Cougars In The News (April 24-April 30, 2012)
Post and Courier
April 29, 2012
The news that Doug Wojcik would be the next men’s basketball coach at College of Charleston shocked many of the Cougar faithful.
When Bobby Cremins officially announced his retirement on March 19 after six seasons at the school, rumors ran wild about who would or should replace the popular coach. Most of the speculation centered around interim coach Mark Byington and former College of Charleston star Anthony Johnson. Other names were mentioned — former head coaches at schools in the ACC and Big Ten — some with merit and others wishful thinking.
But Doug Wojcik? The guy Tulsa just fired?
“Why would my name come up?” Wojcik said last week. “All of a sudden I had ‘Fired’ across my forehead. But as you analyze it and see all the connections, now it does make some sense, particularly with my educational background and particularly with my track record with graduating and developing players.”
The first thing anyone learned was that Wojcik had been fired a few weeks earlier by Tulsa following a 17-14 season. The athletic director cited dwindling revenues and growing fan apathy.
But after a closer look, Cougars fans would learn that Wojcik also won more games at Tulsa than any other Golden Hurricane coach, including Nolan Richardson, Bill Self and Tubby Smith, going 140-92 in seven seasons. They also learned he was the point guard for the U.S. Naval Academy teams that starred ex-NBA star David Robinson.
And finally, they discovered he was a coach who focused on defense, something fans saw as a major weakness for the Cougars in recent seasons.
Wojcik’s official introduction to the College of Charleston community on April 4 marked his third visit to Charleston.
The first was on a ship in 1988 after he graduated from the Naval Academy. The ship headed up the Cooper River to the Naval Weapons Station, but Wojcik said he never saw anything of Charleston because of a thick fog.
The next visit came last November when Tulsa participated in the Charleston Classic basketball tournament, and again he saw very little of Charleston, although there was a pre-tournament banquet at the Yorktown.
But Wojcik had ties to the community even before he became head coach. Dr. George Watt, a vice president for the College of Charleston, is a Naval Academy graduate. Wojcik reached out to him when Cremins retired.
Dr. Vince Benigni, who is the school’s faculty representative to the athletic department, served as an assistant sports information director at the Naval Academy when Wojcik was a senior on the basketball team.
Dave and Carole Heathcock, who live in Mount Pleasant, were Wojcik’s host family in Annapolis while he was a student.
And one of his best friends is The Citadel head coach Chuck Driesell. The two played against each other in college, and later were roommates at the Naval Academy’s prep school in Newport, R.I.
“We had a commonality in basketball. We both loved the game and both worked extremely hard to get to the level we’re at,” Driesell said. “(Charleston) is a great job for him. He’s very organized, a hard worker and a good person. He’ll do very well.”
Wojcik grew up in Wheeling, W.Va., where he played football, basketball and baseball. He credits the late Skip Prosser with turning him toward basketball.
Wheeling was a “Friday Night Lights” kind of town, where football was king. Wojcik’s high school basketball team went 4-18 his sophomore season. Two years later, the team went 25-2, still a school record, and won a state championship. Wojcik said he had some offers from Division II and III schools, but he wanted to play Division I basketball.
“My dream school was Notre Dame, but I wasn’t good enough in their eyes,” he said.
He enrolled in the Naval Academy and played for a year at the prep school in Newport, R.I., then moved to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., where the basketball program, coached by Paul Evans, was making a name for itself with the 7-foot Robinson at center.
“I don’t know if I was the first choice, but the (point guard) job became my job. I ended up starting the next 99 games,” Wojcik said.
The Midshipmen played in three consecutive NCAA tournaments during Wojcik’s career, going 82-17. He still holds the school record for career assists with 714 (second is 531) and averaged 7.21 assists, still in the top 25 in NCAA history. His career assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.78 (714 assists to 257 turnovers) also is No. 1 at the school, and he had 24 games with 10 or more assists. He finished his career with 602 points (6.1 ppg).
“Doug played a significant role in our team success at Navy,” Robinson said. “He showed the confidence and leadership we needed to manage games and gave us an opportunity to be successful. I remember him as a fighter, a tough kid from Wheeling, W.Va., with an attitude. He never backed down from anybody.”
“Top Gun” was the hot movie when Wojcik graduated, and he said like many others he wanted to be a Navy pilot like “Maverick,” played by Tom Cruise. But his vision precludeda flying career, so he went to Surface Warfare School in Mayport, Fla., hoping to get his qualifications and then return to the Naval Academy to start a coaching career.
