Sunday, November 22, 2009

UNLV women fall to No. 4 North Carolina

By Anthony Fenech

Sunday, Nov. 22, 2009 | 8:11 p.m.

They were shorter, smaller and less celebrated. They got pushed around and they got knocked down but Sunday afternoon, the UNLV Lady Rebels stuck around.

They hung around for 40 minutes against the No. 4 team in the country and its hometown star – the North Carolina Tar Heels and Italee Lucas – and in the end, the Lady Rebels weren’t content with their 78-68 loss.

“Right after the jump ball, we knew we could play with them,” junior guard Erica Helms said. “We weren’t really intimidated by them at all and we just took it to them the entire game.”

The Tar Heels led from start to finish, thanks in large part to the offensive prowess of their starting guards, but what appeared to be a breeze of a game coming in for North Carolina turned into a dogfight with UNLV’s scrappy play.

“Even though they are No. 4, we felt like we were in it the whole time,” Helms said.

After a rocky start forced the Lady Rebels into double-digit deficits for much of the first half, the team took off late in the first half when North Carolina claimed its biggest lead of the game, going up by 16 points at the nine-minute mark of the first half.

UNLV responded to the deficit by rattling off nine straight points, eventually cutting the lead to five at halftime as the 1,667 in attendance at Cox Pavilion rose to their feet.

“We were battling,” UNLV head coach Kathy Olivier said. “We fought, we competed and we never laid down. When they did make their runs, we stayed together as a group and that was really important.”

While the first half ended on a high note for UNLV, the second half began on a low note, as North Carolina stormed out of halftime on a 7-0 run, extending its lead to 12.

With just under eight minutes left to play and the lead still at 12, the Lady Rebels went on another run to close the gap.

They were crashing the boards, and the second-largest crowd in Cox Pavilion history was again heating up as Mia Bell and Jamie Smith hit 3-pointers to pull within five points with just over four minutes to play.

But North Carolina’s athleticism was too much to handle in the waning moments of the game, and Lucas’ one-handed baseline layup put the Tar Heels up eight healthy points with just over a minute left to play, spelling UNLV’s demise.

“I learned a lot about our team tonight,” Smith said. “We can line up against any opponent, play our hardest and compete with them, but we’re not content with coming up short and this is where we need to improve.”

Smith finished with a double-double of 17 points and 18 rebounds for her third double-double in the season’s first four games, leading the Mountain West Conference.

Her 18 rebounds were a career-high for the sophomore forward.

“We’re not satisfied but we’re proud,” Smith said. “This will give us a lot of confidence but we can’t hang onto this game and relax. We need to head into next practice and work even harder.”

North Carolina junior shooting guard and Centennial High graduate Lucas led all scorers with 24 points, while backcourt mate Cetera DeGraffenreid cashed in 22 points and went a perfect 10-10 from the free throw line.

The game was the first of a home-and-home series between the Rebels and Tar Heels and it was the second time a Top 10 team had traveled to Cox Pavilion. The last was the 2004-05 North Carolina team that beat UNLV 84-76.

UNLV is now 2-2 and hosts Boise State on Saturday in the Lady Rebel Round-Up.

“We didn’t execute to the best of our abilities but we’re learning in these kinds of games,” Olivier said. “This is a really good group to work with but I don’t think they’re content inside the locker room, and that’s a good thing.”

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Centennial grad back for basketball, home cooking

By Anthony Fenech

Saturday, Nov. 21, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.

Thanksgiving dinner is coming early for Italee Lucas this year.

The North Carolina junior and Centennial High graduate will be in town this weekend to face the UNLV women’s basketball team Sunday at Cox Pavilion. But first, Lucas and her Tar Heels teammates have a special trip to make.

Upon arriving in Las Vegas, the team is heading over to Lucas’ grandmother’s house tonight for a feast.

“We’re really excited for that,” Lucas said. “Everyone knows how good she can cook, so we’re all just ready to eat all of her food.”

For Lucas, a healthy portion of Ruby Lucas’ ribs could be just what’s needed to calm her nerves before Sunday’s game, the first she’ll play in her hometown since graduating from Centennial in 2007.

“I’m nervous before every game,” she said. “But once I’m on the court, I try to have a glass bubble around me, and I try not to pay too much attention to the crowd. With my family and friends there, I’ll have to step into that bubble right away.”

Lucas, a junior, moved to Chapel Hill after a decorated high school career at Centennial, where she led the Bulldogs to back-to-back state championships in 2004 and 2005 and won Nevada Gatorade Player of the Year her senior year in 2007.

Her cross-country move was put to ease by the up-and-down style of North Carolina head coach Sylvia Hatchell.

“Our style really fits her,” Hatchell said. “She has improved tremendously since she arrived here and has become a leader on the team, playing with a lot of heart and emotion, which I love.”

As a freshman, Lucas said it took time to get used to school, the Tar Heels system and living thousands of miles from home before she broke out last season.

“It was definitely different,” she said. “Coming from Vegas to a smaller town, there was so much to learn being away from home that I would have never learned. I’m just very thankful I got a chance to get out of Vegas and get the experience I’m getting.”

Last season, Lucas started 31 of 35 games at shooting guard, scoring in double figures 26 times over the course of the season. Perhaps most impressive was her outside range. She led the team and finished sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference with 70 3-pointers.

“We like to fast-break a lot and it helps Italee,” Hatchell said. “She’s a fast-break type of player. When we come down the court, it gives her opportunities to drive to the basket or pull up for 3-point shots.”

Lucas was also named second-team All-ACC Tournament for her efforts before the team’s season ended in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Purdue.

This season, she expects the No. 4-ranked Tar Heels (2-0) to finish closer to the Tar Heels of her freshman year, which made it to the Final Four, than the Tar Heels of her sophomore year, whose run last year was ended prematurely.

“We want to win the ACC and the ACC Tournament,” she said. “But more than that, we want to advance farther in the tournament than we did last year. It left a bad taste in our mouths.”

