FORMER RAM SPINS ‘WHEEL’ TO BIG PAYDAY

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Former VCU track star Verniece (Johnson) Love won nearly $71,000 on 'Wheel of Fortune' in July.

Former VCU track star Verniece (Johnson) Love won nearly $71,000 on ‘Wheel of Fortune’ in July.

RICHMOND, Va. – Over the years, few things were as predictable in Deloris Johnson’s household as her whereabouts from 7-8 p.m., Monday through Friday. Every weeknight, she could be counted on to tune in to “Wheel of Fortune”, the iconic, long-running syndicated game show. It’s been that way for years.

But Monday’s episode was like no other for the Louisa County resident. That’s because on Monday night, she watched her granddaughter, former VCU track star Verniece (Johnson) Love, win nearly $71,000 on the show.

Love, who was raised by Johnson, says she’d watch “Wheel” nearly every night with her grandmother and used to talk about spinning the wheel when she grew up.

“She was so excited,” Love said of her grandmother. “I talked to her again this morning. She kept saying how proud she was of me and how pretty I looked on TV. She’s been talking about it nonstop. I think she called everybody in Louisa County.”

Johnson won’t be the only one sharing the story now. For the first time, Love is able to talk about the big win on “Wheel.” Love actually filmed her episode on July 11 at the show’s studios in Culver City, California, but was required to sign a confidentiality agreement. Now, it’s all anyone wants to talk about.

“Since last night, my phone has been blowing up,” said Love, who lives in Richmond with her husband, Darryl, and their two children. “I had people who didn’t believe I was going to be on the show, and now my phone and my Facebook have been going bananas.”

Love attended VCU from 2005-09 and was a standout on the track and field team. She still owns the program’s indoor and outdoor long jump records. She graduated in 2009 with a degree in marketing, and also minored in African American studies and economics. She met her husband, who studied finance, at VCU. Today, she is a certification officer with the Virginia Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity.

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RAM REFUSED TO ‘TAKE A KNEE’ ON SOCCER CAREER

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VCU senior Mario Herrera Meraz has endured four knee surgeries to continue his soccer career.

VCU senior Mario Herrera Meraz has endured four knee surgeries to continue his soccer career.

RICHMOND, Va. – The network of scars on Mario Herrera Meraz’s left knee weave a tapestry of pain and doubt, and bear evidence of a gauntlet of trials. He muses as he leads me on a tour through the tangled mess of scar tissue.

Herrera Meraz’s kneecap is surrounded by skin marked by surgeon’s knives. There are four large scars roughly the size of postage stamps that form a perimeter around the knee, as well as several small dot marks, evidence of the torn meniscus he suffered when he was 16 that kicked off a “Groundhog’s Day”-like series of injuries that threatened his soccer career. The final scalpel stroke, a narrow, four-inch highway down the center of the knee, is from his most recent brush with injury. He had a screw inserted the last time, and with direct contact, the area can go numb for a few moments.

From 2006-2012, the VCU senior endured four major surgeries on the knee, three to repair a torn ACL. It would be unbelievable if it weren’t true. If not for a cacophony of shredded soft tissue, it’s entirely possible Herrera Meraz would be playing professionally by now, as well as a member of Mexico’s national team.

Despite adversity, Herrera Meraz breezes into the room unfailingly polite and buoyant. Eight years since his first visit to the operating room, the wiry, 5-foot-8 midfielder can still find a smile while recalling a vicious cycle of success, injury, disbelief, recovery and self-doubt.

His torn ACL in the 2012 Atlantic 10 Championship Match and the collective toll of four surgeries, hung like a black cloud over his 2013 season. His confidence shattered, Herrera Meraz was a shadow of himself as he wandered through the season like a man in the wilderness.

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TOP-SHELF FISHER, REDDIC IN ITALY

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A couple of weekend videos worthy of sharing. The first comes from VCU Men’s Soccer’s win over Northeastern on Friday, in which Devon Fisher buries a perfectly placed shot from 35 yards out. This goal is pretty awesome.

