We know at least one FIU winter sports team will head for the Conference USA championship gathering in Birmingham.
Women's basketball? Nope. Men's basketball? Probably. The indoor track team's already in Birmingham for its conference meet, which runs Wednesday and Thursday.
FIU brings the most muscle in the field events, such as the women's weight throw, where junior Raquarra Ishmar has the top seed throw at 19.01 meters and junior Miriam Pierre ranks second at 18.26. Ishmar's also got the No. 2 seed throw, 15.35 meters, in the shot put. Junior Phillicia Fluellen's 6.13 meter long jump has her as the top seed. Tikiera Relaford, third in the high jump last year, should be in the mix again this year.
Junior Luka Mustafic holds the top seed in the men's shot put, 18.01 meters. In the long jump, junior Marcus Ghent should contend for second or third.
A rained out final round left FIU as the winners of the Amelia Island Collegiate event. Junior Meghan MacLaren's 11-under 133 got her medalist honors.
SWIMMING & DIVING
FIU's new butterfly queen, Valerie Inghels, has a 3.92 grade point average as a communications arts major in addition to her Conference USA third in the 200 butterfly, fifth in the 100 fly and place on the second place 400 medley relay, all via school records. Which is how Inghels is on the Conference USA All-Academic swimming team.
The Sunday, Mar. 8 home game against Marshall will be televised nationally on Fox Sports.
FIU announced what The Herald reported first last week: Tim Harris Jr. will coach the running backs this year.
Harris Jr., son of "Ice" Harris, served as Booker T. Washington High's offensive coordinator for several years before taking over the head coaching job last year when his father went to Coral Gables to be the Hurricanes' running backs coach.
The buses fired up Sunday to bring everybody home after their wins. Well, except for the women's basketball team, which came home by plane after another two-loss road trip, leaving them zero for Conference USA.
Softball, now 11-6, came back from the EMU Madeira Beach Invitational after battering Villanova, Columbia and North Dakota by a combined 26-2, edging Wichita State 6-5 and getting mercy-ruled 8-0 by Texas State (with 2014 FIU assistant coach Kelly Kretschman).
Brianna Bartuccio threw the four-hit shutout in the opening 4-0 win against Villanova and Shelby Graves whipped a one-hit shutout on Columbia, 7-0. Gabby Spallone's grand slam accounted for all the scoring against Villanova. Stephanie Texeira knocked two out of the park against Columbia while Krystal Garcia went two for three with a homer and two RBI.
A Texeira homer provided half the scoreboard total for FIU against Wichita State. In the bottom of the sixth, down 4-3, Texeira doubled and was replaced by pinch runner Marisa McGregor. Krys Garcia singled in McGregor. After a walk to Dominique Grossman, Aleima Lopez doubled the two runs home. Corinne Jenkins went the distance, giving up only five hits. But, two were solo shots to Melanie Jaegers, two other batters reached base by being hit and defensive errors put two others on base.
This weekend's Panther Invitational opens Friday with a game against Ole Miss and associate head coach Jake Schumann, FIU head coach 2012-14.
Hours after the softball bus left Madiera, in a Carolina weekend's gloaming, the baseball bus revved to leave South Carolina. The arctic weather that sent southerners calling northern friends and family to learn about starting the car in the morning wrecked the weekend schedule for the Caravell Resorts Baseball at the Beach. So, FIU wound up playing a doubleheader Sunday against North Carolina Central before the long bus ride back.
(That's the same North Carolina Central you'll see during football season as FIU's lone non-conference opponent).
Andres Nunez got the win in the 4-0 opener after pitching six and two-thirds, striking out four and giving up four hits. All four runs came in the third inning, two on a Brian Portelli double and Portelli came on on Zach Soria's single.
The nightcap (afternoon cap?) provided fans with the one thing FIU didn't need -- bonus baseball. Better than a loss, however. That's what FIU avoided when Portelli doubled in Jack Schaaf in the bottom of the seventh. In the bottom of the 13th, a Jack Schaaf home run brought in Ray Perez and a 7-5 win. Now at 4-4 after a tough early schedule, FIU swings bats at Manhattan this weekend.
Hours before, FIU's swimming & diving team got on a bus for the three-hour ride to Atlanta with the Conference USA Championship Trophy. The trophy got prize seating and was the first off the bus when the team arrived back on campus to a nicely whipped up welcome in the Parkview Hall breezeway.
