Category archive: Nebraska Cornhuskers
And bring an umbrella.
All right, perhaps the weather was a one-time issue Friday, when Mother Nature and spartan accommodations combined to make a soggy mess of matters (although the field held up far better than the scribe). But on the field, the hosts turned in two dramatic finishes against quality opponents in the Villanova Classic and improved to 2-0-1 this season.
Kelly Eagan's strike in the closing minutes of double overtime gave Villanova a 2-1 win against Virginia Tech on Friday, and Katie Ryan's 90th-minute goal Sunday led to a 2-2 draw against Nebraska.
I was on hand only for the former, but coach John Byford's early assessment proved prophetic.
"What we take away from it is just the way we fought," Byford said of the win over Virginia Tech. "And that was something we didn't have as much last year, and as I said to the kids this year, that will take us a long way. If we can grind out games, just compete and compete and compete, we have enough talent to score."
Eagan is a three-time all-Big East selection and an anchor in the middle of defense, as Virginia Tech standout Emily Jukich learned with frustration. She's also a walking definition of clutch, with all five career goals serving as game winners, including two in overtime. But if Eagan is the face of Villanova, Rachel Schuyler may symbolize this team's upside and the program's future under its second-year coach. Byford didn't recruit Schuyler, but with a big leg and creativity, she's a perfect piece for a system built on playing fluid, attacking football.
"Rachel's got the ability," Byford said. "For a kid who's not very big, she's very good in the air. She can hit good, quality long passes -- not just smack the ball forward, she can play a good, quality pass. And we've got a lot of pace up front. She's a gamer. Sometimes she's not the best practice player, but when the game's on, she comes to play."
A young Villanova team with a new coach gave up 28 goals in 19 games last season, the most per game in more than a decade. But last year's team also scored better than two goals per game for the first time since 2001. Virginia Tech had the edge in attack for much of the second half Friday, but given the conditions and the calendar, Villanova's ability to build through midfield and get the ball to the extremely impressive Ryan hinted at what could be in store this fall.
• STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Another week and another good show in the middle of Pennsylvania.
Starting a rebuilt back line that included two sophomores and one freshman, No. 14 West Virginia pulled out a 2-1 win against No. 8 Penn State. The Mountaineers withstood a Nittany Lions attack that produced 14 shots and enjoyed the run of play for much of the second half.
With so much youth, West Virginia may not hit its stride until conference play. But after a 2-0 exhibition loss against Maryland and a 0-0 tie against Ohio State to open the regular season, Saturday's physical battle represented about eight steps in the right direction.
The Mountaineers have a lot of parts, if not proven pieces, in the attack (led by the healthy return of Megan Mischler), and whatever ups and downs are ahead, they have a nascent identity.
"I think when you have such a young team as we have, it's such a learning curve but it's such a quick curve," coach Nikki Izzo-Brown said. "And these girls have worked so hard in the last two weeks. The staff has put in so many hours and the girls have put in so many hours; I mean, it's a 360."
• Forget Courtney and Ashley Paris; Oklahoma's basketball sister act is old hat (well, except for the whole scholarship repayment brouhaha). The new sibling story is the battle of the Akamine sisters on the softball diamond. All right, maybe it's not quite a headlining act yet, but Arizona junior Sarah Akamine and Penn State freshman Lisa Akamine did stage a family reunion of sorts at the Judi Garman Classic. The two weren't actually in the game at the same time, but they were the pitchers of record in Penn State's surprising 9-6 win, which stood as perhaps the tournament's biggest upset until Fullerton handed Washington a getaway day loss Sunday.
Even in defeat against Penn State, Arizona's Stacie Chambers hit two home runs, giving her a mind-boggling 17 home runs through 31 games. Then she went out and hit two more home runs later in the day, pacing the Wildcats to a 10-1 win against Notre Dame. Arizona State's Katie Cochran is typically the hitter that comes to mind when talking about record-setting performances coming out of the state of Arizona these days, but Chambers is more than half way to breaking the NCAA single-season record of 37 home runs, set by former Arizona slugger Laura Espinoza in 1995.
Chambers is a little off record pace and, typically, Pac-10 play would put a break on her pace, but the league doesn't seem to have its standard array of aces. After this weekend's display, at least it's a discussion.
• Missouri's men's basketball team had a good weekend, but the softball team made its own statement as it prepares to pursue its first conference championship since 1997. Wrapping up the last full weekend of nonconference play (Mizzou hosts Western Illinois in a doubleheader Wednesday and plays a midweek, two-game series at Houston later this month), the Tigers swept all four games at a tournament hosted by Coastal Carolina. That sweep included a pair of wins against North Carolina, the first wins against a ranked team this season for coach Ehren Earleywine's squad.