Lucas credits her father, Lamar Lucas, for paving the way from Las Vegas to Chapel Hill by enrolling her into the best tournaments and onto the best teams. “I’m really excited to get a chance to play in front of my family and friends,” Lucas said. “I haven’t gotten a chance to show them what I’ve got since my college career started.”

Her coach is equally excited for Ruby Lucas’ dinner Friday night.

“As soon as we land, that’s what we’re doing,” Hatchell said. “I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve heard all about her cooking.”

Friday, November 20, 2009

Del Sol knocks out Liberty in Sunrise regional semifinals

By Anthony Fenech

Friday, Nov. 20, 2009 | 11:36 p.m.

The Del Sol Dragons were angry.

After what players called the toughest week of practice all year, the Dragons took the field Friday night and saw their opponents, the Liberty Patriots, dancing, hooting and hollering at them near midfield.

It was the same team that defeated them a month ago, the only blemish on their schedule, and Liberty was telling Del Sol they were about to beat them again.

That didn’t happen, and after a 42-13 victory in the Sunrise Regional semifinals, the Dragons were the only team dancing.

“This is our house,” senior running back Dezerick Reed said. “We weren’t going to allow that, and it really got us pumped up to come out here and bring them down.”

Reed scored twice in the game on short-yardage touchdowns while rushing for 60 yards on 19 carries, but the game’s fireworks display was put on by Dragons senior wide receiver Evan Weinstock.

Weinstock had his way with the Patriots — running, catching and defending the ball — to make sure his team would have another game to play.

He caught five passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns, including two bombs of 79 and 40 yards, scored on a 26-yard reverse and nearly took an interception to the house late in the game.

“We came out fired up. We knew we could beat them, and we ended up executing on both sides of the ball,” Weinstock said. “Our game plan worked great.”

After a Del Sol fumble on the first play of the game turned into a two-yard touchdown run by Liberty’s Jordan Kapeli, the Dragons surged past the Patriots for good with Weinstock’s three-touchdown performance in the second quarter.

“He does it all,” Del Sol coach Preston Goroff said. “He’s our guy, and we put a lot of emphasis on getting him the ball offensively and sticking him on their best guy defensively.”

Weinstock teamed up with junior quarterback Troy Miller, who finished the game with 256 yards and three touchdowns on 7-of-19 passing.

Midway through the third quarter, Miller hooked up with senior wide receiver Ashton Cacho for a 75-yard strike to put the game out of reach.

“This is a great victory for the Del Sol football program,” Goroff said. “Our kids were focused all week and they came out here and got it done.

“Anytime you have a season with one loss and it’s to a certain team, that’s going to be enough motivation for the kids to come out and beat them the second time.”

Liberty beat Del Sol, 24-21, on Oct. 23.

It was the team’s high point in a regular season that produced the school’s first playoff berth. Liberty went on to beat Canyon Springs last week in the opening round of the playoffs.

“I’m extremely proud of my guys,” Liberty coach Rich Muraco said. “The future for Liberty football looks very bright.”

In the first meeting between the two teams, Del Sol opted for a run-first strategy, something Muraco hoped they would repeat.

“The one thing that really scared me coming in was them throwing the ball,” he said. “They did a great job game-planning and exposing our weakness, which was the pass.”

Del Sol advances to the Sunrise Regional finals next weekend to take on Basic, which defeated Foothill, 42-20, on Friday night. It will be Del Sol’s fourth straight trip to the regional finals — the Dragons have lost to Las Vegas in the finals the last three years.

Del Sol and Basic locked up earlier this season, on Oct. 2, when Del Sol escaped a fourth-quarter Basic comeback and defeated the Wolves, 21-19.

“It’s going to be a dogfight,” Goroff said. “They’re a very good football team, very well coached, and it’s going to be the team that executes and makes the least amount of mistakes that wins.”

Wranglers brace for long road trip against familiar foe

By Anthony Fenech

Friday, Nov. 20, 2009 | Midnight

It's been a very different week for the Las Vegas Wranglers.

This week, the team practiced at a different time, inside a different arena and with different players.

But the same opponent still looms this weekend in Utah.

Tonight, the Wranglers (6-8) will kick off a three-game road trip against the ever-familiar Utah Grizzlies (8-4), and will do so without the help of three of their top players.

On Monday, the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League recalled forwards Justin Bernhardt and Matt Watkins, while acquiring defenseman Robbie Bina through a loan with the Wranglers.

"At this level, we're dealing with it all the time," head coach Ryan Mougenel said. "Now it's important that we fill those voids and it's the guys that have been here need to step up and they understand that. Those guys really deserved to get called up and now it's time for others to show they can dominate this level."

Mougenel said that in the wake of the trio getting called up, the team is going to have to lean on the shoulders of forwards Shay Stephenson, Josh Prudden and Ned Lukacevic.

"Offense isn't our nemesis right now though, our nemesis is playing hard and turning the puck over at the blue line is our Achilles heel. Once we get that under control, we're going to be alright," Mougenel said.

In all, the Wranglers lost 29 points from players in the call-ups, so there looks to be more pucks to go around.

"I think it's a good opportunity for the rest of the guys that may not get as much playing time," Lukacevic said. "It's a test for our squad and it's a good challenge for us this weekend."

While the roster changes may seem to have come at an inopportune time for the Wranglers –- traveling to Utah to face a team they are 1-5 against this year –- the Grizzlies also lost three players to the AHL, including the ECHL's leading scorer, Ryan Kinasewich.

One change that will affect the Wranglers this weekend is that Bina's departure will cause the team to rotate five defensemen instead of the usual six.

"It will be different but we worked hard in practice this week so we should be alright," defenseman Craig Switzer said. "There will be a little more ice for everybody but we should be ready for it."