From what I gather, Senior Associate AD Julie Berg did much of the heavy lifting to organize this. She and Senior Associate AD Bobby Staub were present.
Good for President Mark Rosenberg to mention the team's athletics-leading academic accomplishments, too, because that's one of the things that really makes this the department's best all-around team.
Rosenberg handed the mike to FIU Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Jessell for a review of the Conference USA meet. Jessell, by the way, donated $4,000 to the program last fall. His son, John Jessell, was a good swimmer at Florida State for four years.
Head coach Randy Horner, named Conference USA Coach of the Year Saturday, arrived in 2010. At that time, forget a conference champion, the school hadn't had an all-conference swimmer in any event since 2007. So, no individual or relay team in the top two of the Sun Belt.
Now, a perfect dual meet season. A Conference USA title with six swimming, one diving and one relay title. The third conference Swimmer of the Year award in the last four years (should be four for four -- Gustafsdottir got ripped off in 2013 after two firsts, a second, leading off three relay winners at the Sun Belt meet). And freshman and sophomore classes that look as if they'll make FIU a mid-major problem for everybody else the next several years.
I'm sure his contract has bonus clauses for a conference title and conference coach of the year (and adidas chips in $1,000 retail of product for the latter). But it sounds like somebody needs a bump from $57,590.
FIU owned Thursday at the Conference USA Swimming & Diving Championships. All indications pointed to Friday being when two-time defending C-USA champion Rice kicked in its Torqueedos while FIU tried to diminish, maybe even eliminate, the loss of its lead.
That's kind of how Friday morning's preliminaries played out. Still, the numbers indicate FIU still should find itself in the lead come Saturday morning.
Rice will make a push in the 400 individual medley, though FIU's Johanna Gustafsdottir's 4:18.59 topped the prelim times; the 100 butterfly, where Valerie Inghels took down Marina Ribi's FIU record 54.78 with a 53.88; and the 100 breaststroke. FIU will slow the charge in the 200 freestyle, as freshmen Skye Carey (1:48.27) and Brittney Fant (1:49.10) made the final and freshmen Kyna Pereira (1:49.14) and Paulina Zelazna (1:50.85) could finish high in the consolation race.
And the Panthers could make a late move of their own in the 100 backstroke. Silvia Scalia broke her own FIU record of 53.30 with a 52.97 that led FIU going 1-3-5 in the prelims. Sophomore Jenny Alfani (53.96) and junior Karin Tomeckova (54.13) put the Panthers into position to dominate this event the way they did the 200 IM and the 50 free Thursday.
Tonight's the 400 medley relay. FIU's seeded third behind Western Kentucky and Rice and came home fourth in this event last year. That won't happen again.
Sophomore center fielder Gabriella Spallone went one for 3 Friday against Villanova at the EMU Madeira Beach Tournament. Spallone's lone hit produced the only RBI of the afternoon for FIU. Sometimes, you only need one bullet.
Especially if it's a grand slam. FIU pitcher Brianna Bartuccio made Spallone's homer stand up for a 4-0 win by holding Villanova to four hits. Bartuccio struck out one and walked four.
You can skip this unless you're an athletics business wonk. Or just curious.
A few things about the deal with adidas, announced by FIU in January as a five-year deal worth around $2.6 million:
*FIU gets adidas footwear, clothes, equipment and accessories, but not for free. They get sort of a Costco deal on stuff -- shoes at 45 percent off retail price; clothes, equipment and accessories 50 percent off retail for everyone but baseball/softball, which gets only 37.5 percent off The Price is Right price. But baseball/softball gets theirs elsewhere, as you’ll soon see. FIU must spend at least $300,000 each year, which is air hockey money for a properly-funded Division I athletic program.
*If FIU does spend $300,000 each year, it gets an additional $260,000 retail value of adidas product (stuff) in 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18, $285,000 in 2018-19 and $310,000 in 2019-2020.
*For the football team using adidas footballs in practices and games, FIU gets $10,000 retail value of product each year.
*Under “Athletic Department Fund Raising”, adidas gives FIU $15,000 of retail product value each year.
*There’s various bonuses for team achievement and Coach of the Year. The largest realistically attainable one is $20,000 retail value product for a football team bowl appearance.