Senior Stacy Delaney capped off the trip with a five-inning no-hitter in Sunday's 8-0 run-rule win against the Tar Heels, but offense was the weekend's story. The Tigers scored 36 runs and have scored five or more runs 19 times this season. Missouri struggled two weeks ago to put runs on the board against UCLA No. 2 starter Whitney Baker (despite drawing seven walks) and San Diego State's outstanding duo of Samantha Beasley and Bailey Micetich. But getting to UNC's Lisa Norris and Constance Orr (Danielle Spaulding didn't play in any of her team's four games in the event after taking a pitch off the wrist against Florida State last week) lends some credibility to a lineup that has an .897 OPS, 56 extra-base hits and 76 stolen bases through 26 games.
With Oklahoma looking at least vulnerable, Missouri is at the front of a class of challengers in what suddenly looks like it could be an intriguing Big 12 race.
• If ever a team's bubble was going to burst, it should be after a weekend spent facing Danielle Lawrie, Morgan Melloh and Donna Bourgeois, in addition to Arizona and Arizona State's batting orders. Well, Michigan stared down that obstacle course and came out with four wins in the span of about 72 hours. Point taken, Wolverines.
Thanks in part to a typically rigorous schedule that included tests well before the weekend in Fullerton, Calif., Michigan didn't have impressive offensive totals entering the Garman. The bottom line on the stat sheet might still pale in comparison to some of the championship competition, but even after Lawrie shut the Wolverines out, scoring 23 runs against Arizona, Arizona State, Fresno State and Louisiana-Lafayette is impressive.
A pair of freshmen, Amanda Chidester and Stephanie Kirkpatrick, were particularly productive over the weekend. Kirkpatrick finished with five hits and four RBIs after collecting just eight hits in her first 22 games. Chidester entered the weekend with the team's best batting average and didn't hurt her cause with six more hits and four RBIs.
As good as Jordan Taylor and Nikki Nemitz are at minimizing mistakes -- they just don't walk hitters -- this team can win with an average offense. It appears it has more than that.
• No Mackin? No problem. At least, that seemed to be the case for Nebraska at the Garman without Robin Mackin. The Cornhuskers closed out the weekend with a 10-1 run-rule win against Penn State on Sunday, then capped on a 4-1 record in Fullerton that included a 2-0 win against Louisiana-Lafayette on Thursday (the Huskers also upset a ranked Lafayette team last season). The team is now 8-1 since Mackin's brief comeback ended with the talented Canadian pitcher opting for season-ending shoulder surgery and hopes for a healthy 2010 season.
Credit senior ace Molly Hill's return to form (10-3, 1.38 ERA) in the circle for some the team's success in Mackin's absence, as well as quality inning from promising freshman pitcher Ashley Hagemann (60 strikeouts in 39.2 innings).
But for the first time in a few years, give the offense equal credit. The Huskers have already hit 17 home runs in 20 games this season, two more than they hit in 53 games last season and three more than they hit in 57 games in 2006. Just as importantly, there are people on base when the Huskers put the ball in the gap or over the fence -- they're well over half way to last season's walk total and have a .406 on-base percentage.
Florida hits the road for the second consecutive weekend in conference play with three games at Mississippi, but the Gators used the middle of the week to good effect with a doubleheader sweep of Georgia at home Wednesday,15-0 and 4-0. The Bulldogs managed just two hits and one walk in 12 innings against Stacey Nelson and Stephanie Brombacher.
Those two wins made it three consecutive shutouts for the Gators, a streak worth noting after they had allowed at least one run in each of their previous six games. Considering they won all six of those games and outscored opponents 39-10 in doing so, a stray run or two isn't likely to cause many sleepless nights in Gainesville. But when you're talking about a national championship favorite, nits get picked, and the team's longest stretch without a shutout last season was seven games (at just about the same point in the season). The flip side is a shutout in the opener against Ole Miss would mean a fourth consecutive clean slate, something that the Gators never did last season.
• Elsewhere, LSU visits Georgia. A win against Washington on a neutral field last weekend hinted at the Bulldogs' upside, but balance that against the losses at Florida. Georgia went 1-11 against Alabama, Florida, LSU and Tennessee last season and scored only 19 runs in those 11 losses. With this season's series against Alabama coming in Tuscaloosa and the Tennessee series coming late in April, this three-game weekend set is an important chance to show the Bulldogs can hold serve at home against a team that conventional wisdom suggests they've passed in the conference pecking order.
We're still a couple of weeks away from conference play getting underway in the Pac-10, not that it's too early to start anticipating trips to the Bay Area for UCLA and Washington in what should be a heck of a first weekend. But with Arizona, Arizona State and Washington all in action at the Judi Garman Classic, which kicked off Thursday, it's still a busy weekend -- even with Stanford and UCLA off.