While there was a little more ice for players during practice this week, there was a little less room. The team practiced an hour earlier than they regularly do at Las Vegas Ice Center due to the American Motorcyclist Association's EnduroCross race this Saturday at Orleans Arena.

"We're used to those kind of smaller rinks," Lukacevic said. "Wherever you go, you're just going to have to adjust. If the ice surface has two nets and glass, that's all you need."

Mougenel said the change of scenery might have been good for the young team.

"It went very good," he said. "It was one of the better practice rinks I've been in and the people have been nothing but great. It's kind of a smaller rink, which is similar to Utah, so it helped get the guys focused on the ice."

Off the ice, however, Mougenel encouraged the team to let loose and relax before the weekend.

"This week's practices were intense and guys battled hard every day," he said. "But we still know how important it is to have fun. I told them to get out, go play golf, enjoy the city and get to know your teammates. They have a great gig, so I just told them to enjoy it and relish it, but come to the rink every day to work."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Las Vegan ready to make pro boxing debut

By Anthony Fenech

Thursday, Nov. 19,2009 | 2:05 a.m.

Rocco Santomauro didn’t know how to feel as he sat on stage at The Orleans piano bar Wednesday.

The youngest boxer on Crown Boxing’s Friday Night Fights card this weekend, the 21-year-old California native stared without emotion and occasionally broke into a smile.

Just two days before his first professional fight, should he feel nervous or anxious that a moment 10 years in the making has finally arrived?

“I’ve been waiting a long time for this,” Santomauro said. “I don’t know if I was nervous or anxious but I’m definitely excited. It’s like a Band-Aid. You’re just ready to rip it off already.”

His career started as a 12-year-old in southern California, where he posted a 38-12 amateur record and began fighting against boxers whose experience dwarfed his.

“When I first started, I was fighting against guys with 80 amateur fights of experience and some of the top guys in my weight class,” he said. “Now, all of that is going to pay off.”

Santomauro will make his professional debut in the fourth bout of the night, a super featherweight matchup against Jose Fernandez of Tucson, Ariz.

The fight marks the first of Santomauro’s two-year, 10-fight deal with Crown Boxing.

Fernandez said Santomauro is “a young man that has great credentials in the amateur ranks. But I am going to go out there, try my best and hopefully it will turn out well.”

Santomauro now lives in Las Vegas and is training at Robert Chiodini’s International MMA Fight Club, under the tutelage of longtime trainer Pops Anderson.

“Everything I’ve done, all the practice and all the workouts, have prepared me for this,” Santomauro said.

The main event of Friday’s “Thanksgiving Thunder” fight card features Kentucky’s Patrick Liles and Minnesota’s Harley Kilfian, both of whom boast impressive knockout numbers — seven each.

“For me, as I get older, it’s not so much the wins and losses,” Liles said. “It’s about the time and the hard work and putting yourself in a position to win.”

“There’s always somebody that says you can’t do this or you can’t do that, but in boxing, the only people that can tell me I can’t box is the guy standing across from me,” he said. “And he’s got to whoop me to tell me that.”

In a cruiserweight matchup, Henderson’s Brandon Harris returns to the ring to fight Erick Vega, who was a finalist on ESPN’s reality boxing series, “The Contender.”

Harris is a seven-time Nevada amateur champion and on Friday, he will be fighting for more than just a victory. He is spearheading an effort to promote autism awareness in the boxing community.

“I’m so excited. I don’t even know what to do,” he said about getting back in the ring. “I had to work, work hard and fight to get back here.”

A portion of his winnings will be donated to the Autism Speaks foundation, and he believes his time away from boxing has driven him to the charity.

“When I was gone, I did a lot of time hanging out with my family, and we have a lot of kids,” he said. “I just can’t wait to have one of my own, and I feel I should do something to help. It’s time for boxing to give back some.”

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Locomotives clinch sport in UFL championship game

Las Vegas defeats California Redwoods, 16-10; will face Florida Tuskers in championship game

By Anthony Fenech

Saturday, Nov. 14, 2009 | 11:30 p.m.

Before the season, Las Vegas Locomotives coach Jim Fassel told his team that the inaugural United Football League championship would go through Las Vegas.

Saturday night, Fassel’s words proved true.

The Locomotives defeated the California Redwoods, 16-10, at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, Calif., to set up a date with the Florida Tuskers on Nov. 27 at Sam Boyd Stadium for the UFL’s first championship game.

“It’s very gratifying because we should be there playing in that game,” Fassel said on HDNet’s telecast of the game. “Our guys really fought hard today, and I’m proud of them.”

Trailing for the first three quarters, the Locomotives took the lead three minutes into the fourth quarter on a 4-yard touchdown pass from J.P. Losman to Andrae Thurman.

After being reviewed, the play was upheld and Las Vegas took a 13-10 lead.

On California’s ensuing drive, quarterback Shane Boyd marched the Redwoods down the field to the Las Vegas 3-yard-line, thanks in large part to two long completions to running back Cory Ross and wide receiver Glenn Holt.

The Redwoods handed the ball off to Ross, the league’s leading rusher, who lowered his shoulder and smashed into the end zone.

But the ball was dislodged by Locomotives defensive tackle Ross Kolodziej and squirted into the end zone, where it was recovered by Locomotives defensive back Nick Turnbull.

Las Vegas came back with Graham Gano’s third field goal of the game, extending the Locomotives lead to six with just more than two minutes to play.

On their final drive, the Redwoods moved down the field with a series of short passes, but on 4th down at the Locomotives’ 25-yard-line, Boyd’s pass deflected off of his intended receiver’s hands and into the hands of Turnbull for the interception.

“I have to take my hat off to Denny Green and his staff,” Fassel said. “In the first half, they got some breaks and in the second half, we got those breaks. It was a tough, hard-nosed football game.”

The game pitted two of the UFL’s most productive offensive players in Ross and Losman.

