Monday, September 28, 2009

For Lions fans, one day came Sunday

One day, a kid once thought to himself, this is all going to be worth it.

The big losses, the small losses, the bad draft picks and the worse draft picks, Barry bolting and Joey throwing.

The jokes on our behalf, the laughs at our expense, dropped balls, muffed snaps, Matt, Marty, Mooch and Marinelli.

The bags over our heads, the blacked-out games, the losing, losing and more losing until that one season we just couldn’t lose any more.

One Thursday, a middle-schooler rushed to the foot of his driveway and pried open the mailbox in eager anticipation of that week’s Sports Illustrated, only to walk back up with his head down, shoulders slumped and no magazine in hand.

The Aug. 9, 1999 Sports Illustrated, with “Why Barry Bolted” splashed on the cover, never made it inside his house.

One day, Barry will come back, he hoped, one day.

One midsummer afternoon, a kid walked through Brush street, with Ford Field being built to his left and Comerica Park to his right and asked, “Hey Dad, who do you think will win a championship first, the Tigers or Lions?”

His dad shrugged and said he didn’t know.

One day, the kid thought, one day.

One Christmas Eve, a teenager knelt at his bedside, hands locked tight and ears fixated on a clock radio that sat on his dresser.

“All I want for Christmas, God,” the teenager pleaded, “Is a win.”

Then a guy named Stoney rolled out of the pocket and threw an interception, and unbeknownst to all, it was the start of an avalanche of atrocity.

One day, the teenager thought as his eyes welled up, one day.

One December day, a barely-legal kid wandered through the service level at Joe Louis Arena, minutes before the start of a college hockey game.

Crammed into a concrete corridor were a few workers, huddled around a small television that stood on a Coke machine. A couple sat on a stack of tables, another on a metal chair.

15 losses deep, ten points down and half a quarter away from immortality, optimism still swirled in the corridor that day.

“We get a stop here,” one of the guys said. “And we got a chance.”

Instead, a long touchdown. Immortality inevitable.

The quarter ran out, everybody parted ways and went back to work.

One day, we’ll sit around and laugh about this season, the kid thought as he waited for an elevator. One day.

One day, just like that hot, midsummer afternoon, smack dab in the middle of a period when a young Detroit kid wondered not if it was probable that his football or baseball team could win – but possible – his kid will come up and ask, “Dad, do you remember when the Lions didn’t win a game?”

The kid, now a man, will sigh, nod his head and tell him about a season that began with Lions chasing a Falcon, about quarterbacks running out of their own end zone and about a general manager that got fired four years too late.

“So when did they finally win a game?” he’ll ask.

The man will smile.

He’ll tell the kid about a day when he was thousands of miles away from home, homesick and slouched in front of a video poker game at a hole in the wall bar, amongst a bunch of other transplanted Lions fans.

He’ll talk about guy in the “0-16, Yes We Can!” shirt and the guy in the Barry Sanders jersey, about the bartender from Grosse Pointe and the cook in the Tigers hat, all watching in the silence before the Redskins lined up for that last play, and about the nerves running through his bones and the eruption when the clock struck zero with the Lions on top.

He’ll tell tales of high-fives and hugs, of claps and cheers, of a victory two years in the making, of feeling like home across the country and of celebrating with people he’d sat next to for three weeks without saying a word.

His eyes will light up talking about those same eyes that welled up years ago, this time moist with joy and pride and echoing the words of a man across the bar, who said, “It’s a great day to be a Detroiter!”

“Did they win the Super Bowl that day?” the kid will ask.

The man will shake his head and smile.

One day, the man says, one day.

Johnny Sauter takes lead with 16 laps to go, wins Las Vegas 350

By Anthony Fenech

Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009 | 11:32 p.m.

Saturday night, Johnny Sauter pulled himself out of his truck at Las Vegas Motor Speedway no differently than he had at any time during his truck racing career.

He planted both hands on the roof of his gold No. 13 Chevy Silverado and squeezed through the window-shaped opening until his body cleared the car.

