NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski offers up his look
back at Northwestern's contest against Iowa on Sunday at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
* Let us begin
with Fran McCaffery, the Iowa coach. "I'm typically more concerned with their
three-point shooting than their back door layups," he would say early Sunday
evening, shortly after his team's 20-point win over the 'Cats. "They usually
get you with one or the other or both. We've had trouble with them making
multiple threes over the years. Ten, 11, 12, 13, 14. The first time I coached
against them in this league, they made 14 in that game. That just blows the
game open. So. We were up, we were up pressuring, and that makes it hard for
the passer. Even if the back door cut's open, it's hard to make that pass. But
what's hard to do against that offense is to sustain it the way we did. To me,
that's what's most impressive. You can lock it up for short periods of time.
But, normally, eventually they'll get you. Today they didn't."
* Now let us turn
to Bill Carmody, whose 'Cats put up just 15 first-half points against the Hawkeyes,
just 50 points in the game. "I thought they defended very well," he said at one
"We're having a
hard time putting the ball in the basket," he said at another.
"We're having a
hard time figuring out who's going to score," he said at a third.
"Our offense is
really lacking, to tell you the truth," he said at a fourth.
"We're doing too
much dribbling, if you watch out there," he said at a fifth. "Sobo's (point
Dave Sobolewski) dribbling around too much. Al's (Alex Marcotullio) dribbling around
too much. Reggie's (Reggie Hearn) dribbling too much. We have to pass the ball
and cut and share the ball more, then usually good things happen. Then tonight,
that first half, we had some open looks. We missed about four layups (that
were) sort of contested. But stuff you have to make if you're going to win."
* The Hawkeyes,
from the start on Sunday, did challenge the 'Cats defensively. They met the
ball high, out beyond the three-point arc, and rarely did they surrender either
an open look or the room needed for that entry pass that leads to an easy, back
door layup. Still, with 9:33 left in the first half, the 'Cats went up 10-9
after Hearn dropped in a jumper.
Yet they were
shooting poorly, and their offense lacked rhythm, and it evidenced none of
those hard screens and sharp cuts and crisp passes it needs to be effective,
and so the inevitable now occurred. The 'Cats suffered a drought that produced
this: one-of-10 shooting through the rest of the half and a 10-point Hawkeye
lead when the break finally came.
* At that break,
the 'Cats were five-of-24 overall (20.8 percent) and one-of-11 on their threes
(9.1). At game's end, those numbers were 15-of-51 (29.4 percent) and five-of-26
(19.2). "Tonight, it was just stagnant," Carmody also said of the offense that
produced those figure. "But, again, I don't want to dwell on this, just our
offense. It's been a problem now for awhile."
* But, more than
once, Carmody would allude to his veterans, who collectively struggled against
the Hawkeyes. There was Sobolewski, who missed all five of his three-point
attempts, finished just four-of-11 overall, and had nearly as many turnovers
(four) as assists (five). And there was Hearn, who missed all three of his
three-point attempts and finished two-of-six overall. And there was
Marcotullio, who put up five threes and made but one. And there was Jared
Swopshire, who missed all three of his three-point attempts and finished but
one-of-six overall. "The veterans have to come through for us," Carmody would
say. "I've been trying to tell our team, the veterans have to do it. Anything
we get from our younger guys, right now it's gravy. It has to be your veterans,
and I didn't think our veterans did enough today to make us win."
expecting a lot out of us, as he should be. We have to step up," said
Marcotullio. "We just have to do more. That's the bottom line. We have to get
more rebounds, knock down shots, of course. Do things that help the team win.
That's the most-important thing."
* This is
important to note as well. The Hawkeyes opened young with a starting lineup of
three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior. But off the bench they brought
sophomore Josh Oglesby and juniors Melsahn Basabe and Zach McCabe, and together
they contributed 32 points on 13-of-22 shooting. "Their veterans won the game.
Those guys had really good games," Carmody said of them.
thing about bringing experience off the bench is you're doing exactly that.
You're bringing in guys off the bench who have been there before," said
McCaffery. "They've played against Big Ten competition. The other thing is,
Zach, Melsahn and Josh can all score. So we're bringing in experience and
scoring off the bench. That helps tremendously."
