Game Day

The time is finally here. Tonight, under the lights of Sheumann Stadium, the Cardinals will strap on their bonnets and collide with an actual opponent, instead of their own scout team.

Coach Pete Lembo will begin his sophomore season wearing the headset for Ball State, while junior quarterback Keith Wenning looks to build off promising sophomore season under center.

At the beginning of every season, there are uncertainties. For the 2012 Cardinals, the uncertainties are numerous.

1) The defense must be better…You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out how awful this unit was in 2011. The Cardinals were second-to-last in the nation in averaged yards allowed per game, 510.3. Only six teams (Houston, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Nevada and Oregon) averaged more yards per game offensively than Ball State allowed defensively. Ball State was also 104th in the nation in points allowed per game, averaging over 34. There were too many big plays given up, too many missed tackles and too many blown coverages. If the Cardinals want to have any success in 2012, the defense must shore up. But, on paper, it doesn’t appear that will happen. The departures of safeties Sean Baker and Josh Howard leave a gaping hole in the secondary. Sophomore linebacker Aaron Morris, who was a First Team All-MAC selection and started all 12 games in 2011, was deemed academically ineligible and is no longer with the team. Morris had a tremendous 2011 season, recording the second most tackles on the team with 115. The defensive line also took a hit when senior defensive tackle Adam Morris graduated. Morris held his ground last season, amassing 48 tackles, eighth on the team.

2) Travis Freeman can’t make every play…Freeman will anchor the defensive backfield, but other than fellow senior Tony Martin, there aren’t too many guys who appear ready to step up. Senior Justin Cruz started all 24 games during his freshman and sophomore seasons, but got the nod just twice last season. Freshman Trent Toothman has yet to start a collegiate game, but is listed as the backup to Freeman on the depth chart. Redshirt junior Kenneth Lee looks to have solidified himself as the starter at the strong side linebacker. Lee, a journeyman who transfered from St. Joseph’s College, didn’t play in 2011 and redshirted. But Lee could be a sleeper in this bunch. At St. Joseph’s College, Lee was first in tackles with 77.

3) True sophomore running back Jahwan Edwards will get the load of the carries for the Cardinals this season, but who will be the guy to give Edwards a breather? Barrington Scott started the first handful of games in 2011, but suffered a season-ending knee injury against Eastern Michigan. Will his knee be stable enough for him to make an impact in a crucial situation? Freshman Horactio Banks figures to be a key piece in this group of running backs. But, as a freshman, Banks hasn’t played a down of collegiate football. With Edwards as the No. 1, the rotation for the second and third RB should be interesting.

Moving on…

The offensive line will dictate where this team will go in 2012…The five starters, Austin Holtz, Kitt O’Brien, Dan Manick, Jordan Hansel and Cameron Lowry have 109 combined career starts. This group is the most experienced in the country and should punish opponents every time they take the field. Mental mistakes and penalties will be unacceptable from this group.

Moving on…

There’s a new addition to Scheumann Stadium this season… An inflatable tunnel, featuring the Cardinals helmet and decal has been installed leading out of the locker room.

This matchup has the potential to be an exciting one between two Mid-American Conference West division teams.

Thanks for reading,

-Poz

 

A day in Oxford

Cheers from across the pond and good morning to those of you in the States and good afternoon if you’re in Europe….

Let me start with a quick personal note: You’ll have to forgive me for the past few days. It probably seemed like I was on vacation or exiled. Well, I wasn’t the latter, but I took a few days to myself to write and explore the wide assortment of beautiful landscape here in the UK. I was able to watch the Rams’ preseason opener at Indianapolis Sunday evening. I didn’t give my full attention to the Rams in the first half because my eyes were fixed on the No. 1 overall pick and Stanford prod Andrew Luck. It was his first-ever game in this league and it took him one snap to show what he’s all about. I believe Colts’ fans have something special here. Yes, I realize it’s only August and that’s why I wasn’t paying too much attention to the Rams. It’s a long and grueling season, but Luck appears to be on his way to restoring the rich, winning tradition in Indy.

