UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES
Thursday -- Women's Basketball vs. North Texas, 7 p.m.
Friday -- Softball vs. Holy Cross, 4:30 p.m.
Friday -- Softball vs. Indiana, 7 p.m.
Saturday -- Tennis vs. George Washington, 9 a.m.
Saturday -- Women's Basketball vs. Rice, noon
Saturday -- Softball vs. Delaware, 4 p.m.
Saturday -- Softball vs. Holy Cross, 6:30 p.m.
Sunday -- Softball vs. Holy Cross, 12:30 p.m.
Softball's early schedule pits FIU against a few Bald Bulls -- then-No. 10 Florida State in last Friday's opener, two games at No. 1 Florida, a home doubleheader against vote-getting Notre Dame -- and FIU softball coach Gator Rebhan calls it "the only way we're going to get better."
They'll need to be for the Conference USA schedule, which begins right after the Mar. 9 twofer against Notre Dame with three games against Charlotte. As Rebhan pointed out, "We have a tough conference. At one point last year, we had 10 teams in the top 100 for RPI. Only the SEC had more at that time."
Rebhan spent his first year at FIU coaching Jake Schumann's roster, which is a little bit like raising another man's child. So, it wasn't surprising when he said "There are a lot of freshmen who are going to play right away."
Here's the freshmen count from FIU's first five games, the Juiceblendz Invitational, in which the Panthers took the last four after losing 7-1 on a late FSU scoring binge:
vs. Florida State: left field Jackie Schoff, pinch hitting Lauren Williams, pitcher Abby Summers (one inning in relief of senior Corinne Jenkins).
vs. St. John's: left field Deven Kennedy, pitching Summers (complete game, one run allowed).
vs. Illinois: left field Schoff, designated player Kennedy, pinch hitting Hallie Roberson.
vs. LIU-Brooklyn: left field Schoff, right field Kennedy, pinch runners Williams and Natalia Rivera.
vs. Valparaiso: left field Schoff, designated player Williams, pitching Megan Kugelmann (one run allowed, win by run rule).
""We have a lot more athleticism. We have more speed," says Rebhan, who says his teams always have that asset. "Our pitching is definitely upgraded from last year. (In 2015) We had a young team, we started off great, expectations were high. We just couldn't get anybody out.
"(Then-freshman Rachel) Dwyer and (then-sophomore Brianna) Bartuccio obviously, they were going to struggle. Shelby Graves struggled, then she broke her hand. We took two of three from some better teams (UAB and FAU), but we got swept by a couple of teams that we shouldn't (sub-.500 teams North Texas and UTEP)."
Which is why FIU, preseason co-favorite with UAB as voted by the coaches, failed to make the conference tournament that was played at FIU Softball Stadium. This year, the coaches slotted FIU sixth.
FIU's top six hitters from last year return, topped of course by two-time All-Conference USA infielder Stephanie Texeira's .444 average. Texeira also led FIU in on base percentage (.613) and slugging percentage (.798). Ashley Leon's .345 and .410 slotted her in second in batting average and on-base percentage. Second in slugging percentage and third in batting average was Aleima Lopez, who started 43 games while Kaitlyn Musa dealt with Bell's Palsy.
"Now, it's like we've got two No. 1 catchers," Rebhan said. "We've got six or seven girls who can play any position out in the field."
But, eventually, FIU's success or failure starts and comes back to the circle, the workspace of Jenkins; Summers; Dwyer; Kugelmann; and junior college transfer Hunter Scharf.
"You're playing so many games, having the depth at pitching is really huge," Rebhan said.