August 31, 2015

Cerca Pero No Cohiba

UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES

Men's soccer -- Thursday vs. Fairfield, 7 p.m. (way to coordinate)

To be fair, the title fits only two out of three from the last football-free weekend until after Thanksgiving. Volleyball's pair of 3-0 wins Saturday over Alabama A&M and South Florida pushed them to 2-1, a nice rebound from Friday's 3-1 loss to North Florida.

Men's soccer is 0-2 after a weekend in the Carolinas but could feel more gold than blue. The Panthers played No. 5 North Carolina and almost-ranked Wake Forest, from the best soccer conference in the country, on even terms.

The Tar Heels held a statistical edge on FIU, but the game remained scoreless until a penalty kick in the 82nd minute when Marvin Hezel got convicted on a hand ball charge. The Tar Heels buried the penalty kick, of course for a 1-0 win. Sunday, FIU took a 1-0 lead on Wake Forest, fell behind 3-1 before losing 3-2. Coach Scott Calabrese said he'd learn a lot about his team quickly. He learned they can go iris-to-iris with top notch ACC teams, even if the Panthers blinked first.

Women's soccer played Central Florida on even terms, at least in the second half. But that's also when an FIU defender bounced off UCF's Ashley Spivey, allowing Spivey the space to take a step to the right and bury a gorgeous shot into the far upper corner in the 55th minute.

Freshman defender Lyrik Fryer showed some wonderful dribbling skill, the type that allows her to beat an opponent two or three times, although once and on your way does the job. FIU's best scoring chances came from junior Alyssa Robinson, who put one shot over the net and eschewed another shot from scoring range for a pass that went awry.

Like the men, the women fell just short of a good, nationally-respected opponent.

FOOTBALL

The first game is in three days. That is all.

 

August 20, 2015

First Opening Kickoff Friday & Odds on Another Opening Kickoff

UPCOMING HOME MATCHES/GAMES

Friday -- Women's Soccer, vs. Dayton, 7 p.m.

The first team marching into its stadium (heh-heh) in this year's parade of FIU sports is, as usual, women's soccer. The team does so not draped in its customary attire of glossy official expectation but rather the plain, unfinished garments of apparent rebuilding.

So what? Recent years' glittery preseason clothes made of great expectations looked terribly out of place on the Panthers' heartbroken Miss Havishams the last few years. Since the 2011 Sun Belt Conference title, FIU lost the 2012 Sun Belt Conference championship game to a North Texas team to which they felt clearly better; lost key players in the front and the back early in 2013; then failed to make the 2014 Conference USA tournament despite what coach Thomas Chestnutt called, "The best team, the most talented team we've had."

In fact, for what little he cares for such projections, Chestnutt sees FIU being picked sixth by Conference USA coaches as something of a compliment. He figures if you finish 10th and lose two of the top scorers in school history, Chelsea Leiva and Ashleigh Shim, and still get picked sixth, "I guess the rest of the conference thinks highly of us."

Fifth-year senior defender Nikki Rios said, "I think we'll be a really big force to be reckoned with this year and I don't think anybody's expecting it. We didn't perform to our best abilities (in 2014) and we're predicted sixth this year. Everybody's saying, 'They've got a lot of new players, they've lost their experience, they're only going to go down from here.' That's not the case at all. We're just going to go up from here because we're so willing to win and win that ring this year. And it's (the Conference USA tournament) on our home turf this year."

Rios said she told teammates and coaches, "Marie, me and Scarlet Montoya are the three fifth-year seniors and we're not leaving without a ring on our finger."

Reminded she was a freshman on the 2011 Sun Belt Conference champions, Rios said, "Marie and I were hurt that year, so we don't really count it as our own."

"Marie," by the way, is defender Marie Egan, Second Team All-Conference USA in 2014 and the lone Panther voted to the preseason all-conference team.

"I don't think I've ever wanted to win this ring more," Egan said.

In addition to the intangible of want-to, the similarly amorphous quality of "chemistry" gets claimed by the Panthers.

"We did lose a lot of experienced players, but we did gain a lot of young new players who are willing to learn and work hard as soon as they came in," Rios said. "I think our chemistry is already building and it'll only get stronger."

Chestnutt said the 2014 team lacked accountability more than chemistry, but "You can have good character people, but they may not be able to hold each other accountable because there's chemistry lacking in the group."

FIU's 25-woman roster includes 10 freshmen plus junior goalkeeper Sophia Trujillo, a Gulliver graduate transferring back home from San Diego State. Chestnutt named defender Taylor Coffee (Pembroke Pines Flanagan); defender Jacqueline Manteas; midfielder Steffi Reischmann; and midfielder Jacqueline Byers among those freshmen who'll see the field often.

"Quite a few players in our new class will have a direct impact immediately," Chestnutt said. "If we're not having three freshmen contribute heavily, we're not doing a good enough job of recruiting."

They'll be the first ones at FIU to find out this year how well they've done recruiting and coaching.

FOOTBALL

The Las Vegas handicappers put FIU a 17-point underdog at UCF Sept. 3 with the over/under at 46.5.

Now, back to vacation. See you when classes start.

 

August 12, 2015

Wednesday Droppings

Pick your Lotto numbers well.

I asked Ron Turner who looked good among the receivers after a week of training camp. He named fifth-year senior Clinton Taylor, who works out of the slot; sophomore Dennis Turner ("he's picked it up"); looks-taller-than-6-1 sophomore Thomas Owens ("he's picked up where he was in the spring"); and Shawn Abrams.   