Off the 'Cat
bench, in turn, came Marcotullio and the redshirt freshmen Mike Turner and Tre
Demps. They combined for 20 points on six-of-20 shooting.
* One last
notation. The Hawkeyes scored 40 points in the paint and the 'Cats, just 18. "I
thought Al would come along, that if he got the ball inside, he'd be able to
score a little bit," Carmody would say of freshman center Alex Olah, who had
just one field goal and three points. "But he's shying away from stuff and not
going up and dunking it, trying to avoid contact and he has to push through
"We have to score
more inside," said Marcotullio. "I think that'll open up our shooting lanes and
we'll be able to drive-and-kick a little more, and get more cleaner looks out
of the offense."
* Those are some
of the snapshots that help explain this 'Cat loss. But their underlying
problem, their fundamental issue, was best explicated by Carmody when he was
asked about Sobolewski, a point who is now looking to score as much as he is to
feed. "I think he's feeling now, 'Who am I going to pass to?' That's where we
are right now," he said here. "I don't think he's happy dribbling around so
much and flying through there and all. But he's a competitor and someone has to
help him out a little bit. It's all tied together. It's not this guy or that
guy. That's how we talk to our team. Individually, we try to help them along.
But we have to do it collectively."
There is certain bittersweet feeling that is reserved solely
for a specific type of person: an athlete in her or his last year of
competition. To those that have experienced this milestone in their athletic
careers, no explanation is really necessary, and to those who have not, no
explanation would be possible.
I sensed this feeling creeping up on me the second I stepped
foot back on campus. Walking into Patten Gymnasium for the "last" first time
this year solidified my fear that my time at where I can honestly claim to be
the Best Place in the World is coming to a close.
Like any athlete, I knew this year would come, but I never
really thought it would be here. And like any athlete, I stepped back into the
gym with my sights set on making it the best year yet. What athlete doesn't
want to go out in a blaze of glory.
Little did I know that I would be doing something with my
senior season that I had not once experienced in all 15 years of my athletic
career- I would be watching at least part of it from the sidelines.
Injuries are a tricky thing. You spend countless hours as an
athlete training your body to do exactly what you want it to do and then all of
a sudden you have no say in the matter. Injuries can bring out the best in an
athlete and they can certainly bring out the worst. Most importantly, injuries
can bring into focus lessons that were maybe never fully learned.
The collegiate sport of fencing is scored much like tennis
or wrestling whereby individual victories come together to result in a win for
the team. Thus, fencers are always caught in a certain limbo, unsure of whether
they are competing for themselves or for a greater team good. After three years
of competing alongside a spectacular team, I thought I had finally gotten the
whole "teamwork" thing down. Little did I know that by being taken completely
out of the game, I'd learn what it meant to dedicate yourself to a group of
people; to make their hopes and dreams your priority. I'd finally understood
what it meant to want the best for your team, to want the wins, the glory and
the happiness for your team, even if it meant watching it from the side of the
With all of this in mind, I'd like to dedicate my last first
blog post to the 24 other girls I'll be sharing my last season with. But more
specifically, to my foil squad and an amazingly impressive group of freshman
that have more than risen to the occasion. I once came across a quote that
stuck with me; "The goal isn't to live forever, the goal is to create something
My last season ever will surpass any hopes I had for it if
we can make your first season ever
completely legendary. Good luck to the girls as they open up the season this weekend
in California, and Go 'Cats!
The 'Cats left
early Wednesday evening for their Thursday night game at Penn State. Some notes
and quotes gathered shortly before their departure...
* Forward Jared
Swopshire, the grad student transfer from Louisville, said the obvious. "This
is a very important game for us," he said. "We're 0-2 (in the Big Ten) right
now, so we definitely want to get a win."
