Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Only one HU and it's Hampton

The real HU?

Gotta be Hampton, which routed Howard 67-45 on Monday night, securing a sweep in the series along with its seventh straight win.

The Pirates won the game in D.C. 52-50 on Jan. 12.

While a fan commented on a previous post about being "100 percent sure Hampton wouldn't win the MEAC," we can't agree. The Pirates (16-5, 7-0) are playing some great ball behind usual suspects Keiara Avant (14.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg), Nicole Hamilton (12.4 ppg) and Alyssa Bennett (9.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg). A real boost has come from senior guard Olivia Allen, who averaged 1.4 ppg and 0.6 rpg last season after transferring in from Bradley University. The 5-6 senior has emerged as a significant 3-ball threat, hitting 4-of-8 treys against Howard, and averages 10.1 ppg.

The Pirates are also tidy with the ball, averaging just 15 turnovers while turning opponents over an average of 20.8 times per game. Hampton's stellar defense ranks seventh nationally, giving up 49.6 ppg.

Five of the Pirates final nine games are at home, and the MEAC Tournament, in case you've forgotten, is right across the James River at Scope. Although Howard was picked by both coaches and media town the league, we're betting on the real HU to win it .... again.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Delle Donne closing in on CAA scoring record

For the fourth time since 2008 and the third time in the last four years, the Colonial Athletic Association career scoring record is about to fall again.

With her 24 points in Sunday's 65-56 victory over Drexel, Delaware superstar Elena Delle Donne now has 2,552 career points. The total leaves her just 115 points shy of the mark set two seasons ago by former James Madison star Dawn Evans (2,667 points).

At her current pace (around 24 points a game), Delle Donne will topple Evans' mark five games from now, on Feb. 10 at - of all places - JMU. If it shakes out that way, it will be the second time in three years Dukes fans will see the record fall. On March 2, 2011, Evans drained a 3-pointer in a home game against UNC Wilmington to surpass Drexel's Gabriela Marginean atop the CAA all-time scoring list. Marginean's record was just one year old. And the mark she broke had lasted just two seasons (JMU's Tamera Young, 2008).

The record-setting breakdown:

2008 - Tamera Young, JMU, 2,121 points
2010 - Gabriela Marginean, Drexel, 2,581 points
2011 - Dawn Evans, JMU, 2,667 points

At some point over the next 2-3 weeks, Delle Donne will almost certainly add her name to this list.

Ironically, the record Young broke had lasted for 14 years, as ODU's Celeste Hill scored a then-CAA record 2,112 points from 1990-94.

Sorry, Brittney, ODU's Donovan is the one to beat out

SportsCenter is full of highlights of the feat, and the media keep repeating it, so it must be true, right? Baylor's Brittney Griner is the NCAA leader in blocked shots with 665. Who she'd best to get it? Louella Tomlinson of St. Mary's in California finished her career in 2011 with 663.

If you wonder why Anne Donovan's 801 career blocked shots aren't even a footnote in this conversation, it's because the Old Dominion superstar played two of her years in the AIAW, and we're not counting two years of her phenomenal shot-blocking statistics. Apparently, basketball statistics didn't exist before the NCAA, a condescending attitude given Donovan and her Lady Monarch teammates Nancy Lieberman and Inge Nissen are regarded as some of the best to play this game.

Not giving Donovan her due is a slight, and one that's not terribly surprising in this era of short memories. We know about Jackie Robinson, credited for being the first African-American in Major League Baseball. The name Larry Doby doesn't roll off the tongue nor does Bud Fowler or Moses Fleetwood Walker -- trailblazers who are lost in an effort to honor Robinson and his legacy Yet the history books will tell you that while Robinson broke the color barrier, he was not the first in the organization that became MLB. And like basketball didn't exist before the NCAA, baseball didn't exist before the MLB.

But we know differently, and so we return to Donovan. There is little film, and that's understandable given the era (1979-83) when she played. But there is also little respect for one of the game's all time greats and that's not only far from understandable, it's insulting. And while the game is celebrating the accomplishments of the great Brittney Griner, it's no time to overlook the greatest shot blocker in the game's history: Anne Donovan.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Lookee, who's in first place in the Big South! A chat with Longwood's Chelsea Coward

One team sits atop the Big South -- and no, it's not Liberty for a change, and neither is it surprising Presbyterian. Instead, atop the league sits upstart Longwood, sporting a gaudy 6-1 mark in conference - every other Big South team has at least two losses - and a 9-9 record overall. We say upstart not because the Lancers are full of underclassmen -- seniors Chelsea Coward (16 ppg, 9 rpg) and Crystal Smith (16.9 ppg) lead this experienced bunch -- but this is the first year Longwood is in a conference.

What does that mean? Consider that the Lancers are used to playing games this time a year just for the sake of games. No conference means no conference tournament, no hint at making the NCAA field, no WNIT prospects. Just games -- most of them on an opponent's home floor -- and a finite end to your season.

That mindset is over. We don't know if the Lancers will find themselves in the postseason, but just entertaining the prospect is something fun to think about. We chatted with Coward about that and more.......

What's it like being in first place?

It's exciting. It's like you're playing  for something -- one goal. Everybody wants to win the Big South. 

Was it hard to stay motivated the last three years without a conference tournament to look forward to?

At times it was. We've been through a lot here -- a change in coaching staff, playing some really tough teams (*note: former coach Kristin Caruso was suspended twice before being fired. Bill Reinson is in his second season as head coach of Longwood.)  -- but I have a great team. My team is awesome We've been through a lot, but we pulled through it all. We've been through a lot of adversity and struggled, but we're doing so well right  now. 

What was your biggest win before this year?

Last year we were struggling, and we went to New Jersey Institute of Technology; that was our last game. It was really good to go out with a win, and our seniors left with a win. That was a really good feeling.

And now?

We had a really good game with Campbell the other day. That was a close game, the closest game we've had. We won with a buzzer beater by Crystal Smith; we haven't had that. Those games are always fun. (**Note: Smith scored 32 in the 77-75 win.)

So the coaches and a media panel picked Longwood to finish 11th (last) in the preseason poll.

We know. People didn't know what to expect of us. We're under the radar. It makes us want to work hard.