That dream came true in 1990, and he began a 10-year stint at the Naval Academy. In 1999, Matt Doherty hired him at Notre Dame, and Wojcik followed Doherty to North Carolina in 2000, where Wojcik started his first head coaching job by handling the Tar Heels’ junior varsity program.
“I’m really proud of this,” he said of his JV stint in Chapel Hill. “Larry Brown has done that, Roy Williams has done that, Phil Ford has done that.”
When Doherty was forced out at North Carolina after the 2003 season, Wojcik landed a job on Tom Izzo’s Michigan State staff, where he coached for two years, the second as associate head coach. That second year the Spartans made the Final Four, losing to eventual champion North Carolina in the semifinals.
“I’m forever grateful to Matt Doherty for making me his first hire at Notre Dame, my dream school,” Wojcik said. “And how cool it was to be working at North Carolina, with Coach (Bill) Guthridge, Coach (Dean) Smith and Larry Brown, coming through and seeing the inner workings of what I think is the greatest college basketball job in the country.
“The guy who put it all together is Tom Izzo. We’re a lot alike. He’s a genuine guy who never forgot where he came from. He was very open and would communicate and share with you as an assistant, what the budget is, what this is, what that is. I’m still very close to him and his family to this day.”
Wojcik and his wife Lael were both Naval Academy student-athletes. Lael House, a basketball player and high-jumper, came to the Naval Academy from Seattle and was a freshman when Wojcik was a senior. They knew each other only in passing and wouldn’t be formally introduced until both returned to the Naval Academy.
After serving in San Diego, Lael went back to Annapolis to serve as the protocol officer for the superintendent of the Naval Academy, Admiral Charles R. Larson. She handled his social functions, which Wojcik said are second only to the White House.
Lael said a co-worker who was a Navy basketball fan talked her into going to a game and introduced her to Wojcik. They began dating in 1985 and were married the next year. Lael’s father had died, so Admiral Larson escorted her down the aisle and allowed them to use his residence next to the Naval Academy Chapel for their reception. They have two sons, Paxson (11) and Denham (9).
“We just hit it off,” Lael said. “He is so passionate about basketball, so passionate about our family, so passionate about relationships. He loves the kids.”
Life outside the arena revolves around the youngsters. The boys are both involved in sports. They’ve played tackle football since they were in the first grade, and they also play school and travel basketball. They also like fishing. Lael’s hobby is kickboxing.
The resume and players
Two players Wojcik coached at Tulsa, guard Ben Uzoh with the Toronto Raptors and center Jerome Jordan with the New York Knicks, are in the NBA.
“Coach was a good mix, someone I respect a lot,” said Jordan, a 7-footer from Jamaica who did not play basketball his senior year of high school. “I owe a lot to coach Wojcik. He gave me a chance that others wouldn’t. He turned (Tulsa) around and had success for a lot of years. He will bring a great style of play to Charleston.”
For Wojcik, though, coaching was not just about getting players to the NBA. He is proud that in seven years at Tulsa, 17 of 17 players who finished their eligibility graduated, and the school had a six-year APR rate of 961.
Wojcik recruited three of the top nine scorers in Tulsa history, No. 3 Uzoh, No. 7 Justin Hurtt and No. 9 Jordan. Wojcik was the first coach in Tulsa history to have back-to-back 25-win seasons and the first to have four consecutive 20-win seasons.
And while the Golden Hurricane did not advance to the NCAA tournament, Tulsa did win the 2008 College Basketball Insider Tournament and played in two National Invitational Tournaments.
Vision for Charleston
Wojcik said everyone in the coaching business knows College of Charleston is a good job, and he feels like he is a good fit. The goal is to win the Southern Conference and advance to the NCAA tournament.
“First of all, it’s not broken,” Wojcik said of the Cougars’ basketball program. “When I took over at Tulsa, they had won nine games two years in a row and the coach quit on Christmas Day. So this thing is not broken.
“What I envision is what everyone expects. We’re all trying to compete for a Southern Conference championship and NCAA tournament bid.”
Wojcik said he admires Cremins as well as former coach John Kresse.
“I saw John Kresse on the street and I wanted to hug him,” Wojcik said. “Charleston has an appreciation for good defense because of coach Kresse.”
And Wojcik says defense will be a priority for the Cougars.
“The two areas I feel I have to hold (the players) most accountable for are playing defense and rebounding,” he said. “They want to enjoy playing the game. I’ve got to let them enjoy playing the game offensively. But they’ve got to buy into playing defense and rebounding.”
