Loose Change, 3/21/08

I’m even mailing it in on my weekly links. Holy crap I suck…

  • Here’s a Q&A with Lehigh’s women’s lacrosse coach, who seems to hold the upstart Navy team in fairly high regard.
  • The Richmond Times-Dispatch had a nice little article about Chris Harris.
  • A wrestler at NAPS, Aaron Kalil, won a national title.
  • Speaking of wrestling, three Navy wrestlers have advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.
  • Inside Lacrosse has their analysis of Navy lacrosse’s 4-3 OT win over Bucknell here. One point here… Sean Burns says, “I don’t know exactly how a team that has made four straight NCAA tournaments and came into the season ranked No. 9 in the country can play the ‘no respect’ card, but Navy seems to be doing just that in ’08.” He then follows that up with a heading of, “Patriot League: no longer Navy’s playground.” Gee, I wonder where Navy’s getting that idea?
  • And in non-sports news, some duty driver is probably in a lot of trouble right now.

Again, I apologize for my recent funk. One day I hope to write something worth reading.

Loose Change 3/14/08

Odds & ends you may have missed over the past week:

  • Did I mention my March of Dimes walk?
  • Ken Niumatalolo added one more assistant to his coaching staff, hiring former Harvard wide receivers coach Mike Judge to be the new fullbacks coach. The announcement was a bit of a surprise, as Ivin Jasper was originally supposed to coach both the quarterbacks and the fullbacks. I don’t know what changed there.
  • It’s time for this year’s College Football Hall of Fame elections, and once again Wayne Hardin is on the ballot. You may be interested to know that Pat Tillman is as well. Chet Moeller, unfortunately, is not.
  • The Mid-Majority listed its picks for conference award winners. The blog agrees with the Patriot League’s pick for Player of the Year in Greg Sprink, but endorsed Jeff Jones for the coaching honors.
  • It’s spring break at USNA, and the women’s soccer team is spending it in Spain.
  • Spring break also means a trip for the lacrosse team, and for the second straight year they’ll be heading to Dallas. Coming off their best performance of the season against Lehigh, the Mids will look to keep their Patriot League momentum rolling tomorrow when they play Holy Cross at Texas Stadium. A little bit more on the event here. I liked it better when the team went to Orlando on spring break, but I’m biased.
  • Yale Eckert tossed a one-hitter against Iona. And they use aluminum bats!
  • There was a piece in the Washington Times about the Foundation.
  • Matt DaSilva at Lacrosse Magazine ponders whether the Navy women’s lacrosse team will be 16-0 at the end of April. We will find out just how good these Mids are when they take on defending Patriot League champs Holy Cross this weekend.
  • Mike Preston, who is quickly becoming a favorite of mine, discusses how much of a crock it was for the NCAA to have given an extra year of eligibility to last year’s Duke lacrosse seniors.
  • And finally, Mansfield certainly seems to be generating a lot of hoopla for their new sprint football team. But to give you a feel for the current state of sprint football, we have this:

    Steve McCloskey, Mansfield’s director of athletic operations and information, explained that the CSFL season generally includes seven or eight games, and there are no playoffs. The Mountaineers will not compete against Army and Navy this season as the players there “are in training year-round. Their programs are elevated,” McCloskey said.

    He added that the university and the CSFL mutually agreed to give the Mountaineers two years to get ready for the service academies, but Mansfield could play Army and Navy as soon as next season if the Mountaineers think they’re ready.

    It takes two years just to get ready to play the service academies? Come on, it’s not like they’ll do any worse than Princeton. (Oh, and pay no attention to the part in the article that says Cornell won the league this year).

Clubber Gets a New Deal (and other stuff)

Yessir, Billy Lange is now signed through 2012-2013. Some might have described Coach Lange’s hiring as “Gladchuk’s Folly” a few years ago, but he has now produced a winning season, and for that our esteemed coach has been rewarded. Some of you might feel that one season of mild success isn’t enough to warrant a 5-year extension, but I say this is a good move. Practically speaking, it’s important for recruiting purposes. Coach Lange was heading into the final year of his contract. It’s hard to convince anyone of the stability of your program when it isn’t even contractually assured that you’ll be around the next season. Still, Navy fans don’t want another Charlie Weatherbie situation. Weatherbie used his success in 1996 to sign a 10-year contract, but the football program tanked soon afterwards. Navy was stuck paying their former coach for 5 years after he was fired. Naturally, we don’t want the same situation with our basketball coach. But the terms of the contract haven’t been released, so we don’t really know if we’ll be stuck should things go south. (Besides, we already were in that situation with our basketball coach. Don DeVoe was still on the payroll last year.)

