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 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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CINDY CHALA, FROM VERSAILLES TO VCU

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Sophomore Cindy Chala will be the first VCU woman to play in the NCAA Singles Championships since 2006

Sophomore Cindy Chala will be the first VCU woman to play in the NCAA Singles Championships since 2006

RICHMOND, Va. – It’s been a spring of change for Cindy Chala. Since January, she’s forged ahead in a new country with a new culture. School has been different, the people are new and the tennis has been a revelation.

All that change has added up to a pretty successful debut for the VCU sophomore, who will compete in the NCAA Singles Championships this week. Play begins in the singles draw on Wednesday, May 22 at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex in Urbana, Ill.

Chala, ranked 76th nationally by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA), earned the Atlantic 10 Conference’s automatic bid for the field of 64. She’s the first VCU woman to earn a berth in the NCAA Singles Championships since Tatsiana Uvarova in 2006. Draws for the singles bracket will be released following the NCAA Team Championship on Tuesday evening. If Chala reaches the quarterfinals, as Uvarova did in 2006, she’ll earn All-America status.

It’s been a busy few months for the native of Versailles, France. Chala had been home schooled since she was 13 as she focused on her tennis career. But chronic back injuries led her rethink her options. As is the case for many European athletes, Chala eyed the unique opportunity provided by colleges in the United States to marry their academic and athletic pursuits.

The decision has paid off on both fronts for Chala, who is majoring in Business and Psychology, although she had to get used to the inside of a classroom again.

“It’s tough to stay focused,” she joked. “But I like it. The school is different here in the U.S. We have so many different classes, and I like it. It’s not like in France. You can touch on everything.”

She’s gotten acclimated on the tennis court quickly as well.

Chala finished 14-4 in singles play this spring for the VCU Women’s Tennis squad, which won the A-10 Championship. Chala’s losses have come to players currently ranked seventh, 12th, 53rd and 77th, respectively, by the ITA. Three of those four have qualified for the NCAA Singles Championships. Chala was named the A-10’s Most Outstanding Player, as well as the ITA’s Atlantic Region Player to Watch, awarded to student-athletes expected to contend for a regional crown in 2013-14.

She credits the work of the VCU training staff, as well as Rams’ Assistant Tennis Coach Yana Carollo with keeping her healthy this spring. She also says VCU’s schedule, which usually features one or two matches a week, is easier on her compact frame than the five or six matches a week she played in France.

“It’s been a long time [since] I’ve played a few months in a row without injury,” Chala said. “I didn’t think I’d play that much, so I’m very happy.”

Chala began playing tennis when she was six years old, but jokes that she was “clumsy” and that “nobody wanted to teach me because I was so bad”. But she’s not clumsy anymore. Although she says she’s battled back trouble since she was 13, Chala is healthy as she looks ahead to the NCAA Singles Championships. Like most things during her first year at VCU, from the food, to school, to the people, to the tennis, she says she’ll keep an open mind.

“We’ll see,” she says. “I don’t have expectations because it’s my first year, but hopefully I’ll do well.”

Fans can follow VCU’s Cindy Chala, as well as Rams’ senior Max Wennakoski in the men’s draw, at http://www.fightingillini.com/ncaatennis2013/.

BORIS KODJOE LOVES HIM SOME VCU

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Check out Boris Kodjoe taking some time to congratulate VCU Tennis Coach Paul Kostin on his 1,000th win. And how about that VCU shirt! As you may know by now, Kodjoe played tennis at VCU for Kostin in the 90s. Even as his acting and modeling career has taken off, he’s always been good to VCU. Dude is a class act.

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We do need to have a quick conversation with Boris about his videography skills. Don’t get me wrong, the lighting was good, the VCU polo was great and the tennis court backdrop is a nice touch, but there is the cardinal sin of VVS to address. You know VVS:

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Congrats if you made it this far. For your effort, here’s your Boris Kodjoe/VCU eye candy.

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WINS ONLY PART OF KOSTIN’S SUCCESS

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Paul Kostin is 1,000-316 in his 32 coaching career.

Paul Kostin is 1,000-316 in his 32 coaching career.

RICHMOND, Va. – Outside Paul Kostin’s office is a large display case that is home to more than two decades of VCU Tennis trophies – the ones that would fit, anyway. A couple of years ago, with no more room left in the display case or in Kostin’s office, new trophies started piling up on a table behind the receptionists’ desk.

It doesn’t appear as if this trophy-space issue will rectify itself anytime soon.

On Sunday, Kostin brought home another souvenir from Cincinnati, where the Rams won their first Atlantic 10 Conference Men’s Tennis Championship 4-3 over George Washington. The victory was the 1,000th of Kostin’s 32-year coaching career, a milestone reached previously by just three other Division I coaches.

“I feel lucky and very fortunate because I had so many good athletes, good tennis players, play for me, both men and women,” Kostin said. “Also, I’ve been having some good assistant coaches helping me. In this business and in any business, you don’t do things alone.”

While he hasn’t done it alone, Kostin, 1,000-316 overall at VCU and Arkansas-Little Rock, certainly has done it his way.

A native of Stockholm, Sweden, the 59-year-old Kostin is tough without being taxing. He cares deeply about his players, but he’s careful not to coddle them. He’s not afraid to say what’s on his mind, but he’s also usually the first person in line to provide a former player with a glowing reference.

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THE FIRST OF MANY, WE HOPE

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Congrats to the VCU Women’s Tennis team, which swept through the Atlantic 10 Conference Championships this weekend. The Rams did not lose a match (16-0) in four contests on the way to the first A-10 Championship in school history.

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RAMS CHASING VCU’S FIRST A-10 TITLE

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A10Atlantic 10 Championship Central

VCU’s move from the CAA to the Atlantic 10 Conference was met with much fanfare this summer. By weekend’s end, folks in the athletic department hope to have a nice souvenir to go with it.

As of Friday afternoon, two victories stood between the VCU Women’s Tennis team and the first A-10 Championship in VCU history.

If the chalk holds, and the Rams are certainly the favorites in Charlottesville, it would end a string of near-misses for VCU Athletics in its first A-10 go-round. Both men’s and women’s soccer reached their respective A-10 Championship games, as did men’s basketball, but fell in the title contest. In addition, the volleyball and field hockey programs advanced to the league’s championship semifinals.

Hopefully, that frustrating streak of close-but-no-cigar finishes is finished.

The women’s tennis team captured four CAA titles from 1996-2012, including two of the last three. VCU is 20-4 overall and has won 11 straight. The Rams are the top seed and meet cross-town rival and fourth-seeded Richmond Saturday morning at 10 a.m. in Charlottesville. The Rams didn’t lose a single set in their A-10 Tournament victories over La Salle and Temple.

Richmond is 11-11 following a 4-3, come-from-behind win over Charlotte Friday. A victory over the Spiders would send VCU to the A-10 Championship Match Sunday at 10 a.m.

VCU Athletics won 42 CAA Championships during its 17-year tenure in the league from 1995-2012. The first in men’s basketball in March 4, 1996. The last in men’s tennis on April 22, 2012.

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