With fireworks painting the night sky and the smell of burnt rubber lingering from the finish line, Sauter leaned forward on the car and for the first time in his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career, raised his hands in victory.

“Yeah!” shouted the rookie, before tossing his drink.

Nearly a year after stocking parts for the Nationwide series out of his garage at home, Sauter was the winner of the Las Vegas 350, thrusting himself into the top five in the NCWTS points standings and completing the first one-two sweep for Thor Sport Racing.

“It was unbelievable, a phenomenal day,” Sauter said. “It’s been a long time, and it feels pretty darn good.”

For seven years, Sauter bounced around the Nationwide circuit and competed in a number of Sprint Cup races before returning to truck racing this season with Thor.

With 16 laps to go in the race, Sauter closely trailed his teammate, Matt Crafton of the No. 88 truck, when he made a move to the inside and passed him down the Nellis Straightaway. From there, he never relinquished the lead.

“That thing is a rocket ship,” Crafton said of Sauter’s truck. “We just didn’t have the speed that he did today.”

The teammates differed in their strategies late in the race, when Sauter decided to take a pit stop and change all four tires — while most of the field only took two — and Crafton elected to stay out on the track.

“We had to roll the dice at that point,” Crafton said.

Sauter came back out on the track in 13th place and ascended through the field from there.

He is the first NCWTS Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate to win a race since Carl Edwards won at Nashville in 2003.

Todd Bodine won the pole with a speed of 173.371 mph and a time of 31.147 seconds around the 1.5 mile track.

He finished fourth, behind Sauter, Crafton and Jason White, whose third-place finish was a career-best.

The victory highlights a recent run of six top-five finishes in six races for Sauter and his new crew chief, Joe Shear Jr.

“This is awesome,” Shear said. “Me and Johnny just gel.”

“It’s an unbelievable night for Thor Sport Racing as a whole,” Sauter said of his team’s performance. “I hope a lot of people take notice that we’re for real and will be contending for wins week-in and week-out now.”

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Live blog: MSU scores late TDs, but lose to Badgers

By Anthony Fenech
Free Press Special Writer

11:45 a.m Sept. 26, 2009

Fourth quarter

14:56: The Wisconsin student section is jumping around, their Badgers are driving and before I could finish this sentence, they've scored again.

13:41: Winston takes the handoff, runs directly into his offensive lineman, fumbles, Wisconsin recovers and looks for the kill.

12:41: A few plays later, the hat trick for tight end Garrett Graham. Tolzien finds him wide, and I mean wide, open streaking into the end zone.

38-17 Wisconsin and this one looks signed, sealed and delivered into the victory column with almost a quarter to play.

10:10: Cousins sacked on fourth down, a lot of Badgers clock-killing to follow ...

3:53: Nichol pressured on third down, heaves the ball to the end zone where it's brought down by safety Chris Maragos, Nichol's second interception and fourth Michigan State turnover on the day.

2:07: Spartans putting together a nice drive, Nichol to Keshawn Martin down to the 2-yard line but looks like a touchdown as Martin stretches across the pylon.

0:15: Nichol connects with Keshawn Martin on a 91-yard touchdown pass, splitting two defensive backs, sneaking behind and running untouched from there.

Third quarter

13:48: And there's the jolt State needed. Running back Zach Brown loses the handle on the pitch and Michigan State recovers.

11:31: Cousins over-shoots a receiver in the back of the end zone. Brett Swenson on to attempt the field goal.

Good. 21-10, Wisconsin.

6:56 Wisconsin pushing in Spartans territory, although a block in the back penalty just negated a big gain for Wisconsin. Break for Michigan State.

41-yard field goal is good and Wisconsin answers Michigan State's field goal with a clock-killing seven-minute drive.

1:25: Cousins throws another laser, this time to B.J. Cunningham, who twists and turns mid-air while juggling the ball before coming down with it for the touchdown.

Second quarter

13:06: Third down, touchdown Spartans. Cousins to Dell. Threw it up and The Computer came down with it for six.

8:55: The tight end posted up just inside the goal line, the pass came low and it appears -- from slow television frames -- that Graham got his hands underneath it.