*Baseball gets the most extra stuff. Softball will get the same stuff in “an amount to be agreed upon when Adidas introduced these hardgoods” according to the contract. (Yes, I think it should be “introduces” but I’m quoting directly from the contract, so…)
Each year, FIU Baseball gets:
Up to 48 wood bats, up to 42 non-wood bats, 6 aluminum fungo bats, up to 36 fielder’s gloves, up to 40 wheeled locker equipment bags, up to 40 individual duffel bags, 6 coach’s briefcases, 5 wheeled catcher bags (two to be used for equipment), up to 96 pairs of batting gloves (replaced by wear and tear), up to 96 pairs of wristbands, up to 25 batting helmets, up to 6 sets of catching gear.
432 fitted baseball hats
$34,000 retail value of free product.
$4,000 retail value of free product for the head coach
The only other individual in the athletic department who gets free product is the athletic director, who gets $10,000 retail value of free product each year.
The Pelonis Space Heater! Yes, this little baby, brought by me to Saturday's game from the home it's served since the 2009-10 winter days that dipped into the 30s, warmed fingers still chilled from Friday night at first pitch Saturday. The base temperature actually was cooler Saturday, but Friday night's wind dropped the late game temperature from the 50s to much lower.
(One swimmer from a cold weather climate told me she left Friday's game in the fourth inning. Too cold.)
Anyway, I came ready for Saturday. FIU? Nyet. Not the women's basketball team (79-56), not the men's basketball team (75-42...what?), not the baseball team, which went face down 9-2 and never challenged.
Head coach Turtle Thomas called it a game you "flush and move on." He criticized freshman pitcher Garrett Cave for falling too far behind in counts, the defense for committing seven errors, the batters for being too passive at the plate. On this last count, the best example came during garbage time, the eighth inning. Three consecutive hitters, with men on first and second, looked at strike three.
At least the softball team split, losing to Memphis 2-0 before coming from behind to mercy rule LIU 12-4 in the FIU Invitational. Freshman shortstop Ashley Balans from Plantation American Heritage made her first college home run a grand slam. Gabriella Spallone doubled in two runs. Stephanie Texeira went two for three. FIU entered the fourth inning down 4-3 and left it up 10-4.
The weekend and the FIU Invitational starts here at 4:30 Friday...
Then continues there at 7 p.m. for those wishing to see a proper thrashing of Purdue. While that would be Friday night pizza to my personal soul, my professional body will be a few hundred yards south of there...
It's possible FIU's baseball bunch could be a better team than last year's, yet come out of the first two weeks with a losing record -- three games against Tennessee, one against Georgia Tech and Coastal Carolina each. All ranked or getting votes for being ranked. North Carolina State left 2014 with a winning overall record, 32-23, if only 13-17 in the ACC.
The Panthers believe they've got talent. But they don't know really what they've got.
"It's going to tell us a lot," senior third baseman Josh Anderson said of the first few weeks. "We're not sure what our starting lineup is going to be in the outfield because there's injuries. But we're going to see how we play together as a team because we lost a lot of key parts. We've put together a good pitching staff. We have some freshmen in the lineup, too, that haven't really seen D-1 baseball yet. But, it's usually good because it sharpens their awareness."
What would count as a successful season?
"Last year, we finished 36-20, which would be a respectable season in some people's eyes," Anderson replied. "But for me and for our coaching staff and for other seniors on the team like Julius (Gaines), we underachieved as a team. This year, a successful season would be winning the Conference tournament, making a regional and going to the College World Series. We have the team to do it. If we can stick together as a team and finish this year -- last year, we kind of crumbled in the last 10 games -- if we can finish without injury, we have the squad to do it."
A message board poster, in arguing that FIU Alumni Association President Frank Pena harbors a personal grudge with athletic director Pete Garcia, used a screen grab of a Facebook post picturing Pena, former Executive Director of Alumni Affairs/current Alumni Association Vice President Eddie Hondal and Pena's baby daughter. The message board poster redacted the kid's face, but still....
Seems like a line was crossed. Nobody should want discourse about a business or extracurricular activity to descend into posting photos of or taking shots at children, spouses, ex-spouses, that night's date, relatives or others unrelated to the point being discussed.
I doubt an FIU coach came into this season with more optimism softball's Gator Rebhan.
Rebhan, an assistant under Jake Schumann last year, gets a Division I job after two decades of coaching travel softball and high school softball in South Florida. And the roster, which loses only three players from a 33-win team and includes seven of his former travel softball players, has enough talent that Conference USA coaches voted FIU co-favorite with UAB to win the championship on Felsberg Field at FIU Softball Stadium in May.