Freshman Anthony Jones and junior college transfer Julian Williams "are progressing really well," according to Turner.

If I had to guess, on Sept. 3, UCF will see Taylor and Owens as the wideouts in the double-tight end set to open the game.

In talking to redshirt junior defensive lineman Imarjaye Albury for tomorrow's story on the cost of attendance stipend, I asked him what he would do differently if he had to go through his recruiting again.

"I would've taken all my visits, looked at all the schools that offered me a scholarship," Albury said. "I would've held every conversation with every coach. I would've looked at every aspect of a school, not just its name, how it is publicity-wise and TV-wise."

Today, as I went through my old Sports Illustrated's, I ran across the 1986 College and Pro Football Preview Issue. I read a story I somehow hadn't read before -- I used to truly go cover to cover with those SI previews -- written by just departed Pitt player Robert Schilken on life as a college football backup. Schilken, who played four years then entered Pitt's med school, wrote something similar to what Albury said to me about an hour later -- consider everything when you choose a school, not just football.

Football can go sideways on you.

WOMEN'S SOCCER

The unofficial opening of the sports season -- FIU hosts the Hurricanes at 7 p.m. Thursday for a little preseason skirmish.

The women footballers also open the official athletic season a week from Friday against Dayton at FIU Soccer Stadium (ahem).

 

August 04, 2015

Preseason CUSA Women's Soccer, FCS Bowl, National Bowl stuff

Coming off a disappointing 2014 season that ended short of making the Conference USA tournament, FIU's ranked sixth of 14 schools in the CUSA coaches' preseason poll. Senior defender Marie Egan is FIU's lone preseason all-conference player.

Rice came in atop the poll.

RENTERS

FIU's got an easier time filling FIU Stadium dates than filling FIU Stadium for the school's football team.

The FCS Bowl, an all-star game for FCS teams and historically black colleges, and the National Bowl, an all-star game for Division II and Division III players, will be at La Cage Sunday, Dec. 7. Tickets go on sale Nov. 10.

 

July 17, 2015

MLS to Marlins Park area? Flamengo to FIU?

 

Desiring a location at least some fans can reach on foot or via Miami's adequate-for-1962 mass transit system and with minimal nose-picking along State Road 836 during rush hours, the David Beckham Group has now stated they prefer to build a stadium alongside Marlins Park. Many local politicos can now smile that they've bent the soccer bringers to their will somewhat and can now discuss the fringe benefits for the local powers-that-be.

Not that FIU athletics acted as if the MLS fantasy still had even a Law & Order episode's basis in reality. FIU athletic director Pete Garcia's been in Brazil a few times to get popular soccer club Flamengo for an exhibition game at FIU Stadium and keep the lines of communication open with the top muckety-mucks of Brazilian soccer. The national team's trained at FIU twice before friendlies at Sun Life Stadium. 

Speaking of soccer, I'm still unclear on what the school plans to do about the embarrassment of FIU Soccer Stadium before the school hosts women's soccer's Conference USA tournament. According to some folks I spoke with this week, the grounds crew does a good job with the pitch. But nothing says "first class institution" to people from other schools like picking 35-year-old splinters out of their butts from stands that look bought second hand from an early 1900s minor league baseball park. And the banners ringing the field look better than bare fences yet don't fool anyone that they're above being lipstick on a pig (and I'm not saying which end of the pig).

The place is beneath the soccer programs and beneath FIU as a school. 

But soccer games, indeed all games, on PantherVision should look better this year. FIU's hired Brian Duval as a dedicated video coordinator.

 

July 01, 2015

Whistle Blowers

When Cindy Russo retired after seemingly a century as FIU women's basketball head coach, she already counted as something of a dinosaur -- a female head coach at FIU. The hiring of Marlin Chinn as her replacement cemented Russo's brontosaurus status.

This article puts FIU's dearth of female head coaches in perspective. Only 29 of the 138 schools with FBS football or Big East basketball have a lower percentage of women coaching women than FIU's 30 percent. Of the 10 women's sports at FIU, only three have female head coaches and the school's getting three sports for two women -- Rita Buck-Crockett is the head coach for volleyball and sand volleyball. Katarina Petrovic coaches the tennis team.

A case-by-case look at FIU's women's teams coaches reminded me of the 1980s Boston Celtics, which often included three white guys among five starters. The bombastic declarations that this melanin split demonstrated racism in the Celtics organization were countered with, "OK, who do you not want to start? Perennial All-Star Larry Bird, perennial All-Star Kevin McHale or Danny Ainge, for whom every NBA coach would find a spot?"

Similar situation among FIU's women's teams. Randy Horner's turned FIU's swimming and diving team from what one former swimmer called "a glorified high school team" into one of the best mid-major programs in the nation. Before the last two disappointing seasons, FIU's most consistent winners played soccer under the direction of Thomas Chestnutt. Joe Vogel coaches golf. That covers FIU's last three conference championship programs before the baseball team battered Conference USA into submission in May.

Softball coach Gator Rebhan came recommended by some of his current players. Track & field and cross country's Ryan Heberling ascended to head coach of both programs off convenience and his work with FIU's women's throwers, the strongest part of the track program in recent years. As has been noted here often, the women's teams consistently perform well academically despite so many FIU female athletes growing up with English as a second or third language.

In the overall athletic department, coaches who have shown progress but yet to prove definitively they can get it done consistently -- football's Ron Turner, men's basketball's Anthony Evans, men's soccer's Scott Calabrese -- occupy jobs women's coaches won't get as things stand now.

