To: Lionel Andres MessiFrom: Benjamin Morris, professional skeptic, sports researcher and Messi obsessiveDear Mr. Messi,Over the past half dozen years, you have been far and away the best player in the world’s most popular sport, but we know you’ve been having a bit of a rough time of late. You’ve been dealing with tax evasion charges. You’ve dealt with injuries, and fallen to third in scoring in La Liga. Your club team Barcelona was unable to repeat last year’s amazing treble after being knocked out of the UEFA Champions League in the quarterfinals.And finally, following Argentina’s loss against Chile in the Copa America final – in which you missed a kick that may have been the difference in a penalty shootout – you seemed to indicate an inclination to retire from the Argentine national team:It was the thing I wanted the most, but I couldn’t get it, so I think it’s over. I think this is best for everyone. First of all for me, then for everyone. . . . It’s very hard, but the decision is taken. Now I will not try more and there will be no going back.We’re not entirely sure what you meant by this, and I hope by the time this letter reaches you, you’ll have relented. But, just in case: Retiring is a terrible idea.Of course you don’t owe anyone anything, and you can do what you want. But here’s why you shouldn’t:You missed a damn free throw.Look, you screwed up. You missed a penalty kick that would have put Argentina ahead, and your team ended up losing. You also failed to put the ball on frame – thus violating the first rule of penalty kicking.But let’s dispel the myth that penalty kicks are easy. In the top divisions of soccer (the Big Five leagues and major international tournaments) about 75 percent of the penalty kicks taken connect – similar to the rate at which free throws are made the NBA (76 percent in 2015-16). But even this partly masks their difficulty, as penalty kicks are generally taken by the designated (and typically best) penalty kicker on each team.You’ve made about 78 percent of your penalty kicks, for both club and country. This is below the rate of some other top strikers like Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (who have made around 85 percent each), but is above average overall. For comparison, LeBron James has made around 74 percent of his free throws in his career (below average in the NBA) — and just made 72 percent against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.High-leverage misses are painful — had LeBron missed his second straight free throw in the waning seconds of Game 7 and the Warriors tied the game, it would have been a disaster, percentages be damned. But percentages win out in the long run nonetheless, and following this miss, you’ve now made three of your four shootout shots for Argentina, perfectly in line with your career penalty kick conversion rate.International play may not be as pretty, but you’re still the best at itAnother persistent myth in soccer is that you haven’t been as good for Argentina in international play as you’ve been for Barcelona in club play. While it’s true that the numbers you’ve put up at Barcelona have been mind-boggling, you’ve also played brilliantly for Argentina. To see just how much so, let’s look at some very basic stats: Goals plus assists per game played, for both club and country (excluding international friendlies). Here’s what we have according to ESPN Stats & Info data (which includes data from most club and some international results back to 2010-11, and from World Cups back to 1966): You come out on top, even though some players have fewer games and higher variance (the three other dots in your neighborhood are – you guessed it – Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic and Suarez). Of the players who have done worse for club than country, only Neymar and Robin Van Persie have produced within 0.1 GPA/G of the 0.88 you put up for Argentina.If you take an unweighted average of country and club performance, your 1.17 GPA/G easily tops all players, with Ronaldo second at 1.08 and Ibrahimovic in third at 0.96.Still not convinced? Here are a few hundred million other reasons to keep playing.So you’ve never won a major cup for Argentina. Continuing to play is no guarantee that you will. And no matter what you do, some Argentinians will never think you’re better than Maradona. International play is hard and high variance.But it’s also incredibly popular.You’ll be turning 31 at the start of the 2018 World Cup, meaning you could legitimately have two or three more runs on the grandest stage in sports left in you.Of the hundreds of millions of soccer fans who have seen you play, most have seen you in the blue and white.1Note your most famous fan isn’t wearing creamsicle. I think I can safely speak for all of us when I say that we appreciate seeing your magic on the international stage, even if it’s a long, frustrating and potentially futile struggle. Your play for Argentina has been the third-most productive on a game-by-game basis (0.88 GPA/G over 42 games). Of the 324 soccer players with at least 20 appearances for both (Big Five) club and country, only two have put together more productive runs: David Villa, with 0.90 GPA/G over 31 games for Spain and Klass-Jan Huntelaar with 0.96 GPA/G over 29 games for the Netherlands. (In fact, despite international soccer being