Rebhan told the Board of Trustees Athletics Committee last fall that the Panthers could be a 40-win, Conference USA champion. He saw no reason to back off of that Thursday afternoon.
"We're very capable of reaching that. We're a very athletic team," Rebhan said. "Our pitching is strong. Our defense is strong and fast. Our hitting, one through nine, should be solid. We don't have one thing that stands out. We're well-balanced. Their attitude is excellent. They're really loose, which is good."
Hours later, the Panthers backed up their coach by crushing Houston in its season opener 8-1. Sophomore Stephanie Texeira, last year's Conference USA Freshman of the Year, bashed out a double, a home run and four RBI. Freshman Ashley Belans doubled in another two runs. Panthers bats ruined Houston starter Shelby Miller the way they would a Shelby Mustang, sending her back to the garage totaled after one and a third innings.
Meanwhile, junior Corrine Jenkins diffused nine hits over seven innings. The Jenkins-Shelby Graves right-handed combination will be backed up by Brianna Bartuccio, a transfer from Austin Peay.
Sophomore Ashley Leon played second base ("defensively, she's phenomenal" Rebhan said), had two hits and hits second. Rebhan figures she'll shore up the second spot, which he considered an FIU weakness last year. Then, it's FIU's Pitchers Pounders: Texeira, sophomore Gabby Spallone and senior Krystal Garcia.
Texeira came out of Gulliver with credentials -- the first high school All-American to come to FIU -- and exceeded them last year. She hit .408 with 11 home runs, 41 RBI and a .736 slugging percentage. According to FIU athletic director Pete Garcia, Texeira let him know she wanted Rebhan as their know coach and he listened. Spallone also made C-USA's All-Freshman Team after hitting .319 with seven home runs and 33 RBI.
Friday, up at the Sand Dollar Classic in Gulf Shores, Alabama, FIU gets Lamar and McNeese State. Saturday, the Panthers face Eastern Kentucky and Alabama. Their first home game is a week from Friday, against Memphis.
CoachingSearch.com reported that FIU wide receivers coach and quarterbacks coach Cam Turner would be skipping to the NFL's Carolina Panthers to be assistant to the wide receivers coach. So, let's recap...
Cam Turner coached The Citadel's wide receivers and special teams for one season. That was his experience as a hands-on coach when new FIU head coach and father Ron Turner ("the best quarterbacks coach in the country" according to Pete Garcia upon hiring) hired Cam Turner to be the quarterbacks coach AND the wide receivers coach in 2013.
Ron Turner was disappointed with the quarterbacks in 2013, disappointed with the wide receivers in 2013 and 2014, disappointed with the whole passing game both seasons. But the guy in charge of those two units in his second and third years of hands-on coaching gets lifted to an NFL staff headed by Ron Rivera. That's Ron Rivera, defensive coordinator for Chicago during some of the same years the Bears offensive coordinator was...Ron Turner.
Pete Pelegrin was calling Thursday's game for the PantherVision webcast when Kris Gulley, in pursuit of a loose ball, crashed across the table, knocking off Pelegrin's glasses and scattering some of the radio equipment.
It worked as metaphor for FIU's 14-turnover, outscored-by-20 second half in the loss to Texas-San Antonio
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.
Five of the dozen Conference USA coaches took the easy way out on voting. They saw an FIU team that finished 33-20, 15-9 in Conference USA last season and returns almost everybody, including pitchers Corinne Jenkins and Shelby Graves and C-USA Freshman of the Year Stephanie Texeira.
So those five coaches voted FIU as the preseason conference favorite. FIU shares that spot with last year's conference runner-up, Alabama-Birmingham, which also pulled five first-place votes. FAU and Marshall got the other two. Texeira, who hit .408 with 11 homers, 41 RBI and a .740 slugging percentage last year, was the only Panther on the preseason all-conference team.
FIU hosts the Conference USA tournament this year on Felsberg Field at FIU Softball Stadium. Hopefully, they'll have a replacement for this Reagan Era-locker room building they share with tennis by then.
Men's basketball vs. Florida Memorial, Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Women's basketball vs. Cleveland State, Sunday, 2 p.m.
FIU's next real opportunity for its first Conference USA team title comes in February when swim & dive takes a break from making the best coladas at the baseball concession stand to hit the conference meet. After that, it's the softball team, which should win a title in the next two to three years.
