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Visible Progress

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Two sports for the price of one in today's blog, as we reflect on the ceremonies last week to break ground for the new Jefferson Avenue sports complex. Sure, we know it as the soon-to-be home for the indoor practice facility for the football team, but it also will become the new home for UC's lacrosse team.

First, if you haven't read the release, go here: http://www.gobearcats.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/031610aaa.html. You'll also be able to see the video from the event. I was honored to be the MC for the ceremonies, which featured Athletic Department officials, donors and student-athletes.

We all know that this has been a project that has been talked about for some time. Now, it's actually happening. If you drive by the Jefferson Avenue area, you've probably looked at that intersection and thought, 'how in the world are they going to put a football field here?' Well, all you have to do is look as the diagrams of the plans for the area, to get a better picture of what will go where.

In these tight economic times, it's great that the University and its donors have come together to make this facility possible. And it won't be just for the student-athletes at UC, but as Director of Athletics Mike Thomas mentioned, this will be a facility that will be available to the community (maybe the Bengals won't have to bus to an indoor soccer facility anymore).

Sure, it'll get a lot of use from the football team, but it also will be exciting for the lacrosse team to have its own facility as well, complete with bleachers, lockers, press box, all the amenities. As I've mentioned here before, the lacrosse team is really fun and exciting to watch. Right now they're at Nippert Stadium, but with increased visibility and a more lacrosse crowd-friendly stadium of their own, the players will have a nice home field advantage there at the Jefferson Avenue complex.

Applause to UC, its athletic department and the donors who have stepped up to make sure that UC continues to have the best facilities around,  to continue to attract the best student-athletes in the BIG EAST.

Let's Hear Your Thoughts

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Congrats to the UC women's basketball team on a foundation-building year. Despite the challenges, the 'Cats were able to pull off an upset or two, prove the pre-season critics wrong and win their first round game in the BIG EAST tournament.

This season, the basketball program tried a number of new initiatives to bring fans to the women's game. Among the programs were VIP and Pride ticket packages and house parties to introduce the new coach to the community. If you are a long-time fan of the women's program, we appreciate your support. If you're new, we're glad to have you aboard and are excited to have you on the ground floor of what should be a spectacular program.

But we would like to get your opinions of what went right, what can be improved, and if you have any ideas that you think will help get more fans in the stands. We have a new survey being distributed asking those questions and more. It'll take only a few minutes to complete, but the information we can get from your answers is priceless. It will help all of us grow the women's basketball program here, and make the fan experience better for everyone.

Now, full disclosure here, my company, Game Day Communications, helped develop the survey in conjunction with Pat Fettig of Focus with Fettig. The bottom line is, we want to make your trip to see UC women's basketball a great experience next year for you and your family. Tell us how we can do it, and we promise we'll listen to your suggestions and try to implement them as best we can. Thanks in advance for your help.

Here's the link to the survey: SURVEY

 

The More Things Change...

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So we're transitioning out of the women's basketball season and getting ready for the spring sports season, so let me take this time to talk about women's sports, and the business of sports, in general.

 

Right now I'm sitting in a sports and p.r. class on the campus of the University of Cincinnati, just wrapping up a panel of four sports 'professionals' giving career advice to undergraduates at U.C. It's amazing how the onset of spring will set the alarm clock off in students' heads--hey, maybe I'd better start looking for a job, since I'll be out of here in a few months.

 

It's mainly the same questions, like how do I get started looking for a job, is there a website that's better than others for looking for a job, etc. And, of course, in this class, many of these students are looking for a job in sports.

 

Used to be, for every 100 students who graduate, there would be two entry-level jobs available. That percentage is probably down to ½ of a job for every 100 students graduating these days. Advice is the same for either group--it's nice to have a plan in place, especially before you go to the bookstore and order your cap and gown.