"I think it's
huge," echoed true freshman forward Kale Abrahamson. "It's definitely a game we
have to win and I think everyone feels that way. Now we've got to go and do
* Last time out,
on Sunday at No. 9 Minnesota, the 'Cats tried to grab off an upset win with an
offense that bled the clock. That kept them close through the first half, which
they ended up down only three (17-14), but then the Gophers exploded to run off
to an 18-point win. "I don't want to play getting 14 points in a half," Bill
Carmody said Wednesday when asked about the future."But somewhere between that and getting in
the 80s is where we're going to win. In the 60s is where we're probably going
to win some games."
* The 'Cats
managed only 51 points against the Gophs, 15.5 below their season average. But,
interestingly enough, they did put up their normal volume of shots. Consider.
In their previous five games, their field goal attempts totaled 55, 55, 56, 47
and 59. Against Minnesota, that number was 52. And again. In their previous
five games, their three-point attempts totaled 24, 27, 13, 24 and 28. Against
Minnesota that number was 23.
We note this
since, on Wednesday, Carmody also said, "I just think we have to forget that
we've shot the ball pretty well the last few years, and in high volume too. We
took a lot of threes. I think we probably have to take fewer and just be wise
about the tempo in the course of the game and in who we're playing. But I
definitely think we're going to be a little more cautious."
Because of his
youth. We're shooting probably 38 percent on threes, something like that, which
is good. But it's when to do it, when not to do it, the time, the score. The
young guys have to keep getting their minutes and improve."
So will the
offensive tempo change depending on the opponent?
changes. You run more at home probably. You recognize certain teams it's not
the wise thing to do to go up-and-down. There's a game plan for every team in
the conference. Very few teams say we're just going to play our game without
considering the other team."
* The 'Cats other
Big Ten loss came at home against No. 2 Michigan. Still, when asked about
starting his first conference season against a pair of Top Ten opponents, the
freshman Abrahamson said, "I think it's been fun. You open the schedule with
the No. 2 team in the nation and the No. 9 team in the nation. That's what you
kind of dream about as a kid. When you commit to the Big Ten, that's what you
signed up for. So I was really excited."
* Still. That
insouciance of youth is no substitute for experience, which Abrahamson is
picking up as he goes. He moved into the starting lineup just five games ago,
after Drew Crawford was shut down for the year, yet is now a major cog in the
intricate offense run by the 'Cats. "Just how much information is thrown at you
each day," he will say when asked the most-difficult part of his adjustment.
"Carmody likes to put in new stuff based on what he sees. Especially with a new
opponent, he'll watch film and he'll see where he thinks a weakness is and
he'll put in a set to try to counter that and you have to learn that in one
practice. That's the hardest part."
Does he sometimes
find himself thinking too much instead of just playing?
was my biggest transition coming in. I was used to not running as much offense
in high school, kinda just doing my own thing and really just playing how I
knew I could play. But now I gotta to really adjust to what Carmody wants us to
do. So I've been trying to find that balance between playing my game and
thinking out there."
* Abrahamson is
one of the seven true or redshirt freshmen on the 'Cats, a stat we throw out as
a preface to this exchange with grad student Swopshire. "The attitude is, we're
positive," he began. "Everybody's upbeat. We're just trying to keep working hard.
We realize we're right there. It's just little things, you know. We've got
young guys, and we're just trying to get them to come along."
biggest thing the young guys have to learn?
"They just have
to stick with what they're good at, and realize that it's not too much pressure
on them, that no one's expecting them to do a whole, whole lot. Just go out
there and play hard, stick to the scouting report, everything else will take
care of itself. I think they've been doing a pretty good job of that."
Then what's the
toughest thing for them?
defensively, remembering your assignments, remembering the little points of the
scouting reports, whether it be we're switching ball screens, or we're hedging
ball screens. Little things like that. Strategic wise, there are things you
have to do that cause you to think a little bit on the go."
Can that slow
"It can. You're
thinking about what do I do here, what do I do there, and you can be kind of
hesitant. As you mature, you comprehend all that stuff and go with the flow
* Carmody had an
interesting take when asked the hardest thing for a freshman to get, to master.
