FALL RAM REPORT NOW ONLINE

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Folks, the Fall 2013 edition of The Ram Report is now available online. Check out profiles on Men’s Soccer goalie Andrew Wells, Women’s Soccer Coach Lindsey Vanderspiegel, former first round draft pick Justin Orenduff and Field Hockey’s Nicole Barry, who had an interesting summer internship, plus a bunch of other good stuff. Click the cover below to read it all.

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THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS EVER THIS WEEK (OCT. 1)

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Happy Shak-tober, VCU fans. This month is good for many things, among them (in no particular order): foliage, NBA training camps, candy corn, postseason baseball, marzen, candy corn, Atlantic 10 Conference races and, finally, candy corn. How does VCU Athletics fit into all of this? I’m glad you asked, even if you didn’t.

RAMS IN CAMP
NBA training camps are underway, which means three former Rams are in action, each with a different task in front of them.

Troy Daniels is in Asheville, N.C. with the Charlotte “soon to be Hornets” Bobcats. Troy earned a camp invite after playing on the Bobcats’ summer league squad in Las Vegas. Now would be a good time to remind Michael Jordan that Charlotte was 27th in the NBA in 3-point shooting last year, and Troy Daniels (feel free to use the Around The Horns-approved #TreyD3 hashtag) hits threes in his sleep. If he was a dinosaur, Daniels would be a triceratops. If he was a TV station, he’d be ESPN3. If he was a stadium, he’d be Three Rivers.

Trust us, Daniels was born for this. We recently slowed down some film of Daniels shooting at training camp and captured his expression right at the moment he’s about to catch and shoot. Check it out:

Three, coming right up.

Three, coming right up.

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THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS EVER THIS WEEK

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BASKETBALL BEGINS
Today, in accordance with new rules, VCU men’s hoops opens practice. The Rams will have 42 days in which to practice a maximum of 30 times. Set your 42-day countdown clocks. In the meantime, Coach Shaka Smart is talkin’ ’bout practice.

In that vein, if you can’t get excited by Shaka Smart Mud Face, then I can’t help you. Smart is literally willing to wade through the muck for his players. How can you not love a coach like that? Only Pat Kennedy’s sport coat is more willing to get down and dirty in the name college hoops.

Future marketing opportunity: "Tide, it wreaks havoc on tough stains."

Future marketing opportunity: “Tide, it wreaks havoc on tough stains.”

VOLLEYBALL, FROM THE FRYING PAN, INTO THE FLYERS
The 10-4 VCU Volleyball team kicks off Atlantic 10 play Friday at four-time defending league champion Dayton at 7 p.m. So much for easing into conference play. The Flyers were the coaches’ preseason pick again this year, but VCU has shown it’s not intimidated by a step up in competition. The Rams nearly upset No. 19 Kentucky and just-barely-unranked Wisconsin, and toppled Tennessee this season. The Rams have played an exciting brand of volleyball under first-year Head Coach Jody Rogers. Follow live scoring and audio at VCUAthletics.com.

SISTER, SISTER
VCU Field Hockey hosts Siena at 4 p.m. at Cary Street Field. Come for the fresh air and the smell of fresh cut turf, stay for the heartwarming sister reunion. VCU freshman defender Sydney Weise will share the field with older sister Callie, a junior midfielder for the Saints. The Weise’s hail from Freehold, N.J.

THE FURY IS RIGHT, ON SCHEDULE
The VCU Women’s Basketball team, which has adopted the slogan “Fear the Fury” this season, will travel to Ohio State for a second straight season, it revealed with Thursday’s schedule release. The Rams, who return A-10 leading scorer Robyn Parks and welcome a stacked recruiting class, will open at Youngstown State on Nov. 9 and also meet Richmond and Old Dominion as part of a competitive slate.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
In case you missed it, former Ram Jason Johnson scored this fancy futbol goal earlier this week for the Houston Dynamo.

THE BIG BOUNCE; RAMS REBOUND WITH APLOMB

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A season-opening loss to UAB has helped spur the Rams into the top 10.

A season-opening loss to UAB has helped spur the Rams into the top 10.