notoriously low-scoring, the international version of yourself has been more productive than any club players save yourself, Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic and Luis Suarez.)As great as Villa and Huntelaar have been, they’re basically the result of the field playing playing “best hand” against you. How well have their international hot streaks have been corroborated by their club careers? In the Stats & Info data, Villa scored 0.49 goals plus assists per game in club play, and Huntelaar scored 0.61. You’ve scored 1.46. In other words, their combined club production still falls well short of yours.Your play with Argentina does affect your legacy. It cements it.But let’s face it: In Barcelona, you pretty much play for an all-star team in a game so unequal it makes Major League Baseball look like a communist revolution. You play for a team so good that you aren’t even the most productive player on it! I mean, you’re likely still more valuable, but Luis Suarez has had a Messi-like season.Playing for Argentina is your one chance to play a substantial number of games on a relatively even playing field.Of course, other players benefit from playing for what are essentially all-star teams as well, but on the other side: While Argentina is a decent team on its own, without you it doesn’t have the star power as Germany, Brazil, Spain or the Netherlands. Many players have been significantly more productive playing for their international team than their club team, and vice versa. We don’t always know which represents a player’s true strength, so let’s look at the less productive setting of the two for everyone:
RIVALRYPRIMARY DIVISIONTOTALSHARE WITH ABOVE-AVG. ELOSAVG. ELO Cleveland v. CincinnatiAFC Central8514.1%1470 Chicago v. Green BayNFC Central9122.01504 Chicago v. DetroitNFC Central9111.01474 GAMES PLAYED New Orleans v. AtlantaNFC West9214.11474 And perish the thought that both would be good at the same time — only two Bills-Jets matchups have ever seen each team come in with an Elo of 1550 or better (think a solid 9- to 10-win team).All that said, Thursday night’s game does fall into the category of better-than-average Bills-Jets matchups, somehow. Although Buffalo and New York each dropped their Week 1 games, Elo still thinks they’re both decent teams, with ratings propped up by a pair of nonlosing seasons last year. In fact, 2015’s regular-season finale (which Buffalo won to spoil the Jets’ playoff hopes) also saw both teams enter the game with above-average Elo ratings, making Thursday’s matchup only the fifth time in the rivalry — and the first time since 2000 — that each was above the 1500 Elo mark in back-to-back games.So if you find yourself watching a couple of teams dressed in kitschy uniforms fight over Rex Ryan’s pride Thursday night, remember that things could be so much worse. In the grand scheme of the Jets-Bills rivalry, this is just about as good as it gets. Includes all games through Week 2 of the 2016 NFL season.Source: pro-football-reference.com Kansas City v. San DiegoAFC West9329.01506 After kicking off the NFL season with a Super Bowl rematch, Thursday Night Football is a little less exciting in Week 2. First of all, it’s one of those annoying “color rush” games, the NFL’s excuse to sell a few extra jerseys by dressing teams up in garish monochrome duds. (But hey, at least people with red-green color blindness will actually be able to follow the action this year.) More importantly, it’s also Jets vs. Bills — the NFL’s fourth-worst division rivalry of the post-merger era.At least, that’s according to our Elo ratings, which gauge the strength of each NFL team at any given moment in time. Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, 29 pairs of teams have played at least 85 games against each other while belonging to the same division,1Why use 85 games as the cutoff? Because after those 29 pairs, the list of most frequent post-merger division rivals drops sharply from 85 matchups to 66, as we start to delve into pairings that haven’t happened since the NFL re-aligned in 2002. and the Jets and Bills are among the most frequent of those pairings, having played as division rivals in every season but one since the merger. (They didn’t face off in the strike-shortened 1982 campaign.) Unfortunately, they’re also both among the NFL’s losingest teams over that span; the Jets have the league’s sixth-worst winning percentage since 1970, and Buffalo has its 10th-worst.Even when the Bills and Jets have actually been good, it’s seldom come at the same time. Neither team did especially well in the 1970s, and although the Jets had their moments in the early 1980s — they made the playoffs four times between 1981 and 1986 — they’d already faded by the time the Bills assembled their great AFC dynasty of the 1990s. Both teams made the playoffs in 1998, but the Bills started wandering through the wilderness shortly afterwards, while the Jets have been about a .500 ballclub in the 21st century.So if we average together New York and Buffalo’s Elo ratings at the time of each matchup, they come out to 1475.7, the fourth-lowest average out of the 29 pairs of division rivals I mentioned above. (Only the Bears and Lions, Bengals and Browns,2Treating the old Browns (before they became the Ravens) and the new Browns as one entity. and Saints and Falcons were worse.) They’ve also simultaneously boasted pregame Elo ratings above 1500 — the mark of an average team — only 15.2 percent of the time, also fourth-worst since the merger. Buffalo v. New EnglandAFC East9116.51505 Detroit v. MinnesotaNFC Central9122.01496 NY Giants v. PhiladelphiaNFC East9636.51506 The NFL’s worst division rivalries (1970-2016) Detroit v. Green BayNFC Central9416.01488 Buffalo v. NY JetsAFC East9215.21476
