VIDEO: VCU TOPS RICHMOND IN A-10 FIRST ROUND

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VCU beats Richmond for the second time this season to advance to the A-10 quarterfinals. The Rams will meet top seed Dayton Friday at noon at the Coliseum.

VIDEO: WBB STAGES STUNNING COMEBACK

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The VCU Women’s Basketball team trailed St. Bonaventure by as many as 17 points in the first half Wednesday night and was still chasing 14 points at halftime. What did they end up doing? Winning by 17, naturally. VCU shot 46 percent (15-of-33) and hit six threes in the second half and turned the Bonnies – a 20-win squad – over 24 times in a 74-57 win. With that victory, the Rams improved to 20-6 overall, the sixth 20-win season in program history and the first since 2009-10. VCU is already nine wins better than last season. VCU (8-6) is also still very much alive for a top-4 seed in the upcoming Atlantic 10 Tournament.

VIDEO: VCU DEFEATS MANHATTAN

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HIGHLIGHTS

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POSTGAME

FURY-OUS RAMS STORM TO 9-1 START

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Marlene Stollins' VCU club is off to a 9-1 start this season.

Marlene Stollins’ VCU club is off to a 9-1 start this season.

RICHMOND, Va. – Marlene Stollings rebranded her VCU Women’s Basketball program over the summer. Although she toyed with the term “High Octane” at times during her first year as VCU coach, she christened her program “The Fury”, a name which draws from same kinetic roots as Shaka Smart’s “Havoc”.

While The Fury has some undeniable marketing panache, the makeover appears to have been more than cosmetic.

With a convincing 85-64 victory over Manhattan Wednesday afternoon, Stollings, the Rams and Fury moved to 9-1 this season. It’s just the third 9-1 start in school history, and VCU’s current eight-game winning streak is the second-best for the program. Last season, Stollings’ first at the helm of the VCU program, the Rams finished 11-19.

Like Havoc, Fury equates to high-energy basketball. Not only do the Rams pressure the ball to the tune of 23 turnovers per game – they forced 25 Wednesday – but Stollings’ blender offense is perpetually set on liquify. The Rams attack the lane and kick out for 3-pointers with abandon. In ten games this year, the Rams are averaging 80.8 points and 27 three-point attempts per game. Last season, VCU averaged just 59.1 points per game and a little more than 15 three-point tries.

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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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FOR A NIGHT, RAMS SETTLE INTO NEW SYSTEM

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Freshman Jessica Pellechio hit 9-of-18 three-pointers and poured in 30 points as VCU earned its first win of the High Octane era under Marlene Stollings

RICHMOND, Va. – So, this is High Octane.

After three games of starts, stops, spurts and sputters, VCU’s new look, dubbed “High Octane” by first-year Head Coach Marlene Stollings, clicked Tuesday night in a 79-55 rout of UMKC.

“I’m very proud of our young ladies,” Stollings said. “It’s not easy to go on the road to start the season, and this was well earned and well deserved to come back home and get an opportunity to show our fans for the first time with the new system and the new staff basically what we want to be about, which is getting up and down the floor and shooting three ball, which are two things we did very well tonight.”

You could argue Stollings was even being a bit modest. At the forefront of VCU’s shift into high gear was something she promised would be a High Octane staple, 3-point shooting. The Rams punished the Kangaroos’ zone to the tune of a school-record 13 three-pointers, including nine from freshman guard Jessica Pellechio, who finished with 30 points. Pellechio hit 9-of-18 from beyond the arc and was one 3-pointer short of tying the VCU record of 10, set by Meagan Evans in 2001.

“I struggled my first few shots,” Pellechio said. “Sometimes you’ve got to keep shooting as a shooter, but good shots, you never want to be off balance or [shooting] bad shots. We got it in and back out and set up my rhythm, and after a while you keep shooting and it falls.”

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STOLLINGS, RAMS IN TRANSITION

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First-year coach Marlene Stollings’ up-tempo style of play has been well-received by returning players.

RICHMOND, Va. – Marlene Stollings has always been most comfortable in transition. As a player, she was at her best when the court was wide open and the possibilities were unlimited.

Her mindset in her first season as the coach of the VCU Women’s Basketball team isn’t much different. Stollings, who led Winthrop to an 18-13 record a year ago, will try to guide the Rams through a major makeover in 2012-13.

