Phoenix Sporting News
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Gochanour Enjoying Success Early in Fitness Career

The transformation continues for Monica Gochanour as she has reshaped her body from nearly 180 pounds as shown in the picture on the left to the 125-126 competition weight while competing in NPC events. (Submitted photo)

By Ray Maloney

(posted Feb. 17, 2017)

CHICAGO, Ill. -- Like many other young adults fresh out of college, Monica Gochanour was getting her feet wet settling into a career and life in the real world. But, she still felt something was missing and after a good deal of procrastinating, she eventually made the decision to make some changes in her life.

The result has seen a major transformation in her physical appearance and has allowed her to become a seemingly overnight success story in the world of bodybuilding. She competes in the National Physique Committee (NPC), which is the amateur arm of the International Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation (IFBB). That group is the largest amateur bodybuilding organization in the United States.

“It’s been a crazy year,” said Gochanour, who has burst onto the fitness scene. “I just thought it was now or never to get in shape … but the thought of me in a bikini scared the hell out of me.”

The new-look Gochanour is stunning and a far cry from a time in a not too distant past.

Gochanour’s background resonates the same as countless other young children across the nation in many respects. Born in Chicago, she and her family moved to Poland during her early years.

“I was an active child and enjoyed playing outside from sunrise to sunset,” she said. “I also liked eating meals prepared by my mother and grandmother made from ingredients found in our garden.”

She and her family returned to Chicago when Gochanour was 11 years old and readjusted to her native life in the United States.

“I learned English and began eating the typical American diet of snack food and fast food,” Gochanour said, “and I transformed from an active, lean 11-year-old into a chubby pre-teen.”

Even as a youngster Gochanour made attempts to control her weight. It was not always a success.

“While in high school I crash dieted and lost significant weight,” she explained, “but I would always gain it back. It was a frustrating circle.”

Gochanour never participated in any organized sports while attending high school. She even waived physical education classes and opted to take advanced placement courses instead.

Following graduation from high school and entering college weight management remained troublesome.

“Instead of gaining the “freshman 15 pounds” I gained over 30 pounds from overeating and the standard college drinking parties.”

After seeing her weight nearing 180 pounds Gochanour knew changes had to be made. But, despite those early efforts the results, along with the commitment, were not there.

 

Monica Gochanour, middle, along with two other competitors, pose for the judges during the 2016 NPC Noble Warrior Natural Classic in Rockford, Ill. (Submitted photo)

“I started going to the gym and working out from time to time,” she said.

After meeting her future husband things began to slowly change for Gochanour. Slow changes to be sure.

“We joined a gym together and started working out religiously,” she said. “I became the master of the Stairmaster … yet I couldn’t shed weight adequately.

“As I approached my 30th birthday, I decided that I needed to do something to change my body so that I actually liked what I saw in the mirror,” Gochanour explained. “I wanted to change my body, but also my lifestyle.”

A friend, who was active in fitness competitions, put Gochanour in touch with a coach that worked with macro-dieting, something that Gochanour felt suited her well.

“I was comfortable with the concept of macro-dieting since it allowed flexibility for this fat girl at heart,” she mused.

That jump-started the transformation in Gochanour that is evident today.

“At the time, I knew nothing about fitness competitions, apart from the photos posted by a few friends and acquaintances that had competed in the past” she said. However, I was aware that they put in a lot of time and hard work.”

Working out and dieting can be one thing. Putting yourself and your body on display can be a totally different thing.

“Signing up to compete seemed like the perfect tool that would scare me into finally getting into great shape,” Gochanour said of her decision to enter the NPC Illinois State Bodybuilding competition, which was held last May in Chicago.

For nearly five months Gochanour prepared for to hit the stage for the first time and had little idea what was about to unfold in her life.

 

A smiling Monica Gochanour displays the incredible physique she has created in her short time as a NPC competitor. She is expected to compete in a national-level show later this year. (Ashley Klemm Photography)

Now, the 31-year-old bartender has settled into a show weight of 125-126 pounds on her five-foot, eight-inch frame.

“About a week away from the competition, I felt that I had truly already won something,” she said. “I was in the best shape of my life and I felt good about myself and my body for the first time in my life.

“It was my intention to basically use my time on stage as my graduation ceremony, of sorts,” she added. “Placing among the top competitors wasn’t even on my radar. To come in second place amazed me and I realized that I might actually be good at this sport.”

She wasted little time in returning to the competition stage. This time, however, the results were not what Gochanour anticipated. Just seven days after surprising herself with her second-place finish in her first competition, a cocky Gochanour finished fourth in the NPC Grand Prix Natural in Rockford, Ill. Just six women competed in that competition.

“I was very disappointed,” she said of her placement in Rockford.

But, instead of allowing the disappointment to derail her goals and aspirations, Gochanour was more determined than ever to work on making her mark in her sport.

Last fall she entered the 2016 Badger State competition, along with a collection of some of the top athletes in the Midwest. It was the top showing in her young career as she placed first in her class, but fell just short of claiming the top overall finish.

“Being so close to winning the overall trophy changed my perspective and my goals,” she said. A few months earlier I didn’t realize I was capable of placing in a show, let alone winning an overall competition.”

That goal would soon be realized.

Another first-place finish in her class in her fourth show, at the same site she first graced the stage, she returned to the scene of her biggest disappointment as an athlete.

 

A glamorous Monica Gochanour poses on stage for judges during one of the five events she took part in in 2016. After placing second in her first-ever event, Gochanour rebounded from a fourth-place finish in her next competition by eventually winning the 2

The 2016 Noble Warrior Classic, in Rockford, was Gochanour’s coming-out party.

“I focused my attention on doing my best and took the stage with confidence,” she said. “I wanted to dominate that venue and prove to myself and the judge that I had the complete package.”

Mission accomplished.

Gochanour won the overall competition and felt a large sense of redemption.

“I had done it,” she said. “In less than a year I had gone from a complete novice in the sport to a multiple champion and five-time national qualifier.”

It has not been done without plenty of commitment, as well as support from her husband.

“He has sacrificed so much,” said Gochanour, who was married in 2013. “We did not go out to dinner together for about six months … and he was always supportive in my efforts and goals.”

The transformation was made possible by plenty of trials and errors in her training regime. She said she spends two to four hours each day in a gym. She also follows a strict meal plan that includes plenty of essential nutrients in her diet, which has a healthy balance of fats, carbohydrates and proteins.

One of the stereotypes Gochanour was forced to battle against was the perception of many that female bodybuilders have a manly look. Not so in the IBFF, which is more than bodybuilding. It also stresses figure, physique and symmetry.

The five competitions may have been a bit much on Gochanour, who left her corporate job in technical engineer sales to focus on her new passion.

“It is suggested that you take part in no more than two competitions per year,” she explained, “having abs all year around is not normal.”

Gochanour is taking some time away from competition to focus on improving areas that she hopes will make her an even more formidable competitor in future events. Her new goal is to compete in a national-level show this summer and earn a coveted IFBB pro card, along with some sponsorships to help offset the costs of being an athlete in an expensive sport.

No. 13 Illinois Rolls Past No. 19 Sun Devils 29-6

Redshirt freshman Eric Barone scored a 4-2 upset over Josh Maruca to spark Illinois to an impressive 26-9 win over Arizona State on Jan. 29. (Illinois photo)

By Ray Maloney

(posted Jan. 29, 2017)

TEMPE, Ariz. – Conventional wisdom suggests a nationally-ranked wrestler should have little trouble with an opponent who has won few matches during the season and has not found his way into the nation’s elite.

That theory was thrown out the window in a big way as No. 13-ranked Illinois got a pair of upset victories that set the tone as the Illini scored an impressive 26-9 win over Arizona State on Jan. 29 at Wells Fargo Arena.

“That why you don’t wrestle on paper,” Illinois coach Jim Heffernan said after watching his squad dominate the Sun Devils virtually from start to finish and improve its record to 7-2 on the season and extending its winning streak to four duals.

The day began to turn in favor of the visiting Illini at 149 pounds when Eric Barone managed to escape the control of Josh Maruca with just 11.2 seconds remaining to score a 3-2 victory. Barone, a redshirt freshman, entered the dual with a 4-5 record on the season, while Maruca, the No. 20 ranked wrestler at that weight, brought a 16-7 mark into the dual. Barone’s win gave the Illini an 11-3 lead in the dual.

Barone’s win did not seem to be a big surprise for Heffernan.

“(Barone’s) good,” the Illini coach claimed. “He’s learning. He’s a really tough kid and (Sunday) he hustled for a full seven minutes.”

The day continued to go the way of Illinois in the very next match as Kyle Lengenderfer held off a late charge from Josh Shields to notch a 6-5 win over the nation’s No. 7 wrestler at 157 pounds. Lengenderfer, despite a respectable 16-4 record on the year, was ranked No. 18 in the most recent listing and was the first time all season the redshirt junior has appeared in the rankings.

His win also did not surprise the longtime Illinois coach.

“I think he is under-rated,” Heffernan said of Lengenderfer. “He’s got a ton of ability and is getting better each time out. He is putting things together as the season progresses.”

The wins by Barone and Lengenderfer were just two of seven matches that went in favor of Illinois on the day.  The Illini got off to a quick 8-0 advantage on the strength of wins from Travis Piotrowski and Zane Richards at 125 and 133 pounds, respectively.

Piotrowski allowed an escape with 1:39 remaining in regulation, but managed a takedown just before the end of the fourth overtime to escape with a 5-3 triumph over Josh Kramer to start the dual. Piotrowski’s win improved his record to 12-8 on the year, while Kramer fell to 12-13 this season.

Piotrowski allowed an escape with 1:39 remaining in regulation, but managed a takedown just before the end of the fourth overtime to escape with a 5-3 triumph over Josh Kramer to start the dual. Piotrowski’s win improved his record to 12-8 on the year, while Kramer fell to 12-13 this season.

Richards, the No. 2-ranked wrestler at 133 had little trouble in taking care of Ted Rico. He stormed to 12-1 lead after the first period and scored a reversal and four-point near fall with 29.9 seconds remaining to post a technical fall to improve his record to 17-2 this season.

Richards now has 99 wins in his collegiate career and is one victory away from joining 22 other former Illini with at least 100 wins during their career.

Illinois returns to action on Feb. 3 when the Illini travel to take on in-state foe Northwestern before returning home to tangle with Purdue on Feb. 5. Arizona State, which fell to 7-4 on the season with the loss, travels to Oregon State on Feb. 5 and will return home to tangle with Bakersfield on Feb. 9 to close out the home portion of the season.

 

 

ILLINOIS 26, ARIZONA STATE 9

125: Tavis Piotrowski (Ill.) dec. Josh Kramer, 6-4 (SV-2).

133: Zane Richards (Ill.) tech. fall over Ted Rico, 18-1.

141: Nikko Villareal (ASU) dec. Mousa Jodeh, 5-4 (RT).

149: Eric Barone (Ill.) dec. Josh Maruca, 4-2.

157: Kyle Lengenderfert (Ill.) dec. Josh Shields, 6-5.

165: Isiah Martinez (Ill.) pinned Anthony Valencia, 6:49.

174: Zahid Valencia (ASU) dec. Zac Brunson, 7-2.

184: Emery Parker (Ill.) dec. Jacen Peterson, 13-9.

197: Andre Lee (Ill.) dec. Austyn Harris, 4-2.

Hwt: Tanner Hall (ASU) dec. Brooks Black, 4-3 (TB-2).

 

Baylor Defense Impressive, Sets Tone as Bears Defeat Broncos 31-12 in Motel 6 Cactus Bowl

Baylor's JaMycal Hasty dives into the end zone from five yards out to cap a scoring drive that gave the Bears a 21-3 lead over Boise State in the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl on Tuesday at Chase Field. Baylor won the game 31-12. (Getty Images)

By Ray Maloney

(posted Dec. 28, 2016)

PHOENIX – In time it might go down as one of the most important drives in Baylor football history. And fittingly it was set up by a Bear defense that turned in an eye-popping performance as Baylor defeated Boise State 31-12 in the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl on Tuesday at Chase Field.

