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    BLOG: NU Men's Soccer Hosts B+ AYSO Clinic

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    EVANSTON, Ill. - Last Sunday, the Wildcat men's soccer team collaborated with the Northwestern chapter of Dance Marathon and the B+ foundation for an AYSO clinic in the Trienens indoor practice facility. Members of the NU Big Ten champion men's soccer team worked with clinic participants, which included B+ heroes, on various soccer drills and games during the two-hour session.

     

    The B+ Foundation holds a special place in the hearts of the NU men's soccer team as alum Eamon O'Neill ('09) is the Midwest Regional Director of the charitable organization. B+ honors the memory of Andrew McDonough, a 14-year-old athlete and student from Wilmington, Del. In 2007, Andrew helped lead his team to victory in a state championship soccer tournament. Within 48 hours, he was in cardiac arrest and diagnosed with Luekemia (AML). The doctors didn't expect Andrew to live through the night, but he fought for 167 days. B+ not only reflected Andrew's blood type, but the way he lived his life and how he inspired others to do the same.

     

    The B+ Foundation is the beneficiary for the 2012 Dance Marathon and also partnered with the men's soccer team during the 2011 season. Prior to the regular season home finale vs. Indiana, Dance Marathon members collected donations with all proceeds going towards the B+ Foundation.

     

    This clinic is just one of many initiatives Northwestern Athletics has partnered with Dance Marathon on in their support of raising awareness and funds for B+ during the 2011-12 school year. Dance Marathon continues to raise money for the organization at various athletic events and B+ Heroes have been guests on the sidelines at NU football games and practices and will have a presence at an upcoming men's basketball game.

     

    For more information on the B+ Foundation, visit www.bepositive.org or contact NU men's soccer alum Eamon O'Neill (eamon@bepositive.org).

    The Morning After: Northwestern vs. Purdue

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    It was a stark tableau and it spoke volumes. There, three seats from the scorer's table, sat 'Cat assistant Tavaras Hardy, his face a blank mask as he scanned the box score he held in his right hand. Six seats to his right was the guard Reggie Hearn, his legs spread, his hands dangling between them, his eyes looking out and seeing nothing.  Finally, two more seats down, was the forward Drew Crawford, his legs spread as well, his hands folded as if in prayer, his eyes glued to the ground even as his school's band exited right in front of him.

     

    Each, in his misery, recalled Cervantes' Don Quixote, that Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance.

     

    ******

     

    No loss is easy. But some, some, some just reach in and grab your entrails and rip them from you body, which is exactly what happened to the 'Cats Saturday when they fell to Purdue by two at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

     

    They would, in this affair, commit 16 costly turnovers that led to 21 Boilermaker points, which is just the kind of malfeasance that normally dooms a team to a blowout defeat. But here they refused to let that happen.

     

    They had also, on this afternoon, suffered a drought of near-biblical proportions, managing just one field goal and five points through the last eight minutes of the first half. That too was the kind of lapse that often leads to a lopsided affair, but here again they steeled themselves and kept the fray close.

     

    Finally, against a team that goes deep into its bench, they had used Crawford for 39 minutes and point Dave Sobolewski for 39 as well and forward John Shurna for all but 9.8 seconds of the game's full 40 minutes. But never, never did any of the 'Cats waver or back off. "I was proud of the guys," their coach, Bill Carmody, would later say. "They were down most of the game it seemed, they kept coming back, get down again, come back. We defended pretty decently, and then it came down to the last shot and they made a nice play."

     

     "I thought it was a very interesting game, a game where no one could get a good feel to put that stretch together to put the other team away," said Matt Painter, the Boilermaker coach. "Both teams just kind of hung in there and we were fortunate at the end."

     

    ******

     

    The end began with Hearn and teammate Alex Marcotullio and Boilermaker star Robbie Hummel heaped on the floor in pursuit of  a rebound, a rebound that Marcotullio finally controlled before quickly calling a timeout. "I thought we'd do a better job on the glass," Painter would later say. "Give Northwestern credit. The out rebounded us by 14 (37-23) and a lot of them were just hustle rebounds. I thought Northwestern was quicker to the ball, they got more long rebounds, they got more 50-50 balls. Normally, when that happens, you get beat."

     

    But here, as the teams huddled with 55.7 seconds remaining, his Boilermakers were up two and Carmody was drawing up the play he hoped would bring the 'Cats even. It would go to Hearn, who soon beat D.J. Byrd down the left baseline for the layup that tied this one up at 56 with 41.9 seconds left. "I just got the first step on him and was able to finish," said Hearn, and so now it was Painter's turn to look for a play that could put his team back in front.

     

    It would begin with it taking the ball out in the backcourt, where Terone Johnson would inbound to Lewis Jackson. Now Jackson brought it up against the 'Cats 1-3-1 zone, and probed that zone, played catch against that zone with Johnson, and finally, with the shot clock running down, Jackson penetrated that zone and nearly lost his balance at the foul line and somehow shoveled a pass to Hummel deep down the left baseline.

     

    Four days earlier, in his team's two-point loss at home to Michigan, Hummel had missed an open three with 9.5 seconds remaining that would have rescued that game for the Boilermakers. But here, with the shot clock at two and Sobolewski scrambling to close on him, he rose and calmly dropped a 15-footer. "In that 1-3-1, I don't think we were dictating anything. I don't think it had anything to do with coaching," Painter would admit when asked about this play.

     

    "We were struggling with it. We might not having been turning it over much. But we were struggling to get a good shot against their 1-3-1 and we were fortunate Lewis got enough penetration to draw the defense and Rob could get the catch and beat the guy off the close out. Obviously, anytime you have a guy like Hummel, you want the ball in their hands to make a decision or make a shot. He made a good decision."

     

    ******

     

    Crawford, off his nightmare up in Minnesota, had been brilliant throughout this game, which he would end with 23 points and eight rebounds while going nine-of-16 overall and four-of-seven on threes. So now, with 8.1 seconds remaining and his team down two, Carmody designed a play that would get the ball into his hands. "Just trying to get it up the court," he would explain, "flash Drew into the top of the key area, throw it to him, then we had a screen down the other side for Shurna and Al (Marcotullio) was in the corner. There was also the drive possibility depending on where guys were."

     

     "We wanted to switch on everything," said Painter, explaining what was then being discussed in his team's huddle. "The last thing we wanted them to do was shoot a three and beat us. We wanted to switch all hand offs, switch all ball screens, switch any screens. They had eight seconds, had to go full court, that's a difficult thing to do."

     

    But the 'Cat tried to do it, Marcotullio inbounding to Sobolewski, Sobolewski rushing the ball up the court under pressure from Jackson, Sobolewski getting stymied at the top of the arc, where Crawford was draped by Boilermakers, Sobolewski finally kicking it right to Shurna, who was a good 35 feet from the basket. But he had no choice, he had to offer, and up he went for the three that would win this one for the 'Cats, but it was wide left and never touched the rim.

     

    "The play just didn't work out the way we drew it up because of the pressure," Crawford would later say. "So I wasn't able to get open and Dave wasn't able to make the pass."

     

    "There was too much pressure from Jackson for Sobo to make that pass (to Crawford)," echoed Carmody. "So we didn't get what we intended. We didn't get what we wanted. The time before that, we came out of a time out, we got exactly what we wanted (Hearn's tying layup). Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don't get it."

     

    "We were lucky," Painter finally said. "We were fortunate they didn't get a quality shot."

