Saturday, October 30, 2010
Saturday, October 23, 2010
And our old friend Tom Pecora chatted it up at the Atlantic 10 media day at Chelsea Piers (a media day in which he doesn’t have to get on a plane—he’s already a happier man!) Thursday. In addition to promising a unique preseason bonfire for Fordham, he also picked at the festering wound that is the 2006 snub. And you wonder why we got along so well. Have a good weekend, catch you Monday!
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
This is from back when the idea of the Video Music Awards on MTV wasn't cloaked in irony.
This is from back when the idea of the Video Music Awards on MTV wasn't cloaked in irony.
Not really sure who the one is—the CAA as a collective being?—but I’ve had “Animal” in my head ever since it was revealed this morning that the Flying Dutchmen were picked fifth in the preseason poll released at media day in Virginia. SOUTHERN BIAS SOUTHERN BIAS SOUTHERN BIAS!!!!
Fortunately, Charles Jenkins eats Southern Bias for breakfast. The Flying Dutchmen superstar was picked to repeat as the conference’s Player of the Year.
To be serious about Hofstra’s placement for a moment: If you were told, back on May 3, that the Dutchmen would open the season in the five hole—two spots higher than they finished last season, back when they had not only the Player of the Year but also two members of the all-freshmen team and the head coach with the second-longest tenure in the league—you’d take that. In a heartbeat.
That the Dutchmen are so high is a testament to the game-changing talents of Jenkins, the underrated ability of the remaining returnees as well as the wide-open nature of the league. Sure, the Dutchmen lost plenty, but they still return a member of the CAA’s all-defensive team in Greg Washington and, perhaps, the versatile Nathaniel Lester. Add Mike Moore and Brad Kelleher—who spent last season as a redshirt and in NCAA red tape hell, respectively—and the cupboard isn’t as bare as was feared five months ago.
In addition, as bad as things seemed to be going for the Dutchmen in May, it was barely even a bronze medalist in the worst off-season Olympics thanks to Drexel losing two players—including starting point guard and leading scorer Jamie Harris—to an armed robbery arrest and UNC Wilmington taking longer to find one coach than it took Hofstra to find two and then losing the athletic director who “oversaw” the search.
And it seems like we say this every year, but other than the top two and the bottom two, you can throw everyone else in a hat and have just as good a shot of coming up with the final standings as you will be if you crunch all the numbers and chew over all the information at your fingertips. A good case can be made for any of the top five teams—that’s right, I said five!—finishing first. This won’t be a multi-bid year for the CAA (unless Tom O’Connor works his way back on to the Selection Committee!) but it is shaping up as perhaps the most competitive season since the league expanded in 2001-02.
Enough out of me, here is the preseason poll and All-CAA first team, as voted on by CAA coaches and SIDs as well as the media covering the league. Stop back tomorrow as we begin the Running Tally of this year’s predictions.
1.) Old Dominion
2.) George Mason
4.) James Madison
8.) William & Mary
11.) Georgia State
12.) UNC Wilmington
All-CAA First Team
Charles Jenkins, Hofstra G
Chaisson Allen, Northeastern G
Denzel Bowles, James Madison F
Cam Long, George Mason G
Joey Rodriguez, VCU G
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Let the record show that at 5:58 p.m. on October 15, 2010—58 minutes into his first practice as the head coach of the Flying Dutchmen basketball team—the perpetually good-natured Mo Cassara got mad.
“Are you telling me that’s as fast as you can run?” Cassara said after he whistled a stop to a drill in which players play suffocating defense on staff members before sprinting to one of the baskets. “Do it again.”
In the second half of the nearly three-hour workout, Cassara grew annoyed when Brad Kelleher and Dwan McMillan, the two players most likely to play the point this season, continued sniping at one another after mixing it up in a physical defensive drill. Cassara used the opportunity to declare he didn’t want to hear any complaining and that the Dutchmen better get it out of their system now.
“Coach Mo getting under some players’ skins today, getting fired up—hey, that’s what we want,” Greg Washington said.
Criticism by Cassara was far outweighed by the positive reinforcement he delivered to his players: On McMillan’s next trip up the floor, he and Cassara spoke and patted each other on the back.
“It’s good for them to know when they do things right and when they do things wrong,” Cassara said afterward. “We’re going to keep encouraging and keep coaching.”