Tyler Norris Goode
April 27, 2012
CULLOWHEE — Friday evening marked the start of a crucial Southern Conference stretch for Western Carolina’s baseball team.
It turned into a home run derby between two Louisville Slugger All-Americans.
WCU senior Ross Heffley smashed two long balls to left field — the second of which knotted the game at 3 in the fifth inning.
But he and the Catamounts were bested by Charleston’s Daniel Aldrich, a redshirt sophomore who doubled his season total with three blasts — including a two-run shot in the eighth that gave the Cougars the deciding runs in a 5-4 victory at Hennon Stadium.
“(We) just (had) a lack of execution early in the game offensively and on the mound,” WCU coach Bobby Moranda said.
“We had some pitches we were trying to throw in the dirt to (Aldrich), and we hung them; two of the three. The first one he hit, but two of the three we were trying to not even throw a strike.”
WCU (26-16, 10-9) came into the contest three games out of first in the SoCon, and the Catamounts play their final four series against teams that started Friday either tied or ahead of them in the league standings.
They’ve now got their work cut out just to win this weekend’s series, thanks largely to Aldrich, who’d never hit more than one homer in a game before this year. He hit the first two off WCU starter Jordan Smith. The game-winner came against reliever Vance Chavis.
“It was just a matter of seeing the ball,” said Aldrich, who drove in all Charleston’s runs. “I was recognizing pitches out of (the pitchers’) hands early.”
Charleston (30-12, 18-7) has won five straight, including a 4-3 win over No. 8 South Carolina — the two-time defending national champion.
WCU had chances to come back. The Cats loaded the bases in the ninth and pulled to within one when Bradley Strong was hit by a pitch.
Heffley came up next with one out but struck out for just the eigth time this season. Cody Jones then grounded out to end the game.
Chavis (0-1) took the loss for WCU after Smith gave up three earned runs, struck out six and gave up five hits and three walks.
The teams play again at 2 p.m. today then conclude the series at 1 p.m. Sunday.
“We’re battling to get up to the top four in the conference,” Smith said. “We’ve got to bounce back.”
Post and Courier
April 28, 2012
CULLOWHEE, N.C. — Daniel Aldrich hit three home runs to lift College of Charleston over Western Carolina, 5-4, in Southern Confernce baseball action on Friday.
Aldrich’s five RBIs was also a career high as he doubled his season home run total with the three long balls.
College of Charleston (30-12, 18-7) has now won six games in a row, the longest winning streak of the season. Western Carolina fell to 26-16 and 10-9 in conference play.
Christian Powell (8-2) made his first start of the season on a Friday night and picked up his league-leading eighth win of the season. Powell went 7.0 innings, allowing three runs and seven hits while striking out five Catamounts. Nick Osterman pitched a perfect eighth inning, and David Peterson tallied his 10th save of the year to league the conference.
Marty Gantt tallied a single, two walks and a run to extend his hitting streak to 10 games, tying his previous career long.
April 28, 2012
When the powers trying to build beach volleyball into an official NCAA sport placed their inaugural championship in Gulf Shores, Ala., they were greeted with skepticism from the game’s traditional base in Southern California.
“The Hawaii people and the California people were like, ‘Are you kidding? We’re going to Alabama to play beach volleyball?’” said Kathy DeBoer, the executive director of the American Volleyball Coaches Association, which is running the event. “But this is an absolute hidden gem.”
Four schools — Pepperdine, College of Charleston, Long Beach State and Florida State — are on the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico this weekend to play for the first collegiate sand volleyball championship. It’s the first year of varsity competition for beach volleyball, which the NCAA calls sand volleyball to avoid scaring away the landlocked schools.
“The feedback from the administrations has been overwhelmingly positive,” DeBoer said in a telephone interview.
Collegiate sand volleyball is a team sport in which each school has five, two-women teams seeded 1-5 and matched up with the corresponding pair from the opponent: one against one, two against two, and so on. The school that takes three of the five matches is the winner.
There is also a pairs championship, with 16 of the top groups scheduled to play a single-elimination tournament on Sunday. The top players in the country, who could be competing in both the pairs and team events, could play as many as 11 matches over the weekend.
“There’s about 16 kids who are doing some serious competing,” DeBoer said. “It’s in the low 80s, with deep sand. It is ideal conditions for spectators but pretty hot to play in. It’s going to separate the players.”
Beach volleyball rode an American sweep of the gold medals at the Beijing Olympics into a semi-official status as a collegiate sport the next year. It gained approval as an emerging sport for women, which allows schools to form teams and begin competing while the NCAA gauges whether there’s enough interest for an official championship.