7:30: The two-quarterback system rears its ugly head early as Nichol misses a wideout deep down the field, instead connecting with a Wisconsin safety for an interception.

2:57: Toon's reception puts Wisconsin inside the five and the complementing personal foul facemask puts them a yard out, where two plays later John Clay lumbers in for the touchdown and a 14-point Badgers lead.

0:00: Bielema decides to run the clock out on the first half, not something I necessarily agree with, especially with the Spartans yet again reeling.

First quarter

14:00: MSU is flagged for kick-catch interference on the ensuing punt and Wisconsin begins with very healthy field position just inside the MSU 45.

11:11: Two three-and-outs for the Spartans thus far.

6:00: Wide receiver Mark Dell walks off the field gingerly after an incompletion from Cousins.

5:08: Flag on 3rd and 5, pass interference on Wisconsin, the Badgers linebacker wrapping his left arm around Blair White's hip for the call. First down MSU.

3:00: Interception Wisconsin. Cousins locks onto Blair White and Wisconsin Linebacker Mike Taylor reads it and steps in front of the pass.

1:22: What do you get when you mix a holding call and dropped touchdown pass on one play?

A touchdown pass the very next, Tolzien to tight end Garrett Graham, a nice throw-and-catch for six and a Wisconsin lead.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Duhjuan Miller has two interceptions in Cheyenne win over Arbor View

By Anthony Fenech

Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009 | 12:01 a.m.

The tipped ball floated in the air, end over end, possibly holding Arbor View’s playoff hopes and certainly carrying the fate of a pivotal division game, when Cheyenne safety Duhjuan Miller leaped and caught it, seeing nothing but green grass and an end zone the other way.

“When I caught it, I knew,” Miller said. “I saw my blockers down the left side and I knew.”

Forty yards later, Miller was in the end zone, mobbed by his teammates. Cheyenne had the insurance it needed to escape Arbor View with a 25-13 win, thanks in most part to two deflections that ended up in the senior captain’s hands.

They occurred only a minute apart with just under four minutes to play and the score knotted at 13.

“We made a defensive adjustment late and put two safeties back there,” Cheyenne coach Perryn Hale said. “And it worked.”

Miller’s first interception ricocheted off a Desert Shields cornerback and on the very next offensive play, running back Jordan Butler cut through the Aggies defense for a 42-yard touchdown run to give Cheyenne the lead.

Butler finished with 200 yards on 25 carries, scoring twice.

Miller’s second interception came three plays into Arbor View’s ensuing possession, when quarterback Kyler Nielson’s pass went off the fingertips of running back Demon Scurry.

“I saw that the second one was six automatically,” said Hale. “I’ve seen Duhjuan make plays like that since his sophomore year.”

Desert Shields quarterback Kody Stahl, who plowed his way through the Aggies defense on a quarterback keeper to tie the game at 13 earlier in the quarter, said that after Miller’s first interception, he knew there would be another one.

“I called it,” he said. “I walked over to him on the sidelines and told him he was going to take another pick to the house, and the way it happened was like, I don’t know, déjà vu or something.”

Said Miller of the exchange on the sidelines: “He came over and said I was going to get another one and I just said, ‘Yeah I’m gonna get out there and get you another one.’”

Arbor View took the lead late in the third quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run from senior Thomas Flanagan but couldn’t hold on for the win, its losing streak sliding to three games.

Both senior quarterback Austin Anderson and junior running back Taylor Wooten missed the game, resulting in inexperience under center.

“We had all the cards stacked against us tonight,” coach Dan Barnson said. “Our quarterback had never started a game and then we went to a sophomore in the second half.”

“We battled and I can’t be disappointed with my kids.”

Cheyenne improves to 3-2 on the year and hosts Palo Verde next week.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

NASCAR truck racer Mike Skinner familiar with Las Vegas track

By Anthony Fenech

Thursday, Sept. 24, 2009 | 5:48 p.m.

If Mike Skinner doesn’t have an ownership stake in Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a win this weekend would certainly have him thinking about one.

The defending champion of the Las Vegas 350, Skinner has enjoyed a lot of success in his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career at the track.

