THE YEAR IN VCU ATHLETICS, FROM A TO Z

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Wrong A-B-C...whatever, close enough.

Wrong A-B-C…whatever, close enough.

June marks the conclusion of the college athletics calendar, and July’s arrival effectively signals the beginning of the 2013-14 season, at least for those of us in the biz, anyway. It all makes this week a good time to reflect back on the year that was in VCU Athletics.

A – is for Atlantic 10 Conference, in which, according to our slogan, the Rams were ‘all-in’. We were also all-in for another season of “Arrested Development” and Pop Tart ice cream sandwiches, so we’re having a good year. VCU competed in the A-10 for the first time in 2012-13, a move that has elevated the program’s national profile. The Rams’ first A-10 title came via the women’s tennis squad, followed by a men’s tennis crown days later. Meanwhile, several other sports (men’s basketball, women’s soccer, men’s soccer) reached the league’s championship final.

B – is for the Ball family, one of the driving forces behind the VCU Golf program. They’re like the Kennedy’s of VCU Golf, but with a better short game. Matt Ball may have just completed his 14th season with the Rams, but this one was surely different than the others. That’s because 40 percent of his starting lineup was occupied by sons Adam and Matt Jr. Son Adam, a freshman, led the Rams in scoring average (73.53) this year, while Matt Jr., a junior, placed seventh at the A-10 Championship and was named to the league’s All-Academic Team.

C – is for Courtney Conrad, the alliteratively named star of the women’s soccer team. Conrad led the Rams with 11 goals, including five game-winners, and received All-Mid-Atlantic by the NSCAA.

D – is for Daniels, Troy. If you are a fan of basketball players who score three points at a time (and the signed, obscure Mark Price picture in my dining room proves I am), then you would’ve enjoyed Daniels’ 2012-13 season. In 36 games, Daniels bombed a school-record 124 three-pointers, including games of 11, nine and eight.

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A LONG OVERDUE UPDATE

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Simmons (right) with fellow “Bike America” rider Andrew Kenny on the beach in California.

This is way overdue, but if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll remember our story about (now former) VCU track and cross country runner Tyler Simmons’ quest to bike across the United States this summer to raise money for a paralyzed friend, Ricky Chang. I’m happy to report that not only did Simmons and two other riders complete the 3,700-mile trek, but they raised more than $22,000, $2,000 more than their original goal.

Of course, it was anything but easy. There was a near-manged ankle in the plains, an unforgiving headwind in Kansas and an impromptu root canal in Colorado, just to name a few of the pitfalls. But on July 17, forty-seven days after departing Manassas, Va., they hit the shore in San Francisco. Absolutely incredible.

If you want to read more about Simmons’ quest, you can read his blog from the trip HERE. You can also find a ton of photos of the ride HERE and HERE. Congrats to Simmons, Chang and everybody involved.

KONA BOUND: BERGER REALIZES IRONMAN GOAL

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An All-American at VCU in the 90s, Bruce Berger will compete in the Ironman Triathlon World Championship Oct. 13 in Hawaii.

For nearly three years, Bruce Berger has carried with him a standard white index card, nearly mangled to death. Written in black ink it states, “I will qualify for Kona in 2012.” It used to say 2011, but Berger had to take a black marker to the date, the product of two failed tries, persistence and resolve. There’s a hole roughly the diameter of a pencil at the top. The card has been folded into submission and bears several noticeable stains.

To Berger, that ugly, battered index card is beautiful.

Kona is a reference to the Kona District of the Big Island of Hawaii, site of the Ironman Triathlon World Championship. On Oct. 13, 2012, Berger will be one of roughly 1,800 participants in one of the most grueling, elite competitions in the world. He owes a lot of it to that index card.

A star middle distance runner for VCU in the mid-90s, Berger, 40, earned All-America honors at the 1996 NCAA Track & Field Championships. After college, he says he managed to stay in decent shape, but didn’t race much. There was the occasional 5K or marathon, but just enough to satisfy his competitive twinge.

Three years ago, bearing down on his late 30s, Berger decided to strike back against the clock. After years of running 5K races at sub-15-minute pace, the thought of running in the 16-minute range and just winning an age group wasn’t enough anymore. He didn’t want to measure himself against other 30-somethings. He compared his results to the younger version of himself. So, Berger, along with friends and former VCU teammates Duncan Sheils and Alan Pietruszkiewicz, decided to begin training for triathlons.

