Thursday, April 10, 2014

JMU's Burkholder, Brooks, HU's Tate-DeFreitas highlight all-LadySwish team

Player of the Year

Kirby Burkholder, JMU

It was the run-up to the 2011-12 season, and JMU coach Kenny Brooks was talking about which Dukes would fill the considerable offensive void created by the departure of Dawn Evans. He ticked off two or three names, then added, There's also Kirby Burkholder. She's really improved a lot."

At the time, we admired Brooks for finding a way to mention all of his players in the preseason preview. We just weren't sure how seriously to take this. Burkholder? The one who scored 31 points her entire freshman year? Sure she's gotten better - how could she not? But you honestly want us to believe this kid's going to replace Dawn Evans?

Well, this is why JMU pays Brooks all that money. For while no one can truly replace a player as uniquely gifted as Evans, Burkholder gradually carved out her own distinct Dukes legend. Burkholder's brilliance was rooted in her remarkable ability to dramatically improve each year she was on campus. The 6-foot forward went from her 31-point freshman season to a third-team All-Colonial Athletic Association pick. Her junior year, she was first-team All-CAA. And in 2013-14, Burkholder earned conference player of the year honors while spearheading JMU's Shermanesque run through the CAA. She then notched 28 points and 18 rebounds as the Dukes knocked off Gonzaga to bag the program's first NCAA tournament win since 1991.

Her production - Burkholder led the Dukes in points, rebounds, steals and minutes played - and leadership skills make her a clear choice as the LadySwish Player of the Year.

It's also made us realize we ought to pay much more attention to who Brooks tells us about this preseason.

First Team

Kirby Burkholder, Sr., JMU
   - CAA Player of the Year. Averaged team-leading 18.6 ppg, 8.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals. Shot 89.3 percent from the free-throw line and made her last 30 FTs as a collegian.

Alyssa Bennett, Sr. Hampton
   - Two-time MEAC Defensive Player of the Year and the most outstanding player at the 2014 MEAC Tournament. Averaged 17.9 points and 9.4 rebounds.

Uju Ugoka, Sr., Virginia Tech
   - Set program records with 16 double-doubles and 213 field goals. Led Tech in scoring (18.4 ppg) and rebounding (9.6 rpg). Earned second-team All-ACC honors and was also named to the league's All-Academic team.

Shae Kelley, Sr., Old Dominion
   - Became just the fifth Lady Monarch to scored 1,000 points in her first two seasons at ODU. Averaged team-leading totals of 17.8 points and 9.7 rebounds and also paced ODU in blocked shots and steals . A first-team All-Conference USA selection.

Robyn Parks, VCU
   - Led the Atlantic 10 in scoring (21.5 ppg) for the second straight year and ended her career ranked in the Top 10 of the program's all-time lists in points (sixth), free throws (third), rebounding (seventh), steals (10th), double-doubles (fifth) and games played (second). A first-team All-Atlantic 10 pick.

Second Team

Nicole Hamilton, Hampton: Fabulous shot blocker and a first-team all-MEAC selection who ends her career with 1,158 points.

Nikki Newman, James Madison: The two-time CAA Defensive Player of the Year has the amazing ability to impact every possession on both ends of the floor.

Rachel Gordon, Norfolk State: The MEAC's top rebounder was NSU's first conference first-teamer since the 2001-02 season.

Ashley Rininger, Liberty: First-team all Big South, the sophomore collected 16 double-doubles, ranking second in the conference in field-goal percentage.

Ataira Franklin, Virginia: Finishes her Cavalier career with 1,619 points, ranking her 11th.

Coach of the Year

Kenny Brooks, JMU

No, the Dukes didn't win an NCAA title. But in just about every other aspect - 29 victories, a long-awaited NCAA triumph, local stars leading the way, an all-alum staff, record-setting crowd on Senior Night - 2013-14 was about as close as it gets to a dream season.

Freshman of the Year

Malia Tate-DeFreitas, Hampton

Freshmen are typically seen but not heard from at Hampton. But coach David Six tossed the precocious Tate-DeFreitas into the middle of a veteran cast and gave her the green light. Tate-DeFreitas responded by being the leading scorer on yet another MEAC championship squad.

All-Freshman Team

Malia Tate-Defreitas, Hampton: The Pirates' offensive machine was fourth best in the MEAC at 18.1 ppg.

