* Running back Venric Mark sat out the second half of the 'Cats' Saturday win over Michigan State and quarterback Kain Colter was just a part-time combatant in that affair. But Monday, while looking ahead to his team's imminent fray with Illinois, Pat Fitzgerald said, "We expect both Venric and Kain to play. We'll see how it goes practice-wise. But we expect them to play this week."
But he was not as optimistic when it came to corner Nick VanHoose, who has missed the last three games. "I'd say right now the answer would be no, I don't expect him to play," he said. "But we'll see as the week progresses. He's close. He's real close. We'll see."
* Fitzgerald did not divulge the injury that sidelined Mark. But he did say the decision to sit him was collectively made by him and his coaching staff. Then he went on to tell this tale: "I talked to him (Mark) at halftime. I said, 'Listen, I want you to take your stuff off. I want you to take a shower. In the best interest for you not only this week, but long term, I'm going to shut you down for the game.' He wasn't very happy. But his response in the second half was unbelievable. He was ridiculous. I had to push him back on the sideline. We gave him our Twelfth Man Award for his juice and passion on the sideline on Saturday. I'd much rather see him scoring touchdowns, don't get me wrong. But I thought the way he responded was pretty spectacular. This morning I said to him I'm going to be asked if you're going to play, and he's like, 'Absolutely.' Take that for what it's worth."
'Cats ended the first week of their season Sunday with their third straight
win, a 80-53 laugher over Fairleigh Dickinson. NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski offers up some notes, quotes and
observations culled along the way...
* Drew Crawford,
Reggie Hearn, Dave Sobolewski and Alex Marcotullio are the only names on the
roster who have played for the 'Cats. It was by design, then, that the Knights
were preceded on the schedule by Mississippi Valley State (last Thursday) and
Texas Southern (last Tuesday). "We tried to get some games where we thought we
could get some minutes for some guys," explained 'Cat coach Bill Carmody. He
meant guys like Kale Abrahamson, a 6-foot-7 freshman forward who can shoot; and
7-foot freshman center Alex Olah, who starts; and 6-foot-9 junior forward
Nikola Cerina, a transfer from TCU who limped off after twisting his right
ankle on Sunday.
"We knew we'd
have to play them and it's sort of paid off a little bit," Carmody would go on.
"The other night (against Mississippi Valley) I didn't do what I wanted to do
with Kale (who played only two minutes against the Delta Devils). But I wanted
to get Kale in there, I wanted to get Nico in there, I wanted to get big Al in
there. Now Sanjay (Lumpkin, another freshman) hasn't played (because of
illness), but he was playing the best of them all. This will set him back a
little bit. But that's what you have to do. You have to look at your team and
see if you can schedule the way you want to. You can't always. But it's working
out pretty nicely."
* Carmody did not
mention the best newcomer to his program, the forward Jared Swopshire, and
there was a reason for that. He is a grad student who transferred in after
playing four years at Louisville and so he has plenty of experience, experience
that he has manifested by slipping seamlessly into a starting role. "He's a
basketball player," Carmody says of him by way of compliment, and here is what
he means by that. Against Mississippi Valley, Swopshire had a steal, two assists,
six rebounds and 22 points while going 7-of-11overall, 5-of-6 on his threes and
3-of-4 from the line.
"He's a versatile
guy," Carmody said of him that night. "I don't know the stats. But he did a lot
in every category, in all the categories, including turnovers (he had five).
No. He makes big plays. He made some nice passes. And there's a calmness about
him that I like and I think is good for the team."
* Speaking of
passes: Through three games, the 'Cats have 89 field goals and 73 assists. This
proves they are sharing the ball. They also have just 33 turnovers. This proves
they are taking care of the ball.
* Sobolewski, the
point, has 21 assists and just two turnovers. This was expected. But, even
before the year began, Carmody said, "He's not that little point guard from the
'60s anymore who just passes the ball, cuts and isn't heard from again. He's
shooting more. There's been development there." That development wasn't obvious
as he went 0-for-8 through the first 71 minutes of the season. But then, with
8:54 remaining against Mississippi Valley, he hit a layup, and now he followed
that with a three, a pair of free throws, another layup, another three, and
another free throw.
"That guy can
shoot," Carmody later said and then, as proof, offered this. The 'Cats chart
all shots during practice and, after a month, Sobolewski had the highest
percentage of them all.
* Crawford was
brilliant in game one, saddled by foul trouble in game two and average in game
three. But his great skills are obvious and, says Carmody, "I'm not worried
references Malcolm Galdwell's "Outliers: The Story of Success" when discussing
Hearn, the third of the returning 'Cats. In that book the author claims that
the key to success in any field is practicing a specific act for 10,000 hours.
