COME TOGETHER; RAMS AIM TO CHALLENGE A-10 AGAIN WITH OLD AND NEW

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Year One of Jody Rogers’ tenure as VCU Volleyball coach was wildly successful, as the Rams finished 26-8 and reached the Atlantic 10 Conference title match. But that’s not to say the Rams are satisfied. VCU is still chasing its first conference crown and NCAA bid since 2005, and this year, the Rams will do it behind five returning starters and eight freshmen.

DESPITE IMPAIRMENT, IBEH’S CAREER COMES INTO FOCUS

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ibeh-uzoamaka-smile

VCU sophomore Uzoamaka Ibeh is legally blind in her left eye, but that hasn’t stopped her from becoming one of the breakout stars of the Rams’ 24-5 season.

RICHMOND, Va. – In English, the Nigerian name Uzoamaka translates to something along the lines of, the good road, or the road is beautiful. It’s fitting, since Uzoamaka Ibeh’s road to this time and place has been an undeniably a good one.

But Ibeh’s path has also been distinct, and to her, the road looks a lot different than to most, both literally and figuratively. Not only has the VCU redshirt sophomore and Colonia, N.J. native defied the odds, the way she views the world has taught her to be dismissive of those odds.

She sees the world differently not only because she chooses to, but because she has to. Ibeh is legally blind in her left eye.

If the idea of someone playing a fast-paced Division I sport like volleyball, in which uncommon hand-eye coordination is essential, shocks you, it’s okay, Ibeh gets that reaction a lot. But it’s her matter-of-fact approach to her disability that’s probably most notable.

“Sports, with my vision, it never stopped me,” says Ibeh, who will turn 21 on Nov. 11. “I just kept it to myself, honestly.”

When Ibeh was seven years old, she says a teacher recommended she see an optometrist. During the exam, the doctor asked her to cover her right eye and read a chart of letters on the wall. Not only could Ibeh not read the chart, she couldn’t see the wall or anything else. The optometrist tried to correct the problem by placing different sets of prescription lenses in front of Ibeh’s left eye. It didn’t matter. Ibeh saw nothing.

“And I was like, ‘isn’t that normal,’” she recalled. “He asked if had always been like this, and I said, ‘yeah.’ He said, ‘that’s not normal.’

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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.

SPEED KILLS; KRISKOVA PILES UP POINTS

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Playing in VCU's new, faster-paced offense, sophomore Romana Kriskova has thrived.

Playing in VCU’s new, faster-paced offense, sophomore Romana Kriskova has thrived.

RICHMOND, Va. – VCU Volleyball Coach Jody Rogers talks fast and runs her offense even faster. But in short order, she’s winning players over with both.

Count sophomore outside hitter Romana Kriskova among the converts. The athletic, 6-foot-3 Kriskova is averaging 4.86 kills per set this season, which ranks seventh nationally, and is hitting .284. At this pace, Kriskova is mounting a serious challenge to Ludmila Francescatto’s school records of 4.46 kills per set and 549 total kills, set in 2006. Behind its offensive hammer, VCU is off to a 10-4 start as Atlantic 10 Conference play looms.

Kriskova was already a good player. She averaged 2.39 kills per set and was named to the A-10’s All-Rookie Team as a freshman, but this year, she’s been on another level.

The Rams’ new offensive direction appears to be serving Kriskova well, but the Bratislava, Slovakia native’s breakout season hasn’t come without trepidation. Kriskova changed positions this summer, from right side hitter to outside hitter, and is playing in a system unlike any other in her volleyball career. Kriskova had been accustomed to offenses popular in Europe and much of NCAA volleyball that use high-arching sets.

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NEW CHALLENGE SPARKS ROGERS

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rogers-seated-1RICHMOND, Va. – Jody Rogers doesn’t have to be here, sloughing through paperwork and compliance meetings with her assistants, Kyleigh Gerlach and Chad Gatzlaff. She didn’t have to spend the spring zigzagging the country, feet pounding the pavement of an unending recruiting trail.

Her University of Indianapolis program stood among the Division II volleyball elite. The Greyhounds were coming off a dream season, a 31-win campaign that included the school’s first Final Four appearance. Her next two recruiting classes were already locked in. The incoming class, she says, was her best ever.

So what is she doing in Richmond on a Monday afternoon, combing over recruiting boards and evaluating the state of the VCU program?

At UIndy, she was an institution of 400-plus wins and 16 years of success. Last year she was two wins away from a national title. Now she’s at square one. VCU isn’t a rebuilding project by any means – it was 25-6 last year – but the Rams have also won one conference title in 28 years. Rogers is used to, and demands, more.

“People were very surprised, but excited for me when I took the job, to be honest with you,” Rogers says. “Because I had such a good situation at UIndy, and people thought that I was going to retire there. Certain opportunities arose, and I felt that at this time, it was a great move for me professionally and personally.”

***

Decanting Rogers’ motivations for leaving Indianapolis and jumping at the chance to take over the VCU program probably requires a walk down the streets of her hometown of Newton, Mass.

Rogers and her sister Wendy, 13 months her senior, grew up in a three-story (three-decka, by her parlance) house in Newton, a charming Boston suburb on the city’s western outskirts. Although Newton is relatively affluent, Rogers and her family were anything but well off. They lived on the first floor of a house owned by their grandmother, who took up shop on the second story. The third floor was rented to tenants.

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THE RAM REPORT – SPRING 2013

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The Ram Report is near and dear to my heart. A new issue arrived in print about 10 days ago, and now it’s live on the interwebs as well. As always, I’m appreciative of the excellent design put forth by Eddie Johnson, as well as the editorial contributions from other folks in the department. Check out great features on new volleyball coach Jody Rogers, former VCU Baseball pitcher Ian Thomas, current Ram closer Matt Lees and the Ball family, the first family of VCU Golf, and more!

Click to view:
RR-cover

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