It appeared the Broncos, who entered the game with just two losses on the season, were primed to make things interesting as they moved into the red zone with a chance to cut into the Baylor 14-3 advantage in the second quarter.

That was when Orion Steward picked off a Brett Rypien pass in the end zone and managed to return it to the Baylor-1 setting the stage for the drive that seemed to signal the beginning to a night of celebration by the Bears.

The drive seemed to have stalled deep in their own territory, but was kept alive when BSU was flagged for running into the punter and giving the Bears a fresh set of downs to work with.

The made it pay off.

Freshman quarterback Zach Smith, starting just his fourth collegiate game, moved the Bears down field. He connected with Chris Platt for 15 yards and teamed with Jared Atkinson for 13 more before JaMycal Hasty, another freshman, carried three straight times, including a five-yard run to cap the drive. Chris Callahan’s PAT gave the Bears a 21-3 lead with 4:19 remaining in the first half.

It was more than enough as the Baylor defense kept the Broncos out of the end zone until Cedrick Wilson hauled in a 28-yard pass from Rypien with 80 seconds remaining in the game to close the scoring.

“I felt we dominated,” said Stewart, who finished the game with a fumble recovery, one sack and two tackles for loss, to go along with his timely interception in his final game for the Bears. “We dominated the line of scrimmage. That’s where it starts … and people on the back end made the plays they were supposed to make.”

 

KD Cannon caught 14 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns as Baylor rolled past Boise State 31-12 in the Cactus Bowl. (Baylor photo)

Baylor, which lost its final six games during the regular season after opening the year with six straight victories, got on the board first when Smith found KD Cannon along the left side for a 49-yard completion to move the Bears out from deep inside their own territory. Two plays later Smith found Platt for 17 yards.

Cannon capped the drive by hauling in a spectacular catch from 30 yards out over cornerback Jonathan Moxley in the right side of the end zone.

Cannon later caught a pass from Smith and quickly side-stepped a Boise State defender and raced 68 yards for his second touchdown of the game that put the Bears in front 14-3 with 12:14 to play in the second quarter.

Cannon would finish the game with a career-high and Baylor bowl-record 14 receptions for 226 yards. He was named the offensive MVP of the game. Platt finished with six catches for 82 yards. Terence Williams recorded his fourth 100-yard game of the season for the Bears and finished with 103 yards on 25 carries.

While Smith may have spearheaded the impressive drive to give the Bears command on the scoreboard, it was the play of the defense that set the tone on the night.

Baylor forced the Broncos into three turnovers and sacked Rypien four times.

BSU got a pair of field goals in the game from Tyler Nausa. His second coming at the end of the first half pulled the Broncos to within 21-6 at the intermission.

Whatever chances BSU had to get back into the game ended quickly when Baylor’s Ryan Reid broke up a Rypien pass on fourth down from the five-yard line on the opening possession of the second half.

Baylor added to its lead with a 34-yard field goal from Callahan on its first possession of the half. Smith later hooked up with Ishmael Zamora for 14 yards and a score with 10:03 left in the game.

“To go out and lose the last six games and then come in and win this game, I think it’s huge going into next year, said Smith, who finished with 375 yards passing in the game. “We’re going to have a lot of confidence knowing what we can do. We just showed a little bit of what we can do (Tuesday). So, that’s huge going into next year … and we are going to build on it.”

The game was the final game for Jim Grobe as interim coach of the Bears. He took over for former coach Art Briles, who was dismissed following a series of problems that rocked the Baylor program earlier this year. Grobe, a former head coach at Wake Forest, will be replaced by Matt Rhule, who was hired to take over the Baylor program in 2017.

Boise State runningback Jeremy McNichols was held to just 46 yards on 19 carries by the Baylor defense. McNichols, a junior, announced earlier this week that he will forgo his senior season and enter the 2017 NFL Draft. He has 1,663 yards and 23 touchdowns during the regular season for the Broncos.

 

Yim, Wildcats Optimistic as 2017 Gymnastics Season Prepares to Get Under Way

Tabitha Yim enters her second season as coach at Arizona after leading her first Wildcat squad to a sixth-place finish at the Pac 12 championship meet in 2016. (UA photo)

By Ray Maloney

(posted Dec.23, 2016)

TUCSON, Ariz. – Few coaches put much stock in preseason prognostications, but Tabitha Yim heads into the 2017 season feeling pretty good about her University of Arizona gymnastics team and its No. 18 national ranking.

“I think it’s a fair assessment,” said Yim of her team’s national ranking. “I think we are going to surprise a lot of people … and the sky’s the limit.”

Arizona opens the season on Jan. 6 when the Wildcats entertain Texas Woman’s University and Utah State in a triangular inside the McKale Center on the Arizona campus. The first conference meet is scheduled for Jan. 29 when Arizona travels to tangle with Stanford.

Yim has plenty of reasons to head into the new season with that abundance of optimism. The Arizona coach returns 10 letter winners from a year ago and has added several freshmen who could challenge for plenty of action in their first collegiate seasons.

“We return a lot of strength,” said Yim, who is entering her second season as coach of the Wildcats. “The girls all did a phenomenal job over the summer improving their consistency in their events and the leadership skills they have displayed has been very impressive to see.”

Much of that leadership is expected to be provided by a trio of athletes who will serve as captains for Arizona in 2017. Krysten Howard, a senior, and junior Maddy Cindric will be two of the captains, along with Lauryn Mattson, just a sophomore, but who has quickly emerged as one of the top young gymnasts in the Pac 12 Conference.

“The dedication those three have shown has been truly inspiring,” Yim said as the new season approaches.

Krysten Howard enters her final season of collegiate competition and is expected to be one of the leaders of the Arizona squad in 2017. (UA photo)

Howard, one of just three seniors on the Arizona roster, is expected to compete in three events this season for Arizona. A stalwart on the bars and beam in her first three collegiate seasons, she is expected to see time on floor exercise this season.

“(Floor) is going to be something new for her this year and we are expecting some good things,” the Arizona coach said. “She has been working on increasing her level of difficulty and has added a very nice double pike to her routine.”

Howard, a powerful athlete, is expected to be lead off the Arizona rotation on bars and should help spark the Wildcats in that event, while also being among the top performers on beam. Her athleticism and versatilty throughout the events will be a key indicator of how much the Wildcats will be able to challenge for an upper echelon finish at the conference championship in March.

“She has proven to be a steady starter (on bars) and really gets us off on the right foot,” Yim said. “She is also a beautiful competitor on beam. She is consistent and has great lines throughout her routine.”

Selynna Felix-Terrazas, who has shown signs of brilliance throughout her college career, and Gabrielle Laub join Howard in their final collegiate season for the Wildcats.

 

 

Maddie Cindric, one of the captains of the 2017 Wildcats, is one of the most entertaining gymnasts in the Pac 12 Conference. (UA photo)

Cindric, a 2016 All-American, has established herself as a fan favorite among the loyal Arizona fans, according to Yim.

“She has a very unique style,” the Arizona coach said. “She is very fluid and is one of the most artistic performers out there.

“She is a fiery kid,” Yim added, “the bigger the moment the bigger her performance is. She simply loves to compete.”

Arizona welcomed the addition of six freshmen to its roster when school began in August. It is the biggest class in Yim’s short tenure as coach at Arizona, but should provide dividends for the future of the storied program. All of the newcomer boast impressive credentials.

Headlining that list of freshmen are Christian Berg, Courtney Cowles and Shannon Farrell. Berg (Tinley Park, Ill.) is a seven-time junior Olympic national qualifier and Cowles (Canton, Conn.) qualified for the JO national tournament four times prior to joining the Wildcats. Farrell (Red Bank, N. J.), meanwhile, was a five-time Level 10 regional qualifier.

Jenny Leung, Maddi Leyden and Heather Swanson will also be in their first season of collegiate gymnastics. Leung (Houston, Texas) was a regional vault champion, while Leyden, a native of Melbourne, Austrailia, was a member of the Australian World team. Swanson (Parkland, Fla.) placed seventh at the junior nationals and was a state all-around champion.

 “Some of them are certainly going to challenge to get experience right out of the gate,” Yim predicted of her crop of fresh faces.

“We are going to have some depth at each event and that depth should help cultivate a very competitive lineup throughout the season.”

Arizona finished sixth at the Pac 12 championship in Yim’s first season in Tucson. The Wildcats scored 195.525 points to finish ahead of Washington (195.300) and Arizona State (191.675) in the final team scoring. UCLA won the title after tallying 197.250 points to squeak past Oregon State, which tallied 196.925 points on the day. Utah (196.925), California (196.725) and Stanford (196.125) also finished ahead of the Wildcats.

Few conferences in the nation can boast of high level of competitiveness as the Pac 12 and Yim knows first-hand how competitive the conference has proven to be over the years.

“The Pac 12 is so strong this year,” said Yim, a 14-time All-American during her own brilliant career at Stanford. “The strength of the conference really prepares us for the postseason and we are truly excited about what our team can achieve and ready to show the country the things we can do.”

The conference championship meet is scheduled for March 18 at Stanford and will be a homecoming of sorts for Yim, who spent five seasons as an assistant coach at the school before assuming her current position at Arizona. During her time in a Cardinal uniform Yim established herself as one to the top gymnasts in conference history. Her 14 All-American finishes is tops in Stanford history. She placed in the top 10 in the all-around at the national championship in each of her four seasons as a Cardinal. A two-time conference all-around champion, Yim was also selected as the conference’s gymnast of the year following her final season in 2008.

Maddie Cindric is expected to be a serious challenger for high finishes at the Pac 12, region and national championship meets in 2017. (UA photo)

                              2017 Schedule

Jan. 6      TEXAS WOMAN’S/UTAH STATE

Jan. 14   at Maryland/vs. Alaska-Anchorage/vs. Minnesota

Jan. 21   IOWA STATE

Jan. 29   at Stanford

Feb. 4     OREGON STATE

Feb. 10  CALIFORNIA

Feb. 19  at Washington

Feb. 25  at UCLA

Mar. 5    ARIZONA STATE

Mar. 11  at BYU

Mar. 18  at Pac 12 Championships

                (at Stanford, Calif.)

 

Utah Gymnastics Enters 2017 Season with Plenty of Promise to Challenge for Lofty Finish

By Ray Maloney
(posted Dec. 8, 2016)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah -- For nearly as long as gymnastics have been a part of collegiate athletics the University of Utah has been among the elite programs in the nation.
Don’t expect that to change any time soon.
The Red Rocks, a nickname that has been adopted by the Utah women’s gymnastics program that pays tribute to the picturesque landscape of southern Utah, also characterizes the strength and toughness of the athletes that have long been a part of the team.
“We like to think that the athletes that come through our program are rock solid,” said Meg Marsden, who is entering her second season as co-coach of the storied program. “We chose the nickname in an effort to create a little buzz about our program.”
The buzz the new moniker created more than a quarter of a century ago has turned into a roar, of sorts, as Utah has remained among the nation’s elite. Utah has consistently challenged for high honors at the conference and national level and Marsden, who is in her 33rd year at the school and shares coaching duties with Tom Farden, is hoping her squad can finish on a strong note when the 2017 season draws to a close.

 

Megan Marsden is in her second-season as co-head coach of the Utah women's gymnastics program. (Utah photo)

“We felt good about last season,” said Marsden, a former NCAA all-around champion at the school during her own collegiate career. “We were disappointed though in the postseason as we seemed to have had some little troubles on the biggest stages.”
The Utes finished ninth overall at the NCAA championship meet in Fort Worth, Texas after scoring a season-low 195.7625 just two weeks after winning the regional title in their home gym. Utah also saw its two-year reign as Pac 12 champions come to an end in 2016. After overcoming a horrendous start to the conference meet, the Utes regrouped enough to finish tied for second at the meet. UCLA won the title with a 197.250, while Utah and Oregon State both scored 196.925. California (196.725) and Stanford (196.125) rounded out the top five teams.
“We have some revenge on our minds,” said Marsden, whose team opens the season on Jan. 7 at home against Michigan.
And Marsden has ever reason to be optimistic as the new season approaches.