"Just practice with me everyday. I'm trying to make them accountable for what
they're doing," he said. "Yesterday (true freshman center Alex) Olah was
terrific for the first 45 minutes. I mean, really good. Then it started going
downhill and declining. But for a whole practice, you have to be good, and then
for a whole game. So I told him, 'Everyday try to be focused for 10 minutes
longer. Then in two weeks, you have a whole practice.' He really looked sort of
special yesterday, changed, but then he wore down. I think as much from the
neck up, focus, mental attentiveness.'
"If we had our
normal lineup, they'd (the frosh) be coming in, not playing as many minutes and
be able to give more of an all-out effort and be focused a little bit more,"
Swopshire had already said, presaging his coach's observation. "But you're
playing more minutes and your mind can kind of wander a little bit and you feel
like, 'Man, I'm tired.' We're just trying to keep those guys encouraged."
* There was this
bit of news Wednesday: JerShon Cobb, suspended for the season for a violation
of team rules, is back practicing with the 'Cats and having an effect. "He's
stepped up the level of intensity on the scout team, so we really have to play
a different level of defense in practice," Abrahamson noted.
"He's looked good
in practice. He's brought a competitive spirit to practice, so it's been a good
boost for the team," added Swopshire.
the injuries we've had, now (assistant) Coach (Tavaras) Hardy doesn't have to
get in shape. That's one thing," concluded Carmody. "No. He's a scorer and the
scout team is looking so much better. It's more real. He makes it more game
like. So it helps us all the way around."
* And finally,
Carmody, on his freshmen-laden roster: "I don't want to keep saying this youth,
youth, youth. I'm getting tired of it, to tell you the truth. We've played 15
games. That's a lot of games. (Sophomore point Dave) Sobolewski last year,
first game we played LSU, he banged a three out of the corner than stole the
ball to win the game. Go out there and play. You're getting opportunities, so
now some of these guys have to start taking advantage of that."
NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski looks back on Thursday night's contest that saw Michigan show why it's ranked No. 2 in the nation with its victory over Northwestern.
* Reggie Hearn,
the senior guard, tested his tender ankle in warmups before the 'Cats faced
Michigan Thursday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena. But then, just like Drew Crawford,
he spent the game as a spectator. This meant they took on the second-ranked
team in the country without their leading scorers and most-experienced
performers. "I really feel bad that Northwestern's been hit with so many
injuries," Wolverine coach John Beilein would say after his team ran off to a
28-point win. "While they certainly have good young talent, Hearn, Crawford,
those are huge losses. If we lost people like that, we'd have the same issues
they have. Inexperience playing in this Big Ten."
* This affair was
the Big Ten opener for both teams, and it needs little dissection. The
Wolverines scored at least a point on each of their first nine possessions and
rolled to a 20-4 lead with just over six minutes gone. Now, no matter the kind
of defense they faced, they continued their offensive pyrotechnics, and at
first half's end the numbers were these. They had shot 57.6 percent overall,
had buried eight-of-their-12 three-point attempts (66.7 percent) and had put up
51 points, which were more than five teams had scored against the 'Cats in an
entire game earlier in this season. Their lead here was, not surprisingly, a
healthy 21, and it wouldn't slip below 17 in the half yet to come.
"We just got off
to such a terrible start. . .and weren't really able to stop them the entire
evening," 'Cat coach Bill Carmody later said.
"I think we're
going to be OK offensively. We'll make adjustments from that standpoint," said
guard Alex Marcotullio. "But defensively is where we really have to improve. We
have to learn everyday. We have to compete, and in that first half I think we
didn't really compete for the first 10 minutes or so. When shots aren't
falling, it's kind of deflating. But there're going to be game where shots
aren't falling, and we have to play a grind-it-out-battle game. So we have to
get stops. That's the main thing."
* Not even their
oft-stifling 1-3-1 zone could get stops for the 'Cats on Thursday. They
switched into it on the Wolverines sixth possession of the evening, but here
Michigan guard Trey Burke calmly dropped one three and then another. "He just
creates problems," Carmody would say of him. "Even when we went to the 1-3-1,
he was getting in there, which is bothersome. It didn't slow him down. Usually,
that thing will slow down fast, penetrating guards. But he found guys and they
were able to knock down shots. So we certainly have to work on that."
