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.

RAM REFUSED TO ‘TAKE A KNEE’ ON SOCCER CAREER

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VCU senior Mario Herrera Meraz has endured four knee surgeries to continue his soccer career.

VCU senior Mario Herrera Meraz has endured four knee surgeries to continue his soccer career.

RICHMOND, Va. – The network of scars on Mario Herrera Meraz’s left knee weave a tapestry of pain and doubt, and bear evidence of a gauntlet of trials. He muses as he leads me on a tour through the tangled mess of scar tissue.

Herrera Meraz’s kneecap is surrounded by skin marked by surgeon’s knives. There are four large scars roughly the size of postage stamps that form a perimeter around the knee, as well as several small dot marks, evidence of the torn meniscus he suffered when he was 16 that kicked off a “Groundhog’s Day”-like series of injuries that threatened his soccer career. The final scalpel stroke, a narrow, four-inch highway down the center of the knee, is from his most recent brush with injury. He had a screw inserted the last time, and with direct contact, the area can go numb for a few moments.

From 2006-2012, the VCU senior endured four major surgeries on the knee, three to repair a torn ACL. It would be unbelievable if it weren’t true. If not for a cacophony of shredded soft tissue, it’s entirely possible Herrera Meraz would be playing professionally by now, as well as a member of Mexico’s national team.

Despite adversity, Herrera Meraz breezes into the room unfailingly polite and buoyant. Eight years since his first visit to the operating room, the wiry, 5-foot-8 midfielder can still find a smile while recalling a vicious cycle of success, injury, disbelief, recovery and self-doubt.

His torn ACL in the 2012 Atlantic 10 Championship Match and the collective toll of four surgeries, hung like a black cloud over his 2013 season. His confidence shattered, Herrera Meraz was a shadow of himself as he wandered through the season like a man in the wilderness.

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TOP-SHELF FISHER, REDDIC IN ITALY

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A couple of weekend videos worthy of sharing. The first comes from VCU Men’s Soccer’s win over Northeastern on Friday, in which Devon Fisher buries a perfectly placed shot from 35 yards out. This goal is pretty awesome.

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Today’s second video, and congrats to those Internet sleuths monitoring Italian basketball airspace, is Juvonte Reddic’s introductory presser with Victoria Libertas. Most of this 38 minute video is in Italian, but it does include Reddic, who presumably does not speak Italian, responding to questions in English.

EVERYBODY IN THE POOL, SUMMER’S GONE

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Summer’s gone. I’m not concerned with the technical definition of the season. We’ve all been conditioned to mentally terminate the summer once school resumes. I still do that today because when fall sports kick back online every August, it’s go time in the office. That day is today. We got a little preview last week with women’s soccer’s early start at Virginia Tech and Marshall, but Friday and Saturday, field hockey, volleyball and men’s soccer will also begin their 2014 campaigns.

Our first order of business today is to present our next fall sports preview, field hockey. Although this sport willfully chooses to water artificial grass, we still love them. The Rams were 10-10 a year ago under former player and first-year Coach Laura Baker. This year’s squad is channeling its inner Queen Latifah, with more than a little conversation given to unity.

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VCU Volleyball is in Fort Collins, Colorado this weekend, where all they’ll do is play a road match against the No. 18 team in the country (Colorado State), then two other teams that are receiving votes (Marquette and UC Santa Barbara). This year’s roster features more freshmen (8) than upperclassmen combined (7), so the kids will get an idea about the top end of Division I volleyball pretty quickly. Second-year Coach Jody Rogers, who punts excuses into the rafters for fun, doesn’t sound concerned.

“Age is just a number, and I always tell them that. I don’t want to have an excuse, everybody else sees a young team, I don’t care. They’re ready. I want them to be ready.”

The Rams were 26-8 last year in Rogers’ first season.

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TROPHY CHASING TAKES ON GREATER IMPORTANCE FOR VCU SOCCER IN ’14

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In four seasons under the guidance of Coach Dave Giffard, the VCU Men’s Soccer program has transformed from an also-ran into a juggernaut. For all the progress made, there are a couple of levels of success that have been elusive. Following an 11-8-2 mark in 2013, the Rams aim to take the next step as a program.

FALL RAM REPORT NOW ONLINE

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Folks, the Fall 2013 edition of The Ram Report is now available online. Check out profiles on Men’s Soccer goalie Andrew Wells, Women’s Soccer Coach Lindsey Vanderspiegel, former first round draft pick Justin Orenduff and Field Hockey’s Nicole Barry, who had an interesting summer internship, plus a bunch of other good stuff. Click the cover below to read it all.

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THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS EVER THIS WEEK (OCT. 1)

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Happy Shak-tober, VCU fans. This month is good for many things, among them (in no particular order): foliage, NBA training camps, candy corn, postseason baseball, marzen, candy corn, Atlantic 10 Conference races and, finally, candy corn. How does VCU Athletics fit into all of this? I’m glad you asked, even if you didn’t.

RAMS IN CAMP
NBA training camps are underway, which means three former Rams are in action, each with a different task in front of them.

Troy Daniels is in Asheville, N.C. with the Charlotte “soon to be Hornets” Bobcats. Troy earned a camp invite after playing on the Bobcats’ summer league squad in Las Vegas. Now would be a good time to remind Michael Jordan that Charlotte was 27th in the NBA in 3-point shooting last year, and Troy Daniels (feel free to use the Around The Horns-approved #TreyD3 hashtag) hits threes in his sleep. If he was a dinosaur, Daniels would be a triceratops. If he was a TV station, he’d be ESPN3. If he was a stadium, he’d be Three Rivers.

Trust us, Daniels was born for this. We recently slowed down some film of Daniels shooting at training camp and captured his expression right at the moment he’s about to catch and shoot. Check it out:

Three, coming right up.

Three, coming right up.

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