And that's the legitimate beef women's coaches and their advocates have with the steady stream of men into jobs coaching women's teams. Nobody's truly an equal opportunity employer.

Pat Summitt racked up 1,098 wins over 38 years as Tennessee's women's basketball coach. If you sat on a pile of her credentials and honors, you do your best Mongo Santamaria on Shaq's head. Handling the Tennessee program from the days when she had to drive the van and wash the uniforms herself, Summitt's knowledge of running a successful college basketball program is oceanic. Tennessee reportedly twice approached Summitt about coaching the men's team.

Yet, you never heard of, say, Louisiana Tech, nosing around Pat Summitt about coaching its men's hoop team. But Tyler Summitt with two years as an assistant at Marquette and 23 chromosomes from his mother gets the women's basketball job at La Tech, where all the coaches of women's teams have a Y chromosome.

Can you imagine one of Mike Krzyzewski's daughters doing two years as an assistant men's coach at Butler then applying to be the head coach at FIU? Can you imagine one of Mike Krzyzewski's daughters getting the chance even to be an assistant at Butler?

Though I'm a black man with a daughter, I don't get crazy about the gender/race role model thing. It's too limiting. There's too much to be learned from too many people of all skin tones and genitalia. And if nobody who looks like you has achieved something before, I say to that person what my mother used to say to me: "Guess you'll have to be the first."

But what about when you don't even get the chance to be the first? Because there's too much to be learned from diverse voices, the reduced volume of female coach voices matters at FIU and elsewhere.

 

May 27, 2015

APR, Adidas, Athletics Cash

As the baseball team practiced (with adidas bats -- more on that later), the 2013-14 Academic Progress Rate numbers dropped. Not literally, but in the modern popular music vernacular.

Terry McMillan's Waiting to Exhale concerned African-American women and early 1990s relationships, not APR. But, it does tend to describe FIU around this time of the year. It's entirely possible one of the breezes I felt at the baseball stadium today came from the department exhaling over an APR report without any red flags or even yellow flags.

Men's track (indoor and outdoor), women's track, volleyball, softball, golf, women's cross country each registered perfect single-year APRs of 1000. Golf owned the lone perfect multiyear APR.

Proving that bad APR falls somewhere between tires and herpes in durability, men's basketball came in with the lowest multiyear APR, 879. That's still represents progress from 858 in 2011-12 and 866 in 2012-13 and allows basketball to proceed penalty free for the first time since the Richard Pitino-coached season of 2012-13.

Multiyear APR

Golf 1000

Women's basketball 995

Women's cross country 987

Tennis 982

Men's cross country 977

Women's outdoor track 977

Women's indoor track 975

Swimming & Diving 973

Volleyball 973

Softball 971

Men's soccer 970

Women's soccer 969

Men's outdoor track 958

Men's indoor track 956

Baseball 938

Football 933

Men's Basketball 879

2013-14 Single Year APR

Men's indoor track 1000

Women's indoor track 1000

Women's outdoor track 1000

Men's outdoor track 1000

Women's cross country 1000

Volleyball 1000

Golf 1000

Softball 1000

Women's soccer 979

Women's basketball 967

Swimming & Diving 962

Tennis 955

Football 935

Men's basketball 933

Men's Soccer 932

Baseball 931

BASEBALL

Businesses show love by showing material and money. As detailed here in the February post "Getting Dressed," the FIU athletic team Adidas loves most is baseball. No other program gets the amount of equipment under Adidas' agreement with FIU Athletics that baseball does. No other FIU head coach gets $4,000 of free product annually as FIU's baseball coach does.

According to Camp Mitch sources, baseball's love of its Adidas clothes and gear didn't extend to the bats. So FIU brought other brands along with Adidas to the plate throughout the season.

Apparently, somebody at Adidas noticed FIU's bat diversity as the Panthers battered Conference USA tournament opponents. That's not a problem unless there's a clause in the agreement between the school and the athletic wear company stating "each Sport...shall exclusively use or wear Adidas products whenever School's athletic teams are playing one of the Sports (including games and practice sessions)..." and that failure to do so constitutes a material breach of contract.

FIU swung Adidas bats at practice Wednesday and you can bet they'll do so this weekend in Coral Gables.

MONEY

USA Today's annual college athletics finances report demonstrated little of surprise beyond Oregon taking over the Total Revenue title from Texas.

Of the 230 schools ranked, FIU placed 90th in total revenue ($28,104,962), 92nd in total expenses ($27,542,910), 16th in subsidy ($22,540,365) and 36th overall, second to Eastern Michigan among FBS football schools, in percentage of total revenue that comes from subsidies (80.2%).

FORMER FOOTBALL

Click here to see the current real world job of former FIU running back Darian Mallary.

 

April 10, 2015

FIU's Commissioner's Academic Medal Winners

If you're a full-time student-athlete and bring in a 3.75 grade point average, Conference USA honors you with the Commissioner's Academic Medal. FIU had 34 such athletes for the 2014-15 school year, 10th among full Conference USA member schools (Kentucky, South Carolina and New Mexico are in the league for men's soccer only.)

Baseball: Mitchell Robinson, Zack Soria.

Men's Basketball: Kris Gulley, Hassan Hussein.

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

Women's Golf: Katerina Krasnova.

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

Men's Soccer: Luca Giovine, Adam Sibiski.

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

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

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

Tennis: Giulietta Boha, Nerma Caluk, Yana Koroleva.

Men's Track & Field: William Offor.

Men's Cross Country: Orlando Rodriguez.

