Villanova men, UConn women atop college basketball polls

Staff and News Services Published 7:46 pm, Monday, January 8, 2018 Villanova needed just a week to reclaim its lost No. 1 ranking in the AP Top 25. West Virginia waited a lot longer — nearly six decades — to get back to No. 2. Villanova returned to the top spot in Monday’s new poll after an upset-filled week that included losses by No. 1 Michigan State and No. 2 Duke. The Wildcats got 52 of 65 first-place votes to move up from third to No. 1, where it spent three weeks in December. The Mountaineers were next to capitalize on a big win, along with the chaos of a week in which four top-5 teams lost to unranked opponents and six top-10 teams lost overall. Virginia climbed five spots to No. 3, followed by Michigan State. Purdue and Wichita State tied for No. 5. •The Rutgers women, once a staple in the rankings who fell to 6-24 last season, are ranked 21st, returning to the Top 25 for the first time since March 2, 2015. UConn remained a unanimous choice for No. 1. The Huskies were followed by Notre Dame, Louisville, Mississippi State and Baylor. Cal fell from No. 23 to No. 24. Stanford fell out of the poll. ELSEWHERE Cal hires Toler III as assistant coach Cal head coach Justin Wilcox hired assistant coach Burl Toler III, a name very familiar to Bay Area football fans, in a move that will allow the Bears’ offensive staff to reorganize some of its responsibilities. With Toler III set to coach the running backs, offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin will take over the tight-end responsibilities, and Charlie Ragle will focus on the special teams. Toler III, who played receiver at Cal from 2001 through ’04 and was part of bowl teams in final two seasons, was the wide receivers coach at UC Davis last season. His grandfather played at USF, and was the first African American on-field official in the NFL. Burl Toler II played linebacker at Cal in the mid-1970s. — Rusty Simmons •Coaches Frank Beamer and Mack Brown Continue Reading

Banner year for NJ college women’s soccer: Georgian Court, TCNJ, Rutgers, Monmouth thrive

Members of the Georgian Court women’s soccer team never had to look far for inspiration.Some days all it took was a quick glance to the side, where all-time great Christie Pearce Rampone and other members of the Sky Blue professional club were training.“When you see Christie Rampone working out next to you,” Georgian Court coach Jim Moore said, “that’s going to push our girls to be even better.”Moore’s Lions won the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference this fall, earning a berth in the NCAA Division II Tournament. They weren’t alone. The College of New Jersey (21-0-1) is in the Division III Final Four. Rutgers, Monmouth and Princeton made the Division I tournament, and Princeton has advanced to the quarterfinals. Look at these rosters, and you’ll see Jersey girls up and down the line — alums of the Shore, Skyland and Greater Middlesex conferences, plus other leagues throughout the state.“Us Jersey girls have this type of relentless and hard attitude,” said TCNJ senior Liz Thoresen, a Red Bank Catholic graduate. “That’s what our program is based on: Girls who work hard, who are gritty. We hate to lose more than we like to win.”Here is a rundown of Garden State women’s soccer success this fall: Georgian CourtThe Lions went 16-4-2 and won the CACC for the third time before falling in the opening round of the Division II tournament. They had rolled up a 15-0 mark in the league and posted D-2’s third-longest winning streak (10 straight).This despite losing All-American midfielder Morgan LaDuca (Point Pleasant Beach H.S.) to a knee injury late in the season. Freshman Erin Wimmer (Sayreville) filled the void capably.“The girls used it as a rallying cry, and they overcame it,” Moore said.Making all-conference in addition to LaDuca were senior forward Lizzy Kroon (Central Regional), sophomore midfielder Kaitlin Lister (Toms River Continue Reading

U.S. women’s soccer team knows it has a golden opportunity to avenge its World Cup loss

