Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Archives: UNO Privateers Long Journey to the 2017 NCAA Tournament's First Four

The UNO Privateers qualified for the First Four of the NCAA Tourney 
(Photo / UNO Athletics/Clem Barbazon)

As the American Sports Network winds down operations, I'm presenting here for posterity some of the articles from the past two years that I contributed. All content is copyright ASN & Tom Flynn. It originally appeared on September 4, 2015. 

The University of New Orleans cross country teams toed the starting line Tuesday on Lakeshore Drive, the sliver of winding road between UNO and the 630-square mile Lake Pontchartrain that fronts it. With the sun reflecting off the lake, the Privateers acquitted themselves well. The men’s team swept the podium, and the women finished second.

“The men’s side had a tremendous race, led by Jared [Robertson] and Edmund [Pine], who really cleared the way for our one-two-three finish," said UNO head coach Benjamin Dalton. "For the women, Callie [Willcox] and Emily [Martinez] really stepped it up for the second-place outing."

Their performance is an apt metaphor for a program that persists despite being steadily buffeted by headwinds well after those of Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago.

In the harrowing days and nights of late August 2005, the levee fronting the university and restraining Pontchartrain held. Looking north onto the lake, away from the main of New Orleans, the London Avenue Canal borders the university to the left. It too is lined by levees, and several blocks from campus one breached as the storm sent water surging into the canal.

A deluge flowed in from the side, swamping a portion of UNO and flooding several buildings including a cluster of residential dorms and the University’s engineering building. Wind gusts blew the roof from UNO’s Lakefront Arena, and the resulting damage closed down one of the athletic department’s primary sources of revenue for the next three years.

The National Guard arrived, and although they restored stability to the rest of New Orleans, they based an evacuation and staging area on the dry portions of the UNO campus.

Its facilities compromised or damaged beyond use, the teams the school could support were dispersed elsewhere to compete. The basketball team headed to Tyler, Texas. The swim team, its aquatics center one of the buildings most severely impacted, headed to Georgia’s Emory University. The women’s golf team departed for Nicholls State, the men’s to LSU.

All tennis and track activities were suspended, along with women’s golf. Six teams remained, eight less than the NCAA Division I mandate of 14.

An athletic program that previously labored to find a firm home in the college ranks was now reeling. Largely through online efforts and satellite locations, UNO’s academics were at least partially operable by October. The school's
 athletic program was granted a waiver until 2011 to recover and meet the NCAA requirements.

Sports programs at the University of New Orleans are still finding their footing 10 years after Hurricane Katrina.

Jeff Duncan, a sports journalist for The Times-Picayune, was part of the team that earned a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of Hurricane Katrina. He told ASN this week, "The laws of natural selection applied to Katrina. The strong institutions, like the resource-rich Saints of the NFL and Pelicans of the NBA, survived the storm and in many cases have thrived. The weak and vulnerable struggled."

The UNO student population fell from 17,000 before Katrina to 11,000 the following fall. Like the insidious side breach of London Canal’s levee, the state flanked the university with budget reductions as part of an overall reduction in higher education funding. In 2008, $15 million was reportedly cut from UNO’s budget.

The athletic department struggled with what to do next. Missteps ensued en route to what ultimately became a place in the Southland Conference.

In late 2009, the university announced that it was dropping from Division I to Division III. UNO  played outside a designated conference, only partially committed to being at the level. In early 2011, UNO looked into joining the Division II Gulf South Conference.

In March 2012, two months after he was hired, UNO President Peter Fos announced UNO’s  return instead to Division I. In August 2012, UNO joined the Southland Conference and began competing in 2013-2014.

While UNO rooted through the college ranks in 2009-2012, it retained six students from its original Division I athletes.

But as befitting the city whose name the university bears, there’s hope and somewhere beyond that is promise. The roof is back on the Lakefront Arena. The crowds are thin coming through the doors to see the basketball team, making the 8,000-seat arena seem cavernous. On the court, the Privateers are developing new rivalries in the Southland.

The baseball stadium has been renovated, and the tennis facilities nearby are among the best in the South. The athletic department is up to the required 14-teams. The restored track and field programs compete at New Orleans’ storied Tad Gormley Stadium, built in 1937 to provide work during the Depression, and still providing it.

On Monday, Fos announced that he was retiring effective Jan. 31, 2016. “I believe that I have contributed all that I can," he said in a statement, "and it is because I care so much for the institution that I can say it is time for a new president to bring it to new heights."

Uncertainty took a new — yet familiar — place in the athletic department. The efforts of the Privateers’ cross-country team followed quickly on its heels. Friday night, the volleyball opens its season at home against Providence.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Baseball: Montreat Cavaliers of the NAIA add a Veteran

Montreat Cavaliers' hurler Dan Collins (Photo / Daniel Brunson

Black Mountain, NC
- The Montreat College (N.C.) Cavaliers baseball team plays in the NAIA's Appalachian Athletic Conference (AAC). Success has been hard to come by in recent years for the program but that appears about to change. 