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YOU’RE THE BEST AROUND (OF THE LAST 17 YEARS…)

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With VCU’s decision to bolt the Colonial Athletic Association still fresh in our minds, maybe now is a good time to take stock of the 17 years the Rams spent in the league. It was a good run and frankly, the CAA’s Virginia-centric appeal was one of the things that made it fun for VCU fans. I can honestly say it’s one of the things I’ll miss, times change.

VCU has won 42 CAA championships since joining the league for the 1994-95 season. The Rams’ 36 titles in men’s sports are the most in league history. The VCU Baseball team will have a chance to add to that mark later this month. The Rams have won 13 championships in men’s tennis, eight in golf and five each in men’s basketball and baseball. Other sports were not as fortunate, but still enjoyed a great deal of success. Here, I’m going to look at the best team from each VCU program of the CAA era.

BASEBALL: 2003 (46-13, 17-3 CAA, CAA Champions, 1-2 NCAAs)
This was a legitimately hard decision. You could make compelling arguments for the 1998 and 2001 teams. This is one of the few picks that required some back-and-forth debate.

But for me, the 2003 squad was a shade better. Not only did they dominate the CAA regular season and sweep the conference tournament, but the Rams also led the country in ERA that season (2.54). Four pitchers, Cla Meredth (6th), Justin Orenduff (1st), Sean Marshall 6th) and Brian Marshall (5th), were selected in the first six rounds of the MLB Draft.  Four other players were also eventually drafted. Sean Marshall and Cla Meredith played in the majors.

MEN’S BASKETBALL: 2010-11 (28-12, 12-6 CAA, NCAA Final Four)
While I’m picking a non-CAA champion here, I doubt I’ll get few arguments. VCU’s run to the Final Four in 2011 pretty much trumps everything. During the regular season the Rams were equally magnificent and maddening, but flipped a switch in March. VCU reached the CAA Championship Game, upsetting ranked and heavily-favored George Mason in the process. Despite losing to Old Dominion in the title bout, VCU received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, where the Rams toppled USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas on the way to history.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: 2008-09 (26-7, 15-3 CAA, NCAA First Round)
The Rams didn’t win the CAA crown this season (Drexel did), but behind eventual WNBA first round pick Quanitra Hollingsworth, the Rams earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the first time via an at-large berth. The Rams met Rutgers in the first round and gave the Scarlet Knights a run for their money. In addition to Hollingsworth, future All-American and WNBA Draftee Courtney Hurt was a freshman on this squad.

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COOL INTERNSHIP(S) OF THE WEEK: COREY SCOTT

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Miler Corey Scott spent the summer as an intern at three different companies in New York.

You can’t say Corey Scott isn’t willing to expand his horizons. The VCU sophomore distance runner is majoring in elementary education, but that didn’t stop him from working three internships – none of them related to his major – last summer, including one with ties to Def Jam Records and another associated with Grammy Award winning artist Ne-Yo.

“My dad always told me, ‘You should explore and diversify your options,’” Scott said.

Scott was born in upstate New York and raised in Albany before moving to Atlanta and later Virginia, but most of his family lives in New York City. He was looking for a new experience and a chance to live in New York, where he spent many summers as a kid. So he called his cousin, Ronnie Stephenson.

Stephenson owns Creative Production Partners, a production and management company based out of Brooklyn, N.Y. Their clients include Ne-Yo, Derek Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation and the annual Fort Green Festival, among others.

Stephenson’s company handles everything from logistics to hotels to transportation and a number of other tasks for touring artists. CPP also plans a number of events in New York and elsewhere.

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CROSS-COUNTRY TRIP AIMS TO EASE FAMILY’S FINANCIAL BURDEN

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Ricky Chang was injured in a 2008 BMX accident. He was paralyzed from the neck down. (photo via Facebook)

This is the second post in a two-part series on Tyler Simmons’ effort to help a paralyzed friend. For the first part, click HERE.

