TUSSING WALKS AMONG THE GIANTS

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In 2012 under coach Ethan Tussing, VCU throwers collected seven All-CAA awards and 12 ECAC/IC4A qualifying marks

In 2012 under coach Ethan Tussing, VCU throwers collected seven All-CAA awards and 12 ECAC/IC4A qualifying marks

RICHMOND, Va. – Although he grew up as something of a track and field junkie, Ethan Tussing never had much use for throwing events. Not that they had much use for him, either. Usually the only reason you’d find a 5-foot-10, 140-pound guy like Tussing around the shot put pit is if he went out for a five-mile run and got lost.

Sometimes, back when he was an intern on the track and field staff at the University of Florida, the throws coach would ask him to film the shot put or the discus. But Tussing would usually get bored, miss a bunch of attempts and get an earful from the coach.

He saw himself as a sprints coach one day or as the head coach of a high school track team. What he did not expect, was to be leading arguably the best crop of throwers in VCU history to the Atlantic 10 Conference meet this weekend.

What’s that saying? Life is what happens when you get busy making other plans.

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When he was five years old, Ethan Tussing watched the Olympics with his dad, Tony, a respected high school track coach and official. Ethan decided he wanted to be like Carl Lewis.

“Then I got to high school and found out I was a terrible sprinter,” The 30-year-old Deland, Fla. native said.

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RUFFIN TAKING A ‘SHOT’ AT GREATNESS

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Brandon Ruffin won a CAA shot put title last spring and is poised to make his mark on the Atlantic 10.

Brandon Ruffin won a CAA shot put title last spring and is poised to make his mark on the Atlantic 10.

By Nan Turner

Sophomore thrower Brandon Ruffin has been busy breaking records again this season, and with the Atlantic 10 Conference Indoor Track Championships approaching Feb. 16-17 in Kingston, R.I., he could be primed for individual gold.

At the New Balance Invitational on Feb. 2, Ruffin broke the school record in shot put with a throw of 17.06 meters (55′ 11.75″). That toss was good for eighth place in a deep field and was a full meter better than his previous best, set just a week earlier.

Ruffin was enthusiastic about his New Balance results, but admits he was hesitant to celebrate.

“It felt great,” Ruffin said. “Since it was the first event and it was on the first day and I had another event the next day, I didn’t want to get overly excited because I knew I had to still compete. It felt good to throw farther.”

Heading into the A-10 Championships, Ruffin ranks second on the league’s performance list in both the shot put and the weight throw. Last spring as a freshman, Ruffin won the shot put placed second in the discus at the CAA Outdoor Championships. He captured five victories overall last spring and earned an invite to the U.S. Junior National Championships last summer. The 19-year-old thrower appears to be on a fast track to stardom.

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ALL YOUR LINKS IN A PILLOWCASE

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If you don’t roll like this on Halloween, you’re doing it wrong.

Much like the day you discovered that you could get 280 percent more candy in the pillowcase from your bed than that dopey plastic jack-o-lantern they hand out to everyone, it’s best to get all your links in one place. Here’s a collection of VCUish links from the last week.

YOU LIKE ME, YOU REALLY, REALLY LIKE ME
Men’s hoops is feeling the love from the media right now. Last week alone, the Rams were picked as a preseason top-25 squad by three different major outlets.

VCU Skips Midnight Madness Fanfare, gets down to business (SI.com).

CBS’ Matt Norlander Writes:
“VCU has become one of those teams. Those “small” teams that everyone knows and instinctively roots for. But this isn’t really a small team and it’s not in a small conference. It’s move to the A10 signifies a shift that puts the league on the same plane as the other major conferences.”

In addition, two CBS pundits have picked the Rams to win the A-10 title.

At NBC Sports, Rob Dauster gushes:
“It’s almost impossible to underrate VCU at this point.”

The Sporting News is on board as well. Scott Smith says:
“there’s no reason this team shouldn’t immediately contend for the A-10 title in its first year in the league.”

Put this one in the research category. ESPN’s Andy Katz broke down and rated the non-conference schedules of every A-10 team.

Meanwhile, VCU alum Larry Sanders is getting ready for his third season with the Milwaukee Bucks. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel weighs Sanders’ chances for a breakout this season.

FOR THE ENDURANCE SET
Congratulations to former VCU All-American Bruce Berger, who competed at the Ironman World Championship this weekend in Kona, Hawaii. The 40-year-old Berger placed 589th overall out of 1982 competitors. He completed the 140-mile gauntlet of biking, swimming and running in 10 hours, 24 minutes and 42 seconds. Here’s our profile on Berger from last month. Official results are available here. The sicko guy that won finished in a little more than eight hours.

PUB ON THE PITCH
VCU Men’s Soccer jumped into the top 25 last week. Here’s Coach Dave Giffard chatting with ESPN 950’s Greg Burton on “Hardly Workin'”.

A LONG OVERDUE UPDATE

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Simmons (right) with fellow “Bike America” rider Andrew Kenny on the beach in California.