GLASGOW, Scotland — Alex Morgan is without question the new face of women’s soccer, but Abby Wambach remains its head, heart and soul. Wambach is a dominant force, especially in the air, where she has the timing, touch and courage to convert crosses into goals with her head. Overall, the Rochester native has 138 international goals in her decorated career, including an overtime header in last year’s World Cup final against Japan that should have resulted in the United States lifting the trophy. Instead, the red, white and blue gave up a late equalizer, lost in a heartbreaking penalty shootout and arrive at the Olympics looking for redemption. “There’s no better motivation than losing,” Wambach said. “This team has something to prove.” The women’s tournament begins on Wednesday ahead of Friday’s Opening Ceremon y, with games in Glasgow, Coventry and Cardiff. The U.S. women open here at Hampden Park against France, an up-and-coming side that they eliminated in the World Cup semifinals last summer in Germany. Other than the U.S. men’s basketball team, no team is under more pressure to win than the so-called Girls of Summer, who are vying for their third straight gold medal. Le-Bron James and Carmelo Anthony, by comparison, have earned a bronze and gold in Athens and Beijing, respectively. Even as the competition improves (Brazil, Japan and Germany), the U.S. is still expected to win. “We are ready,” U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. “We are full of confidence and we’ll have fun at the Olympics. We have the personalities on the field and we are very confident that we’ll go into this tournament to do our very best and bring out the best performance.” Thus far, their top performance has gone viral. The team released a video of players dancing and lip-synching to the Miley Cyrus song, “Party In The U.S.A.” If that is the G-rated side of the Continue Reading

U.S. women’s soccer routs New Zealand to reach quarterfinals

SHENYANG, China - The defending champion U.S. women most likely forged a clear path through to the Olympic soccer gold-medal match Tuesday night, getting results they desperately needed to avoid dangerous Brazil in the quarterfinals. Instead, they will play CONCACAF archrival Canada after scoring a resounding 4-0 Group G victory over New Zealand. Coupled with Japan's surprising 5-1 upset of Norway, the U.S. can breath easier after winning the group on goal differential over the Norwegians (plus three to minus one). Had the results not gone the Americans' way, they would have played Brazil, which embarrassed and eliminated them in last year's Women's World Cup semifinals, 4-0. If both sides survive their next two matches, they will not meet until the gold-medal match in Beijing Aug. 21. Now, the Americans' sights are on Canada, whom they play in Shanghai Friday. "We know them very well and they know us very well," U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. "Whoever can get that Olympic spirit, find confidence and play good soccer will win the game." PHOTO GALLERY: TODAY IN BEIJINGThe U.S. needed a big win and a big collapse from Norway and got both. Sundhage knew about Japan piling it on, but did not tell the team. "We had no idea about the other scores," former Rutgers standout Carli Lloyd said. "We just knew we had to score as many goals as we can. We get one, that's great. We kept on pushing for more." The game climaxed a rollercoaster week of emotions. The Americans began the tournament in the worst possible way, surrendering goals in the opening four minutes in a disappointing 2-0 loss to Norway, including one after an Olympic-record 61 seconds. They rebounded with a 1-0 win over Japan."It's amazing that we bounced back from the start," Sundhage said."I know people were skeptical about our win over Japan," Lloyd said. "But I think we've proven ourselves, 4-0. We played fabulous soccer."Heather O'Reilly set the tone by scoring an even Continue Reading

Drew University soccer star Shamila Kohestani leaves Taliban behind

MADISON, N.J. - Five times a day, on the third floor of a boxy brick dormitory, a reserve forward on the Drew University women’s soccer team spreads out a special rug, sits down and tries to figure out which direction Mecca is. For 10 or 15 minutes, Shamila Kohestani, of Kabul, Afghanistan, quiets her mind and says her prayers. Then she hustles back to her new western life, complete with fingernails painted pink, her name taped to the dorm-room door and a laptop that is rarely far from her side. Shamila Kohestani never used a laptop until last year. She never did a lot of things. Life under the Taliban included periodic beatings and regular degradation, but not much in the way of amenities, and nothing at all in the way of education. Sitting on her bed, alongside the patch of floor where she lays her prayer rug, Kohestani takes a short break from another five-hour night of studying. She looks toward a display of photos of her parents, six sisters and one brother, all of whom remain in Kabul - in a country where the life expectancy is 44 years, according to a study by the World Health Organization. “When I first came here, people would ask, ‘What did you do for fun in Afghanistan?’” Kohestani says. She pauses and smiles. It is a smile worthy of a toothpaste commercial. ‘I’d say, ‘What do you mean fun? What is fun? I spent all my life in war.’ “I tell American kids, ‘You need to appreciate everything you have, because everywhere there are people who are starving, people who have nothing. Here there is so much.” Shamila Kohestani isn’t so much a 20-year-old freshman as she is a social groundbreaker in shinguards, a cross-cultural wunderkind, a woman who captained Afghanistan’s first national women’s soccer team and who scarcely spoke English a year ago, and who, as recently as last month, had massive doubts if she could make it as a college student. Continue Reading

