Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Basketball releases final schedule

The Davidson men's basketball office has released the 2007 schedule and it looks to be as good as advertised.

The Wildcats will open the season with D-III Emory, the school where former Davidson players Jason Zimmerman and Matt McKillop are now coaching. There is also an intriguing connection with two players on Emory's team: John and Ryan Kresse. The Kresse twins are sons of former College of Charleston coach John Kresse. Kresse was a great rival and friend of McKillop's when he coached the Cougars as they made the leap into the Southern Conference.

Another intriguing scheduling note is the relative lack of games in the middle to end of Christmas break. Davidson will only play two December games after the completion of the semester which could prove to be beneficial. The Wildcats have historically struggled in mid-winter contests where the players are kept at an empty school and often play in front of sparse crowds.

Davidson seems to have drawn a tough straw for the month of February. In the month known as the doldrums of college basketball, the Wildcats will play all of last year's conference bye teams, face off against the reigning SoCon Player of the Year (Kyle Hines, UNCG) twice and travel somewhere to play a top mid-major team in the ESPN BracketBusters game.

On a final scheduling note, the SoCon championship game will be played on a Monday night instead the Saturday and Sunday times of the last few years.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Women's soccer takes home crown

Two weeks ago, the Davidson women's soccer team all migrated through Commons to some of the back tables and split into three different groups. I watched with curiosity as they turned away non-soccer friends and had one of the more intense meals I had ever seen.

I learned later that the seemingly arbitrary three groups corresponded, in fact, to the players' positions. The dinner was the brainchild of senior captains Nancy Haskell, Bevin English and Kristen Koerhn.

The Wildcats were coming off two consecutive losses at the hands of Air Force and Colorado College, dropping them to 1-4 through their first five games of the season. With only three more games before the start of the season's conference schedule, the Wildcats knew that they had to right the ship. Fast.

The first step came on Sunday, September 16 when Davidson played Mercer at Alumni Field. The offensive sluggishness that had seemed to plague Davidson throughout the first month of the season reared its ugly head in the first part of that game. The Wildcats only got off two shots in the first 60 minutes of play. When the goals finally came, they came quickly. Kyri Bye-Nagel, Lauren Conner and Amanda Flink all combined to punch home big shots and the 'Cats prevailed 3-1. The three goals combined to more than double Davidson's offensive output over its first five games.

With Davidson clinging to its one-game spurt of offensive efficiency, the 'Cats took the field against SEC foe Vanderbilt on last Friday's opener to the College of Charleston tournament. Any hopes of lingering effects of the Mercer win were seemingly dashed in the first 45 minutes of play.

The Davidson midfield was outhustled on every offensive push and the Wildcat defense was constantly on its heels as the Commodores continued to press their advantage. Although she gave up one first half goal, Bevin English was superb in goal stopping shot after shot. At halftime, it looked as though the 0-1 disadvantage would be insurmountable. Vanderbilt was just too fast, too physical.

I'm not one for putting huge merit into the effects of halftime speeches, but I'm sure that Greg Ashton must have said something pretty inspiring during the break. The Wildcats came out with a fiery vengeance in the second half and Vanderbilt didn't seem to know what hit them. Kyri Bye-Nagel provided the equalizer just five minutes into the second half, as she received a cross from Lauren Conner and put the shot where it couldn't be touched.

The Davidson midfield and defense responded with a new physicality that obviously frustrated the Commodores. Although Vanderbilt was able to get several more excellent shot opportunities, they could not find the touch and the Wildcats took the game into overtime. With the momentum obviously on their side, Davidson kept pressing the attack and was finally awarded with a corner kick for Nancy Haskell. Haskell fired the ball into the crowd where it found the head of Blakely Low who fired home the game-winner.

Sunday morning dawned bright for Davidson as they found themselves in an unusual position, playing for a tournament championship. The first half featured a hell-fire LSU attack (they had scored two goals in the first five minutes in their win over College of Charleston in the first game), but Davidson was able to repulse the Tigers with some well-timed headers from Nancy Haskell and some strategic positioning of the goalposts.

Davidson began to return LSU's ferocity in the midfield game, and right before halftime Courtney Hart was able to find the back of the net to give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead. As odd as it seemed to the entire LSU contingency in Charleston, Davidson was in control.

For a brief period, though, that control was put in limbo. With under five minutes to play in the first period, goalkeeper Bevin English collided with a Tiger forward in a mad scramble for a loose ball. English received an inadvertent kick to the back of her head and took her time to return to her feet. To the delight of English's hometown fans, she regained her stability and stayed in the game.

Halfway through the second half, after multiple LSU scoring threats were thwarted by the defense of Lauren Conner, Kristen Koerhn navigated her way up the Tiger baseline and sent a cross into the box. The ball found the heel of Conner who sent it ricocheting into the corner of the net. Davidson's lead was two and the SEC favorite was toast. Kyri Bye-Nagel added an insurance goal on a runaway and the shutout 3-0 score held.