Moving on…Enough talk about what’s going on back in the States….You’re probably wondering what’s going on over here in England: On Sunday, I took a train to Oxford with my colleague Jonathan Batuello to see its rich history. It was my first time taking a train. And no, the tube doesn’t count. I must say it was a cool experience. Being able to glance out of my compartment window to scope the miles of countryside was so enjoyable. Having traveled by bus for the majority of this trip, having the opportunity to get my eyes on some of the patches of untouched land in the UK was entertaining.

We got to Oxford with a couple of hours to kill before the famous Christ Church opened, which is where the Great Hall from the Harry Potter films is. With the extra time on our hands, we walked about the city until reaching Oxford Castle. Let me say this; if you ever make your way to England, this venue is an absolute must see. The architecture is extravagant. The castle itself still resembles the original, which was amazing to see. Of course, not all of it is the same. Nowadays, there are multiple shops, restaurants and bars inside, outside and surrounding the old palace. This makes for a great tourist attraction. We planned on going up in one of the towers, but like everything else in England, it cost money, and after unloading 250 British pounds (roughly $375) to watch the U.S. women’s soccer team defeat Japan 2-1 in the gold medal match at Wembley Stadium last Thursday, my funds are running low. So, we turned back. But by that time, Christ Church was open.

It was a rather short distance from Oxford Castle to Christ Church, and once the church was in my line of view, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was one of the most moving sites I’d ever seen. There’s so much history involved with that place and to be able to walk through it was remarkable.

Making the trip to Oxford just adds to the list of life-long memories I’ve been able to make on this trip. Another beautiful day in England.

You won’t want to miss my next post about the “bus ride from hell.”

Thanks for reading,

-Poz

USA Field Hockey Haunted By Unsuccessful Past

In the weeks leading up to the 2012 London Games, Team USA Field Hockey coach Lee Bodimeade was certain his team learned from its mistakes four years ago in Beijing, resulting in an eighth place finish.

“I had a feeling we were [just] happy to be there rather than be successful,” Bodimeade told me.

Obviously, that wasn’t the case. London has been a complete nightmare for the U.S., who was looking for its first podium finish in nearly three decades.

Bodimeade felt strongly about his talented group heading into London, and he had every reason to. His team punched their ticket to London by shocking the perennial powerhouse and 2012 World champion Argentina 4-2 in the final of the XVI Pan American Games last fall.

The U.S. carried that momentum over to the London Games. After falling to Germany in their first match of the tournament, Team USA stunned Argentina once more, 1-0. It was perhaps the most historic victory ever by the U.S. It gave fans something to cheer for, something to look forward to. Team USA proved they could go head-to-head with the biggest, toughest and fastest teams in the world.

Shockingly, that would be the final promising story line for the U.S., who dropped three straight, including the worst loss in history, a 7-0 spanking from South Africa.

The U.S. fell just short of defeating or forcing a draw against Australia (1-0) and New Zealand (3-2), who eliminated them from medalling. The aftermath from those heartbreaking losses was dreadful. And the on-field performances turned from ripe to sour in the snap of a finger.

With nothing left to play for, except for pride, the U.S. had trouble doing just that. The offense was as inefficient as the St. Louis Rams’ red-zone offense over the past few seasons.

And the defense was plain pitiful.

Watching the match, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for U.S. goalkeeper Amy Swensen, who was continuously bombarded with shots from every direction without much, if any help from her defense.

There isn’t much else that can go wrong for this U.S. team, who will play Belgium in the final match of the tournament with the loser earning last place among the field of 12 teams.

 

Scoring Women’s Soccer Gold Medal Match Tickets

Soccer, a popular sport around the world, generally doesn’t peak my interest.

But it was the Olympic Games, It was Team USA and Canada with each team vying for a spot in the gold medal match.

The conclusion to this particular match, one of the few matches I’ve watched from start to finish, was unreal. Every time Canada scored, the U.S. came right back to even the contest. The same was true when the U.S. scored. Canada wouldn’t go away.

But it was the U.S. who triumphed 4-3 in extra time, forcing a re-match of last summer’s World Cup final with Japan for the gold medal in London.

The thought of buying tickets never crossed my mind. Everything is so expensive here.

As I departed Worcester for London, I pondered the possibility of getting tickets. Once I arrived at our London flat, I took out my laptop and began browsing the ads on Craigslist.

