Originally posted on Kansan.com February 18th, 2014. Ran in the Kansan February 18th, 2014.

en McLemore entered the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans before his first dunk of the knockout stage, dressed in a lavish purple robe on top of his jersey. But, McLemore was not alone. He was accompanied by part-owner of the Sacramento Kings, Shaquille O’Neal. After Shaq unveiled his new, “Shaqlemore” jersey, he proceeded to park himself in the middle of the paint in a throne fit for a king. On McLemore’s second attempt, he rose up over Shaq and slammed home a rim-rattling dunk resembling the famous jumpman logo.

This year’s NBA All-Star Weekend was a little different than in years past. There were some changes in the dunk contest rules. Arne Duncan did well in the celebrity game. The 3-point contest wasn’t anything spectacular.  I’m just glad I wasn’t keeping score. I would have needed a calculator. Also,  LeBron James announced his “NBA Mount Rushmore.”

The dunk contest new rules received bad press from the media, fans and NBA players themselves. This year it was East vs. West. The first round, called the “freestyle” round, was underwhelming. However, the second knockout round had Ben McLemore dunking over Shaq. Each conference had 90 seconds for all three athletes participating in the contest to complete at least one dunk. Then in the “battle” round, dunkers went one-on-one against opposing conferences and the losing dunker was eliminated. Once the battle round was over, the top three dunkers, who all hailed from the East, were pitted against each other… for the fan vote. Personally, I would have rather watched John Wall, Paul George and Terrence Ross compete against each other in a final “winner-take-all” round.

Ever heard of Arne Duncan? Unless you’re into politics, I doubt it. I know I hadn’t. Duncan is the Secretary of Education of the U.S., and he can ball. He scored 20 points in the Celebrity All-Star game. To put that into perspective: his team scored 60. In addition to that, he had 11 rebounds and six assists, almost finishing with a rare triple-double.

As for the 3-point contest, Marco Belinelli shot two airballs in the first three racks. He came back in the tiebreaker round to hit 24 shots, placing him first, ahead of Bradley Beal.
While the NBA isn’t exactly known for defensive battles, in the 2014 All-Star game, that’s exactly what happened. The offensive shootout between the East and the West racked up a score of 163-155: the highest scoring All-Star game ever.

LeBron put some attention on himself this weekend. He named, in his opinion, the four best players to play the game: Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson. In true LeBron fashion, he went on to add that he will be one of the top four players to play the game.

Regardless of all the ups and downs, the weekend is done and over with. Let’s just hope that the NBA can revamp the dunk contest into something a lot more exciting in 2015.

Originally posted on Kansan.com February 16th, 2014. Printed in the Kansan February 17th, 2014.

The Jayhawk softball team (4-4) made progress this weekend in South Carolina, at the College of Charleston Cougar Classic, with a 3-2 record, improving from last week’s 1-2 record.

“It was a good weekend,” said coach Megan Smith. “We came here to get tested and we did. I thought that we battled, we fought and we learned a lot about our team. The freshmen got to see top-level competition for five games straight, which was good because we got to see how they responded.”

The first game of the weekend against Fordham University (5-3) was run ruled due to the explosive fifth inning by the Jayhawks. Fordham took a quick lead in the first inning with a run from freshman Sydney Canessa, but after that it was all Kansas. Jayhawk sophomore pitcher Kelsey Kessler (2-2) allowed three hits with six strikeouts. Major contributors to the Kansas win were sophomore Chaley Brickey, junior Maddie Stein, senior Alex Jones and Kessler. Brickey counted for two of Kansas’ 10 runs while also having a RBI. Stein connected on three of her four hits, bringing in four RBIs, while also having a run of her own. Jones had two hits and a RBI.

“We were really excited about what we saw offensively and defensively,” said Smith. “Our lineup did extremely well creating the opportunities and making the most of the opportunities.”

In the second game against Ole Miss (4-5) it looked as if the Jayhawks would carry their momentum into the game with the Rebels. It held true for the first two innings as Jones and Brickey made easy work at bat while Kessler was throwing strikeouts.

Then, Ole Miss, in the bottom of the third, started making their comeback. After the fourth inning, Ole Miss was up 4-2 and Kansas had stranded six runners. In the sixth inning, Ole Miss scored two more runs, while Kansas stranded more runners. When it was all said and done, Kansas stranded 11 total runners in the game and fell to the Rebels 6-2.

“It would be nice if you could bank some of those runs and bring them back, but that is not the way it works,” said Smith. “We had opportunities in the second game and left a lot of runners on.”