Maria Heavener huffs into the on the other end of the phone line as she tries to catch her breath. The motorized ramp that lifts her paralyzed son, Ricky Chang, into the family’s conversion van is broken, again. She’s not sure how much it’ll cost to fix the ramp, but she knows it won’t be cheap.

It’s one of the many financial hurdles Heavener and her husband, John, have had to face since Ricky broke his neck during a BMX biking accident in 2008. When Maria speaks, you can feel the stress in her trembling voice.

“The financial part is overwhelming,” she admits. “It’s appeal after appeal with the insurance companies. We’re really maxed out and can’t afford to take out any more loans.”

This summer, VCU cross country runner Tyler Simmons, as well as friends Andrew Kenny and Kevin White, hope to ease some of the Heavener’s financial strain. The trio is organizing a bike trip across the United States to raise funds for Chang and his family. Through “Bike America: Ricky Rides Again” they hope to raise at least $20,000. Ten percent of that will fund the trip itself.

Simmons, Kenny and White are currently in the fundraising process for the 3,745-mile journey. In addition to individual donations, they’re seeking corporate sponsors as well.

The Heaveners have been juggling finances since Chang’s injury. While the trip would not solve all of the family’s money problems, Maria says it would make a significant difference.

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A RIDE FOR RICKY

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Ricky Chang was paralyzed from the neck down during a BMX accident in 2008.

Ricky Chang’s passion was always riding his BMX bike, as the “Live Fast, Ride Faster” tattoo inside his left bicep will attest. That’s why he keeps a bike in his bedroom. Someday, he’d like to ride it again. It’s there to serve as motivation. On July 19, 2008, Ricky was paralyzed from the neck down during a bike stunt gone awry.

It’s been difficult for VCU senior cross country and track runner Tyler Simmons to watch Chang, his longtime friend, struggle through years of rehabilitation. Simmons, who used to ride mountain bikes with Chang, also knows how badly he’d like to take that bike in his room for a ride. That’s one of the reasons why Simmons, with the help of a couple of friends, is planning a ride in Ricky’s honor.

This isn’t going to be just any ride. Simmons is teaming with Andrew Kenny and Kevin White to ride cross country to raise funds for Chang. “Bike-America: Ricky Rides Again” is scheduled to begin June 1, 2012 at Chang’s house in Manassas, Va. The 3,745-mile trek will cut through America’s Heartland and into the Rocky Mountains before coming to a close on July 12 in San Francisco.

Simmons says the trio hopes to raise $20,000, 10 percent of which will fund the ride. The rest, approximately $18,000, will help pay for Chang’s treatment, as well as ease the family’s medical bills.

“He’s one of my best friends,” Simmons said. “If I was in the same situation, he’d do the same.”

THE ACCIDENT
Simmons and Chang met in high school and forged close a bond through skateboarding, biking, poker nights and laughter.

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FOREVER YOUNG

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Scott Day has the interns over her just slaving over data. Sure, their fingers are whittled to the bone, but look at all the cool stats we can trot out there! Fall sports are drawing to a close (both soccers, field hockey and both cross countrys are done), so now is as good a time as any to look ahead to next year. From this data, it appears that VCU could be primed to make moves in a number of sports. Here are the percentage of underclassmen on each school’s fall rosters. Includes: Field Hockey, Men’s Soccer, Women’s Soccer, Volleyball, Men’s Cross Country and Women’s Cross Country.

Percentage of 2011 Rosters Slated to Return in 2012:
William & Mary – 87.3%
VCU – 85.6%
JMU – 84.2%
Delaware – 82.1%
Drexel – 81.1%
ODU – 80.3%
Towson – 78.8%
Hofstra – 77.7%
UNCW – 77.4%
Northeastern – 76.7%
Georgia State – 76.7%
George Mason – 75.0%

Percentage of 2011 Starters Slated to Return in 2012:
VCU – 82.1%
William & Mary – 80.9%
JMU – 80.9%
Drexel – 78.7%
Delaware – 77.6%
ODU – 76.5%
Hofstra – 76.5%
UNCW – 75.7%
Northeastern – 74.6%
Towson – 73.5%
Georgia State – 71.8%
George Mason – 71.3%

10 THINGS TO WATCH THIS FALL

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Marle van Dessel ranks second in VCU history in goals scored (36).