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

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

 

 

 

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

(Thought I posted this last night. Apparently, I only saved it. A face-down-on-the-keyboard mistake.)

A 3.0 GPA gets you on the Conference USA Commissioner's Honor Roll, which 172 FIU athletes have done this year. FIU ranks eighth most among Conference USA's full membership schools. That's an improvement after 154 and tied for 12th last year.

The names are submitted to the conference by the schools.

Baseball (16): Brandon Cody, Charles Cormier, Cody Crouse, Ian Exposito, Julius Gaines, Evan Holland, David Lee, Spencer Levine, Dominic LoBrutto, Carlos Lopez, Andres Nunez, Mitchell Robinson, Austin Rodriguez, Jack Schaaf, Eduardo Silva, Zack Soria.

Men's Basketball (3): Larry Dennis (Huh? He transferred to a junior college at midseason), Kris Gulley, Hassan Hussein.

Women's Basketball (13): Jade Cheek, Jerica Coley (Say what? Everybody's happy she's still around campus doing graduate work, but how is she counting for this year? Was somebody just throwing names in there to see if C-USA was paying attemtion?), Marita Davydova, Arielle Durant (Uh, director of basketball oerations this year, not a player), Katrina Epnere, Aajah Hawkins, Amari Hawkins, Zsofia Labady, Tynia McKinzie (dismissed from the team at midseason), Taylor Shade, Nikolina Todorovic, Ciera Wheatley, Brianna Wright. 

Football (17): Chris Ayers, Richard Burrows, Christopher Cummins, Akil Dan-Fodio, Ricky Fernandez, Chris Flaig, Adrian Francois, Cody Hodgens, Yousif Khoury, Jose Laphitzondo, Fred Porter, Anthon Samuel, Donald Senat, Yohan Soares, Delmar Taylor, Scott Wade, Cory White.

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

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

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

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

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

Swimming & Diving (20): Klara Andersson, Sabrina Beaupre (she's been off the eligibility clock since the 2014 NCAA's), Jessica Chadwick, Jenny Deist, Nadia Farrugia, Valerie Inghels, Anna Jonsson, Lily Kaufmann, Maria Lopez, Jean Madison, Alex Mayhew, Melissa Moreno, Sonia Perez-Arau (oh, come on! the only C-USA swimmer to score at the 2014 NCAAs. Lazy times in ), Valeriia Popova, Rebecca Quensel, Silvia Scalia, Alaina Smith, Kayley Tepe, Courtney VanderSchaaf, Becky Wilde. 

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

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

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

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

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

Volleyball: Lucia Castro, Tia Clay, Maria Coukolis, Briana Gogins, Gloria Levorin, Anja Licka, Natalie Martinez, Kristine Monforte, Kari Peterson, Jovanna Santamaria, Anabela Sataric, Tina Toghiyani (wait, she already got counted back at sand volleyball...)

 

 

 

March 03, 2015

Building Stuff

Funny what you can learn sitting around the arena on a Friday afternoon.

Executive director for sports and entertainment Pete Garcia passed with Senior Associate ADs Julie Berg and Heath Glick and invited me along to look at the choice of new chairs for FIU Arena.

IMG_20150227_133226

At least all the lower bowl chairs in the arena will be replaced. That's the "Bleacher Project" referred to in the pre-Miss Universe e-mail to Glick as "likely scrapped." 

The other project mentioned as "likely scrapped" in that e-mail, the softball/golf locker room, should be started after FIU hosts Conference USA softball championships, according to Garcia and Berg. The new practice area for the track and field throwers, also part of the Women's Sports Initiative, should be done before the year's out. Garcia said a major upgrading of the baseball stadium will be coming in the next year or two. 

A major donation should be announced soon that'll pay for the baseball stadium and arena seat replacement. The other projects should be covered under what's been collected for the Women's Sports Initiative.

Recently, I heard again from someone close to the situation, as I did last fall, that the long-awaited soccer/track stadium will become a reality once FIU takes over the Youth Fair land. Don't confuse this with any drive to get Major League Soccer as a temporary FIU tenant. This pitch would be for FIU and youth teams.

Considering the amount of time we've been waiting on this project, all skepticism until dirt gets disturbed is warranted.

 

February 02, 2015

The 2015 Football Schedule

Five home games, seven road games, no bye weeks. The athletics department bean counters ought to be happy, however -- of the seven road games, the Panthers can get on the bus, Gus, for two.

The demise of Alabama-Birmingham leaves Conference USA with another 13-team football season.

Sept. 5 -- at Central Florida. FIU did UCF a solid by agreeing to move this game from 2014 to 2015, giving the Knights a bye week after their overseas game with Penn State. Good measuring stick right out of the gate.

Sept. 12 -- at Indiana. Let's make this clear: I grew up in Indianapolis caring almost as much about IU football as IU basketball (it's against state law to care equally as much). My four years in Bloomington described the kind of college experience many people hope to have. They included covering the two best seasons of IU football in my cognizant lifetime.

And I will laugh from Kilroy's all the way back to the 305 if FIU takes down Indiana. It would be a win against a Big Ten school, mediocre as the Hoosiers football tradition is, but also Indiana thinks it bought a win. IU paid to get out of a game with South Florida to enter into a home-and-home with FIU that nets $800,000 to the Panthers.

Sept. 19 -- North Carolina Central. This year's FCS supplement for bulking up wins and statistics.

Sept. 26 -- at Louisiana Tech. FIU brings back its defense. West Division champion Louisiana Tech brings back running back Kenneth Dixon (1,299 rushing yards, 5.1 per carry). I'm tingly already.

