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News that has happened since we all toddled back from New Orleans..
Hope you have read on the gobearcats.com rotation the release about Cheryl Cook being inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame this spring. Big stuff, in basketball-mad Indiana. You can read her stats and accolades in the news release, but let me tell you a little about how I got to know "Cookie."
Back in the early 1980s, I was a news anchor at Channel 9 in Cincinnati, and I remember (Coach Sandy Smith, you may need to refresh my memory) that UC was the host school for a four-team holiday tournament for women's basketball. UC asked four of us female anchors in town (we were still a rare breed in the '80s) to come in as honorary coaches for each team, and I ended up as the honorary coach for the Lady Bearcats, as they were called then.
One of the players on that team was Cheryl Cook. Honestly, I didn't know a lot about the team before I became its 'assistant' coach, but "Cookie" was one of the players who welcomed me in, understood that it was a good p.r. move and went out of her way to chat up the program and the players.
She was gracious, she was appreciative of the opportunity to play college ball, and she was funny. I do remember that she always seemed to have a smile on her face as she truly enjoyed the game. And I remember that she was good. She was a sharpshooter, she was aggressive and played both ends of the court. She probably was 10 years ahead of her time in the game of basketball, and she was fun to watch.
Of course, back then, her only option to continue playing after college was to go overseas, which she did, before she returned to Ohio to work. But her accomplishments at UC, and now at Indianapolis Washington High School, won't be forgotten, and her contributions to the game of basketball certainly serve as a foundation on which UC women's basketball continues to build.
Congratulations, Cookie, on your award, and all you've done for basketball.
OK so I'm going to do an end-around from the usual women's sports postings here on our Bearcat blog, and talk a little about the trip to New Orleans and the Sugar Bowl. Of course, this being the second straight New Year's that Bearcat fans have had an opportunity to participate in a BCS bowl, Bearcatters are becoming quite comfortable being in the spotlight.
First, I have to give props to the UC pack who made the trip here to the Crescent City. Whether by plane or by auto, Bearcats are here in droves. We chose to drive, and all the way down we were passed (all right, I wasn't driving THAT slowly, but still..) by cars proudly carrying UC stickers, flags or license plates. Fun to see.
Second, let's give a lot of credit to the UC football players. They have been in the middle of a media storm for two weeks-plus now, and have carried themselves with a lot of class and dignity. From the uncertainty of their own leadership to the soap opera drama surrounding the other team's coach (which isn't over yet), the players have stayed focused on their job and their mission at this game.
Third, the UC athletic administrators have kept a steady hand over this last month to make sure the University is portrayed in the best light for this national stage. We've seen the other school waffle in its response to its coach's own uncertainty. Mike Thomas and his crew have been steadfast in their leadership, solid in decisions and always resolute in the long term vision of representing the University of Cincinnati in the best way possible. Props to all of you.
So on this New Year's Eve, the Bearcats have lots of preparations to do before they once again carry the support of a lot of folks who graduated from UC, and those who are just fans, into a BCS bowl game. I grew up watching the Sugar Bowl and its traditions, and it's fun to see UC be a part of that history. For the team, New Year's celebrations can wait 24 hours until after the game.For the rest of us, we can celebrate another new year, and new decade of UC sports excellence.
So, hey, anything going on at UC's campus these days?
Well, perhaps lost in all the Sugar Bowl, Crosstown Shootout, who's the new coach hoopla was a note on the gobearcats.com website that, if you kept the flash program in rotation, popped up about the UC Lacrosse team.
Pretty heady stuff, this announcement is: The Bearcats have been awarded the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) Team Community Awareness Award. The award recognizes the Bearcats for their hard work and dedication in the community.
So, what have they done? Well, they've participated in Winners Walk Tall, in which the team went into inner city schools and became character coaches to teach younger kids about making right decisions. They've planned and worked Bingo Night for the Kentucky Police and the elderly community.
They've helped our servicemen and women through projects such as Cell Phones for Soldiers and Adopt a Troop. They worked at Bras Across the Bridge to support breast cancer awareness and did pop tab collections programs to support the Ronald McDonald House.
You want more? They worked at the Kids' Zone at each football game and promoted the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, created and dedicated to raise public awareness regarding pediatric brain tumors, at various games. And, they helped out with the Nearly Naked Mile and the Adopt a Family at Christmas program.
