Friday, March 28, 2008

Keeping Track (& Field) Fashionable Coaches!

Before vaulting into today's first topic, here's a reminder to "state your case" in the current SHOUT poll question--"Which state has the strongest set of Big South schools?" Enter your answer in the poll found along the right back to our blog, already in progress...'s spring, it looks great outside for most of us--what are you going to do this weekend?

There are plenty of Big South athletic activities in Virginia and the Carolinas--if you're in the neighborhood, you may want to check out what the Conference is up to these days.

Softball has a light slate: Charleston Southern hosts Winthrop today and tomorrow (doubleheader today, one game Saturday, all of them viewable on The Big South EDGE if you can't make it to the South Carolina Lowcountry--although that is certainly a nice place to visit for a weekend); meanwhile, Coastal Carolina travels to Birmingham-Southern, associate member for softball.

Baseball offers up a full Conference schedule for the first time this year. The games this weekend are mostly in Virginia, with CSU at Radford, CCU at Liberty, and Winthrop at VMI, plus for those not in the Commonwealth, there's UNCA at High Point (NC).

Then there's Outdoor Track and Field--all the Big South schools are actively running, jumping, and throwing this weekend throughout the Big South's three-state region. Some started yesterday, many are in action today, and all of them are still going strong tomorrow. Here's the lowdown...

If you want to find the most Big South schools in one spot, you need to head to Rock Hill, SC, for the Asics Winthrop Invitational. That's where you'll see Winthrop, Charleston Southern, Coastal Carolina, and Radford--plus future members Gardner-Webb and Presbyterian College (with more than a dozen other schools, including Davidson, Marshall, VCU, Delaware, Campbell, UNCW, and plenty more).

At the Liberty Collegiate Invitational, the Flames welcome North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and Elon to a group that also includes a number of smaller schools from across the state of Virginia.

The remaining three members will be trying their speed and skills at separate meets in the Carolinas: UNC Asheville at the WCU Invitational, HPU at NC State's Raleigh Relays, and VMI at South Carolina's Weems Baskin Invitational.

My thanks to our friends at Liberty for tipping me off to this one, but College is running its annual "Fashionable Four" tournament and the Big South is very well represented! The Conference may have had only one team in the NCAA field of 65, but there were four sharp-dressed men from the Big South in this "FF" field...seriously. It's all in pursuit of naming the best-dressed men's basketball coach in the country.

The contest began with the "Style-In" game (I'm not making this up), which was a showdown between the Greenberg brothers: Seth from Virginia Tech and Brad from Radford (pictured here with a nice tie selection). Seth took the win, although we might suggest some contest favoritism in that match considering he is doing commentary on the bracket for College Insider. He claimed to be displeased with being in the "Style-In" game ("an absolute joke"), but offered this about the match-up: "I have a lot of love for my brother Brad, but he really had no chance here. Did you really think I was going to lose this matchup? Pitino is next." That's as in Rick Pitino of Louisville, top seed in the Southeast Region (John Calipari of Memphis has the 2nd seed).

Also in the Southeast--High Point's Bart Lundy (a 14-seed, facing VCU's Anthony Grant in the first round, with the winner likely to face Grant's mentor and Pitino's protege Billy Donovan in the next round).

But wait, there's more intrigue--how about Winthrop's Randy Peele (also a 14-seed) possibly facing former Winthrop coach Gregg Marshall (now with Wichita State) in the second round if Coach Peele can get past Dave Leitao of Virginia? That's in the East bracket, where the top seed is Villanova's Jay Wright and 2nd is UNC's Roy Williams.

I mentioned Liberty off the top, and yes, Flames Coach Ritchie McKay (an impressive 9-seed) is in the mix--he's been sent into the West bracket, facing Washington's Lorenzo Romar. The winner goes up against West top seed Tom Pecora of Hofstra.

What's it all mean? Not a darn thing...but it is kinda fun, don't you think?