"We keep messing
up on the same things," echoed 'Cat point Dave Sobolewski. "We keep harping on
it in practice, and eventually we have to start doing things the coaches get on
us about. We keep messing up the same things in the 1-3-1. We keep missing
assignments. We keep falling asleep on defense. A lot of it will come down to
heart, how bad we want it."
* Crawford, of
course, is out for the season. Hearn, in turn, has not practiced since turning
his ankle against Stanford on Dec. 21 and is uncertain for the 'Cats next game,
which is Sunday at No. 9 Minnesota. So there, as their Big Ten grind continues,
big minutes will go to true freshman forward Kale Abrahamson (28 against
Michigan) and redshirt freshman guard Tre Demps (24), to true freshman center
Alex Olah (18) and redshirt freshman center Mike Turner (19)."What we have to do as a staff is coach these
young guys and coach them hard. Everybody," Carmody, already looking ahead,
would say Thursday night. "I just think we have to improve ourselves, get
better at everything. Coach 'em hard in practice, see if we can do better than
we did tonight.
"I think some of
the older guys, we've told them the last few days at practice, it's on the
older guys. The younger guys, what they give us is going to be gravy. We've got
about five young guys out there, freshmen or redshirt freshmen. It's hard. But
Al and Dave and Swop (grad student Jared Swopshire), Reggie when he comes back,
they're going to be the ones who make us win. Their work in practice is going
to have to rub off on some of the younger guys so they can get better
individually and we can improve as a team."
* It seems
appropriate here to recall an observation variously attributed to a pair of
legendary characters, the late Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes and the
late Marquette basketball coach Al McGuire. The best thing about freshmen, both
observed, is they become sophomores. But Carmody, his team physically battered,
does not have the luxury of waiting for their maturation, and so now he will
not only look to improve them in practice. He will also look at his team's
style of play and adjust it to its current condition. "We may have to change
the way we play, slow it down a little bit," he would say Thursday, hinting at
what lies ahead. "The last four or five years we've been going up-and-down the
court, scoring a lot. We've had a lot of drills where that's what we did, shot
the ball quickly. I thought we had the team to do that. But right now, I don't
know if that's the case. In fact, I know it's probably not the case. So we
might have to change things a little bit."
Will it be hard
for him to go back to a slowdown style?
"I don't know if
I ever played slowdown. But I just know we can't go up-and-down the way we have
been. Again, you have to go back to your older guys (and know) that they
recognize you're playing to win. So how are we going to win? Especially
tonight, it was probably my fault. We probably should have done it for this
game. Being down a little bit without Reggie, we probably should have held
things out a little bit more. A little more high-post stuff. I think we're
going to have to go high post, bring them out a little bit, then go into low
post, make guys guard us a little bit more before we take the first shot."
"I trust what
he's going to do and I think that's a good option here," Sobolewski would say
when asked about that. "We took a lot of quick shots that we didn't need to
take. Not necessarily bad shots. But in the context of the game, they weren't
good shots by any means. If the clock had been 20 or 25 seconds later, they
would have been decent. But you can't just start jacking shots up if we seem to
Change, then, is both imminent and necessary for the 'Cats. For Thursday, as
Carmody would finally say, was "A tough night for us."
While many Northwestern students spent their quarter break at their homes relaxing and enjoying their time away from studies, junior Kelsey Thompson -- a member of the Wildcats' field hockey team -- was one of 13 NU students who took a 10-day service trip to Nicaragua prior to Christmas through the University's Sheil Catholic Center. The following is a chronicle of Thompson's experience.