I don’t think that we need to worry about that, anyway. Navy basketball has, in my opinion, turned the corner. Over the last few years, Navy wins came when the team had some abnormally high 3-point percentage. They seemed almost flukish. That wasn’t the case this year, especially once the Patriot League season started. The Mids hit 3-pointers at times, but in other games they won by generating steals and getting to the free throw line. By midseason, there was more to this team than just long-range shooting. The team and the coach matured before our eyes. By the time we lost to Howard, I had finally jumped off the Billy Lange bandwagon. I was wrong. I am confident that this year wasn’t a fluke.

Sneaky! Stan Brock has a new offense, but don’t tell anybody! The Army head coach revealed that the coaches’ “retreat” was over, and a new offense is at hand. Just what that offense consists of, he isn’t saying:

“I’m trying to keep it wrapped up for as long as I can,” Brock said. “As long as I do, my opponents don’t know what we are running.”

You mean “opponent,” Stan, because as soon as you play your first game, everyone’s going to know what your offense looks like. What, exactly, is he hoping to accomplish? To try to pull a fast one on Temple? It isn’t like there won’t be reports all over the internet and in the papers anyway once practice starts.What a gong show. Coach Brock needs to be telling anyone who will listen all about the new offense. Give downtrodden Army fans something to be excited about. Generate a little buzz about the the program. This is one of those times when the AD should pull the coach aside, tell him “tough luck,” and start a marketing campaign all about the new-look Army football team. You might gain yourself an advantage for the first half of your season opener, Coach, but that’s hardly worth it in the big picture.

Scheduling update: Mid-American Conference schedules have been released, and two of Navy’s games against MAC opponents have been moved to weeknights. The Ball State game was moved ahead to a Thursday Friday night and will be shown on ESPN. Navy’s trip to Northern Illinois was moved back a couple of days and will now be played on Tuesday night and shown on ESPN2. Ah, November night games in Illinois. Toasty! Anyway, it will be nice to have a Navy game going on in the background of one of ESPN’s local eatery reports and midweek previews of BCS conference games to be played over the weekend.

Shameless solicitation: Good news for people in a generous mood, but unsure of what to do with all of that good will! You can support my March of Dimes walk!

Loose Change 3/7/08

Odds & ends you may have missed over the past week:

  • Spring football practice is beginning around the country, and ESPN.com has three sentences on Navy. You may not have heard, but we have a new head coach!
  • Sadly, Tom Marryott will not be returning next year as the women’s basketball coach. Given the decline of the program since its mid-’90s heyday, this news isn’t much of a surprise. But the inevitablility doesn’t make it any less depressing. The son of a former superintendent, Marryott has been a part of the Navy family his entire life. Marryott was an assistant with the men’s program when he took over the women’s team on an interim basis following the sudden resignation of Joe Sanchez five years ago. After showing some promise in that interim season, Chet awarded Marryott the permanent gig. But the team never seemed to gather much momentum, even in a conference that, frankly, isn’t very good. The rise of the Army program probably didn’t help matters. It’s a shame that things didn’t work out. I think Navy fans everywhere wish Coach Marryott all the best in the future. His staff remains in place for now. We anxiously await word on a new coach!
  • This has been making the rounds in the national news, but since schools selling their souls for athletic success has been a hot topic on this blog, I thought I’d mention it here. Harvard is now under the microscope.
  • In the “no-brainer” category, David Robinson has been nominated for the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.
  • Bad news keeps pouring in for the Air Force basketball program as freshman Mark Summerfield has left the Academy. Nothing sinister about this one, though. The kid just decided the military wasn’t for him. It happens.
  • Remember the Patriot Bowl? The game that was supposed to be between a service academy and a MAC school, held in Cleveland each year as part of a festival of military demonstrations and whatnot? Well, it’s still happening. Just without a service academy.
  • Remember the AAFL? The new professional football league centered around major college football hubs? There were reports of that league’s demise yesterday, although those appear to have been a little premature. But the league is facing some problems right now, and may have to postpone their inaugural season until 2009.
  • Army’s home opener against Temple has been moved to Friday night. I don’t care any more than you do, but there was a line in the press release that I found interesting:

    It will mark the only non-Saturday football game of the year for the Black Knights, home or away. Each of the Army’s remaining 11 contests, including all five home games, will remain on Saturday. Kickoff times for all of those games will be announced later in the year.

