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Jamelle Elliott 2.0

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We're getting ready for the second season of Jamelle Elliott's tenure as head coach of the UC Bearcats women's basketball team, and here's what we picked up during this weekend's exhibition game against Northern Kentucky University:

Defense is key: If you don't play defense, you don't play. This team seems to be able to hustle a lot better this season on the defensive end of the court.

Newcomers will contribute: Freshman Kayla Cook had 13 in her 'Cats debut, including the free throws in OT that sealed the win. Fellow freshman Jeanise Randolph had a huge block against NKU in the final seconds as well.

The name game: The UC Bearcats now have a Tiffany (Turner) and a Chanel (Chisholm) on their roster. Can we now find a Prada who plays basketball to complete the high-end wardrobe???

And don't underestimate how big the win over NKU was. Yes, NKU may be a division down, but that means nothing to their style of play. Remember, NKU won this matchup last year. The Norse are always tough in their conference, regularly make the post season and won the second of their two national champions in 2008. Hall of Fame coach Nancy Winstel gets the most out of her players season after season--they are smart, they are disciplined and they can bury the three when needed. The Norse should do well this season--so don't think this wasn't an important win for the 'Cats--it was.

So now, we start the regular season--Friday at 11 a.m. against Southwest Baptist, then Sunday at 2 p.m. versus North Florida. It'll be fun to see the second season with these 'Cats.

Season Number Two

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Are you ready for some---basketball?

Can't believe it's been eight months since we've been together at Fifth Third Arena for a UC women's basketball game, but on Saturday the curtain goes up on Jamelle Elliott 2.0.

So what can we expect this season, her second through the BIG EAST as a head coach? Well, Coach Elliott promises it'll be a team that will play hard, a team that will have to depend on its outside sharpshooters to keep the 'Cats on the scoreboard. And, we'll be getting a peak at her first full recruiting class, which will give us a hint of things to come in terms of the type of player she'll be going after, and how that player will fit her style.

And it's not like the 'Cats have a cupcake as an exhibition game on Saturday--they'll be facing the Northern Kentucky University Norse, a perennial Division II powerhouse stocked with local basketball stars. The Norse will give UC a good barometer by which to judge the team, and the talent.

The season rolls out for real with a morning (!) game Friday, November 12. Until then, come see the 'Cats this Saturday night, and catch a preview of good things to come this season.

Start of a New Season

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I just read a Facebook posting from Coach Calipari at UK asking what a root canal and media day have in common. For coaches, probably a lot. Which brings us to the BIG EAST women's basketball media day in New York, where the UC Bearcats were picked to finish 15th. At least that's one place better than the prediction last year at this time.

Coach Jamelle Elliott knows that these media interview fests and polls are more for us (reporters) than they are for the teams, and took it all with a smile and a positive attitude. "We're excited about the year," Coach Elliott said, "with lots of new players. Our strength will be in our perimeter play."

This is Coach Elliott's second time through the head coaching circuit and she told the Hartford Courant basketball blogger that she sometimes took the losses personally last season.  "My approach is different because I know what to expect now," Elliott told Paul Doyle. "The best thing about my second year is that I have my first year under my belt. I know kind of what to expect.

"I kind of know myself now. I know that I can't take on everything on my shoulders after every game and after practice, because if I do that I won't be in this game very long. I've got to learn how to control my emotions, learn how to put everything in perspective and realize, basically, I'm not at Connecticut anymore and I'm not going to win every game."

Ah, yes, Connecticut. As the media held a national championship coronation for UConn at media day, even Geno Auriemma said the Huskies are bound to lose. Sometime. Remember that UConn comes to UC this year for a BIG EAST battle. Hey, stranger things have happened. Especially in basketball.

Building from Scratch

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So, you think recruiting is tough? How about recruiting from scratch? How about recruiting when you don't have a team? How about building on a legacy when there's no legacy yet? That was the job facing UC Lacrosse Coach Lellie Swords when she was named the Bearcats' first-ever lacrosse coach on Feb. 16, 2007.

She came to UC from one of the top lacrosse programs in the country, Johns Hopkins, so to say she went from feast to famine wouldn't be a far-fetched analogy. But constructing a building starts with a solid foundation, so Coach Swords and her staff started that foundation with every recruit who took a chance on the vision of the program. Brick by brick, recruit by recruit, the lacrosse legacy is being constructed each season.

I bring this up now, because UC lacrosse just announced its next 10 recruits who will join the program in 2011. Included are state champions, All-State selections, first team All-Americans. Local players are joined by seniors from East Coast lacrosse powerhouses. Oh yes, and most of them are academic honor roll students as well.

Congratulations to Coach Swords and the lacrosse staff on the new recruit class. It's just the next layer of the foundation that will only mean a stronger program for years to come.