California’s Ross finished with 111 yards on 19 carries, scoring a 4-yard touchdown late in the first quarter. The touchdown was set up by a 53-yard run earlier in the drive.

“We’ve been running that play all week,” Ross said. “Our offense executed well and it was all she wrote.”

Las Vegas’ Losman ended with 199 yards on 16-29 passing and a touchdown. He dislocated his left pinkie finger midway through the first quarter but remained in the game.

“This is what guys look forward to — to play in a game like this and get to the championship,” Locomotives linebacker Gary Stills said.

The Locomotives will host the New York Sentinels, who have yet to win a game, next week before facing Florida in the championship game a week later.

Florida defeated Las Vegas in both of their two meetings this season.

“It’s a lot better to be in the driver’s seat,” said Las Vegas running back DeDe Dorsey.

Wranglers drop another game to Utah

By Anthony Fenech

Saturday, Nov. 14, 2009 | 12:40 a.m.

With just over a minute played in the third period of Friday night’s hockey game between the Las Vegas Wranglers and the visiting Utah Grizzlies, the fans at the Orleans Arena were going wild.

But two quick Utah goals hushed the 6,278 people in attendance and led to a 5-3 win by the Grizzlies, their fourth against the Wranglers in five meetings this season.

“We need to learn how to finish games,” center Adam Miller said. “Our next shift has to be our best shift of the game and set a tone for the rest of the period, but we didn’t do that.”

It was a 90-second stretch of hockey in the third period that made all the difference in the game.

Back-to-back goals by Dylan Hunter and A.J. Perry put the Wranglers at a deficit they couldn’t overcome.

“It’s unfortunate that on one shift you have a big high and the next shift you get scored on,” head coach Ryan Mougenel said. “It’s unacceptable. Guys know that and it’s really important that we learn from a game like this.”

Utah came out of the gates quickly, scoring two goals in the first 10 minutes while racking up an 11-1 advantage in shots.

Both goals came as Grizzlies defensemen Dustin Friesen and Jake Gannon flipped wrist shots at the net.

Friesen’s shot was aided by a screen in front of Wranglers goalie Michael Ouzas and Gannon’s shot deflected off of the stick of Grizzlies forward James Sixsmith before finding the back of the net.

Stuck with a two-goal deficit early, Mougenel called a time out to rally his team, and it paid off with the Wranglers tallying two late first-period goals from the sticks of Justin Bernhardt and Miller.

“We’re a strong-minded group of guys here, so we weren’t down too much after those first two goals,” Miller said. “We worked hard to get back into it but in the end, the bounces just didn’t go our way.”

Early in the second period, with the Grizzlies on the power play, forward A.J. Perry lifted a wrist shot directly off the bottom of the crossbar for a goal and a Grizzlies lead.

Robbie Bina’s third goal of the year came courtesy of a slap shot from the blue-line, followed by Utah goals from Hunter and Perry, both assisted by Ryan Kinasewich, the ECHL’s leader in points.

“We’re making (Utah) think that they’re better than they are, and I don’t believe it,” Mougenel said. “I thought we outplayed them. Both our power plays and penalty kills stepped up but, in the end, we just need to be a little more detailed.”

The Wranglers out-shot the Grizzlies 26-25, went 1-3 on the power play and killed four of six Utah power plays.

“It’s a tough loss, but I think we’re going in the right direction,” Mougenel said. “Did I want the two points? Absolutely. But we’re going to get there and we’ll make sure we get there.”

Stars of the game: 1. Utah’s Vlady Nikiforov (3 assists); 2. Utah’s A.J. Perry (2 goals); 3. Ryan Kinasewich (2 assists)

Special teams outlook: The Wranglers streak of 12 straight penalty kills came to an end in the second period, but they managed to kill two of Utah’s six power plays on the game. In addition to Bina’s power play goal in the third period, Miller’s tally came of the shorthanded variety in the first.

Roster report: Center Josh Prudden was held out of the lineup and injured winger Kyle Hagel joined the team on the bench.

Next up: Saturday, the Wranglers travel to West Valley City, Utah, to face off with the Grizzlies for the fourth time in five days.

Final word: “We have to find a way to win these games and limit our mistakes,” left-winger Ned Lukacevic said. “When we do that, we’ll be a very successful team.”

Friday, November 13, 2009

Wranglers lifted by Primeau's presence

By Anthony Fenech

Friday, Nov. 13, 2009 | 12:30 a.m.

Keith Primeau is a coach.

He coaches his youngest sons and their hockey team, helps out with a high school team in Philadelphia and runs hockey camps in Canada and New Jersey.

This week, he was also behind the bench of the Las Vegas Wranglers.

Sure, his official title with the Wranglers is director of player development, but judging by the team's 4-0 victory over Utah Thursday night, its first win against the Grizzlies in four tries, the presence of the former NHL all-star might be rubbing off.

"Coming off the ice, they were saying, 'Let Keith stay! Let Keith stay!'" Wranglers head coach Ryan Mougenel said.

It was Primeau's first visit with the team since the preseason, where he took in some action next to Mougenel, a longtime friend.

"It's a different experience," Primeau said. "Since I retired, I've kind of dove head-first into coaching and I really enjoy it. I like the teaching part of it, and I really enjoy being around here."

Primeau joined the Wranglers in July, three years after retiring from the NHL in 2006.

In his 15-year-career, split mostly between the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers, Primeau tallied 266 goals and 353 assists, while earning 1,541 minutes of time in the penalty box. He was named to the NHL All-Star Team twice in his career, during the 1998-99 and 2003-04 seasons.

In May 2000, the Toronto native scored the game-winning goal in the longest game in modern NHL playoff history, a fifth-overtime wrist shot past Ron Tugnutt and the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

For the past week, he has been shadowing the Wranglers in practice and at games, talking with and teaching the young squad.

"He says a lot of good things," Wranglers center Chris Neiszner said. "His knowledge and pointers help us all the time on offense, defense and special teams. You put him and [Mougenel] together, the brains that make everything work, and you have a pretty good cycle."