Oct. 3 -- at UMass. You've got to come home with the bacon (or chowdah) from this game.

Oct. 10 -- UTEP. If Bill Clark wasn't Conference USA Coach of the Year for what he did at UAB (RIP for now), then it's Sean Kugler for turning UTEP from stink bomb to bowl team.

Oct. 17 -- at Middle Tennessee State. My preliminary pick for the East Division.

Oct. 24 -- Old Dominion. Now, it's ODU coming to FIU with an inexperienced quarterback after four years of Taylor Heinicke.

Oct. 31 -- at FAU. On Halloween. With both teams still entertaining bowl hopes.

Nov. 7 -- Charlotte. FIU gets a home cupcake on the same weekend the women's soccer team hosts the Conference USA tournament. 

Nov. 14 -- at Marshall. Let's see if they go from Thundering Herd to annoying Green Hornets without Cato.

Nov. 21 -- Western Kentucky. Remember the Sun Belt version of the Hilltoppers? Defense, severely limited quarterback while running a running back up the statistic charts and into the ground. Yeah, now they're Air Brohm with Drew Doughty. Unless the Over/Under exceeds 70, jump on the high side to get your Christmas and Hanukkah gift money.

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.

 

December 17, 2014

Second Spirit of Service for Stewart

Redshirt junior Sara Stewart's been a starter on FIU's backline since early in her freshman season. The 5-9 Canadian plays more physically than some of her countrymen do on the ice -- she led the team with four yellow cards this season and got the only red card. But just like the enforcers on the rink often have the biggest hearts off of it, there's no questioning Stewart's status as an all-conference do-gooder.

That's because she's just been named of Conference USA's Spirit of Service Honorees for the fall athletic season for the second consecutive year.

Stewart tutors at a Miami elementary school during the school year, feeds the homeless, is a Special Olympics volunteer and works in a veternarian's office back home. And she's got a 3.72 grade point average as a bio sciences major.

That's a student-athlete-citizen.

 

November 05, 2014

FIU Puts 2 on All-Academic C-USA XX's Soccer

Senior forward Ashleigh Shim, Third Team All-Conference USA on the field, was named to Second Team Conference USA All-Academic women's soccer player Wednesday. Joining Shim on the team for the second consecutive year was senior midfielder Johanna Volz.

Both Shim and Volz majored in Sports and Fitness Studies. Volz pulled a 3.77 grade point average while Shim pulled a 3.56.

Now, that's doing work...

 

 

November 04, 2014

Women's Soccer: 3 make All-C-USA, 1 makes C-USA All-Freshman

Three FIU seniors -- forwards Chelsea Leiva and Ashleigh Shim and defender Marie Egan -- made the All-Conference USA teams announced Tuesday afternoon while Nevena Stojakovic was the conference's All-Freshman team goalkeeper.

Leiva, the No. 7 scorer in the conference with eight goals (five game winners, tying for the conference lead) and three assists, and Egan were on the second team. Shim, two goals and four assists, made the third team. Stojakovic had a 1.08 goals against average and six shutouts.

November 03, 2014

Well, There's Always The Swim Team...

Since my post a week ago on the postseason chances for the fall sports teams...

Men's Soccer: Beat FAU 2-0 Wednesday to stay alive for the Conference USA tournament then lost 1-0 to Kentucky to get eliminated. A win in the regular season closer against Old Dominion can only tie New Mexico and South Carolina, each of which beat FIU head-to-head.

Women's Soccer: Tied Marshall 1-1 Thursday and were shut out of the conference tournament when Louisiana Tech beat FAU in overtime. The remaining match, Sunday's makeup with Alabama-Birmingham, was cancelled as neither team would qualify for the tournament. Unless football pulls off a natural hat trick, this 8-8-2 record will be fall's Best of FIU.

Volleyball: Lost 3-1 to Rice and 3-1 to Charlotte to fall to 3-10 in conference, 6-20 overall...but they...are...ALIVE, in a pack with UTEP, UAB, Middle Tennessee and Charlotte, all of which have three conference wins and one of which will get the eighth and final conference tournament spot. Three conference matches remain for FIU: at UTEP (tossup), at Texas-San Antonio (12-0 in conference), home season closer against Louisiana Tech (1-11 in conference).

Football: Lost Saturday 31-17 to Rice and need to win three straight after losing three straight to even get a bowl to give up its phone number. The Former Sunblazers are three-point underdogs at Old Dominion this Saturday.

The swim team, a winter team that warms up in the fall, moved to 3-0 by beating Indian River Saturday 174-126 as last week's Conference USA Swimmer of the Week, freshman Silvia Scalia, won the 100 backstroke and 200 back. Freshman Brittney Fant won the 500 freestyle and 200 butterfly (my shoulders and lats hurt just typing "200 butterfly").

Friday, the aquawomen host Illinois State. 

October 31, 2014

The Last Waltz

With FIU and Marshall tied 1-1 and the clock ticking down in overtime Thursday, the Panthers got the ball to senior forward Chelsea Leiva.

 

"Both teams, we didn't really play the way we wanted to, but we both fought really, really hard," said Leiva. "I know we did. Our legs are shot."

FIU coach Thomas Chestnutt admitted, "It was a fair result, I'd probably say," in the voice of a man who knows if you leave too many loose ends, they eventually snake together into a noose.