For the Wildcats, it was a weekend of rejoicing after the long month of September. For the underclassmen, there was the realization that they could make a real impact on this team and lead it to victory. For the veterans, there was redemption and validation after they had repeatedly assured their mates of better things to come through grit and teamwork. For this Wildcat fan, it was just another opportunity to cheer on the little guy and see the reality of hope through sports. It was a great day to be a Wildcat.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Night with the Cats on ESPNU

Davidson athletic director Jim Murphy announced today that Davidson basketball's "A Night with the Cats" will air tape delayed on ESPNU. The preseason kickoff event is in its third year in the current form and is planned for the night of October 11 at 9 pm. ESPNU will air the event on the 12th.

In the past, NWTC has featured dance acts and skits performed by the men's and women's basketball teams, followed by an intrasquad scrimmage. This year, Coach McKillop has said that he has moved individual workouts to allow for three-point shooting and dunk contests at the event.

This announcement comes in the middle of a very busy fall that has seen the Wildcat athletic program gear up for what is already being predicted as one of the biggest men's basketball seasons in decades.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

McKillopville Returns

Three years ago, in the fall of 2004, the Davidson athletic department released student tickets for the men's basketball home game against Duke in Charlotte Coliseum.

The night before the release, there was a smattering of tents and students sitting in folding chairs quietly doing homework and playing acoustic guitar. The next morning found a line that reached to Baker Drive for the 8 a.m. ticket release.

Three postseason appearances, two conference championships and one Mid-Major Freshman of the Year later, McKillopville appeared.

This season, Davidson will host national powers Duke and North Carolina in Charlotte's Bobcats Arena. Many national media voices have said that the Wildcats have a chance to knock off one or both of the ACC juggernauts.

By 7 p.m. on Tuesday night, students were already erecting tents and collecting their friend's CatCards. By midnight, the Baker plaza was a veritable madhouse.

"I have been looking forward to this night for weeks," Danny Goldstein '11 said. "I have three basketball players on my hall, and I just know that we're going to beat Duke and North Carolina this year."

Goldstein promises that he and his friends will be decked out in full body paint and have elaborate signs for the ESPN cameras.

Right behind Goldstein's group was a collection of senior students whose enthusiasm was a bit more tempered, though radical nonetheless.

"I am really excited about this season," Ben Young '08 said. "My class has seen some great basketball in our years here. We're definitely hoping that this year is one of the best so far."

The overwhelming amount of energy and dedication displayed by the scores of students erecting tents all over the Baker plaza should come as no surprise after the performance of last year's NCAA Tournament team.

Last year, Davidson set new attendance marks in home games against Charlotte and Appalachian State. Oftentimes, students arriving late were forced to sit near the Belk Arena rafters as many students had picked up tickets earlier in the week.

"We definitely want to encourage student involvement with our basketball team this year," Director of Marketing Martin McCann said. "We have worked out a very good deal with the Bobcats Arena in terms of getting students the best seats in the house."

As the first tickets reached the hands of students in the early morning on Wednesday, the 2007-2008 season officially got underway. It will be one to remember.

Why the Top 25 in September?

For many years, the college football Top 25 polls have been major sources of controversy. Year in and year out, it always seems that at least one major college football power gets screwed over. The BCS system has received unparalleled criticism in the light of several prominent national championship debacles, and the Top 25 polls have been in the midst of end-of-season controversy since the beginning of time with USC, Auburn and Michigan as the most recent victims of controversy.

At this point, all of you think you know where I am going with this one: institute an all-encompassing playoff system. Ha…fooled you. Well, I do think that college football should institute a 16-team playoff. But, ultimately, I believe that college sports will always have to deal with some form of controversy surrounding the decisions of the powerful few. When college football finally moves to a playoff format, there will be controversy over who gets left out of the playoffs.

Let me remind you of all of the conspiracy theories that perennially go down on college basketball's Selection Sunday, despite the popular belief that the 65-team tournament is one of the greatest events in sports.
I actually hope to convince you that college football's Top 25 polling system needs reform, not at the end of the season when national championships are on the line, but rather at the beginning of the season when voters are most uninformed.

After another exciting win this week for LSU over Virginia Tech, the Tigers remain in the polls' second place behind a USC team that has yet to play any formidable opponent. How can the voters really judge the Trojans to be better than LSU at this point. Why not wait a week or two until they have more results to analyze?

Last week, we marveled at the accomplishment of Appalachian State becoming the first I-AA school to beat a team ranked in the Top 10 in the country. Well, as it turns out, Michigan probably should never been in the Top 10. The Wolverines dropped to 0-2 this week after getting embarrassed in the Big House by the Oregon Ducks.

Not to discredit the achievements of Appalachian State's football program, but I personally don't believe that the Mountaineers beat the country's fifth-best team. However, the record books will always reflect the accomplishment in that light.