 

So here in the sports world, the gamut runs from being an anchor on ESPN to working in sports marketing. More women than ever are interested in the sport- but the job goals haven't varied over the years. For example, I've been covering high school football here in the Greater Cincinnati area since 2002, spending Friday nights on the sidelines within shouting distance (and closer) of thousands of high school students. I've never had one young girl come up to me and say she wanted to cover sports. Never. Guys will, but never a young girl.

 

I thought maybe it was just because of the work I was doing (not glamorous, in a driving rainstorm or snowstorm), but I got a similar response from my former ESPN colleague, Pam Ward. Pam's a pioneer in her own right, calling play by play for major college football games for the Worldwide Leader. There's no other woman who does that right now on a regular basis.

 

During an interview for my radio segment a couple of weeks ago, Pam said that when young girls and women come up to her and ask her about a sports job, no one wants to do play by play. They all want to be sideline reporters. They all want to be Erin Andrews.

 

Nothing wrong with that. But women have been sideline reporters for years. Been there, done that. It's not new. Pam is breaking ground. But if you break ground and nobody hears the plow, does it count? I asked Pam if she thought she was a trailblazer, and she said, quite accurately, "you can't be a trailblazer if no one follows you on the trail."

 

And that is what disappoints me more than anything. There are a lot of women, friends of mine, colleagues of mine, who have stuck their professional necks out and done a non-traditional sports job, be it in front of the camera or in the front office,  to be a pioneer for other young women who might want to follow the same path. But no one's following these women on these paths.  If that happens enough, these women who broke ground won't even see the worth in picking up the plow anymore. If young girls and women don't want to take that unconventional step and lead the way for others, then why should these pioneering women lead the way for them?

 

There are more opportunities than ever for young women to take the lead in all kinds of sports fields. Take advantage of those who have gone before you. Ask questions, choose a mentor, watch what she does. You just might find out you can be a pioneer, too.

 

 

 

 

 

Not Goodbye, but Good Luck

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As we get ready for the women's basketball home finale at 2 p.m. Saturday, I'd like to echo a lot of what Tommy G already has written about this team and these seniors (you can read his latest blog here: http://www.gobearcats.com/blog/womens-hoops/ ). When this group was starting out, I was calling a number of their games for ESPN regional telecasts, and I had the opportunity to see them grow over the years. With the help of Sports Information Director extraordinaire Jeremy Martin, here are some of the comments of these four seniors who will play their last game on their home court this weekend:

Shelly Bellman: "There have been happy times and sad, good, bad and ugly, but three words can sum it all up for me, I am blessed! Thank you to everyone that has been with me through different parts of my journey, and thank you to everyone that has been with me through it all. And thank you God!"

Shelly was one of the players I think I had the most fun watching when she was a freshman. She would get in the huddle and, even though she was a first year player, would get in the faces of her upperclassmen teammates and will them to a win. I always called her the Pete Rose of the Bearcats because of her hustle and heart.  It was just too sad that her knees weren't as strong as her desire to be her best.

Michelle Jones: "It's been very nice to play at UC.  I was born and raised here, so it's been great to have my family at games and things like that.  It was also great that UC got into the BIG EAST.  Playing against that kind of competition is difficult but also very enticing for recruits and that's one of the things that brought me here."

Michelle has been the inside force that the Bearcats needed this year. It's no secret that right now UC doesn't have the height to match up with many of the BIG EAST teams they face, so Michelle has had to be the 6'4" center in 6'1" sneakers. She took this challenge on, like many others during her UC career, and has come out stronger for it.

Kahla Roudebush: "I wouldn't trade my time at UC for anything.  The things that I learned translate into important life lessons.  It's always easier when things are laid out for you, but much more satisfying when you have to work for them.  God had a plan for me and if I would have changed something just looking for a shortcut to success, I wouldn't have grown as much as a person and as a Christian."

Kahla is my Hoosier soul sister. We are very proud of our basketball heritage in Indiana and are proud of anyone who takes his or her game to the next level. Kahla has a sweet step back three point shot, but she's also not afraid to dive into the middle and dig out a rebound. You've made your fellow Hoosiers proud, Kahla.

