VCU’S FUTURE’S BRIGHT, SO WE’RE GIVING AWAY SHADES

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Tom Cruise took early lumps in films like "Losin' It" before putting together championship-like performances in movies like "Risky Business" and "Top Gun".

Tom Cruise took early lumps in films like “Losin’ It” before putting together championship-like performances in movies like “Risky Business” and “Top Gun”.

If you had your choice to play any kid on the playground one-on-one, who are you going to pick? Are you going to zero in on some diminutive kid with a bad haircut and a busted jumper, or are you going to body up to future All-American and genetic lottery winner Johnny Riflearm? Your choice is an important one.

Sure, you could run that first kid off the playground and still have time to go get lunch, but what would you learn? What would you gain, other than a false sense of confidence? On the other hand, Mr. Riflearm may block your shots, drive right past you and dunk in your grill. But I’d be willing to bet you’d be a better player for it.

Similarly, VCU teams could rack up a bunch of early wins by playing weak teams. That kind of thing happens all the time. But it’s clear they’ve chosen the more difficult path, the high-resistance, high-reward path.

It’s why you should be able to understand a weekend that didn’t produce much in the way of wins, but inevitably helped the Rams sharpen their edges. The VCU Volleyball team went to Purdue and took on a Boilermakers team that has been a fixture in the NCAA Tournament. The Men’s Soccer team welcomed back-to-back ranked teams to Sports Backers Stadium, Field Hockey opened on the road at Kent State and Women’s Soccer hosted perhaps the CAA’s best team in James Madison.

Each coach has different feelings on moral victories, but you can’t deny the way the Rams tested some very good teams. Hopefully in the future, overtime will be a little more friendly to VCU.

In the meantime, we’re going to take our lumps and move on. Volleyball is first up with Tuesday’s home opener against William & Mary. The Rams and Tribe comprised one of the CAA’s best rivalries during VCU’s final years in the CAA, and it’s nice to see the series continue.

More importantly, we’re giving away free pizza and sunglasses to VCU students tonight. For you VCU students, here are a few .gifs I hope will show you how to appropriately utilize your new eyeware.

The optimist.

Channel your inner optimist.

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‘CAN WE BE PLAYING ANYMORE GAMES RIGHT NOW?’

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Phoebe never did make it out of Central Perk.

Phoebe never did make it out of Central Perk.

I’m no Taylor Swift fan, but, she can be an awfully likable person sometimes. I enjoyed the heck out of “Friends” during its 10-year run, and seeing Lisa Kudrow sing “Smelly Cat”, the most memorable song in the career of Kudrow’s “Friends” character, eccentric coffee house singer Phoebe Buffay, with Swift, the burgeoning pop megastar, did spark my internal archive of the series.

One of my favorite memories is from the episode “The One Where No One’s Ready”. In one scene, Joey seeks revenge on Chandler by wearing his entire wardrobe, all at once. During the ensuing argument, Joey teases Chandler. “

“Look at me, I’m Chandler. Could I BE wearing anymore clothes?”

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It goes on from there.

I uttered something similar the other day when I noticed a full weekend of VCU games, the first of the school year. We got a little teaser last weekend with the women’s soccer openers, plus some exhibitions in other sports, but now we’re going full bore. Can we be playing anymore games right now?

Check out this slate:

Friday
Women’s soccer vs. Charleston, 5 p.m.
Men’s soccer vs. No. 25 Akron, 7:30 p.m.
Volleyball at Purdue, 7 p.m.

Saturday
Field hockey at Kent State, 1 p.m.
Volleyball vs. Ohio (1 p.m.) and Austin Peay (5 p.m.)

Sunday
Men’s soccer vs. No. 21 Coastal Carolina, 5 p.m.
Women’s soccer vs. James Madison, 7:30 p.m.

With that much action, it might be difficult for you, as a responsible VCU fan, to know what to watch. Let me help.

