snacks for guessing who had the best prelim time, 1:58.49, by almost two seconds. Freshman Silvia Scalia's 2:00.38, third fastest, beat her previous best by almost two seconds and junior Karin Tomeckova's 2:02.11 was seventh.

Western will dominate tonight's first final, the 500 free, with four of the eight finalists. FIU's lone finalist will be freshman Kyna Pereira, who swam 4:49.84. 

The 3-meter diving prelims finished with FIU sophomore Lily Kaufmann in second, Abbey Spaulding in 10th and Natalia and Laura Coronado in 13th and 14th. The diving events should be a pile of good Community Chest cards for FIU as the Panthers have a clearly superior group to Western and Rice dives like NFL television revenues (they don't).

Tonight closes with the 200 free relay. FIU's seeded third. Don't be surprised if they end the night better than that -- in the relay and the team points.

 

February 18, 2015

Baseball Trip & C-USA Swim Meet, Day 1s

While FIU Baseball couldn't get three up, three down enough in a 12-2 loss to Stetson, the swimmers sort of went one up, one down, one out on Day 1 of the Conference USA meet.

FIU sits third, appropriate as that's where the Panthers finished in each of the two relays. FIU's 64 points puts it 10 points behind Rice and Western Kentucky. Rice won the 200 medley relay in 1:38.11. Western won the 800 freestyle relay in 7:12.21, .09 ahead of Rice.

The Panthers' 1:39.28 in the 200 medley relay smashed the school record of 1:41.78 set at November's Mizzou Invite. Same cast as November -- freshman Silvia Scalia on backstroke, senior Klara Andersson on breaststroke, sophomore Jenny Deist anchoring on freestyle -- save freshman Letizia Bertelli instead of sophomore Jenny Alfani on the butterfly leg.

"It was very fast, we got out strong," FIU coach Randy Horner said. "We did pretty well. We couldn't be disappointed with that swim. Our opponents were very good."

The 800 free relay finished in 7:13.17, less than a second from Western and Rice as well as second fastest for FIU behind 7:12.70 at the 2013 Sun Belt Championships. But that's the race that put the disappointment in Horner's voice.

"I really thought we could win the 800 relay," he said. "We got behind and, in that relay, you get behind and you start to try to catch up in a 200 right away..."

After senior Johanna Gustafsdottir's leadoff leg in 1:46.96, FIU was third behind FAU by .74 hundredths and Western by .64 hundredths. Junior Karin Tomeckova left the pool in 1:49.23 with FIU behind now-leading Western by 2.51 seconds and FAU by 1.46 seconds. Freshman Skye Carey (1:49.54) lost only .09 more to Western, and made up 1.18 seconds on FAU. But Rice senior ace Casey Clark water walked down almost everybody with the race's fastest leg, 1:45.91. Scalia's 1:47.44 anchor leg pushed FIU past FAU and into third.

"We weren't flat," Horner said. "We paid the price for some inexperience and made some strategic mistakes because we were too amped up."

Thursday brings the 500 free, 200 individual medley, 50 free and 3-meter diving. Brittney Fant, Jessica Chadwick, Kyla Pereira, Nadia Farrugia, Courtney VanderSchaaf and Skye Carey will handle the 500 for FIU. Gustafsdottir, the defending 200 IM champion, Scalia and Becky Wilde should make for a happy 200 IM. If Andersson, Alfani, Deist and freshman Paulina Zelazna pile up the points in the 50 free, there's going to be some squeaky sphincters at Rice and Western going into Friday.

FIU's best diver, freshman Rebecca Quesnel, suffered a concussion at the Canadian Nationals two weeks ago and hasn't been cleared to dive yet. Obviously, that puts pieces of the piano on the backs of fellow divers sophomore Lily Kaufmann, Natalia and Laura Coronado and Abbey Spaulding.

It's a day of relays so I thought I'd close with this...

 

Looking for Completion

Of course FIU's swimming & diving team left Miami for Knoxville to finish the job at 6 a.m. Monday, which means a wakeup call at Really Dark Thirty. Like the armed forces and youth hockey families on the weekend, they're often on the third screen of their day when even most other diligent athletes are just finding their "Play" button.

The job sits unfinished, with one more task on the schedule: the Conference USA meet that starts Wednesday and finishes Saturday night.

Seven teams will show up. Three matter: FIU; Rice, the defending C-USA champion to whom FIU finished second last year; and Western Kentucky, to whom FIU finished second at the 2013 Sun Belt Championships but beat in last year's Conference USA meet.

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly shooting for the gold.

 

Notice the seconds for FIU in the above paragraph. Proud accomplishments, both. The 2013 Sun Belt second represented a two-spot improvement from 2012. Last year, FIU's move to the stronger Conference USA turned the conference meet into a water version of The Red Queen's race -- it took all the swimming they could do to stay in the same place. They did.

