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New home, new day for Lacrosse

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Maybe it's the new digs.

Maybe it's the new coach.

Maybe it's a new attitude.

Whatever it is, the 2013 edition of Bearcat Lacrosse is something to experience. It's a fun, fast version of the game that's producing results. After Friday's 16-6 win over Detroit in their new home at the Sheakley Athletics Center, the team is now 4-0 at home this season, 5-4 overall heading into the meat of the conference schedule.

First, the new digs: As I mentioned, Sheakley (home of the now-deflated bubble) will be the home of the lacrosse team the rest of the season, and it's a great place to watch the game, a cozy stadium that makes the crowd and band seem even louder.

Now, the new coach: Gina Oliver comes into Clifton with quite the resume: United States Women's National Team member, she played undergraduate at Ohio State and coached defense as Duquesne, where she produced a 2012 Atlantic-10 Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year.

And, the new attitude: You can tell this team respects Coach Oliver--and likes her. They sang "Happy Birthday" to her after Friday's game. They feed off her enthusiasm for the game, and they are playing with a purpose. Even a novice lacrosse fan (like myself) can see that this year, they are more patient in developing plays and take their time executing the best shot. In goal, freshman Meg Gulmi makes the job look easy--she flicks away shots like she was shooing away a fly. She makes it look effortless--although you know it's not.

Now that class is back in session after the Easter break, it's a great time to catch this lacrosse team in action against some of the best in the BIG EAST. Especially for some of the high school teams in the area, both girls and boys, it's an opporunity to see how the game is played at the collegiate level.

A week of goodbye and hello

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 It'll be a busy seven days for UC women's athletics as we wind down women's basketball and crank up women's lacrosse. In the middle, women's tennis is on a nice three out of four win streak as they take a break before they face Louisville in a BIG EAST matchup on March 9.

First, the week of goodbye as the women's basketball program as the Bearcats hold Senior Day on Saturday in a men's and women's basketball doubleheader at Fifth Third Arena. The Bearcats will face Rutgers having won three of their last four as well. It's the last home game of the season for the Bearcats as they say goodbye to senior Lesha Dunn. After a rough first half of the BIG EAST season, the Bearcats have found their rhythm toward the end of the regular season. Here's hoping that can carry them into the conference tournament in March. That thrilling win over Marquette at home a couple of weeks ago seems to have given this team new life.

By the way, the men's team plays UConn in the first half of Saturday's doubleheader. If you have tickets to the men's game you can stay for the women's game for free. Take a few minutes and hang around for the women's game, watch the newest member of the 900 win club, C. Vivian Stringer from Rutgers, and say thanks to Lesha Dunn.

The 'hello' in the headline refers to women's lacrosse, and new head coach Gina Oliver. She comes to Clifton with quite a pedigree, as a member of the US women's national team. The lax team is 1-1 so far this young season and will have its home opener next Tuesday, March 5. If you haven't taken in a lacrosse game, stop by for a few minutes. I think you'll really enjoy the game.

So it's goodbye to senior Lesha Dunn, hello to new head coach Gina Oliver and a deserved week's rest for the women's tennis team. Busy few days ahead so make plans to take in one (or more) games over the next few days.

Finally in the win column

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To borrow a line from Frankie Valli, Oh what a night.

Wednesday night's Bearcat game against Marquette was something special, for a lot of reasons. Let's start with the glitterati in attendance, beginning with Hall of Fame Coach Pat Summitt, behind the Marquette bench to watch her son, Tyler, an assistant with the Golden Eagles. Then we had former UC coach Laurie Pirtle on the front row, watching the Bearcats.

Then there was the game itself. The stats will tell you that Tiffany Turner hit a layup with less than a second to go to win it for UC, but the game was much more than that. It was a battle of changes made and chances lost, of a team that fought back when it could have folded in the second half, and players who were bloodied, in the case of Alexis Durley, but unbowed at the end to get the first BIG EAST win of the season for Coach Jamelle Elliott.

The Bearcats had come oh, so close to getting a conference win a number of times, most recently at Rutgers where they lost by a bucket. This one, though, felt different, in that this team continued to fight back, even when they were down by four with a hanful of minutes to go.

Whatever the final count of the 2012-2013 season record may be, remember one thing: This team never quits. Kayla Cook plays defense as well as anybody on the floor, and she contributes in ways that don't always show up in the box score. Dayeesha Hollins every game is the target of the other team's best defender, and she takes a beating but comes back for more. And at the end of the game you could see the relief on the UC coaching staff's faces to get this "W" in the books and see the players' hard work pay off.

