December 22, 2008

2008's Top 10 Stories

It's been a long year for Kent State sports teams, and it's been an even longer year for the journalists and fans that sit back and follow the matches, tournaments, sets and games. OK, it hasn't
been that long of a year for us, but give us a break.


After pondering for a moment, and remembering the old Sports Illustrated year
in review tapes from my childhood (1993 was watched nearly every day when I
was young), I decided to make a list.


Without further ado, here are the Top 10 stories from 2008.


10. Softball, wrestling and field hockey rules the day


Kylie Reynolds is sick.


The 2008 softball team stormed through the Mid-American Conference. Reynolds
struck out more girls than I strike out with girls. It just wasn't her. Senior
out fielder Kim Hamilton, senior Jamie Fitzpatrick and senior Jessica Toocheck were
amazing.


The Flashes also received help from senior Gabe Burns.
The Flashes defeated Ohio in the MAC championship and finished the season with
a 12-game winning streak.
The Flashes would lose to Michigan in the NCAA Tournament, but Reynolds would
be MAC Pitcher of the Year for the second time. She'll be a junior in 2009.


Meanwhile, the only Kent State team to have an All American was the Kent State
field hockey team. Rachel Miller led the Flashes to an amazing record
and took home the MAC title in the fall. The team would lose to Massachusetts
in the NCAA tournament, but the writing is on the wall. Natalie Barrett,
Miller and MAC Freshman of the Year Debbie Bell return next season.
Watch out.


Along with the girls, was the wrestling team--Jermail Porter nearly
became an All American while the team built one of the best records in the
country and
earned a national ranking.


9. The women's team plays on


The Kent State
women's team suffered a lot
entering 2008. After losing players before 2008, Kate Verhoff and Samantha Scull,
the women's team was all ready down to a limited roster. The team had lost Jamilah Humes in
the fall of 2007 along with another player due to off the court the troubles.


So given the situation, the team had plenty of excuses to lose every game--and
they nearly did--but they never were blown out of the water, even after Anna Kowalska went
down with an injury and missed several games. The Flashes largest loss came
to Bowling Green, which was arguably the conference's best team.


But it wasn't just the players who were averaging close to 40 minutes a game,
or the close losses that made this team a top story, it was head coach Bob Lindsay.
The coach who was in his 18th season and has 353 wins at Kent State and 200
wins in the Mid-American Conference, tore knee ligaments and was forced to
coach with
one leg, while wearing a jump suit and sitting on a bar stool.


It was the perfect example of a lost season.


However, the Flashes beat Northern Illinois in the MAC tournament in Cleveland,
which had to have made Lindsay a little happy, OK maybe that's a stretch. Because
of last year, the Flashes return an experienced team in 2009 and could be the
team to beat in the conference season.


8. American Gladiator?


James Ruggiero played football at Kent State until his career was cut
short due to a neck injury. He went on to become a teacher and in doing do
so, gained weight.


Well, he lost the weight, and then was chosen to participate on NBC's revival of American Gladiator (thank you writer's strike). Ruggiero, a Pittsburgh native and long-time friend of Kent State defensive backs coach Scott Booker, he accepted the invitation and went on to absolutely dominate in his first appearance.


He went on to be eliminated, but Ruggiero's domination in the first round made for one of the biggest routes in recent Kent State football history. Plus, he lost 65 pounds--and he teaches English. I would like to see this 6-foot-1, 216-pound tank teach Bill Shakespeare's
Romeo and Juliet.


7. Shamel Smith


Don't know him? Shamel Smith doesn't play football or basketball, but he was one of the best athletes on campus last season. Smith, a senior in 2008, was Kent State's
best high jumper and one of the best in the MAC.


The New Jersey native qualified for the NCAA indoor track championship in
February and went on to place high in the outdoor season. Recording a personal
best
of more than seven feet in one jump, Smith finished his career earning several
awards,
including MAC athlete of the week in during the indoor season.


To top it off, Smith finished fifth in the country at the Drake Relays, which
according to track experts is one of the biggest events in the country.


In all of my events I have covered, watching Smith go for his personal best
at the MAC Indoor tournament was classic. Never before had I seen Akron players
cheering Kent State players, while the rest of the building was clapping
in unity
before his jumps.


6. Chris Singletary


Well, you can't have a list of top stories without some bad ones. Junior Chris Singletary is arguably the most complete player the Flashes have ever had. He passes well, handles the ball well and even shoots well.


But he has that knack for getting in trouble. In January, Singletary was arrested
for a DUI and promptly served an embarrassing one-game suspension (embarrassing
because it was one game). Singletary received probation for the incident later
that summer, but his arrest created a firestorm of criticism and excuses on
why the player was pulled over.


Come on. He's a college kid that got pulled over for drinking and driving. He's on scholarship and probably needed to be disciplined more. That's the story.


But he probably doesn't make this list if the DUI was all. After what I thought was an amazing personal performance in the second half of the NCAA tournament game, Singletary took just one week into the 2008 fall semester to get into trouble again.


He was arrested for resisting arrest and a noise violation. Now this situation
seems to be more on the Kent police department making a mistake--this coming
from the fact the city asked for more time to prepare for the case and the
Singletary team saying it was violating his rights--we'll just have to wait on this verdict.