     

    ******

     

    For long minutes Crawford and Hearn remain in their court side seats, each lost in his private world and ignoring all that is around him. The band disappears, the fans evaporate, Carmody does his post-game radio show and still they linger, occasionally now exchanging some quiet words. "It hurts to lose. It definitely hurts to lose, and we've been in this position it seems for a few weeks now," Crawford will later say.

     

    "But. We're just going to watch the film, try to learn from it and move on, like you do with every loss. I know next game we're going to come out hungry."

    BLOG: NU Fencers Visit Dewey Elementary

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    Evanston, Ill. -- When's the last time you heard of kids learning medieval sword techniques on an average school day in Evanston?

    On Friday, January 28, Dewey Elementary third and fourth graders participated in an interactive fencing session led by the Northwestern Wildcat women's fencing team. Beyond a lively discussion about the lore and literal history of fencing, students learned about each weapon, the foil, sabre and epée, and just how real the sport of fencing is today. 

    Fencing weapons (the plastic variety) and gear were handled and basic techniques were shared and practiced. Students also learned a bit about what it takes to balance the rigors of a top university education with the training and travel of a highly competitive sport.

    "This is really cool," commented fourth graders as they practiced proper lunge techniques.

    Other students were eager to share personal stories of their exposure to the sport, and there was a ripple of enthusiasm about watching fencing in the upcoming Olympic Games.

    "I know I have grown up a lot from this sport and without it I would not be at Northwestern University," says NU fencer Alicia Gurrieri. "The individual aspect [of fencing] forces competitors to always solve problems on their own and try harder each day."

    Dewey teachers strive to regularly impart such lessons to students. Physical education teacher Julie Stevenson explained, "The involvement with NU reinforces what I am telling my students and it gives them a real life role-model that they can aspire to be like in terms of academics, character, and athletics."

    Dewey and Northwestern are planning more fencing sessions as well as a fine arts extension, where students will advance their life drawing skills in renderings of fencing poses.

    Friday's session was the latest in a diverse series of collaborations between the Dewey Wellness Committee and Northwestern University student-athletes from many of the 19 varsity sports. The fencing team first volunteered at Dewey's International Walk to School Day event last October when fencers were bombarded with questions from eager students.

    "Today was a natural extension of the October event," said Stephanie Fine, parent and co-chair of the Dewey Wellness Committee. "Students were eager to learn about fencing, the fencers were very generous with their time, and the school embraced the opportunity. We look forward to future collaborations."

    Courtesy Dewey Elementary

    'Cats Looking to Hit Their Stride

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    Last Sunday night was not an easy one for 'Cat forward Drew Crawford. He had been resplendent through so much of this basketball season. But that afternoon, up in Minneapolis, he had suffered through a nightmare, making just two of his 10 shots and finishing with five points as his team fell to Minnesota by 23. "That night, you try to forget about it, which is impossible to do," he will say when asked how he responded to that nightmare.

     

    "The whole plane ride home, when you're going to sleep, you're thinking about how terribly you played as a team, how terribly you played as an individual, and the next couple days it's the same feeling. But then you watch the film of the game and you break down and learn what you can do to improve. After that, you move on to the next game."

     

    And what did he learn?

     

    "We were taking bad shots at the beginning of the game. Coach (Bill Carmody) was saying our defense wasn't terrible in the beginning of the game, but they were getting too many offensive rebounds, they were getting to the line a lot, and down at our end we weren't knocking down shots because we weren't taking the best shots. We were taking quick shots, shots that weren't in our offense, and that really hurt us."

     

     

    ******

     

     

    Two Saturdays ago, after enervating losses to Illinois (by one) and Michigan (in overtime), the 'Cats faced a crucible when Michigan State dropped by Welsh-Ryan Arena. They responded with their best and most-complete game of the year and upset the Spartans. Now, after consecutive blowout losses at Wisconsin and Minnesota, another crucible confronts them this Saturday when Purdue visits their playpen. "We've (just) played in two tough road environments, two games where we didn't play particularly well," John Shurna will say when asked about that date. "So I think we're all excited to have a home game."

     

    "I think we're eager," Crawford will soon echo. "After a tough loss, we've kind of moved on from it, learned from it. Now we're eager for this Purdue game and the games that come after it as well. . . We need to get some momentum."

     

    That the 'Cats most certainly need as the calendar rushes toward February and those games that will do so much to determine their postseason fate. They had it early, back before the holidays, but now it has not only abandoned them. They are also short-handed (sophomore guard JerShon Cobb is not expected to play against the Boilermakers); piling long minutes on their bell cows (Shurna, Crawford and freshman point Dave Sobolewski are each averaging better than 34 per game); and, as Crawford mentioned and was evident at Minnesota, a once-precise offensive machine that is suddenly wheezing, smoking and coughing.

     

    Evidence supporting that last fact can be found with a glimpse at the 'Cat assist totals. They are, for the season, averaging just under 16 a game, and ran up 20 in their victory over Michigan State. But, against Wisconsin, they had only eight, and they followed that with just 12 against the Golden Gophers. "It's not the only thing (that has caused his team's recent struggles). But it's one indication that maybe the ball isn't moving around as much," Carmody will say with an eye on those numbers.

     

    "We've had games where we've had 25 assists, I bet, where 75 percent of our baskets are off assists. But the last few games, that has not been the case. Eight, nine, 10. That's not good enough for us. You're not making them defend enough. It's not in the flow ... We've gotten out of our offense."

     

     

    ******

     

     

    That offense, of course, could use a third contributor who scores with some consistency. The 'Cats have not yet found him this season. But, just as certainly, that same offense pivots around Shurna and Crawford, whose skills can produce incandescent interludes. That, finally, produces a juggling act the pair must master with their acumen as well as their physical talents. "They have to get the other guys involved more than they've been doing," explains Carmody.

     

    "The ball has to move around a little bit from side to side. The ball has to go in, then out, then side to side. For some reason, those shots go in a lot more often than when you're just making a move and no one else knows exactly what you're doing. I think we've been doing a little bit of that, a little too much of that."

     

    So you're looking for a balance, we suggest, where you ride them but they work within the offense?

     

    "Yeah, yeah. I told them, 'The good guys know. If me telling you to take good shots scares you from taking a shot, I don't care if it's early or late, I really don't. If you're a freshman and I say that and you hesitate and think coach doesn't want me to shoot early, OK. But you guys know me, I know you, if you have a good shot for you, that's a good shot. So you can't use that as an excuse because we've never said hold the ball or anything like that. So just be smart.'

     

    "That's what the good guys do. They know."

     

     

    ******

     

     

    The fineness of this line cannot be exaggerated and can be best symbolized this way. Carmody, through much of Shurna's career with the 'Cats, has encouraged him to be selfish, has encouraged him to demand the ball, has encouraged him to ride the wave and take the shots if he is in a magical place. But the forward, a classic team man, is often reluctant to hog the stage (or the ball) and so sometimes defers when selfishness is indeed demanded.

     

    Shurna, who is no dummy, clearly recognizes this, which he showed when asked to explain why this season he has followed bountiful stretches with stretches where he barely scored. "I have to continue to stay a little more aggressive," is what he said here. "I think sometimes I want to be a team player and help everyone out. But sometimes it's best for the team that I be a little more aggressive if I'm shooting the ball well. That's something I have to try and be better at."

