February 26, 2016

Friday Morning Happy Hour for FIU Swim & Dive


 Friday -- Softball vs. Siena, 4:30 p.m.

Friday -- Softball vs. Central Connecticut State, 7 p.m.

Friday -- Baseball vs. Seton Hall, 6:30

Saturday -- Softball vs. Central Connecticut State, 4 p.m.

Saturday -- Softball vs. Deleware, 6:30 p.m.

Saturday -- Baseball vs. Seton Hall, 6:30

Saturday -- Women's Basketball vs. Florida Atlantic, 7 p.m. 

Sunday -- Baseball vs. Seton Hall, 1 p.m.

Sunday -- Softball vs. Siena, 12:30 p.m.

Before we get to the destruction FIU's water women wrought in the pool Friday morning, let's talk tearing it up in the classroom. Senior Valeri Inghels, junior Lily Kaufmann and sophomore Rebecca Quesnel made the 2016 Conference USA All-Academic Swimming & Diving team, as announced Friday afternoon. You need a 3.2 GPA and be an integral part of your team.

Inghels, who won the 500 freestyle Thursday at the CUSA Swimming & Diving Championships, has a 3.89 GPA as a communications arts major. Kaufmann, who led FIU in diving at last year's meet in Quesnel's absence and finished third in the 3-meter Thursday, is a psychology major with a 3.71 GPA. Quesnel, the dominant CUSA regular season diver the last two years, has a 3.78 and studies criminal justice.

Now, then. About that pool...

The clock is ticking on Rice and Marshall at the Conference USA Swimming & Diving Championships because FIU keeps beating Rice, Marshall, the clock and anybody else showing up at the McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta.

FIU did exactly what it needed to do Friday morning as owner's of a 117-point lead on Marshall and 136 on Rice after Day 2: prevent blowouts in their weaker events, set up blowouts in the stronger ones. And without some DQs or drownings, the Panthers could realistically clinch a repeat as Conference USA Champions tonight.

The 400 individual medley is where Rice and Marshall stood the best chance of chopping into FIU's lead. And the two chasing teams did put three each in the top eight, led by Rice sophomore Kaitly Swinney's 4:20.43. But FIU freshman Ilari Manzella (4:20.95, second best behind Swinney) and senior Becky Wilde also got past the rope into the top eight club. FIU's Chase Harris (4:31.37) is in the second eight with two Rice swimmers and one Marshall swimmer. Points bomb defused.

On the other hand, FIU pulled the pins on the grenades in the 100 butterfly and 200 free. Both Inghels (53.69) and freshman Mari Lauridsen (53.76) broke Inghels' school record of 53.88 while sophomore Letizia Bertelli's personal best 54.10 completed a sweep of the top three prelim times. Junior Jenny Deist (54.78) gave FIU half the top eight. Rice and Marshall each have two swimmers in that final.

But in the 200 free, Marshall has zero, Rice has two and FIU's got the top three ("hee-hee!"*): sophomore Kyna Periera (1:49.01), sophomore Skye Carey (1:49.38), senior Jessica Piper (1:49.61).

Those are the same team breakdowns for the 100 backstroke top eight, where FIU freshman Naomi Ruele's 53.90 was the second fastest Friday morning behind North Texas freshman Rebeka Bradley's 53.13. Junior Jenny Alfani (53.94) and sophomore Ally Mayhew (56.47) allow FIU to outflank Rice in the top flight. Rice has three swimmers in the second eight. The 100 breaststroke could see a similar points stalemate or close enough for FIU's purposes. Sophomore Chase Harris' 1:03.83 made the top flight, a team bouillabaisse with two parts Rice, two parts North Texas, two parts Old Dominion, one part FIU, one part FAU and no parts Marshall. Freshman Nicole Hunnewell -- Coral Reef High in the house! -- and senior Jessica Chadwick got into the second eight by swimming 1:04.82 and 1:05.91, respectively.

And, even if all this evens out, the 1-meter diving will push FIU farther into the lead on Rice and generally stalemate with Marshall. Quesnel had the top score with Kaufmann sixth, and The Coronado Twins 10th (Natalia) and 11th (Laura).

A good Friday night by FIU won't leave much room for resurrection by Rice or Marshall on Saturday.

*Stolen from Peter Sellers in the original Casino Royale movie, which was, essentially, an Austin Powers movie done during the era of James Bond flicks the Austin Powers movies parodied 30 years later.

February 25, 2016

Swim & Dive Going '73 Belmont on CUSA; Ruele Sets Meet Record; Track Stuff


With two days left in the Conference USA Swimming & Diving meet, FIU's threatening to turn it into one day for competition, one day for coronation.

A meet record by freshman Naomi Ruele in the 50 freestyle. Another blowout relay win giving FIU the natural hat trick in this meet's relays so far. Somewhere in the great beyond, Secretariat's turning to Man o' War with "You watching this, big black? Dag..."

FIU's 339 points puts them 117 up on second place Marshall and 136 up on third place Rice. Or, talking different math language, FIU has compiled 52.7 percent more points than its closest competitor. Without some serious closing by Rice or Marshall on Friday's third day, what they call in golf Moving Day, FIU can take Saturday as a long parade lap to its second consecutive coronation as queens of the Conference USA pool.

The Thursday rampage started with an FIU quinella, sophomore Kyna Pereira (4:45.62) and freshman Ilari Manzella (4:48.22), in the 500 free with sophomore Skye Carey (4:53.88) getting fifth after being eighth in the prelims. Rice answered by dominating the 200 individual medley, led by Jaecey Parham's 2:00.25. But while Rice took first, fourth, sixth and seventh, the fifth and eighth by FIU seniors Becky Wilde (2:02.80) and Jessica Piper (2:03.71) as well as the 13th by senior Valeri Inghels (2:05.31) ahead of Rice's Carly Pratt kept the destruction from being Hurricane Andrew-on-Countrywalk.