Do you ever talk about going to the NCAA Tournament?

Right now we're focused on the games we're playing. We're taking one step at a time.

What is it like for you personally to be playing in the Big South?

It's really exciting. I never knew what conference play was like. Everybody knows everybody's players. It's a lot different. Anybody can beat anybody on any given night. It's different than what I'm used to. We used to play all these different schools; now we see teams twice.

Why did you choose Longwood?

I was looking at a few other schools -- Delaware State, American -- but Longwood really pursued me. They didn't give me any runaround. Some colleges make you wait. They really wanted me, and it's a great school.

Your major sounds impressive: Information systems with a minor in cybersecurity, forensics and policy.

We focus on a lot of aspects of computer technology as a business -- data base programming, web programming, systems management, system integration, a lot of things like that. .... I'm thinking about getting more into system design and web programming.

But before you start that career ....

I'm thinking about playing overseas for a while and seeing how that goes. I'd like to go back to school at some point. I'd go anywhere, but I'd love Europe -- Italy, France, somewhere like that. I'm open right now to any opportunity I could get to play basketball.

Talk about the journey, the last four years, for you at Longwood.

There were points in time it was really tough. Stuff was going on my freshman year and my sophomore year that I really didn't understand. I had never been through that type of adversity on a basketball team before. But I have great teammates, great classmates -- Crystal Smith, Erin Neal, Mieke Elkington -- they've been here with me going through the same thing. I always had someone to talk to. We ran together, played together, cried together; we've been through a lot. We had each other's back. 

And now?

It's a good feeling. It's fun to win. It makes us want to work a lot harder. We know we can do this. We know we have it in us if we keep working hard and putting in the extra work. Winning makes it a lot easier. Winning makes you feel as though you're working toward something. We've always worked hard, but it means a lot to have success with our hard work.

Coward and the Lancers will return to action on Thursday at High Point (11-7, 5-2 Big South).

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

You're Old Dominion's Sara Jones, and here's what that means

Sara with ODU's Jackie Cook

The doctor didn't believe that the cancer had come back.

"For that to be so," he explained to Sara Jones, "it would have to have eaten through the bone."

Somehow, it did.

For the third time, Sara Jones had cancer. For the third time Sara Jones, 40 years old, has cancer. Metastatic cancer, and metastatic -- the cancer has spread to other parts of the body -- is one of those words -- malignant, chemotherapy, tumor -- that it hurts to say. Especially when you think you've beaten cancer not once, but twice. Remember, you weren't supposed to even have it in the first place. That's what the doctor said not once, but twice.

The first time when you felt the pea-sized bump under your left breast, you didn't worry. You believed him.

After all, you were 28 years old, a firefighter, a gym rat training to compete as a body builder.

"I was in the best shape of my life," says Jones, today a volunteer assistant coach to Old Dominion head coach Karen Barefoot.

The doc says it could be fibroadenoma. Cool. No worries. You go about your business. Even the second time when you go back to the doc when you feel a bigger bump under your armpit you're told it could be just a side effect of birth control and you shrug, "OK." You return to your life -- you keep working out, keep fighting fires, living life at your pace until a few months later, that bump is now the size of an egg.

You're Sara Jones -- former high school basketball star of a 1A team in Fort Lauderdale that tore through the state your senior year. Oh, how you relished defeating the 4A state champs with ease! Now after months of telling no one about this nothing lump, these nothing lumps, as after all this was supposed to be no big deal, you have to call your family and say this sentence.

"I have breast cancer."

You plan to have the surgery the doctors set up for you, and then, just four days prior, you attend a women's health conference with a friend. You hear things you didn't expect to hear, techniques and technology that you didn't know about, are described. You walk out and do this.

"I canceled my surgery and fired my doctors," Jones says.

You start over with new doctors who you feel are better equipped to handle your illness. You start chemotherapy on Halloween -- now you're 29 -- and by mid-January, they tell you you're ready for surgery.

"Bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction," Jones says, before using another term that doesn't roll easily off the tongue, either: lymph-dissection.

"It's like slicing raisin bread," she says. "You don't know how many raisins you're going to get in each slice, so they take a slice and then they have a good sampling of lymph nodes to test."

Some are positive. Not good. More chemo. And then you're done -- after the reconstructive surgeries.

"I've probably had 20 of those," Jones says.



But a year and a half later, you're feeling pretty good. You're back at Fire Station No. 2 in Norfolk. You love the guys. They call you Jonesy. You fight major fires you call ass-rippers, and laugh, joke, talk at the fire station, a home away from home. If you're Sara Jones, you've always known your place is service, so lying down your life for another isn't even an afterthought. It's physically demanding work, but you love it. You're back to being in great shape. It's almost five years to the day that cancer entered your life -- you know, that five-year milestone that signifies maybe you've beaten this thing.

Only you haven't. The doctor finds a lump during a breast exam. But you don't have breasts, you thought. Doesn't matter. The cancer is in the scar tissue. And it's back with such a vengeance that you don't consider local options. You remember what your doctor said. If it returns, seek treatment out of state.  You're lucky that your doctor has ties to get you an appointment in a place considered the premier cancer hospital in the world: M.D. Anderson in Houston. It's respected and expensive.

It's also your life.

Jones goes to Houston.

"It was Friday at 8 a.m.," she says. "I took the redeye. What was supposed to be an hour consult was a day's worth of tests."

There you meet oncologists, surgeons, specialists of every nature sitting with you in the room -- all in a round table talking about your plan. You hear a lot. You remember one line, in particular.

"If you want to be here in five years, you'll be here in five weeks."

It is 2005. You pack up and rent an apartment in Houston, home for the next four months. You get radiation, excruciatingly painful burning heat that produces third-degree burns on your skin. Every day you lay in a mold; every day the skin rips open in that same painful spot, allowing the radiation to focus on isolated parts of your body. You compare it to having a paper cut in the worst possible place.

The surgery that follows takes all the tissue down to your ribs. They got it all, they tell you, and you go home, back to the fire department. Back to Curves to work out. Back to pickup basketball with Barefoot. Back to friends and family.

Life is good again for Sara Jones.