     

     

    ******

     

     

    We remember that the football 'Cats, after their October struggles, spoke of possessing a greater sense of urgency as the final portion of their schedule loomed. So here, with February on the horizon, we ask Shurna if the same is true with his team. "Every game's important," he says. "We win those close games we have, maybe it's a different story. But you can't look back too much. We just have to start winning some games. . .(and) I think we've shown bright spots, of what we can be. We put that together for a full game against Michigan State. But, besides that, you can definitely say there have been moments when we've been lacking, when we haven't played to our full potential, which is frustrating."

     

    "That's really frustrating," Crawford will conclude minutes later. "Our team is capable of a lot and we all know that. So it's tough that we're not bringing that every night and winning the games we're capable of winning. So it's frustrating, and certainly something we have to work toward and try to put together so we're able to bring it every night."

    Philly and NYC

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    Hey Wildcat fans!

    The team has just wrapped up one of our busiest and most important weekends of the season. On Saturday we faced six schools at the Philadelphia Invitational, and on Sunday we went up against six more at the New York University Invitational. Although this was only week three, I already feel as if we've completed a huge piece of the season, and I'm sure my teammates would agree with me.

    Our trip started out early Friday afternoon. Thanks to the blizzard Chicago was hit with that morning, we were held up on the runway for quite some time. The optimistic and dedicated 'Cats decided to use the delay as a chance to put the "student" in student-athlete:
     


    Role Models

    After a relatively short flight, we were finally on the east coast. Arriving in Philadelphia was a lot like arriving in Hawaii, except it was the exact opposite. After what I can only hope was not the scenic route to our hotel, we settled in at The Inn at Penn. Every year we stay at this hotel, and it has quickly become one of our favorites. The rooms are amazing, the people are super friendly, and the breakfast actually inspires me to wake up earlier than seven minutes before our scheduled departure time. This year they even added an iPad to each of our rooms, which was perfect for playing 20 games of Temple Run reviewing some film before turning in for the night.

    We started the competitive weekend off on a high note, cruising through North Carolina, NJIT, Drew and Cornell. Our first challenge presented itself when we faced the host school, University of Pennsylvania. We found ourselves down 12-11 (14 bouts are needed to win a match). It had been a while since we felt that kind of pressure to pull out a win, which was evident when our infamous fencing screaming (which I think caught our new trainer, John, a little off guard) immediately filled up the room. Thankfully, a late win from the foil squad and last-round sweep by epée propelled us to a hard fought 15-12 victory.

     

    The Dream Team: Coach Ed Kaihatsu, Manager Dan Oh and Trainer John Lee

    Our next challenge presented itself in an old rival- Temple University. Each squad knew that this would be our biggest challenge of the day, as Temple is stacked in each weapon. True to prediction, we found ourselves tied at 13-13, with one last epee bout as the deciding factor. Unfortunately, a hard fought bout did not turn in our favor, and the 'we were handed our first loss of the season.
    Next on the itinerary was the trip to New York City. Along the way, the Cats made a pit stop in New Jersey at foilist Becky Grohman's house. Her parents were nice enough to host us for a wonderful dinner, and I'd like to extend a special thank you to them on behalf of the whole team.

    The next day was one full of highs and lows as well. The team started the day with back-to-back wins against Yale and a tough Wayne State team, but experienced déjà vu of the previous day with a close 13-14 loss to Columbia, and 12-15 loss to Ohio State. The day finished strong, however, with a dominant 21-6 win over host school NYU, and the Cats were finally on our way home from the longest weekend of the season.

     

    "Girls focus, don't stick out your tongues."


    While we may have hoped for better results from the weekend, I have to say that the volume levels during our matches rivaled most sporting events I've attended. I can't express how proud I am of the team for supporting each other with such intensity. I'm especially proud of our freshmen starters- Claire Carson, Courtney Dumas, and Sonali Patel -for being forces to be reckoned with already. Anyone can head back to practice and work out technical mistakes, but the passion I witnessed from my teammates this weekend is something that can never be taught in a gym.

    I apologize for the lengthy post- I had a lot of ground to cover with back-to-back meets! After a day off, we're back at it and excited to be training for the upcoming Notre Dame duals. I hope everyone is having a wonderful week, and of course, go 'Cats!

    - D


    PS- Update: Apparently freshman Tina Umanskiy changed her twitter name following my last post, but never fear- @UtheMANskiy (idk... I guess she thinks it's clever?)

    BLOG: Zack Oliver Makes Special Delivery to McGaw YMCA

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    NUsports.com followed Northwestern freshman quarterback Zack Oliver to the McGaw YMCA Children's Center of Evanston Tuesday as Oliver made a selfless gesture to the organization. Check out the video below to see the exact purpose of Oliver's trip and how the children he met at the YMCA reacted.

    Northwestern Tuesday Scatter Shots

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    The 'Cats will face Wisconsin Wednesday night without senior guard Alex Marcotullio, who suffered a concussion in their Saturday upset of Michigan State. "He's not available. He won't be going to the game," Bill Carmody said Tuesday.

     

    But there is still uncertainty surrounding sophomore guard JerShon Cobb, who is experiencing pain in the left hip he had operated on during the off-season. "We're going to see. He really hasn't practiced in awhile," Carmody said of him. "I was hopeful I could give him a couple weeks (off) to see if things got better and then, maybe the first week of February, get him going and he'd be healthy and we could make some kind of run. But now with Al out, I don't know. He's going to travel with us, though, I know that."

     

    This means senior swingman Nick Fruendt, who has totaled just nine minutes in the Big Ten portion of the 'Cat schedule, will be their first perimeter player off the bench against the Badgers. "Nick'll play. Nick'll play," said Carmody.

     

    The 'Cat rotation, then, is down to seven with only Fruendt and senior center Luka Mirkovic expected to see time off the bench. "But you only play five, right?" Carmody said with a chuckle when asked about that. "I have no choices. You have to coach. You can just concentrate on what you're doing and you don't have to worry about subs. It'll be obvious what you have to do. Foul trouble, put a guy in."

     

    Carmody could expand that rotation by taking the redshirt off 6-foot-8 freshman forward Mike Turner, who averaged 18.6 and 8.9 rebound per-game last season at University of Chicago Laboratory High. "It's possible. Possible," Carmody said of that prospect. "You still want to win. You still want to win. They say about burning (the redshirt), well, how many games do we have left, 15? That's still a lot of games."

     

    Asked for a scouting report on Turner, Carmody said, "He's pretty good at everything, he's not great at anything. He can dribble a little bit, he can make a shot, rebounds decently, decent defender. He's working and he seems to be getting better and he can put the ball in the basket. He's a very good 15-foot jump shooter, 16-foot jump shooter. So that's good."

     

    A short bench is not good when you employ the 1-3-1 zone that the 'Cats used in their victory over the Spartans. That ploy demands that defenders cover acres of ground, which could easily lead to tired legs. "It might. It might," admitted Carmody, who then added this. "But then (using a zone) you might not get into as much foul trouble too. It works both ways. Sometimes man-to-man, you can get into foul trouble a little bit, there's a little bit more driving to the basket maybe. So you have to balance that out, figure that out a little bit."

     

    The 'Cats, way back in November, picked up close wins over LSU (by six) and Tulsa (four), Seton Hall (seven) and Stony Brook (five). Those kinds of experiences, some feel, steeled their spines for gut checks like the one they faced against the Spartans. But, said Carmody, "I don't think it's as important as everyone else does, as far as playing today and what happened in November. I don't know. I don't know if it makes that much of a difference."