 

Basketball 101

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So here I am, sitting courtside at the scorer's table, my usual seat as the public address announcer for UC women's basketball. But as I'm writing this, the people I 009.JPGsee on the court are all ages, all heights, and all skill levels. This night is the inaugural Basketball 101, an evening that nearly 75 women came to campus to learn the game, and to get to know some of the players.

There's men's assistant coach George Jackson working up a sweat as he teaches his group perimeter defense; there's former and present players working with the ladies on dribbling drills. There are tours of the basketball locker rooms. All in all, a good time.

But let's face it, this night is more than an opportunity for those of us who wished we played the game to get on the court; it's a night to celebrate UC basketball, both men's and women's. This is the first time I've seen the court since the 50th anniversary logos honoring the men's national championship teams have been added. It's amazing it's been that long, but it's also a reminder of what winning a title means to a program and to a school.

Which brings us back to the UC women's team. Men's coach Mick Cronin got it right earlier when he spoke to the group before the event; it takes time to build tradition and to build a program. Mick knows it first hand, being a native of Cincinnati. This is the second year of the Jamelle Elliott building program here. I'm seeing on the court Shelly Bellman, who petitioned, and received, a sixth year of eligibility because she wanted to be on a team led by Coach Elliott; I'm seeing Chanel Chisholm, who had to sit out last year because of transfer rules and a knee injury, just coming into her own as a Bearcat. I see a lot of young ladies enthusiastic about the season.

So yes, this is a fun night to introduce the x's and o's of basketball to those of us who wish we could play. But it's also a night of team building, and not just the UC Bearcat team. It's building a team of community supporters and fans, who want to be here to see this program grow. Practice already has started. The season starts in less than a month. It's going to be an exciting time for women's basketball in Cincinnati.

Big Time Competition for a Big Time Program

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The UC women's basketball program full season schedule was released this past week, and it certainly offers fans a little bit of everything this coming year. Second-year coach Jamelle Elliott will be facing her former team and mentor, Geno Auriemma, for the first time on her home court. But there are several intriguing matchups ahead.

The highlights: Ten teams that made it to the 2010 NCAA Tournament will be facing the Bearcats, and that doesn't count the Northern Kentucky Norse, which made it to the NCAA Division II tournament for the fifth straight time last season and will play the 'Cats in an exhibition.

In December, UC renews its rivalry with regional foe Dayton on the road before returning to Fifth Third Arena for the annual rivalry game against Xavier on Dec. 5. UC has won two of the last three games against the Musketeers, who are coming off a trip to the 2010 NCAA Elite Eight.

BIG EAST play starts early against Louisville in mid-December, before a couple of pre-Christmas break games at home against Wright State and Marshall, then a road trip to San Diego for the Maggie Dixon holiday tournament. Back home for another back yard rival, Miami, before diving into the conference.

And the game everyone will have circled will be Saturday, January 29.  The Bearcats will entertain defending national champion Connecticut in Coach Elliott's first home contest against her former team. She spent 12 years as an assistant coach at UConn after her four-year playing career with the Huskies, with six National Championship rings to show for it.

If you were to ask Coach Elliott about the game, she'd probably say it's just another BIG EAST contest that the Bearcats want to win. But let's face it, it's bigger than that, even if you took out her personal connection to the Huskies. It's the defending national champions who will be playing here. Husky connections run deep among the alumni, and even casual fans know who UConn is and what they represent.

It'll be an exciting season, and year two of the rebuilding project Coach Elliott has been handed. Sit back and watch this young team grow up.

 

 

 

Soccer Success Has Its Roots 30 Years Deep

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Soccer-mad Cincinnati has a nationally-ranked team to cheer for this season, and it's not just an overnight success story.

The UC women's soccer team was ranked 15th nationally in Soccer America Women's Top 25 before Saturday's 3-0 loss to Illinois. (Ironically, the only other time these two teams played, in 2002, UC lost, 3-0 on the road to the Ilini.) Despite that loss, the Bearcats are starting to garner national attention.

Head coach Michelle Salmon is 23-18-5 in her three seasons at UC and, in this 30th anniversary year of UC soccer, is quick to credit the foundation that was laid before she came to Clifton.

"(Former women's soccer coach) Meridy Glenn did a terrific job establishing this tradition," said Coach Salmon. "That's one reason I came to UC was the history of this program."

Coach Salmon has seen that history come to life during UC's  5-0-1 record to start the season, the first time in school history that UC had been unbeaten in its first six games of the year. "I've been getting emails and text messages from soccer alumni all over the country, congratulating us on our start." Coach said. "That's what separates Cincinnati from other programs. They care so much about what Cincinnati represents. It's a special place to play."

And with the Greater Cincinnati area such a hotbed for youth soccer programs, Coach Salmon sees that 30 years of tradition as a huge asset in making sure that talent sticks around. "You look at the players we have from Cincinnati. (right now 11 players are from the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area) We have a lot of really good Cincinnati players. We don't have to go far. Our job is to keep local talent here."