That five-year mark nears again, but before you can reach it, you feel a pop in your back while in the passenger seat of your sister's car -- a pain so sharp that you know. You're sure.

"My cancer is back."

"Sara, it would have to eat through your bones for you to have it."

It ate through the bones.

The word for what they do next is kyphohplasty -- using a balloon, to facilitate cement injected in your spine to hold it together. That's followed by more radiation.

The cancer is everywhere. It's in your hips. Your legs. Your liver. Your chest. Your brain.

Your bones.

That word -- metastatic.

The average is one to five years that people live with metastatic cancer.

It's March 2010. "That's not me," Jones tells her doctor.

You have brain radiation for three weeks, "the worst thing I've ever been through," is your description You wince at the memory -- the sores in her mouth, the bleeding.

Your memory isn't what it was. Your coordination slows. And yet .... And yet, you're still Sara Jones.

Sara and "her heart," niece Landon

You're Sara Jones, sitting in a restaurant, smiling over a bowl of pasta and a Greek salad. You're Sara Jones who just got off the Lady Monarch bench, where you stood up, frowned and stomped a high-heeled foot; I mean, really, was that a foul? You're Sara Jones, who just ribbed Mairi Buchan by calling her "Mairi Buckets." You're Sara Jones, who greets two middle school girls like best friends. What color beats did you get for Christmas?

"I feel good," she says.

You say that although you just got back from a Vegas trip with the Lady Monarchs that sidelined you in the hospital where they pumped fluid out of your lungs for days. The pills you take outnumber your age; the narcotics cause nausea. You've lost 25 pounds.

"Really, I feel pretty good -- except for the fact that we just lost." You're not joking. You really wish your Lady Monarchs hadn't lost.

The Lady Monarchs are your medicine. You didn't know what to expect when you approached your good buddy Karen about helping out somehow. Maybe you could mail things from the basketball office? The next thing you know you're signing a contract -- and yes it's volunteer, but you have duties, official coaching duties, and you sit on the bench with the rest of the coaches, your own set of stats to chart. You come to practice and become so entrenched with the fabric of this team so much so that guard Jackie Cook often regularly greets Karen with this question.

"Is she coming today?"

"Yes, Jackie. Sara's coming to practice."

"My intention is to support them and love them as much as I can and try to help," Jones says. "When you're 17, 18, you think it's the end of the world when you have something happen. I want them to keep their life in perspective, but not to waste time."

"She says we keep her spirits up, but she keeps our spirits up," Cook says. "We love her energy. It makes you think your struggles are minute. Nothing is a struggle compared to what she's going through."

"Sara Jones fights cancer by her attitude," says Barefoot, who can tell stories about your grit in pickup ball, though that's nothing compared to your grit, your determination that has defined you for the last decade. "She never complains. She's my life coach. She keeps me sane."

Sanity. You keep yours thanks to the Lady Monarchs. There was a time you wondered:  Is it bad that I sit on the bench bald? The wig -- it's so itchy. Do you mind, Karen?

"Do I mind? Sarah, you are so beautiful."

"It's good I have a round head," Jones says.

You go home to her best buds, two rescue dogs named Synder and Ripper. Your 5-year-old niece, Landon, is your angel, your heart. She wears a doctor's coat to your appointments.

"She's what gets me out of bed," Jones says.

You find friendship, kinship, support, women who you can relate to in Beyond Boobs, a local support group.

You makes plans. Plans for tomorrow, next week, next month. You want your miracle, but you can't wait for that. If cancer has taught you anything, it's taught you not to wait around to do the important things, to say the important things. Look forward. Make a bucket list. And start whittling it down.

Skydiving. That was on it. Now it's checked off. A sit-down with Pat Summitt? You want that to happen, somehow, some way.

"I'd love to have lunch with her," Jones says. "I'd pick her brain and soak up the life-changing energy she has."

It's life-changing to talk to Jones. Life-altering. The knucklehead who cuts in front of you en route to the bridge-tunnel? The customer in front of you who is buying 15 items in the express lane? Traveling?

Small stuff.

You still have the chemo -- chemo Mondays you call them. You'll endure it as long as you thinks it will make a difference. Yeah, it kicks your butt some days, but here's the thing:  Cancer has never kicked your butt for long.

"I would have never seen my life like this. It's not pretty. But it's my life. It's ... a wonderful, awful journey. I won't let it define me."

Never has. Never will. You're Sara Jones.

Coach. Friend. Fighter. Dreamer.

Whatever it takes.

That's Sara Jones, and we're in awe.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Delaware, Delle Donne return to ODU

Elena Delle Donne

The last time Delaware visited Old Dominion's Constant Center, on Feb. 28, 2011, the Lady Monarchs put on arguably their best performance of that season, harrassing Blue Hens star Elena Delle Donne into a 7-for-19 shooting performance and sprinting off with a 70-61 victory.

No one knew it at the time, but that wound up being the final victory in Wendy Larry's coaching career.

Of course, a regime change was hardly on the radar that day. The Lady Monarchs guards - seniors Jasmine Parker, Kquanise Byrd and Shadasia Green - dominated Delaware's then-youthful backcourt. Meanwhile, a fourth senior, Russia Voronina, hounded Delle Donne all over the floor and, with help from her teammates, never allowed Delaware's sensational sophomore to establish rhythm. It was fitting that these players led the way as the game also doubled as ODU's Senior Day.

"You hope they walk away with a great memory because they really did dominate this team," Larry said after ODU improved to 20-8 overall and 14-3 in the CAA. "There was a time in this game where we played as well as we have."

And then...disaster. Three days later, the Lady Monarchs lost by 20 at Drexel in their regular-season finale. The next time out, Delle Donne went for 31 and 10 as the Blue Hens rolled to a 72-55 win in the CAA Tournament quarterfinals. Finally, on March 16, ODU's season ended with a 67-65 loss to Loyola-Maryland in front of 450 people at the Constant Center in the first round of the WNIT.

We all know what happened after that (sort of).