"Becky Wilde, Jessica Piper and Val Inghels are going an exceptional job of showing leadership right now, as far as showing how we want things done, setting the culture," Horner said. "Becky Wilde's performance in the 200 IM was a personal best in her senior year.  A lot of times, swimmers get in that senior stretch, see the end coming and let up."

Still, Rice took a 12-point lead on FIU.

Briefly. Very briefly. Like only long enough for the 50 free finals, a podium sweep for FIU. Ruele's 22.23 broke the Conference USA record of 22.33 she had shared with SMU's Isabella Arcila since the morning prelims. Sophomore Letizia Bertelli and junior Jenny Deist came in with times good enough for NCAA B consideration, 22.82 and 22.88. Dead heating for fifth were junior Jenny Alfani and freshman Mari Lauridsen in 23.02. Ally Mayhew chipped in a 10th (23.35) to more than outweigh Rice's single point from 16th place Shelly Patton.

"We knew we have a good group of sprinters," Horner said. "We thought it was possible to put six in the top eight, but that's tough because other teams have good swimmers and you also start knocking out your own people. We were hoping for four. We thought that was an event we could deliver a big blow."

FIU sophomore Rebecca Quesnel (307.3) and junior Lily Kaufmann (288.2) came in second and third behind Marshall's Megan Wolons (316.7) in the 3-meter diving. Sophomore Laura Coronado (259.70) and twin sister Natalia Coronado (217.70) brought home sixth and 11th place points to make the event an overall win for FIU over Marshall (Rice doesn't dive. Apparently, this year, the Texas Owlwomen don't sprint, either.)

That domination of the 50 free made what happened in the 200 free relay as predictable as Hialeah corruption. Ruele, Bertelli, Alfani and Deist won by 3.75 seconds over Marshall in 1:30.70, beating the school record of 1:31.72 set at the 2015 CUSA meet by Alfani, Bertelli, Karin Tomeckova and Deist.

Just as in modern football, it's about creating big plays for yourself and limiting the big plays by the other side, swim and track meets can be about landing big shots as FIU did in the 50 free and turning the competition's big shots into glancing blows, as FIU did to Rice in the 200 IM.

I asked Horner what Friday's equivalent of Thursday's 200 IM would be. He picked the 400 IM, which would have Manzella, Wilde and Chase Harris. He thinks FIU's next big shot could be in the 100 butterfly and the next relay, the 400 Medley Relay, could be the toughest relay fight with Rice, Marshall and North Texas all contenders.


How close did junior Alton Eliphar come to winning an individual title in the men's 60 meters at the CUSA Indoor Track & Field Championships Thursday? Ready? Set? Blink!

You took too long.

Eliphar finished a mere one hundredth of a second -- .01 of a second, that is -- behind Louisiana Tech's Jermey Hicks, 6.70 to 6.71, in the 60. That second, Luka Mustafic's second in the shot put (55 feet, 11 3/4 inches or 17.06 meters) and Chris Sullivan's third in the heptathlon accounted for 22 of the FIU men's 26 points. Sullivan won the 1000 meters in the heptathlon on the way to 4,856 points. 

A pair of thirds highlighted the women's effort. Senior Cam'ree Jackson's 7.49 got her 60 meters down the track in third and freshman Clarissa Cutliff's 5-7 in the high jump did the same.


Park That Stuff Here

The athletic department is about to announce that FIU baseball fans should confine their parking to Lot 7, across the street from the baseball stadium in the lot bordered by the Fieldhouse and the art studio. Lot 7 will be open one hour before first pitch and one hour after game's end. 

No parking in the Campus Support Complex lot, west of the field; at the FIU Soccer Stadium; or on the dance floor.



The Pool Remains Blue (& Gold) Thursday Morning as Ruele Ties Meet Record

When it comes to winning long races, big meets and the heart of your Desired, you've got to get yourself in position to be in position. FIU walked into Thursday morning with a 14-point lead over Marshall and Rice at the Conference USA Women's Swimming & Diving meet. After Thursday morning's preliminaries, FIU's might walk out of Georgia Tech's McAuley Athletics Center after Thursday night's finals in position to end the competitive phase of the meet Friday.

That's a long way away, but a distance that gets shorter each time FIU packs the top flight of a final.

FIU freshmen Naomi Ruele and Ilari Manzella led Panthers domination of the 50 freestyle and 500 free, respectively. While Ruele's 22.33 tied the meet record set by SMU's Isabella Arcila in 2013 and broke her own FIU record of 22.73, sophomore Letizia Bertelli (23.03), juniors Jenny Alfani (23.08) and Jenny Deist (23.09) came in second, fourth and fifth. Freshman Mauri Laudrisen (23.21) gave FIU five of the eight finalists. Marshall has two. North Texas has one. Do the math and you'll see Rice, the meet favorite if you went by national rankings, has none.

Manzella (4:49.80) and sophomore Kyna Periera (4:50.01) came in first and second in the 500 prelim. Sophomore Skye Carey (4:57.07) makes three FIU finalists. Rice has two. Marshall has one.

Rice did put four finalists to FIU's two in the 200 individual medley, including top qualifier Jaecey Parham (2:00.41). FIU seniors Becky Wilde (2:03.77) and Jessica Piper (2:04.19) just have to stem the damage, especially with the 3-meter diving being this evening also.



February 24, 2016

Blue on the Diamond, Gold in the Water

The baseball team's Wednesday afternoon playdate with Missouri, ranked in some preseason polls, didn't go as well as their dinner plans with St. Thomas did Tuesday night. But FIU's best program and other 2015 Conference USA champions made up for it Wednesday night.