The 1-1 tie was a loose end, just like late game losses at home to North Texas and Charlotte. FIU's best hope for a fall Conference USA team title sat at 8-8-2 overall, 3-4-2 in conference and needing help just to get into the conference tournament. Specifically, FIU needed FAU to tie or win at Louisiana Tech in a game that was entering overtime as FIU's Senior Night ceremony ended. Then, a Panthers win Sunday in the weather-postponed game at Alabama-Birmingham would get FIU into the tournament.

Senior Johanna Volz, who scored FIU's goal, said part of her reaction in the above video was at the final score, but most was "a little bit of sadness. Coming to realize this is all over. It feels like yesterday we were freshmen."

Ask most athletes what they'll miss most when they stop playing and they rarely say the games. It's what Wayne Gretzky called "the back of the bus" or Chris Rock said of "Saturday Night Live" "The hang."

"This class, we have a bond that I think is tighter than other classes," Volz said. "We came in with eight. We're leaving with seven. That's rare. I know in five years, 10 years, 50 years down the road, the people I'm going to check on are my teammates. I couldn't have spent four years with a better group."

When Volz's class were freshmen, their sheer fitness level became a challenge to the juniors and seniors. FIU won the Sun Belt tournament that season, 2011. Ashleigh Shim won the Sun Belt Freshman of the Year award. Volz figured each year they would get better, so she thought she would leave in four years with four conference championship rings. They won the regular season title in 2012 before getting upset in the Sun Belt final by North Texas. The 2013 season got derailed early with Leiva and defender Nikki Rios, arguably FIU's best offensive and defensive players, going down with season-ending injuries before the season started. Ineligibility took out forward Scarlet Montoya.

And, now, this year.

"There hasn't been a game this year where we felt like we were dominated by any team," Chestnutt said. "It didn't matter if if whether it was Santa Clara, No. 23 at the time, Long Beach (State) or at the top of our conference, Rice or North Texas. The team largely outplayed almost every opponent. The difference, ironically, was lack of finishing at the proper moments. But the team defensve has been fantastic. There's only been three teams in the whole season that have registered 10 or more shots. That's excellent stuff."

He said of the senior class, "They"ve done a phenomenal job here, raising the level of the program. The things that they've accomplished are second to none in the history of the program. I just hope we can extend our season for one or two more games."

The news came to a few from Ruston, Louisiana via Twitter, app or old fashioned phone call: a golden goal by Tech ended Blue and Gold hopes.

Volz lay on her back with hands over eyes, her captain's armband still dangling. She got to her feet with eyes glistening. The word filtered among those not soaking up every minute of this last 2014 home postgame with parents, friends or the youth soccer players who had manned the sidelines as ball girls. The coaches gathered the team so Chestnutt could deliver the news.

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Some soft sobs, then a few not-so-soft sobs burst out of the huddle. Chestnutt spoke in a tone that suggested his own emotion monster threatened to ride a sentence out of his mouth and devour him. The team closed in a mass hug, seeming to become one tight organism for a moment, flexing together then releasing. Scarlet Montoya gave a heartfelt speech to the group, her voice strong, but teetering on breaking every other word. Another player apologized to the seniors.

Leiva walked away by herself toward midfield, using her jersey to cover a face now drenched in emotion. She'd already cried talking with me and The Beacon's James Profetto (who covered this team this season with the devotion of someone who wants a job in journalism) about her time at FIU ending. Profetto asked what she would take away from her time at FIU.

"So much...a lot of life lessons that we learned..." Leiva said through tears. She expanded upon that by crediting Chestnutt, mentioning hard work, perseverance and many of the concepts parents doing the Saturday Morning Schelps hope their children will learn from team sports.

But, now, Leiva stood alone until freshman goalkeeper Ashley Westbury came over to offer an arm and a hug. Others lifted their shirt as crying towels. Teammates shared extended embraces. I've been in a number of locker rooms with the season freshly killed over the last 24 years, but I hadn't seen a team this heartbroken since the Jackson High locker room after the 1990 Soul Bowl loss to Northwestern on a bomb to Stinky Williams in the last minutes at then-Joe Robbie Stadium.

Thursday, one player sat on the field and wouldn't leave. Players friends and family left. Players left. Coaches talked to her. More players left. Still she sat.

She remained there for I don't know how long. No explanation needed.

 

 

October 30, 2014

Soccer Up, Volleyball Down, Mr. McGough

UPDATE: Saturday's noon football game against Rice will be on WBFS-Channel 33 in Miami/Fort Lauderdale.

Wednesday night, men's soccer got what it needed against FAU. The women try to get theirs tonight against Marshall.

The men's 2-0 win on goals in the 78th minute by Josue Espana and 88th minute by Darren Rios pushed them into eighth in Conference USA or one place behind the conference tournament cutoff. With six points in conference play (6-7-1 overall, 2-4 in conference), they're one point behind Marshall, which has one conference game left, and Old Dominion, which has two as does FIU. They play each other a week from Friday in the season closer. FIU's other remaining game is a Sunday home date against No. 16 Kentucky.

By the way, FIU's 1984 Division II men's national champions will be honored at Saturday's noon football game. I wonder if this will include Broward College coach Munga Eketebi, an FIU soccer fixture as an All-America on that team; an FIU assistant for decades; then FIU head coach.

Eketebi felt his firing unfair after laboring for years under NCAA sanctions and felt athletic director Pete Garcia treated longtime head coach Karl Kremser shabbily. Also, some former athletes feel Athletics treats them as minatory presences. I heard Athletics grumbled over the number of former football players in the FIU radio suite during the Marshall game two weeks ago. As if this was Michigan or Harvard with 100 years of football alumni, so you've got to limit how many have the run of the Pay Extra areas.