Marlena Tremba, William & Mary: The CAA Rookie of the Year scored in double figures 22 times, making 14 starts.

Olivia Healy, Richmond: Before suffering a season-ending knee injury vs. St. Louis, the 5-11 guard averaged 12.3 ppg and boasted a .419 FG percentage.

Isis Thorpe, VCU: Started 16 games and averaged 12.2 ppg with big nights against Ohio State (20 points) and St. Bonaventure (19 points).

Keira Robinson, VCU: Formidable point guard handed out 200 assists and averaged 11.4 ppg while starting all but one game.

Finally, there were a host of memorable games over the course of the 2013-14 season. Here are a few of our favorites:

Nov. 21

Longwood 67, Xavier 64:
The idea of the Lancers knocking off a Big East team, even a fuzzy-cheeked conference newcomer like Xavier, would have been far-fetched throughout most of Longwood's Division I history. But that was before the Lancers bagged what the school proudly proclaimed as the biggest win in program history. Daeisha Brown led the way with 26 points, six rebounds and five assists, and Heather Tobeck was the late-game heroine after splashing the go-ahead 3-pointer with 30 seconds left. "I knew it was good the moment it left her hand," Lancers coach Bill Reinson would say later.  Alas, the season went south for the Lancers after this, but as this game proved, the campaign wasn't without a few defining moments.

Nov. 30

William and Mary 96, UMass 88 (OT)
The Tribe's first victory of the season was truly a team effort as Jazmen Boone (24 points), Kyla Kerstetter (18), Marlena Tremba (15), Kaitlyn Mathieu (14) and Anna Kestler (12) all scored in double figures. But for us, the game's gold star belonged to freshman Latrice Hunter, who calmly sank two free throws with four seconds left to force overtime. Hunter had missed two free throws with one second left in the first half and was 0-for-3 when she stepped to the line at the end of regulation. For the game, the Tribe went 25 of 28 from the line, with Hunter accounting for the only misses. But when she absolutely, positively had to get it done, Hunter was money.

Dec. 7

Virginia Tech 72, Michigan State 66
A year earlier, the Hokies scored just 29 points the entire game in a 28-point loss to the Spartans, but a revamped Tech lit up the scoreboard (relatively speaking) in the rematch as Uju Ugoka, Vanessa Panousis, Hannah Young and Monet Tellier took turns piling up the points in a wild game that saw the Hokies get a big lead, lose it, get another big lead, lose it again, then fashion a 10-1 run to finally close the Spartans out. After this one, we were sure we were watching two NCAA tournament teams. Unfortunately, only Michigan State would qualify for the big show.

Jan. 4

VCU 71, Duquesne 68
Robyn Parks flat-out went off in the second half, scoring 22 of her 31 points and almost singlehandedly rallying the Rams (14-1) to their school-record 13th straight victory. To be fair, most of the victories during the streak came at the expense of rebuilding teams. So for many, this victory was the first true indication that these Rams were for real.

Jan. 11

Norfolk State 73, UMES 66
The Spartans hadn't won a true road game since the end of the 2011-12 season, so it was pleasantly surprising to see them march into Princess Anne, Md., and handle the Lady Hawks. Rae Corbo led the way with 20 points, and rebounding machine Rachel Gordon added 19 while snatching 16 boards. The Spartans wound up finishing MEAC play with a better record in other teams' buildings (5-3) than they had in their own (3-5).

Jan. 16

Liberty 77, Winthrop 70 (OT)
It would wind up being Winthrop's year in the Big South, but the Lady Flames had final say in this one, rallying from 15 down in the first half, then surviving a buzzer-beater to tie at the end of regulation to pull away in OT. Ashley Rininger (20 points, 14 rebounds), Reagan Miller (17 points, all after halftime) and Mickayla Sanders (17 points) scored 12 of Liberty's 15 points in the extra period.

Jan. 23

Virginia 86, Maryland 72
The 6th-ranked Terrapins came in winners of 14 straight but were run out of John Paul Jones Arena by the seemingly resurgent Cavaliers, who shot 50 percent from the field and got 24 points from Kelsey Wolfe and 19 apiece from Ataira Franklin and Faith Randolph. The fact that it was the final Virginia-Maryland showdown before the Terps depart for the Big Ten made the victory that much sweeter. Of course, the Cavs were unable to follow up on this success, while Maryland danced its way to the Final Four. But on this night, the Cavaliers looked like the real ACC heavyweights.