This is way overdue, but if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll remember our story about (now former) VCU track and cross country runner Tyler Simmons’ quest to bike across the United States this summer to raise money for a paralyzed friend, Ricky Chang. I’m happy to report that not only did Simmons and two other riders complete the 3,700-mile trek, but they raised more than $22,000, $2,000 more than their original goal.

Of course, it was anything but easy. There was a near-manged ankle in the plains, an unforgiving headwind in Kansas and an impromptu root canal in Colorado, just to name a few of the pitfalls. But on July 17, forty-seven days after departing Manassas, Va., they hit the shore in San Francisco. Absolutely incredible.

If you want to read more about Simmons’ quest, you can read his blog from the trip HERE. You can also find a ton of photos of the ride HERE and HERE. Congrats to Simmons, Chang and everybody involved.

KONA BOUND: BERGER REALIZES IRONMAN GOAL

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An All-American at VCU in the 90s, Bruce Berger will compete in the Ironman Triathlon World Championship Oct. 13 in Hawaii.

For nearly three years, Bruce Berger has carried with him a standard white index card, nearly mangled to death. Written in black ink it states, “I will qualify for Kona in 2012.” It used to say 2011, but Berger had to take a black marker to the date, the product of two failed tries, persistence and resolve. There’s a hole roughly the diameter of a pencil at the top. The card has been folded into submission and bears several noticeable stains.

To Berger, that ugly, battered index card is beautiful.

Kona is a reference to the Kona District of the Big Island of Hawaii, site of the Ironman Triathlon World Championship. On Oct. 13, 2012, Berger will be one of roughly 1,800 participants in one of the most grueling, elite competitions in the world. He owes a lot of it to that index card.

A star middle distance runner for VCU in the mid-90s, Berger, 40, earned All-America honors at the 1996 NCAA Track & Field Championships. After college, he says he managed to stay in decent shape, but didn’t race much. There was the occasional 5K or marathon, but just enough to satisfy his competitive twinge.

Three years ago, bearing down on his late 30s, Berger decided to strike back against the clock. After years of running 5K races at sub-15-minute pace, the thought of running in the 16-minute range and just winning an age group wasn’t enough anymore. He didn’t want to measure himself against other 30-somethings. He compared his results to the younger version of himself. So, Berger, along with friends and former VCU teammates Duncan Sheils and Alan Pietruszkiewicz, decided to begin training for triathlons.

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A BRIEF HISTORY OF VCU OLYMPIANS

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Half a dozen VCU alumni have appeared in the Olympics over the years, including two this summer in London. Some of these student-athletes will be familiar to you, others may not, but all have been a part of history. Let’s meet them.

SAEED BASWEIDAN – YEMEN (1996 Summer Olympics – Atlanta)
Saeed Basweidan was just 19 when he ran the 800-meters for Yemen at the 1996 Atlanta Games. He was clocked at 1:49.35 and finished sixth in his heat. He did not advance to the finals.

A native of Mokala, Yemen, Basweidan transferred to VCU in 1997 from Florida Community College after winning three National Junior College Championships in the 800. He enjoyed a solid, if not spectacular middle distance career at VCU from 1997-99, qualifying for the NCAA Outdoor Championships in 1998, as well as the NCAA Indoor Championships in 1999. He was also a member of VCU’s NCAA-qualifying distance medley relay team in 1998. He still holds school records in the indoor 800 (1:49.33) and as a member of the distance medley and 4×800-meter relays.

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DIMINUTIVE PORTER AIMING BIG IN SPAIN

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VCU rising sophomore Kiara Porter will represent team USA in Barcelona July 10-15.

RICHMOND, Va. – Before she races, Kiara Porter – VCU’s pint-sized sprinter – has to literally look up to her challengers. But afterwards, Porter’s competitors often find themselves looking up at her on the podium.

A rising sophomore molded from five feet of pure fast-twitch muscle fibers, Porter is soon going to find out if that success will translate internationally.

Last week, the Yorktown, Va. native ran a school-record 53.07 in the 400 meters at the USA Junior Outdoor Championships in Bloomington, Ind. to take fourth. The finish earned Porter a spot on the USA Junior 4×400-meter relay squad at the IAAF World Junior Championships July 10-15 in Barcelona, Spain.

Porter, who has never traveled abroad, will leave for Spain on July 6. In Barcelona, she’ll be one of a pool of six runners that will comprise USA’s 4×400 relay team. The Americans will have to advance through qualifying to reach the finals. Although her relay squad likely won’t run until July 14, she’ll stay busy soaking in the experience.

Porter would be the first Ram to compete at the World Juniors, an accomplishment she hasn’t overlooked.

“That just means so much to me,” she said. “I would’ve never expected to make it this far in track my freshman year. To run on this level, it’s just an honor to be welcomed on the team.”