Just don’t remind him of that success.

“As the race track ages, its personality changes,” Skinner said. “And it might get where I don’t have that dominance anymore if I talk about it.”

In seven career truck races at the Las Vegas speedway, Skinner has two victories, five top 10 finishes and three pole victories.

This Saturday, he aims for both his third Las Vegas victory in four years and his third victory in his past four races this season for the Randy Moss Motorsports No. 5 car.

“I feel like this is one of my best race tracks,” he said. “Obviously, I don’t want anything to change at this place but as the track changes, we have to change our approach and set up.

“I really don’t know how things are going to be until we get out there Saturday.”

Standing in third place for the season, the 52-year-old NASCAR veteran is 246 points behind leader Ron Hornaday, who also has had his share of success at the Las Vegas speedway, placing in the top 10 six times in his eight races.

For as familiar with the track as Skinner is, the race will breed equal unfamiliarity for his crew chief, Eric Phillips, who is visiting the track for the first time.

“It’s kind of an unknown for me,” Phillips said in a statement. “He obviously has a feel there that he likes, so that’s what we’ll be trying to achieve.”

Skinner hopes his familiarity with the course will benefit his crew chief.

“His big challenge is to get the shock package right and for him to understand what I’m trying to tell him,” Skinner said of Phillips' first go-round at the track.

Joining the field for Saturday’s race is Todd Bodine, who sits in fifth place in the standings, and Ricky Carmichael, who is a former motocross racer.

“It’s a fun track to race at and we get to do a lot of things with the fans here,” Bodine said. “Everything about coming to Vegas is fun for us, but come Saturday, it’s on.”

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Legacy whips Arbor View in Battle of the Bulls game

By Anthony Fenech

Friday, Sept. 18 | 2:05 a.m.

Two herds of bulls entered the ring Thursday night, and as the first half ended, only one of those herds looked ready to fight.

It was the annual Battle of the Bulls game between the Arbor View Aggies and the Legacy Longhorns, and thanks to a smothering Legacy defense and a standout senior, the Longhorns bull-rushed the Aggies early.

A 19-point halftime lead carried them to a 32-7 victory.

“From what we’ve been hearing, we haven’t been playing up to our potential,” running back Deshae Edwards said. “So we really had to step it up tonight and, you know, we really stepped it up early.”

Edwards continued his run through Northwest Division opponents by collecting 218 yards on 22 carries and adding three touchdowns, his seventh in the team’s past two games.

“We knew we had to come out hard and fast,” coach David Snyder Jr. said. “They’re a good football team and if we would have let them get momentum, we would have been in trouble.”

Edwards provided flash to the defense’s smash, powering through an Aggies defender on his first touchdown run, a 50-yarder, hurdling over another defender on his second, a 19-yarder, and capping his night with a shifty display of jukes on a 36-yard run late in the third quarter.

All game long, Longhorns defenders continually harassed the Arbor View offense, creating four turnovers, all of which resulted in Legacy scores on their ensuing possessions.

“We play a swarming defense,” Snyder said. “We like to get as many guys to the ball as we can, and it was effective tonight.”

With just more than five minutes to play, defensive back Marcus McCollum put a fitting exclamation point on the victory with a 50-yard interception return for Legacy’s final score. He ran untouched to the goal line, where Arbor View’s DeMarlo Virgil knocked him in while attempting a touchdown-saving tackle.

“They’re a big, strong, well-coached team,” Aggies coach Dan Barnson said. “But we shot ourselves in the foot too much in the first half.”

“It happens,” he said, referring to the three first-half fumbles. “Sometimes you get a bad luck string going. We work ball-handling drills all week and sometimes it just happens like that.”

Arbor View (1-3) looks to regroup next week against Cheyenne, while Legacy (4-0) travels to Virgin Valley in hopes of continuing to boost its playoff prospects in what is shaping up to be a crowded Northwest Division.

“This was a big victory for us, but it really doesn’t mean anything,” said Edwards. “Now we head to the meaty part of our schedule.”