 

Baeley Rowe, a second-team All-American in 2016, is the lone senior on the Utah roster as the new season prepares to get under way. (Utah photo)

Utah returns a solid nucleus of standouts in the form of Tiffani Lewis, Baeley Rowe and Sabrina Schwab. They also welcome the addition of three freshmen, who Marsden considers five-star recruits. The combination of veterans seeking redemption and the new faces has already shown as the Utes prepare for the start of the new season.
“We think we have some tremendous talent in our room,” Marsden said. “That makes for people pushing each other to not only get better, but to push to see considerable action this season.”
Bars may be the thinnest event for the Utes as they prepare to open the new campaign. But, a second-team All-American returning in that event should help the transition while some new faces emerge to help on that apparatus. The remaining three events seem to provide Marsden with a number of options in the new season.
Rowe, the only senior on this season’s roster, is primed to close out her collegiate career in a big way, according to the Utah coach.
“She is primed and ready on all four events,” Marsden said of the talented Rowe, who finished tied for seventh on the beam at the national championship last season with a 9.90 and who figures to close the Utah rotation on bars and beam in 2017 after earning second-team All-America accolades last season.
“She has that showmanship way about her,” Marsden said, “and she is as talented as anyone in the country.
“I think that it’s not only the elements you display, but the way you do it that counts,” she added. “(Rowe) has that ‘it’ factor about her and she loves what she does.”

Sabrina Schwab was the Pac 12 freshman of the year in 2016. (Utah photo)

Beam was one of the areas that hampered Utah in 2016.
“I think we were weak in our performances, but certainly not in our routines,” Marsden said. “The elements were there that we were looking for … we just need to execute with more consistency if we are to be successful.”
Schwab joined Rowe as an All-American last season after finishing tied for eighth on bars (9.875) at the NCAA meet.
“She comes from a club program and was well coached,” Marsden said of Schwab, who was voted the Pac 12 freshman of the year last season. “She is a great talent and has all the physical attributes necessary to be a successful gymnast.
“She is feather-like in the way she works and I really think she is a champion in the making,” the Utah coach added. “She has a 10.0 vault just waiting to happen.”

Tiffani Lewis is expected to be a leader on and off the mat for Utah in 2017. (Utah photo)

Lewis, a junior, is expected to become a leader on and off the mat for the Red Rocks this season.
“She has continued to improve for us,” Marsden said. “Her talent will allow her to help us in a number of events and will challenge for that opportunity. She has also taken the things we try to instill about our program to heart and her leadership qualities are going to be incredibly helpful to our team.”
That list of talented freshmen making their debuts in 2017 for Utah will include MyKala Skinner. Few freshmen in the nation will get the attention as Skinner will in 2017.
And with good reason.
A four-year member of the U.S. Senior National Team, Skinner was an alternate on the U.S. Olympic team in August at the Games in Rio de Janeiro. She is expected to be one of the top collegiate gymnasts this season.
Missy Reinstadtler and Kim Tessen are the other two members of that highly-touted list of newcomers who will wear the colors of Utah for the first time in 2017.

 

Sabrina Schwab is one of the top young gymnasts in the nation and a serious contender for numerous national honors in 2017. (Utah photo)

Marsden, who began coaching at Utah in 1985, looks for UCLA, with a pair of Olympians on its roster, to be the favorite as the season begins to get under way. California and Stanford also figure to be hunt, according to Marsden.
“The Pac 12 is such a strong family of programs,” she said, “and we are honored to be a part of such a strong, dynamic family of programs.
“We work to be a legendary program here at Utah,” she added. “Most importantly, it are the little things that make that happen and it does not happen overnight. We strive to meet the small goals in order to achieve the greater goals. We have been fortunate to bring in some tremendous talent over the years and we’ve been able to put out a great product for our alumni and fans.”
The Utah fan base for gymnastics is almost as legendary as the program itself. The Red Rocks are at or near the top in attendance on an annual basis and those legions of fans are not lost on the Utah coach. Utah has already sold in excess of 8,200 season tickets with nearly four weeks to go before the season opener.
“We have built a fan base to put in the stands and who come to watch our team perform,” Marsden said. “We strive to showcase outstanding athletes and quality students in the classroom. Those two things are very important to us.”

 

2017 Schedule
Jan. 7      MICHIGAN
Jan. 13    at BYU
Jan. 20    BOISE STATE, DENVER, ILL.-CHICAGO
Jan. 28    at Washington
Feb. 4     CALIFORNIA
Feb. 11    at Oregon State
Feb. 18    UCLA
Feb. 25    at Arizona State
Mar. 3     STANFORD
Mar. 10    at Georgia
Mar. 18    at Pac 12 Championship
                   (at Stanford, Calif.)

 

Laramie's 31 Points Sparks Antelopes as GCU Rallies to Defeat Denver 73-70 in Overtime

Marina Laramie scored a game-high 31 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter as GCU got past Denver 73-70 in overtime on Friday at GCU Arena. (GCU photo)

By Ray Maloney
(posted Nov. 25, 2016)

PHOENIX -- The flaming red hair that sits atop the head of Marina Laramie makes her difficult to miss on the basketball court. Denver certainly has no hopes of seeing Laramie again any time soon.
Laramie, a six-foot, two-inch senior, scorched the nets for a game-high 31 points to as Grand Canyon fashioned an impressive come-from-behind rally to defeat the Pioneers 73-70 in overtime in the inaugural GCU Thanksgiving Classic on Friday at GCU Arena.
The win snapped a two-game losing streak as the Antelopes improved to 2-2 on the season. The Pioneers dropped to 2-3 on the season with the loss.
Even more important than the win itself is the way in which the Antelopes managed to overtake the Pioneers. And GCU coach Trent May will certainly resort to the lessons learned on Friday as his team continues on in the 2016-17 season.
“The thing that matters most is that this team stayed together,” May said. “Never did any of them hang their heads and they all believed in one another … and played with an extra motor.”

 

It might have been easy for the Antelopes to hang their heads after Denver’s Lauren Loven connected on a pair of 3-pointers in a span of 26 seconds to begin the overtime session and give her team a 65-59 lead.
Instead, August Touchard nailed a 3-pointer of her own and converted a free throw on the play to pull her team to within 65-63 with 3:12 left in the extra period. Denver managed to extend its lead to six points for a second time in overtime on a 3-pointer from Samantha Romanowski. It came with 2:34 left and proved to be the final points for the Pioneers.
Zelor Massaquoi scored to pull the Antelopes to within 70-66 and Laramie got loose underneath for a field goal with 1:47 remaining that closed the deficit to 70-68 and set the stage for the dramatic finish. Laramie displayed a nifty spin move underneath for what turned out to be her final points of the game that knotted the game for the sixth time.
Casey Rarrick’s 3-pointer from the left corner with 10.9 seconds remaining proved to be the proverbial dagger in the hearts of the Pioneers.
It did not seem that extra motor that May praised would matter much as the Pioneers, who allowed GCU to score the first points of the game, reeled off the next nine points to build a 9-2 advantage midway through the first quarter. They would extend their cushion to 27-15 when Abi Curtin banked in a 3-pointer from the top of the circle with 4:29 left in the first half.
The good news for the Pioneers is that they were able to add to the lead when Briana Johnson made a pair of free throws and Jesse Spittel connected on one of two charity tosses that saw Denver lead 30-14 with 2:41 left before halftime. The bad news is that Curtin’s trey was the only field goal by the Pioneers over the final 6:44 of the quarter.
The Antelopes continued to chip away at the abyss they found themselves in after the first 20 minutes of the game and eventually overtook the Pioneers when Laramie netted a scoop after being bumped while going through the lane. It gave GCU a 39-38 lead and marked the first time since Aniya Baker’s steal and layup gave the Antelopes a 2-0 lead at 9:07 of the first quarter.
That seemed to spark Laramie, a native of St. Louis, Mo., who scored 11 points in the fourth quarter and providing momentum for her team down the stretch. She downplayed that and praised her teammates instead.
“They all did such a great job of finding me and getting me the ball,” said Laramie, who entered the game as the leading scorer for the Antelopes on the young season at 15.7 points per game. “It is so special to be a part of this team. No matter how things are going we all know that someone is capable of getting things done.”
Laramie finished with 13 field goals on 24 attempts in the game and added five of six from the free throw line. She was one of three players to reach double figures for GCU as Baker, who also had a team-high six assists, and Rarrick each added 11 points in the win. Massaquoi led the way for the victors with 11 rebounds while Laramie added 10 boards.
The Pioneers placed four players in double figures. They were led by Romanowski’s 14 points. Jaclyn Poss and Loven both finished with 12 points and Johnson chipped in with 10 points.
Grand Canyon will conclude the weekend’s tournament when the Antelopes take on Idaho at 3 p.m. Saturday. Idaho and Northern Iowa tangled in Friday's nightcap.

Defense Sparks Comeback as Arizona State Rallies Past Colorado in Pac 12 Volleyball Action

Courtney Leffel's key dig late in the third set helped ASU win the set on go on to defeat Colorado on Nov. 23 at Wells Fargo Arena. (ASU photo)

By Ray Maloney
(posted Nov. 24, 2016)

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Success often comes as the result of withstanding some adversity along the way.
Arizona State learned that lesson as the Sun Devils overcome several mistakes in the opening set before putting the lessons to use by winning the next three sets on the way to a win over Colorado in Pac 12 volleyball action on Wednesday at Wells Fargo Arena.
ASU won 21-25, 25-16, 26-24, 25-18 for its second consecutive win at home and improved the Sun Devils to 4-15 in conference play and 11-20 on the season. Colorado, meanwhile, dropped to 5-14 in the Pac 12 and 13-16 on the year with the loss.
While strong play at the net and mammoth kills, both of which were on display throughout the first three sets by both teams, it was a diving defensive play that might have been the key play of the night that proved to be the difference for the Sun Devils.
After trailing by as many as six points midway through the set, ASU began to chip away at the Colorado lead. A kill by Ivana Jeremic put an end to a string of six straight points by the Buffaloes as they built a 17-11 lead on the Sun Devils.
A kill by Lexi MacLean later tied the match for the Sun Devils at 23-23 and set the stage for the dramatic ending to the set. Stephanie Shadley’s kill allowed Colorado to tie things up for the final time at 24-24 before Oluoma Okaro’s kill pushed ASU to set point.

 

It was on that set point the tables seemed to turn in favor of the Sun Devils.
Following a serve by Jeremic the two teams exchanged one of the best rallies of the match and when a Colorado attack had all the earmarks of being successful freshman Courtney Leffel had other ideas.
The five-foot, five inch backrow specialist dove to her left and got her hand under the ball to keep the ball alive. Seconds later MacLean slammed down the kill from the left side of the net to give the point and the set to the Sun Devils as they moved in front.
And, unlike ASU after dropping the opening set, Colorado was not able to recover as the Sun Devils had little trouble in the fourth set to claim the win.
The Sun Devils, who defeated California last week to win on their home floor for the first time this season, allowed Colorado to control the opening set. An ASU service error allowed the Buffaloes to grab a 2-1 lead in the early portion and they held that advantage the rest of the way as the Sun Devils had no answer for Shadley as she recorded nine kills in the opening set.
Errors on the part of the Sun Devils also thwarted their efforts throughout the set. ASU committed three service errors and five attack errors to account for eight points for the Buffaloes as they claimed the opening set.
A kill by MacLean tied the second set at 2-2 and an attack on the part of the Buffaloes moments later allowed the Sun Devils to take a 3-2 lead in the second set. It was their first lead of the match … and made the most of it.