Stephanie Stevens:"I love Cincinnati.  I love everything about it -- the school, the academics, the athletics.  I've always been a team player, and I always want to do what's best for the team.  I just want to be the best I can be for the team, and I always just wanted to get better."

Stephanie hasn't gotten the minutes this season like she has in years past. I say that to set up the very quick story about her. Before the season started, Coach Jamelle Elliott invited members of the media to participate in a workout with the team. Of course, I had no idea what I was doing and heaven knows it showed, but Steph not only was very kind to tell me 'good job,' (when I knew it wasn't), but once we were done I watched her put every ounce of energy into the rest of the team drills. She'll make a good coach, if that is something she wants to do, because she always paid attention to what else was going on and what everyone else was doing.

So perhaps these players didn't get the Bearcat career they had envisioned as wide-eyed freshmen. That doesn't mean they weren't successful. When they look back at their time at UC, let's hope that they look back at their seasons here fondly. And let's hope they remember that they were the foundation to build something special with this program in Clifton. Saturday at 2pm, they'll put on the Bearcat uniform for the last time at home. Let's show them how grateful we are for their years at U.C.

 

 

Catch the Cats Now

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It's hard to believe that the UC women's basketball season is just about ready to wrap up. Two more games at home, one on the road and then the BIG EAST tournament where, as we know, anything can happen.

So maybe it's a good time to look back on the season and look ahead to the next.

First, Michelle Jones is rounding out to be a force inside. Too bad she's a senior, because she is now asserting herself and can go straight up to the basket and let her strength get her the bucket and one. It's been fun watching her, when she has one of her monster games.

Second, another senior, Kahla Roudebush, may have seen her scoring average fall a bit, but she now looks to dish out to the other players. And she's not afraid to mix it up inside and grab a rebound from the tall trees. She's been a treat to watch play in a Bearcat uniform. Another Hoosier showing off her basketball heritage!

Third, Shareese Ulis can be such a skilled quarterback on the court. It's obvious that Coach Elliott trusted her, since she handed Shareese the keys to the offense right off the bat and she will be fun to watch next season.

And I'm excited for the future of Val Schuster. Yes, maybe it's just because I like announcing her name in the starting lineup (Val Schooooooooooster..) but I like her hustle and her outside shooting touch. I hope she continues to grow in Coach Elliott's system. 

Which brings us to next season, and the first full recruiting class that Coach Elliott will have had time to bring in.Junior college transfer ShaQuanda Wiggins (Chicago, Ill./Thornton Township/Jefferson College [Mo.]) will join incoming freshmen Kayla Cook (South Webster, Ohio/South Webster), Jeanise Randolph (Calumet City, IL/Thornton Fractional North), and Tiffany Turner (Marlton, N.J./Cherokee) at UC for the 2010-11 season. These four run 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 and 5-10, bringing some height inside, and add them with redshirting transfer Chanel Chisholm  (Long Island, N.Y./North Babylon/Vanderbilt), who transferred from Vanderbilt following the 2008-09 season and who has watched the offense from the bench this year, and you should have a good mix of youth and experience.

In the meantime, home fans have only two more chances to see this edition of the Cats, Tuesday night against West Virginia and Saturday with Pitt. It's not been an easy road for the fifth year seniors on this team. Come and support them, and show them how much you appreciate what they've done for this program--and the foundation they've placed for the Bearcats to come.  

Pink is the new Red

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First, congrats to Michelle Jones, MJ to her friends, for reaching the 1,000 point plateau for her Bearcat career. Michelle was part of that top 10 ranked recruiting class that came to Clifton five years ago, and it's great to see a local product do well at the next level.

Second, I have a question for you: Who among you has been touched, one way or the other, by breast cancer? A friend, a sister or mother, maybe even yourself? Chances are, there are a lot of hands up right now. In fact it'd be easier to ask who HASN'T been touched by this awful disease.