But, this year, winning the conference, "would mean everything," according to seniors Klara Andersson and Johanna Gustafsdottir. Each said that, separately.

FIU didn't come within a Kenya of the 2012 Sun Belt title, though they swept Swimmer of the Year (Gustafsdottir) and Diver of the Year (Sabrina Beaupre). FIU pulled off the same sweep last year with Sonia Perez and Beaupre. In 2013, FIU won nine events. Beaupre won Diver of the Year. Gustafsdottir got rooked on the Swimmer of the Year call after winning two individual events and being on three relay winners. Still didn't get it done in the team standings.

What will get it done is obvious.

“We’re a more well-rounded team this year," FIU coach Randy Horner said. "Our diving is better and deeper. We have five divers this year, where we had only two on the roster last year. The quality is good as well. Our freshman class this year has been one of the best we’ve had depth-wise as well as top end talent. And, they’re performing like it. Everybody in the program has improved. That’s what it takes is a full team effort to win a title like the one we’re going after. In the past, we’ve won individual events. We’ve won stuff here and there. We’ve won Swimmer of the year, Diver of the Year. But it takes a full roster without a weakness to win the team championship."

Here's an easy example of how much more depth FIU brings to the party. Gustafsdottir is the defending conference 200 backstroke champion. Freshman Silvia Scalia now holds FIU's 100 back record that Gustafsdottir held since the 2012 Sun Belt meet. Freshman diver Rebecca Quensel, five-time C-USA Diver of the Week, leads a group that'll keep FIU from being overwhelmed on sheer numbers as it was even the years Beaupre dominated individually.

Expect FIU to get more points in the breaststroke events, where Andersson (100 breast) and Jean Madison (200 breast) scored last year and freshman Chase Harris could, too. Butterflier Valeri Inghels, a junior transfer from Auburn, should get FIU more points in the butterfly. Inghels and Scalia alone should help in the medley relays, where FIU finished sixth (200) and fourth (400) at last year's meet. If nothing else, they're one of several swimmers who give Horner options. He said other than the 800 free relay, 

"The 4x100 free relay, which is the last event of the meet, I think I have eight or nine girls we could have on there and we'd do just fine," Horner said. "But figuring out who the best four are is going to be one of the toughest decisions we make. It's good to have those choices. Usually by the fourth day of a meet like that, sometimes, it's the last horse standing."

A strong freshman class gives FIU more sea horses. As usual, some of those freshmen, including the Italian Scalia, come from overseas. That spreads another layer of uncertainty onto projecting a recruit. In addition to the changes shaking the ground under American recruits feet, you've can often add a different base language and educational system.

"We’re very pleased with how our young swimmers have some in," Horner said. "I think that’s a testament to our upperclassmen for welcoming them in and kind of putting them under their wings. All of our girls live in the same dorm together. I think that goes a long way to integrating them into the team and make them feel a big part of it. We do a lot of teamwork from Day 1, team building.

"It’s something you teach and coach in the cutulre of the program year after year," he said. "We’re now in my fifth year here. We’re getting juniors and seniors who have been here so you don’t have to tell them. They understand that’s their role and it’s important. We’ve had people in the past when it didn’t happen like that, and they’ve seen the results. They understand how important that, as much as how our practices are, how we train, the culture of the team and how we work together, is huge.

Gustafsdottir said, "We have studs in every event. That’s how we won dual meets this year with our depth.”

They won them all, you know. A perfect 10-0, climaxed as if off a cliche-ridden film school script: a one-point win against the University of Miami decided by a skin tight outtouch on the final relay.

“I cried my eyes out. I was so proud," Gustafsdottir said. "It just shows you how far we’ve come from having teams, freshman year, that we were so far behind. And being undefeated this year. It’s the best feeling, leaving like that.

“When they came in and we saw the scoreboard, we all just screamed. I’m not going to say it was like winning conference, but the feeling was…I don’t know, I can’t describe it.”

Andersson said, "There’s no words. It was an awesome feeling. Beating UM in the last meet. It was just the perfect end to my last dual meet season. I have a couple of friends from home, Sweden, that swim for UM, so obviously it feels pretty good to beat them too.”

Andersson also was conscious of the recent history between the two schools. As in, none for four years.

Horner's in his fifth year at FIU. That's five years in a city where the most canonized sports team of all owes its status to "and 0." Five years at a school and department wanting to be seen at least as equals to the nearby smaller school that carries the municipal nomenclature that fits FIU more. Still, he seemed a bit puzzled by the happy hoopla, such as it was.

“It was very satisfying, very happy. I feel like we’ve gotten more praise and recognition out of those two accomplishments than we have with anything we’ve done," he said. "And I feel like we’ve done a lot of other things that may have been even more significant – sweeping swimmer and diver of the year in the past, been one of the top programs in academics on campus. We’ve won the Champs Life Skills Award. Last year, we beat Georgia Tech out of the ACC, which was a good win for us.