 

ASU continued to roll from that point, save for a brief spell midway through the set when Colorado reeled off five straight points to pull to within 14-12. But, ASU, thanks to the earlier lessons learned, withstood that rally and scoring 11 of the next 16 points to claim the set.
Jeremic was one of four Sun Devils to reach double figures in kills in the match as she tallied 18 kills on the night and Okaro added 17 kills of her own. MacLean and Maya McClendon chipped in with 14 and 13 kills, respectively.
The defense also shined bright for the Sun Devils as Halle Harker led the way with 15 digs to move within 10 digs of moving into sixth place on the school’s all-time list in that department. The junior now has 1,372 digs in her career.
Leffell and teammate Kylie Pickrell each added 14 digs, as did Jeremic. Okaro had two block solos and added one block assist to lead the Sun Devils in that department.
“To have four hitters in double digits and four diggers with double digits … that was a great night for everyone,” ASU coach Stevie Mussie said following the win.
Shadley led the Buffaloes with 15 kills on the night Katelyn Cuff chipped in with 11 kills of her own. Alexas Smith had 15 digs to pace Colorado, which also got 11 digs from Marie Zimmerman while Shadley and Cierra Smith each added 10 digs.
Arizona State closes the 2016 season with a Saturday matinee when they play host to arch-rival Arizona (10-9, 18-13). The match is slated to begin at 3 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena.

 

Highly-Touted Newcomer Leads Six Sun Devils in Double Figures as ASU Outlasts The Citadel

Freshman Sam Cunliffe scored a team-high 23 points and led six ASU players in double figures in a 127-110 win over The Citadel on Nov. 23. (ASU photo)

By Ray Maloney
(posted Nov. 23, 2016)

TEMPE, Ariz. -- With its high scoring offense The Citadel is sure to cause some problems when March Madness roles around and Arizona State could very well factor into which teams advance to the annual mayhem in a big way.
Those two facts were driven home in a big way on Wednesday afternoon as the Sun Devils outlasted the Bulldogs 127-110 in a matinee encounter in front of an announced crowd of 4,702 at Wells Fargo Arena. The win is the fourth in six games for ASU, under second-year coach Bobby Hurley. The Citadel fell to 3-3 on the season with the loss. The Bulldogs opened the season with loss to the College of Charleston before averaging 127 points in notching three straight victories. They lost to No. 20 Iowa 130-63 on Sunday before traveling to Tempe to face the Sun Devils.
“I was pleased to see the ball go through the basket, that’s the good news. We shot and scored the ball a lot better than we did in Florida,” Hurley said in reference to his team dropping two out of three games last week in the Sunshine State after opening the season with a pair of wins on its home floor.
But, like most coaches, Hurley found some areas of concern moments after Wednesday’s win over the Bulldogs.
“I just wish we had a little more resistance defensively, especially in the second half,” the ASU coach said.

 

The Sun Devils held a 10-point advantage after the first 20 minutes of the game, but the visiting Bulldogs scored seven of the first nine points of the second half to close to within 57-52 on a field goal from Brian White with 17:29 on the clock. ASU responded with a run of its own. Torian Graham got things rolling with a 3-pointer from the left win and less than one minute later converted a Citadel turnover into two more points with a monstrous dunk. Kodi Justice added a field goal of his own and Obinna Oleka nailed a pair of free throws that ended the 9-0 run that provided the Sun Devils with a 66-52 lead with 15:35 to play.
It was still not enough to derail the Bulldogs.
The Citadel responded with an 8-0 run of its own to make things interesting. An basket off an offensive rebound by Frankie Johnson pulled the Bulldogs to with 66-62 with 14:02 left in the game and the Sun Devils were forced on their heels.
Only momentarily.
Highly-touted freshman Sam Cunliffe nailed a 3-pointer of his own and Shannon Evans added another to keep the Bulldogs at bay. The visitors would get back to within four points on a 3-pointer from Quayson Williams to trail 72-68 with 12:25 remaining. It would be as close as The Citadel would get the rest of the way.
A steal from Cunliffe and a dunk by Evans to convert the opportunity gave the Sun Devils with a double-digit lead at 87-76 and the Bulldogs would get no closer than eight points the rest of the way.

 

“They are a very unique team,” Hurley said of the Bulldogs. “You don’t come across many teams that play the style the do and get up and down the floor the way they do.
“It was a good game for us leading into next week,” the ASU mentor added. “Just from the pace of the game, it got us ready for our next game.”
All five ASU starters finished in double figures with Cunliffe leading the way with 23 points. He was seven of 12 from the floor, including three of four from behind the arc. He also made six of nine foul shots in the game after missing all three free throw attempts in the first half. Oleka and Cunliffe hauled down 15 and 10 rebounds, respectively, to lead ASU to a 49-41 rebounding edge in the game.
Tra Holder added 22 points and Oleka finished with 20 points, as did Kodi Justice after coming off the bench and connecting on four 3-pointers in the first half to spark the Sun Devils on the offensive end.  Evans finished with 17 points.
The Citadel placed five players in double digits. The Bulldogs were led by Kaelon Harris’ game-high 30 points and Zane Najdawi scored 28. Williams and Preston Parks both added 13 points, while White finished with 12 points in the contest.
ASU is scheduled to tangle with top-ranked Kentucky on Monday in the Bahamas before returning home to face UNLV on Dec. 3 at Wells Fargo Arena. The Citadel also returns to action on Monday when the Bulldogs tangle with Presbyterian .

 

Sun Devil Volleyball Sweeps California for First Home Win of Season

Lexi MacLean tallied 15 kills and was one of three Sun Devils to reach double figures in that department as ASU swept Cal to win on its home floor for the first time this season on Nov. 19. (ASU photo)

By Ray Maloney
(posted Nov. 20, 2016)

TEMPE, Ariz. -- It was a long time in the making but history was finally made on Nov. 19 as Arizona State won for the first time on its home floor at Wells Fargo Arena under first-year coach Stevie Mussie.
The Sun Devils swept past California 25-22, 25-22. 25-21 to improve to 3-15 in the Pac 12 and 10-20 on the year. It also completed a sweep of the Golden Bears on the year as ASU defeated California in four sets on Oct. 14 in Berkeley. The Bears are also 3-15 in conference play following the loss and are 9-19 on the season.
“I was super excited for the girls to be able to come and play like that in front of their home crowd,” Mussie said following the match. “It’s a big, big deal to be able to do it at home with your highest percentage.”
The night virtually belonged to the Sun Devils from the outset as ASU scored the first two points of the opening set on kills by Ivana Jeremic and led by as many as six points when an attack error on the part of the Golden Bears allowed the Sun Devils to build an 11-5 advantage and the visitors were unable to get within two points the rest of the way. A mammoth kill from Oluoma Okaro that handcuffed the Cal defender ended the first set.

 

The second set was a near carbon copy of the start to the match as the Sun Devils raced to a 3-0 lead thanks in a large part to Okaro. She and Jeremic combined to block an attack on the net to give ASU the first point of the set. She added kills for the next two points as the Sun Devils took command early.
Cal managed to hang close and made things interesting down the stretch as the Bears scored four of six points to forge a 22-22 tie. Mmachi Nwoke quickly gave the lead back to the Sun Devils and a kill by Lexie MacLean put ASU on the brink in taking a commanding lead in the match. Courtney Leffel’s serve of set point was misplayed by Cal as a setting error and miscommunication allowed the ball to fall to the floor giving the set to the Sun Devils.
Cal seemed to come out of the intermission with a bit of urgency in its game and took advantage of  an attack error, a back-row block violation and a setting error on the part of the Sun Devils to grab its first lead of the match. The Bears extended that lead to 4-0 when Jenelle Jordan and Bailee Huizenga teamed to block an attack by the Sun Devils.
The Sun Devils, despite starting one of the youngest lineups in the Pac 12, did not seemed fazed by the deficit. They continued to chip away and two straight attack errors on the part of the Bears allowed ASU to take the lead 17-16. Moments later another kill from Nwoke put ASU in front 18-17 and the Sun Devils would never trail again on their way to the win.

 

“I thought our right-back defense allowed us to stay in the match,” Mussie said. “It was a collective group, I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least, that it was everybody deciding enough was enough.”
The ASU defense accounted for 45digs in the match, many of which came at critical times and allowing rallies to continue before the Sun Devils eventually scored to keep the Bears at bay. Ivana Jeremic led the way with 12 digs for ASU and teammate Kylie Pickrell added 10 digs of her own.
“We’re a pursuit type of team.” Mussie explained. “That’s the kind of thing we want to leave out there. We are going to go as hard as we can defensively.”
The Sun Devils also totaled eight blocks in the contest to bolster Mussie’s belief Saturday’s result was one of the top defensive efforts on the part of her team this season.
MacLean was one of three Sun Devils to reach double figures in kills in the match as she paced ASU with 15. Okaro, who had six block assists, and Maya McClendon added 14 and 11 kills, respectively. Pickrell finished with a match-high 39 assists for the Sun Devils.
Cal was paced by Huizenga’s 11 kills. No other Bear reached double figures in that department.
Arizona State closes the season by playing Colorado on Wednesday at Wells Fargo Arena before entertaining arch-rival Arizona on Saturday in the final match of the year. Cal, meanwhile, entertains Oregon State on Wednesday before tangling with Stanford on Friday at Maples Pavilion.

 

Freshmen Continue to Shine as Arizona State Rolls Past San Jose State 82-37

Freshman Robbi Ryan scored 11 points and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds to help lead Arizona State to an 82-37 win over San Jose State on Sunday at Wells Fargo Arena. (ASU photo)

By Ray Maloney
(posted Nov. 13, 2016)

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The challenge that was expected from San Jose State never materialized the way Charli Turner Thorne envisioned it would.
“They are a very athletic team and have some very good shooters,” Turner Thorne said after her Arizona State team rolled over Illinois State to open the season two days earlier and her thoughts advanced to the Spartans.
The athleticism of SJSU was not nearly enough to overtake that of ASU. Nor were the Spartans able to match the bench play of the Sun Devils, who got scoring from 12 different players on the way to an easy 82-37 win over the Spartans on Sunday at Wells Fargo Arena.
The win improves the defending Pac 12 champion Sun Devils to 2-0 on the young season after their 76-40 triumph in the opener. San Jose State, which lost 66-55 to New Mexico on Friday to open the season in Las Cruces, is now 0-2 on the year.
“I think we played much better than we did (Friday),” the ASU coach said. “I think we had some jitters coming out in that first game, but we did a much better job of handling the emotions from the start (Sunday}.”
That was evident earlier on as Sophie Brunner connected on a turnaround jumper from the left side just 16 seconds into the game to give the Sun Devils the early advantage.
It was a harbinger of things to come.

 

Four different players scored the next four field goals of the game as ASU raced to a 12-0 advantage with just over four minutes gone in the contest. The Sun Devils would extend that lead to 16-0 before Myzhanique Ladd got the Spartans on the board at 4:45 of the first quarter, but the ASU defense limited visitors to just on more field goal in the opening 10 minutes as the Sun Devils built a comfortable 29-7 lead at the first break.
The two teams played on nearly even terms in the second quarter, thanks in part to several turnovers on the part of the Sun Devils and some key baskets from SJSU standout Dezz Ramos, but the early abyss was too much for the Spartans to overcome. ASU was still comfortable in front 44-21 at halftime.
Robbi Ryan and Reili Richardson, both freshmen, paced the victors with 11 points each and Ryan, a native of Sheridan, Wyo., led the way with a game-high rebounds. Kelsey Moos, Kiara Russell and Kianna Ibis all added eight points for the Sun Devils and Brunner , along with teammate Sabrina Haines, both added seven points in the winning effort.

 

The Sun Devils combined for 29 of 59 (.492) field goal shooting in the game, including seven of 16 (.438) from behind the arc. Ryan netted two of those long-range goals.
Ramos finished with a team-high nine points, six of which came in the second quarter, to lead San Jose State. Four other players each scored five points for the Spartans, which were hurt by poor shooting from the floor throughout the game. SJSU finished with just 13 of 52 (.250) from the floor and a 3-pointer from Hallie Gennett at 6:12 of the second quarter was the only 3-pointer of the game for the Spartans, who attempted 14 long-range shots. Jasmine Smith and Gennett both grabbed five rebounds to lead their team in that department.
“We did a lot of things very well,” Turner Thorne said, “but, we need to continue to more consistent on defense and on handling the basketball.”
Arizona State hits the road for the first time this season when the Sun Devils play at Marquette on Nov. 19. They will then play in a tournament in Las Vegas where ASU will play Maryland and St. John’s (Nov. 25-26). San Jose State will play its home opener on Nov. 18 when the Spartans entertain Pacific.