Final Thought...
Saturday the 29th is the birthday for Liberty's basketball standout Frazee triplets (Megan, Moriah, and Molly), so from SHOUT to the Frazees: Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Playing with Class

It was rightly pointed out by one reader that I left a notable senior record-holder off the list in yesterday's post. Correcting that will also give me a great opportunity to segue into a subject I really wanted to highlight today, so it's two SHOUT-outs for the price of one!

All too often we can forget we are discussing COLLEGE athletics involving STUDENT athletes, but that remains the heart of everything going on in the Big South and in other conferences and institutions across the country. With the national publicity given to "one-and-done" players and other underclassmen jumping into professional sports (mainly from very large programs), the genuine student-athlete--with equal emphasis on both words--can get overshadowed.

Not today, or at least not here, as Big South SHOUT salutes some outstanding scholars with one more foray into the freshly finished basketball season (by way of a disclaimer, I will stick to basketball for now--and while I will cite everyone on the Academic All-Conference teams, I am going to spotlight only four).

Let's begin with Coastal Carolina's Jack Leasure--the Big South's career leader in three-pointers (and one of the best in the nation beyond the arc). Leasure has done some things that defy description, but let's try anyway, by sticking to just some of his awards:

  • 2005--Freshman of the Year / All-Freshman Team
  • 2006--Player of the Year / 1st Team All-Conference / Honorable Mention All-American / Academic All-Conference Team / Scholar-Athlete of the Year
  • 2007--2nd Team All-Conference / Academic All-Conference Team / Scholar-Athlete of the Year / 2nd Team Academic All-American
  • 2008--1st Team All-Conference / Academic All-Conference Team / Scholar-Athlete of the Year / 1st Team Academic All-American

The Big South's first three-time Scholar-Athlete of the Year in men's basketball, as well as the first player to hold Player of the Year and Scholar-Athlete of the Year honors simultaneously, he's a history major who has made his own history! Leasure deserves tremendous credit for a stellar career on the court and in the classroom.

Let's also give a nod to K.J. Garland of UNC Asheville, who earned Academic All-Conference honors this season, along with being named 2nd Team All-Conference. Garland has been a sharp student and skilled guard his whole career with the Bulldogs. He was the only one to join Leasure as Academic and 1st or 2nd Team All-Conference honorees this season.

Switching to the women's side, we will focus on two Liberty Flames who have blazed their way through both opponents and textbooks.

First up is Allyson Fasnacht, Academic All-Conference and Scholar-Athlete of the Year. While some college athletes come up short of their degrees, Fasnacht is currently working on her second. That's right--she already graduated with a B.S. in Sport Management, and Fasnacht is now pursuing her MBA. How's that for "student-athlete"?

Next is none other than Megan Frazee, Big South Player of the Year. Frazee earned 1st Team and Academic All-Conference honors this year, topping it off with a salute in Sports Illustrated, making the women's NCAA Tournament field "All-Brainiac Team" in the publication's tourney preview issue. The only junior of the four players highlighted here, she's a kinesiology major who would like to get into teaching physical education and health after graduation--although she may also have an interest in coaching.

Without going into greater detail now, I would also offer a virtual round of applause to Ashley Fann of Winthrop and Johnette Walker of Radford, juniors who each made the grade for Academic All-Conference honors as well as 1st (Fann) or 2nd (Walker) Team All-Conference.

As promised, the list for this year's Academic All-Conference squads:
Men: Giedrius Knysas-CSU, Jack Leasure-CCU, Matt Boswell-HPU, Kyle Ohman-LU, Phillip Martin-RU, Walt Allen-PC, K.J. Garland-UNCA, Adam Lonon-VMI
Women: Allyson Fasnacht-LU, C.J. Ware-CCU, Ashley Fann-WU, Tina DeCarvalho-CSU, Johnette Walker-RU, Amy Will-HPU, Ana Baker-UNCA, Amy Jones-PC

And hey--we're getting a little attention in cyberspace...the “Morning Coffee” section of the NCAA Double-A Zone blog had this to say today:

We have to holler at our friends at the Big South Conference, who publicly launched a blog yesterday called "Big South Shout." The Shout will provide an inside look at all things Big South and we will make it a daily read over here at the Double-A Zone. Congratulations to Coordinator of New Media Mark Bryant and the conference office for making the plunge.

