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.

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.

‘I WAS THE WORST ONE THERE’: FORMER VCU WALK-ON SIGNS FIRST PRO DEAL

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Janelle Sykes (left) prepares to sign a professional volleyball contract with Azeryol Baku earlier this month.

Janelle Sykes (left) prepares to sign a professional volleyball contract with Azeryol Baku earlier this month.

RICHMOND, Va. – The early days of Janelle Sykes’ foray into serious volleyball didn’t exactly foretell a bright future.

The Clifton, Virginia native largely muddled through three years of volleyball at Trinity Christian School, and when she finally found her way into the development-friendly club program at NVVA in Sterling, Virginia, she didn’t come bounding out of the blocks.

On the first day of practice with NVVA’s 17-1s club, the 6-foot-3 Sykes dislocated her thumb blocking a ball during a scrimmage, in large part, she says, due to poor fundamentals. She didn’t get near the game floor again for weeks as she worked almost exclusively on footwork.

Today, five years removed from her underwhelming club debut, Sykes can call herself a professional volleyball player. Two weeks ago, the 2015 VCU graduate signed a one-year contract (with an mutual second-year option) with Azeryol Baku of Azerbaijan’s Super League.

Azerbaijan, which is located on the Caspian Sea, east of Turkey, isn’t widely known in the United States, and even Sykes admitted she had to locate the country on a map, but the country’s Super League is well-regarded in Europe. Sykes will depart later this summer.

“Right now I’m pretty excited,” Sykes, a middle blocker, said. “I’m sure as it gets closer, I’ll be more anxious about it.”

Sykes’ transformation from an awkward gym-class plodder to a professional volleyball player in five years is remarkable. She was a walk-on during her first two years at VCU. This season, she was named First Team All-Atlantic 10 and First Team All-State. She ranks sixth in school history in blocks (345).

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VIDEO: CAN CK PLAY…VOLLEYBALL?

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Before you watch this video, let me make one thing clear: While I did attempt to play volleyball, I did not attempt to wear the volleyball uniform. Nobody needs that at lunchtime.

Now that I’ve had time to reflect, I’m pretty salty that my bar league volleyball career, circa 2001, did not adequately prepare me for Tuesday’s VCU Volleyball practice, nor did it warm me that my rotator cuff would be barking 24 hours later.

Come out and see real volleyball players (actual good ones) on Friday when the Rams host Dayton at 7 p.m. at the Siegel Center. Dayton, I assume, did not ask its SID to suit up. You’ll have to show up Friday to find out. I’ll be safely out of harms way, keeping stats and making Twitter jokes.

ARAGAO ‘ALL SET’ AGAIN FOR VCU

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Senior setter Cecilia Aragao has returned from a torn ACL to lead VCU this season.

Senior setter Cecilia Aragao has returned from a torn ACL to lead VCU this season.

RICHMOND, Va. – There is little evidence left of the torn ACL that derailed VCU Volleyball setter Cecilia Aragao’s junior season, other than the big, bulky, black knee brace, that is.

While the brace is hard to miss, Aragao doesn’t look much different from the player that was midway through one of the best seasons by a VCU setter before it came undone in an instant. That’s good news for VCU, which needs Aragao’s smooth playmaking skills more than ever this season.

Aragao, a senior and four-year starter from Recife, Brazil has reestablished herself as one of the best setters in the Atlantic 10 and perhaps the East Coast with her play during the first half of this season.

It’s not just Aragao’s ability to direct Rogers’ quick-set offense that places her among the best at her position. It’s that Aragao can impact nearly every facet of the match. While she’s compiled more than 3,500 assists during her career, Aragao is the first VCU setter to record more than 300 blocks. She’s also booked more than 300 kills and 800 digs.

Behind Aragao, one of just two seniors on this year’s squad, the Rams (10-9, 3-2 A-10) have won eight of 10 matches and find themselves in a position to contend for an A-10 title. But it wasn’t long ago that she wondered if she’d be able to command an offense again.

OVER IN AN INSTANT
On Oct. 2, 2013, Aragao suffered her season-ending ACL tear in a match against Hampton. While she was giving chase to a loose ball, Aragao rolled her ankle and then her knee. In 12 years of competitive volleyball, she’d says she’d never suffered a major injury. She knew immediately this time was different.

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“…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.

THAT’S WHY I’M LIKE, SCOREBOARD, MAN

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centerhungpic3
Yesterday, we dropped by the Siegel Center to check on the installation of the new centerhung scoreboard and the sound system. Things are progressing nicely. Check it out.

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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COME TOGETHER; RAMS AIM TO CHALLENGE A-10 AGAIN WITH OLD AND NEW

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Year One of Jody Rogers’ tenure as VCU Volleyball coach was wildly successful, as the Rams finished 26-8 and reached the Atlantic 10 Conference title match. But that’s not to say the Rams are satisfied. VCU is still chasing its first conference crown and NCAA bid since 2005, and this year, the Rams will do it behind five returning starters and eight freshmen.

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