"He's played that," the coach then says of his guard. "He's played a lot of
basketball, you know. He's just played a lot. He's good. He's versatile. He's
played a lot so he's used to different situations. And he's a competitor."
* Look for either
Hearn or Swopshire to be the 'Cats defensive stopper.
the last of the returnees, has a balky back and so has gotten limited reps in
practice. "But," Carmody said Sunday, "I'm going to get him in there a little
more. I've just been putting him in with (the young) guys to teach them. But he
can play with the good guys. He'll be Sobo's sub."
* Still, after
just three games and with so many new faces surrounding him, Carmody still does
not have a set rotation.
* Alex Olah, the
second newcomer in the starting lineup, is from Romania, and so it is no
surprise that he exhibits some of that versatility that characterizes European
big men. He has hit a three. He has hit a turnaround jumper from the foul line.
He has hit some short hooks down low. He has handed out eight assists. He has
taken off after Sobolewski corralled a rebound, run the floor with his point
and accepted a pass for a layup. "He can
run," Carmody says when asked about that last play. "He's not used to doing it
consistently. But if he can run, he's going to get four points on layups. Then
you don't worry so much. You come in at halftime, you've got four points, two
foul shots, you feel OK. To steal a couple along the way, it relaxes him."
"He's going to
make some layups we haven't had the last few years. Guys missed them," he says
of Olah's work down low. "He's capable of doing some things right now, but I'm
hoping it grows and gets better. But it's going to be two steps up, one back,
* Cerina, the
transfer from TCU, saw his first action on Sunday and got in only 10 minutes
before turning his ankle. But in that short span he dropped two of his three
shots, went one-of-two from the line, collected seven rebounds and displayed a
ruggedness inside that will serve the 'Cats well in the rugged Big Ten. "He
likes it down there," Carmody says of him. "Some guys don't like touching
skin-on-skin down there, it's sweaty and all. But he likes that. A hard worker.
He was getting very good position, really deep. So I hope it's not a severe
sprain. He needs some minutes to get back in the swing."
* Abrahamson, the
last of the newcomers to get significant minutes, made his splash in the opener
against Texas Southern, whom he scorched for 15 points in just 19 minutes. But
two nights later he was on the court for just those two minutes. "I probably
had a quick hook with him," Carmody later said. "But a couple things on
offense, he just didn't do. Then he had a bad defensive possession, so I decided
to go with the veterans."
He was back in
the rotation on Sunday, getting 19 minutes against the Knights, but here he
looked more like a freshman, missing four of his five three-point attempts and
putting up just nine points. "He's just got to get experience doing stuff,"
Carmody said of him later. "He can't wait to get the ball and shoot the ball. I
like him to shoot the ball too. But let it come to you a little bit more...He
just has to have time. But he's going to help us."
* It should be
noted that Abrahamson's funky jumper calls up memories of John Shurna's. "I've
heard a few things like that," Abrahamson said when asked about that. "I try to
stay away from comparisons like that at this point. Those are some pretty big
shoes to fill. But, yeah. They say my shot looks like his and I tend to
disagree. But it's an honor to be compared to him in any way."
* The 'Cats
played strictly man-to-man defense through their first three games. But when
asked about the gnarly zone they often employ, Carmody smiled and said: "When
we need it."
* And finally,
Carmody, on what he has learned this week: "We're sort of like a team in
progress. I told the team that. Even though we have some veteran guys, we bring
in some other guys. First half there, we had three freshmen in there at one
time. So there's going to be ups-and-downs, obstacles along the way like the
other night. What can you learn from them? Can you get better the next game?
But I like the energy level and I think they're all determined to contribute.
You can see. It's not a five-or-six man rotation. So if a guy's not feeling it
that day, you can get him out for a few minutes. Then he can sit, catch his
wind, look at it differently. I think that's going to help us down the road."
"WE'RE CLOSE:" Pat Fitzgerald has offered this assurance often this season. He did it again last Monday, some 46 hours after his team's enervating loss at Michigan, and he did it once more on Tuesday, just after his 'Cats completed their morning practice. It was then that we asked, "To what?"
"Being a championship team. That's what we're close to," he said with no hesitation. "We're going to win football games. I'm not worried about that. But we're close to being a championship team, and that's our expectation. I'll keep saying it until we get there. And then, when we get there, I'll say we've got to start back over. That's what our expectations are. That's what we aspire to be. Gone are the days of maybe-we'll-win, gone are the days of maybe-we'll-play-in-the-post-season. Our internal expectations are to be champions.
"That's not necessarily going to happen for us this year in the Big Ten. But when I say that, that's what I mean. We're close. Do you get tired of saying it? Yeah, you do. But it's a journey, it's a grind, and I think we're building it. We appreciate the support of the administration giving us the time to build it. We appreciate the effort and the fight our young men are giving to get us there. Got to coach them better. We've got to get over the hump and break that door down. You know. I think there's 12 teams that have the same kind of goal set. If it was just about us, it'd be a lot easier. But it's not."