The following day, Kansas took on Western Carolina (0-4) and put their recent loss behind them. Kansas junior pitcher Alicia Pille (1-1) pitched a complete game shutout, winning 6-0. Pille had 10 strikeouts in seven innings and posted her 16th career shutout. Pille wasn’t the only leader for the Jayhawks. At bat, Stein had three hits and two RBIs.

“Maddie has been clutch her whole career,” Smith said. “She stepped up, was really confident and came through for us. She is very steady… she is just calm and confident all the time. That is why she is so clutch for us. She doesn’t get amped up and she is just consistent with her approach.”

The next game of the day, against College of Charleston (2-4), wasn’t as easy. The Cougars were coming off of wins against Western Carolina and DePaul. It took an extra inning, but the Jayhawks fought off Charleston’s rally, winning 6-5. Kessler and Pille both took the mound in the game, but Pille walked away with the win. Kessler recorded seven strikeouts and Pille added three. On offense, Kansas had 13 total hits. Freshman Harli Ridling posted three hits, leading the team. Jones, senior Ashley Newman, freshman Taylor Dodson and freshman Lily Behrmann all recorded two hits apiece.

“That’s a big win for us,” said Smith. “It’s early in the season, but to get a win like that on their home field against a really solid College of Charleston team, that’s a good win for us. Especially the way it went down, with us having to battle and fight for it. We are young and we are growing and we are going to keep doing that all season.”

In the final game of the weekend, Kansas faced DePaul (7-3). Kansas looked like they were going to pull it off, but DePaul scored in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings to come from behind and win 3-2. On the mound were Kessler and Pille, with Pille taking the loss.
“Offensively, we didn’t execute, we couldn’t move runners and our defense let us down,” said Smith. “We just lost some focus there at the end defensively.”

The Kansas Jayhawks will be back in in action on Friday when they travel to Jackson, Miss., to play in the Jackson State Tournament.

Originally posted on Kansan.com on February 13th, 2014. Ran in February 13th, 2014 edition of the Kansan.

This weekend the Kansas Jayhawks head to Charleston, S.C., to participate in the College of Charleston Classic. Kansas faces five different opponents over the course of the tournament.

Kansas will play Fordham University in the first game of the tournament. Fordham went to the University of Central Florida Invitational back on Feb. 7, but the matchup between the Jayhawks and Fordham was canceled due to weather. Fordham went 2-1 in that tournament, defeating Chattanooga and LIU Brooklyn while falling to the host team UCF. Senior catcher Gabby Luety and junior pitcher Michele Daubman were named Atlantic 10 Conference player and pitcher of the week, respectively.

Rounding out the double-header for Kansas, the Jayhawks will take on Ole Miss. The Ole Miss team is coming off of a tournament hosted by Florida Gulf Coast. Its record for the season is 2-3. Two of its losses came in dramatic fashion, as the team lost to Western Kentucky and Florida Gulf Coast 3-2 in both games.

The Jayhawks will face Western Carolina in the tournament, which is West Carolina’s first tournament of the season. Last season, the Catamounts went 20-36. One of their postseason highlights was beating heavily favored College of Charleston in the first round of the Southern Conference Tournament. Western Carolina sophomore first baseman Taylor Sigmon was named to the Southern Conference preseason second team. She led the team in home runs, RBIs and doubles last season.

The fourth game will be against the tournament host, College of Charleston. The Cougars are 0-2 on the season, despite having a 37-20 record last year. They return eight starters to this year’s Cougar squad.

The last team on the Jayhawks’ schedule for the weekend is DePaul University. The team is 3-2 on the season, coming off a tournament in Miami on Feb. 7. Senior pitcher Kirsten Verdun was named Big East Conference Pitcher of the Week this past week. Verdun posted a 0.64 ERA in her three starts while striking out 28 batters in 22 innings.

Over the past three seasons, Kansas hasn’t played any of these five teams, but is ready to take on the competition in South Carolina.

Originally posted on Kansan.com on February 9th, 2014. Printed in the Kansan February 10th, 2014.

Kansas softball had an up and down series at the University of Central Florida Invitational this weekend, finishing 1-2, falling against UCF and South Dakota, while edging out Chattanooga. Two of the games, against LIU Brooklyn and Fordham University were canceled due to weather.

In the season opener against UCF, sophomore Kelsey Kessler had seven strikeouts, walking two and allowed just one hit.

UCF allowed Kansas two hits. The first base hit of the season for Kansas was by senior Alex Jones. The other Jayhawk connecting was junior Maddie Stein.

In the second match of the day, against South Dakota, the Jayhawks fell to South Dakota, 5-1. Pitchers during the game were junior Alicia Pille and Jones. Pille recorded the loss, allowing two hits and three earned runs over the three innings. While she struck out five, she also walked three. Jones allowed one hit and two runs, while committing two errors.