New women’s soccer league has modest goals and is not another WUSA

The No. 1 draft pick of the metropolitan area's newest professional sports team drives to practice in a green Honda Civic with 104,000 miles on it. She lives at home in the house she grew up in in Montclair, N.J., to save money. When she made her pro debut last month, the moment played out before 2,735 fans on a converted baseball field in Bridgewater, N.J.You may view this all as thoroughly small-time stuff. Yael Averbuch views it entirely differently."I couldn't imagine being in a better situation than I am in right now," Averbuch says. "This is what I want my life to be."At age 22, Yael Averbuch (AV-er-bush) is an imposing and highly skilled 5-10 midfielder with long brown hair and shoulders that seem to span the width of Jersey. She is the youngest player on Sky Blue FC of the fledgling Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) - the latest attempt to get a viable women's pro league started in the U.S. She comes to Sky Blue as a three-time All-American at North Carolina, the most fabled women's program in the sport, and doesn't harbor even a shred of resentment that she and fellow Tar Heel Tyler Hansbrough will not be sharing an income bracket for long.She's too busy being ecstatic.There is ample euphoria, and guarded optimism, going around WPS these days. Two months into its competitive existence, the league's seven franchises are averaging just under 5,400 fans per game - above its first-year projections, no small achievement given the current economic climate. Every Sunday night a WPS game is featured on the Fox Soccer Channel, and the league championship game - Aug. 22 - will be shown on Fox's regional sports networks.By forging strong community ties, keeping prices reasonable (the average WPS ticket is about $15) and avoiding the fiscal extravagances that did in its predecessor, the Women's United Soccer Association, league officials are convinced that the significant, and ever-increasing, pool of young female soccer players in this country can translate into a Continue Reading

U.S. women’s soccer team will miss Abby Wambach’s golden touch

No matter what  the U.S. women's soccer team accomplishes at the Summer Olympics, its success or failure will be defined by someone who won't play a minute in Beijing.Striker Abby Wambach, who scored the game-winner in the gold-medal match in Athens four years ago, will watch the games from her home in suburban Los Angeles. The Americans' chances of taking home a third gold medal in four tries took a hit when Wambach broke her left leg in a 1-0win over Brazil two weeks ago. Even with coach Pia Sundhage's new strategy of possession soccer, the attack revolved around Wambach. The Swedish coach, the first foreigner to direct the team, realized the U.S. faces a much greater challenge, although not an impossible one, even after losing two other regulars to knee injuries - defender Cat Whitehill and midfielder Leslie Osborne. "The U.S. can still win because this team is much more than one player or one coach," Sundhage said recently. "No one could replace Abby, though. We have to adjust our attacking a little bit. That's a challenge....Yes, we still can win the gold." The Americans certainly will miss the physical, 5-11 Wambach, who has scored 99 international goals and intimidates the opposition with her imposing play. "Going to the Olympics, the team has responded well," Sundhage said. "We have to move on. The team is strong. Everybody will step up a little bit." Among the young candidates to help fill the void are: Natasha Kai, whose 11 goals this year placed her second behind Wambach; Lindsay Tarpley (10 goals) and Amy Rodriguez - A-Rod to her teammates - a 21-year-old who led USC to the NCAA Division I crown last fall. The midfield features former New York Power star Shannon Boxx, promising Rutgers graduate Carli Lloyd and Heather O'Reilly. Kate Markgraf, Christie Rampone and Heather Mitts anchor a solid back line. Hope Solo, embroiled in a goalkeeping controversy with veteran Briana Scurry at last year's Women's World Cup, has re-established herself as No.1 in Continue Reading

College soccer: Marjorie Boilesen glad to be at FGCU instead of UCLA or other big names

Sophomore Marjorie Boilesen had played on her native Brazil's national team since becoming a teenager, been worked hard by her professionally playing dad, put in one of the best Division II seasons in the nation, and turned down the likes of Auburn, South Carolina and UCLA. But she had never -- ever, ever -- been through anything like Florida Gulf Coast University coach Jim Blankenship's punishing preseason workouts. And she showed up in not the greatest of shape. "Each day there were at least four practices a day and I've never trained so much," said Boilesen through a dwindling Brazillian accent. "That was the hardest part. But the girls were really amazing. Every time I would be like, 'Oh, my God, I'm so tired,' they would be like, 'You're fine. We're going to go through this together.' That really helped me."Some workouts I was like, 'Oh, my God, why did I choose this sport?'" Nikki Hudson, a fifth-year senior and All-Atlantic Sun fellow midfielder who had transferred from Rutgers after her sophomore season, could relate and often picked Boilesen up with lots of "You can do its.""She's really adapting well," said Hudson, whose seven-time defending ASUN championship team is 8-2-1 overall, 1-0-1 in conference play and begins a two-game road swing at New Jersey Institute of Technology on Friday night. "She's already made a name for herself at this school, which is awesome. "But you could tell it was a lot at first. When we would do passing drills or different technical work, she had never done it that quickly or at that pace."Boilesen, whom the Eagles call Ma and who headlined what one soccer outlet called the 17th-best signing class in the nation, has turned the training corner, although she still struggles with Blankenship's fitness days. "Not my favorite days at all," said Boilesen with a grin before confirming how important they are. In the individual ASUN standings, Boilesen is in great shape. She leads with 18 points Continue Reading