Still, to hear Cassara raising his voice was just one of the many new experiences for the Dutchmen on the first night of the season. “Very strange,” Charles Jenkins said. “Each direction I look, I’m seeing a new face. It’s very strange—a whole new team. A whole new system. It’s different.”
“A lot of freshmen would be like ‘Well, what do we have today?’ and I’m like ‘Well, I don’t know—this is my first time too,’” Washington said with a laugh. “[Last year he could] be like ‘Oh, one time we did this last year, we did that’ and you know what it is. When it’s new, you kind of get nervous a little bit, but it’s good. It’s fun.”
There was at least one similarity to a Pecora-coached practice: An emphasis on defense, which was difficult to highlight during the brief workouts Cassara and his staff were allowed to hold during the first several weeks of the school year.
“No shots are going to go uncontested in this gym,” Cassara said early in the practice.
Cassara was hands-on the entire time, showing the Dutchmen the type of footwork and effort he wants to see as well as the type of verbal commands he wants them to use.
“It’s just so many things so quickly,” Cassara said afterward. “There’s new terms, there’s new phrases, there’s so many different things that they have to learn. And they also have to learn how to come together as a team. You’ll hear me say all the time ‘Team, team, team. Team defense. Team effort.’ Those are the type of things that our guys will have to constantly grasp. And once they do that, we’re going to be pretty good.”
Cassara said he was hopeful it would take “…a good week or 10 days” for the Dutchmen to adapt to his practices, work out the kinks every team has in October and to get into midseason shape. In the meantime, he’s looking for more of what he saw Friday night—effort and enthusiasm.
“This is a new staff, it’s an all-new team in the sense that they’re learning a whole new system, a whole new coaching staff—so a lot of teaching today,” Cassara said. “Overall I’m really happy with our effort and happy with the energy. I think every day we’re going to get a little bit better.”
Friday, October 15, 2010
The first day of college basketball practice elicits from us great gratitude and anticipation every year. The off-season, which seems so unspeakably long when the final second of the previous Flying Dutchmen season ticked off the clock, is finally over, and there will never be more basketball to be played than there is right now.
There’s no room for pessimism on New Year’s Day, when every question mark is an exclamation point and every scenario is the best-case one. Especially today, when we welcome the fresh start October 15 symbolizes while also acknowledging how last April and May were reminders that progress does not come without pain.
Even before Tim Welsh made a career-ruining mistake in the early morning hours of Apr. 30, this coaching change was wholly different than the last time Hofstra went outside the school to find a new leader of the men’s basketball program. Back in 1994, there were no worries about star players transferring and no bruised feelings generated—internally or externally—by the exit of the outgoing head coach. Such was life on the fringes of Division I.
Life as a Flying Dutchmen fan is much better in 2010 than it was in 1994. But some of the innocence is gone, too, and was gone long before the Welsh incident. Yet today is about regaining some of that wide-eyed wonderment and believing in all the positives the season has to offer.
Sure, if all of the underclassmen who ended last season with the Dutchmen were taking the court today, Hofstra might be the preseason favorite to win the CAA. But this is a wide-open conference that has no obviously dominant team. The Dutchmen have the best player in the league and seem to have developed a great chemistry with new coach Mo Cassara. To borrow the three words used by just about everybody in every sport before the first practice of every season: Why not us?
Charles Jenkins’ final lap around the track isn’t what he or anybody else imagined, but he’s still got the opportunity at leading the Dutchmen to the NCAA Tournament berth that would cement his status as the best player to come through Hofstra in at least the last 30 years. Fellow seniors Greg Washington and Nathaniel Lester get their last shot, too, while Brad Kelleher gets his first shot, even if it’s far shorter than it should be. We are so optimistic today, we are almost in the mood to thank the NCAA for granting Kelleher 22 regular season games. Almost.
We look forward, as well, to seeing the future of the Flying Dutchmen in the sophomores who stuck around (David Imes, Yves Jules and Matt Grogan), last year’s redshirts (Mike Moore and Paul Bilbo) and the intriguing newcomers (transfers Dwan McMillon and Stevie Mejia, the latter of whom is redshirting, and freshmen Shemlye McLendon, Stephen Nwaukoni and Roland Brown) brought aboard by Cassara.