"For some reason, that rung louder and got more praise and recognition. I’m happy for the girls because they work their butts off. They deserve the praise and recognition for what they’ve achieved. It’s hard not to stumble somewhere so that’s a good testament to them."

Horner did take something perhaps important from that 150-149 win.

"I think one of the most satisfying things was UM came in against us blazing," he said. "They wore fast suits and everything else which really rattled our girls at first. They were like 'What’s going on?' I feel like it was a great test, in hindsight, because that’s the kind of battle they’re going to be up against for four days at the championship – that kind of heated racing, battles back and forth. So, in hindsight, coming out of that with a win, squeaking by, coming down to the last race, probably was the best thing that could’ve happened to us to prepare us for the (conference) championship.”

So now, to paraphrase the classic call by Howie Rosen, the Panthers have one more hill to climb. There's gold up on that hill awaiting the women of FIU...or Rice...or Western Kentucky.

Four days from now, we'll know who got good, bad or ugly enough to climb that hill.

 

 

 

February 17, 2015

Getting Dressed

You can skip this unless you're an athletics business wonk. Or just curious.

A few things about the deal with adidas, announced by FIU in January as a five-year deal worth around $2.6 million:

*FIU gets adidas footwear, clothes, equipment and accessories, but not for free. They get sort of a Costco deal on stuff -- shoes at 45 percent off retail price; clothes, equipment and accessories 50 percent off retail for everyone but baseball/softball, which gets only 37.5 percent off The Price is Right price. But baseball/softball gets theirs elsewhere, as you’ll soon see.  FIU must spend at least $300,000 each year, which is air hockey money for a properly-funded Division I athletic program.

*If FIU does spend $300,000 each year, it gets an additional $260,000 retail value of adidas product (stuff) in 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18, $285,000 in 2018-19 and $310,000 in 2019-2020.

*For the football team using adidas footballs in practices and games, FIU gets $10,000 retail value of product each year.

*Under “Athletic Department Fund Raising”, adidas gives FIU $15,000 of retail product value each year.

*There’s various bonuses for team achievement and Coach of the Year. The largest realistically attainable one is $20,000 retail value product for a football team bowl appearance.

*Baseball gets the most extra stuff. Softball will get the same stuff in “an amount to be agreed upon when Adidas introduced these hardgoods” according to the contract. (Yes, I think it should be “introduces” but I’m quoting directly from the contract, so…)

Each year, FIU Baseball gets:

Up to 48 wood bats, up to 42 non-wood bats, 6 aluminum fungo bats, up to 36 fielder’s gloves, up to 40 wheeled locker equipment bags, up to 40 individual duffel bags, 6 coach’s briefcases, 5 wheeled catcher bags (two to be used for equipment), up to 96 pairs of batting gloves (replaced by wear and tear), up to 96 pairs of wristbands, up to 25 batting helmets, up to 6 sets of catching gear.

432 fitted baseball hats

$34,000 retail value of free product.

$4,000 retail value of free product for the head coach

The only other individual in the athletic department who gets free product is the athletic director, who gets $10,000 retail value of free product each year.

  

February 08, 2015

Some things about Saturday

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...

FOOTBALL

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.

 

February 03, 2015

C-USA Swimmer & Diver of the Week: Scalia (Again) & Quesnel (Again)

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. 

January 31, 2015

Oh, So Close, But Still...And-0.

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.

This should be fun.

  

 

 

 

 

 

January 30, 2015

History Tomorrow? History Tomorrow.

Conquering those who call the Florida Atlantic pool home leaves FIU's swimming & diving team just one win from the first undefeated dual meet season in FIU history.

That win can come when they meet the University of Miami, Saturday, at high noon.

 

Excuse me! Read again! It reads, "HIGH NOON!"

 

That's better.

Anyway, near as I can see, this is the first meeting in any sport between Dade County's two Division I/FBS schools since Sept. 11, 2010 when FIU lost a volleyball match 3-0.

Last fall, of course, came the announcement that the schools reached an agreement to play again in football in 2018 and 2019 with the rivalry resuming in other sports, also.

January 27, 2015

Quensel C-USA Diver of the Week(x5)

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.

January 23, 2015

DC Swap Complete; Senior Swimmers' Sayonara

UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES

Swimming & Diving, vs. Florida Gulf Coast, Saturday, 11 a.m. (Senior Day)

Tennis, vs. Liberty, Sunday, noon

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.

 

 

January 21, 2015

Top Dollar

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.

 

A DC Swap?; Universe Irony; Wet Bucks

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...

MISS UNIVERSE

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.

 

January 19, 2015

Another FIU Freshman Honored

Not a bad year for the newbies on campus.

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. 

January 13, 2015

Scalia (Again) & Quensel (Again) Get C-USA Weekly Honors

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. 


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