And yes, they'll have lacrosse to play this spring. Season starts Friday, March 5.
This is what head coach Lellie Swords had to say in the University release:
"Being active and engaging with the community is a point of emphasis that I stress to the team. It's important for us to give back to the community."
Teams don't do this for the awards, or the recognition. Teams do this because they feel a responsibility to give back to the community, to help youngsters have positive role models, to help make lives better.
In a historical perspective, lacrosse is relatively new to campus. These players haven't waited around to get involved, though. This is just one example of how Bearcat teams give back to the community, and the school, they represent. Congratulations to lacrosse, and thanks for all your good work.
So I'm talking with Rebecca Lobo the other day...
Oh, did I say Rebecca Lobo? Well, yes, indeed I did...hey, if you're gonna namedrop, make it a big name.
Rebecca Lobo, the NCAA champion, gold medal winner, WNBA founding member, was kind enough to chat with me this past week for my WVXU sports radio interview show, "The Front Row." You'll be hearing her complete interview in the coming weeks, but let me give you just a preview of what she said about UC's new women's head basketball coach, Jamelle Elliott.
Jamelle, you see, was a teammate of Rebecca's on that first UConn national championship team in the mid '90s. So she knows Jamelle the person, Jamelle the player and Jamelle the assistant coach. "Jamelle was one of these players who was always passionate about the game. And I promise you, she'll have her players hustling, playing all out and playing with the passion she had on our team."
Nice words, coming from someone who's seen the best the world has to offer in women' basketball, in college, in the pros and in the Olympics. And in her current job as an analyst for women's basketball for ESPN, she sees the best in the current teams, too. While she gives props to UConn, Tennessee and Baylor for this upcoming season, she also heaps praise on the UC program.
"Give her some time, and Jamelle will have them playing at the top of the conference," said Lobo. "I know that the Bearcats were projected to finish 16th in the BIG EAST this season, and I also know she'll work hard to get them to finish anywhere but last."
It's been amazing how the UConn family has rallied around Jamelle Elliott and her staff as they rebuild the Bearcat program. From Geno Auriemma coming to her inaugural news conference to the UConn team making a welcoming video for her at her first UC game, Jamelle has had all the backing and well wishes of Husky Nation that anyone could ask. Rebecca just solidified what most of us believe: Jamelle Elliott was, and is, the correct choice to take this program to the next level, to the BIG EAST elite. Stick around and watch what happens.
Say you want a UC-Ohio State matchup? Well, you've got it!
In volleyball, that is...
For the second season in a row, the UC women's volleyball team heads to the NCAA tournament. After a 25-10 record, 12-2 in the BIG EAST, the Bearcats were one of 33 at-large selections for the tournament.
So, that means the Bearcats will play the Buckeyes in the opening round in Columbus on Friday at 8 p.m. at St. John arena. The Buckeyes are 24-9 overall, 12-8 Big Ten, and ended conference play tied for fourth. It's the Buckeyes' 16th appearance in post-season play.
Last year UC beat Western Kentucky in the opening round, before falling to another Big Ten team, Illinois, in the second round. This year the winner of UC-OSU will play the winner of California-Lipscomb. The winner out of Columbus will head to Gainsville for the regional semifinals. The volleyball finals, by the way, will be played in Tampa.
It's just another step in the direction of growing a program. This is a team that finished the season 12-0 at home, to go with its 14-0 record at home last season. Overall, the home win streak now is at 28, the second longest in a country.
Props to longtime volleyball coach Reed Sunahara for building the program, but also for seeing the great high school talent that's right outside his front door. Remember what we mentioned regarding women's soccer here? Well, this area has just as good of volleyball talent--all you have to do is see Ursuline Academy's state championship this year, following last year's runner-up title. And that's just one school. Volleyball talent here comes from both sides of the river:
Lindsay Upton's from Mount Notre Dame; Stephanie Niemer is from St. Henry; Missy Harpenau went to Mother of Mercy; Julie Guenther attended Hamilton Badin; and Jamie Frey went to Roger Bacon, solid high school programs all.
The allure of being able to play BIG EAST talent in your home town is a strong pull for these volleyball players, but the ability to get into the NCAA tournament and build the program for future teams is quite another. These players get the best of both worlds, playing top-level talent in front of family and friends.