As the Conference USA Swimming & Diving Championships opened Wednesday, FIU let the rest of the conference know the title isn't up for grabs -- it must be taken from the Panthers or it's coming back to Camp Mitch. FIU swept the first day's two events, the 200 Medley Relay and the 800 Free Relay, to take a 14-point lead into Thursday against Rice and Marshall.

Here's what should worry Rice and Marshall and give FIU that first bite of Ben & Jerry's feeling: last year, FIU started slowly in the relays.

This year, freshman Naomi Ruele, sophomores Chase Harris and Letizia Bertelli and junior Jenny Deist took the 200 Medley Relay in 1:40.60, 61 hundredths of a second over Marshall which beat Rice by a blink (three hundredths of a second) for second. Bertelli's 23.77 butterfly leg took FIU from fifth to first and Deist's 22.66 freestyle anchor leg brought home the win and a school record, beating the 1:41.78 at last year's conference meet by Silvia Scalia, Klara Andersson, Bertelli and Deist.

The 800 free relay gave everybody else the wake view from sophomore Skye Carey's 1:48.08 opening leg through senior Jessica Piper's 1:49.03, senior Becky Wilde's 1:48.38 and sophomore Kyna Pereira's 1:47.43 anchor leg. The 7:12.92 provided a 4.9-second victory over Rice and was the second fastest in FIU history behind Johanna Gustafsdottir, Sonia Perez, Dani Albright and Marina Ribi at the 2013 Sun Belt Conference meet.

After Missouri slapped around starter Cody Crouse, the baseball team rallied from a 7-1 deficit to 7-6 and had Kolby Follis on third with no outs in the eighth. The inning died with Follis on third, just as the ninth did with a runner on second. Baseball fell to 1-4 going into this weekend's series with Seton Hall. 



February 23, 2016

Past, Present & Future


Tuesday -- Baseball vs. St. Thomas, 6:30 p.m.

Tuesday -- Baseball vs. Missouri, 3 p.m.

Thursday -- Softball vs. Central Connecticut State, 7 p.m.

Friday -- Softball vs. Siena, 4:30 p.m.

Friday -- Softball vs. Central Connecticut State, 7 p.m.

Friday -- Baseball vs. Seton Hall, 6:30

Saturday -- Softball vs. Central Connecticut State, 4 p.m.

Saturday -- Softball vs. Deleware, 6:30 p.m.

Saturday -- Baseball vs. Seton Hall, 6:30

Sunday -- Baseball vs. Seton Hall, 1 p.m.

Sunday -- Softball vs. Siena, 12:30 p.m.

So, last weekend, men's basketball and baseball went 0 for 5 while softball (8-2) went 4 for 5.

Granted, baseball played Ole Miss, ranked in some polls, receiving votes in others. What's men's basketball's excuse for refunding a game to North Texas, then getting treated by Rice the way teenage George Foreman used to treat other Houston kids before somebody put boxing gloves on his hands?

Men's hoop gets the week off to practice before Saturday's run up the Glades Road exit to FAU. Baseball gets to build its confidence on St. Thomas during Tuesday's home opener. 


FIU goes into this week's Conference USA meet ranked second to Rice in CUSA according to CollegeSwimming.com. Expect FIU to crush all 'round in diving, led by sophomore Rebecca Quesnel. But it'll be swimming depth that decides the meet. 


The Conference USA meet, in Birmingham, 'Bama, starts Wednesday. FIU fans can binge watch Better Call Saul until 11 a.m. Thursday, the start time for the men's shot put and women's high jump. FIU's got the No. 3 seed in each. Freshman Clarissa Cutliff's 5-8 3/4 and two other jumpers are 1 3/4 inches under top seed Middle Tennessee State's Barbara Vilson's 5-10 1/2. Senior Luka Mustafic's school record set last year of 59-1/2 is about halfway between his best this year, 56-2 1/2, and the 61-8 1/4 best from Western Kentucky's Nick Demaline.

While all this is going on, junior Alton Eliphar (200 meters) and senior Cam'ree Jackson (60 meters) could be contending in their events.



February 21, 2016

Droppings from Saturday's embrace of Russo and Nissen

Thoughts, sights and sounds from the Saturday ceremony honoring Cindy Russo and Inge Nissen (or "The institution honoring institutions.").

Nobody seemed to be having more fun than the table with Russo's earliest FIU players. That table also stood nearest the alcohol. Possibly not a coincidence, although they sounded more loaded on camaraderie and nostalgia. They talked about running on the soccer field at 5 a.m., flashlights for light, and not touching a ball for weeks early in training camp. My favorite story: if Russo found out two players didn't like each other, she'd make them room together so players either worked out personal beefs or kept them on the down low.


Another table of former players stood shocked as FIU let Rice dribble out the clock on a 68-62 loss. The Panthers trailed by two three-pointers with enough time for two desperate possessions if Rice missed free throws. Alas...

FIU named the women's basketball locker room after Russo and gave her a key symbolizing free admittance to all future FIU athletic events. In the first place, isn't lifetime free athletic event admittance something that should be given to every coach who stays at FIU five years or longer? What, there's a shortage of seats available? FIU really needs the bucks that they can't give the wave-in to every coach who lasts five years in an athletic department perpetually at that awkward age?

Secondly, giving Russo the locker room? I guess that's what left. FIU's sold the court to Lime restaurant. I'm sure they hope to sell the arena name to somebody again (Is there a Sunblazer company making anything, providing any services? Be funny if it were Sunblazer Arena again...). So maybe slap Russo's name on a section of seats? Or, how about both Russo and Nissen's names on the basketball bench?

Speaking of which, Nissen maneuvered players out of Eastern Europe to go to FIU. You think she can't pull a few dollars out of some potential donors? Plus, she's got respect. Find her a job in development for the school or athletic department.

