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

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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.

THE PEPPAS IN TIMES SQUARE

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The VCU Pep Band keeps finding ways to one-up itself. This year, the Rams crashed Times Square. As usual, The Peppas drew a big crowd.

SENIOR SALUTE

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VR1104MBK01_124H.JPGRather than celebrate this year’s senior class of Jarred Guest, Briante Weber and Treveon Graham for what they’ve done in their four years as VCU Rams, let’s first take a took at what they haven’t done.

In four years, the trio hasn’t played a home game in front of anything less than a sellout. That’s 60 home games and 60 sellouts. I’m still not convinced these guys even know what an empty seat looks like. The only time they see an empty gym is in practice. Heck, the Rams aren’t even used to playing in front of sparse crowds on the road. George Washington has sold out two home games the last two seasons, and they were both against VCU.

You know what else these guys haven’t done? They’ve really dropped the ball when it comes to St. Patrick’s Day. It’s always some excuse about being busy in the middle of March every year. Must have something to do with three straight – soon to be four – trips to the NCAA Tournament.

There’s more. Guest, Weber and Graham don’t know what it’s like to toil in relative obscurity. The Rams have been ranked 21 weeks in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll during their careers. In the 38 Division I seasons prior to their tenure, the Rams had been ranked a total of nine weeks. As of this writing, VCU has been ranked for 11 straight weeks in the AP poll.

They don’t know what it’s like to play games that nobody outside the arena can see. Nearly every game of their career has been televised. Every VCU game the last two seasons has aired on TV, the majority of them nationally. During Jeff Capel’s final season as coach in 2005-06, the Rams played a total of nine TV games. That includes a couple produced out of a converted bread truck. I’m actually not kidding about the bread truck. That really happened.

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A HUNT FOR EXCELLENCE

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Dr. Eugene Hunt's association with VCU and RPI spanned seven decades.

Dr. Eugene Hunt’s association with VCU and RPI spanned seven decades.

This year, even as his health betrayed him, Dr. Gene Hunt was a presence at VCU games. Hunt filled his 81 years to the brim with life, love and memories through lasting friendships, far-flung travels and rich experiences, and he wasn’t going to let an act as trivial as changing an oxygen tank at halftime stop him.

Hunt, an ardent but gentle presence in the VCU community for five decades (and RPI before that) was laid to rest last week. Since its inception in 1968, there has been no greater champion of VCU than Hunt.

Rare were the times when Dr. Hunt wasn’t draped in black and gold, wearing an impossibly warm grin, his kind features framed by his white Abraham Lincoln beard, with his lovely wife Honey by his side.

There were times I felt like I saw Gene and Honey more than my wife, because they were everywhere. They attended volleyball matches, men’s basketball games, women’s basketball games – it didn’t matter. They drove to road games even as they approached their 80s. When they couldn’t drive themselves anymore, someone else gladly would.

I was in my first year at VCU in 2005 when I met the Hunts for the first time at the Jeff Capel Coaches Show. It was a VCU event on a day ending in ‘Y’, so naturally they wouldn’t miss it. My wife and I talked with the ever-approachable couple and were struck by their inviting personalities and buoyant enthusiasm. After more than 50 years together, they still doted on one another. Recently married, we marveled at them.

“They were a package deal,” said Gordon McDougall, VCU Associate Vice President for Alumni Relations. “If you’re in a relationship, you hope that when you’re at that stage of your life you have the love and respect for each other that they did.”

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VIDEO: RAMS TOP NORTH CAROLINA A&T, WIN FIFTH STRAIGHT

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Ashley Pegram scored 19 points and Isis Thorpe added 18 as the VCU Women’s Basketball team capped its non-conference schedule with a 60-51 win over North Carolina A&T Tuesday. The Rams have won five in a row and are 9-4 overall. VCU heads to Saint Joseph’s on Saturday, Jan. 3 to open Atlantic 10 Conference play.

THORPE FINDS COMFORT, JUMPER IN WIN OVER HIGH POINT

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Sophomore Isis Thorpe scored a season-high 22 points in VCU's 81-59 win over High Point Thursday.

Sophomore Isis Thorpe scored a season-high 22 points in VCU’s 81-59 win over High Point Thursday.

RICHMOND, Va. – It’s a new year with a new coach and a new system, but Isis Thorpe started to look like her old self in Thursday’s 81-59 win over High Point.