On the offensive side, the Jayhawks recorded eight hits. Sophomore Chaley Brickey, senior Taylor Hatfield and Jones all connected twice. Senior Ashley Newman and freshman Harli Ridling rounded out the other two with one hit apiece.

Not helping the cause was the fact that 12 Kansas runners were stranded on base during the game.

“What we were missing was clutch hits,” said coach Megan Smith.

Both games the next day were rained out due to a storm cell forming over the softball complex.

A win against Chattanooga rounded out the Invitational. Kessler was on the mound, recording the win.

“Kelsey was dominant,” said Smith. “She was dominant Friday too, but we just couldn’t scrape together a run for her. We played as a team [today] and it was good to get out of here with a win.”

“[Kelsey] moved the ball really, really well, and her rise ball was looking really good. She was really posed and confident. You could tell she got more confident as the game went on,” said Smith.

Kessler recorded a career-best 15 strikeouts. She allowed four hits, zero walks and zero runs.

Five different Jayhawks recorded hits including Jones, Newman, Brickey, Stein and Hatfield. Stein had two hits on the day, with the rest of the squad having one each.

The win against Chattanooga gives the team momentum as they prepare for their next tournament starting Friday, Feb.14.

– See more at: http://kansan.com/sports/2014/02/09/kansas-softball-falls-short-at-ucf-invitational/#sthash.TCIk80BB.dpuf

Originally on Kansan.com on February 9th, 2014. Printed in the Kansan February 10th, 2014

Close swims defined the weekend in Ames, Iowa, where the Jayhawks and Cyclones dueled it out in the water. Even though Kansas had a one-point lead after Friday’s races, they couldn’t hold on, as they fell 161.5-138.5 in the last regular-season meet before the Big 12 Championship.

Friday’s events were led by senior Morgan Sharp. She fought her way to a win in the 200-meter freestyle (1:51.24). Sharp narrowly beat her Iowa State opponent by six-hundredths of a second.  She also was a part of the 200-yard medley relay team that won (1:45.83).

“She led the team today,” said coach Clark Campbell. “She out-touched for the win by six-hundredths of a second. Dual meets are weighted by winning events and by out-touching competitors. We are in a better position going into [Saturday]. It was easy to see that she was not going to be denied getting to the wall first. I saw fire in her the last 25 yards of both races.”

Two other swimmers that helped the Jayhawks on the first day of competition were sophomore Chelsie Miller, who placed first in the 200-yard butterfly (2:04.68) and sophomore Bryce Hinde, who tied for first in the 10-yard breaststroke (1:04.95).

“The Iowa State swimmer that Bryce tied with has already qualified for the NCAA Championships,” Campbell said. “It was a good race for her since she has been struggling since coming back from Christmas. It was a good race for her to take into the Big 12 Championships.”

On the second day of competition, Kansas put up winning performances by freshman Pia Pavlic and Miller. Pavlic won the 100-yard butterfly by one-hundredth of a second (57.77). Miller took home the gold in the 200-yard IM with a time of 2:06.44.

Senior Alison Lusk swam a season best time (for dual meets) in the 200-yard breaststroke (2:21.10).

“That was Alison’s fastest in-season time outside of the winter national meet,” Campbell said. “It was one of her best dual-meet swims all year.”

Sharp also put up points on Saturday, finishing second in the 100-yard freestyle (52.55).

The team fared well in diving with senior Alyssa Golden and sophomore Meredith Brownell placing second (271.35) and third (260.48) respectively.

“We swam well, but not well enough to win,” Campbell said. “They were the stronger team today.”

Up next for the Jayhawks is the Big 12 Championship in Austin, Texas. Kansas has three weeks of preparation before they dive in Feb. 26 to March 1.

– See more at: http://kansan.com/sports/2014/02/09/kansas-narrowly-falls-to-iowa-state-on-the-road/#sthash.A5ZfUSdA.dpuf

Originally posted on Kansan.com February 4th, 2014. Printed in the University Daily Kansan February 5th, 2014.

Nothing grinds my gears more than hearing, “You’re a girl. You know nothing about sports.” Men don’t need to prove themselves before spewing a sports opinion. Why would I need to lay out my expertise and experience to do so?

These days, there are more and more female sportswriters and broadcasters. They didn’t come on the air overnight; there was some trailblazing.  Some of the earliest women sportscasters started their careers before my parents were in elementary school.

Jane Chastain is credited for being the first woman to do play-by-play commentary for the NFL and the first woman to work for a large network for sportscasting. She covered both college football and NFL, along with some coverage of NBA games back in the late 1960s to the late 1970s.