    I thought that part of Army’s ESPN contract was that they would play 1-2 games per year on either ESPN or ESPN2. That means Thursday or Friday night, since ESPN usually leaves their Saturdays free for BCS-conference games. Does this mean that Army could be geting a game on the Mothership on an actual Saturday? OK, so maybe that wasn’t really interesting either.

  • The women’s lacrosse team won again. This time they pitched a shutout, beating St. Francis (PA) 24-0 in a game that was originally supposed to be the season opener. Maybe the right baseball analogy would be a perfect game, since the Mids prevented the hapless Red Flash from even taking a shot. OK, now this is getting ridiculous. Navy’s newest varsity team has a slightly more interesting matchup tomorrow with fellow Division I newcomer Cincinnati, followed by what will probably be another snoozer on Sunday against St. Mary’s. Fortunately, Patriot League play starts next weekend, with Holy Cross coming to town.
  • Not sports related, but now mids can do part of their summer cruise at a U.S. Embassy? Really? How cool is that?
  • Hold your nose before you read this love-fest for Air Force coaches. It’s nothing that you’d otherwise care about, but it includes a Paul Johnson quote.
  • ESPN.com says, “Bucknell senior John Griffin tapped into all his experience to hit a 40-footer to beat Navy.” Experience? Do they practice that shot at Bucknell or something? I guess “John Griffin gets lucky” isn’t as good of a read. Anyway, our friend Gary Lambrecht weighs in on Navy basketball, too.
  • And finally… The first one was so massive, it changed my life forever. And now it’s happening again! I’m talking, of course, about the Sale of the Century, the greatest idea in the history of human thought. Last time, there were all kinds of jerseys, sweatshirts, t-shirts, duffel bags, ballcaps, and enough equipment to outfit a small lacrosse league. This time, if the retired Under Armour lax jerseys are on sale, there may have to be contests of strength and skill just to determine who gets the chance to buy them. The SOTC will be held before the Hopkins game. The weekend’s fun actually begins the night before with the annual Blue & Gold spring football game. GoMids.com is sponsoring a tailgater before the game, sponsored by Red Hot & Blue. David Ausiello is coordinating the event, and has announced that any proceeds will go to the Fallyn Zembiec Educational Fund:

    GOMIDS.COM TO HOST SPRING GAME TAILGATER

    All Proceeds to Benefit Education Fund for Daughter of Former Navy Wrestler

    (Annapolis, MD) – GOMIDS.COM will be hosting its first-ever tailgate party on Friday, April 18th prior to Navy football’s annual Blue & Gold spring game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland.  The party will begin at 5 p.m. and food will be available until 8 p.m. – one hour after the game begins.

    All proceeds from the tailgate will be donated to the Fallyn Zembiec Educational Fund established to honor the memory of her father, Doug, who was killed on May 11, 2007 in combat operations in Baghdad, Iraq.

    Zembiec, 34, a career Marine who held the rank of Major, graduated in 1995 from the United States Naval Academy where he was a two-time All-American wrestler.

    The Annapolis eatery, Red, Hot & Blue is catering the event, and the cost (which includes drinks) is $25 for adults and $10 for children, 12 and under.   Tickets must be purchased by April 4th.  Click here to buy your tickets today.

    Most of you probably already know the story of former Navy All-American and “Lion of Fallujah” Doug Zembiec. If not, you should. You can start here.

Composure

During the radio broadcast of Navy’s 72-66 win over Holy Cross in Alumni Hall two weeks ago, Bob Socci commented more than once about how flustered Holy Cross looked, while Navy was playing with relative composure. The Crusaders had won the regular-season Patriot League title four of the last seven years, while the upstart Navy team had finished either last or next to last in the League every year since 2001-2002. If you hadn’t already known that going in, you might have had the history of these two teams mixed up while watching the end of that game.