     

    Still, after enervating losses to Illinois (by one) and Michigan (by two in overtime), it was crucial that they win another close one before seeds of doubt sprouted in their collective brainpan. "Now they know we can do it," explained Carmody. "Like I said, we won close ones in November. But November was ages ago. If they remembered that, that would be good. But you can't. Everything is so present day. So I think it was important we got that thing so they didn't start feeling like, 'Here we go again.'"

     

    But, no matter how much that win may have buoyed the 'Cats, it did not add any giddy-up to their step when they returned to practice on Monday. "No. I was all over them yesterday," Carmody reported before the start of Tuesday's practice. "Holy Mackerel. We had to give them off Sunday, so yesterday they came out, there were a couple guys who looked very good and a couple guys I was not happy with. So it was not a fun practice. Anytime after a day off, you come out, it was probably normal. But I wanted to jack it up a little bit, expect more from them if I could. And I can."

     

    The 'Cats countered Michigan State's aggressive defense with those backdoor plays that used the Spartans' aggression against them. But the task will be far different against the Badgers, whose defense is precise and fundamental and -- not insignificantly -- physical as well. "So you're going to get checked up pretty good, and you have to push through that," said Carmody, offering up a what-to-look-for. "They grab you a little bit, hold you a little bit, a forearm in your chest a little bit. Yeah, we talked about that. I liked that the other night. Reggie (Hearn, the guard) was cutting really hard. It was great. He was responsible for about eight points just with his hard cuts that helped him or helped someone else. So we will emphasize that."

     

    The Badgers are usually infallible at home, but already this season they have lost to Marquette and Iowa and Michigan State at their Kohl Center. That's the good news. The bad news is the 'Cats are 0-12 in that building. "People say why is it such a tough place?" Carmody said when asked about that playpen. "Well, since I've been here, they've had really good teams. If they had bad teams, it wouldn't be so intimidating. It might be the fans and the court and all. But mostly it's the five guys on that court. They've had some really good players for a number of years, and they've been well coached. So I don't know if it's the building as much as the guys you're playing against."

    Coast to Coast

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    Hey Wildcat Nation!

    I hope everyone has had a wonderful start to 2012! As I've said before, I'm so excited to keep everyone updated on the team's doings, and I truly appreciate (most) feedback I've received from the first post. I was told that I sounded like I "wanted to beat someone up" in my last post (which I must argue, comes with the job description of being a fencer), so I promise to keep this one a bit lighter. I was also told that I should start bullet-pointing my posts so that they're easier to read, to which I must say, Ian Farr... are you 8 years old? Moving on.

    The beginning of the year has been extremely busy for the team, with non-stop training, traveling, and competing. We opened the season with a trip to Air Force for our first dual meet, and then this past weekend some 'Cats ventured a little farther west to Portland for a Division 1 North American Cup, which I'll recap later on.

    And while the chaos has taken its toll on us all....

    The hard work is paying off already!

    At Air Force, the Wildcats defeated schools such as Stanford, Cal Tech and Florida to finish the day undefeated against six teams. Overall, the team won 153 of the 162 bouts of the day and went on to become the Western Invitational Champs. It was great witnessing everyone reach their individual goals, and an awesome note to start the season off on as a team!

    Typically, our first meet of the season is somewhere in California, so I was a bit salty to travel to a city (Colorado Springs, CO) arguably colder than Chicago. However, witnessing the plethora of rules and super strict culture at Air Force Academy opened my eyes to how much freedom I do have fencing for Northwestern, for which I am eternally grateful. (Shout-out to the coaches for letting our multiple self-granted water breaks at practice slide, truly 'preciate ya)

    This past weekend, a handful of 'Cats traveled to Portland, Oregon, for the Division 1 North American Cup. Upon arriving in the city, it was clear to me that I could throw a rock in the air and it would hit at least five disgruntled hipsters on its way down, so naturally Devynn Patterson was back in her element. I made the long trip out West with Dev and Camille Provencal, two fine ladies who have been forced to endure my company around the clock for the past two-plus years. It was nice to have some time to explore the city and we even make a stop at the Food Network famous Voodoo Doughnuts!

    Seven of us 'Cats competed this weekend in Portland. Although the tournament is non-collegiate, everyone was excited to get back on the strip, though perhaps a bit disappointed in our overall results.

    Post-competition, I received some great advice from a wise reader: "You can't let one thing beat you twice." Competing at such a high level provided us with great practice for the upcoming matches we have, and allowed us to get in some high-quality bouts with girls we are sure to face in the near future in collegiate play, so I'm confident that the team will only grow and learn from the experience.

    This upcoming weekend, we're bracing ourselves for a marathon of fencing- Philadelphia Invitational on Saturday, then on to the New York Invitational on Sunday. Needless to say, we've become regulars at O'Hare once again and I'm beginning to feel a little like Tom Hanks' character in the Terminal, but I wouldn't have it any other way (the frequent flier miles don't hurt, either). I've seen what this team is capable of, and I know that we can't wait to prove ourselves against some of the absolute top competition in the country this weekend.

    Thanks so much for following us along our season, and of course, go 'Cats!

    - D

    PS- Be sure to follow the team on Twitter! @NCatFencing

    PPS- Follow foilist Tina Umanskiy (@tweena11) as well, if you're into the excessive ramblings of an angsty freshman (you're welcome, teenie).

    The Morning After: Northwestern vs. Michigan State

    By Skip Myslenski

    NUsports.com Special Contributor


    Every game features a maelstrom of swirling bodies, a kaleidoscope of flailing limbs, a torrent of plays made and plays missed and plays that bring viewers from their seats in various states of disbelief. They comprise the oversized portrait that is finally stored in the mind, but in that whole there are also moments of significance, moments to be recounted, moments like those that arrived just over three minutes into the 'Cats Saturday afternoon upset of No. 6 Michigan State.

     

    They were already down five now and then point Dave Sobolewski missed a three from the left wing. The Spartans, of course, are renowned for their rebounding, are clearly the best rebounding team in the Big Ten, but here 'Cat center Davide Curletti collected his teammate's miss, got fouled and made a pair. He is back at it again some five minutes later and with their deficit again five, this time outmuscling a pair of Spartans for an offensive rebound that he puts back for an easy two. Now, on the next 'Cat possession, he finds Drew Crawford for a back door layup, and then there he is at the top of the circle offering and draining a three.

     

    "We had rebounds, they took them from us and scored three different times," Spartan coach Tom Izzo would later say. "I thought each time, we had a six, seven-point lead, get a rebound, they took it, laid it up. One time they get a three-point play on it. That became the difference in the game. Give Curletti credit. I thought he played extremely well. He outplayed our centers and that's been something we've been pretty solid on. Curletti was the difference in the game, if you ask me. He was a big difference in the game and deserves the credit he got. He did a great job."

     

    ******

     

    The Spartans rolled into Welsh-Ryan unbeaten since mid-November and riding a winning streak that had reached 15. The 'Cats, in stark contrast, were not only coming off a pair of enervating defeats. They were also bruised and battered and beaten up. Sophomore guard JerShon Cobb, who had undergone off-season hip surgery, had pain in that left hip and was sidelined. Senior guard Alex Marcotullio, who had been hobbled all season with a bad toe, was cleared to play, but no one knew just how long he could last. Then there was Crawford, the dynamic junior. He had been felled by a stomach flu, had sat out Friday's practice, and had suited up only after getting IVs that night and again on Saturday morning.