But learn how to pronounce her name first. She was at FIU only 26 years. I'm not talking to you, President Rosenberg. Who am I kidding? Yes, I am. 

Whether Andrea Nagy, Branzova and Dessi Dakova stand as FIU women's basketball's Apollo 11 or Mercury Three, they were pioneers who rocketed the program forward. FIU got the jump on talent from the former Warsaw Pact countries once the Soviet Union collapsed. The success of the Hungarian Nagy and Branzova and Davova from Bulgaria prompted other Eastern European players to consider coming to play at a little known American school in a well-known American town.

"How we got them out, I still don't know," Nissen said. "We got lucky that Albena's dad was affiliated with the (Bulgarian basketball) federation. We had sent packages to the federation. And he found them -- "These have my daughter's name on them, what are these?"

Nissen said Daddy Branzova was told "Oh, no, no, don't touch those" then took them anyway. "Then, we were able to contact them," she continued. "When I called over there -- at times, you couldn't get through and you couldn't hear anything worth a damn in the first place."

Then, there was the language barrier. Nissen spoke French to Dakova's mother, who spoke French, and Dakova.

"American basketball was the standard for that time," Dakova said. "There was nothing like it. It was (exciting) for us to go and actually experience that, to train under and American coach. And we said, "Why not?" I think most of us were adventurous at that time since we had played all over the world before coming here. We didn't know anything about the school. We just knew it was here. Miami! Nice beaches!"

Nissen recalls Branzova had to take the SAT a few times to get into FIU. Dakova said she focused on the math part, got almost all the points she needed for eligibility right there.  

"She gave us lots of freedom," All-American point guard Nagy said describing Russo's style coaching those early-to-mid-1990s teams. "She brought in all these great players that made us a great team."

The last women's basketball team I covered before leaving the Neighbors Northwest-North Central/FIU slot for the Florida Panthers beat played the most aesthetic basketball I saw in this town until the Heat's Big Three era. Later FIU teams with many of the same players reset the program's standards for success. Nagy picked the 23-4 1993-94 season, the first year FIU got ranked and made the NCAA Division I tournament, as her favorite memory.

I wish I'd seen that team or the 1995 team that went 27-5 and made it to the second round of the tournament. Because Nagy's sophomore year, 1992-93, FIU's women performed with the athletically stylish cohesion of a basketball Alvin Ailey company. 

The 6-4 Branzova was the chessboard queen or Eddie Murphy's shoe-throwing mother -- she could mess up your whole program from anywhere. She could score in the post all the way out to three-point range. If she had the ball down low and the defense fell asleep on the backside, she'd whip a no-look pass over her shoulder to a cutting forward for a layup. Nagy ran the fast break with perfect fundamentals, head up, with BMW M3 speed and maneuverability. As soon as someone came open, ZIP! Layup.

 "I think we just got lucky," Nagy said. "We had Albena who was a really good shooter. Myself, who loved to pass and had the speed to push the ball. And we had Tatana (Pokorna) who would get out there and finish the fast breaks. Everybody else were parts to the puzzle to make us something really great."



February 20, 2016

Cindy Russo's Best Wins


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.

Tuesday -- Baseball vs. St. Thomas, 6:30 p.m.

Tuesday -- Baseball vs. Missouri, 3 p.m.

Thursday -- Softball vs. Central Connecticut State, 7 p.m.

Friday -- Softball vs. Siena, 4:30 p.m.

Friday -- Softball vs. Central Connecticut State, 7 p.m.

Friday -- Baseball vs. Seton Hall, 6:30

FIU honoring former women's basketball coach Cindy Russo and 26-year assistant/associate coach Inge Nissen at halftime of today's noon game against Rice prompted me to ask Russo for her top five wins at FIU. Not an easy task culling five from 667. But here's what she put forth:

FIU 81, Old Dominion 76, Mar. 16, 1995 -- In the first round of the NCAA tournament, FIU knocks out Russo and Nissen's alma mater to get the program's first NCAA tournament win in the senior year of Third Team All-America guard Andrea Nagy and Honorable Mention All-America center Albena Branzova. Freshman Gergana Branzova was a freshman All-America.

FIU 82, Wake Forest 78, Nov. 30, 1995 -- In the freshman year of Dalma Ivanyi, the Panthers upset the Deacons at Wake Forest.

FIU 59, Marquette 45, Mar. 15, 1998 -- NCAA Regional first round game at Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

FIU 69, Tulane 55, Mar. 13, 2014 -- No. 13 seed FIU upset No. 4 seed Tulane in the Conference USA tournament semifinal behind 50 percent shooting and 34 points from Jerica Coley. The Panthers closed the game on an 11-0 run, 10 points of which came from Coley. 

Beating the University of Miami over there -- Any of the nine times FIU won at Coral Gables.


February 19, 2016

Spring Football! Yay!


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.

What We Learned From Spring Football, 2013: They're in trouble, Jack.

What We Learned From Spring Football, 2014: Freshman Alex McGough will be the starting quarterback by midseason.

What We Learned From Spring Football, 2015: Shawn Abrams will be a star at wide receiver, come the fall (OK, not everything taught is the truth).

What will we learn this spring, which starts Mar. 7? The practice schedule.

Mar. 7, 9, 10, 22, 24, 29, 31: 9-11:30 a.m.

Mar. 25: 6-8:30 p.m.

Apr. 2, 5, 7, 9, 12, 14: 9-11:30 a.m. 

Apr. 15: Spring Game, 6-8:30 p.m.



Practices are open by invitation or to family and friends. They'll be on the FIU football practice field. Which happens to be the same as the FIU football game field, Ocean Bank Field at FIU Stadium.