They'll be back home next Saturday-put it on your calendar to come cheer them on.

On to the Next Chapter

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 Not too many teams, especially outside of the BIG EAST, have had as challenging a schedule as the UC women's basketball team has faced in the last few weeks. Take #2 Notre Dame, #3 UConn, #11 Louisville, #22 Syracuse and throw in Villanova in Others 557783_10151285743175886_2081728009_n[1].jpgReceiving Votes, and you have a string of opponents you wouldn't want to face at any time, much less in a 30-day period.

Best thing about it, that stretch is over, after Tuesday night's home game with Syracuse. (Thanks, Dana Rieger, for the photo) 

But of course, there are more conference games to be played, starting Saturday, on the road at Rutgers. You can say the season starts all over again this weekend. Now that the murder's row of BIG EAST opponents is behind them, the Bearcats can concentrate on conference wins, and getting ready for the conference tournament at the end of the season.

The most promising part of these tough games is that this team has not given up, either on themselves or on their coach. Jamelle Elliott fought hard for her players in Tuesday night's Syracuse game, and they responded with a terrific effort. While turnovers got the best of the Bearcats, it's a good teaching moment for them to know that they can battle with the best of the BIG EAST and walk off the court with their heads held high.

After the Rutgers game this weekend, the Bearcats come back home for a game against Marquette Wednesday night, February 13. And if you don't know, a certain son of a certain coach is an assistant with the Marquette team. Pat Summit's son, Tyler, is on the bench for the Golden Eagles. Here's the link to the story about Tyler's journey to Milwaukee: http://espn.go.com/womens-college-basketball/story/_/id/8802545/total-access-tennessee-tyler-summitt-follows-pat-summitt-coaching-path

Other notes: The UC Bearcat Tennis Team goes on the road this weekend, first to Toledo on Saturday, then Bowling Green on Sunday before they enter BIG EAST play. Follow them this weekend at www.gobearcats.com.

 

 

Teacher vs Student

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Don't know how many times we'll see this matchup in the future, given the game of conference musical chairs that continues to be played in college sports, but this Saturday will be another opportunity to see UConn and UC in women's basketball with Geno Auriemma, the coach who built the UConn program into the juggernaut it is today, and Jamelle Elliott, one of his players who was on the ground floor of that construction project.

For those of you who don't know her pedigree, here's a paragraph or two from her official UC bio: "Elliott, who was a four-year letterwinner, helped build the UConn dynasty as a player and finished her career ranked No. 2 among UConn's all-time rebounding leaders (1,054), No. 5 in BIG EAST career rebounding (558), and No. 11 in UConn career scoring (1,387)."

But wait, there's more: "She has been a part of six national championships, including the Huskies' 2009 undefeated championship run, and won a title as a player, helping UConn to the 1995 championship, the first in the school's history.

"Building on her success as a player for the Huskies, Elliott has helped guide UConn to a 402-36 (.918) record in her 12 years as an assistant coach, leading the team to seven NCAA Final Four berths in that span. In conference action, UConn has won the BIG EAST Conference regular season title in 10 of her 12 seasons, while also claiming a total of nine tournament crowns."

In his 27 seasons at UConn, Coach Auriemma has turned that program from only one winning season, to one that claims seven national titles, 13 Final Fours, four perfect seasons (1995, 2002, 2009, 2010) and 37 BIG EAST titles, all since Auriemma's arrival in 1985.

The moral? Well, Rome wasn't built in a day. It takes time to build a program. Coach Elliott is building the UC program with the knowledge and experience she gleaned from one of the best. So on Saturday night at 8 p.m., teacher and student will meet again. Come out to Fifth Third Arena and watch it. We may not see this too many times again.

Big Week Ahead

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Louisville UC.JPGThis was a good weekend to take in UC women's sports-on the road Friday night in Louisville, then a return trip to Cincinnati for the opener for the women's tennis team at Western Tennis and Fitness Club. We'll talk about the tennis opener in a moment, but first, to basketball, and it's getting down to the nitty-gritty in the BIG EAST for the Cats.

And that's where you come in. I got to see first-hand the atmosphere at the KFC Yum! Center when the Cardinals faced the Bearcats. The crowd of 9,752 was into the game from the beginning: They cheered the U of L players, the booed the refs and supported their team unconditionally for all 40 minutes. And the players responded. They were scrapping for every loose ball, they were disciplined in their plays, they didn't let up--because the crowd didn't.