     

    Bill Carmody, their coach, had planned to open small against the Spartans, using John Shurna at center and surrounding him with Crawford, Marcotullio, Sobolewski and Reggie Hearn. But, noting the uncertain health in that lineup, he made a late change in his plans, inserting Curletti and keeping Marcotullio on the bench. "Just before the game," the center would say when asked just when he learned he would be starting.

     

    Did that get him jacked up?

     

    "I try to be the energy guy whenever I can," he said, "so not really."

     

    ******

     

    Carmody made a pair of other decisions before the game that would also prove fruitful. On defense, he decided, his 'Cats would go exclusively to their 1-3-1 zone in an attempt to slow down the speedy Spartans. "The main thing was stopping them in transition since they have so many fast guards," Crawford would later explain. "Once we were able to stop them in transition, that's where they've very tough, we're confident in our zone. We were able to slow them down a little bit, which really helped us out."

     

    Then, on offense, his 'Cats would look always for those back-door cuts that might burn the Spartans' aggressive defenders. "All I noticed (on film), I thought their defense was playing you harder, they were playing the ball harder. So there was that possibility," Carmody would explain. "They've always been a good defensive team. But just on tape, we saw they are overplaying a lot. You never know. But we did get some easy ones there."

     

    "Maybe. Maybe," said Izzo, whose Spartans have young guards (and a senior transfer from Valparaiso playing his first season in the Big Ten). "But the truth of it is, we made sure in three days of practice that we were not overplaying anything. It's just, staying focused as a freshman, it's hard. Remember I said the perimeter guys, the lack of experience there is going to catch us sometimes. It caught us today a little bit."

     

    ******

     

    Curletti's histrionics saved the 'Cats early, when their offense struggled some, but what followed was a textbook exhibition of what is meant by the term Team Victory. Marcotullio would play the up-top chaser in the zone through much of the first half and then, in its final two minutes, hit one three that tied the game at 33 and another that put the 'Cats up two. They would never trail again, but Marcotullio himself was now done for the day. "I think he got conked or something like that," Carmody would say. "They just told me he's not feeling that good and that he's not available this (second) half."

     

    Hearn, who would play all of that half's 20 minutes, would go five-of-six from the field and end with 10 points and five rebounds. Sobolewski, the freshman point, would play all of the game's 40 minutes and commit just one turnover while handing out seven assists. Crawford, who played just 11 minutes in the first half but 18 in the second, finished with 20 points, and Shurna played all 40 and put up 22.  "I knew I was going to play the whole time. The question was how much energy I would have," Crawford would say. "But once the game started and I see Davide working hard, I see my teammates working hard, it kind of fuels you and gets you going."

     

    Then there was Curletti, who had never before logged more than 28 minutes in a game. He here played 36 and finished with 17 points and six rebounds and four important assists. "Our Energizer bunny," Carmody would call him.

     

    "It is fun when you play well like that," said the bunny himself. "Helping other guys is a great feeling, especially for us. Our offense is built around each other, making back door cuts, making back door passes. I felt tonight, we were hitting on all cylinders. We rarely broke out of our offense. We were able to run it to perfection."

     

    "We didn't lose that game on the offensive end. We lost it on the defensive end," Izzo would later say, supporting Curletti's claim. "We're not allowed to give up 81 points. It's ridiculous."

     

    ******

     

    The 'Cats, through the final 20 minutes, slowly built on their two-point halftime lead, built it to 10 with 10:40 remaining, built it to 12 with 6:45 remaining. But still, lurking in the brainpan, were memories of their late failures against Illinois and Michigan, memories that were suddenly stirred as the Spartans now rallied and cut that deficit to just five in a mere 68 seconds. "We just had to stop their run," Crawford would later say when asked about this moment. "Basketball is a game of runs and Michigan State's a very tough team. They're capable of making runs and that's where you've just got to be strong and keep your composure as a team and get back to what you do."

     

    What the 'Cats did here was put the ball in Shurna's hands, and what Shurna did now was masterly. He passed up an open jumper early in the shot clock and then, as it wound down, he drove hard down the lane, got fouled and made a pair. The Spartans responded with a basket of their own, but now the young Sobolewski exhibited the smarts of a veteran, exhibited them by himself driving as the shot clock wound down and getting fouled and making a pair. This time the Spartans responded with an air ball and now here came Shurna, once more late in the shot clock and off a pass from Hearn, burying an NBA three that put the 'Cats up 10 and closed this one out.

     

    "We told them at halftime you just can't be competing," Carmody later said, and then he offered this most salient of points. "You've got to take the game. You've got to be the aggressor. You've got to go after it a little harder. I really thought they did."

     

    ******


    Tom Izzo, whose honesty matches his coaching acumen, said this in his opening statement after his team lost for the first time since Nov. 15. "I had a couple concerns all week in preparing for these guys. The first one was I thought they were a much better team (than their record). I thought they could have won the Michigan game and the Illinois game, and if they were 13-3 everyone would have been talking about this being an incredible matchup. When you lose a game or two, it matters in the standings, it matters to the fans and the media and everybody else. But, to another coach, it doesn't matter because it means you played extremely well for probably 39 minutes in those games and lost in the last minute. So how you played was important, so I knew they were a very good team."

     

    Then later, at the end of an answer to a question about Curletti, he offered this. "Like I said, we weren't good enough," he offered. "But they were really good. Don't knock Northwestern. Northwestern did a hell of a job."

    Northwestern Tuesday Scatter Shots

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    * The 'Cats have 14 regular-season games remaining after they visit Michigan on Wednesday night. That means it is far too early to dust off old chestnuts like "crucial contest" and "must-win situation." Still, with Michigan State and Wisconsin up next after the Wolverines, they are most certainly entering a stretch where they can grab off some (to use another chestnut) "signature wins" that would not only enhance their standing in the Big Ten race. They would also burnish their (last chestnut, promise) NCAA Tournament resume.

     

    "Those (teams) are all up there, right?" said their coach, Bill Carmody, when asked about that. "Those would all be significant -- I don't know signature or not -- but those would all be important wins for us. We have to get 'em.

     

    "This is a big game, a really big game," echoed forward Drew Crawford. "One thing we've got to do is win on the road, and that starts tomorrow. These last two days of practice, we've really been preparing for them. We're excited for the game."

     

    "It's obviously a really big stretch for us," concluded the freshman point, Dave Sobolewski. "We're playing a lot of highly-ranked teams, and I don't think we've beat a ranked team yet this year. We played (No. 23) Creighton tough on the road. But, yeah, this is a huge stretch for us, especially with the Big Ten season here."

     

     

    * The 'Cats were last viewed at work last Wednesday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena, where they built a 10-point lead over Illinois, floundered offensively for 19 minutes, rallied furiously down the stretch, and fell by one. That performance mirrored, to an extreme degree, a pattern that had emerged in some of their earlier games, which too were mottled with stretches of offensive impotence. "Yeah, we've had some real bad times, minutes without scoring," Carmody agreed Tuesday when this was brought up to him. "Some of the games they've been pretty good shots. But the last game against Illinois, I didn't think the shots were as good. We've been working on our offense a lot the last few days, just trying to see if we can do a little bit better."

     

    And what in particular have they been working on?

