Monday, November 30, 2009

Thommes earns 2nd team All-America honors

Ellen Thommes got her 1,000th kill on Sept. 11 in the victory against Drury.

Okay, so nothing's been officially released yet, but the big news right now is that UNO volleyball's senior Ellen Thommes has been honored as a member of the Division II Volleyball All-American second team.

That's what her coach, Rose Shires, told me yesterday.

I'm still checking and other DII volleyball sites for any official updates, but Shires' words are about as solid as carbon nanotubes.

The All-America team would be another honor for Thommes. The Omaha Marion product earned a spot on the American Volleyball Coaches Association first team and was named to the Daktronics second team. This after Thommes was already selected for the MIAA first team.

I will be looking to get an interview with Thommes and, if we're lucky, I may have it on video. It'd be nice to hear what one of the better UNO volleyball players in school history has to say about her season and her individual accolades.

Huskers have their work cut out this Saturday

If that's not an understatement, then I don't know what is. Nebraska has a HUGE challenge ahead as they prepare to take on the Texas Longhorns in the Big 12 Championship Game in Arlington, Texas. It's tough enough that the game is taking place in Tejas' backyard (in Jerry's Palace, as some are calling it), but when you begin to break down each team's strength and weaknesses, you find it's going to be very hard for the Huskers to pull this one out.

Nebraska's problem is the offense. Nebraska sucks on offense, frankly put. I haven't seen a Nebraska offense struggle like this since the days of Dailey Doubles. I think there's a newspaper article that says they found a mysterious white substance in Memorial Stadium, and the offense was unable to go near it - it was later determined that the white substance was actually the end zone (I know it's unoriginal, but still funny if you haven't heard it).

With Nebraska struggling on offense, you have to wonder how they are going to score on Texas' defense. It's true that Texas' defense has been gashed at times this season, including last week against Texas A&M, but Nebraska doesn't have those kind of weapons. Nebraska doesn't have a Jeff Fuller.

So how can the Huskers score some points?

- Short field. Most of NU's points this season (other than the Sun Belt teams) have come on short fields, either after turnovers or from the leg of Alex Henery. Nebraska will have to take advantage of every short-field opportunity that will be available.

- Turnovers. A pick-6 or a fumble return for a touchdown would not only add some points to the board, but it would also give Nebraska unbelievable momentum during the game.

- Special Teams. The ST has been playing very well the last few weeks, most notably Henery and Paul. Paul has made some nice returns, including returning a punt for a touchdown last week against Colorado. And we all know how important Henery has been - he's probably the team's MVP right now. The point is that Nebraska needs to score at least one non-offensive touchdown if they hope to keep up with the Longhorns.

- Actually taking some deep shots. Texas' secondary has proven this year that it can be burnt deep in the vertical passing game. Texas A&M showed that quite wonderfully last week. The thing here is that Watson has been very conservative with his playcalling and hasn't really let the ball fly. If he does, it's almost always to Paul. Nebraska needs big plays, like Mo Purify's touchdown in 2006, if they are going to score. The offense is just not capable of 10-play, 80-yard drives against Texas, let alone Baylor or Colorado.

My prediction? A 31-13 loss for Nebraska. Texas is on a mission for the BCS National Championship Game, so I'm not expecting any sort of letdown. Will Muschamp will be in his defense's ear all week in practice after their performance against A&M, and I expect we will see a more rejuvinated and passionate Longhorn defense. Of course, it could look that way regardless because of Nebraska's inept offense.

UNO men's basketball off to a hot start

When Mitch Albers decided to transfer to Nebraska over the offseason, the Mavs were faced with having to replace three of their top scorers from the previous year.

Before the season, I wondered who would step up and take on the scoring responsibilities for this team. After 5 games, it appears the Mavs will have many offensive options throughout the season.

Leading the way right now is junior Tyler Bullock. He's led the Mavs in scoring in 4 of the 5 games so far. He averages 19 ppg and leads the team in free throw attemps and makes. His ability to drive to the basket and draw fouls or kick it out is proving to be a strong offensive weapon.

When Bullock drives the lane and draws in defenders, he usually passes out to junior Jeff Martin. Martin is a 3-point artist, and has been since high school (Oh, how I remember those Central-Bellevue West rivalries). He leads the team in 3-point attemps (33) and makes (17). With a 3-point shooting percentage over 50%, Martin provides a deadly complement to Bullock's ability to drive the lane.

