Friday, June 20, 2014

Welcome home, Emily!

We're remiss in not reporting this news earlier.

Emily is home.

Yes, that's Emily Friar, CEO of Team Emily, who we told you about in December. One bone marrow transplant later and the future looks bright -- and healthy -- for the little girl with the contagious smile who is a big fan of the Old Dominion Lady Monarchs.

If you recall, Emily, now 10, was battling acute myeloid leukemia or AML. That's when too many white blood cells turn cancerous and multiply when they shouldn't, interfering with the body's ability to function. It's the rarest form of leukemia among children.

Because of the disease, much of Emily's 2013 and the first five months of 2014 were spent in hospitals -- Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters in Norfolk and Duke University Medical Center, site of the transplant back in early March.

Team Emily, approaching 6,000 likes on Facebook, is her support system -- along with parents Terry and Kelly, sister Caitlyn and extended family. We're aboard Team Emily along with Karen Barefoot and the Lady Monarchs, Dick Vitale, a Spokane, Wash., elementary school, Chesapeake Fire Station 11 ...

The Facebook page is also the spot where Terry post regular updates on Emily's progress. We won't lie. It was a long and daunting road -- one full of transfusions, fevers and waiting, lots of waiting, for platelets and hemoglobin to improve. It's impossible to put into words what this young family has battled since learning of the diagnosis last year.

You wouldn't know any of that by their attitude. The Friars didn't let Emily go through a moment of this alone -- both parents shaved their heads -- and we're overjoyed to report the family is back home in Chesapeake for good. Yes, there will still be lab tests on an outpatient basis and a return visit to Duke for a six-month transplant checkup, but Emily is no longer tied to a clunky IV.

"We are OVERJOYED to be together again, under our own roof," Terry writes. "SO happy to be home."

The best news? After 100 days, Emily's marrow/blood is 100 percent donor. That means no traces of the leukemia.

Team Emily. We told you UConn would be no match. Not the San Antonio Spurs, either. Team Emily is a winner, and we couldn't be happier.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

VCU guard not transferring after all

Good news for VCU and guard Keira Robinson.

The 5-8 rising sophomore guard will remain a Ram. On the heels of second-year coach Marlene Stollings leaving VCU for Minnesota in April, Robinson had planned to transfer to Charlotte. She has since had a change of heart and is back on the VCU campus in Richmond, excited for the 2013-14 season under new coach Beth O'Boyle.

Robinson is from Columbia, S.C., which is about 90 minutes south of Charlotte, and being closer to home and the uncertainty about playing for a new coach led to her initial decision to transfer. "I was feeling a little afraid," she admitted.

But then she had time to reflect on the choice.

 "After I transferred, I had nothing but time at home to sit and pray and dwell on the decision I made," she said. "I couldn't first imagine sitting out a year or could I picture myself playing without a great group of girls.  They are like the sisters I never had, and I am grateful for them. I felt like I made a commitment to this team as well as VCU, and I should carry through with my commitment."

We're happy for Robinson and for VCU, whose offense relies heavily on her versatility. She started 31 of 32 games last season, averaging 11.4 ppg, 6.2 apg and 3.6 rpg. Robinson's scoring average is second only to returning guard Isis Thorpe (12.2 ppg).

Eleven freshmen and sophomores were part of a Rams team that was the surprise of the Atlantic 10 last season, finishing 22-10 and advancing to the WNIT. O'Boyle, who just completed her staff with the hiring of assistant coach Nerlande Nicolas and director of operations Stephanie Witko, comes to VCU from Stony Brook, having led the Seawolves to a 24-9 season and their first postseason appearance in 2006.

"This upcoming season I see great things that Coach OB and the amazing coaching staff have planned for us," Robinson said. "Coach OB is wonderful and has a lot in store for us, and we are up for the challenge."

Thursday, June 12, 2014

ODU's nonconference sked is Barefoot's best

Getting better.

The Old Dominion Lady Monarchs released their nonconference schedule on Wednesday, and the slate of foes is much improved.

Remember the three bottom-rung MEAC teams from last year (neither Hampton nor North Carolina A&T among them), UMass Lowell and a rebuilding Radford team visiting Norfolk? Those kind of check-off wins weren't much for the folks who are regulars at the Constant Center to be excited by.

The 2014-15 schedule is more attractive. There's Duke and Louisville and California -- three Top 20 teams from a year ago. Nice to see some Virginia schools on the slate, too -- a Nov. 25 date at Virginia Tech and Dec. 5 vs. VCU. And a William and Mary game that returns some tradition to the program.

One lament -- the Blue Devils -- who, no doubt, want to given Virginia Beach's Elizabeth William a chance to play close to home her senior year -- are the lone sexy opponent at home. Cal and Louisville are road games.

Here's how it looks.

The season opener at the Constant Center comes against a Presbyterian team that finished 12-19 last season, winning eight of its final 11 and ranking second to UConn in the NCAA in scoring defense. Next comes the Tribe under second-year coach Ed Swanson -- a series ODU has dominated but still nice to see -- and then Duke. A No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament last year, Duke was upset by DePaul in the second round, but injuries were the story of the postseason for the Blue Devils.

The rest of the home schedule: Rider, 15-17 last season, a Howard team that finished 11-20 and VCU, the surprise team in the Atlantic 10 that advanced to the WNIT, but has since lost Coach Marlene Stollings to Minnesota.

While Dec. 21 opponent University of Illinois at Chicago finished 26-9, winning the Women's Basketball Invitational, the tournament that is one notch below the WNIT, that game is in Las Vegas. That's a shame for ODU fans, who would certainly love to reminisce with Coach Regina Miller, a Lady Monarch alum and former assistant coach.

But what we see is an upgrade overall, a schedule that reflects the direction Coach Karen Barefoot wants to move in. Granted, the year will be tougher than anticipated due to the transfer of projected Conference Player of the Year Shae Kelley to Minnesota. While we like what we hear about West Virginia transfer Jennie Simms, eligible this season, we really liked the idea of Kelley and Simms playing together along with the return of Ashley Betz-White, injured all of last year.

So while it's only June, ODU gives us something to anticipate. Can't wait to see how it plays out.