               

    "Just the moving. It seemed our cuts (against Illinois), guys were holding us up a little bit, we weren't cutting as crisply and sharply, and when we were cutting we weren't really looking for the ball, so it doesn't put pressure on the next defender to help out so you get an open shot. So I think overall it just has to click better."

     

    "One thing that is big for us is cutting hard, especially when a lot of Big Ten teams try to bump you while you're cutting," Crawford later added. "You've got to be able to cut through hard and be physical on offense. We've got to be consistently aggressive making hard cuts, that's always important for us, and not backing down when the other team picks up their physicality."

     

    "We weren't moving the ball and running through our offense as quickly as we should have been," Sobolewski would then conclude. "We were kind of slowly going through the motions and, with our offense, a big part of it is running through things fast and moving the ball quickly. We just weren't doing that until the very end of the second half and that's when we went on that run. But for the first 17, 18 minutes of the second half, we weren't doing it."

     

    Has that been a point of emphasis in the practices leading up to the Michigan game?

     

    "Absolutely," he said. "Absolutely. Absolutely."

     

     

    * Not even John Shurna, who had just one field goal in the second half after going for 17 points in the first, was immune to the malaise that struck the 'Cats against the Illini, and so it was natural that Carmody was asked about him on Tuesday. "He's probably putting a little pressure on himself," he said of his star, who was not available for comment. "He came out against Illinois, that first half, he got to the basket two or three times, old fashioned three-point play, banged a three from the corner, hit a pull up jumper at the foul line. So he did a lot of nice things. Then in the second half those shots, some of them didn't fall. You know, you can't expect 17 both halves. So somebody else has to pick it up. It's a team. I just think overall we have to move the ball better and, when you get your open looks, knock them down."

     

    Is he playing out of himself since he is feeling that pressure?

     

    "John's good at staying within himself," said Carmody. "But I want him to hunt for his shots a little bit more, and he has done that. He's going after shots. Certain guys, if they just let the game come to them, all of a sudden the half's over and you have two shots, three shots.  Against Penn State, Drew had two shots in the first half letting the game come to him. Those two guys, they've got to go after it a little bit and get their shots, the ones they can make, not forcing them. Your best players have to be able to take some bad shots. Then, after awhile, those bad shots, they start making them. Where other guys aren't capable of doing that, those guys are. So I try to give them a little freedom."

     

    "Johnny's all about the team, that's what he really cares about," Crawford himself said when asked about Shurna. "He wants to do what's best to help the team win. That's always the biggest thing for him, and the rest of us too. We spent a lot of time talking and it's really about what we're doing as a team and what we can do to improve."

     

     

    * Which brings us to Sobolewski, who missed all five of his field goal attempts against the Illini. "They just weren't going in. Then in the second half I just wasn't getting looks," he explained Tuesday. "But I didn't take a shot that I won't shoot tomorrow night. They weren't going in, but I'll shoot the same shots tomorrow night if they come my way."

     

     

    * And finally, Sobolewski, on the 'Cats mood: "I think the whole team is confident. Just because we lost a few games, nobody's got their head down. We're ready to play again, we're excited to play again, and all of us are still confident in what we can do."

    Fencing Community Mourns the Loss of Remenyik

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    Evanston, Ill. -- Charlotte Remenyik, the woman credited with revitalizing the Northwestern fencing program in the mid-1970's, passed away on December 21, 2011.

    Remenyik took the reins in 1976 and led the Wildcats to a spotless 9-0 record and a Big Ten title in her first year. The next year produced similar results with a 6-2 overall mark and a second straight Big Ten title. Following the 1977-78 campaign, Laurie Schiller took over head coaching duties and has been at the helm ever since.

    Remenyik's contributions to Northwestern fencing are recognized every October when the 'Cats host the Remenyik Open which attracts top competition from around the country for an exciting weekend.

    A memorial service for Remenyik will be held Saturday, January 14 in Cleveland, Ohio. The service will be held at 2 p.m. EST at St. Emeric Church, which is located at 1860 W. 22nd St. It will be held primarily in Hungarian.

    In lieu of flowers, the Remenyik family has asked that contributions be made to:

    The American/Hungarian Friends of Scouting
    P.O. Box 6783
    Cleveland, Ohio 44101

    The Morning After: Northwestern vs. Illinois

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    Six seconds remain now and this one's tied up at 56 and, on the line, Illinois forward Myke Henry is settling himself for a pair of free throws. He has taken only two of these all season, making one, but here he offers up his first attempt and it rattles around and finally falls through. Then, at the far end of the court, 'Cat coach Bill Carmody calls time and in the huddle draws up what will come next. If Henry makes the second, he decides, the ball will be inbounded to point Dave Sobolewski and he will push it and look for an open shooter. If Henry misses the second, he goes on, the task of pushing will fall on the rebounder. But certainly, in neither case, will he call another timeout. "I wanted," he will explain, "to get going and cause some confusion."

     

    Now Henry is back at the line and he offers up his second attempt and it rims out and is corralled by 'Cat forward Drew Crawford, who whirls quickly and takes off up the court. "Coach," he will later say, "just wanted us to push it."

     

    ******

     

    This was Wednesday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena, where the latest installation of the 'Cat-Illini rivalry unfolded in a fashion that bordered the surreal. For 18 minutes, through the first 18 minutes, the 'Cats were clinicians, running their offense with precision and getting a star turn from the forward John Shurna. He was resplendent during this stretch, both draining jumpers and getting himself to the basket, and when he dropped a three with 2:22 remaining until the half, his team was up 10 and soaring.

     

    "Shurna was special in the first half," Illinois coach Bruce Weber would later say, but it was right here that this game turned and took on its paranormal hue. For now, after Weber's stagnant offense produced one more empty trip, Crawford charged and gave the Illini a chance for a quick flurry. They got it first from Henry, who here dropped a three, and then, after a turnover by Shurna, they got it next from Meyers Leonard, who put home a fast break dunk.

     

    Still, with 31 seconds remaining, the 'Cats had a chance for another score, but here Shurna was stripped as he attempted to shoot and they went to their locker room up only five. "We had opportunities in the first half, wide open shots that we didn't knock down," Carmody would later say.

     

    He would also say, "I don't think we played a great first half. I thought we should have had a 12-point lead or so."

     

    ******

     

    Crawford, in the first half, attempted just three shots and made only one and ended with a mere two points. His struggles would only continue. Sobolewski, in the first half, attempted five shots and made not one of them and ended with a donut. His struggles would also continue. Shurna, in the first half, made seven of his 10 shots and ended with 17. But now he too would struggle as the 'Cats endured a drought of Biblical proportions.

     

    That, you may say, sounds like an exaggeration, but the numbers here are as stark and as unforgiving as a perfectly-thrown left hook. For the 'Cats, after being up 10, now did this over the next 19:21: they went three-of-16 from the field and two-of-six from the line and committed eight of their eventual nine turnovers. Crawford scored once in this stretch, on a driving layup, but Shurna did not and that was true too of Sobolewski, who got his only points at the free throw line with just three minutes remaining.

     

    They left the 'Cats down five and now, 32 seconds later, Shurna went up for a three from the left wing hoping to pare that margin down even more. The Illini, in the first half, had covered him with the 6-foot-3 D.J. Richardson, and he had torched him. But in the second half the job went to the 6-foot-4 Brandon Paul, who was now smothering him. "He did a great job, no doubt," Weber would say of his guard.

     

     "They really clamped down on us," said Carmody when asked about his team's second-half struggles. "We just weren't able to get untracked. So you have to give them credit for that second half defense."