Which brings me to Saturday's women's game, back home at the friendly confines of Fifth Third arena. This time we ask you to leave your Bearcat red and black home for the day, and instead, think Pink. Get your spring pink jacket, sweater or blouse out of the closet and wear it for this special day. Because this is the annual game where the Bearcats, and just about every women's basketball program in Division 1, sets aside to remind all of us about the importance of breast cancer awareness.

Of course, a lot of this is in response to the valiant fight that Kay Yow waged for literally decades while she coached at North Carolina State. While she eventually succumbed to the disease a little more than a year ago, cancer didn't defeat her. Instead, her crusade continues today with so many days like Saturday's Pink Zone game. Proceeds go to the Barrett Cancer Center, a place I've had to visit too many times.

This game may be for the Bearcats, but it's also for the many women who are our friends, our neighbors, our mothers and sisters, who have waged this battle. Let's cheer both of them on, on Saturday.

View from the Road

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Sometimes, you have to step away to get a good look. Like not being able to see the forest for the trees. And sometimes, the best way to see your own team, is to look at it through the eyes of the opponent.

Take, for example, the Bengals and quarterback Carson Palmer. Now, I'll be the first to say that Palmer has had his struggles, but you get outside of Cincinnati and the rest of the country can't talk enough about how Palmer is consistent, how he's triumphed over adversity, etc. We as fans often get so caught up in the day to day of a game, that we forgot that Palmer's got a Heisman Trophy that he brings to work with him every day (figuratively, I hope, not literally).

Which brings me to the big win the Bearcat women had Saturday at Syracuse. (actually, a good day for both the men's and women's teams Saturday out east--props to the men with the win at Connecticut) In reading the story in the Syracuse newspaper recapping the game, it's interesting to see how the Post-Standard writer, Chris Wagner, saw the 'Cats' overtime win. (by the way, if you want to read the whole article, here it is: http://blog.syracuse.com/orange-women/2010/02/close-game_woes_continue_for_o.html )

First, the Syracuse coach lamented the loss, even though his team won the stats battle:

"It's getting tougher and tougher to explain these things," said coach Quentin Hillsman, whose team's chances of making the NCAA Tournament faded even more as it dropped to 18-7 overall and 5-7 in conference play. "We won every (statistical) category and lose the game."

Then he noted one exception to the stat battle: free-throw shooting. The Orange converted only 6-of-15 attempts, while the Bearcats canned 17-of-20.

The other notable difference was not on the stat sheet. That was clutch shots and clutch stops.

Cincinnati had both of those on its side, starting with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Chareese Ulis to send the game into overtime at 57-57. Then, while leading 64-62 in the extra period, they gathered a crucial rebound after SU freshman center Kayla Alexander missed a shot in the lane."

Ok, so they spelled Shareese's name wrong, first. Second, it's eye opening to see another writer give a nod to UC's big plays that, at least to Syracuse's point of view, changed the flow of the game. But you won't see too many shots more clutch than Ulis' triple that sent the game to overtime.

Want another example? Let's go to the previous overtime win the Cats had on the road, Groundhog's Day in Louisville. Here's the recap of that game, courtesy of the Courier-Journal: http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20100202/SPORTS02/2020360/1028/SPORTS02/U+of+L+women+can+t+close+door+on+Bearcats

Themes are the same: Home team expected to win, home team disappointed in loss.

Home team, perhaps, remembered the Bearcats of old. This is not, with a nod to Buick, your father's women's Bearcat team. It's tough for any team to win on the road in the BIG EAST. The Bearcats have three conference victories away from home, with a chance at another one this week at Providence. Each win means a better seed in the conference tournament. Each win is a stepping stone to the future. Let's see what happens Tuesday night at Providence.

Midterm Report Card

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So how are we doing?

Not necessarily a rhetorical question when it comes to health, income or basketball teams this time of year.

This whole thought process was triggered by the BIG EAST website's women's basketball page, which asked readers to weigh in on player of the year so far, game of the year, etc. If you'd like to vote (Kahla Roudebush is one of the nominees, vote early and often, Cats fans..), go to this link: http://www.bigeast.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=19400&ATCLID=204878217 and let them know your thoughts.