Jeannie Morris, the wife of Chicago Bears wide receiver Johnny Morris, covered NFL games in the 1970s, but she wasn’t given the same treatment as the men. Morris wasn’t allowed to work in the press box because she was a woman. Because of that rule, she had to cover a Vikings-Bears game in a blizzard while sitting above the press box.

Leandra Reilly was the first woman to do play-by-play commentary for the NBA in the late 1970s and once said, “The networks used to pick women for their looks, but now they require more qualifications. Some may still hire a woman just because she is a woman and the network needs a minority in the field.”

Some of the other early women pioneers in the field of sportscasting are Donna de Varona, Gayle Gardner and Lesley Visser.

Two of the more aptly known pioneers for women in sports media are Robin Roberts and Doris Burke. Roberts started her career with ESPN in 1990, while Burke started hers just six years later. Both women played college basketball and have been recognized for their achievements on the court and in front of the camera. Roberts is an inductee  of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, and Burke was the fifth woman to be added to the Providence Hall of Fame.

All of the aforementioned women and others who went above and beyond what society expected them to do made way for the women who are in the field today. Now, it’s rare to see a televised game without a woman on camera.

Just to mention some names: Erin Andrews, Linda Cohn, Michelle Beadle, Sara Carbonero, Hannah Storm, Alex Flanagan, Lindsay Czarniak, Jenn Brown, Pam Oliver… need I say more?

Women are everywhere when it comes to sports coverage these days. At your very own Kansan, there are two of us girls on the sports staff this semester. I have the softball and swimming and diving beats. Ellen Balentine covers the rowing team beat.

Being female doesn’t automatically disqualify us from knowing, talking about or working with sports. Just because it could be a little “intimidating” to listen to a female talk sports, embrace it, because women in the sports journalism industry aren’t going anywhere.

Originally posted on Kansan.com on February 2nd, 2014. Published in the University Daily Kansan February 3rd, 2014.

Over the weekend the Jayhawks went 1-1 with their duals, winning against Vanderbilt 163-130 and falling to Arkansas 207-91, making the Kansas squad 7-4 in dual meets this season.

“We were better than last week, which is what we were going for,” coach Clark Campbell said. “The competition level was high. The best thing is to keep pushing and keep training for the conference championships.”

Senior Morgan Sharp put eight individual points on the board for Kansas, leading the team for point totals. Sharp swam a 1:52.04 in the 200-yard freestyle, placing second. She also finished second in the 100-yard freestyle, finishing with a personal best time of the season at 51.67.

Sophomore Bryce Hinde and freshman Pia Pavlic also took home silver this weekend. Hinde placed second in the 200-yard breaststroke, clocking in with a time of 2:23.51. Pavlic was beat by just .15 of a second in the 100-yard butterfly, where she finished with a time of 56.98.

“We had a good week of practice this past week and I thought we had a solid meet,” Campbell said. “Swimming is tough because you can have a good week of practice and show up at the meet and not have good performances.”

Arkansas swept the pool, winning all but two events. The other two events, the 100-yard butterfly and the 200-yard backstroke, were won by Vanderbilt swimmers.

“Both Arkansas and Vanderbilt are strong teams and they both performed well,” Campbell said. “It’s good because you can use the competition to help you go faster. We need teams to push us so that we can get ready for the tough competition we will have at the Big 12 Championships.”

Kansas has one more dual before the Big 12 Championships. The Jayhawks will be making their final regular season splash up in Ames, Iowa, against the Iowa State Cyclones this weekend on Feb. 7 and 8.

Story originally published on Kansan.com on January 22nd, 2014. Story re-ran in the University Daily Kansan on January 23rd, 2014.

The Kansas swimming and diving team escaped the midwest weather this winter break by participating in a training camp in Puerto Rico.

“The team really embraced the work,” Kansas swim coach Clark Campbell said. “They were challenged in a number of different ways while we were there and they were pushed to their limits. There were triumphs and failures. “

Now that they’re back from a long stint in the warmer weather, the Jayhawks will host the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) Trojans on Saturday at 10 a.m. in Robinson Natatorium. This is the Jayhawks’ last home meet of the season.

UALR will bring competition for Kansas because of the several talented athletes the Trojans have on their team. Trojan freestylers senior Kara Raney and sophomore Valeriya Teplova have both swam sub-25 second 50-yard freestyles. The Jayhawks have six athletes who have accomplished that feat this season: senior Morgan Sharp, freshman Lea Wissocq, sophomore Haley Molden, freshman Pia Pavlic, freshman Leah Pfitzer and senior Sofiia Filatova.