UC's women's soccer team is getting some vital experience against big-time teams getting ready for BIG EAST play. They play an exciting brand of soccer--and will be making some noise in the conference. Plus, if you've never been to the campus' Gettler Stadium, it's worth it just to see the facility. First class all the way, parking garage next door, couldn't be easier to attend.

Coach Salmon knows that the 30-year history of the program will help pave its future. But the present is pretty exciting as well. Catch the Bearcats the next time they're in town.

 

I'm going to drift away from UC women's basketball a bit to sing the praises of what we in Cincinnati have known for some time is one of the best rivalry games in the country: The annual Crosstown Shootout hardwood matchup between UC and Xavier University.

The Ultimate Sports List (www.tusl.com), a free social media-based website for sports travelers, has announced its top 150 sports events and venues in the world--and the annual UC-XU game is ranked number 104, ahead of IU's Little 500, the Belmont Stakes, Canton's Pro Football Hall of Fame and Big Blue Madness at the University of Kentucky.

We have seen some monumental matchups in the game over the years, and have seen a lot of NBA stars-to-be battle it out for city bragging rights. In fact, here's how the Ultimate Sports List describes it: "When the University of Cincinnati Bearcats gear up to face the Xavier Musketeers the city of Cincinnati takes a deep, anxious breath."

Bearcat great Oscar Robertson played in the middle of the 'Cats 12-game winning streak against the Muskies. UC followed up that streak four seasons later, with an eight-game winning streak. We've seen number one rankings fall, we've seen overtime battles, including a double overtime classic this past season.

No matter what the records, or what the rankings, the annual UC-XU game is one for the ages. And now, everyone else knows it, too.

 

New Season Taking Shape

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Yes, I know we're heading into the summer months and one of the few times that, at least periodically, college basketball coaches can take a break and get some R and R in. But the latest release from the UC women's basketball program shows that the hard work that Coach Jamelle Elliott and her staff have been putting in since the end of the season, is paying off.

 

This last group of recruits includes LaShay Banks from Philly, Bjonee Reaves from California and the player a lot of Cincinnati-area fans will be watching with interest, Dayeesha Hollins.

 

Dayeesha is coming home from an outstanding freshman season at Michigan. I had the chance to watch her Wolverine team when Michigan visited Xavier this past season and defeated the Top 10-ranked Musketeers on their home floor. Dayeesha had a posse of family and friends cheering her on, and she didn't disappoint, scoring 22 points in front of the home crowd, including a layup with 17 seconds remaining to seal the win for the Wolverines.

 

In fact she averaged 12 points a game for Michigan and got a spot on the All-Big Ten Freshman Team. But she wanted to come home, so she's decided to transfer--and she's found a new home at UC.

 

Now, every coach knows how important it is to mine local talent. UC has been one of the best at it, from men's basketball, to football, to soccer and volleyball and beyond. And it's mainly because the Greater Cincinnati area is blessed with incredibly good high school sports programs.

 

But let's face it, a number of the very best girls' basketball players from this area have gone somewhere else to play: Tennessee, Ohio State, UConn, Vandy and, yes, Michigan. Dayeesha's decision to come home to play could just be the signing that Coach Elliott needs to show that yes, you can play in the highest levels, on the biggest stages, of college basketball, and do it right at home.

 

Dayeesha will sit out a year because of transfer rules, but that'll give her a year to learn the Coach Elliott system. In the meantime, we look forward to having the Winton Woods fans be part of Bearcat Nation. And it'll be fun to watch, once Dayeesha and the rest of the new recruiting class get on the court.

One Final Ovation

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So the cap finally has been put on the 2009-2010 UC women's basketball season, with last Sunday's team dinner and awards ceremony on March 28. Those of you who have followed UC's women's basketball team know that it's been a while since there's been a post-season ceremony honoring the team, so it was good to have that tradition return.

For the record, honors went to Kahla Roudebush, most valuable player; Michelle Jones, most improved player; Shareese Ulis, unsung hero award; and Carla Jacobs, defensive player of the year. All very well deserved, and the Bearcat program will miss Kahla, Michelle and Carla, along with the rest of the seniors, who are moving on 'to find their life's work,' as Paul Brown would say.

But you know who deserves their own award? Their own standing ovation? The parents, the friends, the family members who were at that dinner, were at countless games, cheering these young women on. I've talked before about the support these families give the student-athlete, but sometimes we forget that it means driving long hours in bad weather to watch a basketball game; it means lost sleep getting back home late; it means short weekends after a game.

At Sunday's dinner I saw parents, grandparents, friends, family. All there to honor these women who are the first, the foundation, of the Jamelle Elliott era. And let's face it, the student-athlete gets all the awards, the applause, the accolades, but let's save some of that applause for the families who give up a lot so that their daughters can enjoy the opportunities to play a game they love.

It means a lot for these young women to be able to look up in the stands and see their families cheering them on--not just in basketball, but in life. We say goodbye to these players, but we know that, with the support of their friends and families, they'll be just as successful off the court as on. Best of luck.