RICHMOND, Va. – While the 4-0 score is somewhat misleading, there’s no doubt VCU’s season-opening loss to UAB at Sports Backers Stadium on Aug. 30 was a bit of a gut punch to a team with high expectations.

But since that ego-bruising debut, the Rams (3-1-1) have been splendid. VCU followed with a draw with No. 9 New Mexico, then went on the road to topple a 13th-ranked Maryland squad, seventh-ranked Akron and Niagara, an NCAA Tournament team a year ago. This week, the Rams rocketed up the NSCAA Top 25 Poll to No. 8, the school’s highest since 2004.

In some ways, the Rams say, that disappointing loss to a solid UAB team, like a bucket of cold water to the face, was a wake-up call.

“I think that game was the best thing that happened to us this season,” says forward Devon Fisher. “It was a big eye-opener for our defense.”

Although the Rams outshot UAB 12-8 and had 15 corners to the Blazers’ two, VCU couldn’t crack the scoreboard and couldn’t get enough stops defensively. What followed was a week’s worth of defensive drills and instruction that appears to have shored up the Rams’ early deficiencies. The Rams have allowed just three goals in the last four games and posted back-to-back 1-0 shutouts last weekend at Akron and against Niagara.

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FRIEND AND FOE; FORMER ROOMMATES SQUARE OFF FRIDAY

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VCU Coach Dave Giffard will face his friend and former roomate, Jared Embick, Friday.

VCU Coach Dave Giffard will face his friend and former roomate, Jared Embick, Friday.

RICHMOND, Va. – Jared Embick has come a long way from being the guy sleeping on Dave Giffard’s couch.

On Friday, Giffard will find out just how far when he squares off against Embick, his friend and former roommate when 19th-ranked VCU (2-1) meets seventh-ranked Akron (3-1) in the University of Akron Tournament at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Rams will also play Niagara on Sunday to cap the weekend tournament.

Giffard was already a year into his stint as an assistant under Caleb Porter at Akron in 2007 when Embick was added to the staff. Embick says he didn’t have much time to look for an apartment, so he asked Giffard if he could crash on his couch for a few weeks until he found his own place. Nearly a year later, Embick was still on the couch.

“We just worked all the time, so we would just come home, take a ride over to dinner, come back, go to sleep and do it again the next day,” Giffard says of the arrangement. “You know, we had a few barbeques in between.”

The following spring, Embick graduated from the couch when he and Giffard moved into a two-bedroom apartment. They’d stay there until Giffard was named VCU coach following the 2009 season.

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RAMS AIM HIGH WITH LOADED 2013 SLATE

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Fourth-year VCU Coach Dave Giffard calls the Rams' 2013 schedule 'the best in the country'.

Fourth-year VCU Coach Dave Giffard calls the Rams’ 2013 schedule ‘the best in the country’.

RICHMOND, Va. – VCU Coach David Giffard isn’t pulling any punches when it comes to scheduling – or when it comes to evaluating the Rams’ 2013 schedule.

“It’s the best schedule in the country, for sure,” he says definitively.

It would be tough to argue against the fourth-year Rams’ coach. Tell him it’s not the best schedule when VCU lines up against one of 11 NCAA Tournament teams from last year. That’s nearly one quarter of the entire field. Tell Giffard he’s taking it easy when one of the eight national seeds VCU is scheduled to play comes calling. The teams on VCU’s schedule have won eight of the last 10 National Championships, so go ahead, construct your argument and convince Giffard that there’s another school with this much heft on its docket. Did we mention that defending National Champion Indiana is coming to Sports Backers Stadium on Oct. 18? Well, there’s that too.

The Rams also host New Mexico (Sept. 6), a national seed last year, national seed and defending Atlantic 10 Champion Saint Louis (Oct. 6), not to mention UAB, Old Dominion and Coastal Carolina, who were all in the NCAA Tournament last fall. VCU will also travel to Giffard’s old stomping grounds at the University of Akron (Sept. 13). The Zips were ranked seventh in the country last year. But don’t let that overshadow trips to Virginia, Wake Forest or Maryland. And that’s without even mentioning the A-10 schedule.