Since I have
been back in the States, many family and friends have kindly asked me, "How was
your trip to Nicaragua?" I don't know exactly how to put into words what I have
seen, though. Amazing? Powerful? Moving? Exciting? Heart-wrenching? There is
not one word--or even a page of them--that can truly describe what the 13
students from Northwestern's Sheil Catholic Center felt and experienced on our
10-day service trip.
into Managua, Nicaragua's capital, we took part in a "mobile food pack," in
which one station alone packed roughly 4,800 nutrient-rich meals (called
"MannaPacks") for Nicaraguan children in just a few hours. We then drove seven
hours on the winding dirt road to the northern mountains (during which we
questioned whether we had lost some luggage strapped to the top of our bus), and
finally arrived in the village of Cusmapa. The next morning we attended a
beautiful, yet simple mass in a Cusmapan home, which consisted of one stucco
room under a tin roof. We were struck by the fervor for faith, and the vibrant
spirit of love and joy of the people there--something we would experience
throughout the week here in Cusmapa.
mornings, our group walked to the Fabretto Center to paint the school
buildings. Fabretto, an organization that works to improve education,
nourishment, and sustainability for Nicaraguan children, has schools in a
handful of Nicaraguan cities, but has a large presence in this small town.
Initially, upon seeing the poverty that is the reality of this country, many of
us wondered what good we were doing by painting--something we could have done
back in Evanston. Painting a school, rather than building a school...it felt so
insignificant, so "not enough." But a week's worth of work later, we had all
realized we were playing a small role in a much bigger picture. We were
contributing to a school that not only educated underprivileged Nicaraguan
children, but also provided opportunities for a more sustainable life. The
Cusmapan children needed the maintenance of this school, not a new, big, or
discovered the importance of this school by getting to know the children who
attend it. Every afternoon, after painting, we had the privilege of playing
with the children--the Fabretto students currently on Christmas break--who ranged
from ages four to 14. By the end of the week, there was not one Northwestern
student whose heart was not stolen by these little rascals. We had checked
extra bags to bring donated art supplies and sports equipment--including field
hockey sticks and balls--to give to the school. On the first day I made friends
with a group of kids curious about the funny-looking wooden sticks I was
holding. Of course, no one in Cusmapa had heard of "hockey del campo" (field hockey),
so I taught them how to hold the stick correctly, and used my broken Spanish to
try to explain the bizarre rules of the game. We started out by passing the
ball in a circle, and by the next afternoon the kids had gradated to a boys
versus girls game of field hockey! They quickly took to the game, demonstrating
their understanding of the game when the boys called back a goal because the
girls had not properly restarted at the 50 after scoring.
to playing field hockey, the girls taught me some of their own games, including
their variants of tag and "duck duck goose." What struck me more than anything
was their simple desire to just be with me; all they wanted to do was hold my
hand. I quickly found that, unlike I had
previously thought, you can hold six or more hands at once (you only have
two hands, you say? psh...)--each of my arms around one girl's shoulders, plus
holding two hands with my right, and two with my left...plus anyone who just
grabs onto an arm! My girls, Dariella, Virginia, Marcia, Daniella, Cynthia, and
Dinlora, walked around with me wherever I went. When we weren't playing games,
we were walking around connected--physically--by friendship. All that these
children wanted was to love and be loved.
On arts and
crafts day we quickly learned that these students were not interested in
coloring or drawing pictures for themselves. Instead they all wrote my name--or
the name of another NU student--on the paper and gave it to us "so we would
always remember them." Even children I did not know would write my name (spelled
"Calsi" as they thought it sounded) on their pictures and give it to me simply
because I was sitting near them. And this Cusmapan spirit of giving did not
As we walked
into the Fabretto center on our last day in Cusmapa, we were nearly attacked by
the enthusiastic children. Cynthia ran up to me and shoved a black plastic bag
into my hands yelling, "Para ti! Para ti!" (For you! For you!). I opened the
bag and found three beautiful, juicy mandarins. I looked at her, wondering how
this malnourished child who truly has nothing, would give me her food so
willingly. I shook my head, and tried to give it back, but grinning ear to ear
she insisted that I take the gift. I could tell by her wide, excited eyes how
much she wanted me to have this, and was so happy just to give it to me.
was my buddy, Nidel. A curious little athlete, interested in this new game of
field hockey, Nidel befriended me on the first day. I quickly found out that he
was a natural at my beloved sport, and shared my love and joy of the game.
This, in conjunction with his constant sarcasm and joking, made us fast
friends. Every day thereafter, Nidel, came to paint with me in the mornings,
helping us get the job done, climbing on the windows to get the hard-to-reach
places. He made the work easy for me, as I was always laughing when he was
around. I taught him several variations of the fist bump, or "pound it"
handshake, all of which we would run through every time we saw each other.
