Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Vanderbilt Ranked No. 7 in Coaches Poll

The SEC has three teams in the top 10 of the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll.  Kentucky (No. 2) and Florida (No. 10) are perennially near the top of the rankings, yet the third team, Vanderbilt, finds itself in unfamiliar territory. 
(Matthew Tosh/Creative Commons)

Coaches feel so strongly about this year’s team that the Commodores are ranked seventh in the nation, ahead of the likes of Louisville, Baylor, and Kansas.

Much of the reason for the high praise is the fact that all five of head coach Kevin Stallings’ starters from last year have returned for another season.  Vanderbilt’s standout superstar is guard John Jenkins.  Jenkins averaged 19.5 points per game in his sophomore season, and could have been drafted by an NBA team.  Instead, he opted to come back for his junior year and is ready to make his mark in Commodore history.

Along with Jenkins, seniors Brad Tinsley, Festus Ezeli, and Lance Goulbourne, and junior Jeffery Taylor round out the starting five. 
A lethal combination of experience and talent has catapulted the Commodores into national contention.  Vandy obtained a No. 5-seed in the NCAA tournament last season, before falling to Richmond, 69-66.  This year, the expectations are loftier, and a first-round departure will not suffice.
In order to succeed and improve upon their 23-11 campaign from a year ago, Vandy will need to fare well in key matchups against out-of-conference and SEC opponents.  Out-of-conference, the Commodores match up against Xavier (No. 15), Louisville (No. 8), and Marquette (No. 21).  In-conference, they face Alabama (No. 17), Florida twice, and Kentucky twice. 
The huzzah surrounding Vandy’s season has not gone unnoticed by ESPN.  The Commodores have fourteen games scheduled on ESPN’s family of networks, including home games against Kentucky and Florida, on February 11th and 28th.
Prior to this season, the Commodores often flew under the radar.  Though they have compiled an impressive five-year streak of 19+ win seasons, there hasn’t been this much hubbub encircling Vandy in quite some time.  In fact, the elite ranking of number seven in the country is the team’s highest since 1966 (No. 5). 
Jenkins and the rest of the starting five are destined for excellence. However, Vandy will need to remain injury-free and get valuable production from the bench as the season unfolds in order to make a tournament run. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

WSOC | Freshman Hunsberger fits in well as role player for Syracuse

Contributing Writer
Published: Monday, October 17, 2011
Updated: Monday, October 17, 2011 23:10
Syracuse and Villanova were in a scoreless tie in the 56th minute and neither team was breaking through. The Orange, two games below .500 at the time, needed a boost.
That's when freshman Megan Hunsberger stepped up and scored the decisive goal, propelling the team to a 1-0 victory.
"Tina (Romagnuolo) played her a great ball down the left side, and she took a great touch across the defender," SU head coach Phil Wheddon said. "The defender had a choice to either bring her down and foul her or let her go. She chose to let her go, and Megan struck the ball past the goalkeeper in the top corner."
Hunsberger's game-winning goal, the first of her Syracuse career, started a four-game winning streak and helped to turn the team's season around. The next game, she scored a goal against Seton Hall and contributed with an assist to Romagnuolo in a 4-1 triumph. Her recent success, combined with her experience playing competitive soccer in high school, has given her a significant spot on the roster of a Syracuse (7-6-3, 6-4 Big East) team that has qualified for the Big East tournament.
"She's done really well," said Romagnuolo, a junior midfielder. "Obviously, when she first got here I think she was a little nervous, but now she's coming out of her shell and playing really well. She's really good at crossing the ball."
Hunsberger's positive energy and ability to contribute at multiple positions has enabled her to play in 14 games this season in her first year. She started against Central Connecticut and Big East opponent Pittsburgh. She has played primarily in the midfield, but is flexible to other positions, such as outside back.
"She's fought hard in every training session, and when she gets on the field she's a very good technical player," Wheddon said. "She's played a lot of different positions, which is a coach's luxury."
Soccer has been at the forefront of Hunsberger's life ever since she was a child. As a teenager, she was a member of the U-15 United States national team, a team that traveled to California to play elite club teams.
"The U-15 national team was an outrageous experience," Hunsberger said. "It prepared me for the speed of play in college soccer and playing with that level of competition was unbelievable."
Along with the national team, Hunsberger participated in the Olympic Development program, played for club teams Albertson Fury and AC Perugia, and excelled at Freedom High School in Bethlehem, Pa.
"Soccer, friends, that's pretty much it," she said.
Along with her soccer skills, Hunsberger's sense of humor and infectious personality off the field also keep her teammates laughing.
"She's really funny," assistant coach Abby Crumpton said. "She's a great soccer player, but is also really great for chemistry. She keeps us laughing and keeps our spirits high at the right times."
Certain aspects of the transition to collegiate-level soccer have been difficult, such as the physical style of play and fast-paced action. But Hunsberger has seamlessly made the jump from being a high school star to a Syracuse role player to start her career.
"Playing every day definitely helps you, and playing with different players expands your horizon and knowledge of the game," she said. "You understand it more. It's a different experience. It helps you out."
Although Hunsberger has already started two games and scored two goals, she has higher aspirations. "I definitely want to get into the NCAA tournament and maybe after college play for a professional team."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Gators ready to chomp

By Trevor Hass

(AP Photo/Bill Haber)
Last season the Florida Gators finished with the best record in the SEC at 29-8, including a 13-3 mark in-conference. PF Chandler Parsons, PF Alex Tyus, PF/C Vernon Macklin, G Erving Walker, and G Kenny Boynton fueled the well-balanced Gators, all averaging over 10 points per game.
     Though Parsons, Macklin, and Tyus graduated, Walker and Boynton are back to fill the void and carry the Gators this season.
      Florida won back-to-back NCAA national championships in 2006 and 2007. Despite failing to qualify in 2008 and 2009, head coach Billy Donovan led the Gators to the Elite Eight this past season.
      While most programs would be satisfied with two titles in the past six years, the University of Florida has high expectations. The Gators are eager to chomp away at SEC foes and devour opponents en route to another championship.

      The Gators have a menacing out-of-conference schedule this upcoming season, filled with the likes of Ohio State, Syracuse, Texas A&M, and Florida State.
      Last year, SEC rival Kentucky got the best of the Gators in two out of three meetings, but this year Florida will look to regain dominance. Kentucky and Florida are the favorites in the SEC and will square off in February, as well as on March 4th, the final day of the regular season.
      To defeat Kentucky and make a strong push in the NCAA tourney, the Gators will rely heavily on Kenny Boynton. Boynton averaged 14 points per game in each of his first two seasons, yet his shooting percentage was a lowly .381. Shooting a higher percentage will open up other facets of Boynton’s game. Once defenders respect his three point shot, he can utilize his quick first step to slash toward the basket and convert on easy layups.
      Jackson State travels to Gainesville to kick off Florida’s season on November 11th and the Gators commence their quest for a third national championship in seven years.