VOLLEYBLOG #6: RULES OF THE ROAD

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SATURDAY, 11:20 a.m.
I have a set of simple rules I employ when traveling with teams. No. 1: Don’t be late. No. 2: Stay out of jail. No. 3: Never trust a man in a chicken suit. Other than that, it’s easy.

Rule No. 1 is generally the most important. If the players don’t make it to the game, there is no game. If the sports info guy doesn’t make it to the game, well, that just means there will be extra food at the media buffet. In fact, there are a lot of coaches that would gladly trade the SID’s spot on the bus for an extra bag of equipment. It’s a good thing this staff still likes me.

That’s why you get first-hand information. Check the schedule. Don’t assume anything. I thought the bus was pulling out at 10:30 this morning, but when my phone rang at 10:23 and the caller I.D. said “James Finley”, I knew exactly why. Last guy on the bus, sheepishly slinking to my seat.

Anyway, we’re here, waiting to play Michigan State at noon. MSU has aggressively scheduled this morning, meaning that there’s no chance we start on time. The Ball State/Sacred Heart match started at 10 a.m. and provided it ran longer than three sets (it did) there was no shot of starting at 12 p.m. Ah well, late lunch. Beat State. Go Rams.

VOLLEYBLOG #5: MINIBLOG

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Well, that was a kick in the teeth. Back and forth match. Rams trailed 1-0, led 2-1 and lost 3-2. Certainly a tough one. We had Olive Garden delivered to the gym, and the team scouted the first two sets of the Ball State/Michigan State match before heading back to the hotel. Now it’s film sessions for them and flipping between college football and The Rock for me. Cheers.

VOLLEYBLOG #4: TALL MAN IN A LITTLE BUNK

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Friday, 3 p.m. (Gameday)
While you can play fast and loose with the itinerary on travel days, gamedays are pretty regimented. You pretty much know what to expect.

That’s why today has been pretty straightforward. Breakfast (hotel), film, practice, lunch (Jimmy John’s). Practice was at 12:30 and lunch was afterwards, so the decision had been made that we weren’t going back to the hotel.

We returned to Jenison Field House at 3 p.m. and the team went inside for treatment (ice packs, wrapping ankles, etc.). In the meantime, we had some time to kill, which is why 6-foot-4 Nathan Baker decided to see if he could stuff himself inside one of the bus’ top bunks. Turns out, he can.

Not recommended for persons over 5-foot-9.

Getting out, however, was a bit dicey.

He was stuck like this for hours.

Top to bottom, this might be the toughest tournament field the Rams will face all year. Sacred Heart is 8-2 and beat Maryland (who swept the Rams, 3-0) earlier this year. The Pioneers did lose to Delaware, 3-1.

Random thought: Pioneers is about the least exciting nickname name you can have. I say this as someone who once worked at a school with that nickname. What kind of vision does Pioneers evoke? Oh, we’re going to ride our wagons westward? We’re going to drive slowly across the plain? Not doing it for me.

Anyway, cool item of the day: Jenison Field House, built in 1940, was the home of Michigan State Basketball until the Breslin Center (just across the street) opened in 1989. So, Magic Johnson played in this building.

I’ll be blogging live from tonight’s match, so turn your dials to HERE to follow along.

A BASKETBALL POST

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CAA Wunderblogger and UNCW Beat Writer Brian Mull just released his full writeup for his CAA predicted order of finish. Brian’s as good and as informed as they get. His writeup seems pretty spot on.

Also, Mike Litos writes about being, “The Guy”, and casts his lot with Brad Burgess for CAA Player of the Year.

JUST BECAUSE
This has nothing to do with anything, but somebody posted this today and it gave me a laugh. One of the most memorable ad campaigns from my youth.

VOLLEYBLOG #3: THE ONE WITH THE FORTUNE COOKIES

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VCU Volleyball can rock an airplane hangar.

Thursday, 10:40 p.m.
After James Finley read his team the riot act, practice seemed to tighten up, in a good way. The team blew through its drills without incident. Finley did make it a point to emphasize the importance of “closing up the block” this weekend. “If we don’t, we’ll be in trouble.”

I’ve come to learn that the itinerary is more of a suggestion than an actual schedule. Today’s itinerary said we’d be eating at Boston Market and Carrabba’s (although not at the same time. That would seem a tad excessive). We ate at neither. After a rumored Mongolian grill, we settled on the food court at the local mall. And what food court would be complete without a Sbarro and a pseudo Chinese fast food joint, hawking bourbon chicken. Actually, this mall had two pseudo-Chinese joints, hawking bourbon chicken, and they were right next to each other. I wonder if there are turf wars at night. Our athletic trainer, Jenn, who is of Asian descent, that bourbon chicken “isn’t Asian food”. We don’t disagree, but that doesn’t stop most of the team from hitting the pseudo-Asian buffet, hard. Non-Asian influenced bourbon chicken for all. I went for the spicy version, and it was outstanding, MSG-filled goodness.