What does that have to do with UC fans? Here's the deal: It's time to build that kind of atmosphere in Clifton. There are two big games this week at Fifth Third Arena, the first Tuesday night against DePaul, then Saturday's clash with UConn. We need to start creating the fan support that will help this team respond, just like the Cardinals did Friday night. Because it makes a difference. The louder you cheer, the harder they play. We have to show that we are behind this team, thick or thin. And I'll bet we'll see just how they respond to your cheers.

So here's my challenge to you: If you're a regular in the women's basketball crowd, bring a friend. Bring two, if they're free. If they can't make it on Tuesday night, bring them on Saturday night. If you haven't been to a women's basketball game in a while, check it out this week. Ask your neighbors if they want to go--especially if they have young girls who might be interested in sports. Let's start a grassroots effort, and bring more people to the games. Knock on doors in your neighborhood. Call the gals you have lunch with once a week and invite them to a game. Ask your soccer friends if they'd like their kids to see great college basketball.

This is a pivotal week for the UC program. The players need our support, now more than ever. Let's show the Bearcats we're behind them, one ticket at a time.

***

Now, for women's tennis: Make the trip out Glenway to watch the UC tennis team take on IU. The Hoosiers are nationally ranked, so it was a tough test for the tennis Bearcats. But it's nice to see tennis back and as Coach Angela Wilson noted before the match, this is the first time in a while that she's had a healthy, full roster. She's looking for big things for this squad. Check 'em out at the Western Tennis and Fitness Center for the first half of the home schedule, then on campus for the last half.

 

First Week in the BIG EAST

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At the end of the first week of competition for the women's basketball team in the BIG EAST, there are some bright spots, despite the 0-2 record. And there's certainly more than enough to build upon in the weeks to come in conference play.

First, Sunday's game against Villanova was one of the best-played games I've seen the Bearcats involved in, and I'm in my seventh year of working home games. Their defense was outstanding and they went toe to toe against a Villanova team that had height, and bench advantages. The only time they trailed was at the end of the game. As Coach Jamelle Elliott said later in the week, they need to learn how to close it out. That will come. Still, it was a win that got away.

Wednesday's game against Seton Hall, well, I think the players will admit that it wasn't the best showing from the Bearcats. A sluggish first half came back to bite them in the second, despite Dayeesha Hollins' three-point barrage that gave UC the lead midway in the second. The defense wasn't the same, but again, it's a chance for the team to learn and improve next time.

Injuries again have taken their toll--Coach Elliott has had to use eight different starters (so far) because of the injury bug. But out of injuries come opportunities. And it's an opportunity that Alexis Durley has taken complete advantage of.  As I like to say, she's like Archie Bell and the Drells--from Houston, Texas (Google it if you don't get the musical reference)--and while she may be a freshman, she doesn't play like one. The game is not too big for her and she has stepped up big, on the big stage. She's a great back court partner to Hollins.

So now, it's on the road for the Bearcats, first facing a South Florida team that just took Notre Dame to overtime this past week. They won't be back home until January 22 against DePaul, but next Friday, January 18, they'll be playing Louisville at the Yum! Center. I'm planning to travel there to cheer on the 'Cats--you should think about it too.

And just a personal note, thanks to the staff and crew at Fox Sports Ohio and to my broadcast partner, @Tommy_G, for televising the UC-Seton Hall game Wednesday. I love the fact that women's basketball gets regular television exposure from Fox Sports Ohio, and it's always fun working with Tom Gelehrter. Looking forward to our next game!   

Crosstown Classic? Yes it was.

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Our friends at ESPN have a feature they call "Instant Classic" when the network immediately will replay a game that producers deem a contest so special, fans need to see it again right away.

Sunday's Crosstown Classic game between UC and XU was exactly what it name says: A classic.

First, congratulations to Amy Waugh and the Xavier Musketeers on the win. Xavier played a total of three overtimes in its two games this weekend, one in a loss to Appalachian State on Friday night, then two Sunday against UC. They were resiliant after facing double-digit deficits and came back to win.

Second, what a showing by UC, even in a loss. Dayeesha Hollins showed why she is the quarterback for Jamelle Elliott as the junior from Winton Woods practically willed the Bearcats to the win, all by herself. As it was, Hollins tossed in 25 points and a career high 14 rebounds. How many times she hit the floor chasing after a loose ball, I lost count. She gave every ounce of effort she had in this game.