You may notice that men’s soccer is playing two ranked teams. This will be a theme throughout the season. VCU Coach Dave Giffard has made a point of assembling one of the toughest, if not THE toughest, schedules in the country. As of right now, there are NINE ranked teams on the schedule, including the top three teams in the country. I’m pretty sure Giffard would schedule Real Madrid if compliance would sign off on it. There’s going to be a ton of top-notch soccer played at Sports Backers Stadium this fall, so make sure you catch some of it.

The volleyball team will have a bit of a new look this year. The Rams will look to replace three key starters, including a couple of players who were good enough to sign pro deals. The Rams will be tested early at Purdue, a perennial Big Ten power. There’s also a bit of VCU history involved here. The Rams met Purdue in their first NCAA Tournament match in 2005. The next night the Rams draw Ohio, the alma mater of your favorite blogger and a team that is normally in the mix for an NCAA bid.

There’s plenty more to keep an eye on, of course. Field hockey will be getting underway and women’s soccer looks to build on a 1-1 start, but I’ll spare you the 1,000-word blog this week. Just know you can keep up with all that stuff on VCU Athletics DOT com, as well as all of our associated Twitter accounts.

Between now and then, I’m going to launch a Twitter campaign to convince Taylor Swift to invite David Schwimmer and his keyboard onstage at her next show.

GREEN LIGHT FOR THE BLACK AND GOLD

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Green means go. Red means go-al.

Green means go. Red means go-al.

Aaaaaand we’re underway.

I wish college soccer would take a page out of hockey’s playbook. I’d love to see the sport adopt a red lamp and fog horn atop the goals for when teams score. That way, when the Rams blast one into the back of the net, you’d hear about it on Main Street.

Our not-quite-a-reality-yet foghorn would’ve gotten a workout in the VCU Women’s Soccer opener Friday. The Rams owned the honor of opening up the 2015-16 VCU Athletics campaign, and they didn’t disappoint.

VCU lit the lamp four times on the way to a 4-2 win over that team from Norfolk. It started quietly. Megan Dell’s 16th-minute strike was the only score of the first half. That didn’t last long. The two teams combined for five goals during one 28-minute stretch of the second half. VCU’s Kelly Graves earned a gold star from this blog for providing a goal and an assist for the Rams.

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Unfortunately, the Rams couldn’t carry over one of those goals to Sunday, when they dropped a 1-0 nailbiter to Marshall. But VCU will get two more cracks this weekend, when both Charleston (Friday, 5 p.m.) and James Madison (Sunday, 7:30 p.m.) visit Sports Backers Stadium.

In other news, the VCU women flashed some nice gold home uniforms on Sunday. Home whites can look clean and nice, but they rarely catch the eye like gold. I loved them.

Sharon Wojcik scored her first goal of the season on Friday.

Sharon Wojcik scored her first goal of the season on Friday.

The Women’s Soccer team was the only VCU squad to log action in a game that actually counted in the standings, but that doesn’t mean the Rams’ other teams weren’t busy.

The VCU Men’s Soccer team fell to N.C. State 1-0 in an exhibition. Despite the loss, VCU Coach Dave Giffard sounded encouraged by the performance.

“It was good to get out and play against another college team. We got minutes for a lot of guys (27) and we were able to see where we are at this point in preseason. Several guys got their first minutes for us as new players and For the most part, I thought they did well for the first time out. Now we have a week to work to get better and improve some things, especially in the attack, before we open with a very good Akron team on Friday night.”

The Rams host Akron, where Giffard once served as an assistant coach, Friday night at 7:30 at Sports Backers. In case you didn’t figure it out already, there’s a soccer doubleheader at Sports Backers Friday.

Meanwhile, Volleyball hosted its annual Black and Gold Scrimmage at the Siegel Center. The current Rams topped the alums 3-0, but really, the day was about much more than the volleyball itself. It was about connecting with alumni, and Saturday’s event saw the largest turnout of volleyball alums in many years.

The VCU Volleyball program welcomed back alumni on Saturday.

The VCU Volleyball program welcomed back alumni on Saturday.