I suggest that Top 25 polls of all sports, but most especially college football, should not be released until teams play at least one or two games. One might argue that there's no reason to do that since the polls don't matter until November anyway. Well, yeah. Why should we worry about a system in which the voters are uniformed and it admittedly doesn't matter. Let's just wait a few weeks and then the initial picks will be more accurate. That solution doesn't hurt anyone. Well, except maybe Michigan.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Belk Arena Renovation

Amidst continual urging from fans, alumni and students to upgrade Belk Arena, the athletic department has invested in brand new scoreboards. The old scoreboards are being removed this weekend to make room for new "state-of-the-art" technology that, frankly, is long overdue at Davidson.

The new scoreboards will have side panels that keep track of individual stats for the active players...a renovation that will take all of the fun out of estimating how many points Stephen Curry has scored. The light bulbs will also be of a newer generation, hopefully providing a smoother look and longer-lasting durability.

The new scoreboards will certainly be a helpful polish on the product that Davidson College is trying to sell to its student body, alumni community and wider Charlotte populace.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Davidsonian is back

The Davidsonian Online is finally back in full swing. Head over to the student newspaper website for sports articles about the weekend's sports events, the new SID, the current state of men's basketball, and the precedent of Appalachian State.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Add another one to the list: Appalachian State beats Michigan

"This wasn't an upset based on what I saw on the field. Appalachian State was better and they won."

--Lou Holtz

As much as Davidson fans love to hate on our SoCon rivals over the mountains and through the woods in Boone, you have to appreciate the sort of precedent that Appalachian State set today in terms of college football and college athletics on the whole.

Homers for the big conferences can always point to numbers of national championships and athletic endowments, but the fact remains that the major conferences and sports powerhouses do not hold every key to the doors of success any more.

Whether it's George Mason running into the Final Four...Boise State, Wake Forest and now Appalachian State having success in places where college football's elite have long held court (Oklahoma, Florida State and Michigan respectively)...or whether it's Vanderbilt scrapping their athletic department all together to focus on academics and having one of their most successful years in the SEC in their history.

The gate has been thrown open and I doubt whether it will be shut in any meaningful way ever again. Back in January, I pontificated about the need for a playoff system in college football. Today we saw evidence that not only can a team from a lower conference be put into the national championship playoff picture, A I-AA TEAM CAN MAKE A LEGITIMATE CLAIM TO BE RANKED IN THE TOP 25 OF I-A FOOTBALL POLLS.

Just to give a little bit of history about how remarkable this is for both Appalachian State and the Southern Conference, this the first time that a FCS/I-AA school has beaten a Top 25 program in I-A. The last notable victory of an FCS team over a BCS team came when The Citadel knocked off Arkansas back in 1992.

Appalachian State will not be leaving the Southern Conference tomorrow and USC could very well win another football national championship this year, but for all of us little guys, we get one more test case for why we should get to play the big boys at every stop. We get to show that we don't need to have a lot of money in order to be smart and extremely athletic. Every once in a while, we're going to just flat outplay you.

Tonight Davidson fans can raise their hands and give their respects to the Mountaineers...because in exactly three months and 7 days the Wildcats will walk into the home environment of the most historically talented program in the history of college basketball and they will get their chance to put that SoCon logo back front and center on ESPN's homepage. The Mountaineers took down the blue and yellow today...Davidson will get their chance against the other blue and yellow on December 8. Long live the little guy.

Wildcats top Braves in home opener

UNC-Pembroke showed up at Richardson Field with more fans, more pep, and a band to boot, but ultimately the Davidson Wildcats showed them up between the sidelines, running to a 31-21 victory in the season's home opener in front of 4217 fans.

The game marked the first time that Pembroke had played football in 57 years and the school supported their team well, sending five charter buses of fans and family across the Piedmont of North Carolina. Before the game started, the black and gold-clad fans had already packed their seats and created a very real sense of electricity. When the marching band paraded in, the place nearly erupted.

The Davidson offense quickly silenced the visitors as they marched 91 yards down the field on nine plays to take a quick 7-0 lead. The Braves quickly struck back with a long 64 yard TD pass down the opposite sideline. But the ensuing extra point proved to be one of the emblematic moments of the night for the Braves. The kicker booted a line drive extra point that caromed off the backside of his center.

On the night, the Braves missed every single conversion opportunity, had a field goal blocked, lost a fumble and committed eight turnovers for 85 yards.

Davidson's offense, on the other hand, looked like a well-oiled least until starting QB Ryan Alexander went down with injury. Alexander went 12-17 for 124 yards and a TD as he led Davidson to a 14-6 lead after the first quarter. But with 12:45 left in the first half, the senior leader scrambled out of the pocket on a third down attempt and was hit hard by UNCP defender. He would sit out the rest of the game with his shoulder in a sling.

With the team's aerial leader on the sidelines, running back Chad Barnes stepped in to carry the workload. The junior back finished with 29 carries and 179 yards on the ground. Despite having the defense pretty much key on him for most of the second half, Barnes was able to power his way through the line and keep the chains moving at a steady clip.

Defensively, linebacker Bud Crawford had a big night for the Wildcats as he recorded 5 tackles, had an interception and blocked a field goal try.

Davidson will continue its non-conference schedule next week when they take on Wingate on the road.