Thorpe, a slick-shooting sophomore guard, scored a season-high 22 points to lead the Rams (6-4). It was her fifth career 20-point performance. Thorpe knocked down 8-of-12 from the field, including a season-best 5-of-7 from 3-point range.

It was a return to form of sorts for Thorpe, who knocked down a team-best 74 threes as a freshman and averaged 12.3 points per game, but shot just 25 percent (19-of-75) from 3-point range in her final 11 games. She came into Thursday’s game averaging 9.1 points while shooting 33 percent (10-of-30) from beyond the arc.

Thorpe stroked her first three triples of the contest and mixed in timely pump-fakes and dribble drives on the way to her best scoring output in 33 games.

“It’s about time I started hitting some shots, so that felt really good today,” she said. “It was just a great win for all of us as a team. We finally got to a point where we’re up with a lead and twisted the knife instead of letting them come back, so that was really great game that we had today.”

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LEAN, MEAN BRASS-PLAYING MACHINES

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Did you wake up this morning and wonder what the baddest band in the land, the VCU Peppas, were up to lately? Yeah, me too.

Well, while we’ve been attached to our sofas, watching one of the seven NCIS programs on TV, plowing through bags of Cheetos, The Peppas have been training like Rocky Balboa. Sidebar: I hope they trained with “Hearts on Fire” playing in the background. Anyway, The Peppas will be taking over the Earth soon.

THE PEPPAS: ALL ABOUT THAT HAKA

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Hanover native Kayen Wilborn leads The Peppas through a traditional Maori haka Sunday at the Black and Gold Scrimmage.

Hanover native Kayen Wilborn leads The Peppas through a traditional Maori haka Sunday at the Black and Gold Scrimmage.

The VCU Basketball season hasn’t even started yet, but the school’s pep band, The Peppas, appear to be in midseason form.

Over the years, the band has used any number of tactics to distract opponents and whip VCU fans into a frenzied state, from riding (and playing) around Manhattan on a double-decker bus, to ripping through a non-traditional set list with unusual flair.

On Sunday, Oct. 26 at the annual VCU Basketball Black and Gold Scrimmage, The Peppas raised the bar with a thunderous rendition of a traditional New Zealand Maori haka. As of this writing, a video of the performance had caught the eye of several national media outlets and had been viewed nearly 23,000 times on YouTube. For a photo gallery of the performance, check out VCUSports.com.

The first haka, Ka Mate, Ka Mate, was composed in the late 19th century by Te Rauparaha, a chief of the Ngāti Toa Rangatira tribe. Hakas were originally performed by the Maori people in preparation for a challenge or battle, but in recent years it has been used at welcome celebrations, before athletic contests and a variety of other special events. New Zealand athletic teams popularized the performance of hakas prior to sporting events shortly after its introduction into the culture. New Zealand’s “All Blacks” rugby team has been the most visible of these, and the country’s national basketball team nabbed headlines this past summer for their performance during the FIBA World Championships.

According to VCU Pep Band Director Ryan Kopacsi, The Peppas will be performing a war haka called Peruperu (a dance with weapons), which is marked by fierce facial expressions and percussive movements, and has been used throughout its history to intimidate the opposition. It is considered a bad omen if a haka is not performed in unison.

“I was searching for intense things for us to do a few years ago and I was watching tons of videos. I was writing down ideas. Someone sent me a video of the All Blacks doing it. I was floored and couldn’t stop watching video after video. From there it was all about right place right time. The right place is here and the right time is now,” Kopacsi said earlier this week via email.

Also, according to the Haka Ka Mate Attribution Bill, passed the New Zealand’s Parliament in 2014, Kopacsi asked to include the following statement:

Te Rauparaha was the composer of Ka Mate and a chief of Ngāti Toa Rangatira. We accept the honor to perform this declaration.

In case you missed it, or if you just wanted to watch again, here’s Sunday’s performance:

 

“…THIS FULLY OPERATIONAL SPACE STATION (SCOREBOARD)”

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The new Siegel Center scoreboard is up, and it’s glorious. Fans can have their first chance to see it up close Friday or Sunday at the VCU Volleyball team’s matches (the Rams are also home next weekend). You can also drop by the Black and Gold Game – VCU’s intrasquad men’s basketball scrimmage – on Oct. 26.

NEW LOGO IS A GO

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The new VCU logo has been chiseled into center court at the Siegel Center by the nocturnal leprechauns we keep around just for these types of jobs. Out with the old, in with the new. Meanwhile, the new corner suites should be nearing completion. Next up is the center-hung scoreboard.

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