If you have the chance, on the way to the UC-Pitt game this weekend, leave a little early and stop by Columbus to watch the U.C. women play Ohio State. They deserve our support as they solidify the foundation for success to come.
Have anything (or anyone) you'd like me to write about? Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to hear your suggestions!
As someone who came around a little too early to take advantage of Title IX, I am more than just a little jealous at the options girls and young women have these days to play sports. In fact, all you have to do is look around the UC campus this weekend to see how those opportunities have paid off:
UC's women's basketball team won their second straight home game Saturday and now head to Alaska for a brief, but important holiday tournament.
At the same time, the Bearcat volleyball team is in the finals of the BIG EAST tournament, with the game televised nationally on ESPNU Sunday.
So what brings about this surge of nostalgia? After Saturday's women's basketball game, the team held a brief reception for VIP and Pride Program ticket holders. I was sitting with one of the UC alumnae who played basketball for the Bearcats and she asked me if I had played basketball growing up.
Well, the immediate answer is, yes, of course, since I'm from Indiana and you're born with basketball knowledge in your blood and you just pray your school's coach knows as much about the game as you do. The secondary answer is, not really, because our version of basketball was the half-court, three on three that you played in phys ed class. Back in the day they still didn't think it was healthy for girls and young women to run full court.
Which brings me to today. I hope these players understand, realize and appreciate the opportunities they have been afforded to play the game they love at a high level. They have received these opportunities on the backs of hundreds of women who had to wash out their own uniforms, travel by van and play in front of family and friends--and sometimes even the friends didn't bother to show up.
I know that I, and a lot of my friends, would have given important body parts to have the chance to play on a real court, in a real gym, in front of fans. I didn't have that chance, so I do the next best thing by announcing at the games, calling play by play when I have the chance and being around these players who have unlimited opportunities to pursue their hoop dreams.
Don't take those opportunities for granted. Don't look back five years from now and wonder what happened to those years on the court. Play your hardest, thank those who went before you, and build a foundation for the next generation of young players. Because, just like you years ago, there are little girls in the bleachers watching your every move. Give them a good example to follow.
Ever wish you could be a big time basketball player? Let's face it, most of us have wanted to do that at some time in our lives--maybe you even played the game. Well, I had the chance to get a taste of what it's like to battle in the BIG EAST Wednesday morning when I joined a group of Cincinnati-area media women to do warmup drills on the court with the U.C. women's basketball team.
I learned a couple of things during that hour: First, I don't have a jump shot. Second, these players work really, REALLY hard.
Representatives from the Cincinnati Enquirer, WLWT, Fox19, Zipscene and bleacherreport.com were part of the "Media Madness" morning warmup, invited by Coach Jamelle Elliott and her staff to meet the players and see what goes into making a championship team. Stretching first, then about 35 minutes of drills.
Some of the observations I noticed, is first, this group is very disciplined. Yes, I know that most of these players have been doing these drills since elementary school. But you still have to know what to do.
Second, there is speed when the Cats take the court. One thing that fans will notice different this season, is that this team will run. They still have set plays and work the half court offense, but they're not afraid to burn down the other end of the court. It's going to be a fun offense to watch.
Third, for someone (me) who came along before Title IX, it is so gratifying to watch these young women have an opportunity I didn't have. I would have given my right pinky to be able to play organized basketball, even at a high school level. We didn't have that chance. The closest I came was our three-on-a-side p.e. class game when you weren't even allowed to cross half court. I'm living through these players' lives and opportunities. And it is so fun to watch.
Fourth, the entire team and staff were very patient with us as we ran into each other during drills, bounce passed to the wrong people and generally slowed down their usual tightly-scripted practice. They were kind, encouraged us, and cheered when we finally made a shot (me again--took me all practice!).
So thanks to Coach Elliott, her entire staff and the Bearcats' women's basketball team. It was a terrific experience, and makes me appreciate even more what you do every week to represent this city and the University. Tipoff for Coach Elliott's first game is Sunday at 7 p.m. at Fifth Third. Come watch the Cats.
Things you learn when you get up early and attend a U.C. Athletics Department staff meeting..
A little background here--all of us bloggers you see on the gobearcats.com website were invited to the meeting, more to introduce us to the other coaches in the room than anything else. We hope these updates will be not just informative to fans, but give coaches a way to let us know, and in turn let you know, what's new in their sport.