The class signed to letters of intent last week, in alphabetical order:
Lissette Garay, RHP, Indian River State College: 10-3 with four saves 106 strikeouts in 118.2 innings and a Gibsonian 1.12 earned run average. Garay went to high school at Winter Haven All Saints Academy.
Megan Kugelmann, RHP/1B/OF, Cocoa Beach High: .519 batting average with four home runs and 32 RBI last year. In travel ball with the Tampa Mustangs, .393 average with 19 RBI. She played varsity in high school ball in seventh grade. She made All-State in 2012 (Second Team) and 2013 (First Team).
Janae Perera, OF, Tampa Sickles High: Played on Wagners GOLD Dunn, American Softball Association 18U national champions
Halie Roberson, SS/OF, Sarasota High: .330 batting average, .458 on-base percentage, with four home runs and 25 RBI.
Jackie Schoff, OF, Bradenton Lakewood Ranch High: She's also an outfielder with Roberson on the Sarasota Meet the Heat 18U team.
Abby Summers, P, Weston (Mo.) West Platte High: Class 2 All-State pitcher.
This is the kind of letter you get from the four-letter non-word when you're an FBS school and your attendance falls below a 15,000 average, as FIU did in 2012.
Considering a second consecutive year like this would put FIU on double secret NCAA probation for a decade (one misstep from restricted status, meaning no conference championship game and no bowl game, both of which are possibilities two years from now), somebody needs to work on getting fans in the stadium.
Highlights from Tuesday's post-practice mini-media session with football head coach Ron Turner (yes, I was there now that The Cone of Silence has been lifted):
FIU came out of Saturday's game healthy. I didn't see any of Home Depot orange injury jerseys as the players came off the field.
Turner again said freshman Alex McGough will start at quarterback, EJ Hilliard will play at some point, but the breakdown of playing time remains to be determined.
No special preparations or changes in practice have been enacted to prepare for the midday surface-of-the-sun heat that'll come with a noon kickoff at La Cage. "I coached in Pittsburgh -- it gets hot there, too."
Pittsburgh running back James Conner, on whom I'll be writing for Wednesday's paper, said it was 93 degrees on the field for Pitt's season opener against Delaware.
The Board of Trustees Athletics Committee meets Wednesday, 8:15 a.m. in the Graham Center Ballrooms. Executive Director of Sports and Entertainment (EDSEl?) Pete Garcia, Compliance Director Hank Harrawood and a cast of several athletics department administrators give States of Our Corner of the World addresses to the committee. Always an interesting listen.
There's usually a top notch student-athlete paraded before the committee to show the department at its best in both "student" and "athlete." With Jerica Coley now just a graduate student and Aramis Garcia now in the Giants' organization, expect perhaps softball's Corinne Jenkins or Stephanie Texiera to be the showpiece athlete.
Word on the street and out of Camp Mitch is former FIU assistant and longtime club softball coaching ace Gator Rebhan will be named as FIU's new softball coach.
UPDATE: FIU announced this a half-hour after I posted the above.
Rebhan was an assistant under Jake Schumann, who left to be the associate head coach at Ole Miss after three years at FIU (and no raise from $59,000). He inherits arguably the most promising team in the athletic department. Almost everyone returns from a young team that went 33-20, 15-9 in Conference USA last season.
Single game tickets for the fall sports -- football, volleyball, both soccers -- go on sale at 5 p.m. at FIUSports.com.
Jake Schumann is 40 years old with a wife and two kids. He made $59,721 per year according to Florida Has a Right to Know. That wasn't enough to support his family in South Florida, even in Pembroke Pines. and put away any money for college.
Which is why Schumann has left FIU at the end of his contract. The rest of the softball staff -- assistant coaches Gator Rebhan, Sharon Palma, Kelly Kretsshman -- have left with him. They've resigned after a 33-20 season, with a roster losing only two players and elite freshmen in Stephanie Texeira and Gabby Spallone. FIU has posted the job already.
He said he'll move to being the associate head coach at Ole Miss, but insisted that's not about SEC but about $$$ -- more money, Oxford, Miss., college town cost of living.
Schumann said if that hadn't come up in the last two weeks, he'd still be leaving FIU for a more affordable job/area combination.
"I loved working there," Schumann said. "(senior associate athletic director) Julie Berg was one of the best bosses I've ever had."
He also talked up the building of new facilities for softball, the current players and the recruiting classes coming into FIU.