And we are glad the season will start with no fanfare. Just roll out the cart of basketballs and begin playing. As fun as a Midnight Madness would be, better to wait until next year, when Cassara and his staff has more time to put one together. Plus, imagine how cool it’ll be to raise the CAA banner a year from tonight. Hey, it’s October 15. Why not us?
Sing it with me, kids! "Too hot to handle, too cold to hold, they're the Flying Dutchmen and they're in control..."
Sing it with me, kids! "Too hot to handle, too cold to hold, they're the Flying Dutchmen and they're in control..."
Mo Cassara is so excited about his new home, he can’t even wait for it to be fully constructed before he moves in. The rookie Flying Dutchmen basketball coach, striking a youthful look in a blue Hofstra polo shirt with a white sweatshirt underneath it, is working in chaos as the men’s basketball offices undergo a top-to-bottom renovation but seems perfectly content to occupy a room that has just two banquet tables, two chairs and a whole lot of sawdust in it—and, occasionally, a computer covered by plastic.
And why wouldn’t he be happy? Tonight, a little more than five months after his unprecedented ascension to the top job, Cassara finally gets to take the court with the Dutchmen and preside over his first practice as a Division I head coach.
We caught up with Cassara Wednesday, and after he gave a quick tour of the construction, he sat down and discussed his preparations for the first practice, his whirlwind spring and summer, the enthusiasm he’s brought to the job—both on and offline—and, of course, late ‘80s/early ‘90s dance pop. Thanks as always to Cassara for his time.
So how are you feeling, two days before your first practice?
We’re all excited. Our players are excited, our staff is excited, we’re excited to officially get on the court and be able to work together on a daily basis now. During the fall, we’ve only been able to work together short amounts of time, and moving forward here, when we get out on the court Friday, we’re going to be able to work together for longer periods of time and as a group. We’re really excited about that.
What were you able to take from what you saw of the guys in the fall?
I think our staff has worked pretty hard and we’ve really tried to get a good feel for some of our guys and some of the talents that they have. Certainly, we’ve seen them on film and got to know them as people. But during the course of the late spring and summer, we weren’t able to work with them at all. But now we’re able to get a feel for some of the things they may not do well, some of the strengths and weaknesses of the team and really the whole makeup of the team…what we need to work on and address and more importantly how are we going to be able to play? What are we going to be able to do to make us successful?
I think my biggest job, our biggest job as a staff, is to put our kids in position to be successful. And you may want to play one way or you may want to do one thing, but you may not be able to do that because of the talents that you have. So I think right now we’re still determining some of the things that we do well and trying to put our kids into the best position to be successful.
How do you go about planning your practices?
Lots of time and lots of thought. We’re still tinkering with some things that we want to do and how quickly we can implement some things. I think this year, more than ever, [with] everybody being new—from the staff down to all the players, there’s no returning guys here that have been through our practices and even our whole staff has never all worked together—we’re even working on things like terminology and sayings and how we’re going to phrase things, because we’ve all come from different places. So the practices are very thorough and very thought out right now, because I think the quicker we can all get on the same page, the better.
Are there any coaches on whom you’ve relied upon as you’ve adjusted to the job in the last few months and what kind of advice have they given you?
Yeah, it’s funny, I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to talk to different coaches, ask different people certain things. As a matter of fact, I talked to Josh Pastner last night at Memphis, [a] guy who took over kind of suddenly and got thrust into something after never being a head coach before. And he really gave me some good advice, to make sure you take some time for yourself everyday and make sure you spend some time working on basketball and things that are really important to you, as opposed to getting pulled in a lot of different directions. It’s easy to do that. And I think he was a great resource for me, just because he’s been in a similar situation.
But I’ve talked to a lot of coaches throughout the country—people that I’ve worked for, people that I know and [about] everything from planning practice to things that work to things that don’t work and how to deal with certain situations. I’m very fortunate I’ve got a lot of good people in my corner.
Have you been able to catch your breath at all the last few months or have you been running 24/7?
It’s pretty much 24/7. I do catch myself in the mornings, when I’m going for a run or having a little bit of time to myself, and sometimes I reflect and say ‘Geez, how did I get here?’ And I’m certainly very glad to be here. It’s really worked out well.
What do the members of your first recruiting class all have in common?
I think they’re all young [grins]. I think that they’re all terrific kids, they’re all willing to learn. I think that they’re really good pieces to our program. They’re really great representatives for our university and our program. And they have big upside—they all have a lot of talent, and I think that will certainly show over the course of time.
