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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DWYER LANDS STARRING ROLE AS VCU ACE

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Sophomore Heath Dwyer is 6-5 with a 2.88 ERA for VCU this season.

Sophomore Heath Dwyer is 6-5 with a 2.88 ERA for VCU this season.

RICHMOND, Va. – The son of two part-time actors, VCU sophomore Heath Dwyer appears to have inherited a flair for the dramatic.

Dwyer, who nearly majored in theater at VCU, has played the part of a hero of late, delivering a handful of potentially season-saving performances. In his last three starts, the left-handed pitcher has thrown three complete games and is 2-1 with a 1.73 ERA.

He should’ve taken a bow after his last effort. On May 4 against first-place Saint Louis, Dwyer outdueled Alex Alemann, one of the Atlantic 10’s top pitchers, spinning a five-hit, 10-strikeout, complete-game shutout. The win helped the Rams take two of three from the Billikens and kept VCU’s A-10 Tournament hopes alive. Gutty and important as Dwyer’s gem was to VCU, especially for a sophomore, it did not catch Rams’ Coach Shawn Stiffler by surprise.

“I’ve never looked up and thought, this occasion is too big for him,” Stiffler said. “[He has] a maturity level of, you can drop him in New York with a quarter, and he can get home.”

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RAMS FIGHTING FOR A-10 BID IN SEASON’S FINAL TWO WEEKS

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Junior Joey Cujas leads VCU with a .326 average and 32 RBIs this season.

Junior Joey Cujas leads VCU with a .326 average and 32 RBIs this season.

RICHMOND, Va. – There’s no mystery about what the next two weeks mean to the VCU Baseball team. The Rams’ season boils down to six final Atlantic 10 Conference games, of which VCU will have to win the majority of to keep its season alive.

Seven teams will qualify for the A-10 Tournament May 22-25 in Charlotte. VCU (23-23, 8-10 A-10) is currently 10th, three games out of a conference tournament berth.

“Obviously, we understand completely what we’ve got to do,” said VCU Coach Shawn Stiffler. “The funny thing is that it’s not that far off of what we did last year. The only difference is…there’s a lot more teams in the league.”

In 2012, VCU started 7-12 in CAA play, but finished by winning seven of its final 10 conference games to capture that league’s No. 5 seed. The Rams eventually advanced within a game of the CAA Championship round.

If the Rams want to repeat that performance, now is the time to do it. The good news for VCU is that it will face two teams directly above the Rams in the A-10 standings. The Rams will travel to George Washington for three games May 10-12. The Colonials are 10-8 in the league and in eighth place. VCU will conclude the regular season at The Diamond May 16-18 with three games against rival Richmond. The Spiders are 11-7 in the A-10 and are tied with Saint Joseph’s and Xavier for one of the three final conference tournament slots.

The Rams know their backs are against the wall, but they’re not getting ahead of themselves. They can’t win six games at once.

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