I came across one particular post, which read: “Four Tickets to Women’s Football Gold Medal Match; CAT A; First Row; Section 144.”

After pulling up the seating chart for Wembley Stadium, I realized these seats were right at midfield. I replied to the listing and texted the number provided on the ad, “Are those football tix still available for gold medal match?”

Shortly thereafter, my phone lit up with a response, “So far, yes, but many people are calling.”

The asking price was 250 pounds per ticket. The first words out of my mouth were, “Holy cow. That’s outrageous.”

I got a call from, Remi Padoin, the scalper who posted the ad on Craigslist. I told him I was from the United States and wanted to see my country play in the gold medal match. I told him I’d get back to him shortly as I needed to round up three colleagues to go with me.

After asking around for nearly an hour, I was in luck. Alix Sappington, Jena Rose and Sara Schaefer agreed to go with me.

I rushed to my phone, punched in Padoin’s number and told him we’d buy them.

Having no idea who this man was, my stomach started churning. Scalping is illegal and I wanted to make sure we didn’t get caught.

Padoin told me to meet him at the Tottenham Court Road tube station at 7 p.m., roughly an hour from the time I spoke to him.

I hung up the phone and began recruiting volunteers to go with me to pick up the tickets. After another extensive search, Alix and Jena joined me, and we were off to the Farringdon tube station.

Upon arriving at the Tottenham station, I received another text from Padoin, “Hoping on the tube now. There in 15ish. Look for ridiculously long flag pole with Norway flag.”

As Alix, Jena and I made our way toward the exit and walked up the stairs, there was no sign of a long flagpole with a Norway flag. We decided to go into Burger King for a final count of our money. It was all there.

We came out of Burger King and I couldn’t believe my eyes. A giant Norway flag was swaying through the air right across the street. Padoin was holding the flagpole, draped in a Norway flag while wearing a Norwegian Viking helmet with horns shooting out of both sides.

After being so nervous about making this transaction, I couldn’t help but laugh. It was an entertaining site to see.  The three of us approached Padoin. He greeted us with a smile, shook our hands, and showed us the tickets.

He even asked me if I’d like to wear his Viking helmet. I couldn’t resist. All three of us posed for a picture with our newest friend.

Minutes later, I was holding four Olympic women’s football gold medal match tickets in my hand.

It was the strangest of occurrences, but it turned out to be one of the finest moments of this trip to the Olympic Games.

 

 

Biking Through London; A Day At Olympic Park

Cheers and good day to you. The past two days in London have left me with some of the most memorable moments of this entire trip.

On Wednesday, my 22nd birthday, I spent the day hanging out with Andrew Mishler, Mat Mikesell and Misha Kerkhoff. After a relaxing afternoon at our London flat, I took advantage of what this beautiful city has to offer.

I went to a fantastic authentic Italian restaurant called City Pride, just a few blocks away from our flat, for dinner with Misha and a few professors. Boy oh boy was it tasty. It was a nice little place with both inside and outside seating and multiple televisions to watch the Olympic Games. The men’s 200m individual medley relay semifinal was on and I thoroughly enjoyed watching Ryan Lochte edge out Michael Phelps in front of a number of locals who repeatedly said, “And there’s winner for the Americans.” I couldn’t help but smile and laugh after I heard that.

For dinner, I decided to go with the most authentic Italian dish, pizza. Wow, was it amazing. It was a delightful mixture of cheese, mushrooms and freshly sliced ham made right in front of me. It literally melted in my mouth. I also got my taste buds on some of the homemade garlic bread. Once again, I wasn’t disappointed. Another tasty dish.

After dinner, I took a tube down to the London Eye with a smaller group of my colleagues and one of my professors. It was the longest tube ride I’ve taken while in London, but it beats a 45-minute walk. I’ll take it.

Once I was in the heart of London, I saw an array of magnificent sites. It was dark and the entire skyline was lit up. The London Eye was decorated in red, blue and white lights while many of the surrounding buildings were lit up as well. We stopped at the Westminster Parliament building to catch the most spectacular light show I’ve ever seen. The show featured all of Great Britain’s former and current Olympians in their most competitive and exciting moments. At the end of the last show, a picture of Phelps ignited across the entire building, making for an astonishing conclusion.

