Thursday, January 24, 2008

Volleyball's European Vacation

The Jacksonville State volleyball team’s European Vacation is getting closer to becoming a reality. As close as it can be without actually having tickets in hand.

That’s the next step.

The Gamecocks’ trip of a lifetime has them visiting six cities in four countries over 13 days in May. They are scheduled to visit Prague; Vienna; Maribor, Slovenia; and three cities in Italy, including Venice and Rome.

"We’ve very close," JSU coach Rick Nold said. "I’m getting ready to buy the tickets; once you get them, you’re going.

"We’ve still got a ways to go to get it the absolute right way. If you’re doing it one time, you want to do it right. It’s just a matter of getting the final piece of the puzzle together." But they're going."

The trip is a reward for the program’s two straight OVC regular-season titles and two NCAA Tournament appearances.

It will be part volleyball, part life experience and part career planning. All-American Abbey Breit and Rebekah Nichols (Oxford) both are interested in playing professionally in Europe, and if the Gamecocks can put together the right package, trip organizers can get them in front of more of the right people.

"I'm kind of excited," said Nichols, who has international experience having played before in Australia. "I'm really interested to see how all the younger ones do."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Softball by the numbers: 2, 500, 1,000

The Jacksonville State softball team was picked a familiar second in the Ohio Valley Conference preseason coaches poll released Wednesday.

The Gamecocks, who've finished second each of the last two years, may not be picked to win the league, but it promises to be a year of milestones nonetheless.

The program will play its 1,000th all-time game this season and coach Jana McGinnis could post her 500th victory.

The Gamecocks, who started softball in 1988, have an all-time softball record of 575-391. At the earliest, Game No. 1,000 would come in Game 34 – at home in the final game of the UT-Martin series, March 22.

McGinnis needs only 27 victories for No. 500, and if it doesn’t happen, the Gamecocks will have suffered their worst season in a number of years. The team has won at least 33 games each of the last six years.

The Gamecocks may have lost slugger Daniela Pappano, but they do return five All-OVC players among their seven returning starters and four pitchers from last year’s 35-23 team. Among the returnees is senior outfielder Rachel Flemming, who led the OVC in stolen bases last year (12), while ranking among the league’s best in hitting (.357), hits (66) and runs (42).

As for the OVC poll, the Gamecocks picked up two first-place votes and 71 points — eight shy of favored Tennessee Tech.

The Golden Eagles, who picked up the other eight first-place votes, picked up their fifth OVC regular-season title and sixth conference tournament crown last year. They also became the first OVC team since 2002 to win a game in the NCAA Tournament, beating Alabama and Cal before losing twice to the Crimson Tide.

Here’s the poll: 1. Tennessee Tech (79), 2. Jax State (71), 3. Eastern Kentucky (60), 4. Samford (58), 5. UT Martin (46), 6. Southeast Missouri (40), 7. Tennessee State (36), 8. Eastern lllinois (27), 9. Austin Peay (23), 10. Morehead State (10).

Fan Day for JSU softball is Super Bowl Sunday -- for the second year in a row -- Feb. 3. It'll run from 2-4 p.m., plenty of time to get back home to watch the big game

Monday, January 21, 2008

10 is OK, fewer games better

No one knows if expansion in the Ohio Valley Conference is imminent except the commissioner – and he says it’s not, but the league’s basketball coaches are for anything that keeps them from beating each other up.

Last week, the OVC presidents unanimously voted to take the football playing component off the table for any prospective new members.

Generally speaking, the coaches were encouraged by the presidents’ decision for what it could mean for the future of the league, but they’re equally comfortable with the upcoming 10-team alignment.

"The fewer games we play in the league … from a basketball perspective, I think that is better," Eastern Kentucky coach Jeff Neubauer said on Monday’s coaches teleconference. "I don’t think we have any problem with having 10 teams in the conference.

"In a I-A conference, having football is probably an important thing; here in I-AA where it’s not the moneymaker it is at I-A, I think it makes sense to get rid of that requirement for the OVC. I think having a 10-team league does make more sense, so there’s probably not a need for expansion at this time."

With 11 teams in the league, the OVC currently plays a 20-game double round-robin schedule. When Samford moves out next year, that drops to a more favorable 18 games.

If the OVC were to expand -- two makes the most sense -- it would set the stage for divisional play and a 16-game slate.

While that would ramp up the pressure for coaches to find additional non-conference games, it would also -- the coaches believe -- do wonders for the conference's reputation outside the league.

The coaches espouse the balance in the league, but outsiders see only the conference's won-loss record and its No. 30 billing in the RPI among 32 conferences and independents. John Moriello lists the OVC No. 6 on his "Bottom 10" feature because it has the bottom two teams in the RPI.

"I know the commissioner and the presidents and everyone are looking out for what the best interests of the league would be, and we all respect that and trust in that as well," Eastern Illinois coach Mike Miller said. "I think the only thing from a basketball perspective is what way we can go about this where we keep our league games down.

"… The less conference games that we play in the OVC, I think you will see non-conference records improve. Not that it’s different, just that you can build a schedule early and balance that out a little bit better than what we’ve been able to playing four or maybe five games before Christmas; build your team up a little bit before you get into the most important part of your schedule, which is your league play."