Our last afternoon with the kids, Nidel kept
telling me that he had a Toy Story
coloring book for me, and later he would bring it by our house (Fabretto's
volunteer house). That evening I looked outside, hoping to see Nidel or the
book he was supposed to leave for me, but to no avail. The next morning we
packed up early and drove to the Fabretto Center to drop off the last load of
donated equipment. As we got off the bus, I saw a boy walking up the drive, and
I knew it was Nidel. As I knelt down to meet him, from under his sweatshirt he
pulled out the Toy Story coloring
book he had promised. I smiled and thanked him as we did our usual fist bumps
one last time. He asked me when I was coming back, to which I sadly told him I
hoped next year. He told me he had to go, so I hugged him and said goodbye. As we
walked away, I opened the book to find, "Friendship for always, Kelsey and
Nidel - friends," written in Spanish on the inside cover. Through tears, I
paged through the book, reminded of the joy and love the children gave to me
On the eve of a New Year and of the 2013 TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Northwestern and its tremendous fan base enjoyed a busy day in Jacksonville.
* Monday morning presented the Wildcats with their first opportunity to step inside the site of their Gator Bowl competition and the home of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, EverBank Field. The north end zone in the 67,164-seat stadium already was filled with Northwestern purple, complete with the distinctive 'Northwestern stripe' featured in both Ryan Field end zones.
NU donned their home purple jerseys and filed into the stands for a team picture, an annual tradition at each bowl destination. In what might be considered a break from tradition, however, the 'Cats announced Monday that they will sport special matte black helmets when they take the field tomorrow, similar to those worn twice during the regular season but with a new twist:
* Following the quick trip to the stadium, most Wildcats returned to the hotel while seniors Brian Mulroe, Brian Arnfelt and David Nwabuisi joined head coach Pat Fitzgerald for the final Gator Bowl press conference. The quartet fielded questions from Chicago, Mississippi State and Jacksonville media, reflecting on their season, experiences this week and the significance of a potential win on New Year's Day.
* The last public item on the agenda for the squad was the Coaches Luncheon at Jacksonville's Prime Osborn Convention Center, a chance to bring together both teams and their supporters to celebrate their seasons and selections to the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl. Northwestern's standout left tackle and two-time first-team Capital One Academic All-American Patrick Ward was honored by the bowl as a Scholar-Athlete Award recipient, while former Gator Bowl participants and longtime contributors to the sport of football Don Orr (referee) and Corky Rogers (high school football coaching legend) were inducted into the Gator Bowl Hall of Fame.
As he has been known to do, Coach Fitzgerald fired up the crowd with his address to the group, giving special recognition to the wives of the Northwestern coaching staff for all they do to support the success of their husbands and the program at large.
* As temperatures climbed into the upper 60's under sunny Jacksonville skies, Northwestern fans took to the streets in droves to watch the Gator Bowl parade. The route began at EverBank Field and covered the nearly three miles to the popular Jacksonville Landing location. The Northwestern University Marching Band made its first appearance of the week and rallied the NU faithful.
Two days before its TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl showdown against Mississippi State, several members of the Northwestern football team and spirit squad made time to make a difference in the Jacksonville community.
Following a morning practice, the Wildcats and their counterparts from Starkville paid a visit to the Wolfson Children's Hospital in downtown Jacksonville to bring some excitement and holiday cheer to young people enduring a difficult time. It was obvious by the end of the 90-minute visit that both the 'Cats and the patients at Wolfson were greatly affected by their positive interactions.
Representing the Wildcats were: WR Drew Moulton, SB Evan Watkins, LB Roderick Goodlow, OL Shane Mertz, P/PK Matt Micucci and DL Ifeadi Odenigbo.
In each room, the Wildcats and spirit squad members managed to find a connection with the youngsters, chatting with them about their favorite sports and teams they root for, video games they play, foods they like to eat and other activities that make them smile. And of course, sometimes there is little need for conversation when a young person is taking in the presence of an imposing 6-foot-8 offensive lineman for the first time.