When did you know you wanted to make basketball your life?
I think as a kid. It was something that was in my blood. It was something that I always wanted to do. I caught myself, as a young kid, not just watching games. I would write things down when I saw a play I liked, or I would talk about it with my father—the way somebody played defense or the way a certain coach coached. I was always fascinated and intrigued by coaching and the business side of this whole thing.
You’ve made dozens of speeches to every type of group since you got this job. Is there a common theme to what you say?
I think excitement and enthusiasm. I have spoken at country clubs and church gatherings and Boy Scouts and boys clubs and different groups and alumni and dinner and lunches—all over the place—and I think the one thing that I’ve preached and talked a lot about is myself and our staff’s excitement and enthusiasm to be here and what a terrific program this already is. And we’re going to work really hard to build upon what’s already been a very, very successful program, but we’re going to continue to bring a new excitement, a new enthusiasm to Hofstra basketball.
You’ve quickly established yourself as someone who is comfortable with social media. How has Twitter helped you introduce to that whole new audience?
I think it’s huge. I think what it’s really become for me is a huge resource for information. I think now, the way technology is and the way that I’m involved in it, it’s a great resource for information from recruiting to alumni. I have so many different people get back to me and [who] like the updates and the different things, and it’s a great way to interact when you know you don’t have time to pick up the phone everyday and talk to everybody. Certainly my time is challenging at times, but I have one phone that I use just for Twitter and Facebook.
How many more followers do you have than a few months ago?
Quite a few [laughs]. Nobody cared about me in March, when I was an assistant. I have a lot more now, and there’s a lot of great Hofstra fans out there. We’re actually going to spend some time here pretty soon linking my networks up to our webpage and making sure that anybody that wants to follow and get involved can do that.
This is an era in which coaches seem to want to reveal less about themselves and their teams. Why are you so open with information?
There’s people that really care about the program and want to know about the program. And I don’t think there’s any big secrets here, you know? I think that my enthusiasm and my excitement is because I really am excited about what I do everyday and I’m excited about being here and I want to share that with as many people that are interested in it. And I think the more people are interested, the more people that we have following our program and [will] hopefully be as excited about it as I am.
Last question: Everyone knows your fondness for music. What would a Mo Cassara mix tape in 1991, your senior year in high school, sound like?
Whew. [Laughs] Probably some Bobby Brown. Let’s see, my senior year in high school. Definitely Bobby Brown, I’m trying to think what else would have definitely been on there. Probably some old school rap music. I was going to say New Edition—I couldn’t remember [if] Bell Biv Devoe was ? Yeah? So definitely Bobby Brown, Bell Biv Devoe and some old school rap music. That was pretty much what I was listening to. Stevie B, Johnny Gill—definitely, no doubt.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
The typical mantra for a college coach whose team has just earned the first national ranking in school history is to say he remains focused on the next game and that he and his players can’t get too wrapped up in the accomplishment because doing so would deviate from the philosophy that got them into unchartered waters in the first place.
Simon Riddiough is not most coaches. But then again, most coaches haven’t been on campus since the infant days of their program.
Riddiough was a junior defenseman on the Flying Dutchmen soccer team in the fall of 1992, when women’s soccer began at Hofstra as a club sport. A year later the Dutchwomen moved to Division I, and in 1996, Riddiough joined the Dutchwomen staff as Joanne Russell’s assistant in 1996.
He recalls the days of the late ‘90s when merely getting into the top 10 in the weekly mid-Atlantic poll was a big deal. So he had no problem relishing the moment Wednesday, a day after the Dutchwomen—who have won a school-record 12 straight games since falling to no. 7 Boston College in the season opener—moved into the top 25 at no. 23.
“We told the girls [Tuesday]: ‘You’re going to look back on this season and it could be one of those magical years,’” Riddiough said in his office. “And if you don’t enjoy it as you’re going through it, then you miss out on it a little bit. You’ve got to smell the roses. You’ve got to accept that this is special and this is going on.”
Success is nothing new for the women’s soccer program. Russell won 150 games in 14 years, steered the Dutchwomen to a 16-2-1 record—with both losses by a single goal—in just their second year of Division I play in 1994 and won the CAA and the school’s first bid to the NCAA Tournament in her final season in 2005.