Jan. 23

High Point 72, Radford 63
Talk about being dialed in. Highlanders sophomore Ayana Avery sank eight 3-pointers, including all seven she launched in the second half to help Radford make a game of it. "My teammates were finding me, and once you make two or three, your confidence grows," Avery said. The game kicked off a four-game stretch when Avery hit 23 3-pointers and shot percent 56 percent from distance. For the season, Avery connected on a school-record 95 treys.

Feb. 1

Old Dominion 65, Marshall 52
Down by 10 with 3:50 remaining, ODU appeared headed for an embarrassing home loss to Conference USA's last-place team. But that's when the Lady Monarchs climbed off the deck with a fury, using voracious offensive rebounding, lockdown defense and an unlikely 3-pointer by Shae Kelley to force overtime. The ODU assault continued in the extra period, and what looked to be a certain defeat turned into a comfortable victory. The Lady Monarchs wound up scoring 27 of the game's final 31 points.

Feb. 11

Richmond 78, Fordham 77 (2OT)
The resiliency of the Spiders was on full display against the eventual Atlantic 10 tournament champions. Kristina King's jumper with 11 seconds left in regulation tied things at 61 and forced overtime. King's 3-pointer with 15 tics left in OT made it 71-71 and prompted another extra period. And finally, freshman Janelle Hubbard's jumper with seven seconds left was the game-winner. King and the precocious Hubbard each finished with 29 points for the Spiders, who proved that even with their injury-depleted roster they could compete with - and beat - the A-10's best.

Feb. 12

George Mason 101, UMass 73
The Patriots took out a season's worth of frustration on UMass, putting up NBA numbers and finishing with their first triple-digit score since 1993. Janaa Pickard (25 points), Taylor Brown (25) and Sandra Ngoie (23) led the way as their Patriots notched their first victory of 2014. Mason also topped UMass in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament.

March 15

Hampton 50, Coppin State 47
How do you win a game shooting just 26 percent? If you're Hampton, you do it by holding your opponent to 25 percent. The Lady Pirates followed this formula in the MEAC tournament final, once again relying on elite defense to bail them out and cement their fifth straight conference tournament crown. Hampton also got a huge effort from senior guard Nicole Hamilton, who struggled mightily in the Lady Pirates' first two tournament game but scored 20 points and orchestrated most of the key offensive plays down the stretch in the final. The victory was Hampton's 49th straight against MEAC opponents, the longest active such streak in Division I.

March 23

JMU 72, Gonzaga 63
We saved the best for last. Not only was this the Dukes' first NCAA tournament victory since 1991, but it was the first NCAA triumph by any Virginia D-I program since 2009. The Dukes won it with defense, holding Gonzaga's offense in check until unleashing their own weapons down the stretch. Meanwhile, Burkholder (28 points, 18 rebounds) conducted a clinic on how to be the best player on the floor despite making just 4 of 17 shots.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Hello, and now goodbye, to VCU's Stollings

Marlene, we hardly knew ye.

Marlene Stollings will be introduced as head women's basketball coach at the University of Minnesota this afternoon at a press conference. Seems like yesterday that we were writing the same sentence about Stollings taking over at VCU. Indeed, that was June 5, 2012, when Stollings joined the Rams, leaving Winthrop after one season.

We can't argue with her credentials as Stollings turned around a Winthrop team and most recently, VCU, which finished 11-19 her first season and 22-10 this year. VCU ended its season with a loss to Princeton in the WNIT. Given her surge of young talent, we were expecting a bigger and better Rams team next year. If that happens, Stollings will not be leading the way.

Of course, Stollings is free to work where she wants, and no doubt, the Big 10 is more attractive than the Atlantic 10. But seven freshmen and four sophomores were on her roster this season. We're guessing most of them came there to play for Stollings, embracing her uptempo style coined "Fury."
Now with her office furniture hardly having the chance to gather dust, Stollings is gone to the tune of a six-year contract and far harsher winters than she endured in Richmond.

Yet her kids remain, perhaps. We don't know if any will transfer, but if they do, they will be required to sit out a year due to NCAA eligibility rules. And that's our real problem with this situation.

Like it or not, the rules of corporate America are to look out for No. 1. Employers aren't sentimental these days; employees and yes, that means coaches, put their own needs first. Nobody says it, but it's truth. That can mean job hopping, or three jobs in four years as is the case with Stollings.