The VCU Volleyball and Men’s Soccer teams officially kick off their seasons this week.

 

I WENT BACK TO THE STU…AND MY SUMMER WAS GONE

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gone-last-summer-wallpapers-1024x768

Peace out, summer.

According to the Gregorian Calendar and the autumnal equinox, the first day of fall is Sept. 23. But Pope Gregory XIII – we all called him “Thirteen” back then – never played college soccer. The first day of fall, according to the Athletician (made up word alert!) Calendar is Aug. 21.

The VCU Women’s Soccer team officially kicks off (pun intended) the 2015-16 VCU Athletics season tonight when they host some school from Norfolk at Sports Backers Stadium at 7 p.m.

Now, before you make any rash decisions about your evening and commit to binge-watching the second season of “True Detective”, know a couple of things. No. 1, this season’s “True Detective” was (spoiler alert) disappointing. No. 2, we’ll have dollar hot dogs for everybody, VCU snapback hats for the first 100 students, and the Rams Gameday Garden will be open to help you cool off and relax. You’re welcome.

On the field, it should be a fun season for the Rams, who finished second in the Atlantic 10 regular season last year.

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If you can’t make it for Friday’s VCU Soccer Kick-Off-A-Palooza, you can still catch the Rams on Sunday when they return to Sports Backers to meet Marshall at 1 p.m.

There are also a few of exhibitions of note this weekend. The VCU Field Hockey team will meet Kent State on the road Saturday. Meanwhile, the men’s soccer team will host N.C. State at Sports Backers on Saturday, Aug. 22 at 1 p.m. At the same time, over at the Siegel Center, the VCU Volleyball team will host its annual Black & Gold Scrimmage. The Rams will take on a team of VCU alums, and I’ve witnessed the career of many of those players. You’ve got to love a job that reminds you how old you are on a regular basis. FYI, contributions to my retirement fund can be mailed here to my office.

I’m out, but enjoy out season kick-off hype video, then go charge up the side of a mountain while dragging a Fiat.

WHAT’S BREWING FOR GRAHAM, DYKSTRA?

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Former VCU shortstop Vimael Machin is playing for South Bend, the Chicago Cubs' 'A' affiliate in the Midwest League.

Former VCU shortstop Vimael Machin is playing for South Bend, the Chicago Cubs’ ‘A’ affiliate in the Midwest League.

VCU Athletics’ Mike Voyack had an opportunity to catch up with Treveon Graham recently, which isn’t easy, considering how well Graham moves for a man of his size. No matter, Voyack, camera in tow, wrangled Graham for an interview to update us on his pro prospects. Graham, you’ll remember, is coming off a solid performance with the San Antonio Spurs’ summer league teams in Utah and Las Vegas. Graham averaged 7.8 points and shot 46 percent for the Spurs in 10 games overall. From the sound of it, Graham will have options, and you shouldn’t be surprised if he ends up in an NBA training camp this fall.

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Meanwhile, it’s been somewhat of a breakout year for former VCU Soccer star and all-around good guy Andrew Dykstra. After years of bouncing around the MLS in Chicago and feeder leagues like the USL, Dykstra appears to have found comfort for D.C. United. Injuries have thrust him into a regular starting role and he’s been making the best of it. To wit, Dykstra was recently nominated for MLS “Save of the Week” for the third time (vote here).

D.C. United (12-7-5) currently sits in first place in the MLS’ Eastern Conference. The United are 3-3-1 with Dykstra in goal.

When he’s not busy making great saves, Dykstra is making great brews. Last year, D.C. Brau invited Dykstra to tour its brewery, and recently, D.C. United shared this video of Dykstra’s home brew operation.

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In baseball news, it appears that Vimael Machin, one of the stars of VCU’s recent NCAA Super Regional run, is settling in at the pro level. A 10th-round selection of the Chicago Cubs organization, Machin is currently playing for South Bend, the Cubs’ A-ball affiliate. Although Machin is still waiting for his signature swing to come around at the plate, he’s still flashing the glove.