Anyway...

Tonight at FIU Soccer Stadium is about need. Well, seven seniors, but mostly basic need.

FIU (3-4-1, 8-8-1) needs at least four points in its final two games to assure themselves of a conference tournament place. The Panthers need a win tonight if Louisiana Tech, Charlotte and Old Dominion win tonight. Marshall, with this being The Herd's last conference game, needs a win to feel good, a tie to stay at lightly queasy because a loss means Kaopectate, especially if the aforementioned trifecta comes through.

It's Senior Night. Chelsea Leiva, Ashleigh Shim, Johanna Volz, Marie Egan, Caroline Hernandez, Marlena Stablein and Sara Stewart will be honored.

VOLLEYBALL

If volleyball games had in-stands, in-match betting the way inner city high school football does, you could make tuition betting on the team that wins a wild, extended third set after splitting the first two sets. That's just the way sports momentum rolls.

Which is what FAU did to FIU Wednesday. After the Owls took the fourth set 30-28, FIU dropped the fourth set 21-25 and the match 3-1 (22-25, 25-20, 28-30, 21-25).

Junior Lucia Castro had a match high 20 kills and freshman Brianna Gogins' eight blocks exceeded FAU's team total (seven). Alas, the Panthers still fell to 6-18, 3-8 in conference and remain outside the eight-team conference tournament cutoff. 

FOOTBALL

Asked FIU coach Ron Turner what he wanted to see from freshman quarterback Alex McGough after the bye.

"Just continue to get the ball out quicker and continue to work on his accuracy, which has improved drastically during the season and has to continue to improve," Turner answered. "Not so much just accuracy, but ball placement. Ball here" -- Turner mimed catching a waist high ball in front of him -- "as opposed to ball here" -- he mimed reaching behind him for a catchable ball. "At one point, it was just "get it near him."" 

I wanted to talk to McGough about this. His quarterback coach from Tampa tweeted that he'd had a good workout addressing some mechanics. My request was denied. 

I don't think that rejection was at all personal. McGough's a freshman and coaches worry about "focus" with freshmen, particuarly ones getting media attention. Also, it's the football way. If you want to ask an NFL quarterback a question outside his Wednesday mass media session, you need to be part of the TV crew covering that weekend's game or have the quarterback's cell phone number with a personal relationship that invites away-from-the-facility conversation.

Which is why I sometimes say that football, love it though I do, needs to get over itself.

Many hockey goalies, including NHL wins record holder Martin Brodeur, talk to media on and off the record after the game day morning skate. You could talk to Martin Brodeur, winner of three Stanley Cups, after the morning skate with a Stanley Cup Finals game seven hours away. Almost every mistake a goalie makes winds up on the scoreboard. No incompletes in their world. Only pick sixes. 

You deal with that for 11 years from guys who play with a crackhead skinny margin for error every night, it's pretty laughable when you see quarterbacks sheltered as they are. After all, coaches won't forbid all small talk with hotties or watching SpongeBob.

Only because they can't.

 

October 22, 2014

Gone Girls & Guys

To start, FIU coach Ron Turner confirmed Wednesday the expected: freshman running back Alex Gardner's right shoulder injury will keep him out of the Nov. 1 Rice game "and he'll be a longshot" for the Nov. 8 game at Old Dominion.

With Gardner out, expect junior Anthon Samuel, junior Lamarq Caldwell and freshman Napoleon Maxwell to get an increased workload. Samuel's the best all-around back of the three, Caldwell the best pass protector and Maxwell the most explosive.

The football team gets a few days off. With no game sucking up my Saturday, no pregame blog Friday night, no postgame blog to finsih off Sunday morning, that opens up the weekend for...

Women's soccer! No, at Texas-San Antonio Friday and UTEP Sunday...

Men's soccer! Darn, at Marshall Saturday...

Volleyball! At Western Kentucky Friday, at North Texas Sunday. Sigh...

Swimming & Diving! Saturday at Florida Southern...

Everybody's gone. No balls being kicked, carried or spiked with meaning. Going to the athletic side of Camp Mitch this weekend could make you wonder "Where is everybody?"

October 18, 2014

Gameday VIII: A Plan For Marshall; Women Win in OT

It's been a busy Friday -- writing, playdates, cooking for playdates, Sushi Samba -- I've got a Breast Cancer Awareness Walk early Saturday followed by a post-walk social followed by the game. So, let's get to the nitty, as Joe Bob Briggs would say, and get out of here.

Let's start with: the Homecoming Council members connected with booking the Homecoming week concerts (DJ Tiesto) and comedy acts (D.L. Hughley, Eddie Griffin) should get free drinks and hot stone massages for a month. Great gets.

Whoever can claim connection with scheduling Homecoming for the week of the Marshall game should get hot stones thrown at them. Did somebody not see Florida State or Alabama on the schedule and figure, "Oh, what's the difference between Marshall and Rice?" The weekend FIU wants to end on a feelgood note and somebody picks the weekend FIU plays a team that's not just thinking "we must go undefeated" but "we must score like Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Clinton at Studio 54 and engineer 1983 Nebraska blowouts?" That's cooking bacon naked, just asking for trouble.

Speaking of the Cornhuskers, next year Nebraska's comes down for a Sept. 19 game against the Hurricanes. Why not see if the Children of the Corn will go for a full week in South Florida bookended with games? See if they'll drop Southern Mississippi Sept. 26, and pick up the Panthers. Then, FIU can have Nebraska for Homecoming! If you're going to get spanked at Homecoming, get the people whose predecessors practically trademarked 69-17 and has 48 years of experience delivering it.