While that's the way it is, it's not the way it always was. That's among the reasons Old Dominion was so fortunate to have Wendy Larry and Virginia to have Debbie Ryan. These were women not looking to climb the corporate ladder. They were invested in their institutions; these were their schools.

We feel for the Rams or any student-athlete left behind in a coaching transition. When kids are recruited, they are brought into the fold and told they are part of a family. The rhetoric sounds nice, but truth be told, sports is business not family. And the real travesty is when Coach leaves for a better job, the kids have to pick up the pieces, whether that means playing for a coach who didn't recruit them, sitting the bench for the rest of their time or leaving for another program and missing out on a year of ball.

More so, VCU wasn't built yet. The Rams were a good work in progress, but they hadn't been built yet. Isn't there something to be said for staying somewhere and building a program before you move on?

We bid Stollings adieu and honestly wish her well. But admittedly, what happened here leaves us cold.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Surgery on April 1 for James Madison's Evans

Surgery is just a bit more than 24 hours away for Dawn Evans.

The James Madison graduate will receive her cousin Erika's kidney on April 1. The 3 1/2-hour operation, Dawn explains in this six-minute video, will begin at 7 a.m. Central Time at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

"It's so real to me," Evans says in the video. "I'm excited, blessed about the whole circumstance."

She is also grateful that Erika is a good match. (You can read our story on Erika Evans here.)  If the operation is a success, Dawn will be able to dump the bag of 47 medications she takes every day for just five. When she heals, Dawn is planning to return to France to play basketball.

The video is her way of thanking all her supporters. "From the bottom, bottom of my heart, I thank  you," she says.

Dawn is suffering from focal segmental glomerular sclerosis.

We'll keep you posted on news.

You've got this, Dawn and Erika.

Monday, March 24, 2014

JMU snaps state drought in NCAAs

Yes, JMU's 72-63 decision over Gonzaga Sunday gave the 11th-seeded Dukes their first NCAA tournament win since 1991. But it also snapped a one-and-done drought for teams across the state.

The victory was the first in the NCAAs by a Division I Virginia school since 2009, when fifth-seeded Virginia opened tournament play with a 68-61 win over No. 12 Marist. The bottom fell out in the next round, though, as the Cavaliers fell 99-73 to a Cal team coached by current Virginia leader Joanne Boyle.

Two other state programs, Liberty and VCU, lost first-round games in 2009. And over the next four years, the 10 schools from the state that qualified for the NCAAs dropped their openers as well.

Earlier Sunday, the streak continued when Hampton fell to Michigan State.

The Dukes' victory over No. 6 Gonzaga also marked the first time a lower-seeded Virginia team prevailed in the tournament since 2008, when No. 5 Old Dominion nipped No. 4 Virginia 88-85 in overtime at the Constant Center for a berth in the Sweet 16.

For the last time a lower-seeded team from Virginia won on a neutral court, one has to go back to 2005. That year, 13th-seeded Liberty topped No. 4 Penn State 78-70 in College Park, Md. The Lady Flames went on to knock off No. 5 DePaul, too, before falling to No. 1 LSU.

By the way, in 2005 five Virginia teams made the NCAAs (Liberty, Old Dominion, Richmond, Virginia and Virginia Tech), the most of any state except California (7). Ah, the good ol' days....

On Tuesday, JMU will face No. 3 Texas A&M in second-round action in College Station, Texas. The last time a lower-seeded school from Virginia beat a higher seed in a true road game? In 2002, No. 7 Old Dominion ousted No. 2 Purdue 74-70 in overtime to advance to the Sweet 16. The Lady Monarchs went on to crush Kansas State before falling to arguably the greatest of the great UConn teams in the Elite Eight. That Huskies team featured four senior All-Americans. The fifth player was some sophomore named Diana Taurasi.

Virginia schools in the NCAA 
(since 2009)

2009 - Virginia (defeated No. 12 Marist, lost to No. 4 Cal); Liberty (lost to No. 3 Louisville); VCU (lost to No. 10 Rutgers)

2010 - Hampton (lost to No. 2 Duke); JMU (lost to No. 8 Temple); Liberty (lost No. 4 Kentucky); Virginia (lost to No. 12 Green Bay)

2011 - Hampton (lost to No. 4 Kentucky); JMU (lost to No. 6 Oklahoma)

2012 - Hampton (lost to No. 1 Stanford); Liberty (lost to No. 1 Notre Dame)

2013 - Liberty (lost to No. 4 Purdue); Hampton (lost to No. 2 Duke)

2014 - Hampton (lost to No. 5 Michigan State); JMU (defeated No. 6 Gonzaga; who knows what's next?)