The Dutchwomen won an NCAA Tournament game under Riddiough in 2007, returned to the CAA finals in 2008 and were picked to finish second in the conference this season. But this run has surpassed even the wildest expectations of anyone associated with the program.
“It was just incredible—I never, ever thought that that would [happen], never even entertained that thought in my head,” Dutchwomen midfielder Brittany Butts said. “To see that, and for it to become reality, is just amazing. To make history is very nice.”
“I really think it still hasn’t hit me yet,” Riddiough said. “I knew this team had the talent to be 12-1, but it takes more than just talent, you know? The pieces came together and we’ve been quite fortunate that everything has clicked at the right time.”
The Dutchwomen haven’t trailed in any of their last 11 games and eight of the 12 wins have been by two goals or more, including a resounding sweep of CAA foes Towson and George Mason last weekend in which the Dutchwomen outscored the opposition 9-1. The most pivotal wins, though, were recorded during an eight-day span in September, when the Dutchwomen went to Indiana and won a pair of 3-1 decisions over Big 10 programs Purdue and Indiana on the same weekend before edging Columbia, 1-0, in double overtime in Manhattan.
“The Columbia game was a key moment—0-0 [in overtime], it could have easily ended 0-0, it could have easily been 1-0 Columbia,” Riddiough said. “I thought the Purdue-Indian trip was a key moment for our team, confidence-wise and psyche-wise. We’re going to Big 10 country, where these teams get everything given to them. They’ve got heart rate monitors before kickoff. To win against those two traditional powerhouses, I think that kind of was [the] ‘Wow, we might actually be good this year [moment].’ And it all came to fruition this past weekend, when we played two very good teams and pretty much dominated statistically.”
Last weekend also yielded the type of national recognition Riddiough couldn’t even comprehend when he was frustrated over the lack of notice the Dutchwomen received locally.
“In 1999, when I was the assistant coach, we used to check the regional rankings to see if we could get in the top 10,” Riddiough said. “[He would say] ‘Ohh, we’re getting shafted again. Not in the top 10 again.’ And that was only 10 years ago.
“We were just looking and hoping that every year we’d just get into that top 10 ranking. Then we started to get into the top five on a regular basis and it seems now, these past two or three years, we’ve been a top four, top three [team] in the regional rankings until this year, where we’ve been number one for the last month. And fortunately we got ranked nationally, which has obviously never happened before. It’s fantastic to see the progression that’s gone on over the last 18 years.”
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Another one of those “only at Hofstra” moments took place last Friday, when Hofstra and the New York Islanders announced WRHU has become the flagship radio station of the Islanders. So now the biggest piece of bait the Hofstra school of communications can offer potential broadcasters is the chance to cover a sport that the school does not play.
Incongruity aside, this is a great, great coup for Hofstra and WRHU, which will air half the Islanders’ games on 88.7 (the other half will air on the Islanders’ website). WRHU will provide a better signal than the Islanders’ last two radio homes, the AM station WBBR and the FM station WMJC, as well as a more natural fit for sports programming than WMJC, which is better known as Long Island’s ‘80s station.
In addition, not only will WRHU provide the audio and technical support, its broadcasters will also serve as color commentators along side Islanders play-by-play vet Chris King as well as sideline reporters and intermission hosts.
It is, to borrow a cliché from another sport because I’m only mostly sure that the objective in hockey is to put the puck in the net, a slam dunk for Hofstra. And yet as much as this is a matter of the Islanders avoiding the embarrassment of opening the season without a radio home, I wonder if this is also a face-saving measure for Hofstra as it continues to make amends for the short-sighted decision to kill football.
Sound crazy? Well, my fellow students found this hard to believe in the mid-1990s, so I can only imagine what today’s students will think if they read this, but one of the biggest reasons I went to Hofstra was for the football team. And I know I wasn’t alone, then or now.
For budding sportswriters and broadcasters who are optimistic/crazy enough to want to pursue a career in the field, there are two major, resume-boosting beats to cover as collegians: Division I football and Division I men’s basketball. A student doesn’t have to cover football or basketball to learn and develop the narrative of the beat writer, how to build contacts and relationships and how to establish himself as the source for news and information about the team.