The real competition begins now as they begin MIAA competition on Wednesday. We'll see if the offense can stay in a high gear.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Lots of happenings lately

Sorry for the delay. I had a small bout with some sort of illness last week, but I have since recovered.

Let's catch up with a rather busy week in sports, shall we?

Class A State Football

It's that time again for high school football around the state.

Actually, it's been that time for the last few weeks. Championship games are being determined throughout the state, but we already know the most important game: the Class A Championship between Millard South and Millard West. Again.

The two teams met in 2008 for the Class A State Championship, with the Wildcats of Millard West pulling out a 21-8 victory. Millard South will have their chance at redemption Nov. 23rd at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.

Millard South goes to the state title game after defeating Elkhorn 36-17 on Saturday. Millard West defeated Lincoln Southwest 35-14 in their semifinal game.

The Patriots of Millard South are undefeated and are poised to win the title behind one of the most dominating offenses in recent memory. Senior quarterback Bronson Marsh is having one of the better years for a Nebraska quarterback.

I tend to think that the Patriots' offense gives them the edge in the title game, but there's no guarantees in a state championship game, especially between two rivals. It should be a fun one.

It's an All-Millard championship game for the second year in a row, but, while I'm not a big fan of that, Millard is where the premier Metro talent is right now. Until the Omaha Public Schools' middle school football programs kick in for a few years, I'm expecting more championship games without any OPS schools.

UNO's soccer season ends in first-round playoff loss

The Mavericks' soccer team had an impressive season come to an end on Friday when they lost in the first round of the NCAA Division II Tournament 1-0 to conference rival Truman State.

UNO finished the year 13-6-2 overall and 12-2-2 in the MIAA.

The Mavs were fortunate to gain a postseason berth after losing in the season-finale to Central Missouri. UNO had a chance to win the conference outright, but they lost to the Jennies 1-0.

When asked why the Mavs' offense struggled, head coach Don Klosterman told me that, while Truman played good defense, the field itself was more narrow than the fields UNO played on throughout the season.

That's right. Somehow, the NCAA rules allow fields to be widened or shortened at the whim of...who knows? Don wasn't quite sure, and I'm still not sure. Why would anyone want to make the field more narrow?

Whatever the reason (I'm siding with a conspiracy against UNO, by the way), the Mavs were unable to get any offensive continuity. They finished with only two shots in the game and, according to the stats, only had 1 corner kick. They were also never flagged for offsides which, in my opinion, is a sign that the offense was never really threatening.

Despite the loss of four seniors, including forward Jessica Powers (who finished 2nd on the team in goals and assists), the Mavs will return plenty of playmakers for next year, including the 2009 MIAA Player of the Year Nicole Baier.

Volleyball heading to the NCAA Tournament

Despite losses in their last three games, the UNO women's volleyball team will be participating in the NCAA Division II tournament.

The Mavs earned a #7 overall seed in the South Central Region after a 20-13 season overall and a 10-10 conference campaign.

The volleyball team will be making their 6th straight appearance in the NCAA tournament and their 19th overall. The Mavs won the national championship in 1996.

The Mavs came up short in their final regular-season game, losing to #5 Central Missouri 3-2 in what was one of the better-played games of the season. UNO fell behind 2-0 but battled back with impressive wins in sets 3 and 4 to tie the match. The Mavs went on to lose in the 5th set by a 15-10 score.

UNO will now play MIAA rival Washburn in the tournament beginning Nov. 19. The Mavs are 1-1 against Washburn this year, with a 3-2 victory coming at home on Sept. 23 and a 3-0 loss on Oct. 28.

Midnight Madness for Men's Basketball

The UNO men's basketball team opened the season at 12:01 a.m. Sunday morning against Doane. That's right, tip-off was after the stroke of midnight. The NCAA allowed teams to begin regular-season competition on Sunday, so UNO took advantage by playing the first minute they could - kind of like how I waited in line and bought Modern Warfare 2 after midnight this Tuesday (me and 23857293857329 other people. That game's insanely popular..)

UNO had a slow start, but they eventually overcame their shooting slump to win the game 96-67. They shot a sizzling 60% in the second half, including making 8 of their first 9 shots.

Jeff Martin led the Mavs with 18 points, going 5-9 from beyond the 3-point line. It appears Martin will be a major factor in the Mavericks' offense, especially after the transfer of 2008 leading scorer Mitch Albers.