It was an important step for Billy Lange’s squad. In the past– as recently as a month earlier against Army– the Mids had a tendency to overreact. Their fast-paced, 3-point shooting style of play meant that it wasn’t at all unusual for them to race out to an early lead against teams that weren’t mentally prepared to handle that kind of aggressive basketball. But basketball is a game of runs, and when the other team started to get a little bit of momentum, Navy got way too desperate, way too early. Shot selection got worse. Passing was forced, leading to more turnovers. There were more fouls 20+ feet from the basket. Added up, it compounded the problem. What should have been an 8-0 run would become a game-altering 20-4 run. Navy would panic themselves out of games.

But that didn’t happen that night, nor did it happen at any other point during the 6-game winning streak that shot Navy to the top of the conference standings. In only one of those 6 games– at home against American– did Navy win a game by a double-digit margin. Against Army, the Mids actually had to claw their way back from a 10-point deficit. Navy didn’t build a huge lead and coast to victory in those six games; they played hard-fought basketball for 40 minutes, and found ways to pull away at the end. They were composed.

In the Patriot League tournament quarterfinals last night against Bucknell, we saw both the best and the worst of Navy basketball. It was an entire season wrapped into one game. The first half was the best of Navy; the 3-point shooting, Greg Sprink driving to the basket, and an aggressive defense that leads to steals. The second half was the opposite; Navy shot only 28% from the floor while allowing Bucknell to hit 52% of their shots and erase a 10-point lead that Navy had going into the locker room.

I was very tempted last night to call it a choke, but that wouldn’t be fair. Yes, Navy blew a 17-point lead, and the game should not have gone to overtime. But it did. And once overtime began, the composure that was missing in second half reappeared. Kaleo Kina’s 3-pointer to send the game into a third overtime was as clutch as it gets. T.J. Topercer’s rebound and putback with two seconds left in that third overtime should have been good enough to win the game. Sometimes miracles happen, but when they do it’s really only a miracle for one team. For the other, it’s a curse. I’m not sure what we did to deserve that kind of retribution, but if you’re reading, Karma– I consider our debt to be paid.

You win some, you lose some, you have your heart so thoroughly ripped to shreds that you wonder if caring so much is reducing your life span some. Such is life in the world of sports. Another fact of a sports fan’s life is that the end of one season only means the beginning of offseason speculation and looking ahead to the next season. And the big question for Navy next season is what life will be like without Greg Sprink. The Patriot League Player of the Year was a statistical juggernaut, leading the conference in scoring, finishing second in rebounding, and ranking in the top 15 in both assists and steals. How can Billy Lange replace that kind of production? Well, he can’t– not with one player, anyway. But taking a look at who is returning for the Mids, one can find each of Greg’s best qualities divided amongst them. Chris Harris has proven that he can be a reliable long-range scoring threat. Clif Colbert can make athletic moves to the basket. Romeo Garcia does all the little things you don’t usually see in a freshman, playing tough defense, fighting for rebounds, blocking shots, and grabbing steals. He is only going to get better as his offensive game develops. O.J. Avworo will be stepping in as a true point guard, directing the offense and dishing out assists– the 3.1 per game that he averaged as a freshman at Idaho would have been in the top 10 in the Patriot League this year. Sprink’s ability will still be on the team; it just won’t be concentrated in one man. As a result, the team might actually be tougher to defend, as defenses won’t be able to focus on stopping one player. Add in Kaleo Kina’s ability to take over a game on occasion, Adam Teague’s 3-point shooting, and the continued development of players like Mark Veazey (who showed flashes of brilliance at times), Jeremy Wilson, and T.J. Topercer, and there is every reason to believe that Navy will actually be better next year.

But that’s next year. Right now, the end of this year still stings. Yet as tough as the last game was to endure, it shouldn’t hang over the season as a whole. Should this season be considered a success? Despite losing a shot at the regular-season Patriot League title and flaming out once again in the tournament quarterfinals, I think the answer has to be “yes.” This season proved a lot. When the Patriot League started allowing basketball scholarships, there were people who thought that Navy wouldn’t be able to contend for the league title again. This year showed that we can. As Bucknell was winning NCAA tournament games and Holy Cross advanced in the NIT, some people questioned whether Navy would be able to produce talent capable of matching up with the Patriot League’s best. But the conference’s top player this year wore the Blue & Gold. Other people said that a service academy wouldn’t be able to win playing up-tempo basketball, and that Navy’s only shot to be competitive in the Patriot League was to play a Princeton offense. But Billy Lange has a Coach of the Year award that proves that isn’t the case. And with two starters and a key reserve leaving the team before the start of the season, some people– including me– asked themselves how the Mids would be able to respond. The answer? Brilliantly, with the team’s first overall winning season and best conference finish since 2000-2001. Make no mistake, now– Navy basketball is still a work in progress. But this year we could finally see some of that progress, and there’s no reason to think that the trend won’t continue.