But football and basketball are the glamour beats—the ones that jump out at potential employers as well as the ones with the biggest audiences, the biggest personalities and the biggest challenges. I regret not writing this sooner, but I can tell you my experience covering Joe Gardi in 1994-95 prepared me for the task of covering professional athletes and coaches—impatient, suspicious men from whom trust was difficult to earn and who searched obsessively for any slight, real or imagined, that they could use for motivational purposes.
My favorite Gardi story is the time he told me during an interview that nobody at Hofstra wanted the program to succeed because the football offices weren’t in the PFC complex with the rest of the teams and administrators. I was too shocked to say the obvious: That the football team was housed in Margiotta Hall precisely BECAUSE the school’s decision-makers wanted to bolster it and turn it into a champion.
But Gardi couldn’t shut off the “us against the world” mechanism that turned his program into a national power—a nice preparation for listening to the Boston Red Sox declare that everyone was waiting for them to fail in 2007, a season in which the Sox spent the final 166 days of the regular season in first place before winning the World Series.
So while communications students past and present didn’t take nearly the hit that current and former football players took when football was executed, it was still quite a blow. The Class of 2010 alone has three former football play-by-play men who landed jobs in sports broadcasting (Mike Leslie, Jonathan Lauder and Stephen Florival). This is not a fluke: Dozens of former football play-by-play men from WRHU are employed in sports broadcasting, including Defiantly Dutch Era broadcaster John Discepolo, who is now a sports anchor in Seattle after working at Fox 5 and WCBS2.
The lack of football isn’t going to guarantee unemployment for future School of Communication graduates. But it diminishes the scope and quality of their education outside of the classroom.
According to this link, there are 95 colleges offering a school of communication. Seventy-eight of them play football, and all but three of those schools field Division I or I-AA programs. Among the schools that offer both a communications school and a Division I football team are Syracuse, Missouri, Northwestern and Columbia—the very best communications schools America has to offer and the types of universities with whom Hofstra wants to be mentioned in the same breath.
For a school preaching that football was sacrificed so that Hofstra could “…invest in academic initiatives,” the truth is the decision harmed a sizable segment of the student body. So what better way to bandage that wound than by teaming up with the Islanders and turning Hofstra into the only school in the country offering its broadcasters-in-training the opportunity to cover a professional sports team? It’s a nice move, and the least the school can do for the communications students who didn’t get any return from the investment of last Dec. 3.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
HOFSTRA VS. THE PUERTO RICO TIP-OFF FIELD
DAVIDSON: Coached by Hofstra alum and former Flying Dutchman player Bob McKillop, who gave ex-Hofstra coach Tom Pecora his first job in coaching at Long Island Lutheran in 1984. Hofstra is 1-3 all-time against Davidson, including a 61-52 loss in last year’s Holiday Festival consolation game.
MINNESOTA: Hofstra assistant coach Wayne Morgan was the coach of Iowa State when the Cyclones beat Minnesota, 64-53, in the first round of the 2005 NCAA Tournament.
NEBRASKA: Hofstra beat Nebraska, 73-62, in the first round of the 2006 NIT at Hofstra Arena.
NORTH CAROLINA: No kidding: Morgan was the coach of Iowa State when North Carolina beat the Cyclones, 92-65, in the second round of the 2005 NCAA Tournament. In addition, a Boston College team with Mo Cassara as an assistant coach handed the Tar Heels their first loss of their national championship season in 2008-09. Also, not inconsequentially, I was a huge, rabid UNC fan before switching allegiances to Hofstra upon my enrollment in 1993.
VANDERBILT: Ex-Vanderbilt coach Jan van Breda Kolff is the son of legendary ex-Hofstra coach Butch van Breda Kolff. Hofstra is 0-1 against Vanderbilt, falling to the Commodores 74-46 during the 1999-00 season.
WESTERN KENTUCKY: This is the second straight season in which Hofstra and Western Kentucky are in the same pre-season tournament. Like Hofstra, Western Kentucky won its opening game in the Preseason NIT last year (a 69-65 win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee) before dropping its second game to the host of its pod (a 71-60 loss to LSU) and hosting a consolation round Nov. 23-24.
WEST VIRGINIA: Assistant coach Larry Harrison was on the staff of DePaul when it recruited future Hofstra star Kenny Adeleke and ended up coaching Adeleke at Hartford in 2005-06, one season after Adeleke was dismissed from the Flying Dutchman squad just before his senior season.