In its first year, 15 schools fielded sand volleyball teams.
“The information we’re getting from coaches is that we could see another 15 programs next year,” DeBoer said. “Once you get to 40 for two years, the NCAA takes over the championship. We believe we will have enough teams for an NCAA championship in three or four years.”
Five of the schools fielding teams this year were from the Atlantic Sun Conference, which held a conference championship that was won by North Florida. Two schools from BCS conferences have added the sport: Florida State and Southern Cal.
“We tend to focus on the majors and everything, but what’s been most interesting to me has been the reaction of the athletic directors in the Atlantic Sun, a mid-major where a lot of the schools don’t play football,” DeBoer said. “They’re so excited about this. It’s a place they can make a difference.”
Gulf Shores set up 26 courts for a bit of a beach volleyball festival. Five of the courts are dedicated to the collegiate championships, with the rest for a junior tournament drawing 120 teams and an adult event with 25 teams.
“This community has absolutely opened its arms to this sport and said, ‘We want to be your Omaha. We want to be your Oklahoma City. We want to be a place you never want to leave,’” she said, referring to the homes of the NCAA baseball and softball championships. “These guys have set the bar pretty high.”
Post and Courier
April 27, 2012
Elyse Chubb realizes this weekend's sand volleyball national championships are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and an opportunity she almost didn't take.
“I wasn't even going to play sand volleyball this season,” said Chubb, a senior from Peachtree City, Ga.
Chubb was concerned the commitment to volleyball and an internship might be too much for her final semester of school. But she said she made the right decision.
This is the first season for college sand volleyball, classified as an emerging sport by the NCAA, and the College of Charleston was selected to compete for the team title along with Pepperdine, Long Beach State and Florida State.
Sixteen two-player teams representing 11 other schools also will compete for the individual title in the American Volleyball Coaches Association event that begins today and wraps up Sunday. Chubb will team with Lizzie Theesfeld as one Charleston team, while Emily Shelton and Kelly Kolich are the other team.
College of Charleston coach Jason Kepner said the chance to play for a national title is significant for the players and school.
“I was a little unsure of our chances, but as the season progressed the team really bought into it and was really excited about the possibility of competing for a national championship. I think the turning point was a 3-2 win over North Florida. They did everything possible to make our resume look as good as possible for the selection committee,” Kepner said.
Kepner said the Cougars, as the No. 4 seed, will have to play their best in the double-elimination format. The Cougars lost to Pepperdine, 5-0, early in the season but are playing with much more confidence.
“It's going to take a lot for us to win one of these matches, but I also think it's going to take a lot for people to knock us out,” Kepner said. “Pepperdine is definitely the No. 1 team in the country, but upsets do happen. We don't have to win all five; we just have to win three of them.”
Post and Courier
April 24, 2012
MOUNT PLEASANT — It was a double bagel of sorts for College of Charleston tennis teams on Monday at the Southern Conference championships.
The Cougars men’s team won its first SoCon title in nine years with a 4-0 victory over Samford, and the C of C women’s team took its fourth straight championship with a 4-0 win over UNC Greensboro at Patriots Point.
Both teams clinched berths in the NCAA championships, and will learn their first-round opponents on May 1.
For the 18-4 men’s team, the title means a trip to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003.
“Being able to play in front of all of our family and friends and fans really paid off today,” said fifth-year coach Jay Bruner, the SoCon coach of the year. “We had a bunch of long matches against a really good Samford team. The guys really found some extra spirit to get through the match. It definitely paid off being able to play at home for the tournament.
“It means a lot for our program to get back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003,” he said. “It’s been a long break, especially for our seniors and the whole team. They have put in a lot of hard work the last three seasons and it has been a goal for our seniors.”
Senior Tom Delme was named tournament most valuable player, and Billy Kenny and Alon Faiman also won singles matches.
Charleston’s women’s team, ranked No. 65, is 25-5 after knocking off SoCon regular season champ UNCG, and will make its fourth straight trip to the NCAAs.
“First off, Greensboro played a great match,” director of tennis Angelo Anastopoulo said. “We survived a lot of championship points today against them. (UNCG) deserves a lot of credit. They were the regular-season champion and we had to be at our best today to beat them. I’m really proud of our team to make it to the NCAA tournament four times in a row. This year is even more special, because we are sharing it with our men’s team. This is definitely a special time in Cougar tennis history to cherish.”
Sophomore Kelly Kambourelis was named tournament MVP, and Jenny Falcone and Katie Lee also won singles matches.