In between his other coaching responsibilities, administration work, and scouting for the Wranglers on the East Coast, Primeau hopes to make the trip to Las Vegas once a month.

He noted that once his coaching schedule winds down in February, he expects to make more frequent trips, allowing him to spend longer periods of time with the team.

"It's been fun," he said. "Obviously, the speed and tempo are different, but the game is the same at all levels. You try not to over-coach, just simplify things and eliminate mistakes."

Primeau and Mougenel have been friends for about 20 years, since Mougenel played with Primeau's brother, Wayne, in juniors.

The trio owns and operates the Durham Hockey Institute in Toronto and also has ownership stake in the Whitby Fury, a member of the Ontario Junior Hockey League.

"This just kind of happened," Primeau said of the opportunity with the Wranglers. "We were spending a lot of time together in the summer when he was making player decisions. He was picking my brain and it just came up in conversation that maybe we could give it a try and, to this point, it's worked out good."

The two could be seen sharing strategies and directing players during Thursday night's game, as the shutout win came to a close while they shook hands.

"Keith and I have a special relationship," Mougenel said. "It's been amazing for me as a coach and it's been amazing for the guys, but he's a guy who built his career off of saying the right things and, most importantly, following that up with doing the right things. He makes me a better coach and makes these guys better players."

And while Primeau has enjoyed his time with the team, he said not to tab him as a future professional coach just yet.

"I still haven't decided what I want to do yet," he said. "I am drawn to the teaching part of it though. I feel that I can make a strong impression on the young guys. So whether it's the coaching side or the management side, I'm not 100 percent sure. I guess I'm just keeping my options open for now."

After a week with the team, he thinks the biggest factor in the team's performance this year will be its youth, for good and for bad.

"Their youth is a strong suit but it's also a detriment at times," he said. "But their exuberance, energy and willingness to learn has been really refreshing. They're an attentive group and a great bunch of kids."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wranglers and Grizzlies embark on extra-long series

By Anthony Fenech

Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009 | Midnight

And now, a two-week forecast for your Las Vegas Wranglers: Grizzlies, Grizzlies and more Grizzlies.

Tuesday night, the Wranglers dropped the first game of a lengthy early-season series to the Utah Grizzlies 3-2 at Orleans Arena.

And for the team's foreseeable future, it's all Utah, all the time.

It's seven games against the Grizzlies in 13 days, with two road trips to Utah and back.

Hopefully for the Wranglers, the series will include their first victory against a Utah team that's had the best of them so far this season.

"A win against them is what we need right now," defenseman Craig Switzer said. "We need some confidence against them because they've had our number lately."

The Wranglers are winless in three tries against the Grizzlies this year, with all three of those defeats coming on their home ice of Orleans Arena.

In those contests, they have been outscored 17-7.

"The good thing is that it's the start of the year and we're only 10 games in," Switzer said. "But as the season winds down, these are the games that we're going to remember, so we need the wins."

The teams will face off for three straight games in the next three days, the first two on Thursday and Friday being played at Orleans Arena, before the Wranglers travel to Utah for a Saturday game in West Valley City, at the E-Center.

After Saturday's game, the teams will part ways for five days before reconvening for a three-game set the following Friday in Utah.

"It's brutal," Wranglers head coach Ryan Mougenel said. "I don't know how else to explain it and I don't fully understand it, but that's the scheduling and I'm not going to whine about it."

Many of the Wranglers' problems against Utah have come at the hands of Grizzlies captain and left-winger Ryan Kinasewich.

Kinasewich, who leads the ECHL with 13 goals and 20 points in only nine games, has scored five goals with four assists against the Wranglers this season.

"It's not just confidence playing the Wranglers, it's confidence playing on the road," Kinasewich said. "We've had most of our success on the road, and we need to figure out how to translate that to home."

As Tuesday night's game wore on, the hitting started to pick up, scrums began to form after whistles and players were jawing.

With the way both teams have played each other so far, it will be no surprise if both these teams emerge from the seven-game series with a new-found dislike for one another.

"That's the thing with this series," Kinasewich said. "We've seen the bad blood with three-game series but if the refs do their jobs, then nothing should boil over."

Switzer is a bit more confident about the gloves dropping in the near future.

"I think it will happen. It's like a playoff series, and that's what happens," Switzer said. "Guys are going to get sick of each other and both teams will get frustrated with each other, but that's what makes it fun."

What would undoubtedly make the series more fun is a win or two or three to pull closer to the top of the division.

"I'm not happy about it," Mougenel said. "Our guys better wake up or it's going to be a long series."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Kody Lostroh hangs on to take Professional Bull Riders title in LV

By Anthony Fenech

Sunday, Nov. 8, 2009 | 6:25 p.m.

They didn’t know it. Couldn’t have.

J.B. Mauney flung his hat in excitement after his ride and Kody Lostroh bounced on the back of Voodoo Child, willing to hang on for just a second longer before falling victim to the wild bull.

Mauney rode his final bull in the championship round of the 2009 Professional Bull Riders World Finals and Lostroh was bucked off just a half second before the standard eight-second mark. But going into their last rides, neither knew the 2009 PBR champion was already decided.

Sunday afternoon at the Thomas & Mack Center, the PBR’s next-best thing had become the best thing as Lostroh took the championship by 594 points in the tightest PBR World Finals to date.

“It’s a dream come true for me,” Lostroh beamed afterward. “The last few years, guys have been kicking my butt and to finally get on top, that’s what this sport is all about.

“Some of the stuff I went through this year, it was challenging. Nothing’s ever easy. If you work hard and put in the effort, you’ll be rewarded. But no matter how much you win, there will always be obstacles ahead of you.”

For Lostroh, a 24-year-old from Longmont, Colo., one of those challenges will begin Wednesday, when he undergoes surgery to reattach a tendon in his elbow.