Busy Weekend

BASKETBALL: After Wednesday’s win over American, Saturday’s 73-62 loss to Colgate was a real letdown. So much for first place; American beat Lafayette and claimed the regular-season Patriot League crown. Their reward is a first-round game against Holy Cross, whose loss to Lehigh on Saturday clinched the Crusaders’ descent from first to worst. Don’t think that Holy Cross is the worst team in the league, though; while I’d still rather have the Patriot League championship and automatic NIT bid under our belts, for the purposes of the league tournament it might have been better to finish second. Then again, maybe not; Army’s 54-51 win over Bucknell pushed the Bison into the 7 seed and a first-round matchup with Navy. No matter what their league records are, it just doesn’t feel like playing Holy Cross or Bucknell is much of a reward for finishing on top of the conference.

Navy’s likely 2nd round matchup, should they beat Bucknell, would be against Colgate. If Navy wins this thing, they’ll definitely have earned it. The tournament starts Wednesday at the home courts of the higher seeds. The official tournament bracket is here.

BASEBALL: Navy might have been picked to finish first in the Patriot League, but over the weekend they had their hands full with the Ivy League. The Mids dropped two out of three to Dartmouth and fell to 3-3 on the year. Be more careful on your home run trots, Mitch!

LACROSSE: Navy beat Mount St. Mary’s 12-5 on Friday night. After an initial MSM posession that took up about half of the first quarter, Navy’s attack finally came alive. Nick Mirabito had a hat trick and two assists, while Tim Paul added a two goals to go along with two assists of his own. It was a somewhat unremarkable game, although it was a bit disturbing to see the Mount win 14 of 20 faceoffs. Navy’s next five games are all against Patriot League opponents, beginning with Lafayette on Saturday.

Speaking of the Patriot League, Army dominated Air Force 12-4 on Saturday, while Bucknell scored their own 8-7 overtime win over Ohio State. Meanwhile, everyone’s favorite sleeper team, Colgate, needed overtime to get by Canisius, 12-11.

WOMEN’S LACROSSE: Navy beat Niagara 21-5. I’m not going to pretend that I know anything about women’s lacrosse, but when a team in its first varsity season wins its first two games by a combined score of 42-15, it’s noteworthy. Yes, Niagara was 1-12 last year. But it’s good to know that the Mids are at least on a different level than that.

Loose Change 2/29/08

Odds & ends you may have missed over the past week:

  • There’s some speculation about Kyle Eckel’s future in Foxboro. Here’s one guy’s take on the state of the Patriots’ backfield, guessing that they may add a running back in the draft.
  • Navy basketball’s rise to the top of the Patriot League has meant added coverage from local papers, including this great writeup in the Times on Greg Sprink.
  • To the dismay of Maryland and Georgetown fans, one local hoops blogger thinks that David Robinson is the area’s all-time greatest basketball player.
  • Things are so bad at the Air Force Academy prep school that they’ve cancelled the rest of their basketball season.
  • The University of South Alabama is starting up a football team, with the goal of eventually moving into I-A in a few years. Once they do, they’re looking into lining up “quality opponents like Tennessee and Navy.”
  • The University of North Alabama already has a football team. A very good team, actually– one of the annual poll-toppers in Division II. They’re coached by former Navy offensive coordinator Mark Hudspeth, and one of the local papers published a story on him here.
  • A couple of lacrosse tidbits: first, the Tewaaraton watch list is out, and it includes Navy’s Jordan DiNola. In other news, a Big East lacrosse conference is in the works.
  • Former Navy baseball coach Bob MacDonald had a stint with the Mariners as a volunteer batting practice pitcher, among other things.
  • Former Navy football player turned cagefighter Brian Stann will be fighting for the WEC light heavyweight title on March 26th. I’ve seen a couple of his earlier fights, and they didn’t exactly last long. One guy took one punch from Stann, got an “oh God what did I get myself into” look on his face, then went down with the second punch. Still, there’s more to this stuff than just punching. We’ll see if Stann’s skills have developed beyond striking.
  • And finally, read this.