Normally I wouldn't self-promote with the name-drop in there, but it's my birthday today, so I'll take it this time. How old, you say? Well, I share the birthday with Leonard Nimoy and Keira Knightley (among plenty of others)--and I'm somewhere between the two age-wise (HA!). I'll quit while I think I'm still ahead--catch you at the next post!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Season Changes

True, it was not the best of weeks for the Big South on the basketball court...all four squads with postseason berths bowed out in their first games: UNC Asheville at Ohio State in the NIT, Radford at JMU in the WNIT, Winthrop vs. Washington State in the Men's NCAA, and Liberty vs. Old Dominion Sunday night in the Women's NCAA. Just don't let it put a damper on your memories of the 2007-2008 season, with so many great storylines on which to reflect.

On the men's side, you had the season-long duel between Winthrop and UNCA--right up to sharing the regular season crown and playing for the tournament title, the emergence of Asheville's tall and talented Kenny George as a player of national interest, and the careers of some solid seniors closing as all-time Conference leaders (Points-Reggie Williams-VMI (pictured), Rebounds-Arizona Reid-HPU, Games Played-Michael Jenkins-Winthrop, Steals-Chris Gaynor-Winthrop).

For the women, you had Liberty's monumental run to a 28-4 record with only one Conference loss, three teams reaching the 20-win plateau in the same season for the first time (Liberty, Radford, and Winthrop), the remarkable turnaround for Winthrop in posting its best-ever season at the Division I level, and the emergence of a tremendous freshman class--keyed by the first-year stars at High Point (with three Panthers on the All-Freshman Team: Mackenzie Maier (pictured), Jurica Hargraves, and Frances Fields).

In short, try not to hang your head too long over the 0-4 postseason--no one likes to lose, but there was a lot to be proud of this year (go with the half-full perspective, not the half-empty one).

And if you're looking for more positives, direct your attention to the Spring Sports...that's right, the book has closed on the Winter Sports and you can give all your attention to Springtime in the Big South!

Meaning what? Well, the first glimpse of Conference play in baseball has given the Keydets the early lead in the standings, thanks to VMI's three-game sweep at High Point. Speaking of the diamond, Coastal, Liberty, and Radford all have winning records so far despite some tough out-of-conference scheduling.

No Big South games in softball yet, but the strongest season so far belongs to Radford, with Winthrop (pictured, WU's Megan Evans) and associate member Birmingham-Southern also notching winning out-of-conference records.

Some teams are burning up the tennis courts already--Charleston Southern's women and Radford's men (pictured, RU's Martin Sayer)are undefeated in early Conference play. Overall in tennis, the Charleston Southern men and the Coastal Carolina women are the first to reach ten wins respectively this year.

And there's more--like strong competitive showings by several Big South members in outdoor track and field meets (both men and women) as well as golf tournaments for men's and women's teams.

So the vernal equinox last week and the blooms on the trees outside are not your only signs of change. Baseball, softball, tennis, golf, and track have been in full swing for weeks--but they're all heating up now like the temperature outside as we work our way to the next swing of Championships in April and May. Follow it all on, and keep visiting us here at Big South SHOUT for more perspectives! (By the way, after sharing this blog with a select few up to this point, we have reached our wider "launch" point--we welcome everyone to our web log community...thanks for taking the time to enjoy a good SHOUT with us!!!)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Turn, Turn, Tournaments!

Have you had time to catch your breath from the many conference tournaments across the nation--or at least enough so that you can jump into the national tournaments?