An entirely different set of storylines will be in play when the Blue Hens (10-3, 1-0 CAA) make their return to Norfolk Sunday at 2 p.m. It's a final chance for ODU fans to get an up-close look at the great Delle Donne, one of the most skilled performers in the history of the women's game. Fans can also get their picture taken with instant national celebrity Charles the Monarch, the dog groomed to look like a lion who is about 14 and a half minutes into his unlikely 15 minutes of fame.

Most importantly, it's a chance for ODU (11-3, 2-0) to make a national statement against an NCAA Tournament-caliber team, something that's particularly important this year since the Conference USA-bound Lady Monarchs are not eligible for the CAA Tournament. Frankly, we have serious doubts there's enough meat in ODU's schedule for even two victories over Delaware - the teams meet again at Delaware on Feb. 14 - to add up to an NCAA at-large bid. Still, a team that can even play competitively with the Blue Hens is a good bet to wind up in someone's postseason tournament.

For all the talk about Delle Donne, the key Sunday may be ODU's ability to score. The Lady Monarchs have proven they can turn over just about anyone (23.6 per game), and if they can score frequently in transition, this one could get interesting. But if it's a halfcourt game, well, the Blue Hens began the week ranked seventh in Division I in scoring defense, and on Thursday they held George Mason to just 27 points on 17 percent shooting.

Also on Sunday:

Hofstra (6-7, 2-0 CAA) at George Mason (5-8, 0-2 CAA), 2 p.m.
The Patriots have lost six of their last seven, but the Pride isn't anywhere near the defensive juggernaut Delaware is so we expect Mason to eclipse the 27 points it managed against the Blue Hens Thursday in today's first half. That said, Hofstra comes in on a five-game winning streak while the Pats have dropped six of their last seven.
Maryland (12-3, 3-1 ACC) at Virginia Tech (7-8, 1-3 ACC), 2 p.m.
A year ago, the Hokies stunned the Terrapins in College Park behind a 31-point barrage from Monet Tellier. We suspect Brenda Frese has brought this up once or twice in the lead-up to this one. Tech has lost three straight and have scored between 45 and 48 points in each contest.
N.C. State (8-8, 0-4 ACC) at Virginia (10-4, 2-2 ACC), 2 p.m.
Perfect opportunity for the Cavaliers to consolidate Thursday's impressive, wire-to-wire victory at Georgia Tech.
Northeastern (9-4, 2-0 CAA) at James Madison (7-7, 1-1 CAA) , 2 p.m.
The underrated Huskies average nearly 70 points and just over 8 3-pointers per game. They're also owners of a 61-50 victory over JMU in the teams' lone meeting last year in Boston.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Hampton-Howard: Who's the "better team?"

Not sure if there's anything to the idea of giving an opposing team bulletin board material, but if there is, you have to believe Hampton's players may find something in this comment by Howard star Saadia Doyle in the Washington Post to get fired up about:

"We have to have confidence. I think that's what Hampton has over us right now because they've beaten us so many times and in the (MEAC) championship (game) for the past couple years. They have the mental edge over us, but as far as talent and skill set, we're the better team."

The Lady Pirates (11-5, 2-0 MEAC) and the Bison (7-6, 2-0) will face off on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Howard's Burr Gymnasium. Three-time defending champion Hampton has won seven straight in the series, including all three meetings last year. The last time these teams met, the Lady Pirates eked out a 54-53 victory in the 2012 MEAC Tournament final.

Howard was the preseason pick of the league's coaches and sports information directors to win the conference this season. Doyle, the 2011 MEAC Player of the Year, currently ranks third in Division I in scoring (23.2 ppg).

As for us, we're just happy to see a story about MEAC women's basketball in the Washington Post.

Also see:
Hampton: Not Your Typical MEAC Team

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A rankings/game preview double-double

A huge Thursday night of action awaits so we're going to handle two (Larry) birds with one rock and combine this week's state rankings with a preview of tonight's - or in some cases, this weekend's --  games.

By the way, the first edition of the NCAA's official RPI released this week, shows that this state currently has five RPI Top 100 teams: Virginia (55), Richmond (66) Virginia Tech (75), Old Dominion (97) and Hampton (98).

1. Virginia (9-5, 0-2 ACC)
Last week: 1
RPI: 55
Thursday's game: at Georgia Tech (8-6, 1-2 ACC), 7 p.m.
This season is starting to shape up like last season for the Cavaliers, with a quality win early (Tennessee last season, Vanderbilt this year) and success over teams they should beat, but an inability to get over the hump against NCAA Tournament-caliber foes. As we all remember, the Cavs were among the last four teams left out of the big show. Virginia hasn't had a lot of success in Atlanta in recent years, but the Cavaliers simply must start beating teams like this for the 2012-13 season to end up the way they want. They'll need to control their turnover count, though. Georgia Tech typically forces a bunch of them, and the Cavaliers are averaging 19.0 turnovers per game (228th nationally), up from 14.3 last season (28th).

2. Richmond (9-6, 0-0 Atlantic 10)
Last week: 2
RPI: 66
Saturday's game: at St. Joseph's (9-5, 0-0 Atlantic 10), 2 p.m.
The Spiders won't lack for motivation in their A-10 opener, as the Hawks eliminated them from the conference tournament last year in the same Hagan Arena that will house this one. Furthermore, Richmond hasn't won in this building since 2007.

3. Old Dominion (10-3, 1-0 CAA)
Last week: 4
RPI: 98
Thursday's game: vs. Towson (6-6, 0-1), 7 p.m.
The Lady Monarchs are 18-1 lifetime against the Tigers, with the lone loss coming in a memorable overtime affair at the Constant Center during the 2009-10 season (In a tie game with seconds left in regulation, ODU's coaching staff mistakenly thought the team was ahead and instructed the players to bleed clock instead of attempting a game-winning shot.) With Sunday's stunning come-from-behind victory at Georgia State, the Lady Monarchs have already matched their victory total from all of the 2011-12 regular season (10). A victory in the CAA Tournament boosted that total to 11. We fully expect them to match that tonight --  and Sunday Delaware, with Elena Delle Donne, is on tap at the Constant Center.