The FIU coaching staff should've made t-shirts this week saying "Keep Calm and Do Your Job." The first part is for the offense. The second part is for each individual member of the defense.

Taking the second part first...you can talk all you want about FIU's offense helping the defense against this juggernaut offense by "shortening the game" or "keeping their offense off the field." FIU's defense is going to have to stop Marshall's offense at some point. It'll have to do it more than once.

FIU defensive coordinator Josh Conklin described Marshall's offense simply: spread out to make the defense play seven against the run, four against the pass and beat you in the one-on-one showdowns. They bet on opponents not having enough quality defensive backs to cover their receivers. They also bank that opponents won't have enough players who can get off blocks before 243-pound Devon Johnson starts his Peterbilt imitation.

"There's more pressure on each individual job, controlling his gap," Conklin said. "If he's got the quarterback, he's got the quarterback. If he's got the dive, he's got the dive. That's what they've build their system around."

Does seeing how Pitt's big, athletic line and James Conner simply wore down FIU last month make you wonder why Marshall would do any more than occasional passing. Here's why: they want points. Big, fat hunks of creamy carbo-loaded points to build obese blowouts and grab attention of decision-makers who sniff at Marshall's schedule quality. Also, quarterback Rakeem Cato's their best player. You don't take the ball out of your best player's hands too often.

So, they're going to throw the ball on FIU and they're going to look for the matchups. On the outside, expect them to go after junior cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon instead of redshirt junior Richard Leonard. Their DVR isn't broken. Leonard's simply having a better year against better receivers. The last time Cato saw Leonard, who Phil Steele named a Third Team All-America in his midseason awards, Leonard got an interception in The Beef O'Brady's Bowl.

And they like to throw long. Cato's got the second best yards per completion in the nation.

“Their wide receivers do a great job at the top of their deep ball routes of finishing the routes,” Conklin said Tuesday. “I just told (the cornerbacks) today, we’ve got to get used to finishing on the deep ball.”

Meaning “going attacking at the high point. Not waiting for it," he continued. "A deep ball’s a 50-50 ball, we’ve got to think about we’re turning into the wide receiver, and we’ve got to go get it, not wait for it. If you get position on the wide receiver, great. But now we’ve got to go attack it.”

Marshall's allowed only eight sacks in six games. It'll be tough to get to Cato. Sometimes, however, a good middle push that prevents a quarterback from stepping into a throw works as well as pressure off the ends. Those throws come with a little zip minus, giving coverage time for recovery or interception positioning. Cato's thrown five interceptions and fumbled three times, losing one. Marshall's lost six fumbles as a team. Add it up and the FIU bakery should be open for more turnovers. The Panthers haven't won a game this year without a defensive touchdown. They probably won't beat Marshall without one.

Without much of an offense, FIU yapped at Marshall's heels last year, up 3-0 after one quarter and down 13-3 until the last minutes of the second. A Marshall interception and touchdown drive ended the half 20-3. And, "aloha" means good-bye. 

"The approach we take this year will be a lot different," Conklin said. "Last year, our deal was, we're going to come out trying to blitz and pressure, then kind of settle in. This year, we're structured differently. We feel like we've got a better plan in terms of how to defend them."

Offensively, keep calm. That's what FIU head coach Ron Turner knows he has to do as a play caller especially if Marshall gets off to its normal start.

Marshall's given up 132 yards and zero points in 30 plays on six first opponent drives. Meanwhile, The Herd has scored four touchdowns and a field goal on its six opening drives and hasn't trailed all season.

Too often, coaches facing a Marshall get down early, 10-0, 14-0 and go into full Costanza fire mode.

 

Coaches start reaching for a desperation big punch instead of building their way back into the game. Look for FIU to keep trying to run the ball, throwing the slants and bubble screens. One thing they might want to try, though, especially against fifth-year senior corner Darryl Roberts early -- some type of hitch and go with a serious speedster. Roberts will play in the receiver's mouthpiece and sit on the short stuff early. Just as Texas-San Antonio got the rhythm of FIU's plays, guessed right and got a tipped pass interception, he'll be trying to do the same. FIU needs to throw some wariness into Roberts early.

Middle Tennessee State, with a jumbled line and a few running backs, got to Marshall on the ground off option runs. FIU can do that. Maybe the Panthers can run it with stretch plays, also.

FIU needs to get early points and stay in the game for a half. Here's Marshall's halftime scores this season: 28-3, 17-0, 27-0, 31-3, 42-7, 28-17. The Herd's experienced, but do they even remember what it's like to be in a one-score game at halftime? Throw in the factor of several Marshall players from South Florida getting the rare or last chance to play in front of the home folks and parts can get awfully tight if the score stays close. 

But, cooked down to the rock, it's a veteran team at its peak against a young team hoping to bounce back from disappointment.

Marshall 48, FIU 24.

That's one black man's opinion. I could be wrong.

WOMEN'S SOCCER

FIU took a 1-0 lead into the final minute on Shelby Bowden's first goal of the season. Then, the drama began.

Rice scored with 29 seconds left in regulation to tie the game. In the 97th minute, FIU senior Ashleigh Shim set up fifth-year senior Chelsea Leiva for Leiva's fifth game-winner of the season (ranking fifth nationally), a golden goal that gave FIU a 2-1 win.  FIU, 7-6-1 overall and 2-2-1 in Conference USA plays North Texas Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m.


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