February 17, 2016

Not-As-Great (But Still High) Expecations


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.




February 15, 2016

The Weekend That Was

FIUphiles could save the Percoset and just gulp down this weekend's athletic results. Remember Steve Harvey's routine that "White people have wonderful weekends?" Almost that good.

A decade-old indoor track school record fell when senior Brandon Ballard burned through a 400 in 48.19 seconds at the Grand Valley State Big Meet, knocking off Alonzo Phillips' 2006-set record of 48.31. Ballard's time tied for 183rd in the nation this indoor season. 

In Marlin Chinn's first year, defense and rebounding remain areas of deficiency for the women's basketball team. Getting 6-2 Brianna Wright back from injury helps with the latter, obviously. After she grabbed 20 rebounds Saturday afternoon in the Panthers' 59-54 win at UTSA, FIU's 2-2 in Wright's four games after going winless in the first nine Conference USA games. In case you were wondering, the school single game record is 26, set by Barbara Howell against Tampa, Jan. 26, 1980.

That's one of the few significant FIU women's basketball moments for which Cindy Russo wasn't present. She was in the second of two years as Lamar's head coach. (If you've been around FIU long enough to know off the top of your head that Mary Ellen Fiske headed FIU's women's hoops program that season, we keep the Metamucil on the second shelf of the pantry). Saturday at halftime of the noon game against Rice, FIU will honor Russo and former assistant/associate coach Inge Nissen, the two women who recruited, coached, pushed and tugged the women's program to success over three decades.

The men's basketball team broke their five-game losing streak by doing what they should against UTSA's men. FIU's most consistent scorer this season, Daviyon Draper, scored exactly his conference game average of 18, grabbed seven rebounds and played all but the last 30 seconds. But the most interesting aspect of the game jumped out as the five Panthers starters took the floor. Still planted on the bench for the first time in his FIU career: center Adrian Diaz. Too much statistical invisibility for one so large prompted FIU coach Anthony Evans to try benching Diaz for motivation. A roused Diaz scored 17 points and pulled down nine rebounds before fouling out.

Softball opened the season with a late big-inning 7-1 loss to No. 10 Florida State, but did so in front of a full house at FIU Softball Stadium. The Panthers won their remaining four games at the Juiceblendz Invitational. More on softball from second-year head coach Gator Rebhan in the next post.


February 08, 2016

Future Watch


Thursday -- Men's Basketball vs. UTEP, 7 p.m.

Friday -- Softball vs. Florida State, 7 p.m.

Saturday -- Softball vs. St. John's, 5:30 p.m.

Saturday -- Men's Basketball vs. UTSA, 7 p.m.

Saturday -- Softball vs. Illinois, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday -- Softball vs. LIU-Brooklyn, 1 p.m.

Sunday -- Softball vs. Valparaiso, 3:30 p.m.

The Futures market sells big in FIU Athletics these days.

Make no mistake, it always has. Talk of what could be, should be, will be (maybe) always seems to draw more interest at FIU than what is. Maybe it's just I'm noticing this confluence this year.

Softball starts this Friday at home. Baseball begins a week from Friday at Ole Miss. Sand Volleyball will start soon after finishing last season ranked No. 4 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll. And, of course, we just had Signing Day with the football coaching staff likely looking at a Pack For a Bowl or Pack Up the Office season.

Now, take men's basketball, 11-13 overall, 5-6 in Conference USA, zero for four in its last four. You knew the season had entered the "just get ready for the conference tournament" phase when when coach Anthony Evans exuded an almost sanguine air after the Jan. 30 men's basketball home loss to Old Dominion. FIU did some things well, not enough or as many as Old Dominion and took a four-point loss. They're still trying to gain the cohesion and consistency of a team, which is where they seem to be at this point every year. Even in Evans' third year, there's still a chop shop quality to the roster -- this part from a Hialeah body shop, this piece from Sanford & Son's area, these pieces driven down from Tallahassee. There's not wholesale roster changes, but enough key players change each year that FIU seems perpetually trying to get past the dating stage.

The good news for the women's basketball team (3-19, 1-10)? Everybody makes the conference tournament. The bad news? FIU has to play with this year's team instead of next year's. This year's Panthers show about 72 times more pluck than they did last year. They're still tax refund light on talent and focus. Nobody's looked forward to next year like this since the Brooklyn Dodgers ("Wait 'til next year!") or 1960s Dallas Cowboys (Next Year's Champions).

Here's what FIU gains next year: a pair of three-star freshman forwards, 6-1 Sydney Fields from Lilburn (Ga.) Parkview and 6-2 Jamesia Amand from Dallas Skyline; three-star 5-7 point guard Alexis Gordon from Palm Bay Covenant Christian; point guard Kayla Rogers, who runs the show for Jacksonville Ribault, which has been nationally ranked this year; and 6-4 transfer Erin Garner, a former three-star recruit who transferred from Georgia Tech. Oh, and last year's CUSA Freshman of the Year, 6-1 forward Kiandre'a Pound, will be back from spending a redshirt season becoming a mommy.

Swim & Dive just finished its dual meet season at 8-5 by beating FAU 115-71 and the defending Conference USA champions enter conference meet prep. With the variation how much stress some programs put on earlier season meets, checking out top conference times can be like looking at a Kandinsky -- looks wonderful, but you might not be seeing what you think you're seeing. Still, FIU's got one of the top two CUSA times this year in the 50 freestyle, 100 free, 200 free, 500 free, 1000 free, 1,650 free (sophomores Kyna Periera and Naomi Ruele, take a bow); 100 back (Ruele), 400 free relay, 800 free relay, 400 medley relay; and sophomore Rebecca Quesnel could sweep the three diving competitions.