He injured his elbow earlier in the year, tried a brace, wasn’t comfortable with it and battled on the rest of the way.

“They told me it was pretty tore up and the brace wouldn’t let me ride the way I needed to,” he said. “So I put it in God’s hands, kept on with it and it all worked out.”

Mauney, while finishing second, became the first PBR rider to ride all eight bulls in the World Finals since the organization increased the number of rides from seven to eight in 2004.

“I come with the mindset just to ride every bull I get on,” he said. “I did everything I could and next year I’ll come back and do it again. I don’t think I’m going to retire just yet.”

Mauney, 22, has been riding since age 3, when he topped his first sheep, and is considered to be one of the up-and-comers in the PBR.

He finished first over the weekend with 715 points to Lostroh’s 624, earning just under $350,000 for his performance.

“He’ll have his world championship soon,” Lostroh said.

Lostroh took home a check for $1 million.

PBR co-founder Ty Murray said that heading into that final showdown between Mauney and Lostroh, the title had already been decided, thanks to Lostroh’s torrid run throughout the year.

Even if Mauney would have posted the highest possible score and Lostroh the lowest, the latter still would have had the lead.

“I didn’t have a clue about the points,” Lostroh said. “But to be honest to you, I didn’t care, I was still there to do my job and ride that bull no matter if I had it won or didn’t have it won.

“We all ride for this moment, and I’m just honored to be a part of it.”

During Sunday’s finals, it was announced by PBR Chief Executive Officer Randy Bernard that Las Vegas will host the 2010 World Cup next April.

“Las Vegas is truly in our heart,” Bernard said to the Thomas & Mack crowd. “With the almost $50 million in economic impact we can bring, we wanted to help out the city.”

The decision to hold the finals on April 16-18 was also made in conjunction with the 45th annual Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas.

This weekend’s contest was one of the most memorable in PBR history.

“In the 16 years that I’ve been involved with PBR,” Bernard said, “Our dream was to have a competition that came down to the very last ride.”

“This season has been battle after battle and to see these guys, this weekend, put their heart and soul out there, there really isn’t a second place here.”

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Mojave High grad disappointed with loss to UNLV

By Anthony Fenech

Sunday, Nov. 8, 2009 | 2:27 a.m.

As the fourth-quarter clock wound down on Saturday, Colorado State wide receiver Rashaun Greer knelt on the Rams sideline, just a few yards away from his family and friends.

“I just sat there looking at the scoreboard,” Greer said. “I was praying for something good to happen. A big play, a turnover, something. It’s all I could do.”

Neither came for the 2005 graduate of Mojave High School as the Rams lost their seventh straight game, a 35-16 defeat to the UNLV Rebels at Sam Boyd Stadium.

“It’s disappointing because of how good we were last year,” Greer said. “But we have two games left to end the season on a good note, especially for the younger kids on the team.”

The loss marks the third time in Greer’s Colorado State career that he has endured a six-game losing streak or worse.

In back-to-back seasons, the Rams book-ended losing streaks, at one point dropping 13 games in a row.

In 2006, Greer’s redshirt freshman season, the team lost its final seven games after starting 4-1. A year later, they lost their first six games.

Last year, the first under head coach Steve Fairchild, the Rams won seven games, capped off with a 40-35 victory over Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl.

This season, they started off 3-0 before dropping seven straight.

“We just need to keep improving,” Fairchild said. “I knew there would be rocky times last year and this year, and that part isn’t as big of a concern to me.”

Greer finished the game with seven catches for 77 yards and one rush for eight yards.

“We all came in here expecting to get this win and keep it up in our last two games,” he said. “It hurts real bad not being able to do that.”

After the game, Greer spotted some friends near field level and handed over his game-worn gloves.

“They mentioned to me before the game they wanted my gloves, so I couldn’t let them down with it,” he said.

At Mojave, Greer was a standout athlete in both football and track. He holds school records for most receiving touchdowns in a season and in the 100- and 300-meter hurdles.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Legacy beats Spring Valley for first playoff win

By Anthony Fenech

Friday, Nov. 6, 2009 | 11:30 p.m.

Late in Friday night’s Sunset Regional quarterfinal, Legacy quarterback Devin Weidemann dropped back to pass.

He rolled to the left, looked to the right, felt pressure from behind and unleashed a high, arching 60-yard pass.

“I just cocked back and fired it,” he said. “And I had my doubts.”

The ball spiraled high and tight, hanging in the air before dropping into the outstretched arms of wide receiver Marcus McCollum for a touchdown.

Finally, the Longhorns had shaken the Spring Valley Grizzlies with a 31-14 victory in front of a home crowd. It was the first playoff win in the school’s four-year history.

“When it fell, I knew we had the game,” Weidemann said. “After the catch Marcus made, you just knew it.”

It was the second time the pair had hooked up to score, the first being a 39-yard pass in the second quarter.

“It feels good,” Legacy coach David Snyder Jr. said. “It’s nice to get that first victory in the playoffs, in front of these fans.”

Never more than an arm’s length from the Longhorns the entire game, Spring Valley looked to take hold of the lead late in the third quarter.

After Taj Allen’s 20-yard touchdown run tied the game at 14, the Grizzlies defense promptly stifled any thought of the undefeated Longhorns reclaiming the lead with a three-and-out.

After a punt that left the ball deep in Spring Valley’s end of the field, Spring Valley coach Kelly Murphy called for a reverse. Allen took the handoff, cut right and flipped the ball to wide receiver Brandon Lopez.

Lopez muffed the pitch and Legacy recovered.

“We tried something down there and it was my call,” Murphy said. “I thought we could get them with that by getting Lopez in space and we just didn’t get it.”

Playing tough all game, the Grizzlies responded by keeping Legacy out of the end zone, allowing only an Andres Ortiz field goal.

On their ensuing possession, Spring Valley quarterback Anton Stallworth threw an interception to Legacy’s Martell Crockett.