Click here for JMU's extensive coverage of Sunday's victory, including full postgame quotes.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Hampton: 12th seed, 12 reasons to believe

NCAA Today
No. 12 Hampton (28-4) vs. No. 5 Michigan State (22-9
12:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Carmichael Arena, Chapel Hill, N.C. (University of North Carolina)

In honor of Hampton earning a No. 12 seed in the NCAA championships - the highest ever for a MEAC team in the NCAA's 64-team tournament era - we offer up 12 reasons why Hampton can topple Michigan State in Sunday's first round:

- MEAC teams are 0-20 in the NCAAs since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1994. No one beats MEAC teams 21 times in a row.

- The good thing about being a lower seed on a neutral court is the natural tendency to root for the underdog can kick in and the lower seed can feel as though it's playing a home game. So if the Lady Pirates get on a roll today, they may be able to feed off the energy of North Carolina fans who not only want to see an upset but will also be angling for an easier second-round matchup for the home team.

- Memo to Tar Heel Nation - be careful what you wish for.

- Think Michigan State has all the marquee talent? Think again. Hampton's Alyssa Bennett was ranked No. 32 on ESPN's list of the nation's top 100 recruits in 2009. That's a higher ranking than any Michigan State starter and all but one player on the entire Spartans roster (guard Branndais Agee was at No. 28 on the 2012 list). In other words, for much of the game the most highly-regarded prospect on the floor will be a Lady Pirate.

- At No. 12, Hampton is the highest-seeded MEAC entrant in the 64-team era. At No. 5, Michigan State is the lowest-seeded MEAC opponent. The seeding gap has never been closer.

- And as we all know, No. 12 seeds beat No. 5 seeds all the time, right?

- Wait, that's the men's tournament. Heading into this year, women's No. 12s have won just 17 of the 80 meetings with No. 5s in the 20-year 64-team era. But on Saturday, No. 12 BYU spanked No. 5 N.C. State, and No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast led most of the way before falling 61-60 in overtime to Oklahoma State. So far, it's been a great year to be sitting in that 12-spot.

- Michigan State's Annalise Pickrel and Hampton's Shellis Hampton were high school teammates on a state championship team at Grand Rapids Catholic Central. How does this increase Hampton's chances of winning? Well, it doesn't. But it's pretty cool nonetheless.

- Hampton beat Virginia Tech. Michigan State lost to Virginia Tech. It's yet another indication that there's not as much daylight between the two teams as the seeding suggests.

- Over the last three years, Hampton has faced Stanford (with Chiney AND Nneka Ogwumike), Duke, Kentucky, Florida, LSU, Kansas State, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State, Virginia Tech, Boston College and Pittsburgh, among others. So playing big-time teams is nothing new for the Lady Pirates. It's more like a way of life. By the way, in 15 games over the teams listed above the past three years, Hampton went 8-7.

- How strong is Hampton's defense? The Lady Pirates knocked off Coppin State in the MEAC final despite shooting just 26.2 percent. Just imagine what the Lady Pirates might do if they actually knock down shots.

- Ultimately, we feel the Lady Pirates' ability to do just that will be the biggest key to Sunday's game. We know Hampton will defend. But the phrase "defense wins championships" is only true to a point. Defense wins "MEAC" championships. But to knock off a team the caliber of Michigan State, the Lady Pirates will likely need some offensive firepower, too. With Bennett and guards Nicole Hamilton, Malia Tate-DeFreitas and Kenia Cole, the Lady Pirates have four players that can get you 20 on any given night. Offensive consistency has been somewhat elusive for Hampton, and Michigan State can be stout defensively. But if two or more of the Lady Pirate scorers are feeling it Sunday, we love Hampton's chances.

Hampton game notes

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

JMU's Kirby and sisters Jordan and Cassidy, Burkholder that is, are quite a bunch

Cassidy, Jordan and Kirby

Don't confuse Kirby Burkholder with Jan Brady, even though she is the middle child.

Are we dating ourselves in this blog? Remember Marcia, Jan, Cindy?

Meet Jordan, Kirby and Cassidy, and even though James Madison forward Kirby is the CAA Player of the Year, it’s not all about Kirby, Kirby, Kirby in this family.