But FIU's owned the best individuals at conference meets before and been left to celebrate them while finishing from here to Hollywood from the team title. That changed in 2015 with FIU's depth burying second place Rice. The challenge is to repeat that feat Feb. 24-27 in Atlanta.


February 05, 2016

Women's BBall Gets First Conference Win In a Long Time

On Feb. 22, 2014, senior guard Jerica Coley scored 35 points on 12 of 26 shooting from the field and eight of 11 from the free throw line to lead FIU to a 77-66 win against Marshall.

FIU's women's basketball team lost its next 30 regular season Conference USA games. Until Thursday.

Senior guard Taylor Shade went off for an efficient 26 points -- nine of 13 from the field, three of four from three-point range, five of five from the line -- and Destini Feagin dropped in 19 points with seven rebounds and two steals as the Panthers beat UAB 72-61 at FIU Arena. First-year coach Marlin Chinn gets a conference result to go with his upbeat, energetic attitude.

FIU hosts Middle Tennessee State Saturday at 2 p.m.


February 04, 2016

The 2016 FIU Football Schedule

This year, the Panthers get a bye week, between Western Kentucky and Marshall. We don't know yet which games will be on CBS Sports Network; Fox Sports Net; or moved by American Sports Network to noon, stripping attendance, then not shown anywhere south of Destin...before the generator blows, taking the broadcast off the air.

Sept. 1 -- vs. Indiana

Sept. 10 -- vs. Maryland

Sept. 17 -- at UMass

Sept. 24 -- vs. Central Florida

Oct. 1 -- vs. FAU

Oct. 8 -- at UTEP

Oct. 15 -- at Charlotte

Oct. 22 -- vs. Louisiana Tech

Oct. 29 -- vs. Middle Tennessee State

Nov. 5  -- at Western Kentucky

Nov. 12 -- BYE WEEK

Nov. 19 -- vs. Marshall

Nov. 26 -- at Old Dominion


What Have We Here?

Yeah, like anybody really knows for sure.

Longtime readers of this blog know much as I love the hectic pace of Signing Day and will report analysis of recruiting gurus/websites, I stick by the theory that nobody knows nothin' at the mid-major level. Look how often the big boys whiff on recruits and they're taking guys my daughter (great run after catch, hates watching football) can pick out as good players. Down in Group of 5 Land, it's truly like television programming (Family Guy's in its 11th consecutive season on the same network that twice before canceled it).

Who knows which young man finds greater joy in Proust, pipe or Paula than in post patterns or pass protection? Who knows which young man finds the work ethic that another loses? Who knows who reacts to the challenge of the next level with elan and who suffers shrinkage? Who knows which kid truly responds to a particular coach or which position coach fails the players under him? Or does that coach or coaches stay? Staffs change like the time at G5 schools.

What does it mean that Rivals.com, as of this moment, puts FIU at 99th nationally and No. 8 in Conference USA? Or that 247Sports.com puts FIU at 107th and 10th? About as much as it meant in 2013. Remember that FIU class? Only the defensive backs kept that from being the consensus worst rated class in FBS that year. Here's the top rated recruits from that class, according to ESPN:

(What follows isn't to make fun of or throw shade on the young men, who came into a calamitous situation at FIU and I hope are having good college experiences. But, rather, I'm making fun of and throwing shade on analyst projections.)

1. Vontarius West, defensive back -- Saw his first significant playing time this season as a backup linebacker.

2. Travis Wright, quarterback -- Spent the late summer bounce passing throws like the quarterback of a basketball offense. Then, there were questions about his eligibility. Then, he was gone. Never played a down at FIU.

3. Chris Flaig, offensive lineman -- Non-football related health issues sidelined him for the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

4. Jordan Budwig, offensive lineman -- Started all 24 games his first two seasons before a shoulder injury ended his junior year before it began.

5. Willie Smith, defensive back -- Never enrolled. Now playing at Division II Ferris State.

Hmmm...maybe Rivals.com knew better. Let's look at their top five from that year:

1. West -- Oh, OK.

2. Xavier Hines, defensive back -- Redshirted, didn't play a game as a redshirt freshman, got into 11 games in 2015, started one.

3. Silas Spearman, running back -- Ran for 130 yards in FIU's only 2013 win, then suffered a knee injury that wiped out 2014. Played four games in 2015.

4. Smith -- Well...

5. Wilkenson Myrtil, defensive back -- Started two games in 2013 and 2014 each, at cornerback. Started three games at safety before suffering a season-ending concussion.

Now, let's look at 247Sports.com. They tend to have the best take on this recruiting thing:

West -- Huh.

Hines -- Huh (again).

Jordan Gibbs, linebacker/defensive end -- Redshirted in 2013. Moved to fullback in 2014. Jettisoned by 2015.

Budwig -- OK.

Jeremy Derrick, linebacker -- Redshirted in 2013. Didn't get into a game in 2014 or 2015.

Anybody see tight end Jonnu Smith, FIU's best offensive player since T.Y. Hilton, on any of the lists? Or linebacker Treyvon Williams? What you do see: injuries, players re-cast in different roles, players just not working out for whatever reason.

Whether or not you like Ron Turner overall as a coach, you have to like that he insists on FIU doing its own homework on players such as talking to custodians -- the eyes and ears of educational institutions -- to discern a player's character (oh, future recruits take note that they really do watch your Twitter account). And FIU does its own player evaluations. You'd be surprised how many times coaches can be lemmings, although you shouldn't be considering how every sports league is a copycat league. The same coaches who bellow about leadership turn into lockstep followers all too often.

Quarterback Maurice Alexander's lack of ideal size limited his offers despite showing some moxie the few times Booker T. got in a tight situation his senior year. Turner loves Alexander's leadership charisma. Running back D'Angelo Ware averaged 12.9 yards per carry in Florida, where speed in the secondary can turn 50-yard average-boosting runs into 20 or 25 yarders. He was offered by Troy, FAU, Georgia Southern and New Hampshire (FCS).