“I’m proud as hell of my kids,” Murphy said. “Nobody gave us a fat chance in this game and we beat Legacy in several areas. We just didn’t pull out the victory.”

With the win, Legacy improves to 11-0 on the season and will face Cimarron-Memorial in the Sunset Regional semifinals.

Earlier this season, Legacy escaped Cimmaron with a one-point victory in overtime, thanks to a successful two-point conversion.

“Today, our performance isn’t exactly what I wanted to see,” Snyder said. “To keep advancing, we’re going to have to get back to fundamentals and get our passing game going.”

Wranglers forward scores for local food bank

By Anthony Fenech

Friday, Nov. 6, 2009 | 6 a.m.

When Ned Lukacevic lights the lamp for the Wranglers this season, he'll be scoring a goal for more than one team.

The immediate impact of the forward's goals will be felt on the scoreboard, but the lasting impact will be felt in the hungry stomachs of kids across the Las Vegas area.

Thanks to a charitable proposal made during the team's recent trip to Three Square Food Bank, Lukacevic will donate $10 for each goal he scores this season.

"It's something that touched home with me," said Lukacevic, a native of Podgorica, Serbia. "I thought it would be cool to do. It makes me feel good inside and helps give back to the community. Some kids are underprivileged and their parents don't have enough money to put food on the table. Sometimes, they don't even know where their next meal is coming from."

On Oct. 20, the Wranglers made a day trip to Three Square Food Bank, where they spent the day packing backpacks with food for schools in the Las Vegas area.

It was during that trip when Lukacevic decided on his plan.

"As we were taking the tour, Ned pulled me aside and told me about his plan," Wranglers Vice President Mike Delay said. "I'm thrilled with any kind of donation, because anything these kids get is important."

And while there haven't been many positives on the Orleans Arena ice for the Wranglers, where they're 2-4 this season with 19 goals scored to 33 allowed, off the ice is a different story.

The Wranglers will host a food drive today for the Three Square Food Bank outside of the Orleans Arena beginning at 8 a.m. Any fan that donates five items will receive a free ticket to tonight's game against the Bakersfield Condors in which Lukacevic hopes to score plenty of goals.

Lukacevic's involvement with this food drive is not the first time he has become involved with charity, something he said has interested him since traveling to the Boys and Girls club when he was a teenager.

"I always told myself if I ever had an opportunity to do something like that, it would be something I'd like to do," Lukacevic said.

Three years ago, in Reading, Penn., while playing for the Royals, he began buying season tickets and distributing them to kids who couldn't couldn't afford to go to hockey games.

"I wanted to keep the kids out of trouble, and just to see the looks on their faces, it was great," he said.

Lukacevic hopes to score 50 goals this season, which would mean a donation of $500 to the Three Square Food Bank. That would equates to 1,500 meals for local children.

He's currently tied for the team lead with three goals through eight games.

Las Vegas native Steven Jackson, a running back for the St. Louis Rams, is also involved with Three Square, donating $2,000 for each touchdown he scores.

"Our team has a sense of wanting to give back," Delay said. "They're coming from all over North America and they want to be a part of our community when the needs across the Valley are growing."

For a minor league team entrenched in the community, head coach Ryan Mougenel couldn't be happier about his forward's donation.

"It's huge," he said. "He's a guy with a tremendous heart and he really cares. That's Ned. It's not all about him."

Throughout his hockey career, Mougenel has participated in multiple charities, including Faceoff Against Kids Cancer, a program that gets children with pediatric cancer out of the hospital, pairing them up with a hockey player for a day.

"It's important that the players realize how important they are to the community and the kind of impact they can make," Mougenel said. "This is what I want here, not necessarily the best guys, but the right guys."

Although the 23-year-old Lukacevic nearly made the roster of the Los Angeles Kings after his first training camp, he has since fully embraced the Las Vegas community.

"Now, every goal I score means something for not only the team but every fan watching," he said. "It's good knowing that with each goal I can help feed a child."

Ryan McConnel survives crash, back riding bulls

By Anthony Fenech

Friday, Nov. 6, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.

Ryan McConnel rides bulls.

He jumps onto the backs of cattle that rarely weigh less than 1,200 pounds and instantly, he’s jolted, his 5-foot-10, 160-pound frame furiously rocking back-and-forth and side-to-side.

More times than not, he’s thrown from the bull. So you’d think nothing can scare McConnel.


He also drives a truck.

Last Tuesday afternoon, McConnel found himself trapped in his Dodge Ram, the bent frame in a ditch on the side of Highway 75, somewhere between Atoka and Coalgate, Okla.

“There was a car in the right lane with his blinker going right,” he said. “So I passed him to the left and next thing you know, he goes left, hits me and I start rolling.”

“All I kept thinking was, ‘Stop rolling and stop moving.’ It was one of the scariest things to be honest with you.”

After a few rolls, the next thing he remembered was a couple of guys walking up to the driver’s side window.

“They came and asked if I was alive, if I was OK,” he said. They pried the driver’s side door open and McConnel was pulled to safety with only a couple minor cuts and bruises.

This weekend, the 22-year-old will ride in the Professional Bull Rider World Finals at the Thomas & Mack Center.

“I’m looking forward to being a quarter of a million dollars richer and replacing my truck,” he said.

McConnel is in his fourth season on the PBR tour and is sitting at No. 4 in the standings, with a 54 percent ridden percentage — the percentage of times a rider stays on the bull for eight seconds — and 8,437.75 points in the standings.

“Consistency is the name of the game,” he said. “Vegas is the best of the best. All of the bulls are the best and coming in from all over the country.”

The Farmington, N.M., native is the second in a line of McConnels to ride bulls.

His father, Douglas McConnel, was a pro-am bull rider in Colorado and New Mexico.

Today, Ryan McConnel, following in his father’s footsteps, looks to influence his little brother the way his father influenced him.