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Today’s second video, and congrats to those Internet sleuths monitoring Italian basketball airspace, is Juvonte Reddic’s introductory presser with Victoria Libertas. Most of this 38 minute video is in Italian, but it does include Reddic, who presumably does not speak Italian, responding to questions in English.

NEW LOGO IS A GO

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The new VCU logo has been chiseled into center court at the Siegel Center by the nocturnal leprechauns we keep around just for these types of jobs. Out with the old, in with the new. Meanwhile, the new corner suites should be nearing completion. Next up is the center-hung scoreboard.

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EVERYBODY IN THE POOL, SUMMER’S GONE

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Summer’s gone. I’m not concerned with the technical definition of the season. We’ve all been conditioned to mentally terminate the summer once school resumes. I still do that today because when fall sports kick back online every August, it’s go time in the office. That day is today. We got a little preview last week with women’s soccer’s early start at Virginia Tech and Marshall, but Friday and Saturday, field hockey, volleyball and men’s soccer will also begin their 2014 campaigns.

Our first order of business today is to present our next fall sports preview, field hockey. Although this sport willfully chooses to water artificial grass, we still love them. The Rams were 10-10 a year ago under former player and first-year Coach Laura Baker. This year’s squad is channeling its inner Queen Latifah, with more than a little conversation given to unity.

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VCU Volleyball is in Fort Collins, Colorado this weekend, where all they’ll do is play a road match against the No. 18 team in the country (Colorado State), then two other teams that are receiving votes (Marquette and UC Santa Barbara). This year’s roster features more freshmen (8) than upperclassmen combined (7), so the kids will get an idea about the top end of Division I volleyball pretty quickly. Second-year Coach Jody Rogers, who punts excuses into the rafters for fun, doesn’t sound concerned.

“Age is just a number, and I always tell them that. I don’t want to have an excuse, everybody else sees a young team, I don’t care. They’re ready. I want them to be ready.”

The Rams were 26-8 last year in Rogers’ first season.

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TROPHY CHASING TAKES ON GREATER IMPORTANCE FOR VCU SOCCER IN ’14

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In four seasons under the guidance of Coach Dave Giffard, the VCU Men’s Soccer program has transformed from an also-ran into a juggernaut. For all the progress made, there are a couple of levels of success that have been elusive. Following an 11-8-2 mark in 2013, the Rams aim to take the next step as a program.

THE RISE OF SHAKAVISION: VCU BASKETBALL SCHEDULE RELEASED

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tumblr_mt9eusr6Tn1ryw6edo1_500Shaka Smart’s “Havoc” is must-see TV. That’s what the networks are saying, it seems.

The full VCU Men’s Basketball schedule was released Wednesday. We’ve known the non-conference slate for weeks and the home/away A-10 match-ups for months, so this was really about filling dates and setting DVRs.

In case you were stuck in a mid-afternoon meeting, here it is:

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Really, today’s news is really all about what we didn’t know before, television. Seventeen of VCU’s 18 Atlantic 10 Conference games will be nationally televised, seven by ESPN networks, including four in a row at one stretch. As of today, and there’s still time for the network to add games, VCU will appear on an ESPN network – not including ESPN3 – 11 times. I’m not even go to bother to look this up, but I’m going to say with a degree of certainty, that’s a program record. In all, 23 of VCU’s 31 regular season games are currently scheduled on a national carrier (ESPN2/U: 11, CBS Sports: 9, NBC Sports: 2). That surpasses the program mark of 21 national broadcasts, set last year.

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COME TOGETHER; RAMS AIM TO CHALLENGE A-10 AGAIN WITH OLD AND NEW

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Year One of Jody Rogers’ tenure as VCU Volleyball coach was wildly successful, as the Rams finished 26-8 and reached the Atlantic 10 Conference title match. But that’s not to say the Rams are satisfied. VCU is still chasing its first conference crown and NCAA bid since 2005, and this year, the Rams will do it behind five returning starters and eight freshmen.

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.

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