Ahem, Jordan was Player of the Year in the ODAC, and “I’m better at softball,” she says. “Hands down.” Credit Jordan, too, for one season of lacrosse at Bridgewater College where Cassidy is only halfway through her basketball career. (Pst. That's also Mom's alma mater.) While there’s still potential for Cassidy to join her sisters with a Player of the Year honor, for now the older sisters only concede this.

“She’s better at school,” Kirby says.

And, they agree with wicked grins, "Cassidy is the good one.”

"You guys are a bad influence on me," Cassidy says.

You see Jordan, 24, and Kirby, 22, tended to gang up on Cassidy, 19, just a few times when the sisters were younger.  At least that’s how “the good one” frames it.

Jordan is a bit more blunt about it, and Kirby can recall getting socked by Jordan -- just once, though.

“Man, Kirby and I used to run over Cassidy. We have home videos,” Jordan says. “Me and Cassidy were so far apart in age. We didn’t start bonding till she got into high school. Now we’re all closer. We’re best friends. There’s nothing we don’t tell each other.”

They/re movie pals, going-out-to-eat friends and ardent supporters of each other. Jordan lives in Northern Virginia these days where she is a substitute teacher with plans to attend Mary Baldwin for graduate school in special education. But she’s still a regular at James Madison games along with Cassidy and the parents. The whole clan was together for the CAA Tournament where they saw JMU roll past Delaware and into the NCAA Tournament (the Dukes are a 11 seed playing No. 6 Gonzaga in College Station, Texas on Sunday.)

"We're going to Texas!" Jordan tweeted shortly after Monday's bracket unveiling.

Everybody, that is.

Seems like where you’ll find one Burkholder, you’ll find at least one more. They all played at Turner Ashby High; all were 1,000-point scorers who often made their way into the back yard to shoot hoops on the cement pad.

They were never competitive with each other when it came to basketball. “When we played pickup, we tried to be on the same team,” Kirby says.

Cassidy is scrappy on defense and Jordan physical in the post. Kirby is finesse, and yep, maybe a  little bit stronger of a player, defenitely the 3-point ace.

"I'm a better sleeper," Jordan says.

22 rebounds for Kirby in the CAA tourney semi? "Way to go, Kirbs," Cassidy tweeted.

The up-and-under is vintage Burkholder, no matter the first name. “It’s the only move I learned in high school, and I guess it stuck with all of us,” Jordan says.

Jordan, if you can't tell, is the most vocal. Asked what she does better on the court than Kirby, she answers, “Talking. I’m a talker. I’m not a shy player. Now you see her get a little more fired up, it being her senior year. I love it when she gets feisty."

Kirby has a dry wit, enough of one that Mom often jokes about Kirby’s red hair. You see the man next door has red hair, and he’s a postman….

Kirby loves clothes, and she buys them a lot, her sisters say. “Online,” Kirby says and Cassidy confers.

“She has them delivered to the house and sometimes three boxes come in one day. I just wanna peek inside.”

Mom’s take on Kirby’s fashion: “If you see something weird, that’s Kirby.”

“Sometimes we see something and say, ‘Kirby would wear that. And Cassidy and I, we wouldn’t,” Jordan says.  “I’m more the tomboy.”

Kirby says Jordan has a lot of shoes.

“Me? She has more shoes than anybody I know,” Jordan responds.

“Sneakers, heels, boots – I buy them all,” Kirby admits.

"If only we wore the same size," laments Cassidy, who wears an 8 to Kirby's 9 1/2.

“Nobody has more sneakers than Jordan,” Cassidy says. 

They just got puppies. They’re 2 months old, and Kirby clarifies. Mom and Jordan got puppies. The family dog, Tank, died recently at 4 ½ after a short bout with cancer. The two new lab mixes are named Bruno and Ryle; Bruno is the boy with Mom, and Ryle lives with Jordan.

“I like dogs as long as they’re not licking me all over, and I don’t want to be responsible,” Kirby says.

“They’re really cute" is Cassidy's take.  

When they’re together, they usually just hang out and giggle at the dinner table. “We can’t sit at the table without somebody laughing. We don’t even have to talk,” Jordan says. “Kirby is always talking so fast, half the time you don’t know what she’s saying. Cassidy, she’s the nerd of the family. Me, I guess, I’m the quote unquote dumb one. I mean not really dumb. There’s never a dull moment when we’re together.”