The Big South Women's Basketball Championship this past weekend had a thrilling finish, with Conference Player of the Year Megan Frazee putting in the winning basket at the last second to defeat Radford by one point. What a game--back and forth--and what an ending! Only a finish like that could top the double-overtime game in the opening round, when Radford needed everything it had to get past a resilient short-handed UNC Asheville squad.

Now the slates are set for the Big South representatives to take the national stage:

Men's Tournament Champion Winthrop (a 13-seed) opens its NCAA hopes in Denver, taking on 4-seed Washington State out of the Pac-10 (Thursday, 7:20pm, CBS).

Men's Regular Season Co-Champion UNC Asheville goes to Columbus to begin the NIT against Ohio State (Tuesday--TONIGHT--7:00pm, ESPN2).

Women's Tournament Champion Liberty (a 12-seed) opens its NCAA efforts at Norfolk, facing 5-seed Old Dominion from the Colonial Athletic Association (Sunday, 7:00pm, ESPN2).

Women's Tournament and Regular Season Runner-up Radford travels to Harrisonburg, Virginia, to face James Madison, also out of the Colonial (Thursday, 7:00pm).

If you need to recap the events from the Big South Tournaments, you may want to visit and check out the Advance Auto Parts Media Center with links to all the game articles, press conference and game video, and more--all put together in one place for you!

Good luck to all the Big South reps--make us all proud!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Runs-a-Plenty at the Tourney

Just a quick note from early on at the Big South Women's one was all about runs--after a first half draw (26-26) for High Point and Coastal, the Chanticleers blasted out of the locker room on a 16-2 spurt--but then point production hit a wall and the Panthers ran off a 34-9 blitz down the stretch to take the first game 62-51. The reward for HPU? An appointment Saturday with top-seeded Liberty.

Game two is happening as I write this, and runs are the early story there too--underdog host UNCA got off to a quick 9-2 start...but Radford came right back with a 7-0 stint to pull even. If these games continue to develop in this fashion, it's going to be all about who has the momentum last to produce the final run/statement for advancing to the next round.
When the Bulldogs and Highlanders are done, Winthrop and Charleston Southern will play the nightcap to fill the remaining semifinal slot.

Great stuff--if you're not following these games, you should be--don't forget the semifinals Saturday and the Championship Game Sunday. Of course, if that's not your thing, we had baseball and softball on The Big South Edge this afternoon...always lots going on in the Big South...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Real Sports Racket

Basketball makes the most noise this time of year, of course, but it's far from the only game on the schedule. We have pulled up to a table of sports feasting that could even keep the heartiest appetites satisfied. What am I talking about? Right now we have men's and women's basketball (men fresh off the tourney with two teams moving on...women launching their tourney, more on all that below), men's and women's track & field, men's and women's tennis, men's and women's golf, baseball, softball--really, they're all active right now with games, meets, tournaments, and more. So while hoop-heads go into fits this time of year, don't forget all those other collegiate student-athletes trying to make a racket (or run, etc.) in their respective sports. You can always keep up with ALL the Big South sports via or through the sites of the member schools (links in the right column).

I'm trying to give some equal time, but let's face it, no one can hear me over the hoops hysteria--known far and wide as March Madness (a registered trademark of the NCAA...seriously).

The men's tournament ended with Winthrop taking control in the final against UNC Asheville and earning the automatic NCAA berth for the Eagles, while the Bulldogs know they will be NIT-bound. Neither squad knows its destination or opponent yet, but that info will come soon enough...

Congrats to Winthrop senior Michael Jenkins, who played an impressive game in the final on the way to earning Championship MVP honors and the team win. Jenkins (Big South all-time leader in games played) led an All-Tournament team that included teammate and fellow senior Chris Gaynor (Big South all-time leader in steals), Andy Buechert --also from Winthrop (who did an admirable job defending against the much larger Kenny George in the paint), and Asheville's K.J. Garland and Bryan Smithson.