Rutgers tells students to upgrade behavior after Navy game

Angered by some derisive and profanity-laced taunts leveled at the visiting Navy football team and its fans last week, Rutgers University officials sent an open letter to students calling for better behavior at upcoming games. The letter from athletic director Robert Mulcahy and Greg Blimling, the school's vice president of student affairs, said the behavior exhibited by "a small group" of students at Friday night's game, won by Rutgers 41-24, was "undignified, disrespectful and unacceptable." Yesterday, Rutgers President Richard McCormick sent a letter to Naval Academy officials, apologizing for the students' actions. "No student-athlete should ever be subject to profane language directed at them from the crowd, and certainly not the young men of the Naval Academy who have made a commitment to serve our nation in a time of war," McCormick wrote.Kyle Wright is again Miami's starting quarterback. Hurricanes coach Randy Shannon announced that Wright has passed Kirby Freeman on the depth chart and will start when Miami (1-1) hosts Florida International (0-2) at the Orange Bowl on Saturday afternoon.SOCCER: Heather O'Reilly's goal in the 69th minute lifted the top-ranked United States to a 2-2 draw with No. 5 North Korea in the Group B opening game at the Women's World Cup in Chengdu, China. WNBA: Nine-year league veteran Katie Smith scored 22 points, one shy of her career playoff high, to help the defending champion Detroit Shock beat the host Phoenix Mercury, 88-83, last night and take a 2-1 lead in the WNBA finals. The Shock, which regrouped from a 28-point home loss in Game 2 on Saturday, can wrap up the best-of-five series and their third WNBA title since 2003 with a victory in Game 4 tomorrow night in Phoenix.NBA: Pacers forward Shawne Williams was arrested yesterday for marijuana possession. The 6-9 Williams was booked into the Marion County Jail early yesterday, police said.In Jackson, Miss., Houston Rockets player Justin Reed was cleared of misdemeanor Continue Reading

Rutgers coach pressured player to drop suit: lawyer

A lawyer who represented a Rutgers University women's basketball player complained to the school that her coach pressured the athlete to drop a lawsuit against Don Imus over the radio host's sexist and racist remarks about the team. Junior Kia Vaughn dropped her slander and defamation suit in September against Imus, who called Rutgers' players "nappy headed hos" after the team lost in the NCAA finals. A spokeswoman for the attorney said then that Vaughn wanted to focus on her education and basketball.But in a Sept.4 e-mail and an Aug.17 letter sent to school officials before the suit was dropped, Vaughn's attorney, Richard B. Ancowitz, said the head coach, C. Vivian Stringer, and others put pressure on his client and other players not to seek legal action against Imus.Vaughn told The Associated Press no one pressured her to drop the suit."Coach Stringer didn't pressure me into the lawsuit or out of it," Vaughn said Wednesday. "It was a personal decision, basically because I need to focus on school, and basketball and everything else."Coach Stringer, I love her. She's a motherly figure. I know that she would never tell me anything that would hurt me."Vaughn filed the lawsuit against Imus and CBS in August, claiming the radio personality's sexist and racist comments about the team damaged her reputation.SOCCER: Jozy Altidore's header in the 16th minute gave the Red Bulls a 1-1 tie with the host Galaxy, as David Beckham played for the first time in 1-1/2 months and Los Angeles kept its slim playoff hopes alive.PRO FOOTBALL: Denver Broncos wide receiver Javon Walker needs another surgery on his right knee, the one he tore up in the 2005 opener for Green Bay that caused him to miss the entire season. Walker will have an operation today in Houston and will be out "for a few weeks," coach Mike Shanahan said.Suspended defensive tackle Tank Johnson will be allowed to practice starting today, which will be his first team session with the Dallas Cowboys since they signed him Continue Reading