Graham Provides Spark Off Bench as Sun Devils Roll Past Portland State to Begin Season

Torian Graham scored 23 points off the bench to spark Arizona State to a win over Portland State on Friday to open the 2016-17 season. (ASU photo)

By Ray Maloney
(posted Nov. 12, 2016)

TEMPE, Ariz. -- If the true identity of his team comes together the way things fell into place for Arizona State on Friday, Bobby Hurley could be in for a very successful season and a serious bid to advance to the NCAA tournament.
Torian Graham and Tra Holder both scored 23 points and teammate Shannon Evans added 19 as ASU rolled past Portland State 88-70 at Wells Fargo Arena. It was the season opener for both schools.
“We are a work in progress,” Hurley said following the game. “We are still finding ourselves and guys are getting accustomed to playing different position.”
It did take some time for the Sun Devils to find themselves in the opener against the Vikings as Portland State scored eight of the first 10 points of the game. A Braxton Tucker put back of a missed shot from Traylin Farris put PSU in front 8-2 with 14:48 remaining in the opening half of play. A driving layup from Holder was the only points for the Sun Devils in the first five minutes of the game.
Then Graham came to life and put some spark into the ASU attack.

 

The six-foot, five-inch senior, who is in his first season at ASU after transferring from Buffalo before the start of the 2015-16 season, scored on a driving layup of his own at 14:27 of the half to cut the Viking lead in half. Evans followed with his field goal of the night to pull the Sun Devils to within 8-6 and 28 seconds later Graham connected on a 3-pointer to give ASU its first lead of the night with 13:02 remaining in the half.
The Sun Devils would never relinquish that advantage and Graham would end the first half with 18 points as ASU led 44-30 at the intermission, thanks also in part to 12 points from Holder through the first 20 minutes of play.
“(Graham) gave a real spark in the first half,” said Hurley, who coached at Buffalo before becoming the ASU coach prior to the start of the 2015-16 season and leading the Sun Devils to a 15-17 record in his first season. “That’s who he’s been for a while. He is certainly one of our best players. He hasn’t been disappointed by not starting, but he has embraced the roll for right now.”

 

Evans, who scored seven points through the first 20 minutes, draw praise from the ASU coach following his 12-point second-half performance.
“I think he’s going to play a lot better … he picked it up some in the second half,” Hurley added. “He would probably agree that it wasn’t his best.”
Behind the performances of Evans, Graham and Holder, who combined to hit 24 of 43 field goal attempts, the Sun Devils finished the game shooting 49 percent (33-67) from the floor, despite missing four of their first six shots in the game. PSU, meanwhile, connected on just 26 of 67 shots for 38.8 percent shooting.
Obinna Oleka finished with eight points in the game to go along with his game-high 13 rebounds.
Tucker finished with a team-high 19 points for the Vikings and teammate Bryce Canda added 12 points.
ASU returns to action on Sunday at Wells Fargo Arena when the Sun Devils entertain Cal Poly. Portland State, of the Big Sky Conference, plays at Cal-Fullerton that same day.

 

Hawkins Comes Off Bench to Lead Arizona State Past Illinois State in Season Opener

Armani Hawkins came off the bench to score a game-high 14 points as Arizona State rolled to a win over Illinois State in the season opener on Friday at Wells Fargo Arena. (ASU photo)

By Ray Maloney
(posted Nov. 12, 2016)

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Despite losing several players to graduation who helped Arizona State to a share  of the Pac 12 women’s basketball title last season the Sun Devils were getting plenty of recognition as a new season prepared to get under way.
The respect and recognition are sure to continue after ASU breezed past Illinois State 76-40 on Friday night at Wells Fargo Arena as the No. 18-ranked Sun Devils opened the 2016-17 season in front of 1,748 fans.
It was a total team effort for the Sun Devils as 12 different players broke into the scoring column. They were led by sophomore Armani Hawkins, who came off the bench to score 14 points. Sophie Brunner was the only other player to reach double figures as she scored 11 points for the victors.
Reili Richardson, a freshman scored seven points, while Kelsey Moos, Quinn Dornstauder, Kiara Russell, Kianna Ibis and Jamie Ruden all tallied six points in the triumph.
Russell, who drew the starting assignment in her first collegiate game and Ruden are both freshmen, while Ibis is a sophomore. Moos and Dornstauder, along with Brunner, are in their final collegiate season.

 

“That was a nice team win,” ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said after the victory. “Everyone got some good rotations in … and the thing you should see in this team is that everyone can score.
“We not equal, by any means, in terms of the rest of our games, but in terms of everyone that goes in can flat out the ball in the basket,” the veteran Sun Devil coach added.
It took little time for that to be proven against the Redbirds, who compete in the Missouri Valley Conference and finished 8-22 last season.
Russell, a freshman who starred at Osseo (Minn.) High School last season, scored the first two baskets of her collegiate career in a span of 13 seconds early in the first quarter as ASU scored the first 11 points of the contest to take control. The Redbirds would never get any closer than six points the rest of the way.
Arizona State led 21-12 at the first break and outscored ISU 20-8 in the second quarter to forge a 41-20 halftime advantage. A basket by Hawkins just before the buzzer to close the third quarter gave the Sun Devils a 60-30 lead, their largest advantage of the night.
Hawkins scoring output, along with the production from the other reserves, allowed the ASU bench to score 43 points, more than the 40 put on the board by the entire Redbird squad. ISU starters combined for 29 of the Redbirds 40 points.

 

“It’s great to have a game this early to get everyone in,” said a smiling ASU coach. “I would rather beat a team by 30 and play everybody than what most of the top-ranked teams in our country do, which is beat people by 55 or 60 and play seven people. That’s just not who were are and it’s always paid off for us.”
Illinois State was led by Hannah Green’s 12 points. She was the lone Redbird to reach double figures.
ASU, which entered the game ranked 18th in the Associated Press poll and 16th in the coaches poll, finished 26-7 last season after falling to Tennessee 75-64 in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The Sun Devils return to action on Sunday when they play host to San Jose State at Wells Fargo Arena. Illinois State, meanwhile, returns to action on Monday when the Redbirds play at Illinois-Chicago.

 

Gonzalez Enters NCAA Record Book as Arizona State Holds Off UCLA 23-20 in Pac 12 Play

Arizona State kicker Zane Gonzalex booted his 89th career field goal to establish a new NCAA record as ASU held off UCLA 23-20 on Saturday in Tempe. Sun Devil coach Todd Graham is shown presenting Gonzalez the ball from his history-making kick. (ASU photo

By Ray Maloney
(posted Oct. 9, 2016)

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Zane Gonzalez entered the NCAA record book and helped Arizona State rebound from its first loss of the season as the Sun Devils defeated UCLA 23-20 on Oct. 8 at Sun Devil Stadium.
The win improved the Sun Devils to 5-1 on the season and 2-1 in Pac 12 play after losing for the first time the previous week 41-20 at Southern Cal.
Gonzalez kicked three field goals, including a 46-yard field goal with 12:28 remaining in the game to give ASU a 23-13 lead in the contest. It was the 89th field goal in the career of Gonzalez, a senior, and surpassed the mark of 88 held by Dustin Hopkins during his career at Florida State (2009-12). Gonzalez had hit on field goals of 23 and 35 yards earlier in the game.
 

 

UCLA closed to within 23-20 just over one minute after Gonzalez’s history-making field goal as quarterback Josh Rosen connected with on an 18-yard scoring play to Nate Iese that set the stage for the dramatic ending to the game.
The Bruins were unable to take the lead when Robbie Robinson picked off a pass from UCLA backup quarterback Mike Fafaul with 48 seconds remaining in the game.
Arizona State seemed to take control of the game in the third quarter.  Gonzalez connected on his second field goal of the night to put the Sun Devils in front 6-3 with 12:10 left in the third period and Richard Demario rumbled in from five yards out for the first touchdown of the game. Gonzalez added the PAT to push the ASU advantage to 13-3 with 8:29 remaining in the quarter.
JJ Molson connected on his second field goal of the night for UCLA just over two minutes later as the Bruins closed to within 13-6 and later tied the game when Jordan Lasley got free of the ASU secondary and raced in after hauling in a pass from Rosen on a play that covered 52 yards.
N’Keal Harry returned the lead to the Sun Devils on a 14-yard scoring pass from Brady White on the final play of the third quarter. White, who would later limp off the field, was starting in place of Manny Wilkins, who was sidelined with a leg injury.

Both teams sputtered in the first half on the offensive side of the ball. Gonzalez gave the Sun Devils the early lead on his first field goal with 7:54 remaining in the first quarter. His UCLA counterpart,  Molson, knotted the game at 3-3 early in the second period with a 38-yard field goal and the two teams would go to the intermission in a 3-3 tie.
White finished the game by completing 19 passes for 179 yards and the touchdown pass to Harry. White left the game late in the fourth quarter after suffering an injury of his own. His status for Saturday’s game is in doubt as the Sun Devils travel to Colorado for a key conference matchup with a resurgent Buffalo team that pushed Southern Cal to the limit before falling 21-17 on Saturday in Los Angeles.
Rosen, who missed a large part of the game in the second and third quarters after being sacked by in the second quarter. He returned to lead the Bruins’ comeback efforts, but was forced from the game for a second time shortly after his pass to scoring pass to Iese in the final period of play.
The Bruins held a marked advantage in total offense in the game as UCLA quarterbacks combined to throw for 444 yards in the game, but the ASU defense limited UCLA to minus-1 yard rushing. Meanwhile, the Sun Devils had just 275 yards of offense with 196 of those coming through the air.
UCLA, which dropped to 1-2 in Pac 12 play and 3-3 on the year, plays at Washington State on Saturday. The Cougars upset Stanford 42-16 on Saturday to improve to 2-0 in league play and 3-2 on the season.

 

Mercury Secures WNBA Playoff Berth on Emotional Night in Phoenix

Penny Taylor scored eight points in her final regular season home game as playoff-bound Phoenix crushes Seattle 86-62. (Phoenix Mercury photo)

By Ray Maloney
(posted Sept. 16, 2016)

PHOENIX -- Mission one accomplished.
Since opening the season with four straight losses it seemed as if whatever hopes Phoenix had in advancing to the WNBA playoffs were on the line at the opening tip of each game. Those hopes became a reality on Thursday some 30 minutes before the ball was put in the air in the final regular season home game.
Atlanta’s 94-91 win over Washington assured Phoenix of its fourth consecutive appearance in the playoffs and the 11th in franchise history.
Oh, the Mercury went on to dismantle Seattle 86-62 at Talking Stick Resort Arena in front of 10,380 fans on a night that not only made Phoenix playoff bound, but also honored one of the greatest players in league and franchise history as Penny Taylor was playing in her final regular season home game after 10 years in a Phoenix uniform and helping the Mercury to three WBNA championships in her time in the Valley of the Sun.
She currently ranks No. 21 in league history in scoring with 4.597 points and is 19th in league history with 1,051 assists.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s my last home game,” said Taylor following the game. “I feel as if we have many more in us.”
The Australian native just might be correct.
Phoenix put on arguably its best all-around game of the season en route to the win over the visiting Storm.