We checked into our hotel, The Lexington, a name which reveals at least a portion of its elegance. Although it’s not five-star quality, it’s a nice place to lay your head. From the all-hours pool to the half-court basketball setup to the modern cosmopolitan décor in the grand atrium, you could certainly do worse.

For those of us who didn’t have a cot on the bus, this will be the best part of our day. There’s the power nap, and then there’s watching the first seven minutes of Friends before falling into a coma for three hours. You can figure out which one I elected for.

Happy birthday to C.C.

When we checked in to the hotel, Finley reminded the girls that they had to log their three hours of study hall, and now was the time to do it. Also, I was told there were some film sessions, although I was already halfway to Candyland by then.

Every team has its go-to restaurants, you’ll find. When I traveled with women’s basketball, it was almost always Tropical Smoothie on the bus when we left. The only problem is that we rarely rode buses with cup holders, so you were left with a bucket-sized smoothie that you had to drink immediately. Men’s Soccer Coach Dave Giffard favors Olive Garden. In fact, our men’s soccer SID, Jon, told me they ate at Olive Garden four times last weekend. Let me repeat that. Four times. James Finley has always steered towards spots with a healthy slant, with Boston Market at the forefront of that ideal. Even if there isn’t a Boston Market in town, I think they just write it on the itinerary, just in case. If Boston Market is option No. 1, P.F. Chang’s might be No. 2 or No. 3. Tonight, we dined at the Chang.

We were told to be on the bus at 8 p.m. At 7:59, everybody was on board with the exception of Jessica Ojukwu, Kristin Boyd and Uzomaka Ibeh. Finley strictly adheres to a number of rules, but also likes to keep the atmosphere loose. So he instructed the bus driver to pull the bus ahead, as if we were pulling away, much like you’d do to your friends. The players walked out and saw the bus moving, but didn’t exactly pick up the pace. That was enough for Finley to get off the bus and tell his girls to get a move on, although not necessarily in that verbage.

It’s Cecilia Aragao’s birthday tomorrow (Friday), so after dinner, which featured Sam Salvi putting her hair in a bun with chopsticks and pulverizing fortune cookies until she got a fortune she liked, Finley had the staff bring out several large pieces of chocolate cake, including one with candles. After singing happy birthday, the team crushed that chocolate cake. Bunch of college-aged women and double-chocolate cake? Yeah, crushed.

Here’s a fun fact to send you to bed. . Freshman Janelle Sykes is 17 years old. Freshman Cecilia Aragao is 20.

VOLLEYBLOG #2: CORNFIELDS AND CAVERNS

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Yup, those are volleyball players nestled in their bunks.

THURSDAY, Noonish
When we’d go on family vacations when I was a kid, we’d run into other families from other states and the line of questioning was often similar. “Isn’t Ohio all farmland?” Things of that nature. I didn’t grow up on a farm. I grew up in the suburbs of Youngstown, a burned-out steel town, so I’d staunchly defend my home state, saying that it wasn’t all farmland up there.

But today, as we glide up the Ohio Turnpike, west of Cleveland, I’m reminded that, okay, there is a heck of a lot of farmland in Ohio. If you’re not in one of six cites: Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Youngstown, Dayton or Toledo, you’re probably

To bagel or not to bagel?

driving past a cornfield and a scarecrow. That was the scenery most that most of the VCU Volleyball team woke up to this morning as we barreled west towards Michigan, or, as my Ohio friends would say, Meeeshigan.

I’m actually surprised how well the team seems to have slept. From about 12:30 until about 8:30 a.m., when we stopped for “facilities” and breakfast near Twinsburg, Ohio, I didn’t hear so much as a peep from the players. Despite the fact that the first part of the trip was spent with the temperature on the bus hovering somewhere between “walk-in freezer” and “Alaska in November”, it was all snoozing. Einstein Bagels for breakfast, by the way. Egg white, turkey sausage and salsa was clutch. Thankfully, there was a

James Finley preps with game film on the bus.

Starbucks at this particular rest stop, which no doubt saved a poodle from getting punted or something. I’m sure I’ll address this more later, but Coach James Finley’s blood Starbucks content (BSC), never dips below four percent.