Checking in with. . .
. . .DANIEL JONES, the young corner who was all over Michigan receiver Roy Roundtree last Saturday as the 'Cats' game with the Wolverines rushed toward its conclusion. Now here came the Hail Mary pass from Devin Gardner and, Jones would recall, "I was just trying to knock the ball down. After that play, I think there would have been six seconds left on the clock. So I was just trying to knock the ball down and live to play another play and end the game."
"It was another of those luck-of-the-bounce type plays. I thought I was in great position. I was the first guy up. I actually hit the ball and, in my mind, I'd just made the play that ended the game. But it happened to fall into his arms. It was just an unfortunate bounce for us."
And when he saw the ball in Roundtree's arms?
"I couldn't believe he caught it. Like I said, I thought I did everything right. I was on top of the route, the first guy up in the air and hit the ball. I just thought, 'That's the way the ball bounces sometimes.' Lucky bounce for them, and we just have to play and finish from there."
That bounce, of course, set up the Wolverines field goal that sent the game into overtime, where they would close out the 'Cats. So, Jones was finally asked, would he do something differently if he had a chance for a Mulligan?
"I would be more aggressive and try to catch the ball as opposed to trying to knock it down," he said. "I would just be more aggressive to the ball, and just get the ball back, and assure the game's over."
Editor's Note: Northwestern women's swimmers Jackie Powell and Megan Goss spearheaded the inaugural "Breaststroke4BreastCancer" relay to raise funds for local cancer research. In an incredible display of support and organizational prowess, the first-time event filled 17 lanes at NU's Norris Aquatics Center with more than 150 swimmers who combined to tally 70,000 yards (or 39 miles) of swimming in just one hour. NU's Beta Fraternity won a trophy with the most total yards: 5,350. In addition, special guest Joan Zielinski, a Northwestern professor and invitee of Wildcats' junior swimmer Becca Soderholm, shared her experience with breast cancer with the crowd during a fun, education and powerful evening. Read on for Kristin Scharkey's perspective on how much the event meant to her team and one softball Wildcat in particular.
October 24, dozens of Northwestern student-athletes swam in Northwestern Women's
Swimming and Diving's fundraiser "Breaststroke4BreastCancer." Our own team swam
over 4,000 yards in one hour, raising money for breast cancer research and
contributing to the university's final total in which the swimming program more
than doubled their target goal.
* Flush it. That is one of Pat Fitzgerald's standing orders. Exult for a day or grieve for a day following a game, and then put that one behind you and look ahead to the next. That is what he constantly tells his 'Cats. But how do you do that, just how do you do that after suffering a defeat as wrenching as the one they absorbed Saturday in Ann Arbor? "It's rough," center Brandon Vitabile admitted early Monday afternoon. "You just trust. You know the guys are out there battling. It's a war. You see it in everyone's face, how down everyone is afterward. You don't even want to talk about it afterward. You listen to coach right after the game and hear what he has to say. But the bus ride home is just silence. There's no one talking, there's no one joking around. That's what it should be. You should really hurt from it.
"Yesterday, you come in, watch film with everyone, there's some positivity going on. We were right there. We played a lot of good football on Saturday. We did a lot of things well. We did some things not so well. But it's good to see that. That the work we do put in pays off and maybe we're a step away, a block away, a catch away. So just keep working as hard as possible. People understood we fought hard and we just weren't able to come out with it. So we've got to keep fighting and hopefully we'll come out with one this week."
The dozen players on the 'Cats' Leadership Council settled around the table for their weekly Monday meeting with Pat Fitzgerald. These are normally 20-minute sessions and, during them, those involved discuss what's good with their program, what's bad with their program, what things could be done differently, what's important in the days ahead, even what uniform they wish to wear the following Saturday. But on this Monday, the first Monday of November, Fitzgerald simply walked into the room and said, "How's everybody doing? Any questions? Anything that I need to know that I don't know? Great. See ya tomorrow."
"I don't think I need to tell them a whole lot," he would later explain. "I think they get it."
"That's exactly what happened," quarterback Kain Colter, one of the Council members, soon avowed. "We all realize the opportunity that we have in front of us with these last three games and a chance of maybe even going to a BSC bowl if we win out and some things go our way. So we realize how big of a moment we're in right now and we're all going to try and make the best of our opportunity and keep going."
* The 'Cats, after a bye, return to the arena Saturday at Michigan, and so Monday Pat Fitzgerald held his regular, weekly press conference. "The week off was one that was needed by us," he would say in his opening statement. "We needed to get healthy, needed to work on some things in areas where we've not been consistent enough in. And then, at the same time, continue to accentuate the areas where we've been playing very well."