I'd heard the Diamond Dinner, the main fundraiser for the baseball and softball programs, will end after next year. All over FIU's athletic department, money's already tighter than security at Langley. Despite going into Conference USA, baseball's operating budget dropped $5,480. Subtracting the lucrative Diamond Dinner would put both baseball and softball programs below the economic Mendoza line.
But Schumann didn't mention any of that. He just talked about the basic economic reality facing him.
This is the third head coach to leave FIU in the last 12 months and don't be surprised if baseball's Turtle Thomas is applying elsewhere.
Men's soccer coach Kenny Arena left for a better opportunity with the LA Galaxy, where father and U.S. soccer coaching icon Bruce Arena coaches. Those who knew the situation figured Arena would be done with FIU in a year anyway, new soccer field or not.
FIU's mothballed the plan to turn the soccer field so that it's an east-west field and put a track in around it. But track coach Eric Campbell's resignation has to do with something nobody wants to discuss directly ("I really like him, but you can't allow that," one of Campbell's peers said) and is suspiciously absent from Campbell's personnel file. Whatever it was, count it as a last straw. A year earlier, Campbell was arrested and charged with misdemeanor disorderly intoxication at the 2012 Louisville-FIU football game.
FIU's going to have turnover just by nature of being where it is as an athletic department. Until it evolves further, it's a stepping stone or penance for most coaches, a longtime home for a few. You don't live in a Mercedes neighborhood on a Hyundai budget.
On the dirt diamond, freshman Stephanie Texeira made the National Fastpitch Coaches Association's All-South First Team as the first baseman. Baseball's Aramis Garcia is one of the 15 semifinalists for the Johnny Bench Award, given to the nation's best catcher (naturally).
Barring the kind of calamity that usually involves a Gortex coat and a wine store, Garcia and his teammates will be in the Conference USA tournament at Southern Mississippi next week. So will the radio crews of every other school in the eight-team tournament, according to the schools involved.
FIU will not bring Pete Pelegrin, who does the play-by-play on FIU radio and PantherVision.
Felsberg Field at FIU Softball Stadium will host the 2015 Conference USA softball tournament next May 7 through 9. FIU entered this year's tournament as the No. 3 seed and, with a roster that loses only four seniors, might go in next year as both host and No. 1 seed.
Now, the only problem will be where the media covering the tournament will be placed. I've stood in the new press box a few times. Between scoreboard operators, statisticians, media relations staffers -- all necessary in a press box, mind you -- there was room for one reporter to sit. One, in-shape reporter with narrow hips. You get one of my more blobby bretheren in there, that hole is plugged.
Schedule and being one-and-done in the Conference USA tournament clearly hurt FIU softball, which will be none-and-home for the NCAA tournament. Conference USA regular season and tournament champion Tulsa got the conference's automatic bid with Alabama-Birmingham getting the at-large bid.
No. 2 seed UAB got upset in the first round of the conference tournament, by Marshall, just as East Carolina upset No. 3 FIU. The Blazers were 31-25, 15-8 in conference compared to 33-20 and 15-9 for FIU. But UAB also took two of three from FIU head-to-head, played the second toughest non-conference schedule in the nation and had four wins against teams in the top 35 of RPI. In fact, UAB got sent to the regional in Athens, Georgia, home of No. 4 seed Georgia, which UAB smoked 8-0 this season.
Meanwhile, baseball's win Sunday not only prevented a Middle Tennessee State sweep but nearly clinched a spot in the conference tournament for FIU. Only FAU sweeping UAB (won't happen) while FIU gets swept by anemic Tulane (definitely won't happen) could prevent FIU from making the tournament.
FIU hopes all is well with Mike Franco by that time.
FIU sophomore pitcher Corinne Jenkins went 15-7 with a 3.37 earned run average this season. She's also a psychology major with a 3.74 grade point average.
Which is why Jenkins made the Conference USA Softball All-Academic team.
If you're one of those who has been sold by athletic department administrators on the dream of David Beckham's Major League Soccer franchise choosing FIU as a home and injecting $255 million into the athletic department, here's the alarm buzzing, "Wake up!"
Beckham, potential co-owner Simon Fuller and lobbyist John Alschuler said during their meeting with The Herald today that MLS has told them the stadium must be downtown. Alschuler later said, "We don't want to be south, we don't want to be west, we don't want to be north."