FIELD HOCKEY
The van Dessel Conundrum.
Twin sisters Marle and Flore van Dessel ushered in a rebirth of VCU Field Hockey. When younger sister Rymme van Dessel joined the pack – winning CAA Rookie of the Year honors in the process – the Rams enjoyed their best season in nearly two decades. Eight starters return for VCU, including All-CAA First Teamer Kelsey Scherrer and All-Rookie pick Emilie Soares, but can Coach Kelly McQuade and the Rams offset the loss of the best trio since Crosby, Stills and Nash?

Scherrer genius? Junior Kelsey Scherrer is primed for an assault on the VCU record books. Entering 2011, Scherrer has 26 goals and 65 points in 37 career matches. After scoring 15 goals in 2010, the Chesapeake, Va. native needs 13 more to become the Rams’ all-time leader, a mark held by Alycia Yoder (38) since 1994. Yoder also holds VCU’s career points record at 97.

CROSS COUNTRY
Cook brewing success?
Distance Coach Nicole Cook took over VCU’s cross country programs last year and has her sights set on an upward trajectory. VCU’s harriers will be an experienced group, losing a total of just three seniors between the two teams. Last year’s women’s squad is essentially intact for 2011, while the men’s team, which finished fourth at the CAA Championships last season, will seek to replace top runner Piotr Dybas. Talented rising senior Axel Mostrag, 29th at last year’s CAA Championship race, leads the way.

Kristin Boyd averaged 2.52 kills per set last season.

VOLLEYBALL
Boyd to fill void?
When she arrived at VCU four years ago, Kristin Boyd resembled baby Bambi on ice – pensive, wide-eyed and raw. Thousands of repetitions later, Boyd is expected to provide the firepower for this year’s volleyball squad. Boyd hit her stride midway through last season and the redshirt junior finished the year second on the team in kills per set (2.52). Now, the Wilmington, N.C. native aims to lead the Rams, picked fourth in the CAA Preseason Poll.

VOLLEYBALL, FIELD HOCKEY AND SOCCER
Is six the fix?
CAA Athletic Directors voted this summer to expand league tournaments in volleyball, field hockey, field hockey, soccer and baseball back to six teams. For the past two seasons, tournament fields in those sports were four teams. Although getting into a CAA Championship tournament just got easier, actually winning a conference title is now that much more difficult.

MEN’S SOCCER
Brave new world?
Second-year Coach Dave Giffard welcomes 16 new players in 2011, a year removed from an 18-player recruiting class. The result is a completely overhauled VCU Soccer program in just two years. The team may have to wear name tags until October, but the Rams expect to be in the CAA mix.

International house of futbol. Sophomores Jason Johnson and Jose Carlos Castillo spent their offseasons toiling with the Jamaican Olympic qualifying squad and Guatemalan U-20 team, respectively. Recently, Castillo was invited join the Guatemalan team for World Cup qualifying and may not join the Rams until after the first week of September. Both will be critical to the Rams’ success in 2011, but both will need time to integrate back into Giffard’s system. The sooner they do, the better VCU could be.

VCU looks to All-ACC keeper Kristin Carden this season.

WOMEN’S SOCCER
Rolling in the deep?
For the first time in their five-year tenure, Co-Head Coaches Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak and Tim Sahaydak will have more than a water cooler and athletic trainer on their bench. This year’s roster includes 29 players, a welcome relief to VCU’s recent depth issues. For a couple of seasons there were just 15 available players and at one point during the 2008 campaign, the Rams had just one available sub down the stretch.

Carden on guard? All-ACC goalkeeper Kristin Carden, formerly of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, joins the Rams in 2011. Carden ranks second in wins (18) and goals against average (1.33) and third in shutouts (9) on the Hokies’ all-time lists, and she did that in just two seasons. Her impact on VCU should be immediate.

Almost all of us. The good news is that the women’s soccer team graduated just one player from last season’s team. The bad news is that the one player was CAA Defender of the Year Myriam Bouchard, who, unfortunately does not have 12 years of eligibility. After a series of disguises were deemed inadequate, the coaching staff decided to just replace Bouchard. Despite her loss, VCU returns a young, talented bunch in 2011 and the Sahaydaks are counting on a breakout season.

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