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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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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SCHERRER NEARS RECORD, FALL SPORTS IN FULL SWING

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Field hockey senior Kelsey Scherrer is closing in on history, and tonight may be the night.

Scherrer enters Friday’s season opener with Missouri State (Cary Street Field, 4 p.m.) with 37 career goals, one fewer than Alycia Yoder, who piled up 38 between 1991-94. Scherrer has scored 11, 15 and 11 goals, respectively, the last three seasons. A year ago, Missouri State allowed 3.4 goals per game, including 10 against Iowa.

If she gets the record, you can wave your official VCU Field Hockey tank top over your head like a hankie in that “North Carolina” song, or whatever it was. We’re giving them away to the first 100 students tonight.

The good thing about Friday’s VCU schedule is that you can double dip. The VCU Men’s Soccer team will open the regular season at 7:30 p.m. at Sports Backers Stadium against Bucknell in the aptly-named VCU/Nike Classic.

This will be the first regular season game for the Rams since the tragic loss of teammate Yoram Mwila this summer. Come out and support the Rams and give a nod to “Yo-Yo”, as Mwila was affectionately known. I’m sure he’s watching from somewhere.

Meanwhile, volleyball and women’s soccer will also be in action tonight in road contests in Indiana and Tennessee, respectively.

RAM TOUGH: REFOCUSED VCU RETURNS TO WIN COLUMN

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Dave Giffard's Rams improved to 6-4-0 overall and 1-1-0 in the CAA Saturday night.

There were a lot of happy faces at Sports Backers Stadium Saturday night following VCU’s got-to-have-it, 1-0 victory over a streaking George Mason squad, but possibly none brighter than that of Marisa Giffard, wife of Rams’ Coach Dave Giffard.

VCU’s recent four-game losing streak was starting to wear thin over at Casa de Giffard. Dave and Marisa began dating while he was an assistant at national powerhouse Akron, and he said during that time, the Zips might’ve lost two games total. This was entirely new territory.

“My wife’s pulling her hair out,” the VCU Coach joked. “She’s like, ‘This is terrible. We’ve got to win. I hate when we lose.’ Like anybody, I’m competitive and I get a little grouchy, my staff gets a little grouchy and you know, I’d prefer not to do that again.”

While a grouchy Giffard may have been no fun at home, it appears to be just what the Rams needed to pull out of a four-game tailspin. Giffard spent that stretch questioning his team’s overall toughness, so he dropped the hammer on his young squad in practice this week. Training sessions were long, grueling challenges of intestinal fortitude.

“We were pretty tough on the guys, and they needed it and they knew they needed it,” Giffard said. “As the week went on, we functioned more and more under extreme fatigue and realized that, you know, you’re not going to die.”

His strategy, a rarity for this point during the season, worked Saturday. VCU matched George Mason’s physicality and controlled the game’s action from the outset. Even when the Patriots ramped up the intensity in the second half, which included two yellow cards, the Rams stayed on course. VCU continually won 50/50 chances it has had trouble earning of late and showed a level of toughness not seen this season.

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