“He built me from the ground up,” Ryan McConnel said. “Now I’m trying to be the same kind of hero for my brother as my dad was for me.”

Joseph McConnel, 15, started riding calves and has exceeded his older brother’s expectations.

“He rides really, really good,” Ryan McConnel said. “If we can keep him going in the right direction, he’ll be ready when he’s 18.”

For now, Ryan McConnel has his sights square on the task at hand — closing the 4,191.50-points gap between him and his nemesis, Kody Lostroh, who is perched at the top of the standings.

Lostroh defeated McConnel in high school for the 2003 New Mexico championship. Lostroh was a senior; McConnell was a sophomore.

“It’s different now,” McConnel said. “I’m still trying to catch him, but I plan on being a world champ.”

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bonanza grad returns home to help defeat Wranglers

By Anthony Fenech

Thursday, Nov. 5, 2009 | 11:30 p.m.

Don't take offense to the defensive specialist's desire to leave Las Vegas -- he just wanted to see the world.

Bakersfield Condors forward Adam Naglich returned home to Las Vegas Thursday night at the Orleans Arena, in front of friends, family, and against a Wranglers team that tried to sign the first-year pro.

"It's nice playing in front of friends and family obviously," Naglich said after the Condors 4-1 victory.

Before the season, the Wranglers came calling for his services, trying to reel the 25-year-old back home, but Naglich decided against returning to Las Vegas.

"I didn't really want to play at home," he said. "I wanted to play away from home. I grew up here and I just like seeing different cities. I wanted something else."

A 2002 graduate of Bonanza High School, Naglich traveled to Victoria, British Columbia to play Junior-A hockey for three years.

After his three years in Canada, he enrolled at Alaska-Fairbanks, where he played four years for the Nanooks and was amongst the team leaders in scoring his last two seasons.

His senior year, Naglich ranked third on the team in goals with nine and fourth in total points with 16. During his junior campaign, he finished fifth in total points with 19.

This season, he joins the Condors primarily as a defensive specialist, and early this season, he has excelled at the role.

"He's been very good," Bakersfield head coach Marty Raymond said. "He's very smart with the puck and knowledgeable about the game. When he doesn't have the puck, he's even better, and that's a trait that's not very easy to find. He's got everything going that we like and he fits right in."

Raymond said that through his stellar penalty kill performance, he envisions Naglich getting more looks on the power play as the year goes on too.

"I just try to work hard on both sides of the ice, play physically and be strong on face-offs," Naglich said.

He's played in eight of the Condors nine games, only recording one point but making his presence felt on special teams.

An avid poker player who has earned more than $73,000 in eight World Series of Poker cashes, Naglich said he won't have much time to hit the tables this weekend since as the Condors arrived Thursday afternoon and leave right after Friday night's game to host the Wranglers on Saturday night at Rabobank Arena.

But he will still enjoy his short trip home.

"I'll get together with my family tonight for dinner and probably do it again tomorrow," he said. "As always, it should be a good time."

Monday, November 2, 2009

Larry Morgan wins in NHRA Las Vegas Nationals

By Anthony Fenech

Sunday, Nov. 1, 2009 | 6:47 p.m.

Larry Morgan wanted his engine back.

It was the finals of Sunday afternoon’s Pro Stock division at the NHRA Las Vegas Nationals and Morgan was paired up with Rickie Jones.

The 22-year-old Jones had been driving through Sunday’s bracket using two of Morgan’s spare engines, per a request earlier in the weekend.

But after the semifinals, Morgan took his engine back and won the race, besting Jones for the Pro Stock title.

“My guys thought I shouldn’t give the guy an engine that we know can beat me up,” Morgan said afterward. “I feel good about that.”

Morgan and his Lucas Oil Dodge Stratus ran a time of 6.720 seconds while Jones and his Stratus finished at 6.794 seconds.

Before qualifying, Jones approached the 10-year veteran, skeptical of his engine’s ability in the nationals, and asked if he could use an engine.

“They were kind of crippled coming into this race and he didn’t think his engine felt well enough to get in,” Morgan said. “So I let him have the engine.”

After burning a push rod in Morgan’s first engine, Jones and his team were ready to go home until Morgan lent him his other spare -- with some stipulations: Jones’ qualifying money went to Morgan and if they met in the finals, he would have to use his own engine.

“I love all of these guys out here and I think a lot of Ricky,” Morgan said. “The kid’s good.”

The victory was Morgan’s first in more than seven years, his last coming in 2002 at Sonoma.

In the Funny Car division, Robert Hight beat both his teammate and owner on the way to defeating Jack Beckman in the finals.

Early in the bracket, Hight had to turn in back-to-back victories over teammate Ashley Force Hood and her father, 14-time NHRA champion John Force.

“When you’re on a team like this, you’re expected to win,” Hight said. “We had a good car this weekend and a lot of confidence.”

Hight bested Beckman by .029 seconds, strengthening his point lead in the Funny Car category.

Coming into the weekend, Larry Dixon and his Alan Johnson Al-Anabi Racing team were only 1 point behind Tony Schumacher in the Top Fuel division.

With a victory in the finals, he would have moved 19 points past Schumacher, but rookie Spencer Massey bolstered his Rookie of the Year campaign by keeping Dixon in second place.

Massey drove The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 3.827 seconds with his dragster hitting 314.53 mph.

“We just came in here and tried to not beat ourselves, which is what we’ve been doing lately,” Massey said. “And we got a handle on it this weekend.”

The victory was Massey’s second in his inaugural year on the circuit, the first coming earlier this season in Chicago.

Indiana native Andrew Hines won the Pro Stock Motorcycle division, beating fellow Indianan Hector Arana. It was Hines’ third win of the season.

Henderson’s Justin Lamb bowed out in the semifinals of the Competition Eliminator, falling to defending world champion Dan Fletcher.

Lamb won the Competition Eliminator in April when the Lucas Oil series visited Las Vegas.