4. Virginia Tech (7-7, 1-2 ACC)
Last week: 7
RPI: 75
Thursday's game: vs. Boston College (6-7, 0-2 ACC), 7 p.m.
Speaking of improved teams, with their 55-45 victory over Hampton on Dec. 30 the Hokies matched last season's win total (7) before 2013 even began. Losses by four points at Virginia and three points at nationally ranked North Carolina show just how competitive the Hokies have become since junior college transfer Uju Ugoka joined the fold. Now they just need to be able to make the kind of late-game plays necessary to come out on the good side on these close games.

5. Hampton (11-5, 2-0 MEAC)
Last week: 6
RPI: 97
Saturday's game: at Howard (7-6, 2-0 MEAC), 2 p.m.
The first of two meetings over a 16-day span - the teams face off again on Jan. 28 in Hampton - that could decide the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. Hampton is the three-time defending league champion, but Howard was the preseason choice to take the 2013 title. Given the stakes, Hampton's usually lights-out defense and the fact that both teams can struggle offensively, we're not expecting a ton of points from either side. And remember, Howard came within a missed putback of upending the Lady Pirates in last year's conference tournament final. But until someone in this league actually beats Hampton in a meaningful game, they're all still pretenders to the Lady Pirates' crown.

6. Liberty (11-5, 3-1 Big South)
Last week: 3
RPI: 113
Thursday's game: at Charleston Southern (5-7, 0-3 Big South), 7 p.m.
Didn't see last Thursday's home loss to improved Presbyterian coming - the Lady Flames were 9-0 lifetime against the Blue Hose - particularly since the Lady Flames were so dominant just five days prior in a 90-57 road rout of Winthrop. Our sense is this Liberty team has a higher ceiling - is more capable of beating supposedly better teams - than other Lady Flames teams of recent years but can also come out extremely flat. The good news is we don't see the latter happening against Charleston Southern.

7. James Madison (7-6, 1-0, CAA)
Last week: 7
RPI: 132
Thursday's game: vs. Drexel (8-4, 1-0 CAA), 7 p.m.
The Dragons squeezed the offensive life out of JMU twice last season, most notably during a 60-43 decision in the CAA Tournament semifinals. The Dukes simply have to find more effective ways to score against these guys. Drexel poses unique problems defensively, too, but JMU has been playing much better at that end lately. The Dukes are allowing just 41.5 points per game during their current four-game winning streak and haven't surrendered more than 49 points in any of the contests. Prior to this stretch, JMU was allowing 67.8 ppg and hadn't held anyone to fewer than 51. A softer schedule accounts for some of the difference, but it also signals a return to the kind of defensive efficiency that served the Dukes so well last season.

8. Longwood (6-8, 3-0 Big South)
Last week: 10
RPI: 192
Thursday's game: at Presbyterian (9-6, 4-0 Big South), 7 p.m.
Just like we figured, Longwood and Presbyterian unbeaten and playing for the outright Big South lead (yeah, right). Obviously three terrific opening salvos by the Lancers in their first year in the conference. It must be particularly exciting for seniors Chelsea Coward (15.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg) and Crystal Smith (15.8 ppg), players who spent the past three seasons traveling the country essentially playing exhibitions this time of year as Longwood was an independent. But we're sure Coward, Smith and Co. aren't interested in taking bows at this point. After all, heck, they've got a conference title to try and win.

9. VCU (7-8, 0-0 Atlantic 10)
Last week: 8
RPI: 251
Saturday's game: at St. Louis (6-9, 0-0 Atlantic 10), 8 p.m.
The Rams have missed freshman guard Jessica Pellechio, who has sat out the last two games. Pellechio is averaging close to four 3-pointers per game; the Rams made just 1 of 14 3-pointers in their most recent game, a 58-45 loss to Youngstown State on Jan. 4.

10. Radford (6-8, 1-2 Big South)
Last week: 11
RPI: 273
Thursday's game: at Gardner-Webb (7-8, 0-4 Big South), 7 p.m.
The Highlanders need this one to keep contact with the conference leaders, and they should get it as perhaps no team has fallen so far so quickly than Gardner-Webb. The Runnin' Bulldogs are just 3-19 in Big South play since winning the conference tournament title in 2012. Of their seven wins this season, three came against non-Division I teams.

11. George Mason (5-7, 0-1 (CAA))
Last week: 9
RPI: 233
Thursday's game: at Delaware (9-3, 0-0 CAA), 7 p.m.
Obviously a tough assignment for the Patriots as Elena Delle Donne appears to be rounding into All-American form. The Patriots have lost two straight and five of their last six, but they did show some signs of offensive life in Sunday's 69-63 loss to Northeastern, first with a 39-point first half and then with a 14-6 spurt late when it looked as though they were about to be blown out.

12. William and Mary (2-11, 0-2 CAA)
Last week: 12
RPI: 325
Thursday's game: at Northeastern (8-4, 1-0), 7 p.m.
Tuesday's 61-52 loss to UNC Wilmington was the Tribe's eighth this season by single digits. William and Mary was fine during the guts of the contest, but surrendered a 12-0 run to open the game and an 11-0 spurt to close it. Just a frustrating season. This will be William and Mary's third conference game in five days.

13. Norfolk State (2-11, 0-2 MEAC)
Last week: 13
RPI: 339
Saturday's game: at Maryland-Eastern Shore (4-8, 0-2 MEAC), 2 p.m.
Here's hoping the nine-day break - the Spartans last played on Jan. 3 - re-energizes a group that hasn't beaten another Division I team since Nov. 9. If NSU isn't mentally beaten down, there's still enough talent here to compete with a lot of the teams in the MEAC.

Hampton: Not your typical MEAC team

When Hampton knocked off Boston College on Jan. 2, it gave the Lady Pirates a 3-3 record against BCS conference programs this season. That's a solid result for just about any program. But when taken in context of the rest of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, it's downright remarkable.

The MEAC's other 12 teams are a combined 1-24 against BCS programs in 2012-13. The lone victory came when South Carolina State surprised Clemson on Dec. 9. (How do we know Clemson was surprised? Because the year before, Clemson beat South Carolina State by 45 points).

Hampton's success against BCS schools relative to its conference peers isn't just a one-year phenomenon, either. Over the past three seasons, Hampton has a 6-7 record against so-called majors. The rest of the MEAC? A combined 5-81.