All of which brings us full circle, because I'm back to writing this from Asheville...SHOUT may have disappeared for a few days, but the Big South Conference has been going full speed: finishing one tournament, preparing to launch another, conducting the Winter Meetings for the member institutions, and all on top of doing all those things that keep the Conference moving (remember all those other sports?)!

The Women's Championship begins tomorrow...the All-Conference honors were announced at the banquet tonight. Awards were shared all around, but Liberty certainly got plenty of hardware to take home: Regular Season Champions, Coach of the Year (Carey Green), and Player of the Year (Megan Frazee). All that and they don't even play tomorrow--they earned a bye into the semifinals. For your gateway to tourney stories, game and interview video, the full list of honors for the women and the men, and the championship pages with brackets and schedules, you can get to all that and more from one central point---The Advance Auto Parts 2008 Basketball Championships Media Center. Give it a click, give it a look--all the game articles and plenty of details for the die-hards.

I'm out--have a good night--enjoy the games!!!!!!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Hoops Bonanza in Asheville

What an incredible time to be following Big South athletics!
That goes both figuratively, for fans--and literally, for me, as I write this from my hotel in Asheville (the Doubletree Biltmore Hotel, just outside the entrance to the famed Vanderbilt estate).

After Tuesday's games, the focus turned quickly to Thursday's semifinals in Asheville at the Justice Center on the UNC Asheville campus. First, a quick recap: in the quarterfinals, all the top-seeded/home teams won their games (UNCA over Charleston Southern, Winthrop atop Radford, High Point past Coastal Carolina, and Liberty beating VMI). Only the outcome of the HPU-CCU game provided any real drama, coming down to the final seconds, while the other games sported wider margins of victory. With all those games in the books, the top four seeds moved to the site of the regular-season champion (Asheville) for the next round.

Back-to-back games in the intimate surroundings of the Justice Center created plenty of excitement yesterday, but again the high seeds prevailed, with Winthrop knocking off High Point and UNC Asheville defeating Liberty. That sets up dramatic storylines for Saturday's final (and you can watch on ESPN2). You see, Winthrop and UNCA tied for the regular season title, and in recent years, both the season and tournament titles have belonged to Winthrop alone. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs got the top seed this year by virtue of sweeping the Eagles in their two meetings. The result? A defending champ trying to hold its title on the floor of its rival, who is eager to dethrone the old and take over as the new king of the hill. This is good stuff! And don't forget the core story behind all of it--Saturday's winner gets the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, of course.

A couple of other notes from tourney time--attending/working my first Big South Tournament game, I "won the tip" Winthrop Tuesday, a Radford player tapped the opening tip-off out to the side and it one-hopped off the floor, over the scorer's table, and right into my hands. How about that? A fun start, to be sure.

The quarterfinals only got a brief glimpse on ESPN SportsCenter, with a clip from the LU-VMI game in the "top plays"...the semifinals got broader treatment, with game highlights from UNCA-LU (and only a passing mention of the WU-HPU contest). The show's discussion focused its attention on UNCA's Kenny George, the 7-7 center for the Bulldogs who disrupted Liberty's game, much as he has done to many other teams on Asheville's march this season. Liberty Head Coach Ritchie McKay heaped praise on George in the postgame press conference, acknowledging that the Flames could not go inside while he was in the game. He does make for an imposing figure in the paint.

Now we just have to see how it all plays out--this should be a fantastic game, with two strong teams going for the title.
And as if all that isn't enough--Asheville hosts the Women's Tournament NEXT week!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Key Word is "Advance"

Today I'm writing from press row at the Winthrop Coliseum in Rock Hill, SC. If you haven't been here for a game, this arena is a really good building for basketball, and tonight it's got postseason play to enjoy--along with the other energized home venues for the Big South this evening: the Justice Center in Asheville, the Millis Center in High Point, and the Vines Center in Lynchburg (Liberty).