Monday, September 14, 2009

Steve Cantwell looking for win in rubber match with Brian Stann

By Anthony Fenech

Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2009 | midnight

When Steve Cantwell opens the Octagon door Wednesday night in Oklahoma City, he’ll be looking to close a different door on an old rivalry.

Opposing him will be Brian Stann, a man Cantwell knows all too well from two previous fights in World Extreme Cagefighting.

“I’m looking to put an end to this rivalry and expose his weaknesses,” said Cantwell, who renews his rivalry with Stann at Ultimate Fight Night 19 at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City on Wednesday.

In their first meeting in March 2007, Stann shocked Cantwell by knocking him out 41 seconds into the bout with a blow to the jaw that sent the Las Vegas-based fighter to his knees.

Both were undefeated light heavyweights at the time — Cantwell fighting in his first WEC match and Stann fresh off signing a five-year deal with the UFC’s sister organization.

“He caught me with a shot early and the ref stopped the fight,” said Cantwell (7-2), who is coming off a unanimous decision loss to Luiz Cane at UFC 97 in April.

“He broke my shot at the title and I wanted him again.”

Cantwell got that wish the following August, this time with a title on the line.

Cantwell won via second-round TKO, claiming the WEC light heavyweight belt, making him the last fighter to do so, as the organization has since eliminated the division.

“Obviously, it was an honor,” Cantwell said. “But I wanted more.”

That carrot came in the form of a UFC contract late in 2008.

But his first fight was a disappointment as he lost to Cane at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

“It was close,” he said. “We stayed close until the third but I let him slip away. He threw a couple of combos and stole it from the judges.”

Although on the losing end, Cantwell, who is dubbed “The Robot,” credited the bout as the best experience of his fighting career.

“That fight did wonders for my mental game,” he said. “To bang with someone like that for a full match on national television in front of 23,000 fans, you can’t get that kind of experience in a gym.”

And now they meet again in a rubber match on a much higher stage.

The two are polar opposites in the Octagon. Stann is known as the heavy-handed, durable ex-Marine, while Cantwell is a young submission artist who came to Las Vegas as a rebel from California.

But both have one thing in common: They each are in desperate need for victory as back-to-back losses for the loser paints an uncertain picture for their future in the UFC.

Still, Cantwell insists he has the upper hand.

“The pressure’s on him,” he said. “He hasn’t earned his respect in the UFC yet. Brian Stann would get more respect from beating me than I would for beating Brian Stann.”

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Octagon Girl takes reporter on longboarding adventure

By Anthony Fenech

Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009 | 2 a.m.

She walks down a flight of stairs with a longboard curled up under each arm, both plausibly bigger than her 5 foot, 2 inch frame, but significantly smaller than the smile that stretches from ear-to-ear.

Her black v-neck t-shirt and complementing frazzled jean shorts give her the sophista-ordinary look of the girl next door.

But above the smile and the style is hair that can’t be classified as ordinary.

“It kind of has it’s own little world,” Natasha Wicks says as she picks and prods at the short blonde and golden brown mix of craziness. “It’s fun and it’s different. I love my hair.”

Wicks kayaks, long boards, dances, runs, models and when she’s not running on empty from all of that, she’s walking around the UFC octagon with her arms held high above, displaying the round number as the newest of the Octagon Girls.

“It’s so exciting,” she says. “It’s rocking up there with people who already know your name and know who you are. I think I was smiling the whole time.”

Far from your prototypical Octagon Girl, Wicks is as petite as they come, all-natural and wasn’t really bred for the role, but rather kind-of-sort-of fell into it.

A native Las Vegan, she grew up on a farm on the outskirts of the city with seven siblings along with horses, pigs, chickens, lambs, the whole nine yards.

“But not cows,” she says, laughing.

By her own admission, she lived somewhat of a sheltered life early on, her parents encouraging the kids to decorate their coloring books rather than let their eyes stray to the billboards while riding through the downtown areas of the city.

The 24-year-old graduated from Cimarron-Memorial High, went to Northern Arizona University on a running scholarship then moved to Hawaii when a stranger’s simple comment got her thinking.