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ROUNDUP: GRAHAM, BUSY ALUMS & CANADA

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In case you missed it, Treveon Graham is going to be playing for the United States at the World University Games July 7-16 in Kazan, Russia. Only 12 players in the country can say that. It’s a big deal. The last Ram wear USA Basketball red, white and blue was Eric Maynor, who did so in 2007 at the Pan Am Games, after “The Dagger” and before his junior season. Graham will be the youngest player on this year’s squad.

VCU rising junior Treveon Graham, bottom right, wearing jersey No. 10.

VCU rising junior Treveon Graham, bottom right, wearing jersey No. 10.

Meanwhile, VCU Coach Shaka Smart has been serving as an assistant for the USA Basketball U19 squad in Prague.

More on that HERE.

ALUMNI NEWS
The NBA free agency period began Monday at midnight. It sounds like Eric Maynor will be looking for a new team.

But don’t worry, he should have suitors.

Edit, more Maynor:

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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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JOHNSON READY TO LAUNCH MLS CAREER

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VCU's Jason Johnson has signed an MLS Generation Adidas contract and awaits Thursday's league draft.

VCU’s Jason Johnson has signed an MLS Generation Adidas contract and awaits Thursday’s league draft.

Editor’s note: Jason Johnson was selected 13th overall by the Houston Dynamo at the Jan. 17 MLS SuperDraft in Indianapolis.

It wasn’t until the eighth grade that VCU’s Jason Johnson first played in an organized soccer game, years after many of his peers. But his career got off to an auspicious start – Johnson scored a goal in that contest. He hasn’t slowed down since.

Earlier this month, Johnson inked his first professional contract with Major League Soccer as part of its Generation Adidas program. Generation Adidas seeks to identify and retain the best college soccer talent in the United States. Players are offered guaranteed multi-year contracts with the league and do not count against a team’s budget or roster limits. Players in the program also receive educational stipends to finish their degrees.

On Jan. 17, Johnson is expected to be one of the top selections in the MLS SuperDraft in Indianapolis. Johnson will be the first VCU Soccer player drafted since Dominic Oduro was a second round pick of FC Dallas in 2006. Some rate Johnson as the top forward in this year’s draft. He scored 13 goals this season and a total of 28 in three seasons with the Rams.

“He’s got a unique combination of size, power, strength, speed; his technique is good,” said VCU Soccer coach Dave Giffard. “He strikes the ball well with both feet. He can play in combination. He’s good in the air. I think those qualities together are, they’re not super, super unique, but you don’t see them everywhere. There certainly aren’t many guys in college that have all those qualities.”

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ACCORDING TO PLAN: THE REBIRTH OF VCU SOCCER

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Coach Dave Giffard, 31-17-11 in three years at VCU, directed the Rams back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004 this season.

RICHMOND, Va. – There were some people who scoffed at the notion presented by Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin this summer, that VCU can win a national championship. But Men’s Soccer Coach Dave Giffard has always operated with that understanding. He talks about winning a national title so naturally in conversation that it doesn’t seem like a matter of if VCU can win one, but rather when.

Giffard was an assistant coach for Akron in 2009 when it reached the College Cup Final against Virginia, and has matter-of-factly approached his job at VCU the last three years a continuous chase for a national title.

On Sunday, he’ll get his first legitimate crack at fulfilling that goal when VCU (12-3-5), the No. 14 overall seed, takes on Syracuse in the second round of the NCAA College Cup at Sports Backers Stadium at 7 p.m. The match will mark the Rams’ first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2004, when they reached the Elite Eight.

“When it was announced, it was a little bit emotional,” Giffard said. “This group of players has never been there. They’ve never been through that. Even for our staff, our group’s been through an awful lot.”

But the team that will meet Syracuse Friday is much different one than Giffard presided over when he arrived after the 2009 season. VCU, once a nationally recognized power, sank to 5-10-2 in 2009 and finished the year 161st in RPI. From 2005-09, VCU advanced to the conference tournament semifinals just once.

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