Arizona State probably has the toughest weekend of the three at the Garman, playing DePaul and Michigan, while Arizona and Washington face the Wolverines but don't get a look at the Blue Demons. It's also just the second trip away from Tempe for the defending champions (they beat Fullerton 6-3 on the road Thursday).
I was a little skeptical of talk out of Tempe that the Sun Devils might be better on offense this season than they were en route to the championship, but early evidence suggests it's a fair debate. Seven Sun Devils already have at least three home runs, including freshman Katelyn Boyd, who might be a better hitter than anyone the team lost after last season, as bold as that may sound.
But while Arizona State played a tough five-game set at the Cathedral City Classic, the rest of the schedule hasn't included a lot of postseason-caliber pitching (although they did get six hits and five runs off Iowa's Brittany Weil). So with the potential of facing either Jordan Taylor or Nikki Nemitz for Michigan, Becca Heteniak for DePaul, Molly Hill for Nebraska and even Brittney Bargar for Notre Dame, this weekend is a good opportunity for Arizona State's offense to show exactly how much potential is there.
Speaking of Nebraska, Hill picked up a shutout win against Louisiana-Lafayette on Thursday night at the Garman, but news that Robin Mackin won't pitch this season is a tough blow for the Huskers as they look to the start of conference play next weekend.
Oklahoma joins Nebraska out in Fullerton, Calif., at the Garman. And the Sooners' loss to Notre Dame on Thursday ensured that the Huskers' win against Louisiana-Lafayette wouldn't be the opening day's biggest upset. Coming on the heels of last weekend's disappointing 1-3 record against Northwestern and Tennessee in games played in Norman, Okla., and Oklahoma City, the loss against the Fighting Irish sets up intriguing games against DePaul and Louisiana-Lafayette for the Sooners.
But as many good games as those two teams will play this weekend in Fullerton, I'm equally interested to see how Missouri fares against in a pair of games against North Carolina in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Both teams have good one-two punches in the circle -- Missouri with freshman Chelsea Thomas and senior Stacy Delaney, and North Carolina with Danielle Spaulding and Lisa Norris -- so both games should offer meaningful results.
And from the better-late-than-never file, this past week's award winners:
Pitcher: Danielle Spaulding, North Carolina
Player: Sarah Tacke, Virginia Tech
Pitcher: Chelsea Thomas, Missouri
Player: Alysia Hamilton, Oklahoma State
Pitcher: Kristen Wadwell, Louisville
Player: Brianna Jorgensborg, Notre Dame
Player: Tammy Williams, Northwestern
Pitcher: Nikki Nemitz, Michigan, and Suzie Rzegocki, Purdue (shared)
Player: Melissa Pura, Cal Poly
Pitcher: Anna Cahn, Cal Poly
Player: Brooke Smart, Tulsa
Pitcher: Jordan Kinard, Tulsa
Player: Kelly Papesh, Northern Iowa
Pitcher: Tara Oltman, Creighton
Player: Jessica Purcell, BYU
Pitcher: Bailey Micetich, San Diego State
Player: Jenae Leles, Arizona
Pitcher: Missy Penna, Stanford
Pitcher: Kelsi Dunne, Alabama
Player: Kristin Schnake, Georgia
Hitter: Heather Mosser, McNeese State
Pitcher: Bethany Stefinsky, McNeese State
Player: Christina Capobianco, Boise State
Pitcher: Katie Holverson, Nevada
SoftballPacific versus Nebraska, 8:30 p.m.
Five runs against Pacific on Thursday would give Nebraska its 100th run of the season and a new school record. If the Cornhuskers score five runs, they will have scored 100 runs in a season by their 16th game, faster than any softball squad in school history. The 1978 and 2006 teams each hit the 100-run mark in the 17th game. Nebraska also could break another school record. The Huskers have scored at least eight runs in their past four games to tie the program's longest streak of games with at least eight runs. Scoring eight runs against Pacific would give them a record-setting five straight games.
Women's lacrosseHofstra at No. 1 Northwestern, 7 p.m.
Northwestern seeks its 45th consecutive win at home when it plays Hofstra on Thursday. The Wildcats' 44 consecutive home wins surpassed Maryland's home winning streak from 1997 to 2001 (41 games). Nine of the games in Northwestern's streak were NCAA tournament games, and the last time the Wildcats lost on home turf was a 10-9 overtime loss to Vanderbilt on May 6, 2004.
BaseballSan Diego at No. 10 Rice, 7:30 p.m.
Rice coach Wayne Graham looks to earn his 796th victory when the Owls face San Diego. Graham is 795-303 at Rice with a school-record .724 winning percentage -- the equivalent of a major league ballclub's winning 117 games in one season.