John Madden recalls that during his Raiders coaching days (yes, kids, the guy with his name on the video game used to coach) NFL player personnel ace Ron Wolf would say about a player something like, "He'll be a good player in the league, but he won't be a good player for us."  Few players FIU's got a shot to get come one size fits all.

Long-winded way of saying maybe 247Sports.com and Rivals.com are right. And, even if they are, it might not matter one bit.


February 03, 2016

Signed, Sealed, Delivered to FIU

Good morning and welcome to National Signing Day, 2016! As the signings roll in, I'll be updating on Twitter (@DavidJNeal) and here beneath the blog's usual Signing Day song.



Matt Kramer            DE       Lakeland High                        6-4, 225 Two stars by 247Sports.com, Rivals.com, Scout.com

Hunter Orem           LB       Lakeland Lake Gibson              6-2, 200 Two stars by 247Sports.com, Rivals.com, Scout.com

Wyatt Panaccione    OT      Clearwater Countryside            6-5, 285 Two stars by 247Sports.com, Rivals.com, unrated by Scout.com

Ulice Gillard           WR     Orlando Lake Nona                   6-2, 205 Two stars by 247Sports.com, Rivals.com, Scout.com

Zach Armour           TE      Cocoa High                              6-4, 215  Two stars by 247Sports.com, Scout.com, Rivals.com

Khairi Reaser          CB      San Jose City Football               5-9, 175  Two stars by Rivals.com. 

Shane McGough       C     Tampa Gaither                         6-2, 275 Three stars by 247Sports.com, two stars by Rivals.com, unrated by Scout.com

Jose Borregales       K       Booker T. Washington High       5-11, 180 Three stars by 247Sports.com, Scout.com. Two stars by Rivals.com.

JoJo Louis              S       Bradenton Braden River              6-0, 190 Two stars by 247Sports.com, Rivals.com, unrated by Scout.com

Malik Tyson            QB      Tampa Robinson                        6-3, 195 Unrated by 247Sports.com, Scout.com, Rivals.com

Andrew Tarver        DT      Powder Springs (Ga.) McEachern High 6-0, 297 Three stars by 247Sports, two stars by Rivals.com and Scout.com

Isaiah Brown           CB      Tampa Bay Tech                               6-1, 165 Two stars by 247Sports.com Rivals.com and Scout.com

Shakur Cooper       LB/DE  Coral Gables High                             6-1, 210    Three stars by Rivals.com, two stars by 247Sports.com and Scout.com

D'Angelo Ware        RB        Moore Haven High                           5-8, 185  Unrated by Scout.com, 247Sports.com, Rivals.com

Stantley Thomas     WR      Punta Gorda Charlotte                     6-0, 168 Two stars by 247Sports.com, Rivals.com, Scout.com

Darrius Scott          WR       Booker T. Washington                      5-10, 175 Two stars by 247Sports.com, Scout.com, Rivals.com

Bryan Ditchman      OL       New Lenox (IL) Lincoln-Way Central   6-3, 295 Two stars by 247Sports.com, Rivals.com, unrated by Scout.com

Elbre Gaiter          WR      Westminster Christian                       5-10, 170 Three stars by 247Sports.com and Scout.com, two stars by Rivals.com

Devontay Taylor         DE       New Port Richey J.W. Mitchell     6-4, 265 Two stars by 247Sports.com, Scout.com, Rivals.com

Shawndarrius Phillips  RB      Delray Beach Atlantic                 5-11, 218 Three stars by 247Sports.com, two stars by Scout.com and Rivals.com


Newton Salisbury     DE     Northeastern Oklahoma A&M JC  6-4, 245 Two stars by 247Sports.com, Rivals.com

Dallas Connell         OG    Jacksonville First Coast               6-3, 275 Two stars by 247Sports.com, Scout.com, Rivals.com

Doug Connell       C      Jacksonville First Coast               6-3, 285 Three stars by Scout.com, two stars by 247Sports.com and Rivals.com

Isaiah Hill                S      Tallahassee Florida High             6-1, 190 Two stars by 247Sports.com, Scout.com, Rivals.com


February 02, 2016

Turner Talk on The Day Before The Day

Unless you're Nick Saban, Jim Harbaugh or whoever's at Texas or Notre Dame, a college-affiliated football coach nearing Signing Day better behave like a man with many high maintenance girlfriends on Valentine's Day. Recruits must be basted with attention lest some last minute love from a place with a sexier tradition/conference/campus/student body flips the recruit into another's dorm.

FIU's experienced that Sunday, apparently losing linebacker Donavan Thompson to Utah. And it might happen again Wednesday. It's why FIU coach Ron Turner was happy he got running back/wide receiver Anthony Jones, quarterback Christian Alexander and defensive end Fermin Silva enrolled early last year. Turner's not confident FIU would've been able to hold onto them had they waited another five weeks to Signing Day.

Turner looked rather sanguine Tuesday morning. There would be a round of phone calls later in the day to go with the round of phone calls made Monday to retain FIU's commits as well as trying to be some flippin' Panthers themselves. The climax of year No. 4 in this modern era of recruiting was less than 24 hours away (speaking of modern era, recruits, watch your Twitter feeds...)

Turner referred to no recruits, other than early enrollments, by name.  

What positions had you wanted to focus on this year?