They envision a cool, hip, yuppie crowd walking to the game from offices, condos and nearby parking lots. In other words, not what you'd get from a suburban site.
Time to find another possible source of Other People's Money for the athletic department.
The NCAA threw out Public Recognition Awards to teams with Academic Progress Rates in the top 10 percent of their sports. One FIU team made it this year, with the APR rates based on the 2009-2013 academic years -- women's basketball.
All APR rates will be released later.
First baseman Stephanie Texiera was voted Second Team All-Conference USA and was a unanimous coaches' choice for Conference USA Freshman of the Year Award. Texeira and Gabby Spallone made the conference's All-Freshman team.
Still...how does the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament have only one player make first or second team all-conference?
One thing that wrinkled my already sun-wrinkled brow about FIU in this weekend's Conference USA softball tournament at FAU: the Panthers are busing up this afternoon for Thursday's 1:30 game against East Carolina.
What, I thought, they're worried about getting caught on the Turnpike behind some 1983 IROC Z28 Camaro rear-ending a beige Toyota Camry and being late to the Thursday afternoon game?
No, what they're worried about is 2012 Sun Belt Tournament at FAU Redux. FIU opened against Troy in a rain-delayed game that didn't get called for the night until Letterman. The Panthers dragged back home, got to bed in the wee hours and showed up groggy to finish a 4-1 loss. After an afternoon nap, a still sonambulent FIU got dusted 9-1 by South Alabama.
So, this year, they're busing up, getting into the hotel, getting a good night's sleep, then playing.
What is it with FIU athletes getting busted on weed-related charges five seconds after they finish their eligibility or degree?
Walk-on transfer Luke Bray started 10 of the 12 games he played for FIU last season, picked up no goals or assists, and three of five games in 2012. Bray has filed an affidavit for indigent status after getting busted on a felony possession charge and charged with possession with intent to distribute. His next hearing is May 29.
Funny how this might've fit under either of the headlines of the last two blog posts. Not as funny as Bray's name being removed from last year's roster on the FIU website and his bio removed once you click on his name in the 2012 roster.
Junior Shelby Graves garnered the last Conference USA Pitcher of the Week award after throwing a no-hitter against Southern Miss and allowed no runs in Sunday's save. She finishes the regular season with a 15-7 record, 3.37 ERA, 100 strikeouts and 32 walks in 135 innings pitched.
Mike Franco somehow didn't win C-USA's baseball Pitcher of the Week. Reid Love from East Carolina beat North Carolina, so he got the honor. Still, Franco's 0.96 ERA ranks fourth in the nation and FIU stayed atop the team ERA charts at 1.94.
The long and the short of it: 6-9 incoming freshman Larry Dennis from Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas and 5-10 junior college transfer Tayshawn Desir, a third-team NJCAA All-America selection for Monroe Community College. Dennis was unrated by 247sports.com and Scout.com, but got two stars from ESPN.com.
You could say both baseball and softball pulled out the brooms to sweep their competition, East Carolina and Southern Mississippi, respectively, this weekend. In the case of softball, it's more like they pulled out the brooms, wet them and went all Mr. Jinks on Southern Miss in a crushing sweep that pushed FIU into the Conference USA tournament's No. 3 seed.
Combined score of 32-4; a no-hit shutout by Shelby Graves, who combined with Corinne Jenkins for another shutout in Sunday's 5-0 win that ended with a triple play; more hits (40) than Stevie Wonder in the 1970s...that's beating a mouse with a wet broom.
FIU (33-19, 15-9) opens the tournament, hosted by FAU, Thursday with a game against East Carolina at 1:30. Earlier this season on Felsberg Field at FIU Softball Stadium, FIU edged the Pirates 11-9 and 2-0 before taking a 12-2 spanking in the final game. If seeding and regular season results hold and FIU advances, the Panthers get the winner of No. 2 Alabama-Birmingham vs. No. 7 Marshall, against whom FIU was a combined 1-5 this season -- losing the first two, winning one at UAB and getting swept at Marshall.
Baseball's sweep, made possible by Tyler Hibbert's two-RBI single and 2-1 win, pushed the Former Sunblazers all the way up to a tie for fourth in the conference with Texas-San Antonio at 14-10 in the conference. No. 9 FAU got to 12-15 this weekend playing Old Dominion. So, FIU's margin for error can get downright porcine with a strong Mother's Day Weekend against Middle Tennessee State.