 

Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart scored the first two baskets to open the game for Seattle, But, the Mercury were not content on simply securing a playoff berth. Phoenix was on a mission to send a message to the rest of the playoff teams that just are a force to be reckoned with .
Marta Xargay and Diana Taurasi each scored field goals in a span of 16 seconds as Phoenix tied the game at 4-4 as the Mercury used a 28-8 run to build a 28-12 lead after the first quarter. A 3-pointer from Taurasi from the right corner with 3:06 remaining in the period gave Phoenix its first double-digit lead at 19-9. It would be as close as Seattle would be the rest of the way.
“They outplayed us,” said Seattle coach Jenny Boucek, whose team had already secured a berth in the playoffs. “It’s all about habits, it’s all about mentality, it’s all about momentum … we really let one go tonight.
“It’s not about the win or the loss, it’s about how we need to play to have success in this league,” Boucek added. “We did not play the way the Storm needs to play to have success in this league.”
Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello, meanwhile, was all smiles following her team’s brilliant performance.
“We haven’t played to our potential defensively … I thought we did that (Thursday),” Brondello said. “I thought we had great activity. It’s individuals doing their part to make the team work and that’s what it’s all about.
“If you are all on the same page as a unit, that’s your strength,” the Phoenix coach added.
Phoenix’s strength was displayed on both ends of the floor all night long.
Another 3-pointer from Taurasi with 7.6 seconds left in the first half pushed the Phoenix lead to 50-26 As the Mercury, which opened the game by missing their first four shots from the floor, finished the half by connecting on 20 of 35 shots (,571), while Seattle managed just 10 of 30 (.333) shooting from the floor in the first 20 minutes of play.
Phoenix also forced the Storm into eight turnovers in the first half, while committing just three miscues of its own. Seattle would finish the contest with 18 turnovers that contributed to 30 points by the Mercury. Phoenix, meanwhile, had just nine turnovers in the game and the Storm was able to convert those into nine points.
Brittany Griner paced the Mercury with a game-high 21 points and added five rebounds and two blocked shots.
“I think (Griner) is playing the best of her career,” Brondello said.
Griner has now averaged 17.2 points per game in the nine games since helping the United States to a gold medal in the Olympics in August. She has scored at least 19 points in six of those contests since the break in the WNBA season.
Taurasi and Candice Dupree also finished in double digits for the Mercury in the triumph over the Storm. Taurasi finished with 15 points and Dupree added 14 points in the winning effort. Xargay and Taylor, who tallied a game-high four steals, scored nine and eight points, respectively, for Phoenix as all five starters finished with at least eight points.
Seattle placed four players in double figures led by Stewart’s 14 points. Loyd finished with 11 points, as did reserve Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Crystal Lanhorne added 10 points for the Storm. Seattle standout Sue Bird was limited to just five points on the night.
Phoenix and Seattle will enter the final game of the regular season with identical 15-18 records. The Mercury will play at San Antonio on Sunday, while the Storm will close the season that same day by playing host to Chicago. If both the Mercury and Storm win their final game Seattle will get the

Chatman Finds Success at Every Stop Along the Way While Solidfying Her Basketball Legacy

One of the most successful coaches in the history of women's basketball, Pokey Chatman is in her sixth season with the Chicago Sky and has a 99-95 record in the WNBA. She will go after her 100th league victory on Aug. 26 when the Sky takes on Atlanta.

By Ray Maloney

(posted Aug. 8, 2016)

CHICAGO – It may be a bit premature to label Pokey Chatman as a pioneer in women's basketball. But, when the time comes that she puts away her whistle for the final time, Chatman's impact on the game will certainly be forged for all time.

The circuitious path of the Mississippi River, as it winds its way through Louisiana, can sometimes be a nightmare for navigators. Communities that surround the Crescent City of New Orleans and its famed Bourbon Street that are thought to be on the West Bank are, in fact, on the east side of the river that begins in upstate Minnesota as it makes it slow run towards the Gulf of Mexico. There are no uncertainties for Chatman as her roots are clearly on the right side of the river.

Born Dana Chatman, in Ama, La., she was quickly given the nickname Pokey.

It was because of my chubby cheeks … which I still have to this day,” said Chatman, who would later legally take on the name that has become synonymous with coaching success.

Born just three years before the passage of Title IX that expanded athletic opportunities for women, a young Chatman honed her skills in the sport by playing any time she had the opportunities in gyms or on courts in and around the famed bayous that dot the Louisiana landscape. She would later go on to star at Hahnville High School in Boutte, La., another tiny community not far from her hometown. Winning was something that did not happen often, according to Chatman, during her time with the Tigers. But, she certainly didn't go unnoticed, despite her short stature. A five-foot, five-inch guard, Chatman would earn AAU all-America honors five times during her prep career before graduating in 1987.

Just a short drive along the Mississippi River, Sue Gunter was working on establishing a powerhouse women's basketball program at Louisiana State University and it was only natural that one of the state's premier prep players would matriculate to Baton Rouge. It was the start of a career as a player that was finally marked with winning and laying the foundation for Chatman's future.

Pokey Chatman starred at LSU 1987-91 and was a three-time all-SEC selection during her time with the Tigers. (LSU photo)

I learned everything from (Gunter),” said Chatman, her voice cracking as she fought back an unmistakable tear in memory of her former mentor. “The learning obviously starts with basketball, but through basketball she made me and every one else better people. She was so good with all the intangibles and fostering positive relationships.

She empowered all of us at an early age,” Chatman added. “We probably didn't always understand it at the time … but it is appreciated now that we are able to look back at her impact.”

Chatman was a key player on the United States team that won a gold medal at the 1988 Junior World Championship Qualifying Tournament in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Chatman and her teammates defeated the host Brazil team 70-68 to win the tournament just weeks before returning home and beginning her sophomore season with the Tigers.

Chatman started all but one game during her four seasons at LSU. She was a three-time all-SEC selection and was instrumental in helping LSU to its first-ever SEC tournament championship in 1991 and was the most valuable player of the tournament that season.

The scene following the tournament win over Tennessee still resonates in Chatman's mind.

Sue and Pat shook hands at midcourt, but the handshake was not the story,” Chatman said. “It was more than that, you could see the respect they had for each other watching their heartfelt embrace. It was two great, great coaches showing respect for one another.”

The Tigers played in the NCAA tournament each of the four years Chatman donned the colors of the Tigers, who posted an 82-38 record during that span. A Kodak all-America selection as a senior, Chatman finished her collegiate career as the school's all-time leader in assists (510) and steals (346) and remained at the school as a student assistant for one season following her playing career.

Pokey Chatman drives past a defender during her collegiate career at LSU. Chatman, who ended her playing career with 20 school records while with the Tigers, later coached LSU to a record of 91-14 and is now in her sixth year of coaching in the WNBA.

The (coaching) seed had been planted,” she said.

Chatman was elevated to assistant coach the following year and remained on Gunter's staff for more than a decade as the Tigers remained one of the top programs in the storied Southeastern Conference. She was named interim coach in 2003-04 when Gunter took a leave of absence because of medical concerns. Chatman led the Tigers to a 15-5 record and the school's first-ever Final Four appearance, during Gunter's absence, but LSU credits those wins and losses to Gunter.

We seemed to be fueled by (Gunter) and the fight she was fighting,” said Chatman of the team's improbable run. She added that she did not have much time to reflect on coaching the school she once starred for.

I never truly got to look at it that way or process those kinds of thoughts,” she said. “I all I was worried about was that my friend was ill and I was now coaching and I had to make that adjustment as quickly and as efficiently as I could.”

Gunter would officially resigned following the season after leading LSU to a 442-221 (.667) record in her 22 seasons as coach at the school. Gunter also coached at Middle Tennessee (1962-64) and Stephen F. Austin (1968-80) before taking over at LSU. She was No. 3 on the all-time list of coaching victories at the time of her resignation. Only Jody Conradt and Pat Summitt had more wins than the 708 victories to Gunter's credit when she finished her career. Her overall coaching record was 708-308 (.697).

Gunter died on Aug. 4, 2005 at the age of 65.

With the interim tag removed from Chatman, she became the fourth head coach in LSU history.

The winning tradition at the school would continue with Chatman at the helm. LSU would go undefeated in league play in her first season as head coach and advance to the Final Four for the second straight season. A loss to eventual national champion Baylor in the national semifinals ended LSU's season at 33-3. The following year the Tigers would win their first 14 games of the season as Chatman won her 50th game in just 53 outings. Only Leon Barmore claimed as many wins in fewer games as he guided Louisiana Tech to a 48-2 record in his first two seasons as coach of the Lady Techsters.

Chatman's team finished 31-4 in 2005-06 and won the SEC regular season title along the way and advanced to the Final Four for a third straight season. She would resign following the conference tournament the next season. She was 91-14 (.867) during her time as head coach at LSU. Including her record as interim coach, she logged a 106-19 (.848) mark.

A text message received five months later from former LSU standout Simeone Augustus sent Chatman on her next chapter of success. Augustus told Chatman Tina Thompson was inquring whether the former LSU mentor would be interested in becoming an assistant coach for Spartak, a Russian team which was dominating the Euroleague at the time and had just captured the Euroleague championship.

With Chatman on the bench as an assistant, Spartak won the league titles in 2008 and 2009. She helped Spartak make it four straight titles the following year as the head coach of the squad, which posted a 16-0 record on its way to the Euroleague championship.

Chatman was planning on taking some time off from coaching after winning the 2010 Euroleague title.

My, how quickly plans can change.

 

 

One of Chatman's players while in Russia was Sylvia Fowles, one of top players in the world at the time and a former player of Chatman's while both were at LSU. The two shared the same agent and the two longtime friends discussed a move by Chatman to the WNBA and coaching the Chicago franchise, where Fowles was playing.

Fowles must have delivered a pretty impressive sales pitch.

Within 36 hours of coaching my last (Euroleague) game, I had a contract … and here I am six years later,” Chatman said.

She was named the coach and general manager of the Sky on Oct, 29, 2010 and finished with a 14-20 record in each of her first two seasons with Chicago. With the addition of former Delaware standout Elena Della Donne in 2013, Chicago won the Eastern Conference with a 24-10 record and advanced to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

Under the leadership of Chatman, Chicago advanced to the WNBA Finals in 2014, despite finishing fourth in the conference. After knocking off Atlanta and Indiana, the Sky was swept by Phoenix in three games for the WNBA championship. Chatman and the Sky finished 21-13 a year ago and was eliminated by Indiana in the playoffs.

Chatman has guided the Sky to an 11-13 record in 2016 before the league went into a hiatus for the Olympic Games. Chicago is scheduled to return to action when the league resumes play on Aug. 26 when the Sky entertains Atlanta at Allstate Arena in Rosemount, Ill. A win in that game will give Chatman her 100th career victory in the WNBA. She currently has a record of 99-95 since taking over as coach of the Sky.

When I came (to Chicago) I had a three-year plan,” she said, “then a five-year plan … now, I've extended it to a six-year plan.

I have enjoyed watching our league grow and the Chicago franchise grow,” Chatman said. “We're relative now.

I've been fortunate as the coach and general manager to have seen it all,” she added. “It has been a great experience and I like what I see in our team and in our league and the future of the WNBA.”

The WNBA is celebrating its 20th year this season.

Chatman has witnessed the growth of women's basketball since her time in Ama and the start of her playing career at Hahnville High School, where she played six-on-six basketball, and her collegiate career at LSU, where the Tigers were simply trying to make a name for themselves.

The players used to go to grocery stores to give away free tickets to the games,” said Chatman, who also said the school even gave away a chance for a free car in an effort to attract fans.

Such is not the case anymore at the school, which, as a member of the SEC, enjoys the benefits of playing in what is arguably the best women's basketball conference in the nation. She has also seen the improvement of players over the years.

I think as a whole, USA basketball has become a better shooting team over the years,” she said.

 

Riley Hired as Women's Cross Country Coach at Duke With Sights Set on Returning Blue Devils to Prominence in Atlantic Coast Conference

Longtime Vanderbilt assistant coach Rhonda Riley was recently hired as the head women's cross country coach at Duke. (Photo Duke Athletic Media Relations)

By Ray Maloney

(posted Aug. 4, 2016)

DURHAM, N.C. – From his office window inside the Schwartz-Butters Athletic Center, nestled amongst the tall trees that make the campus landscape in Durham, N.C. among the most picturesque in the nation, Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski can pause for a moment. He can reflect, close his eyes and know that he has solidified his program as it has emerged to become one of the most recognizable in the nation.