“Kara [Raney] has set the standard for our sprint program,” UALR coach Amy Burgess said.

Raney holds the school record for both the 100-yard backstroke and the 50-yard freestyle. UALR will bring another record holder, Holly Myers, to the meet. Myers, a senior backstroke and freestyle swimmer, holds the school records in backstroke events, middle distance freestyle events and relays.

In the 100- and 200-breaststroke events, Jayhawks sophomore Bryce Hinde and senior Alison Lusk could face freshman Erin Trumbach, the Trojans’ leading breaststroker. Trumbach has put up comparable times to both Hinde and Lusk in each of the events.

For diving, UALR brings lone diver sophomore Megan Scott. Scott excels at both the one-meter and three-meter diving events. The Jayhawks leading divers, sophomore Meredith Brownell and senior Alyssa Golden, will face steep competition with Scott coming to town. Scott’s best performance in the one-meter dive is very close to Golden’s best performance. Scott’s premiere effort in the three-meter dive bests what both Golden and Brownell have put up over the season.

Both Kansas and UALR have two more duals or triangular meets after Saturday before the conference championships are underway. As the regular season starts to come to a close, swimmers and divers have very few things on their minds: to do their best, to surpass their personal records and to leave everything in the pool.

Originally posted on Kansan.com, January 19th, 2014

As the temperature plummeted in Kansas, the swimming and diving team headed south, with meets at the University of Georgia, located in Athens and Rollins College, located in a suburb of Orlando.

At the Georgia Diving Invitational, in the one-meter dive, sophomore Meredith Brownell and freshman Graylyn Jones placed 22nd and 25th respectively. Brownell scored 234.5 while Jones, not far behind scored 228.05.  Three other divers competed in the event as well. Freshman Amanda Maser was 39th, scoring 201.25. Alyssa Golden, senior, was right behind her at 40th, scoring 198.70. Rounding out the Jayhawk divers was Madeline Martin, sophomore, who placed 45th with a score of 183.80.

The other event, which partook the following day was the three-meter dive. Brownell lead the Kansas squad in this event as well, taking 29th place and scoring 229.85. Golden followed, placing 36th, scoring 214.85. Martin took 42nd place (202.30), Maser took 47th place (188.75) and Jones finished in 52nd (157.65).

“The whole meet was to get more experience and gauge where we are,” said diving coach Brian Pritt. “Meredith and Graylyn did well [in the one-meter dive] and as a whole, we are just trying to see what things we need to work on. During winter training we are going to pick up the intensity and focus level so the nerves don’t take over.”

At the triangular meet hosted by Rollins College, the Jayhawks won by landslides against the host (202-55) and Tampa (195.5-61.5).

Leading the way for the swimmers, were the members of the relays. The Kansas 200 medley relay teams finished first, second, and third. The young team consisted of Freshman Yulduz “Yulya” Kuchkarova, sophomore Bryce Hinde, Freshman Pia Pavlic, and freshman Leah Pfitzer swam the top time of 1:45.74 in the medley relay. The other relays performed at a top tier level as well. Their 500-yard freestyle relays clocked in at 5:22.50 and 5:28.99, finishing first and second. Kansas’ 200-yard freestyle relay also finished first (1:38.42), finishing a solid three seconds before the second place Tampa squad.

In the individual events, coach Clark Campbell was excited about how well Deanna Marks, junior, and Sofiia Filatova, senior, performed.

“The swimmers of the meet for us were Filatova and Marks… Those two had a good meet along with several others,” Campbell elaborated.

Both Jayhawks had strong performances in the 50-yard and 100-yard butterfly events. In the shorter of the two, Marks finished first, swimming a time of 26.17. The race wasn’t easily won, due to Filatova being right on her heels, finishing just .02 seconds behind her younger teammate. In the 100-yard race Filatova finished first with a time of 57.26. Marks finished just behind her, clocking in at 58.04.

Some of the “several others” consisted of Morgan Sharp, Kuchkarova, and Hinde. Sharp, the senior freestyler, came home with a pair of wins in the 100 and 200-meter freestyles. Kuchkarova swept the backstroke events, while Hinde dominated in the breaststroke races, placing first in both as well.

“We still have some work to do, but we can tell a difference in how they are racing, their stroke techniques and how well they are doing with starts and turns,” said Campbell. “I’m starting to see them compete in championship form.”

After their dominating performances on the boards and in the pool, the Jayhawks made their way further south to Puerto Rico, where their training camp was located. They are due to return January 19. Turn around time for the ladies is short, considering they host a duel with the University of Arkansas-Little Rock in the Robinson Natatorium on January 25.