Machin has already played third, short and second in his 21-game pro stint. He is hitting .186 in 80 at-bats.

HEY, THOSE GUYS LOOK FAMILIAR

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Former VCU star Lanto Griffin (-12) won the Delta Dental Virginia State Open this weekend.

Former VCU star Lanto Griffin (-12) won the Delta Dental Virginia State Open this weekend.

We’ve officially reached summer’s angry phase in Richmond. The heat index is a billion right now, and my lawn melting. Local weathermen and women are warning people with beards – there are a healthy number of bearded folks in this town – against spending time outdoors, due to the high risk of spontaneous beard brush fires.

But it’s not all bad. As I hunkered down inside and reclined on a couch I fashioned from blocks of ice, I was able to follow the exploits of a handful of VCU alums who killed it this weekend.

First and foremost, Lanto Griffin, a former CAA Golfer of the Year for the Rams, ran away with the Virginia State Open Championship by six strokes this weekend. For his efforts Griffin (-12), who turned pro after graduating from VCU in 2010, pockets $6,300. Griffin opened the tournament with back-to-back rounds of 66 and 68 and took a 5-stroke advantage into Saturday’s final round. Griffin briefly saw his lead cut to three strokes Saturday, but recovered to win going away.

Meanwhile, former VCU Soccer standout Nate Shiffman enjoyed possibly the best moment of his young pro career Sunday when he scored the Richmond Kickers’ lone goal in the 84th minute against West Bromwich Albion from the English Premier League. Shiffman’s strike briefly tied the match, but West Brom answered in the 88th minute to secure a 2-1 win.

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Treveon Graham. You’ve heard of him, right? The Rams’ great continues to plug away for the Spurs in NBA Summer League action in Las Vegas. Playing time in summer league games can be all over the map, and Graham’s burn is no exception, but he did pick up 20+plus minutes in back-to-back games this weekend. On Sunday, Graham pumped in 12 points and corralled five rebounds in a summer league semifinal victory over Atlanta.

Graham is still trying to find the range from NBA 3-point range (shooting 22 percent), but his other metrics this summer have been pretty good. He’s averaging 6.2 points and 2.8 boards and shooting 42 percent overall for the Spurs in nine contests. Graham and the Spurs will play in the Las Vegas Summer League Championship Game against Phoenix Monday at 9 p.m. on NBATV.

THE RAM REPORT IS OUT NOW!
The latest edition of the Ram Report is online now! Check out a feature on VCU Basketball Coach Will Wade, not to mention stories on Olivia Sutton, the first lacrosse player in VCU history, and baseball’s connection to Puerto Rico. READ HERE.

FORMER RAMS STILL GET THEIR KICKS IN RICHMOND

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Matthew Delicate (center) is the leading scorer in both VCU and Richmond Kickers history. (Photo credit: James Loving)

Matthew Delicate (center) is the leading scorer in both VCU and Richmond Kickers history. (Photo credit: James Loving)

RICHMOND, Va. – On Wednesday, the Richmond Kickers will host the Columbus Crew in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the country’s oldest ongoing soccer competition. In all, 91 amateur and professional teams vie for the right to call themselves the best team in America.

The VCU Soccer program has long been intertwined with the USL’s Kickers, who began play in 1993. When the Kickers take the pitch Wednesday in search of an upset, VCU will certainly have a hand, or a foot, in the effort.

A number of former VCU stars have suited up for the Kickers over the years, including Andrew Dykstra as part of a loan agreement with D.C. United. Against Columbus on Wednesday, three former Rams, Matthew Delicate, Owusu Sekyere and Nathan Shiffman will wear Kickers red.

The Kickers represent something different to all three players, who find themselves at different junctures of their careers, but they all agree that the organization has allowed them to keep playing their beloved game, while finding a home in Richmond.

THE STAR
Matthew Delicate knows moments like Wednesday’s match aren’t unlimited. They are to be cherished. Events like the U.S. Open Cup and the opportunity to chase another USL Championship, like the one Richmond captured in 2009, keep him coming back.