Rhonda Riley is looking to one day being able to join Krzyzewski with similar contentment. Only time will tell.

A lot of time.

Krzyzewski, who has more than 1,000 wins in his coaching career, is preparing to tip off his 36th year at Duke. Riley is more than 400 months short of matching that length of service.

Riley was named the head women's cross country coach at Duke on July 1 and began her duties July 16 after nine years as an assistant coach at Vanderbilt and helping that program become a perennial power in the Southeastern Conference.

I loved Vanderbilt,” the personable Riley said of her time at the Nashville school. “But, Duke gave me the opportunity to become a head coach … and everyone involved in the process made sure the check marks were in place and the athletics director showed a level of commitment to the program and to bringing Duke back to prominence on the conference and national level.”

Riley, who spent one season at Oregon State and two seasons at Arizona State before moving to Vanderbilt, was a key component in the school's rise to prominence at the conference and national level during her time with the Commodores. The Vanderbilt women claimed their first-ever SEC championship in 2011 as five runners placed in the top nine at the conference meet. Alexa Rogers, who placed second (20:22.72) at the SEC meet that season, went on to place 39th at the NCAA championship meet to become the first VU woman to attain all-America status in cross country.

Liz Anderson finished fourth in 2011 at the conference meet, while Jordan White, Louise Hannallah and Kristen Smith finished seventh, eighth and ninth, respectively, as the Commodores tallied 30 points to easily defeat defending conference champion Florida, which totaled 61 points, and perennial power Arkansas, which scored 62 points on the day.

That season also marked the first of five straight trips to the national meet for Vanderbilt, which claimed South Region titles in each of Riley's last two years at the school.

Duke officials and Riley believe the new Blue Devil coach is ready for what lies ahead.

I am up for the challenge,” Riley added.

She better be.

The start of the Riley Era at the school along fabled Tobacco Road will be a monumental test for the new head coach, who is expecting six freshman and five sophomores to report for the start of fall camp as the Blue Devils prepare to open the season on Sept. 2 with their annual Alumni Meet. Duke's first action against other collegiate teams will be Sept. 10 when they compete in the Sycamore Invitational at Indiana State in Terre Haute, Ind., the site of this year's NCAA championship meet.

Riley's first big test will come two weeks later when the Blue Devils take part in the prestigious Roy Griak Invitational at the University of Minnesota. The Griak, which will celebrate its 31st year of competition this season, annually attracts many of the top teams in the nation.

Riley said all of her athletes this year will be middle distance oriented and the adjustment to the rigors of cross country will be something for her to keep an eye on.

I'd say that's a challenge,” Riley said.

Madison Granger (147) leads a pack of runners at the Atlantic Coast Conference championship meet in 2015. Granger, who finished 44th at the meet, is expected to be the leader of the Blue Devils in 2016. (Photo Duke Athletic Media Relations)

The only upperclassman returning for Duke this season is fifth-year senior Madison Granger, who will run for her third coach during her time as a Blue Devil.

I'm really excited,” Granger said. “It has been a crazy time for our program and I think (Riley) is a great fit for our program.”

Being the leader of the Duke program is not something new to Granger, who began making the transition into the role of captain at the start of last season as the Blue Devils had just one junior on the roster a year ago.

She was the top Duke runner at the ACC championship meet where she placed 44th in a time of 21:30.5. Liz Lansing and Gabrielle Richichi, both sophomores this season, also return after placing 76th and 80th at the conference meet a year ago.

I believe in leading by example. We are a young team and everyone on the team seems to have a close relationship,” Granger said. “As a 22-year-old, I am the grandmother of sorts, but it is what it is. At the end of the day we are all training we are doing is being done to get better.”

Roy Griak Invitational to Be Well Represented at 2016 Summer Olympics

Shelby Houlihan, a two-time Roy Griak Invitational champion, celebrates as she crosses the finish line at the recent Olympic Trials. She will be one of eight former Griak standouts who will compete in the Olympic Games next month in Rio de Janiero.

By Ray Maloney

www.phoenixsportingnews.com

(posted July 21, 2016)

Growing up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, running icon Billy Mills read plenty of works from Greek philosophers and imagining of one day soaring like an eagle.

In the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo Mills believes he saw the eagle of his youth on the backs of the runners he lapped on his way to becoming the first – and only – American to ever win the 10,000 meters at the Olympic Games.

More than 50 years later, this year’s Olympics will showcase thousands of athletes in a variety of athletic competitions who, like Mills, will be looking to soar. Eight of those athletes will share another common bond as their journey to potential Olympic glory has taken them through the picturesque hills of the Les Bolstad Golf Course in suburban Minneapolis while competing in the Roy Griak Invitatioal cross country meet.

The 31st edition of the meet, named in honor of legendary Minnesota coach Roy Griak, will be held on Sept. 24 and has long been the most prestigious in-season meet each season.

It’s just an awesome meet,” said Shelby Houlihan, a two-time Griak champion during her illustrious career at Arizona State University. “You could never underestimate those hills … or they would get you.”

Houlihan, one of just three women to ever win a pair of individual titles in the Gold Division of the Griak, earned her way to the Olympics by placing second in the 5,000 meters at the recent Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore. She will be joined by Courtney Frerichs and Betsy Saina, two current training partners of Houlihan as recent Griak partcipants to earn their way to Rio

Frerichs, who placed seventh at the Griak in 2014 while competing for Missouri-Kansas City, will compete in the steeplechase in Rio, while Saina will represent Kenya in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. Saina, one of the most decorated female runners in Big 12 history while at Iowa State, won the Griak in 2012. She finished in the top 20 in each of her four years as a Cyclone by placing third as a freshman in 2009, sixth in 2010 and 15th in 2011 before claiming the top spot in her final season.

Two other women who left their marks at the Griak over the years will compete in the marathon at this year's Olympics as Amy (Hastings) Cragg and Desi Davila, who both competed at Arizona State, will also represent the United States in Rio.

Cragg is one of the most decorated runners in Griak history. She found herself on the awards stand each of her four years while competing for the Sun Devils. She placed 19th as a freshman at the 2002 Griak before finishing third in each of the following two seasons and finished behind Providence's Kim Smith and Wartburg's Missy Buttrey both seasons as that trip finished in the same order two straight seasons.

Cragg capped her brilliant ASU career with a Griak championship of her own in 2005.

Davila managed one top-20 finish at the Griak during her time with the Sun Devils when she placed 12th in 2004 as a senior.

Hassan Mead

Former Minnesota standouts Hassan Mead and Ben Blankenship will represent the United States in Rio. Mead will compete in the 5,000 meters and Blankenship will toe the line for the start of the 1,500 meters and both left indelible marks at the Griak during their time in Gold Country.

Mead, a two-time Big Ten champion, won the Griak in 2009 and placed among the top 20 in each of the four years he competed at the meet. Mead, who placed second at the Olympic Trials, finished sixth at the Griak as a freshman in 2007 and second in 2008. Following his Griak title in 2009 Mead redshirted in 2010 and capped his Gopher career with an 11th-place finish in the 2011 Griak.

Blankenship, meanwhile, finished fourth at the Griak in 2009 and 10th the following year.

Hillary Bor, another in the long line of standout distance runners who have competed at Iowa State, will compete in the steeplechase after posting the second-fastest time in that event at the recent Trials. He placed among the top 20 each of his four years as a Cyclone. Bor finished 12th in 2007, eighth in 2008 and seventh in 2009 before placing 11th in his final Griak appearance in 2011.

One week after becoming an Olympian for the first time, Houlihan is still basking in the glory.

My complete focus was to finish in the top three,” she said of her approach to the Trials. “Maybe I could have started my kick sooner … I don’t know. But the whole experience has been surreal. I still find myself taking a step back and realizing that I am an Olympian.”

Houlihan, who completed her eligibility as a Sun Devil in 2015 before turning pro just weeks later, competed in six races as a professional leading up to the Trials. She heads into the Rio Games with one goal in mind.

I have the same dream as all the others,” said Houlihan, a national champion in the 1,500 as a junior at ASU. “I will be there trying to win … you never know what’s going to happen at the Olympics.”

Phoenix's Bonner Evolving into One of Brightest Stars in WNBA

DeWanna Bonner continues to emerge as one to the top players in the WNBA. (Phoenix Mercury photo)

By Ray Maloney

phoenixsportingnews.com

(posted July 2, 2016)

PHOENIX – If ever comes the day that DeWanna Bonner begins to listen to the buzz from the coaches and teammates who surround her, the WNBA could be witness to something more special than what Bonner has already provided in her brief professional career.

She can be as great as she wants to be,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said of Bonner, who has been a key member of a pair of Mercury teams that have won the WNBA title since being drafted by Phoenix in 2009.

You have to keep reminding her that she can be as good as she wants to be,” the Phoenix coach added. “She plays at both ends of the floor and she’s very versatile. “She can guard the 1-man and sometimes she has the 4-man.

She’s great,” Brondello added. “I’ve liked her evolution. When I came here she was a defensive specialist … but she’s understanding that she’s a very good offensive player, as well.”

Bonner’s greatness was put on display in a big way on June 16 when she came off the bench to score 38 points in a game at home against Dallas. The 38 points were the most by a bench player in the history of the WNBA, which is celebrating its 20th year in 2016.

She also ended that game with three steals and a pair of assists as the Mercury came up short in a thrilling 117-111 triple-overtime loss to the Wings.

Bonner's statistics through the first 17 games of the 2016 season back up Brondello’s assessment of her.

She is averaging 15.2 points per game so far this season following a 99-88 loss at home to New York on July 1 and trails only Diana Taurasi (19.1 ppg). Bonner is also averaging 5.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.4 steals per game for the Mercury. She is 82-187 (.438) from the floor, including 25-72 (.347) from 3-point range, many of which have come from well behind the arc. She has added 69-86 (.802) free throw attempts. All of those numbers rank Bonner among the league leaders in each of those departments.

Bonner was a high school all-American while competing at Fairfield (Ala.) High School, where she also excelled as a member of the school’s volleyball team. She was at McDonald's all-American and earned similar honors from the Women's Basketball Coaches Association following her senior season at Fairfield and was selected as the Gatorade player of the year in Alabama. She later became the first athlete in school history to have her jersey retired.

The six-foot, four-inch superstar in the making knew early on that she wanted to earn a college scholarship. Having had success in both basketball and volleyball while being among the best players in Alabama in both sports during her prep career and being recruited to play both sports, it was basketball that won out.

DeWanna Bonner, the leading scorer in the history of Auburn women's basketball was the 2008-09 player of the year in the Southeastern Conference. (photo courtesy Auburn University)

Bonner was recruited heavily by schools from all across the nation, including several in the powerful Southeastern Conference. Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky, were all among those showing the most interest in obtaining Bonner’s services. In the end, the choice for Bonner was rather simple as she elected to stay close to home and compete at Auburn.

Best conference in the world,” said Bonner of the SEC as she flashed her trademark dazzling smile. “I wanted to stay close to home so my family could watch me play.”

She said playing in the storied league helped prepare her for the rigors of playing against some of the best players in the world during her career in the professional game.

The SEC is really a great conference,” Bonner said. “A lot of the people I played against (in college) are here in the WNBA. But, it’s still a lot faster in the WNBA, especially when it comes to coaching. The way they teach things, you really have to be able to pick things up in a hurry.

But, I was definitely prepared coming from playing against great talent every night,” Bonner added.

Bonner’s decision to remain close to home and play at Auburn paid huge dividends for the school. The Tigers were 85-44 in Bonner’s four seasons at the school and she earned first-team all-conference honors each of her final three seasons in a Tiger uniform. A member of the SEC’s all-freshman team in 2006, Bonner also was selected to the conference’s all-tournament team as a sophomore and a junior.

That all set the stage for a remarkable senior season that was capped by her becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer in a 71-65 win over Ole Miss in the first round of the SEC tournament and being chosen as the league’s player of the year.

