DETAILS AND DIRTY WORK; RAMS AIM TO BUILD ON 2013 CAMPAIGN

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In many ways, the 2013 season was a “getting-to-know-you” kind of campaign for the VCU Women’s Soccer team. After an 8-8-3 season under first-year Coach Lindsay Vanderspiegel, the Rams now have a clear understanding of where they’re headed. This season, led by All-Conference players Emma Kruse and Casey Boyer, VCU wants everybody else to know what they’re all about as well.

WE WERE MERELY FRESHMEN…AN OPEN LETTER

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Warning-FreshmanHey freshmen,

We’ve probably never met, but I hope you’ll soon recount to me how you learned to play the bassoon or that time you saved a gaggle of puppies from a burning building.

For lack of a better term, I’m the features writer here. For the last five years, I’ve been scribbling stories about student-athletes like you. I’ll happily write about how many goals you want to score this year, but I’d rather tell people why “Hannah Montana” inspired you practice your jump serve.

You’re more than a number on a field. That’s what I want people to know when I write about you, but more importantly, you should know it as well. I write because people are a collection of layers, not just a surface coat of athletic mastery.

I’ve never been a Division I student-athlete, unless we’re counting my MVP performance in the annual basketball game between Ohio University’s student TV station and school paper. It was my magnum opus, a display of shot-making and stunningly average defense I’ve failed to replicate in the years since. I could never hit a curveball…or much of anything else, for that matter, and my high school cross country career fizzled out in about the fourth grade.

So I’m not going to tell you how to split a double-team, unless it’s at the soft-serve ice cream machine. What I can tell you is what years of perspective have taught me, something you’d probably refer to as, “being old”.

You’ve got plenty of coaches to help you shine championship trophies. I just want to make sure the next four years are unforgettable. You’re all student-athletes, but a student-athlete is not all that you are. You’re going to do (if you’re doing it right) a lot of growing up while you’re here. Welcome it.

When I took this job at VCU, I told my wife we’d probably be here three years. This fall will mark my 10th year with this department. What began as a just a paycheck has become a life. I’m not saying you need to spent the rest of your life here, but for the next four years, embrace VCU and Richmond. I’ve been to a lot of places, and I can tell you that Richmond is a pretty cool town. See the city. Catch a show at The National, eat somewhere other than the 10 chain restaurants on campus, spend a day at the river, whatever. Just go. There’s a whole city out there that doesn’t play college field hockey, and that’s okay. Go find it.

DISCLAIMER: Make sure you go to class and practice first.

Second, this town and this school love a winner, but they love class, dignity and grace even more. Work hard, keep your chin up and your eyes open, and you’re going to be fine, regardless of what the scoreboard says.

Third, more people than you can count are going to tell you that these are going to be the best four years of your life. They’re not wrong, but they’re not right, either. The next four years will be the best four years of your life, if you let them be. So will the four after that and the four after that. But these four years will be unique. For most of you, it’s your first time out on your own, and you get to learn how to become an adult around a bunch of people, your teammates, who know exactly what you’re going through. Lean on them, and listen to them when they need an ear.

Finally, my words are just a guidebook, suggestions, really. At a distance, my college career is a hilarious dustbin collection of earnest missteps, awkward moments and well-intentioned bad ideas. I’m thankful everyday that my college career predates social media. But I also (allegedly) learned a ton, made friends for a lifetime, met my future wife and found some direction.

I sincerely hope you win a bunch of championships while you’re here. That said, championships and victories on the field can shape your college experience, but they don’t have to define it. In four years, if you emerge with a degree, seasoned and ready for the next best four years of your life, then you’re doing it right. Good luck, and here’s to the next four years.

P.S.: If you make ice sculptures with chainsaws as a hobby, come see me immediately.

QUICK SCHEDULE METRICS THAT I BORROWED

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VCU released its full non-conference schedule this morning and it’s as we suspected, it’s pretty darn loaded. Games with Tennessee, Villanova, Cincinnati, Virginia, as well as some other under-the-radar giant killers like Belmont, Toledo and Cleveland State line line a really solid slate:

10435834_10152713559894101_2888966987183840117_n

Thanks to the Internet and the number of VCU fans who love to crunch schedule metrics, I’m going to borrow the following cheat sheet. This comes to us via a poster on VCURamNation.com by the screen name of ShootTheJay. Jay, I appreciate your homework. I was going to do something similar, but now I don’t have to.

non-conf-metrics

Of course, some teams will be better than last year and others will fall off some, but overall, you can see that there are a ton of quality teams on here. VCU will have every opportunity to build an NCAA resume. Of this group of 14 teams, nine finished last year in Ken Pomeroy’s top 100. Just one team posted a losing record, and eight played in the NCAA Tournament or the NIT. Also, you may notice his postseason notes on Old Dominion. Those are his words, not mine, but as you can see, the spirit of the rivalry lives.

I’d be curious to hear your thoughts, but this has got to be one of the best non-conference schedules in school history, does it not?

LEGENDS OF THE FALL; SCHEDULE TAKES SHAPE AS VILLANOVA DATE REVEALED

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legendsThe full Legends Classic bracket was released this morning, revealing a VCU-Villanova matchup on Nov. 24 at Barclays Center. From there, it’s either Oregon or Michigan on Nov. 25. No matter what, VCU was going to get two great, tough games out of this trio, but Villanova might represent the biggest challenge in the field. The Wildcats were 29-5 last season, and although they lose leading scorer James Bell to graduation, they return a ton of talent, as well as Jay Wright’s impressive wardrobe.