Let's hope that 2009 can be a spectacular season on and off the court for Singletary.


5. The Patriot Bowl mistake?


On
paper this looked good. The Flashes haven't played in a bowl since the 70s, so let's put them in one. The problem is that it happened in August and not January. Another problem was that Boston College was originally set to play in Kent after the first week of classes.


Dix Stadium would have been packed. Well, we think it would have been packed… it was when Minnesota came two years earlier. The Flashes would be taking on a young Boston College offense at home. It would have been interesting.


Instead, the Patriot Bowl couldn't get a service academy to play in the second
annual game so they had to go searching. Even though Kent State
is the poster boy for non-patriotic activity, the Patriot Bowl asked and threw
in money.


The school took it and the Flashes lost. Cleveland Browns Stadium
was as
packed as a K.C. and the Sunshine Band concert in a grunge bar
in Seattle. There were
hardly any fans there. The event was ridiculous and a shame.


A few weeks later, Kent State football coach Doug Martin
hinted that only playing one true home game in the first five weeks hurt his
team.


But they got paid up front, right?


4. Quarterback talk


Over
the summer, this was all I heard about and talked about from
other reporters
who followed
Kent State. Who would start? Is Julian Edelman the
right fit? Is Giorgio Morgan the gift from above?
Can Josh Cribbs come
back?


Well, given that senior Julian Edelman struggled a bit in his
junior year, even though he played on one leg, and while sophomore
Giorgio
Morgan played
well in
his freshman year, before he was hurt, the debate was on.


I thought Edelman was the answer then and I believe he ended
up being just that (but I'll get there). Meanwhile, I though Morgan was talented but struggled with pocket pressure (he was sacked a lot in those two games). Plus, with running back Eugene Jarvis back, why would we want anyone else but Edelman starting?


Morgan's chances of starting were probably over when he showed up to a spring
scrimmage late and was forced to spend a day exercising with
then strength coach Toby Jacobi.
Morgan went on to redshirt this season while Julian…like I said, I'm
getting there.


3. The men's basketball team


How could
they not be No.1? Well, that's because the top two were pretty
important. Meanwhile, the basketball team could have an entire
list to themselves, so here
it is:


  • The dismal performance in the NCAA tournament. I try to forget that UNLV game, but 13 points in the first half.
  • Al Fisher is MAC Player of the Year. He didn't have the averages you would expect, but he had everything else.
  • Akron game 1. The Fight that saw Laing Kennedy pull guys off each other and followed by Kennedy pumping up the crowd. It was one of the best moments in the history of the rival, but then I saw…
  • Akron game 2. Fisher hits a buzzer beater and you could hear every AK Rowdy's gum drop out of their mouths.
  • The MAC tournament. The Miami game, wow, that was close. Akron game 3, wow. Then the win. Awesome.
  • Mike Scott's career comes to an end.
  • "Q" wins the defensive player of the year. The easiest decision in my college career.

Then Jim Christian left for TCU. The dullest coaching search ever followed as the team hired Geno Ford. The Ohio native has been great. Then he hires Rob Senderoff, who is under investigation for recruiting violations.


All this and 20 wins in 10 years.


Kent State really is a basketball school, and the biggest story is yet to
come.


2. Julian Edelman: So good he returns punts


More
than 100 quarterbacks play college football, I'm pretty sure Edelman was the only one returning punts. Anyone who thinks Edelman was terrible for this team, you don't know football. After Jarvis was hurt, Edelman was the offense.


He rushed for more than 1,000 yards because no one can tackle him. He got
mad on the sidelines, because he was sick of losing. He flat out said he hated
when he was taken out of games. Heck, he probably wanted to play defense too.


But it wasn't just his performance. He had to learn how to throw again. He had to go through rehab, not to mention he heard Giorgio Morgan's name 24/7 on campus. He played his heart out every game, even though fans would never really come to home games.


By the end of the year, some were still asking Martin if he was going to start
someone else. Martin didn't like the question. People likely will forget Edelman in five years, but I won't.
He was the best college football player I saw Kent State.


1. Hush, Tyree, Hush, Evans


The
thing is, Tyree Evans coming to Kent State isn't a big story. But it was turned into a big story. Without going into much detail (check out Jonas Fortune's Akron Beacon Journal story or Doug Gulasy's Daily Kent Stater story for more), Tyree has been in trouble nearly everywhere he's been.


Now he's at Kent State, and in his debut he scores 21 points. The third leading scorer in Virginia high school basketball history is officially a walk-on. After being recruited by Cincinnati, Kansas State and was pretty much at Maryland, Evans' off the court troubles led him to Kent State via Motlow Community College, where new KSU assistant Bobby Stienburg was the head coach.


What followed though was secrecy. Evans was hands-off to the media, and caused
a big stir, which probably created more controversy than Evans actually coming
to Kent State.


The fact that Evans is at Kent State shouldn't surprise the hardcore college basketball fan, especially in a conference that has a reputation of taking on players such as Evans.


Since he's been at Kent State, Evans has been a model citizen and got his grades up. Maybe some people are cheering against Tyree Evans, but I'm not. This is his 1,000th chance and hopefully he'll
make this one count. JUST STAY OUT OF TROUBLE.


Stay tuned to KentSportsReport.com for a list of things to watch for
in 2009.



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