There were fun games in their cousin's basement and repeated viewings of "Gremlins."

They have an ongoing group text. They love to eat. Cassidy has a super sweet tooth.

Kirby and Cassidy will pick up a book. Not Jordan. “I hate to read,” she says. 

They used to camp where they played games, making up the rules along the way. 

Every Christmas Day they go to the movies. Speaking of Christmas, here’s a Kirby hint, Mom. She’d like a new car. Now a Range Rover would be really nice, but if she has to, she’d settle for a Nissan Maxima or Altima.

And as for cars. ...

"Remember that time you wrecked Dad's truck? You said you were going to a friend's house . . ." Kirby starts and Jordan stops her.

"Remember when you got your license and you were never home?" Jordan counters.

They joke, goof, prank – Kirby dumped a mess of cold water on Jordan in the shower once. But they support, and right now all the love goes to Kirby, bound for the NCAA Tournament.

“She’s worked so hard,” Jordan says. “Kenny (Brooks) works with them every second he can. To see her go from wanting to transfer to sticking with it to Player of the Year; we just love to see her do well.

“I didn’t think I’d be so much into this, seeing her play, but it's almost like I'm out there playing.  As long as she’s out there, we’re just there to support her. It's just great to see her succeed and grow inside and out.”

Monday, March 17, 2014

JMU, HU NCAA bound; what's everybody sayin'?

NCAA, WNIT and WBI projections

The NCAA tournament field will be announced Monday night, with the WNIT and WBI (Women's Basketball Invitational) brackets to follow later that evening. So which of the teams in Virginia will get to keep playing?


- Hampton, which won its fifth straight MEAC title Saturday, and JMU, which captured the CAA crown for the third time in five years, both earned automatic bids. No other team in Virginia has a realistic shot at an at-large bid.

- When pressed for his opinion on seeding, Hampton coach David Six said he believed a No. 12 was fair. On Sunday, ESPN's final projection also had the Lady Pirates at 12. If the selection committee agrees, Hampton would become the highest-seeded MEAC team since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1994. The previous high was No. 13 by Hampton in 2011.

- Given the curious nature of seeding in previous years - and the fact that the committee can move a team up or down a seed line to maintain various bracket principles - we're prepared to see Hampton seeded anywhere from 12th to 15th.

- For these same reasons, we're expecting JMU to be slotted anywhere from a No. 7 to No. 11.

- That said, we believe seeding is somewhat overrated, and that the most important factors are the matchup with a given opponent and where the game is played. If Hampton and JMU can get neutral-court games versus teams they match up well with, their fans should be doing cartwheels no matter what number is next to the teams' names on the bracket.


- There have been exceptions, but generally speaking, if a team doesn't make the NCAA field but has an RPI of 135 or lower and at least a .500 record, that team is extremely likely to get invited to this tournament.

- VCU has a 22-9 record and an RPI of 100 according to Collegiate Basketball News and 97 as calculated by (the NCAA's latest RPI figures have yet to be released). VCU looks like a shoe-in for the WNIT.

- Old Dominion (17-15, RPI 127 CBN, RPI 130 realtime) also seems likely to get a bid, although we'll hedge just a bit until we see the official NCAA numbers. About a month ago, ODU was a longshot for this tournament. But in winnng six of their last seven games, the Lady Monarchs appear to have played their way in.

- Until we see the NCAA RPI, we're putting Liberty (20-11, RPI 137 CBN, RPI 131 realtime) on the WNIT bubble.

- The WNIT requires at least a .500 overall record before handing out an at-large bid, so Virginia (14-17), Virginia Tech (14-16), Richmond (14-16), Norfolk State (12-16), George Mason (8-23), Radford (7-23), Longwood (8-22) and William and Mary (8-21) are all ineligible for consideration.

- There's a lot of rebuilding going on in this here Commonwealth.

- An automatic WNIT bid goes to the highest finisher in each conference that doesn't make the NCAAs regardless of record, but none of the above teams are positioned to get in this way, either. Only Virginia has even a remote chance, and the Cavaliers would need nine ACC teams, including 16-14 Miami, to be invited to the NCAAs. Can't see that happening.


- This tournament, now in its fifth year, has no overall record requirement. But of the 64 teams that have played in the previous four WBIs, all but three have had .500 or better records.