Monday, October 4, 2010
Unlike someone such as Charles Jenkins, Phil Giackette doesn’t get a lot of chances to star in front of the home crowd. And when he does, he’s not even on campus. But being eight miles east of Hofstra sure beats being several hundred miles south, and so there he was at Bethpage State Park the morning of Sept. 11, smiling and pumping his fists as he crossed the finish line at the Brick Stone Run and won the first race of his career in his last “home meet.”
Along the way, Giackette didn’t run across any shirtless classmates spelling out “H-O-F-S-T-R-A” on their chests, but as a college senior who has been running most of his life, he has come to accept such anonymity. “My freshman year, we went to regionals up in Boston,” Giackette said. “I remember it was raining and we started out the race and I’m running through the woods and I see these, like, 20 kids with their shirts off. It’s freezing cold weather in the rain and they’ve got ‘Columbia’ painted on their chest and cowbells and horns and everything. I was just so overwhelmed because I felt out of my element.”
And why wouldn’t he? In the macro and macro, cross country is the most minimalist of sports. It is a solitary endeavor, full of early mornings, long training runs and grueling sprint workouts—often all in the same day—that cause even the hardiest of souls to question his or her sanity.
“In the moment, you think ‘Why would I want to do this?’ said Riti Dhillon, the lone senior on the women’s team.
“Cross country is definitely a love-hate thing—there are times when you’re going to love it and there are times when you’re going to hate it,” Giackette said. “I just got over hating it a couple weeks ago.”
“Who wants to run in the morning?” said coach Pete Alfano, who ran one year at Hofstra as a graduate student in 2003. “I remember 90-mile weeks. It’s not the sport for fun.”
While other teams travel to games on charter buses or airplanes, eat pre- and post-game meals at restaurants and play in environments that encourage a home court or home field advantage, the schools competing at the Brick Stone Run arrived in vans, staked their territory with canopy tents and brought their own post-race spread. Plates of fruit, bags of chips, carb-loaded boxes of donuts and cases of water dotted the picnic tables at Bethpage State Park.
Cross country is the only sport at Hofstra which does not compete or practice on campus (though Alfano recently mapped out a quarter-mile run on the hills behind the Recreation Center). Until five years ago, when the Hofstra Invitational began at Bethpage, the program didn’t have a course it could call home and spent most Saturdays in the fall traveling up and down the east coast.
In addition to competing in the CAA, Hofstra is also a part of the Metropolitan Conference, where it runs against local foes such as Rutgers and Iona, and has become a regular contestant at the New Jersey Tech and St. John’s invitationals. The Dutch leave the tri-state area just twice this season and their longest road trip is a flight to Wilmington for the CAA championships Oct. 30.
“I was on the team eight years ago,” Alfano said. “Go to James Madison one week, William & Mary [the next]. It takes a toll on you. I didn’t run any faster when we were traveling eight hours on a bus ride every week.”
Most of the 19 runners on the teams—12 women and seven men—walk around campus with nobody recognizing them or realizing they are among the school’s athletes.
“I’m on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee [as] vice president, so probably people know me a little better than others,” Giackette said. “But as a cross country team, we don’t really get too many looks. We’re really underground. We go unnoticed.”
Yet while Giackette admits “it’s great to be acknowledged,” he and the rest of his teammates knew what did—and didn’t—await them long before they arrived at Hofstra. And they’re at peace with finding satisfaction and taking—wait for it!—pride in the singular and the collective experience of being dedicated enough—and, sure, maybe sadistic enough, too—to do something so taxing and inglorious.
“We came into this sport knowing that it’s not for the glory, it’s for ourselves,” Giackette said. “When it comes to running, you’ve got to find a reason to do it for yourself, not for anybody else—not for the uniform that you wear, not for the school, not for the family members that want you to do it. You’ve got to find a reason that you want to do it. You want to get out the door everyday and just run, whether it be for fitness, for love, for training for something special [or] for a loved one.”
“At the end of the day, you just feel great,” Dhillon said. “Even years down the road, you have something to talk about. You can share something. Most people don’t run, so it’s good to do something that a lot of people can’t do or won’t do so you stand out from everybody else. Because you pushed your body to the limit. And it’s really important in life to just push your body that far, so you know what your limit is [and] you can run past your comfort zone.
“My main thing about cross country is it gets you to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. You can’t succeed if you never want to leave your comfort zone. This teaches you that.”