UC was strong at the start as the Bearcat defense lived up to its billing, holding Xavier to only 15 points in the first half. But injuries and fouls started to take their toll in the second half. Give credit to Tiffany Turner, coming back from concussion symptoms, for playing well inside with 11 points. Jeanise Randolph, also coming back after a wrist injury, was a bit tentative early playing with a soft cast on her right hand, but seems to get more comfortable as the game went on. Her leg injury late in the second half may have been the difference in the game as the Bearcats missed her experience at crucial times in OT.

But the real winners in this game were the dozens of girls' youth basketball teams who attended the contest and got to see the best that women's basketball has to offer. You can only hope that in that crowd, some of these girls will be inspired to play a little harder, work a little longer and see a future that they can have playing basketball. They saw a true Crosstown Classic.

It's Showtime (almost)

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With Wednesday night's win against Morehead State in the books, now it's time for the UC Bearcats to concentrate on the newly-named Crosstown Classic with Xavier at Fifth Third Arena on Sunday afternoon. Tickets are becoming scarce, so make sure you get yours soon, and there's no Bengals conflict-the men in stripes play after 4 p.m. in San Diego. By the way, wear red.

While Xavier has one more game Friday night before the Crosstown, UC has a clear schedule from now until Sunday. And while it is a cliche that 'you can throw the records out the window,' this game truly reflects that. You might remember that UC was undefeated before last year's Crosstown, but left without the Kendle Cup trophy and with its first loss of the season.

Here's what to watch, after seeing the Bearcats this early in the season: First, Dayeesha Hollins continues to sparkle. She seems to be more comfortable taking charge in her guard role, and when she sees that the shots aren't falling, she takes it upon herself to make shots. During the Morehead State game when it seemed as if there was a lid on the Bearcat basket, Dayeesha created chances by driving inside, looking for the layup or trying to draw the foul.

Second, watch the development of Lesha Dunn as a force inside. Dunn got sporadic playing time last season, but early this year, you can see the evolution of her game. She's become more confident in her shot and she's not afraid to get inside, sharp elbows notwithstanding. She has really improved her game and I think Bearcat fans will be pleased with her off-season development.

Third, Jamelle Elliott's starting to work her freshmen into the mix, including Jasmine Whitfield and Alexis Durley, although Destini Feagan got some playing time Wednesday night. Injuries have necessitated some of that experience, but you can tell that Coach Elliott believes in their skills. Might as well throw them into the deep end of the pool right away, because it only gets deeper during BIG EAST play.

It should be a great game, but also remember it's a day to celebrate girls and women in sports, with girls' youth teams eligible to win new uniforms, courtesy of TQL. On both sides of the court we'll see amazing role models for the next generation of player to follow. Join us on Sunday.

 

 

A Crosstown Classic

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Jamelle Elliott joined a University of Connecticut basketball program that, at the time she signed, was building from scratch. She helped create a championship culture that is the model for schools across the country.

Amy Waugh tore her Achilles early in her junior season at Xavier. Instead of redshirting, she rehabbed her way back into the starting lineup that same season and helped lead her team to the Elite Eight.

These are the coaches who will face off December 2 in the WomCrosstown shootout coaches.JPGen's Crosstown Classic between UC and Xavier at Fifth Third Arena. If the determination and drive of the coaches are examples, this should be a good one. Of course, the annual game is a showcase for the two schools, but also serves as a showcase for women's sports.

For the last seven years, the goal has been to sell out the game, and there are a couple of reasons for that. First, of course, it's a great boost to the players to perform in front of a packed house. It gives a little more spring in their step, a little more energy on court to have thousands of fans in the house.

Secondly, it's a way to expose young girls in the Greater Cincinnati area to what is possible. I know if I had not seen women like Phyllis George, Gayle Sierens and Andrea Joyce covering sports on television, it would never have occurred to me that I would have an opportunity to do the same. It is vitally important that young girls, especially those playing on elementary or youth league teams, see what can happen if they stick with the sport.

And third, it's a way for girls' teams to have a chance to win new uniforms for their programs. Through the generosity of one of the Classic sponsors, TQL, teams who attend will be entered in a raffle to win new uniforms. At least five teams will win.

So if you have a daughter or granddaughter who loves basketball, take the time to bring her to the Women's Crosstown Classic on December 2. She'll see two coaches who have been fortunate enough to succeed in the highest levels of the game and who now are passing on their passion for the sport to the next generation. She'll also see student-athletes, many of them from the Greater Cincinnati area, who are taking advantage of their opportunity to play the sport they love. And she may see her future as well.