“Someone stopped me and said, ‘Hey, you should get into modeling,’” she says. “I said I’d love to but I’m too short. That’s kind of where it got started.”

“I always wanted to, like when I was a little girl I was like, ‘Oh, I want to be a model. I want to be a singer,’ but I was always really short so ...”

So she moved back home, got in touch with agencies and started modeling.

“The whole modeling thing I was like, ‘I’m gonna try it and if it doesn’t work out then something else will happen.’”

It worked out and while modeling and working as a dancer at Encore’s XS nightclub, a friend convinced her to join the UFC’s Octagon Girl contest.

More than 2,000 girls applied for the gig online. 40 were picked to come to the UFC Fan Expo on July 11 – “Oh my, there’s 40 and they’re all beautiful,” she thought – and from that 40, five were picked to come on stage. Wicks was one of them.

One by one they were eliminated until Wicks was the last remaining, beaming and holding up the winner’s card.

“Oh my God I was so excited,” she says. “I was standing up there and all of a sudden all these people wanted pictures and there were people interviewing me and I was thinking ‘This isn’t just a little bikini contest, this is huge!’”

Longboarding with Natasha

Standing on the third floor of the garage, Wicks gets on a longboard and hands me the other one. I know fully well what’s about to happen. To explain, pick any combination of fall, slip and injury.

Slowly riding around me as I run and chase my board a few times from near-falls, she talks of how this Octagon Girl thing almost never happened.

Five months earlier, Wicks was with her friends at the Hard Rock when she took a spill on the stairs thanks to her high heels and broke her foot.

On crutches for two months and having to wear a boot cast for another, she needed help to get on stage at the Fan Expo when she had to wear heels.

“The fact that we wear Pumas and not heels is awesome,” she says. “When I found out I was like ‘Yes!’ because I knew it wouldn’t be any problem.”

Instructing me to stay on the board would, however, prove to be a problem.

Struggling to balance myself and falling on my back a time or two, Wicks picks up her speed, slows down her speed, weaves in and out of metal beams, makes sharp turns and stops on a dime.

“I like to think I started the whole long boarding fad,” she quips, followed by a laugh.

Finally, I’m on the board and moving around, albeit like a turtle.

Oblivious to Natasha Wicks first tip of long boarding – “Don’t do anything crazy when you’re first starting” – I try to roll down the second floor ramp.

Simultaneously picking up speed and losing control, I realize this is not going to end well. I jump off, skip a couple times and eat concrete.

“Did you make it?” I hear her say from the ledge above. She looks over and sees me sprawled out on the ground. She laughs.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Canyon Springs opens up in second half to beat Green Valley 42-21

By Anthony Fenech

Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009 | 12:03 a.m.

Canyon Springs' Devin Rimmey took the opening kickoff of Friday’s second half against Green Valley and raced 65 yards, each stride knocking the rust off the Pioneers after a slow season-opening half.

That kick return set the tempo for a second half that saw the Pioneers explode for 29 points in coach Hunkie Cooper’s debut at Canyon Springs , a 42-21 win over Green Valley.

“The kickoff got our minds back into the game,” Rimmey said. “In the first half, we came in too cocky and after that we were down to earth.”

The senior didn’t stop there, producing two long touchdowns of 42 and 54 yards, the latter icing Green Valley late as Rimmey ran over the only Gators defender left to beat before sprinting untouched 30 yards out for the touchdown.

He finished with 222 yards and two scores on 17 carries.

The game started ugly for both teams with a flurry of turnovers, the most crucial of those going against Green Valley.

Trailing by a touchdown midway through the second quarter in a first-and-goal situation, sophomore Aaron Love lost control of the ball, and Canyon Springs recovered in the end zone.

“You can’t turn the ball over the way we did,” Green Valley coach Matt Gerber said. “We literally gave them 21 points and there’s the game. Obviously, we weren’t prepared enough.”

The fumble was one of four first-half turnovers for the Gators. Two resulted in scores by the Pioneers, as quarterback Tyler Ward connected for two first-half touchdowns of nine and 22 yards to Leo Wills and Trey Evans, respectively.