     

    "They put Brandon Paul on me, a little bigger," said Shurna when asked about his own second-half struggles. "But I missed shots. It's on me."

     

    He now missed this one and another at 1:45, and when Paul dropped one-of-two free throws at 1:43, the 'Cats were down eight and reeling and heading for the mat. But here, like a proud boxer who just refuses to go down, they shook off the cobwebs and roused themselves and offered a final flurry of their own. They got a free throw from JerShon Cobb and, after Paul missed the front end, a three from Alex Marcotullio that pulled them to within four at 1:19. Now, after a miss by the Illini's Leonard, Shurna picked up his only field goal of the second half, a three that pulled them to within one at :36.3.

     

    This one was now a runaway train rushing toward its conclusion, and next came a free throw from Leonard, a missed three by Cobb, a gritty offensive rebound by Crawford to forge the tie at 56, and Paul driving for a layup that would put the Illini back in the lead. Crawford was there in front of him, planted in the lane, and Paul barreled into him as he offered and missed, and when no whistle came Henry grabbed the rebound and was fouled by Sobolewski with those six seconds remaining. "I couldn't tell," Carmody would say when asked about the non-call. "Northwestern people told me it was a charge. But I couldn't see. I couldn't tell from down there."

     

    "Just trying to make a play," said Crawford himself. "I'm not really sure, actually. I'll see it on tape and make a decision."

     

    ******

     

    Drew Crawford, in full flight, drives down the left side and offers, but there too is the 7-foot-1 Leonard, who blocks the 'Cats final chance for a victory. "I got to the basket, tried to get to the basket," Crawford would later say. "I probably should have gone all the way, but I stopped short and it was a good block...

     

    "It's a tough loss, especially making that comeback at the end of the game. Any close game, when you have a chance to win and you're not able to pull it out is always a tough loss."

    "Fencing's not a real sport!"

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    "Fencing's not a real sport!"


    Countless times I've heard this statement thrown my way, the sender usually laughing absentmindedly and possessing no remorse for the discouraging words they've hit me with. Growing up, I was quick to retort with a carefully calculated comeback. I could hope to impress them with facts ("a fencer's sword is the fastest moving object in sports after a bullet!") or hit them with some history ("fencing is one of only four original Olympic sports!"), but usually it was to no avail. I learned to sit back and play it cool as my life's passion was turned into a mockery for the sake of conversation.

     

    Perhaps the hardest pill to swallow when basing your life around a sport that receives little to no attention on the collegiate level is the feeling of wasted passion. Completing your tenth practice of the week, jetting back and forth between continents, and finishing schoolwork on the side is no easy feat; it is also never one fencers demand credit for. However, one cannot help but feel a certain sting when told that all this hard work is for something silly and trivial, something that can be mocked, and something that is not even considered a "real sport."

     

    The overall experience of competing in an often-unrecognized sport led me to think about sportsmanship and athleticism in general. Who gets to decide which sport is "real" and which is "fake"? Who has the authority to call one person an athlete, but deny that title to another? And finally, what is truly the makeup of a real athlete? I observe my teammates day in and day out, and am constantly inspired by their determination and work ethic. Watching such an outstanding group of girls over the last couple years has made me truly recognize what athleticism is at its best.   

     

    It's getting one more workout in when you're already tired and falling apart. It's staying after practice because you know going the extra mile will ultimately pay off in the end. It's meetings with coaches, watching film, and taking endless amounts of notes. It's spending every waking moment with your teammates, and knowing you can count on them just like they count on you- both inside and outside of the gym. It's the unparalleled feeling of life that will elevate any athlete, no matter how many people are in the stands, when given the chance to finally compete and prove yourself.

     

    In the end it's living and breathing your sport and devoting yourself to something that becomes a part of you. This is an experience any athlete can relate to, regardless of the sport that they have dedicated their lives to. Most importantly, it is knowing that while the work may seem painful and endless, the reward is greater than anything every imaginable.  

     

    I'm truly blessed to be surrounded by a team that is the epitome of athleticism. It's been a busy first week back, full of workouts, yoga, practice and a Purple and White meet. Soon, we'll be on our way to the first meet of the regular season at Air Force [Saturday, Jan. 7]. For the past six years, Northwestern Fencing has been unbeaten in season-opening dual meets- a tradition we fully intend on continuing with the six teams we face this weekend.

     

    Thank you for following us along on our journey, and I'm so excited to keep everyone updated all season long!

     

    Go 'Cats!

    - Dayana Sarkisova

    Marcotullio Gives the Wildcats a Lift

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    A toe injury. It sounds as innocuous as a hangnail, like something that would not slow a good man down. But here it has slowed a good man, the 'Cat guard Alex Marcotullio, who has been dealing with just that injury for over two months now. "It's really frustrating. I'm doing most of what I do off of my toe, whether it's planting, cutting, shooting, jumping," he explains. "So it's one of those things that I have to block out and try to deal with the best I can. I think I've done a pretty good job so far, and my teammates and the coaching staff have really supported me throughout the entire process. And it has been a long process and it's going to continue to be throughout the year. But it's nothing I can't tolerate."

     

    ******

     

    He incurred the injury during a scrimmage way back on October 30. "I went up for a layup and got taken out a little bit," he remembers. "It was one of those weird things. I fell over, then I got landed on and it kind of jammed in. It's pretty hard on film to tell what actually happened. But I finished playing that day and then went over to the trainer and was, 'My toe is really, really hurting me.' So we checked it out, got an X-Ray and MRI. My first X-Ray it looked negative, but then the MRI showed some fluid build up around my toe."

     

    There was no way to rush this recovery and here his practice time was limited, but he still managed to play significant minutes in seven of his team's first eight games. "Then," he picks up, "one day over winter break it jumped back on me randomly. I was at home and woke up in the middle of the night in excruciating pain. It was really a flukey thing. So I've been trying to monitor it. I got it reevaluated by a couple doctors. One thought it was maybe was a little hairline fracture they missed before. I think that might have been it the first time and it's been slowly healing. But there's really no set answer about what I have. (It's officially labeled a bone contusion in the left big toe.) It's just one of those nagging injuries that has plagued me throughout the year so far. But the other night really helped my confidence. My toe felt good, so I was more energized, and the output on the court to help the team (he hit half of his four three-point attempts) helped me mentally and physically as well."

     

    ******

     

    Sunday night, in their game with Penn State, the 'Cats opened sluggishly. Only the freshman point, Dave Sobolewski, had pop from the start, but then he picked up a peppy partner when Marcotullio joined the fray. "I thought he made a big difference the other night," his coach, Bill Carmody, will say Tuesday afternoon. "Energy level. It was tangible, the difference between him and the other guys."

     

    "I do think I bring a fiery attitude and passion to the game," says Marcotullio himself. "I think that's important for a team, especially the way we struggled in the first half the other night. We needed some energy...(and) that's my role on the team. It's not necessarily scoring points, but doing things that help the team win and I think that's a big thing."

     

    It is most certainly a big thing, as big as the depth he provides and his ability to drain a three-point shot. That is why he and his health are a central 'Cat issue as they prepare for their Wednesday night date with Illinois at Welsh-Ryan Arena. But now, he says, the toe no longer limits him physically. "It did early on when it first happened and had the setback," he then concludes. "But now that I've gotten into a rhythm and kind of blocked it out of my mind, I think I've done a lot better job with that.

     

     "Now I just go with whatever I can tolerate."