* New Year's Eve Day will be a busy one for the Wildcats and Northwestern fans alike, with a slew of items on the agenda from morning till night. To kick it off, the entire team will head to EverBank Field for the first time in order to snap a team photo in the venue, home of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars. After that, Pat Fitzgerald and his team captains meet the media for the final time before kickoff and then join the rest of the team at the Coaches Luncheon and Gator Bowl Hall of Fame induction.
The afternoon slate features a lengthy parade featuring marching bands and spirit squad members from both schools as well as a Northwestern-only pep rally at the Jacksonville Landing. While many in the city and around the world will be staying up late to ring in the New Year, the Wildcats will be enduring their usual "Friday" routine of meetings, movies and final pre-game preparations.
Pat Fitzgerald's Northwestern teams have gained a reputation for putting on a good show in each of their postseason bowl game destinations and, after Thursday night in Jacksonville, that reputation may soon extend to the pre-game festivities as much as to what goes on between the white lines.
The Wildcats took advantage of the hospitality offered by Latitude 30, an entertainment complex in Jacksonville offering bowling, arcade games, food and, as the 'Cats found out, a karaoke stage. After a quick meal, the Wildcats grabbed the mike and didn't let go for the duration of their two-hour stay at the facility, offering impressive renditions of everything from Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way" to Justin Timberlake's "Gone" to Boyz II Men's "End of the Road" and even some "Sexual Healing" as performed by running back Tyris Jones. After building a strong audience at Latitude 30 over the course of the 15-plus songs they performed, the 'Cats finished strong by showing off their dance moves to "Put a Ring On It" and "Gangnam Style" before leaving the stage to a standing ovation.
Check out the accompanying video and photo gallery (yes, visual evidence!) to get a taste of what the Wildcats brought to Jacksonville Thursday night.
Also, special shoutout to senior defensive lineman Bo Cisek, who went where no Northwestern student-athlete has gone before by live-tweeting the event from @NU_Sports, the official Twitter handle of the Northwestern Athletics department. Bo did a great job capturing the energy of the evening. If you enjoyed his witticisms, give him a follow on his personal account, @DaDoze55.
* Northwestern staged its second practice on site at Jacksonville University Friday, going full pads for the final time before next Tuesday's TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl against Mississippi State.
* In attendance Friday was former Northwestern men's tennis great and World No. 4-ranked, Todd Martin. A native of Hinsdale, Ill., Martin reached the finals of the 1994 Australian Open as well as the 1999 U.S. Open and now resides in Florida.
* Following practice, the entire Northwestern squad made the short trip to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, enjoying a beach picnic, volleyball and bags competitions, and a chance to rest under the sunny Florida skies. Temperatures today crept into the upper 60's -- a welcome setting considering the Northwestern campus in Evanston received its first significant snowfall of the winter over the last few days. Can't wait for all the Wildcats faithful to join the fun in sunny Jacksonville!
Our football team just wrapped up its first Bowl Week practice session down in Jacksonville and we have officially been on the ground in Gator Bowl country for more than 24 hours. So far the committee and our hosts have been tremendously welcoming and we've picked up a few bits of knowledge that we'd like to pass along to you in this blog!
If you don't follow us on Twitter (@NU_Sports), do so! Tonight, we will be turning over the handle to one of our student-athletes as the team visits Latitude 30, which features activities like bowling, billiards and arcade games. Should be a fun night for the team!
Northwestern Football's official travel party left Evanston early Wednesday morning, Dec. 26, to travel to Jacksonville, Fla., for the official start of Gator Bowl Week. In each of the days leading up to the New Year's Day Gator Bowl, we'll have blogs in this space updating you on all of the activities our team and staff are enjoying.
In addition, check out our new Gator Bowl Facebook Tab, now available on our page at Facebook.com/NorthwesternAthletics. In this tab, we will have an updated video from each day down in
Jacksonville as well as a regularly updated "Photo of the Day" and the ability to read
our most recent Gator Bowl blog entry. Keep up with the #B1GCats
conversation on Twitter from Facebook, as well, with an embedded
#B1GCats twitter feed.