Cooper, a former UNLV All-American wide receiver, was pleased with his team’s performance but cautioned more work needs to be done to assure sloppy football doesn’t become a regular occurrence.

“I’m glad we won,” he said. “But we have a lot of work to do; there’s no doubt about it. There is a lot of room for improvement here.”

The Pioneers fumbled three times in the first half, losing the ball twice. “Our defense kept us in the game early,” Cooper said. “I can’t say enough about those guys.”

Down 13-0 at the half, Green Valley tried to mount a comeback courtesy of Love, who scored two rushing touchdowns just two minutes apart early in the third quarter.

Love tallied 144 yards and carried the workload for the Gators with senior running back Treveece Jackson being limited because of an injury.

“We know we have a good team,” Gerber said. “We made some young mistakes tonight and those we’ll have to fix.”

Friday, September 4, 2009

Speedskater hopes to glide through trials, compete for Olympic gold

By Anthony Fenech

Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009 | 1:53 a.m. (This story appears in the Las Vegas Sun print edition)

Jeff Simon wasn’t like most teenagers when he was 14 years old. A serious athlete, he lived for speed. Took risks. Lived on the edge.

And on a day just two weeks shy of the start of high school, as he was waiting anxiously for his parents outside a speedskating clinic in Los Angeles, Simon prepared to broach with them a topic foreign to most teenagers: He would ask if he could leave home to train professionally.

That was six years ago. Now, five cities, four high schools, three homes, two states and one convincing car ride back to Vegas later, Simon is on the cusp of the very dream that led him to abandon the desert heat for a clean sheet of ice.

Since a young age, Simon has dreamed of an Olympic experience. Now 20 years old, his focus is the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Next week he will be one step closer to his dream when he competes in the 2010 U.S. Short Track Speedskating Olympic Trials in Marquette, Mich.

“Every day for the past 10 years, I wake up wanting to represent both my country and myself at the Olympics,” Simon said. “I feel good right now … I’m prepared and I’ve worked hard. I’m not going to let this moment pass by.”

That moment is a decade in the making, dating back to when Simon first learned about speedskating from a flier that prompted him to exchange his roller blades for ice skates. He started taking classes twice a week and the rest was history –- almost.

“I just remember him saying, ‘I want to learn to skate fast,’” said his mother, Nancy Simon.

Jeff Simon said he was told to decide between Boy Scouts and skating.

“I started to have a passion and drive to do well in skating, so I think I made the right decision,” he said.

His passion took him to Los Angeles for a weekend speedskating clinic hosted by renowned Dutch coach Wilma Boomstra.

“(Boomstra) said he had a lot of natural talent,” Nancy Simon said. “She mentioned that if they could get him there, they would be able to work with him and do some great things.”

Boomstra’s assessment piqued a heated discussion on the ride back to the valley from Los Angeles. His mother resisted at first. But his father thought otherwise.

Howard Simon said he remembered thinking at the time that, “'He’ll hate us forever if we don’t support this.'” Eventually, as a family, they decided to go for it.

So began the teen’s nomadic journey to pursue his dream. He spent almost three years in four California cities with a trio of skating families; then left to train in Marquette, in the upper peninsula of Michigan.

Making the move to the colder climate wasn’t easy. “I’m a West Coast kid at heart,” he said with a laugh.

Throughout his amateur career, Jeff Simon has picked up numerous awards and trophies. He holds two U.S. records in the 100- and 500-meter relays as a junior skater and has six World Cup medals from 2008, including last year’s Eric Heiden U.S. Skater of the Year award.

And, despite the pressure, this weekend he will line up and practice the same routine he always has.

He will make eye contact with one of his coaches, prepare his mind, line up and take off around a 100-meter racetrack, reaching speeds of up to 35 mph with dreams to once again leave home -- this time, hopefully, to compete in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

“I know I’ve worked harder than my opponents,” he said. “There’s a lot of pressure, but a lot of excitement.”

Just like an August day six years ago.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Arbor View rushing attack cripples Centennial

By Anthony Fenech

Friday, Sept. 4, 2009 | 1:28 a.m

Pitch left, pitch right, good night.