     

    ******

     

    Scatter shots: The 'Cats, of course, roused themselves in the second half last Sunday and grabbed off a 12-point win over the Nittany Lions. When asked Tuesday how he would guard against another slow start, Carmody chuckled and said, "I have to give the halftime speech before the game." Now he paused and continued, "I don't know. I don't know what to say. You have to know you can't come out like that against Illinois and expect to win the game. If you want to win, you have to come out differently. You have to be focused from the get go." ... 'Cat forward John Shurna, for one, doesn't think lethargy will be a problem come Wednesday. "I think everyone gets up for these game. I think it's just fun," he said." A lot of guys (on the Illini) you've played against before, and around the Chicagoland area everyone's big U of I fans. So it'll be a fun environment tomorrow." Does he take it personally that there will be a lot of Illinois fans in the stands? "Naa. Naa. It's just fun. It's good to have people cheering for you or against you. It's just a fun atmosphere. It's fun either way." ... Drew Crawford, the other 'Cat forward and star, not only played against some of the current Illini in high school. He was once also a teammate of D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul, a pair of their guards, on an AAU team called the Illinois Warriors. Have they exchanged greetings in advance of their reunion? "Nah," Crawford said with a laugh. "But we'll probably exchange some texts after the game."

     

    And finally, Carmody, when asked what has surprised him about Sobolewski, the young point whose assist-to-turnover ratio is a most-impressive 4.5-to-1: "I knew he'd be pretty good. But his demeanor, there's a little more calmness to him than I thought there would be getting into some pretty tough games. I knew he could make an open shot, that he's a good ball handler, that he could run the team. But he doesn't seem to get flustered that easily, which is really nice for a coach. There's a calmness about the way he goes about his business."

    The Morning After: 'Cats Come to Life in Second Half

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    The second half opened and, just 10 seconds in, Dave Sobolewski found John Shurna for a layup off a set play. Then, on the next 'Cat possession, Drew Crawford drove and kicked to Shurna, who drained a three from the right corner. Now, some 90 seconds later, here was Crawford driving and dropping in a short hook from the right side, then there he was dropping in another from low in the lane.

     

    Finally, at last, the game was afoot.

     

    ******

     

    It was a game in name only through Sunday's first half at Welsh-Ryan, where the 'Cats were hosting rebuilding Penn State. There was, in fact, little to like about these 20 minutes, which were filled with scattered shots and offensive offenses and--when it came to the hosts -- listlessness and lethargy and ennui.

     

    Sobolewski, the freshman point, was energized through them, and he kept the 'Cats afloat by hitting half of his eight field goal attempts and putting up 10 points. There was life too in guard Alex Marcotullio, who has been struggling with a toe injury, but all around them their teammates appeared to be ailing from a classic New Year's Day hangover.

     

    Shurna took only five shots in this half, missed three of his four three-point attempts, and committed three turnovers. Crawford, in turn, took only two shots and drifted too much and rarely attacked the basket, and then there were these most-revealing stats. The Nittany Lions had 15 offensive rebounds and the 'Cats, just three. The Nittany Lions had 31 field goal attempts and the 'Cats, just 19. The 'Cats had eight turnovers, but when it came to field goals made, the number was just seven.

     

    "None of us were happy in the locker room at halftime. The players, staff," Bill Carmody would later say. "We really didn't talk too much basketball there. I actually challenged these two guys (Crawford and Shurna) to be leaders out there. I thought there was no physicality at all. They had 15 offensive rebounds. And there was no enthusiasm. Two guys. Sobolewski and Marcotullio were the only guys in the first half that, I don't want to use that expression came to play, but just energized, full of life. You're playing college basketball. It should be a great time. And play hard.

     

    "So I singled these two guys out because they should be our leaders, and they have been. . . They were ticked off at me, I was ticked off at them and, in the second half, whatever they said, the heck with you, they came out ready to play. They passed the ball, they were moving faster, they were rebounding. Everything you want them to do, they did. So I was really pleased. I definitely don't care if they're mad at me. Keep playing that way, I'll be very happy."

     

    ******

     

    The 'Cats, angry at their coach, angry at themselves, came out of their locker room down three, but this game turned as soon as Crawford tapped into the aggressive side of his inner self. His team cannot win without this ingredient in the mix, that is how crucial it is to its success, yet later even he would admit, "It was obvious that I wasn't being aggressive enough in the first half. In the second half I was able to do that and I think it helps us as a team."

     

    It helped Shurna get that early three, which tied this one up at 28, and then the second of Crawford's short hooks put the 'Cats up two, which was their first lead since the opening two minutes. Now, as they took control of this game over the next eight minutes, the full package of his skills came out for public display. He drove for another short hook. He assisted on a Sobolewski three and then on a three by Marcotullio. He himself hit three and then, on the next possession, drove hard to the basket, missed the layup while avoiding a charge and saw it tapped home by Shurna. A minute later he dropped another three and finally, two possessions after that, he sidled behind the Penn State zone, streaked down the baseline, accepted a perfect alley-oop from Shurna and drove it home.

     

    "I just try to take what I get in the offense," he would later say when asked about this incandescent stretch. "A lot of times, if you get to the basket a couple times, the defense is going to start sagging off of you. They're going to play back off of you a little bit and give you room to shoot a three. If you knock down a couple threes to start the game, it's the opposite. You've got room to get to the basket. So you just go with the offense, go with how the defense is playing you."

     

    "What it does is, the guys who are playing with him recognize that, OK, he's in the game, he's being aggressive, he's taking advantage of his abilities," said Carmody when asked about the effect of Crawford's aggressiveness. "Sobolewski had a nice game, but it's like (Juice) Thompson last year. You're on the court with a guy like that, you say, 'We can hang with anybody.' That's what these guys (Crawford and Shurna) are. The rest of our team, they have to feel that if these guys are out there, we can play with anybody."

     

    ******

     

    Crawford's dunk put the 'Cats up six at 8:39 and from there the margin just grew, eventually cresting at 13 and ending in their 68-56 win. He would finish seven-of-nine from the field and two-of-two on his threes and five-of-six from the line for 21 points, and also chip in three rebounds, three assists and a block. Shurna, despite going just two-of-seven on his threes, would add 17, and Sobolewski would be big with his 20 ("When he has a game like that, they're tough to beat. Now they've got three scorers instead of just two," Nittany Lion coach Patrick Chambers would say.) Then there was Marcotullio, who scored just six points while hitting two of his four three-point attempts, but put in 20 minutes, the most he has managed in a month. "It's been a difficult process," he would say when asked about the injury that has nagged him for so long. "But just getting out on the court and playing with these guys for an extended period of time felt really good. The teamwork and the chemistry that I can help bring I think is going to be crucial for our success."

     

    ******

     

    The routine, after each 'Cat home game, calls for Carmody and a pair of players to appear in the press room, where the coach makes an opening statement, answers questions, then departs before the players take questions of their own. That is just what happened Sunday night and here, as you have read, he kept referring to these two guys, to his leaders, to Shurna and Crawford. Crawford was, in fact, on stage with him. But the other 'Cat on hand was not Shurna, it was Marcotullio, who looked over at his coach as he got ready to depart and asked, "Did you think I was Shurna?"

     

    "Oh, geez," said Carmody with a chuckle, recognizing at last just who was at his left shoulder. "You're not Shurna."

     

    "Yeah," Marcotullio finally said. "I was thinking that myself."