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YOU’RE THE BEST AROUND (OF THE LAST 17 YEARS…)

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With VCU’s decision to bolt the Colonial Athletic Association still fresh in our minds, maybe now is a good time to take stock of the 17 years the Rams spent in the league. It was a good run and frankly, the CAA’s Virginia-centric appeal was one of the things that made it fun for VCU fans. I can honestly say it’s one of the things I’ll miss, times change.

VCU has won 42 CAA championships since joining the league for the 1994-95 season. The Rams’ 36 titles in men’s sports are the most in league history. The VCU Baseball team will have a chance to add to that mark later this month. The Rams have won 13 championships in men’s tennis, eight in golf and five each in men’s basketball and baseball. Other sports were not as fortunate, but still enjoyed a great deal of success. Here, I’m going to look at the best team from each VCU program of the CAA era.

BASEBALL: 2003 (46-13, 17-3 CAA, CAA Champions, 1-2 NCAAs)
This was a legitimately hard decision. You could make compelling arguments for the 1998 and 2001 teams. This is one of the few picks that required some back-and-forth debate.

But for me, the 2003 squad was a shade better. Not only did they dominate the CAA regular season and sweep the conference tournament, but the Rams also led the country in ERA that season (2.54). Four pitchers, Cla Meredth (6th), Justin Orenduff (1st), Sean Marshall 6th) and Brian Marshall (5th), were selected in the first six rounds of the MLB Draft.  Four other players were also eventually drafted. Sean Marshall and Cla Meredith played in the majors.

MEN’S BASKETBALL: 2010-11 (28-12, 12-6 CAA, NCAA Final Four)
While I’m picking a non-CAA champion here, I doubt I’ll get few arguments. VCU’s run to the Final Four in 2011 pretty much trumps everything. During the regular season the Rams were equally magnificent and maddening, but flipped a switch in March. VCU reached the CAA Championship Game, upsetting ranked and heavily-favored George Mason in the process. Despite losing to Old Dominion in the title bout, VCU received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, where the Rams toppled USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas on the way to history.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: 2008-09 (26-7, 15-3 CAA, NCAA First Round)
The Rams didn’t win the CAA crown this season (Drexel did), but behind eventual WNBA first round pick Quanitra Hollingsworth, the Rams earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the first time via an at-large berth. The Rams met Rutgers in the first round and gave the Scarlet Knights a run for their money. In addition to Hollingsworth, future All-American and WNBA Draftee Courtney Hurt was a freshman on this squad.

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COOL INTERNSHIP(S) OF THE WEEK: COREY SCOTT

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Miler Corey Scott spent the summer as an intern at three different companies in New York.

You can’t say Corey Scott isn’t willing to expand his horizons. The VCU sophomore distance runner is majoring in elementary education, but that didn’t stop him from working three internships – none of them related to his major – last summer, including one with ties to Def Jam Records and another associated with Grammy Award winning artist Ne-Yo.

“My dad always told me, ‘You should explore and diversify your options,’” Scott said.

Scott was born in upstate New York and raised in Albany before moving to Atlanta and later Virginia, but most of his family lives in New York City. He was looking for a new experience and a chance to live in New York, where he spent many summers as a kid. So he called his cousin, Ronnie Stephenson.

Stephenson owns Creative Production Partners, a production and management company based out of Brooklyn, N.Y. Their clients include Ne-Yo, Derek Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation and the annual Fort Green Festival, among others.

Stephenson’s company handles everything from logistics to hotels to transportation and a number of other tasks for touring artists. CPP also plans a number of events in New York and elsewhere.

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SEWARD TRADES TRACK SPIKES FOR COMBAT BOOTS

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Donnie Seward has nine career victories on the track for VCU.

Donnie Seward’s sprawling, paragraph-deficient e-mail reads like it was written by a man late for his own wedding. Punctuation, be damned.

I’m willing to excuse the VCU track star today, however, because he’s writing from half a world away, in Baghdad, Iraq. According to Seward, it could be a while before he’s around a reliable internet connection again. Within hours, he’ll board a flight for Tallil in Southern Iraq, where he’ll be patrolling some of the most dangerous roads in the world, marked by sneering insurgents and crude roadside bombs.

A member of the U.S. Army Reserves since 2006, Seward is a sergeant in the 1-116th Infantry. Seward will serve as a convoy security vehicle commander. He’ll be riding in a MRAP, a mine resistant ambush protective vehicle. His unit will help ensure the safe arrival of supplies and other assets, as well as the transportation of important personnel during the Iraq war drawdown.

Despite the potential for explosions and gun battles, Seward hasn’t lost his sense of humor.

“The main threats out on the roads used by insurgents are EFP, IED, RKG-3,” Seward writes. “Mainly things that go BOOM!”

With any luck, his penchant for levity will serve him well in Iraq for the better part of the next year. As of this writing, Seward has a little more than 300 days remaining in his deployment. Hopefully, that will help him adjust to his new surroundings. His unit trained in Kuwait in a climate he called, “like turning your oven to the highest setting, putting a fan by it and putting your face in front of the oven.”

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