That was the recurring theme for Taylor Wooten and the Arbor View Aggies in their rushing attack on Centennial that led to Thursday night’s 38-13 win.

Wooten took his second touch of the game 39 yards down the sideline for an early touchdown and followed it up with a 42-yard touchdown scamper behind a red wall of linemen on his next carry.

“The outside was wide open all day,” Wooten said after the victory in which he was named MVP of the second Thursday night game of the season.

“Our offensive line was outstanding and that includes our tight ends. They crashed really good for us,” he said.

The Aggies ground game fired on all cylinders right out of the gate with an array of alternating outside pitches, going left, then right, with both Wooten and senior DeMarlo Carl Virgil.

“The play was working, so we kept going with it,” head coach Dan Barnson said. “Our big players made big plays, but they made big plays because our offensive linemen were blocking.”

Wooten finished with 12 carries for 126 yards and two touchdowns, while his backfield partner Virgil rushed 11 times for 93 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

Arbor View’s insurance came courtesy of the elusive Thomas Flanagan, who turned a short curl route into a 77-yard dagger. He broke one tackle and evaded two defenders, running untouched from there as time expired on the first quarter.

The dual-threat senior tallied 132 yards receiving and added a 32-yard rushing touchdown.

The early 22-point cushion was enough for an Aggie defense that had their way with the Bulldogs offense.

“We have some kids that like to fly around on defense and if they continue to fly around, good things can happen,” Barnson said.

“But our defense needs to keep it up because we have the big four coming,” he said, alluding to the Aggies upcoming four-game stretch against teams they haven’t yet beat.

Centennial senior quarterback Chris Henderson accounted for 234 yards of offense and rushed for 193 yards with a rushing touchdown.

Henderson tried to spark the Bulldogs with a dazzling 81-yard run on the first play of the second half, but Arbor View’s early lead proved insurmountable.

“They came out and punched us in the face twice and we couldn’t come back from it,” Centennial coach George Baker said. “They hit us hard and our kids were reeling from it.”

Arbor View (2-0) travels to Cimarron-Memorial next week while Centennial (0-2) tries to turn things around against Faith Lutheran.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Boulder City grad to coach swimmers at West Point

By Anthony Fenech

Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2009 | 12:26 p.m.

Amongst all of Bret Lundgaard’s achievements as a swimmer at the University of Washington, the most indicative of his future career as a coach came outside of the pool.

In addition to setting school records, qualifying for the Olympic Trials and being named academic all-conference each year, Lundgaard was voted “Most Inspirational” by his teammates three times during his four years as a Husky.

Earlier this month, the Boulder City High graduate made the cross-country move to West Point, N.Y., taking a position as assistant swimming coach with the Army Black Knights.

“This is a tremendous opportunity,” Lundgaard said. “It’s not only one of the best schools in the country, it’s a Division I school and overall, just an incredible job.”

Army coach Mickey Wender was Lundgaard’s college coach at Washington.

“Bret and I worked very well together as coach and athlete and I’m really looking forward to working with him again,” Wender said.

“I have no doubt that he’ll have a huge and immediate impact on our cadet-athletes. He has embraced the West Point mission and is ready to do whatever it takes to help our program be successful.”

Arriving at Army the beginning of this month, Lundgaard has been pleasantly surprised with the amount of responsibility put on his shoulders thus far.

“[Mickey] believes in me and trusts in me,” he said. “He’s placed a lot of responsibility on me and that’s all I can ask for right now, an opportunity to build on that trust.”

Lundgaard’s rise up the coaching ranks comes as no surprise to his mother, Sara Carroll, who is the swimming coach at Boulder City High.

“I’ve seen the potential since the mid-teen years,” Carroll said. “He’s verbal, knowledgeable but most importantly, passionate about what he does.”

Lundgaard joins a program that finished second and fourth in the Patriot League for men’s and women’s swimming, respectively, and he sees a lot of potential with the Black Knights program.

“We’ll be much improved,” he said. “We’re going to have an impressive team and an awesome year.”