“Once you get a taste of that, you want to continue that, and there’s a lot of guys that will go their whole career without winning things like that,” he said. “I don’t have many seasons left, so time is running out, and that’s why I want to bring another one back to Richmond. That would be nice.”

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CAP TIP TO BASEBALL & CATCHING UP WITH FORMER RAMS

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Lefty Heath Dwyer was 10-3 with a 3.01 ERA for VCU this season.

Lefty Heath Dwyer was 10-3 with a 3.01 ERA for VCU this season.

In case you missed it, VCU Baseball saw its season come to an end over the weekend after dropping a pair of games to No. 5 Miami in the NCAA Super Regionals. It was a heckuva ride, and we enjoyed every minute of it. The Rams went on a late-season tear – winning 13 straight games at one point – to win their first conference title since 2010 and reached the Super Regionals for the first time.

Looking ahead to next season, the Rams return nearly all of their starting lineup in the field, save starting shortstop Vimael Machin, who hit .339. The pitching staff, which posted an outstanding 2.92 ERA, will look completely different next season. Heath Dwyer, JoJo Howie, Matt Lees, Matt Blanchard, Daniel Concepcion, Tyler Buckley and Thomas Gill – seven of VCU’s most-used eight arms – all graduate. Look for right-hander Sean Thompson, who was outstanding as a freshman this year, to anchor that staff next season.

But your opportunity to cheer for some of those seniors may not be over. The 2015 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft begins tonight. The first and second rounds, plus compensation picks, will be held Monday beginning at 7 p.m. Although no Rams are expected to be called tonight, Tuesday’s action will include rounds 3-10, and Wednesday will include rounds 11-40. Hopefully a number of these guys will spend the rest of their summer playing Rookie ball somewhere.

ELSEWHERE…
Speaking of VCU Baseball players continuing their careers in the minors, keep your eye on former Ram Kyle Haynes. A 20th-round pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates organization in 2012, Haynes, now a member of the Yankees’ system, is throwing very well at Double-A Trenton. As of this writing, he’s dealing to the tune of a 1.82 ERA in 18 appearances. Trenton will be visiting the Richmond Flying Squirrels at The Diamond June 23-26.

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CAN CK PLAY: MEN’S SOCCER

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I was once a soccer prodigy.

I was once a soccer prodigy.

I don’t know if anybody outside these walls is watching these “Can CK Play?” videos, but apparently VCU coaches are. I’ve had several approach me an ask when I was coming to their respective practices. Thankfully for all of you, I’m willing to sacrifice my self respect on demand.

After watching my volleyball attempt recently, VCU Men’s Soccer Coach Dave Giffard couldn’t wait to have me out to Bryan Park for some footie. I’m in miserable shape and haven’t stepped onto a soccer field for anything of consequence in 20-plus years, so naturally Giffard immediately threw me into 11-on-11 scrimmages. Thanks, Giff.

KHARLTON RINGS THE BELL, RIGHTS VCU

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There were a couple big wins by VCU teams over the weekend, including a nice victory by volleyball at Saint Louis, but none was bigger than the men’s soccer team’s 3-0 thumping of No. 20 George Mason. Leading the way was striker Kharlton Belmar, whose two first-half goals put VCU comfortably in the driver’s seat.

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It’s a significant win for the Rams over the defending Atlantic 10 Conference champions. It’s the school’s second win over a ranked opponent this season. VCU (4-6-1) has played an incredibly challenging schedule. The Rams have met six ranked teams this year, including top-ranked Notre Dame – a 1-0 double-OT loss – and No. 5 North Carolina. VCU does own a 2-1 win over then-No. 6 Georgetown, but it was clear the Rams, 0-4-1 in their previous five matches, needed a shot in the arm. The win over the Patriots should provide just that.

The Rams will travel to Maryland on Wednesday, but are otherwise playing their A-10 schedule the rest of the way. Saturday’s win was a good way to kick off league play.

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