Bonner and the Tigers advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2008-09. An 80-52 loss to Rutgers in Piscataway, N. J. ended Auburn's season at 30-4 after the Tigers had dispatched Lehigh 85-49 in the opening game of the tournament. It was the second straight tournament appearance for Bonner and the Tigers. Auburn had been upended by George Washington 56-55 in the first round the previous year in a game in Stanford, Calif.

She later earned first-team all-America honors by the USBWA and ESPN.com for a second straight season and was a second-team All-American by the Associated Press in each of those seasons.

Bonner, the first player in school history to lead the SEC in scoring, averaged 21.2 points and 8.5 rebounds per game as a senior. Her scoring average ranked her ninth in the nation.

The things we did my senior year were great,” she said. “It was good to put Auburn (women’s basketball) back on the map. Knowing I am one of the all-time greats is something very humbling.”

Bonner, who started all 126 games she appeared in during her time with the Tigers, finished her collegiate career with 2,162 points (17.2 ppg)) and 1,047 (8.3 rpg) during her career. Her rebound total stands No. 2 on the school’s all-time list in that department, just 71 behind all-time leader Becky Johnson's 1,118 boards.

Bonner holds several other records at Auburn and holds the distinction of being the second player in school history to lead the Tigers in scoring and rebounding each of her four seasons. Johnson (1981-84) was the first Tiger to accomplish that feat. Bonner’s 716 points in her final collegiate season surpassed the old school mark held by Carolyn Jones since 1989-90 when she scored 703 points. She also holds the school record with 600 free throws in a career, a mark that is more than 150 better than the previous school record.

During that senior season Bonner began to hear the buzz from her coaches that she could possibly find herself in the WNBA the following season. It wasn’t something she took too seriously.

I never once thought about the WNBA or anything else … I didn’t really know anything about it.” Bonner said. “My coaches would say stuff here and there, but I as just so happy, it was my senior year and I was focused on college and enjoying my senior year.

But when my name was called to come to draft day, I thought “wow, this is pretty neat,’”

She didn’t have to wait too long on draft day to hear her name called. The Mercury selected the Auburn standout with the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft.

I didn’t know anything about Phoenix,” she said. “Of course you hear about Diana Taurasi, but I had never been to Phoenix, never been out of the state of Alabama until I went to college. But, I thought, ‘man, this is really happening.’”

Bonner’s career with the Mercury, like her stay at Auburn, has been marked by a treasure trove of successes, including playing a key role as the Mercury won the WNBA title in her first season in the league. A 2015 league all-star, she was also named to the all-WNBA first team. She, and Minnesota’s Maya Moore, were the only players in the league to average at least 15 points, five rebounds and three assists a year ago. Bonner and teammate Brittney Griner made Phoenix just one of two teams to have players rank in the top 10 in scoring.

Bonner paced Phoenix in scoring last season with 521 (15.8 ppg) points per game. It was the second time in her career she led the way in scoring after tallying a career-high 660 (20.6) in 2012. She is the only player in franchise history not named Diana Taurasi to lead the Mercury in scoring in a season.

She also led the Mercury in assists (110) and steals (44) in 2015

A veteran of international competition, Bonner is one of just four players to average at least 13 points and seven rebounds over the past three seasons in the EuroLeague. She scored 26 points in a losing effort that league’s championship game earlier this season before returning to the U.S. to begin preparations for her eight WNBA season.

The smile that seems to always permeate from Bonner’s face sometimes takes a hiatus, according to Brondello.

She hates losing so sometimes the smile has not always been there,” Brondello said. “But, she has great energy about her and is very coachable … that’s what I love about her. She is very unselfish and wants to do whatever it takes to make the team great. That’s what makes her so special”

Women's Basketball Trailblazer Summitt Dies at 64

Longtime Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt died June 28 at the age of 64. She is the winningest coach in NCAA basketball history with 1.098 wins to her credit. (UT Photo)

By Ray Maloney

phoenixsportingnews.com

(posted June 30, 2016)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The world of college athletics is filled with names that are synonymous with greatness. In that even more rarified air of collegiate coaches, few names, if any, match the reverance as that of Pat Summitt.

A true pioneer in women's basketball, Summit, who won more games as a coach than any other man or woman in the history of college basketball, died on June 28 at Sherrill Hill Senior Living Knoxville. She was 64.

She'll be remembered as the all-time winningest coach in D-1 basketball coach in NCAA history,” said Summitt's son, Tyler, in a statement announcing the news of his mother's death. “But, she was more than a coach to so many. She was a hero and a mentor, especially to me, her family, her friends, her Tennessee Lady Volunteer staff and the 161 Lady Vol student-athletes she coached during her 38-year tenure.”

Knoxville mayor Madeline Rogero announced via Twitter shortly after Summitt's death that the Henley Bridge lights would be changed to orange, white and blue on Tuesday night “in remembrance of Summitt's devotion to Knoxville.”

The legendary Tennessee coach stepped down in 2012, one year after announcing she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. But, she remained involved with the program she built from scratch, holding the position of head coach emeritus.

Summitt will be remembered for her 1,098 career wins during her time at Tennessee. A seven-time NCAA coach of the year, Summitt captained the United States to a silver medal at the 1976 Olympic Games, the first year women's basketball was a part of the Olympics. She later coached the U.S. to the gold medal at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

She was a very, very special person,” said Ann Meyers, a teammate of Summitt's on that 1976 Olympic team.

Meyers, who is now a vice-president for the Phoenix Mercury, wore an orange blouse and matching Tennessee blue earrings and necklace at the Phoenix game on Wednesday, just more than 24 hours after Summitt's death was announced. She said she was in Los Angeles on Tuesday when she got the news of her friend.

I had been in contact with people in Knoxville over the past few days and we all knew that it was just a matter of time,” Meyers said. “The loss of Pat Summitt is a tremendous loss for women's basketball, but her impact on the game and on those around her will be felt for years to come. She meant the world to so many people.”

She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 and received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY Awards that same year.

President Barack Obama issued a statement when learning of the death of the iconic coach. He called Summitt a “patriot” and “a hero to millions of American, including my two daughters.”

Pat Summitt guided Tennessee to 18 Final Four appearances and eight national championships in her 38-year career at coach of the Lady Vols. Her 1997-98 team became the first Division 1 team to finish a season undefeated. (UT Photo)

A 1974 graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, Summitt became the head coach at Tennessee at the age of 22. The school originally offered her an assistant coaching position, but when then-head coach Margaret Hutson, who had led Tennessee to a 60-18 record in four years at the school (1970-74), announced she was taking a sabbatical, Summitt, not much older than some of her players, assumed the top job andbegan her climb to immortality.

Summitt lost the first game she ever coached at Tennessee when Mercer defeated the Lady Vols 84-83 on Dec. 7, 1974 in front of 54 spectators in the Tennessee gymnasium. Less than one month later, in just the second game of her tenure at the school, Summitt led Tennessee to a 69-32 over Middle Tennessee on Jan. 10, 1975. More than 1,000 additional wins would follow.

I was absolutely overwhelmed and scared to death,” Summit said of her first coaching position.

The passage of Title IX, just two years earlier, led to increased visibility of women's sports across the nation and more opportunities for other women's programs at colleges all across the nation. Women's basketball games weren't a fixture on televesion as they are today as virtually all women's programs were strapped for cash.

Summitt actually washed her players' uniforms at her home and drove the team to games.

I remember nights when I was driving the van and I'm about to go to sleep,” Summit told former ESPN personality Robin Roberts in an interview. “I'd just roll down the window and stick my head out.”

Summitt would surpass Hutson as the school's winningest coach on Nov. 23, 1977 when Tennessee would defeat Miami (Ohio) 100-33 at home in the opener to the season. It was just the 85th game of her career and gave her a 61-24 record. That team would go on to finish 27-4 on the year.

Many more milestone wins would collect over the course of Summitt's hall of fame career.

She would lead Tennessee to a record of 1,098-208 during her time at coach of the Lady Vols. She reached 1,000 wins on Feb. 5, 2009 when Tennessee defeated Georgia 73-43 in Knoxville. Her final victory came on March 24, 2012 when Tennessee knocked off Kansas 84-73 in an NCAA regional tournament semifinal in Des Moines, Iowa. Two days later Baylor, which would go on to win the NCAA championship, ended Tennessee's season with a 77-58 win in the regional final.

It would also be the final game in Summitt's legendary career.

We talked about that at halftime,” said Brittney Griner, a star on the Baylor team. “No one wanted to see her go out with a loss. But we also knew that Pat would never want someone to take it easy, she would want you to go and play your hardest and give it to them … and that's what we did.

"It's such a tremendous loss. She meant so much for women's basketball, even if you didn't play for her,” Griner added.

Summitt's .840 winning percentage, along with her wins total, are likely to go unmatched. Never having a losing season during her illustrious tenure along the Tennessee River, she coached 47 percent of her games against ranked opponents and logged a 503-48 (.913) record in home games.

She led Tennessee to 18 Final Fours and eight national championships during her time at the school. Her 1997-98 squad became the first undefeated team in Division 1 history as Tennessee finished the year 39-0 en route to the national championship. It was the third straight national championship for the Lady Vols, who compiled a 100-14 record during that span.

Each of her players who completed their eligibility at Tennessee would earn the degrees from the school, further solidfying Summitt's greatness as a teacher and role model.

Summitt was born in Clarksville, Tenn., the fourth of five children and grew up on a farm chopping tobacco, plowing fields and bailing hay. She never missed a day of school from kindergarten through high school.

I look back now and I think that made me who I am, in terms of my drive and work ethic,” Summitt told famed ABC News reporter Peter Jennings in a 2005 interview.

When you grow up on a dairy farm, cows don't take a day off. So you work every day and my dad always said, “No one can outwork you,” she added in a 2011 interviw with Roberts, who moved to ABC following her time at ESPN.

Summitt honed her skills as a basketball player in the hayloft of the family's farm, along with her brothers.

People would refer to me as her boss and I always remarked, 'Pat Summitt has no boss,' said former Tennessee athletics director Joan Cronan in a prepared statement on Tuesday. “She was the ultimate leader who led by example with strength, character and integrity, but also with care. She loved her family and players with a fierceness equaled only by that renowned stare of hers.”

Summitt's stare, an icy look she would would flash to players after a bad play, has become one of the most iconic images in all of sport.

A statue of Pat Summitt adorns the Pat Summitt Plaza near Thompson-Boling Arena where a public service to celebrate her life is scheduled for July 14. (UT Photo)

Summitt is a member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame (1999), the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (2000) and the FIBA Hall of Fame (2013). The Pat Summitt Plaza, which features a statue of her, was built across from Thompson-Boling Arena, the home of Tennessee basketball, and dedicated in November of 2013.

She truly is a global icon who transcended sports and spent her entire life make a difference in other peoples' lives, Tennesee athletics director Dave Hart said.

Many people from many walks of life spoke out Tuesday about the profound impact Summitt had on them and their careers.

I've coached several Tennessee players, and they keep (Summitt) in such high regard after they've left, said Los Angeles Sparks coach Brian Agler. “ … and I know it's not like she was there just patting them on the back the whole way. She challenged them to be great people and great players, and they have so much respect for her.”

I have a heavy heart this morning, hearing about the loss of one of the greatest women's basketball legends ever,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “When I began coaching in the 1980s, I listened to (Summitt) at my first clinic and I knew that I wanted to be a coach. She inspired me, and gave us all an example of what it takes to chase excellence.

Thanks Pat for showing us the way,” Bluder added.

Many of Summitt's former players and coaches began to make their way to her bedside late last week and continued into the day before her death.

I was always impressed with how all of her former players spoke about her,” said former UT quarterback Peyton Manning. “You speak to people like Tamika Catchings or Chamique Holdsclaw and they talk about the role (Summitt) played in all their lives. You can just tell the impact she had on those players.”

A private service and burial for family and friends will be held for Summitt in Middle Tennessee. A public service to celebrate her life is schedule to take place on July 14 at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Ray Maloney
Rita Murphy
Bob Feeney
Grady Peninger
I Support the Pat Summitt Foundation and Hope You Will Too.
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