It's certainly helped that Lady Pirates coach David Six has been able to convince schools like Florida, LSU and BC to play at Hampton, although given HU's success in these games, we're not sure how long that's going to continue. Then again, three of Hampton's BCS victories have come on the road. Also, on two other occasions the Lady Pirates came within a whisker of pulling out neutral-site victories - an overtime loss to No. 3 seed Kentucky in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, and last November's one-point loss to DePaul during the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands. The Lady Pirates led by 13 with less than 10 minutes remaining in the second half.

Hampton vs. BCS programs

Wins: Mississippi State (SEC, road); LSU (SEC, home); Boston College (ACC, home)
Losses: South Carolina (SEC, neutral); DePaul (Big East, neutral); Virginia Tech (ACC, road)

Wins: Pittsburgh (Big East, road); Boston College (ACC, road)
Losses: Florida (SEC, road); Stanford (Pac-12, neutral)

Win: Florida (SEC, home)
Losses: Wake Forest (ACC, road); Kentucky (SEC, neutral)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Ex-ODU guard lands at new school

Former Lady Monarch Myeisha Hall has found a new school closer to home.

The 5-8 sophomore guard, who did not return to ODU for the spring semester, has transferred to Stetson University, according to All Star Girls Report. Stetson's main campus is in Deland, Fla., about three hours north of Hall's hometown, West Palm Beach.

The Hatters are currently 11-4, 4-0 in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Hall, who is currently enrolled at Stetson, will be eligible during the second semester of the 2013-14 season. Stetson won 23 games last season and advanced to the WNIT for the first time in school history.

ODU also lost sophomore Queen-Tiye Jackson, who did not return for the spring semester. Jackson told LadySwish she has given up competitive basketball and enrolled in the College of New Jersey in Ewing Township, N.J.

Hall started nine ODU games this season and was named to the league's All-Rookie team last March. She is one of three CAA players who has since transferred from that team. VCU's Christina Carter and Aprill McRae are now at North Carolina A&T.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Dispatch from former Lady Monarch -- in Afghanistan

She wore 00 at Old Dominion, and in addition to being a crowd pleaser was an integral part of that storied 1997 Lady Monarch team that finished national runner-up. Jersey City's Nyree Roberts, who played from 1994-98, scored 1,854 points (eighth all time at ODU), had 986 rebounds (seventh) and played in 133 games (fifth, tied with Ticha). How consistent was the 6-4 center who was Thunder to Clarisse Machanguana (Lightning)? Consider that she averaged a field-goal percentage of .615 in her four years. The former Houston Comet, a second team All-American in 1998, also played in Greece prior to retiring from the game in 2007.

What impresses LadySwish just as much as all those glorious numbers is what Nyree does with her life these days. Nyree works for a company called FLUOR, a Fortune 500 company based in Greenville, S.C. She is in the midst of a one-year Department of Defense contract as a Morale, Welfare and Recreation supervisor serving the military. What's home these days? Bagram Air Field in Bagram, Afghanistan, a base she compares to a small city much like a college campus.

"I eat, sleep and rub shoulders with military from all over the world," Nyree says. "I work between two facilities -- the gym and the phone/theater/computer/library center. The soldiers usually come in to work out (think of L.A. Fitness) or to use the computers and/or phones to Skype and email their loved ones. Sometimes we talk and listen to their stories. Sometimes, they need a hug."

In essence, Roberts says she and her staff are there to provide a place of stress relief and fun for soldiers in one of the most dangerous war zones in the world. Bagram is about 40 miles from Kabul.

"We provide a daily movie schedule of current movies from the States, free popcorn every day, cards, board games, live NFL and NBA games, free calls to the States on holidays and a place to play basketball, including tournaments with prizes. The Harlem Globetrotters were here a few weeks ago. We offer Zumba classes, step aerobics and spin classes. We have several denominations of church services on Sundays, and we even have Pizza Hut, Subway and Popeyes chicken for those days when they don't feel like eating in the dining facility."

Is it scary being so close to an area most of us read about but never think of seeing up close?

"It's a war zone, so the threat of the Taliban is always present," Nyree says. "I haven't felt any immediate danger as of yet. I never go off base. I try to stay away from ECPs (Entry Control Points) at all times. I had never met any Afghan people before I arrived here; now I can say they are just like the rest of us. Not the Taliban, but we have thousands of local people who come on base every day, and I work with several. They clean and set up the gym every day -- awesome people! They are Muslim, so they take breaks to pray five times a day. Different culture, but they are good people. I greet and treat everybody the same. I love my job because I get to put a smile on people's faces every single day."

As for hoops, well she's cheering for her beloved Knicks. As far as playing ......

"My basketball days are over, but I met a guy here and I think I may have to dust the old basketball shoes off and play one-on-one."

We're betting on Nyree to take him. We thank her for sharing details of such an awesome experience.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Two ODU sophomores to transfer

Old Dominion sophomores Myeisha Hall and Queen-Tiye Jackson will transfer from the school, the university announced on Thursday.

Hall of West Palm Fla., started nine of ODU's 11 games this season and was named to the CAA's All-Rookie team a  year ago. Jackson played a total of 50 minutes in her career at ODU, including just one minute this season. The 6-foot forward is from Ewing, N.J.

Jackson is enrolled in the College of New Jersey in Ewing Township, N.J., considered the top public institution in the state. She said she will not play basketball any longer except recreationally.

"My love for the game died when my best friend did," said Jackson, referring to her grandfather, who she lost abruptly on Dec. 22 to lung cancer. Jackson calls that the day, "when the world ended. He was the only one who supported no matter what."

Jackson said she was disappointed she never got to show the Lady Monarch fans her abilities. In addition to ODU, she considered Temple, Virginia Tech, St. John's, UMass and Drexel. Jackson led Trenton City to a State Class title as a senior and led her team in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions, scoring 16 points to go with seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks.

"I never got the opportunity," she said. "But everything happens for a reason."