There wasn’t even any rustling when we stopped at 3:15 a.m. to change drivers in Breezewood, Pa. I’d love to do that at some point. Like, at halftime of a basketball game this season, another guy will come in and relieve me from doing stats, I’ll grab my lunchbox and thermos and watch the rest of the game at Home Team Grill. But I digress…

We hit Michigan State’s campus in East Lansing just before noon. We can’t check into the hotel until 3 p.m., so first it’s practice at Jenison Field House, followed by lunch at,

Thursday's practice.

wait for it…Boston Market.

Speaking of Jenison Field House, I’m convinced that this placed doubled as the arena at the end of Hoosiers. It’s basically Matthews Arena in Boston, if they slapped a volleyball court on one end and painted everything Spartan green. It actually makes for a nice volleyball facility, but it’s cavernous.

As I’m sure was a concern of the staff after a particularly long bus ride, practice got off to a bit of a slow start. Coach Finley didn’t like the effort he was seeing out of the first drill and promptly had the team running. A little wake-up call never hurt.

WEEKEND FORECAST WITH YOURS TRULY

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Bringing the pain and dropping T-Pac references. Holla.

VOLLEYBLOG ENTRY #1: MIDNIGHT RIDE

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WEDNESDAY, 11:15 p.m.
Our chariot for this evening. “The Abbott”, an Abbott Trailways sleeper. Beds are limited, but as long as all the players get a cot, pretty much everybody’s happy. I slept on a lot of floors in college, and a porch or two, for that matter.  Sleeping on a bus isn’t even really a challenge anymore.

I retrieved my strategically stowed Coke Zero from my office mini fridge, threw my bag below and was ready to roll. Freshman Amanda Love was the last player aboard and it looked like she had literally sprinted from her dorm. Maybe she was running from whatever that purple, Muppet-looking creature under her arm. Wait, that’s her pillow. A Muppet-skin pillow, but a pillow nonetheless.

At precisely 11:34, we’re wheels to the road. It’s a pretty rowdy bunch initially, pretty much what you might expect from a gaggle of volleyball players with a road trip on the horizon. This schedule will play tricks with your mind. I tucked my wife and Reilly, the Six-Million Dollar Bionic Cat (I’ll tell you the story sometime) at around 9:30, and then packed a bag and drove to work. Usually you wake up for this kind of stuff. I’ve never been to Michigan State, and with the possible exception of Love, a Michigan native, the rest of these girls probably haven’t either. However, by the time we hit Fredericksburg, the bus is dark and quiet, except for the hum of the road…

“…LOOKS A LITTLE LIKE CHUCK-E-CHEESE”

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Although you can rarely tell from men’s basketball games at the Convo, James Madison actually has a passionate fan base, one that will rally around its teams – and mascots – when necessary. Apparently, JMU tried to roll out a “New and Improved!” version of the Duke Dog mascot this season. That is, until people actually saw it. The rest, via Dan Steinberg’s blog.

WEDNESDAY LINKS

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This whole SEAL training/Hell Week thing for VCU Basketball really has some legs. CBSSports.com, which loves them some VCU got into the act today with a feature on the whole thing. Scott Day was running around giddy as a little schoolgirl because he was mentioned in the article. We’ll try to take him down a few pegs at staff hoops.

DAY 2 PHOTO GALLERY

The Siegel Center isn’t the only arena undergoing renovations. UNC Wilmington continues to pour money into its basketball program as it tries to recapture its status as CAA elite. There are a number of renovations going on at Trask Coliseum, but this most-recent photo album is from the floor painting. You can see Wilmington making a hard push towards that “UNCW” brand at center court. Some people on the Wilmington boards are complaining about the font being too similar to East Carolina (bit of a rivalry down there), which I can see. Overall, I think it looks pretty good. It’s not Tiger Stripes, but it’ll do. It’s good to see schools stepping forward to upgrade facilities. The league needs more of that. Now, if William & Mary would just do something about thaeir incredibly antiseptic building.

Speaking of arenas, an ESPN panel picked its favorite college arenas. Not many surprises here, although I’ve never felt much about Madison Square Garden. The place never seemed all that alluring to me.

If you’re going to get a terrible tattoo, at least get an artist who knows the difference between “its” and “it’s”.

VIDEO OF THE DAY

OKAY, THIS ONE TOO
I’m still trying to decide if this is genius or incredibly condescending. I am looking forward to VCU’s “Ram Rules”, however, in which Pavarotti is dressed as Elvis.

No matter what, it will still not be as good as THIS Rams video.

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