There has been heavy roster turnover. Four of the Rams’ top five scorers have either graduated or transferred, including All-American Courtney Hurt (22.3 ppg, 13.1 rpg) and Andrea Barbour (17.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg). VCU’s leading returning scorer is junior Robyn Parks, who averaged 6.6 points per game last season. There are five freshmen on the roster and several others with limited in-game experience.

But Stollings doesn’t seem bothered.

“It’s been an extraordinary journey so far,” she said. “We’re just looking and moving forward with all of our thoughts and actions. The transition has been a bit of a whirlwind in terms of our lateness of arriving here, but nonetheless, it’s been extraordinary so far.”

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MCCRAE EMERGING FOR VCU

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One positive development from Thursday’s disappointing 78-77 loss to Richmond was the play of freshman center Aprill McRae.

McRae scored a season-high 13 points and collected 7 rebounds on the night in 34 minutes. She came into the night averaging 2.4 points per game. Making her second consecutive start, the 6-foot-3 Raleigh, N.C. native has active and physical. Four of her rebounds came on the offensive glass.

“She’s going to be very good,” said Richmond Coach Michael Shafer. “I wish she was a senior.”

Unfortunately for Shafer, McRae is a college rookie and just scratching the surface of her potential. Ranked the No. 22 post player in the nation by ESPN Hoopgurlz, McRae is arguably the most heavily recruited player VCU Coach Beth Cunningham has signed during her tenure.

Thursday, McRae showed what the hype was all about. With 11:11 remaining, senior Courtney Hurt, VCU’s leading scorer and rebounder, went to the bench with her fourth foul. At the time, the Rams trailed 59-57. Over the next seven minutes, McRae combined with sophomore Robyn Parks and senior Andrea Barbour to spark a 16-6 VCU run.

During one sequence, McRae scored five straight Rams’ points, including a play that saw her block a shot and then run the length of the floor in time to score on a feed from Park.

“She’s really come in as a freshman and really made an impact for us with her presence in the paint,” Cunningham said. “One of the biggest things is that she’s just come in with a great attitude. Obviously with her size, just how hard she works, it’s put her in a position where she’s able to get some good results for us.”

While her offensive game is far from a finished product, her size and athleticism allowed McRae to be a factor on the defensive side of the floor. There were signs of growth Thursday, however. McRae entered the game shooting 29 percent (5-of-18) from the floor, but hit 6-of-8 field goals.

NOTABLE NUMBERS
VCU has now lost four straight games to Richmond… The Rams are 3-0 on the road, but 0-3 at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Siegel Center this season. VCU was 48-10 at home the last four years, prior to their recent losing streak… VCU grabbed 21 offensive rebounds Thursday, 11 more than Richmond, but had just a 17-13 edge in second chance points… VCU handed out a season-high 21 assists. Senior Jennifer Lane and Barbour distributed six each… Thursday’s game featured 10 ties and 17 lead changes.

2011-12 VCU WOMEN’S BASKETBALL PREVIEW

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All-American Courtney Hurt led the nation in rebounding (12.4 rpg) and double-doubles (25) last season. She also ranked second nationally in scoring (23.2 ppg)

When Beth Cunningham took over as head coach in 2003, there was exactly one postseason banner hanging inside the Verizon Wireless Arena for the women’s basketball program.

If that wasn’t bad enough by itself, that lonely piece of fabric was old enough that the tournament it was intended to celebrate, the National Women’s Invitation Tournament, had changed its name since the Rams’ 1995 appearance.

Now there are five banners, including a giant gold and white one from VCU’s 2009 NCAA Tournament appearance. In Cunningham’s eight seasons at the helm, the Rams have rewritten VCU Women’s Basketball history. VCU has reached the postseason in four consecutive seasons. The Rams are working on a school-record streak of five straight winning seasons. Three of the program’s four 20-win campaigns have come under her watch. The school’s all-time leader in victories with 148, Cunningham has coached two WNBA draft picks and an All-American.

At this point, when she takes inventory of the program, Cunningham doesn’t have to ask what the Rams have done, it’s what they still need to do. When she looks up into that northwest corner of the arena, she knows the answer. The Rams are still chasing their elusive first conference championship, Colonial Athletic Association or otherwise. VCU reached the championship game in 2008, another first for the program, but fell to Old Dominion.

“It’s something that you’d like to have already done, hang a championship banner, but there’s been so many good things that have happened with our program…it’s part of the building process,” Cunningham, 148-100 in eight seasons, said.

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