Both players were recruited by former Lady Monarch coach Wendy Larry. Hall was a significant contributor to the high-tempo game that current coach Karen Barefoot favors, however, ODU has an abundance of guards including Michelle Brandao, who became eligible on Wednesday. Jackson, an imposing presence in the post, was never able to find a role.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Top fives, statistically speaking

Top five lists via the NCAA's official stats through games of Jan. 1:

1. Devon Brown, Liberty - 18.4 ppg
2. Robyn Parks, VCU - 18.0
3. Emily Correal, William and Mary - 17.8
4. Jackie Cook, Old Dominion - 17.6
5. Tarik Hislop, JMU - 16.8

1. Recca Trice, Norfolk State - 5.3 assists per game
2. Nicole Hamilton, Hampton - 4.9
3. Crystal Smith, Longwood - 4.4
4. China Crosby, Virginia - 4.3
5. Emily Frazier, Liberty - 4.3

1. Rachel Gordon, Norfolk State - 11.9 rpg (9th in Division I)
2. Keiara Avant, Hampton - 9.4
3. Chelsea Coward, Longwood - 9.1
4. Shae Kelley, Old Dominion - 8.4
5. Victoria Hamilton, Radford - 8.0

Free throw percentage
1. Kirby Burkholder, JMU - 88.6
2. Devon Brown, Liberty - 88.2
3. Kristina King, Richmond - 87.1
4. Kelsey Wolfe, Virginia - 85.4
5. Rahneeka Saunders, George Mason - 82.9

Field goal percentage
1. Tolu Omotola, Liberty - 58.8 (11th in Division I)
2. Jackie Cook, Old Dominion - 52.1
3. Shae Kelley, Old Dominion - 47.9
4. Devon Brown, Libertty - 46.6
5. Emily Corrreal, William and Mary - 45.5

Blocked shots
1. Chelsea Coward - 2.08 bpg
2. Janaa Pickard, George Mason - 1.88
3. Jordynn Gaymon, Radford - 1.60
4. Nikki Newman, JMU - 1.56
5. Liz Brown, Richmond - 1.50

1. Nicole Hamilton, Hampton - 2.71
2. Ashley Betz-White, Old Dominion - 2.55
3. Victoria Hamilton, Radford - 2.45
4. Jessica Pellechio, VCU - 2.38
5. Keiara Avant, Hampton - 2.36


Scoring offense
1. Liberty - 71.1
2. JMU - 68.2
2. Old Dominion - 67.4
4. Virginia - 65.8
5. William and Mary - 65.6

Field goal percentage
1. Liberty - 43.1
2. Old Dominion - 42.5
3. Richmond - 41.9
4. Virginia - 40.7
5. VCU 40.4

Scoring defense
1. Hampton - 48.3
2. Virginia Tech - 52.6
3. Old Dominion - 53.4
4. Virginia - 57.5
5. Liberty - 57.6

Field goal percentage defense
1. Hampton - 32.3 (8th in Division I)
2. Old Dominion - 33.7
3. Liberty - 34.2
4. Virginia - 34.5
5. Virginia Tech 36.1

Rebound margin
1. Liberty - 16.3 (2nd in Division I, behind only Maryland)
2. Virginia - 5.8
3. Virginia Tech - 3.8
4. Hampton - 3.2
5. VCU - 3.2

1. Old Dominion - 17.0
2. Liberty - 15.4
3. William and Mary - 15.4
4. Richmond - 15.1
5. Virginia - 14.4

3-point percentage
1. William and Mary - 35.5
2. Richmond - 35.5
3. VCU - 34.2
4. JMU - 33.7
5. Radford - 31.4

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

LadySwish state rankings - holiday edition

Consider this a Happy New Year's edition of the state rankings. RPI numbers are still a bit distorted at this point in the season, but we're including them here anyway, courtesy of the website wbbstate.com

1. VIRGINIA (8-4)
Last week: 1
RPI: 48
The Cavaliers didn't pick up many style points, but they did post a pair of confidence-building wins against overmatched Norfolk State and Xavier to win their own tournament. Several factors, most notably injuries and an outbreak of turnovers, conspired to drop Virginia's play a few notches from the highs of their November routs of JMU and Minnesota and a quality neutral court triumph over Vanderbilt. As ACC play approaches, here's hoping the Cavaliers can find that level again.
Coming up: Thursday vs. Virginia Tech; Sunday at Miami

2. RICHMOND (8-6)
Last week: 2
RPI: 69
The Spiders were once again burned by one of their own favorite weapons - the 3-point shot - in last week's 82-74 loss at Charleston. The Cougars shot 11-of-20 from long distance. In Richmond's previous game, Florida Gulf Coast made 9 3-point shots. In November, Boston University upended the Spiders in part because of 8 3-pointers. Four games later, Green Bay took down Richmond with 14 treys. For the season, the Spiders rank 329th of 343 Division I teams in 3-point percentage defense. In general, we believe this stat is somewhat overrated. In the particular case of the 2012-13 Spiders, there may be something to it.
Coming up: Friday vs. Navy; Jan. 7 vs. La Salle

3. LIBERTY (10-4)
Last week: 4
RPI: 78
It's way too early to declare the Big South regular-season title chase over, but if the Lady Flames stay at the level they reached in Saturday's 90-57 rout at Winthrop, good luck to anyone else in that league trying to keep up. Devon Brown went off - again - this time for 32 points and Tolu Omotola contributed 24 points and 12 rebounds as the Lady Flames avenged one of their two conference defeats from a year ago.
Coming up: Thursday vs. Presbyterian; Saturday vs. UNC Asheville

Last week: 5
RPI: 115
One more victory and the Lady Monarchs will match their regular-season win total from all of last season. And they really haven't had to sweat out any of the victories - the closest winning margin was a 16-point spread at Maryland-Eastern Shore. We're interested to see how the Lady Monarchs handle themselves down the stretch of a close game. By the way, we hope the Constant Center fans come to their feet and applaud when guard Michelle Brandao checks into Wednesday's game against Pittsburgh. After waiting patiently for 44 games to become eligible, the young woman has certainly earned it.
Coming up: Wednesday vs. Pittsburgh; Sunday at Georgia State