Following the light show, we biked all the way through Central London back to our flat. It was the most dazzling bike ride I’ve ever been a part of. I was able to slowly cruise by all of the lit up buildings and monuments while trying to remember that I needed to be on the left side of the road, as the folks in Great Britain and all other European countries drive on the left side, not the right. It was truly a remarkable conclusion to what turned out to be one fabulous birthday.

On to Olympic Park…

On Thursday, Mat, Andrew, Misha and I took a tube to Olympic Park and the Media Press Centre. After a short tube ride, we arrived at our destination, where we picked up our credentials.

With security as tight as it is, we had to wait for an escort to bring us into the Media Press Centre, which took much longer than any of us imagined. After being told to wait, we were informed that our escort went to another destination to pick us up. So, we took another tube to Hackneywick, where Andrew  and I waited outside for our escort while Mat and Misha went to get an interview with an athlete. Nearly 30 minutes passed, and still no sign of our escort. Andrew and I went up to the front gate and were told to go to a nearby tent, which happened to be where all of the escorts go for pick up. We found out that Mat and Misha were already taken to the Media Press Centre. So again, we had to wait…and wait…and wait…until finally, our escort arrived and we were on our way. After a bit of walking, we were in the same building as some of the most acclaimed newspaper and magazine outlets in the world, including SportsIllustrated, The New York Times and USA Today. It was quite the experience.

I had a chance to chat with and meet a pair of columnists, including Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star and Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports. I was extremely humbled and honored.

We even got to sit in on a news conference containing the Canadian track and field team. A lot of the news conference was spoken in French, but I didn’t care. I was sitting in on an Olympic news conference. Heck, they could’ve been talking in Chinese and I still wouldn’t have cared.

Following the news conference, Andrew, Mat and I took a stroll through Olympic Park, surveying the multitude of shops and restaurants. We went into the Nike store and I saw this really cool Team USA basketball zip-up hoodie. I had to buy it. It was expensive, 75 pounds. Then again, when you’re in London, everything is expensive. One U.S. dollar equals 1.56 pounds. Wait, what? Yup. Very expensive.

Biking through the city of London and spending an entire day at Olympic Park was truly an amazing experience. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the rest of my trip.

Thanks for reading,

-Poz

Spending My Birthday In London

Cheers! And good morning/good day to you…After a brief two-day stay at the University of Worcester, I boarded a coach bus with the rest of our group and departed for London, where I’ll be spending my 22nd birthday.

Yes, I’m a year older and I have to give a shout-out to my mom, Vickie, who was probably the happiest person in the world as soon as I was born. I can’t begin to fathom what it was like for her when she went into labor. She’s a Saint.

Moving on…Yesterday, I met up with one of my professors and a handful of others in my group and we spent the afternoon drinking tea and visiting the historic Worcester Cathedral, where King John and Prince Arthur rest inside their respective tombs. I won’t bore you do death with details, but here are some snippets about King John.

King John was born on Christmas Eve in 1166. He began his reign 33 years later in control of a vast empire which stretched from Gascony in the south of France all the way up through large regions of France to England, areas in Whales and some parts of Ireland. King John is most famous for agreeing to the Magna Carta, which was a charter of demands made by John’s rebellious barons. When he died in October 1216, he lost most of his lands and was intertwined in a war with his own people.

The cathedral itself is full of rich and colorful history with multitudes of factoids explaining each and ever aspect of this iconic venue. If you get the chance while in Worcester, England, I encourage you to go visit the cathedral. It’s a must see.

Moving on…After a much-needed afternoon of relaxation, I got back to work. I watched Team USA Field Hockey defeat No. 2 Argentina for the second consecutive time. The U.S.’s triumph over Argentina evens their mark to 1-1-0 in the tournament with its next match set for Thursday against No. 7 Australia.

Moving on…You’re probably wondering what I will be doing in London to celebrate my birthday. Honestly, I’ve been thinking about that this entire trip. I’m not sure what I will be doing. Maybe I’ll go and have a nice dinner with some of my fellow colleagues. Maybe I’ll go see some of the famous sites London has to offer. Either way, I’m sure it’ll be one incredible birthday. After all, I’m in London covering the Olympic Games. Aside from being with my family, it doesn’t get much better than that.