Yes, it's the 2008 Advance Auto Parts Big South Men's Basketball Championship...and I have to say the key word for these teams now is "Advance." That's the magic of this time of year, right? That these teams all have control now over how many more games the season holds: win tonight, play Thursday; win Thursday, play Saturday; win Saturday, play in the NCAA's Big Dance--and Winthrop showed everybody last year that a Big South team can advance there too (they beat Notre Dame in the opener but lost in the 2nd round). Easy? No. Thrilling? You bet.

So I'm here representing the Conference, along with Mark Simpson from our staff, while the other tourney openers have their own reps from the Big South Conference office. Even though the events are staged at home sites, we make an effort to standardize some of the experience so that the postseason atmosphere is preserved for everybody.

Adding to the drama, a maelstrom outside: rain hard enough to hear inside the arena, wind almost blowing people over trying to get here, and word fresh from Winthrop Director of Athletics Tom Hickman that the area is now under a tornado watch. Lovely.

Well, at least all the preparations so far have kept things pleasant INSIDE, where the players will create the stories and glories on the floor. Tip-off is less than two hours, and then the fun begins! Tourney Time!

You can watch the action on The Big South EDGE, with all the quarterfinals streamed live, plus post-game press conferences. The match-ups: 7-Radford at 2-Winthrop, 6-Coastal Carolina at 3-High Point (with Big South Player of the Year, Arizona Reid, pictured here), 8-Charleston Southern at 1-UNC Asheville, and 5-VMI at 4-Liberty.

The men's semifinals will be on ESPNU and the final on ESPN2 Saturday morning (11:30am). While TV has those games, The EDGE will still have the post-game interviews, so watch for those.

Enjoy the games...more to come soon from Big South SHOUT!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

In Like a Lion...

March has arrived, and whether you believe it's Madness, Mayhem, or Mirth, it is a month with a wild frenzy of action--especially in the Big South. Once again, I spent the day at the New Balance Track & Field Championships, witnessing tremendous athletes giving all-out efforts and claiming titles (plus the medals that go along with them). While I was doing that at Clemson, along with Nic and Chad from the Big South staff, the sports action was also in full swing elsewhere--baseball, softball, and of course some very important basketball.

With home court spots to be settled, and the top seven seeds all in flux, the March 1 games for men's basketball would determine the postseason fates of the whole Conference... amazing!

So how did the Big South "Decision Saturday" turn out?

High Point beat VMI at its own high-scoring pace and on the Keydets' floor on Senior Day, which locked in a home quarterfinal for the Panthers and put VMI in a bad position for seeding, waiting on other games. Next on the docket, the battle for the regular season title--and UNC Asheville completed its season sweep over Winthrop to guarantee the top spot and lock the semifinals into Asheville, NC. The Eagles still get a home game for the first round, but not the second. Third up for the day, Liberty and Radford tangled--and the Flames answered the challenge with a win, putting them in the driver's seat for the valuable fourth position. Not to be outdone, the day concluded with a dramatic finish in the South Carolina Lowcountry, where the CSU Bucs upset the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers with a one-point win. With those results, the top four seeds--and therefore the teams at home for Tuesday's quarterfinals--are Asheville, Winthrop, High Point, and Liberty. Get ready for a great tournament!

So what about the track and field events, you say? Glad you asked.

Liberty, already winners of five out of six Big South Championships awarded this academic/athletic year, took the title for the men...and came in second for the women, behind the champions from Coastal Carolina. Among the impressive performances, Josh McDougal of Liberty demonstrated his dominance at distance events yet again--including one automatic NCAA qualifying time for the Flames senior, who has already claimed a National Championship in cross country this year. Even with all his success, Josh has remained remarkably humble and he generously donated his bib numbers from the NCAA Championship (as seen in his picture seen in Sports Illustrated and in the graphic here) for the Big South Hall of Fame at the Conference Office in Charlotte. Thanks, Josh--and congratulations again!

So catch your breath, we still have more ahead of us...March definitely roared in like a lion, but I'm not sure it's going to go out like a lamb--not with this many games on the calendar (enjoy)!