Which leads me to today's revelation: As Athletic Director Mike Thomas was running down the accomplishments of the fall sports, he mentioned volleyball. And here's what Coach Reed Sunahara's squad has done this season as the Bearcats head into the final weekend of action this weekend at home. With last weekend's win at South Florida, the 'Cats reached the 20-win mark for the season, the ninth time that UC has reached that mark under Sunahara.
The team also has the second longest home winning streak in the nation, behind only Penn State. The 'Cats will try to extend that streak against Connecticut Saturday and St. John's on Sunday.
All this leads me to the one point that works for both men's and women's sports: It's terrific that the football team is putting a national spotlight on the Bearcat athletic program, and the men's and women's programs are on the upswing now, with promises of great things to come. But there are so many other sports that contribute to the well being and education of the student-athlete on the Clifton campus. And each deserves support of the Bearcat community.
For example, it was great during Monday night's exhibition between the U.C. women's basketball team and Kentucky Wesleyan to see members of the men's basketball team there to support the women. Just seeing student-athletes supporting other sports is terrific, but the support can extend to the U.C. family both on and off the campus.
And this weekend is a great time to start. Sunday evening will be a big day for the women's basketball program, as the Jamelle Elliott era starts for the 'Cats. But think about coming a little early on Sunday and attend Senior Day for the women's volleyball team at Fifth Third Arena. They work just as hard, and take just as much pride in their sport as any of the other student-athletes. And you'll feel good about supporting these young women who are proud to wear the U.C. unifrom.
Jamelle Elliott's only been in town since May, but it must seem like a lifetime for the new UC women's basketball coach. Did you catch the front sports page story in the Enquirer on her? Here's a link, in case you want to read it again: http://news.cincinnati.com/article/20091101/SPT0101/911020345/1064/+New+UC+women+s+coach+reaches+out
Since she came from Connecticut to take over the Bearcat basketball program, for Coach Elliott, life has been one big whirlwind. It comes with the territory, though, when you're rebuilding a program. The first phase of that process wrapped up Wednesday night, at the last of the 'house parties' that Coach Elliott and her staff have been visiting this fall.
The theory behind the get-togethers is a simple one--introduce Coach Elliott to the community. But it's a lot more than that. It's a way to show fans and alums that the University has a renewed commitment to women's basketball. And it's a way for her new home town to invest in the future of the program, and in the future of the players.
Because this is about much more than basketball, it's about supporting the student-athletes who work countless hours at their sport to represent UC. It's about showing young girls inspiring role models.
So far, hundreds have invested in the program. Season ticket sales have more than doubled from earlier years, courtside seats are sold out and Coach Elliott has purchased two dozen tickets for each game to donate to underprivileged children in the area.
The ball rolls out on the court for real on Sunday, November 15th. How Coach Elliott's team will do in her first year, no one can say for sure. But in the first six months, the program and the community have forged a tight bond that will do nothing but strengthen in years to come.
While the Bengals were putting the smackdown on the Bears Sunday, the UC women's soccer team closed out its season by doing the same, comparatively speaking, to Seton Hall with a 4-0 win that wraped up the Bearcats' year.
The Bearcats didn't have enough wins this season to qualify for the BIG EAST post-season, but that's not to put a damper on what the Cats accompished this year, or what the future for the program can be.
Just like East Coast high schools churn out lacrosse players, the Greater Cincinnati area produces quality soccer players: Look no farther than Cincinnati's own Heather Mitts, now a star with the U.S. national team.
In fact, Cincinnati is the second-highest soccer participation area in the country (behind Kansas City). And almost each year, Cincinnati-area high schools send girls' teams to the state soccer finals.
Just take a look at the roster on the UC women's soccer team: More than a third of the players on this year's team were from Cincinnati area powerhouses like Notre Dame Academy, St. Ursula, Lakota West and CHCA.
The lesson here? Well, it's no secret, because Brian Kelly has turned looking at your own back yard for talent into a science for the football program. High school soccer players in the Cincinnati area certainly have shown they can play with the best. With the opportunity to play in a terrific soccer facility like Gettler Stadium, in a league like the BIG EAST, more and more elite players are looking at UC for their next soccer stop.
Congratulations to Michelle Salmon and the Cats for a great season. More good things are ahead for the program.