Last week: 7
RPI: 86
The Hokies rested star junior college transfer Uju Ugoka (knee), pulled second-leading scorer Monet Tellier from the starting lineup for a team rules violation (late for a team practice, according to the Roanoke Times) and then scored just 10 points in the first half against Hampton. For these guys to erupt for 45 second-half points against statistically one of the best defensive teams in the country was nothing short of remarkable. It's also an indication of how much this team's fortunes appear to have changed during the three-game winning streak since the talented Ugoka became eligible. And it makes Thursday's Virginia Tech-Virginia battle the most intriguing between these teams in a long time as Ugoka is expected to play.
Coming up: Thursday at Virginia; Sunday at North Carolina

6. HAMPTON (9-5)
Last week: 2
RPI: 98
Yes, giving up 45 points in the second half against Virginia Tech was crippling. But the Lady Pirates set themselves up for defeat by answering the Hokies' 10-point first half with just 17 points of their own. At some point, even a defense as stout as Hampton's needs some offensive cover. And it's not as though Hampton doesn't have capable scorers. In fact, the Lady Pirates made 8 of 9 field goals, including their last six, over the final 3:14 in that Tech game. Maybe that was a sign of more consistent production to come.
Coming up: Wednesday vs. Boston College; Sunday at American

Last week: 6
RPI: 118
Like Virginia, the Dukes were in need of some confidence-building victories, and they now have three of them after resounding home triumphs over American, Maine and Georgia Southern. JMU did not allow more than 49 points in any of the three games, and they scored 88 and a season-high 93 in the last two. Now, bring on the CAA.
Coming up: Sunday at UNC Wilmington

8. VCU (7-7)
Last week: 10
RPI: 237
For all the talk about the VCU offense, it was the Rams' defense that triggered Tuesday's 82-47 rout of Maine. Fueled by 21 steals, the Rams scored 36 points off 27 Maine turnovers. Robyn Parks had a double-double (24 points, 11 rebounds) and four other Rams scored in double figures as VCU notched the kind of feel-good, everybody-contributed victory they can hopefully build on.
Coming up: Friday vs. Youngstown State

Last week: 9
RPI: 218
On Sunday, we were kind of hoping the Patriots would post the kind of resounding victory over Georgia Southern (1-10) that JMU recorded two days later. Instead, it took a Kyana Jacobs layup with 12 seconds left for Mason to escape their own building with a 54-53 triumph. Frankly, the Patriots should have had more separation from this team. Then again, weird things often happen, particularly offensively, in the first game after the Christmas break. And a win is a win.
Coming up: Wednesday vs. East Carolina; Sunday at Northeastern

10. LONGWOOD (4-8)
Last week: 12
RPI: 193
The Lancers made their first-ever official Big South game a memorable one by scoring a 57-49 victory at Radford. Longwood trailed by eight with just under 15 minutes remaining before outscoring the Highlanders 22-2 to pull away. Chelsea Coward (19 points, 12 rebounds) and freshman Daiesha Brown (18 points, 10 boards) led the way for the Lancers, who with a win at Gardner-Webb Thursday - a team they've already beaten this season in a non-conference game - have an excellent chance to be 2-0 in league play when they host Winthrop on Saturday.
Coming up: Thursday vs. Gardner-Webb; Saturday vs. Winthrop

11. RADFORD (5-6)
Last week: 8
RPI: 253
No team is quite the same without its best player. The Highlanders' recent struggles are due at least in part to the absence two-time first-team All-Big South performer Da'Naria Erwin Spencer, who has sat out Radford's last three games. Not sure what the issue is, but Erwin Spencer hadn't been quite herself even before shutting it down. After averaging 32.5 minutes per contest last season, she played 19 minutes or less in three of six games leading up to coming out of the lineup.
Coming up: Thursday vs. UNC Asheville; Jan. 10 at Gardner-Webb

Last week: 11
RPI: 320
Another week, another close loss for the Tribe, who fell 60-56 at Cornell on Sunday. William and Mary got within two at 58-56 with 1:30 left but would not score again. It was the Tribe's sixth loss by single digits
Coming up: Wednesday vs. Winthrop; Sunday at Hofstra

13. NORFOLK STATE (2-10)
Last week: 13
RPI: 336
The Spartans' offensive struggles continued at Virginia's Cavalier Classic as they managed just 61 points in their two games combined. NSU played both games without junior forward Rachel Gordon, one of the nation's top rebounders at just under 12 per game. They clearly missed her services.
Coming up: Thursday at Hofstra; Jan. 12 at Maryland-Eastern Shore

JMU-Maine game a reunion for former high school teammates

Liz Wood, Lauren Milburn and Jazmon Gwathmey
Thanks to LadySwish "correspondent" Lauren Milburn, we have the inside track on last week's James Madison-Maine game, won by the Dukes 88-34. The game was a reunion of sorts for former Liberty High School teammates Liz Wood of Maine and Jazmon Gwathmey of JMU. Wood and Gwathmey were teammates on Liberty's 2011 Group AA state championship team. Wood was a junior that year and watched Gwathmey become Liberty's all-time leading scorer. The following season, when Liberty returned to the state title game, Wood became the school's all-time leading scorer and rebounder.

Milburn coached the pair at Liberty, where she is now an assistant principal. She has retired from coaching.

Wood, who has started every game for Maine, leading the team in minutes played, 3-pointers and rebounds, finished the game with seven points and five rebounds. Her performance against JMU followed up by a double-double against Towson led to the freshman being named America East Rookie of the Week.

Gwathmey, a redshirt freshman at JMU, finished with nine points and three rebounds, playing more in the post this season rather than her natural wing position due to all the injuries the Dukes have endured. The 6-2 guard was the VHSCA state player of the year in 2011.

Milburn wasn't the only one from Bealeton's Liberty who made the trek to Harrisonburg. Family, friends, former coaches and players, even school principal Robert Lee, a JMU alum from 1978, were in the stands at the JMU Convocation Center.

A couple of fun side notes: Wood led Liberty back to the state title game in 2012 only to have the Eagles fall to Robert E. Lee. Leading Lee in scoring? Current JMU freshman Angela Mickens.

Lynchburg College sophomore Katie Reeves was also at the game. The starting point guard for her team, Reeves was a 2011 Liberty High graduate and part of that decorated state championship team.

We wouldn't know any of this without Milburn, an asset to LadySwish and an incredible asset to Liberty High.