That led us to later ask if he would enumerate those areas in which his 'Cats had been inconsistent.
"Do I have to? I'd really prefer not to," he said with both a smile and soft chuckle. "You know we self scout each week. But then, as you get to the bye week, last week, Monday, Tuesday, I went on the road (recruiting) along with the majority of our coaches. But our coordinators stayed back. I kinda gave them a couple of things that I wanted them to do, along with our support guys. We wanted to critically look at ourselves first. We then wanted to obviously look at our upcoming opponent. So. There's some things that, without -- quite frankly -- talking about them, that we need to improve on and hopefully we'll play better in those areas as we move forward."
One day last offseason, offensive left guard Brian Mulroe dropped by the football offices to chat with Adam Cushing, his position coach. It was then, as they kicked around life, that the senior mentioned that his group wanted to be different from those that had preceded it, that it wanted an identity distinct from the past and unique to itself. "So we thought, 'Hey, let's come up with something new. Let's let this group be able to be its own group,'" Cushing remembered late Thursday morning.
So he talked to superbacks coach Bob Heffner, himself a former O-line coach, and learned that years ago he had called one of his groups the Big Cats. Then he talked to Al Johnson, the football performance coach who works closely with the O line, and learned that he was already using that term in the weight room. Now center Brian Vitabile, as well as Mulroe, were talked to, and soon enough this season's group had its handle. No longer would the line play with Hog Pride, which had been its cry for so long. Now it would simply be the Big Cats.
"Hogs go to slaughter," Cushing would also say on Thursday, further explaining the change. "But big cats rule the jungle, rule anywhere they are."
How did the Northwestern women's golf team get to meet famous actor Channing Tatum? Read on to find out.
By Kalyn Kahler - Northwestern Athletic Communications
For the Wildcat teams busy practicing in Evanston this weekend, Hurricane Sandy seemed miles away. It was a different story for the Wildcat women's golf team, who met Sandy firsthand this past Saturday.
When the 'Cats traveled to Wilmington, N.C last Friday to compete in the Landfall Tradition tournament at the Jack Nicklaus Course at the Country Club of Landfall, they never expected to be playing directly into the torrential rain and winds of Hurricane Sandy.
"Five days before we left the weather was 80 and sunny. Everything looked great in the forecast but the hurricane just popped out of nowhere," says assistant coach Beth Miller.
The team played in winds of about 25 mph with gusts of 40 mph on Saturday. When the decision was made to stop play, the winds had escalated to 35 mph and gusts of 50 mph. The teams were pulled off the course as it flooded from the heavy rain of Hurricane Sandy.
The Landfall Tradition marks the first time the women's golf team has ever played in hurricane conditions. The 'Cats persevered through the blistering wind, and "if the course could have taken more water we would have kept playing," says Miller.
Each of the 17 teams competing in the Landfall Tradition made it out of Wilmington safely; though some chose to drive home instead of take the chance of flight cancellations.
The 'Cats stayed calm through the hurricane weather, and Miller says it was their parents at home who were the most nervous.
On Sunday the team ate lunch at a surf club on Wrightsville Beach so they could check out the massive 15-foot waves. Who ever said cats don't like water?
The 'Cats were lucky that it was only the course that flooded in Wilmington. At the time, the threat of the hurricane wasn't severe, so many locals gathered at the beach with NU to watch the immense wall of waves caused by Sandy (see picture below).
Sandy wasn't the only famous name the Wildcats encountered during their trip to N.C. On their flight from Wilmington to Atlanta, sophomore Hana Lee was the first to notice the man sitting alone directly behind her. That man was Channing Tatum, popular actor, well known for his role in movies such as She's The Man and Step Up.
"Hana spotted him first and then they were all passing notes and whispering the rest of the flight," says Miller, who happened to be reading a magazine that featured Tatum.
The team was glad that the Notre Dame team chose to take a later flight home, leaving many empty seats on the plane, allowing Tatum to sit down right behind them.
The team spent the length of the flight brainstorming different plans to talk to Tatum, but nerves got in the way and in the end it was head coach Emily Fletcher who asked Tatum if he would take a picture with the team.
"He was so gracious and nice. It made a long day of traveling worth it as the girls were ecstatic!" says Fletcher.
The 'Cats experienced a memorable weekend beginning with an unlucky meeting with Hurricane Sandy and ended with fortuitous encounter with a celebrity.
Tatum wished the 'Cats the very best of luck with the rest of their season. The 'Cats will hang on to Tatum's blessing all winter; it might be just the luck they need to complete a successful season.
A view of Hurricane Sandy from assistant coach Beth Miller's camera.