- Based on the previous four seasons, the typical WBI team has 16-20 wins, double-digit losses, and RPI of 140 or higher and plays in one of the so-called mid-major conferences. None of the teams in Virginia that are unlikely to receive NCAA or WNIT bids fits this profile.

- But if Liberty gets snubbed by the WNIT and still wants to play more basketball, the Lady Flames would very well wind up being the strongest team in this field. And the team with the best pre-tournament RPI has won three of the four WBI titles.

- Of course, we hope it doesn't come to that.

- Only three teams from the so-called major conferences have ever played in this tournament. Not surprisingly, they were also the only three teams to get in with losing records - Louisville (Big East) and Washington (Pac-12) in 2010 and Minnesota (Big Ten) in 2012. So we have to acknowledge the possibility - however remote - that Virginia and/or Virginia Tech could wind up in this field. We'd be stunned if the Cavaliers or Hokies got involved in the WBI, but we did want to point out that if either of these teams were desperate to keep playing, there is one tournament that would probably have them.

Hard not to be in awe of Kenny Brooks and this JMU team

Take a moment before Monday's selection show to revel in the season James Madison has produced.

Indeed, the Dukes (27-5) are CAA Tournament champions, who won their league games by an average of 20.3 ppg. They opened the season with a victory over Virginia and haven't underwhelmed since.

We're not overlooking losses to Wright State, Vanderbilt, North Carolina, Mississippi State and College of Charleston. Wright State was by two on December 1 (the Raiders are Horizon League champs by the way); Mississippi State was on Nov. 30. Vandy was OT, and at North Carolina was a near miss, 74-71. (Three of those four will be NCAA Tournament teams; Mississippi State is headed to the WNIT.)  College of Charleston was a hiccup in the CAA, a rare off morning -- as the game was played before a throng of school children in TD Arena.

These aren't excuses, they're facts -- enough to say it's hard to find too many blemishes with this JMU bunch that finished 15-1 in the CAA, was never threatened in the conference tournament and had quality wins over UCLA and St. John's.

Senior Night for Nikki and Kirby
They have five starters who are the envy of every team in the league. Kirby Burkholder seemed like a role player at best as a freshman, averaging a forgettable 1.3 ppg. Then she became a contributing starter for two years and finally CAA Player of the Year as a senior, five 3-pointers shy of holding the career record in the league. Her transformation is testimony to a work ethic that more players should emulate.

Nikki Newman is nothing short of a player who has an impact on every possession -- someone who does so many of the small things right on the court that they add up to team MVP. Coach Kenny Brooks might as well be suiting up when Newman is on the floor. She is that smart about what to do when, and she is that much of a leader.

Toia Giggetts has gotten better every year (25 straight games scoring double figures and counting), and Precious Hall, a double-figure scorer in 15 of her  last 16 games  were both named all-conference and made the all-tournament team over the weekend. Jazmon Gwathmey is the lone starter who was not named all conference, and guess what? She scored a career-high 20 with 14 boards against Delaware in the CAA championship game and was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. Her potential is WNBA scary.

Love Angela Mickens' speed. Like what Lauren Okafor could bring to the post next season and ditto for Da'Lishia Griffin. Not doubting a future for Crystal Ross, either.

It's hard to say enough good things about Brooks, whose Dukes teams have won at least 24 games and reached the postseason for the last 10 years. We don't know if he was in the mix for the Virginia and Virginia Tech jobs a few years back -- hope it was his choice if the answer was no -- but if he wasn't, the only question is why not? JMU is no flash in the pan. He and an all-Dukes coaching staff develop players in a manner that leads to the consistency reminiscent of former Old Dominion teams. This particular group is so well balanced that you never know who the offense will come from, you just believe it will be there.

Wonderfully refreshing about this team is that Burkholder and Newman are homegrown kids from up the street -- Turner Ashby High in Harrisonburg. Brooks has known each since she was 10, and jokes he spent "about $10 to recruit them." Both received a sentimental Senior Night sendoff before a record-breaking crowd of 6,590 at the JMU Convo Center on March 2.

So take a bow Dukes, coaches, fans, and enjoy the dance. You deserve to be the winners you are.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Follow us for the CAA Tournament in Upper Marlboro

No horses today, just CAA basketball!
Join LadySwish at this link as we're blogging for the CAA all weekend from The Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, Md. Will keep you posted on all the games, and of course, your JMU Dukes at the 2014 CAA Tournament.