In 2016, they hired head coach Jason Beck from Florida's Southeastern University. Beck has the Cavaliers off to a good start and given a resumé that includes over 600 wins, it's a pattern that's set to hold at the squad's picturesque Newell Field. I was able to reach Beck via phone for the Black Mountain News and ask him about his approach to the game, his young squad, and what he sees ahead for a couple of his team's top talents. - TF

Monday, February 27, 2017

Cleveland State Lacrosse Gets Underway

CSU's Nick Wendel moves past Duke's Sean Cerrone (Photo / Andy Mead/YCJ/Iconsportwire)

- Cleveland State is underway as an NCAA Division I men's lacrosse program. The team, under head coach Dylan Sheridan, is 2-4. They've won two games against DIII opponents (as part of their first-year transition) and dropped games to Michigan, Duke, Denver, and Air Force. They play Canisius (1-2) this Saturday at home.

The Vikings, who formerly were a high-level MCLA team,  are independent in 2017 and play 15 games.

The last Division I program to begin play was Virginia's Hampton University. The Pirates launched from the NCLL and played a five-game transitional schedule in year one. This year they bumped up to eight. They are led my former Morgan State alum,  Lloyd Carter.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Lacrosse: Johns Hopkins Defeats Loyola in Overtime Thriller

Johns Hopkins topped Loyola in men's lacrosse on Saturday (Photo / T. Flynn/Instagram)

- Johns Hopkins' midfielder Joel Tinney buried the game-winner with time running out in the first overtime to defeat Loyola, 14-13, at Homewood Field. Tinney took a pass from Blue Jay Pat Fraser just inside the midfield stripe and sprinted cross-field, faking a ball flip back to Fraser before continuing to the right of the goal, squaring up on the run, and firing a left-handed shot from roughly 10 yards out to seal the victory.

With the goal, Hopkins moves to 3-0 on the season. All three of its victories are against Maryland foes (Navy, UMBC, Loyola). The Greyhounds drop to 0-2, with both losses coming in overtime. Despite yielding the game-winner, goalie Jacob Stover played well, making 14 stops for the Greyhounds. Hopkins' attackman Shack Stanwick led all Blue Jay scorers with four goals and one assist.

Loyola hosts Lafayette (0-2) this Saturday, while Hopkins travels to Chapel Hill to take on the defending national champion Tar Heels (3-0) in a battle of unbeatens.

Friday, February 17, 2017

UNO Privateers Baseball Opens Season Today

UNO celebrates a hit during last season's MLB Urban Invitational (Photo / MLB/UNO)

The University of New Orleans Privateers' baseball team competes in the mid-major Southland Conference. After a dismal 2015, last year the team rebounded to win more games than they have in a decade. The program is poised to take another step forward this spring as the Privateers' schedule includes perennial powers Texas and LSU.

Today they open their season in the MLB Urban Invitational. I recently spoke with the team's head coach, Blake Dean, and assistant coach, Brett Stewart, about their upcoming season.

Note: On February 21, the Privateers stunned the college baseball world by knocking off #2 LSU, 11-8, in New Orleans.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Books: Signing (2/18) at Barnes & Noble Before JHU vs. Loyola Lacrosse Game

The Loyola Greyhounds battle Johns Hopkins this Saturday (Photo / Tom Flynn)
Baltimore - For those in to see the Hopkins vs. Loyola game this Saturday (2/18), I'll be at Barnes & Noble signing copies of Men's Lacrosse in Maryland from 10-2 pm. Please stop by and say hello. 

The annual game between the two Baltimore rivals was played for years on the first weekend of May. When Hopkins joined the BIG-10 in 2015, the game took a one-year hiatus. In 2016, the game returned but in a new February time slot. The Greyhounds won, 9-8, and have captured the last three contests between the two.

The Blue Jays are out of the gate at 2-0 in 2017 with wins over Navy and UMBC, while Loyola lost their opener to Virginia and are 0-1. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Lacrosse: Hopkins Defeats Navy in Season Opener

Johns Hopkins celebrated 15 goals in their opener against Navy (Photo / JHU Athletics)
Baltimore - Johns Hopkins took an early but important step in their annual bid for an NCAA berth when they defeated the 10th-ranked Navy Midshipmen, 15-8, on Tuesday night at Homewood Field. The game was the season opener for both squads.

Unseasonably warm weather in the low 60s greeted the teams and Navy responded in spring form with three scores to open the game. Colin Flounlacker, Ray Wardell, and Greyson Torain all scored for the Mids before Blue Jay attackman Wilkins Dismuke registered the first Hopkins goal of the season and the first of his three on the evening early in the second.

Hopkins midfielder Joel Tinney led all scorers with five points on two assists and three goals, including one following a "hidden-ball trick" that will be a fitting addition to Homewood's lacrosse lore.

Navy freshman Ryan Kern began his career as the Mids' goalkeeper with a dozen saves, while junior attackman Jack Ray started what is expected to be a prolific junior campaign with three points.

Both Hopkins and Navy continue their season with in-state games this weekend. The #8 Blue Jays host UMBC on Saturday, while Navy returns home to face #2 Maryland in Annapolis.