You’ll also notice a date with Maryland-Eastern Shore in the bracket, which gives additional clarity to VCU’s 2014-15 schedule. Here’s what we have so far, and I’m told the rest will be released soon:

Nov. 14 vs. Tennessee (at Annapolis, Md.) – Veterans Classic
Nov. 18 – Toledo (Home Opener)
Nov. 20 – Maryland-Eastern Shore
Nov. 24 vs. Villanova (Brooklyn, N.Y.) – Legends Classic
Nov. 25 vs. Michigan or Oregon (Brooklyn, N.Y.) – Legends Classic

This does not include known dates with Virginia, Cincinnati and Old Dominion, as well as others. As it stands, the Rams are already slated to meet teams from the SEC, [New] Big East, [Old Big East] American Athletic, ACC and Big Ten/Pac-12. Plus, Toledo was arguably the best team in the MAC last year.

There will not be a lack of potential RPI boosters in this year’s schedule. If the Rams play well, they’ll have every opportunity to earn a high NCAA Tournament seed. Of VCU’s known potential opponents for next season, 10 – Villanova (8), Virginia (10), Michigan (11), Cincinnati (22), Saint Louis (24), UMass (26), Oregon (27), Dayton (33), Tennessee (37) and Toledo (43) – were ranked inside the RPI top 50 last year. That doesn’t guarantee those teams will enjoy the same success in 2014-15, but it does speak, in a general sense, of the competition VCU has assembled in this year’s schedule.

Also, four out of VCU’s first five games will be televised on national TV, with more on the way. These are the salad days, folks.

2014 LEGENDS CLASSIC BRACKET

2014 Legends Bracket.xls

SEAL SEASON: WOMEN’S HOOPS

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First, Shaka Smart convinced a whole campus that “Havoc” was the IT brand in college hoops. Now, his influence is changing the way other VCU programs prepare for their seasons.

The Rams have made headlines the last three years by using SEAL Team PT  to ready themselves for the rigors of one of college basketballs’ most intense systems. Really, it’s more about team building. These guys are already in outstanding shape, but when you’re running a high-risk, high-reward full-court pressing operation, you have to be able to trust the guys behind you.

It’s been so successful that this year, several other VCU teams will participate in SEAL Team PT, including the women’s basketball program under first-year Coach Beth O’Boyle.

VCU HOOPS CHECK-UP IN TWO PHOTOS

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VCU Men’s Basketball released its 2014-15 uniform set today. If they kicked the ball on the ground, they’d call these kits for reasons nobody understands. But they don’t, so they’re uniforms. Notice the return of the gray alternate, as well a new twist on the traditional VCU road uni we’ll call, “The Pleasantville.

Bt5VjDJIIAAfJiIAlso today, this.

SHAKAnado

SUITE-NESS; UPGRADES PROGRESS AT SIEGEL CENTER

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Earlier this year, VCU announced it would add two suites in the south corners of the Stuart C. Siegel Center as part of an overall effort to enhance the arena. It’ll be a busy couple of months for “The Stu”. In addition to the suites, a new, centerhung scoreboard and sounds system will be installed, and the court will be repainted to reflect VCU’s (and the A-10’s) new branding marks.

WHAT’S YOUR 20? VCU BASKETBALL’S BEST AT EVERY NUMBER

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VCU-20s

In basketball, we immortalize our heroes by hoisting their jerseys into the rafters. Often, we “retire” numbers, deciding that no other player is worthy to be identified by that set of numerals. It’s how we remember our favorites, and is one of the simplest ways kids can emulate their heroes. So it’s no wonder VCU fans approach the announcement of something as benign as jersey numbers with a level of excitement my wife reserves for the new season of “Scandal”. So when we released the new jersey numbers of VCU’s highly rated freshman class, it led me down the rabbit hole to questions like, “Who is the best No. 31 in VCU Basketball history?

So here we are. My ground rules were simple. First, I didn’t pick any current players. Yes, Briante Weber and Treveon Graham (and others, perhaps) certainly have arguments, but I’d like to see the entire arc of their careers before I rank them among the greats. This list is subjective, and I’d like to have as much information as possible. Second, the player needs to have worn the number for a “significant” part of his career, unless no other option was available. Therefore, I didn’t spend time considering Juvonte Reddic at No. 5 and Rob Brandenberg at No. 23, since they only wore the numbers for one season.

Feel free to berate me in the comments section.

00-George Byrd (1994-97)
Before he conquered Slamball, George Byrd was a reliable post presence for VCU’s mid-90s squads. Byrd averaged 9.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks to help steer the Rams to a 1996 CAA Championship that ended an 11-year NCAA Tournament drought. Honorable mention: Johnnie Story

larry-sanders1-Larry Sanders (2007-10)
Although Bo Jones makes a compelling argument, the No. 1 No. 1 in VCU history is LAR-RY SAN-DERS, and not just because he resembles one. In addition to averaging nearly a double-double as a junior (14.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg), Sanders ranks fourth in school history in blocked shots. Also, his 17-point, 20-rebound, 7-block performance against George Mason in the 2009 CAA Championship Game should be preserved by the Smithsonian. Honorable mention: Bo Jones

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HERE I AM IN FRONT OF SOME RUBBLE…

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BarneyRubble

No, not that Rubble. Actual rubble. Construction is underway at the site of the new VCU Basketball practice facility. Let’s have a look at the site now, as well as what’s ahead on Marshall Street.

MEET BETH O’BOYLE

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New Women’s Basketball Coach Beth O’Boyle has dived right in to the mix at VCU. She’s already landed a high-scoring junior college transfer in Ashley Pegram and recently shored up her coaching staff. Now, she’s sitting down with VCU Athletics to map out her goals for the program.

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