So here are some of my thoughts on this midterm report card:

Remember when UC's women's team was projected last in the BIG EAST pre-season? Jamelle Elliott's staff remembers and they're determined not to end up there. When I had my chat with Coach Elliott's former teammate, Rebecca Lobo, earlier this season for my radio show, she said she was certain the team would use that as motivation to finish anywhere BUT last place in the conference.

So, right now the Cats are tied for 12th place with Louisville, the team they just defeated in a thrilling OT game on the Cardinals' home floor. They're above Pittsburgh, Seton Hall and Villanova. And they have a great opportunity to make some noise this coming Tuesday when Notre Dame comes to 5/3 Arena.

Look, I'm not saying that Connecticut is suddenly going to go into a slump and give ND, West Virginia and everyone else at the top a chance to move up. In fact, I'm not sure UConn's going to lose the rest of this season. As ESPN's Pam Ward told me a couple of weeks ago, "The NCAA Tournament is going to be the UConn Invitational."

Be that as it may, that's still no reason for the rest of the field to curl up and just give the trophy to the Huskies. And that's no reason for UC to accept the 16th place projection.

They haven't yet, and have no plans to. Louisville was a signature win in Coach Elliott's inaugural season. Let's pack the place Tuesday night and give the Cats a chance to make the Notre Dame game another memorable one.

The Home Stretch

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So were you at the UC-Georgetown women's game last week? If you weren't, you missed a pivotal moment in the season, maybe the future, of the Bearcats' franchise.

Yes, the Bearcats lost that game, but they led for most of the contest. They played hard until the very last second. And they went toe to toe with a top 20-ranked team and didn't blink.

And it showed what the Jamelle Elliott era is, and will be.

We haven't seen that in a while, but it was there. We saw a team that hustled, we saw a team that worked hard, and we saw a team that, even though they were out-numbered (the Bearcats played only six players during that game), play through the exhaustion and frustration to stand up to a very well coached, talented Hoya squad.

Yes, it was a four point loss, and I know that coaches will never say that there is a 'good' loss, but it was a seminal moment, I believe, in this program. In the past we would have seen these players frustrated, with their heads hanging. Not this time. During this game, these players believed in themselves. We saw it in their first BIG EAST win against St. John's, when, toward the end of the game and the Bearcats holding a fairly comfortable lead, Kahla Roudebush glanced over at fellow senior Michelle Jones lined up in the lane for a foul shot and smile.

Those two have had a UC career that neither one expected. But they are now part of the foundation that will take this team, and teams in the future, to new heights. We're fortunate to have some great women's basketball action in this city. Go watch it.

Give it up for Jamelle Elliott

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So it's about an hour before tipoff as the UC women's team gets ready to face another BIG EAST foe in St. John's a very good 13-2 and 1-1 already in conference. But there's still a lot of buzz from the team's last BIG EAST game, a homecoming of sorts for UC women's basketball coach Jamelle Elliott back at UConn.

If you didn't have the chance to read the story from the Hartford Courant, here's the link: http://www.courant.com/sports/uconn-women/hc-ucwomen0108.artjan08,0,7785229.story 

The point being, she was greeted warmly back to UConn. Heck, even the governor of the state showed up, and, word is, she's not necessarily a big basketball fan (wouldn't make that widely known among voters in the Nutmeg State).

But that's the way UConn treats its former players. Even when they go off to coach another team, they are welcomed back with open arms. Because the fans there know what these young women meant to the program, and they are appreciative of the work they did to build UConn into the powerhouse it's become.

Especially for players like Jamelle who came to Storrs on the faith and promise that the program would be better, that the team could win games and that the school could take home championships. It's a lot easier to go to a school that has the hardware that UConn has now, than it was to go there when the trophy cupboard was bare.

So, the point is, it takes time to build a franchise and time to build a legacy. Jamelle's put her time in to build the UConn legacy, now it's time to build UC's.