RT: Several. Corners, we needed to get some help there losing our two starters. We've got some good young guys, but we needed to get some more depth there, we did. Both lines, offensive and defensive. Always need to get numbers up there. We've done that. We've got five offensive linemen committed and four defensive linemen, plus an offensive lineman who gray-shirted last year (Jacksonville Fletcher's Andrew Burgess), so six coming in new, three this spring (Burgess, Jacksonville First Coast twins Douglas and Dallas Connell) and a DB, who'll be here this spring. More of a safety, but he could play corner (Isaiah Hill). We've got two defensive ends, two defensive inside guys, although a couple are interchangeable. Four receivers, which we needed. I like the guys we got, too. They've got a chance to help us right away, all four of them (Booker T. Washington's Darrius Hill, Westminster Christian's Elbre Gaiter, North Port's Stantley Thomas, Orlando Lake Nona's Ulice Gillard).

Why can they help you next year? Are they all of a type? What are they bringing?

RT: Speed. This group has good size and speed. We've got one smaller type guy in the slot, who I think will help us -- shifty, really good quickness. The other three have good size -- big, physical, long good size receivers that are good after the catch. That's the biggest thing. They're playmakers and can run. We had every one of them in camp. So, we got to work with them and see them as well as see all their film.

What's your philosophy on recruiting quarterbacks? (Bud Martin transferred to Eastern Illinois)

RT: I like to try to take at least one every year. We've got two freshmen (Christian Alexander and Maurice Alexander) that I'm very, very excited about and Alex, a two-year starter with two years left. Those two freshmen, I can't wait to get into spring ball now that they've had a year of learning the system, a year in the weight room. They both have a chance to be really good. It's going to be a very competitive situation, a fun situation.  

Why have you been pretty successful up in the Jacksonville-Tampa axis?

RT: No. 1, the coaches do a good job up there. They know people. People trust them. They identify the kids early. It's not as heavily recruited as down here, so we give them more attention, I think. The coaches do a good job of seeing them early, this time of year. We see them in December and January, then go back and see them in the spring. Then, get them in camp up there. The camps have been invaluable as well. So we get a chance to know them and they get a chance to know us. We've had quite a few kids from there that have had success, so those kids know that as well.

Who does the Jacksonville/Tampa areas?

RT: We've had different people. My son, Cameron, did it the first two years and did a good job up there. Shannon Moore took it over when (Cameron Turner) left. He and Kort Shankweiler do a lot of it. Kort does all the Orlando area and he got into Jacksonville and he does Tallahassee. So he did a really good job in those areas. Steve Shankweiler does a really good job in Tampa and Central Florida. He coached there for a long time, he knows a lot of the coaches. And he did a good job in Atlanta. That's an area we'll probalby go into a little bit more. Steve's recruited there for a lot of years. We'll probably expand into there because the reception there is pretty good. Matt House has done a good job in Tampa, south Tampa, the Bradenton-Sarasota area.

We're going to really make sure we hit this South Florida area. We've got guys who have, but we're going to make sure every coach on the staff is going to have some schools in Miami-Dade or Broward. Each guy might have four schools. We've done a good job of getting a lot of coaches out. Tim Harris, Jr. might have Booker T. (Washington High). We'll make sure other coaches go in there. If we've got a receiver, we'll make sure (receivers coach) Kort Shankweiler goes in there, Steve Shankweiler as an (offensive) coordinator went in there. We get more people going to all the schools. We'll continue to do the same thing. We'll just have more assigned schools and they'll cross over. I think it's important we have a lot of our guys visible in the area.

Tim being in the area, been a huge name, he and his dad. Greg Moss being a local guy is a big name that's been good and it'll continue to get better when they have a full season to recruit the area. (Defensive line coach) Paul Valero coming on board, he's got a lot of ties, a lot of local connections in Miami. He's already made a little impact here with the guys he knows.

Locally, this year, it's looking thin. Had you expected to do a little bit better?

RT: No, I think it's pretty good, for the guys we targeted and the ones we went after, we didn't get all of them. Obviously, we lost some. We lost some late. But, for the most part, I'm pleased with what we did here and the reception from the coaches. The kids we realistically felt we had a chance to get and went after, I think we did pretty well (four players from Dade). It's an area we'll keep grinding on.

(DJN digression: to be fair, most observers see this as a down year for Miami-Dade talent as compared to past year or Broward County. So, if there's any year to be light on Dade, it's this one).

Do you find locally that some kids just want to leave town?

RT: No question about it. Every kid is different. Some, it's really important to stay home so mother, father and whatever can see them play. Other kids say, "I've been in Miami my whole life. I want something different. I want to get out. There's no question that comes up. You've got to try to identify that early.

Quesnel Gets Another CUSA Diver of the Week Award

Sophomore Rebecca Quesnel's 1-meter dive scoring 286.65 and her 3-meter dive scoring 285.5 each qualified her for the NCAA Zone Championships. They were also enough for Quesnel to be named Conference USA Diver of the Week for the fifth time this season and fourth consecutive time the honor has been bestowed.

January 31, 2016

Top Miami-Dade County commit Donavan Thompson flips

I explained to someone Sunday that the difference between an early enrolled player and a verbal commit is the difference between being married and being engaged.

Central linebacker Donavan Thompson took off FIU's promise ring and put on Utah's, he announced Sunday night via Twitter. Thompson had been FIU's highest ranked commit from Miami-Dade, No. 19 on The Herald's Top 50 from the county. Rivals.com put him as FIU's top overall recruit. 247sports.com put Thompson behind Jacksonville Ed White defensive back Jadarius Byrd.

"He was the heart of our defense," Central coach Roland Smith said to me last week. "He was the guy who made sure we were lined up right. He got all the signals. He played in a Ray Lewis kind of fashion for us."

Yeah, that kind of makes FIU's Miami-Dade prospective haul look pretty thin -- three every down players and a kicker. That's less than fellow mid-majors Florida Atlantic and Toledo, which is strange considering FIU really seemed to be building a much better relationship with Dade schools, particularly in North Central Dade.




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