Hockey splits another series, this time with Lake Superior State

The Mavs split their series with Lake Superior State this past weekend, going 1-1 against the Lakers at Qwest Center Omaha.

UNO has yet to sweep a 2-game series with wins this season. They either win a game and tie the next, or they lose a game and tie the other. The Mavs are 5-2-3 overall and 2-2-2-1 in the CCHA.

Despite the series of ties, wins and losses, the Mavs are still ranked nationally. They are #12 in both the USA Today Hockey poll and the poll. ranks the Mavs #10 in their weekly power rankings. Not bad, but the season is still young.

One player emerging offensively this year is Rich Purslow. He leads the team in goals (7) and points (10). The junior has become a long-range threat for UNO offensively.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Maverick seniors going out winners

October went by fast, and now that we've all had our trick and treating fun we are starting to wrap up the seasons for many fall sports.

UNO's football and soccer teams both played their final home games of their respective regular seasons this past week, and both teams came away with wins, but in rather different fashions.

The Mavericks' football team won on Saturday in an overtime thriller against Pittsburg State 31-28 in what was only the second overtime game in Caniglia Field history.

The Mavs got off to a sluggish start in the first half, falling behind 14-9 at halftime.

"I thought we were a little lethargic in the first half and I couldn’t quite understand that, it was a five-point ballgame," head coach Pat Behrns said. "We should have had 14 points, but obviously didn’t."

The Mavs came back in the second half to take a 25-22 lead late in the 4th quarter, but a long drive by Pittsburg State chewed up the rest of the clock before the Gorillas kicked the game-tying field goal with 8 seconds left.

It was a sign of good things to come when the Mavs won the coin toss. UNO deferred the ball to PSU, and the Gorillas went three-and-out and settled for a field goal.

The Mavs moved into scoring position when the Gorillas were flagged for a roughing the passer penalty, moving the ball to the PSU 6-yard line. On the next play, senior quarterback Greg Wunderlich found junior TE Mike Higgins in the back of the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.

The players stormed the field and celebrated their final home game with a win. More importantly, the seniors got to go out the best way possible.

"It’s sad that I’ll never be able to play here again," Wunderlich said. "If there’s a way to go out, this is the way - beating a team that’s caused a lot of pain for us over the last 12 months. It feels good to get this win."

"It was a pretty exciting game," senior defensive tackle Zac Keller said. "I’d probably have liked to have it put away a little earlier than that. Nonetheless, our guys fought hard and we never gave up, so it was an exciting game."

The Mavs improve to 6-4 overall and 5-3 in the MIAA, and while a playoff berth was all but out of reach for the Mavs, it was still a contest worth winning for the seniors on the team.

"I think it was huge, really to save those seniors," Higgins said. "It was great to send those guys out with a win here at home. I think that’s really the biggest thing."

The soccer team, meanwhile, had a less thrilling result to their game. Instead, the Mavs dominated their opponent from the outset once again and won their final home game 1-0 over Missouri Southern.

The game wasn't a true home game in the sense that it was played somewhere other than the UNO soccer field. Because of the rainy weather throughout the day, the game was moved to Creighton's Morrison Stadium where the field conditions were much better.

To be honest, I was glad the game was moved, because that facility is gorgeous. It was my first time being there, and it's an amazing place to watch futbol. Talking with head coach Klosterman after the game, he said there really isn't any other futbol facility like it in the country for college. Creighton has it good.

The Mavs outplayed the Lions from the start, but were only able to get 1 goal, and even that goal was lucky. Senior Megan Jensen sent a free kick into the box that took a weird, wet and wild bounce on the Lions' goalkeeper and squeezed through for the goal. It was Jensen's first goal of the year, and her second career goal. Not a bad way to go out.

The Mavs outshot Missouri Southern 22-2. UNO had 13 shots on goal, but with only 1 goal to show for it, you had to figure the weather still had a factor.

The Lions' 2 shots were a season-low for the Mavs, and was the 9th straight game that UNO has held their opponent to 10 shots or fewer. It's been an impressive season for the Mavs' defense, which now have 8 shutouts on the year.

The most important thing to come out of the weekend for Klosterman's team was Truman's loss on Halloween. With that loss, the Mavs regain control atop the MIAA standings with a 12-1-1 conference record. They only have two more games left before the regular season is over, and the Mavs now control their destiny.