Gabby Douglas (@gabbycvdouglas/Instagram)After facing a barrage of online criticism and harassment during the 2016 Olympic Games, gymnast Gabby Douglas is finally speaking out.The three-time gold medalist, who was heavily criticized about her hair at the 2012 Beijing Olympics, faced similar condemnation this year along with accusations of a lack of patriotism and poor sportsmanship. For Douglas, the recrimination was hurtful.“I had [to] take off social media before the Olympics,” Douglas told Teen Vouge on Facebook Live Wednesday, Dec. 21. “Then, after team finals in Rio, I Googled myself and there was just so much noise. First, it started with me not having my hand over my heart, then my hair, then me not being supportive. I was like, ‘Oh my God, I have no idea where this is coming from.’ It was hard.”Online commenters reignited the 2012 fury over Douglas’ hair during the Games in Rio De Janerio, Brazil, in August. One person proclaimed the 20-year-old’s tresses “makes me so mad.”Then, Douglas stood at attention during the national anthem but didn’t place her hand over her heart like the rest of her Final Five teammates. In reaction, a Twitter user deemed Douglas a “sorry American.” Finally, when teammate Simone Biles won gold in the women’s individual all-around, Twitter took aim at Douglas for allegedly feeling salty over the triumph.“Every single day, I’d come back to the village after every single training practice and I literally bawled my eyes out,” Douglas said. “I would cry and cry and cry because people were being so mean.”The judgment visibly took a toll on the gymnast towards the end of the Olympics, when USA Today reported Douglas seemed to be holding back tears as she scrolled through her phone.Douglas also addressed criticism about her serious demeanor during the 2016 Games, noting she had simply grown up since she last competed in the Olympics at age 16.“Going from 2012, I was this smiley, bubbly Gabby,” she explained. “And in 2014 to 2016, I was like, ‘I’ll be a little more mature, a little more sass.’ And everyone was like, ‘What’s wrong with her? She’s not smiling, something’s wrong.’ And I’m like, ‘No, this is mature Gabby.’ I love to laugh, there’s nothing wrong with that. Just don’t put me in a category, you know? Let me do what I need to do out on the floor.”Douglas has advice for other people who have dealt with cyberbullying: Don’t change.“There’s [sic] people out there that love you guys and your life is very important and very valuable,” she said. “Always be strong and you can overcome it, you really can.”
Brooklyn Nets70– The Rockets shoot from (way, way) downtownNBA teams with the most 3-point attempts from 28-35 feet, 2017-18 Golden State Warriors84– Indiana Pacers107– Cleveland Cavaliers93– Portland Trail Blazers108– Detroit Pistons77– Houston Rockets178– DALLAS — The Houston Rockets, who at the moment seem to be the only team worthy of challenging the defending champion Warriors, just might be the NBA’s most unapologetic club.The team set fire to the record books last season by launching more than 40 3-point attempts per night, which shattered their own record from 2014-15 and was over six 3s a night more than the team with the second-most attempts. Yet entering this campaign, reigning Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni still wanted more, saying that Houston could realistically take 50 per game. Houston may not be quite that extreme so far, but they are on pace to become the first team in history to shoot more 3s than 2s — which is mind-boggling in its own right.Yet for all the attention paid to how many 3s the Rockets are taking, there’s been less attention paid to where, exactly, the club is hoisting them from, and the positive difference it’s making for their offense even if the shots don’t all go in.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/andersonspace.mp400:0000:0000:10Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/gordonhorse.mp400:0000:0000:09Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Going into their nationally televised matchup Friday night with the Pelicans, the Rockets were spotting up from a different zip code far more than any other team. Houston’s taken a whopping 178 three-point attempts from the 28-to-35 foot range, according to data from James Jackson of ESPN Stats & Information Group. For context, the teams right behind Houston on this list, Portland and Indiana, have taken just 108 and 107 attempts from this distance which is at least 4 feet behind the line. But after those three teams, no one else has even managed to crack 100 so far. This number is unusually high for the 3-point-obsessed Rockets, too: They’ve already taken more 3s from that range in 46 games this season than they took during last year’s entire 82-game slate. Charlotte Hornets78– Boston Celtics93– Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group Team3-point Attempts Miami Heat70– Of course, it’s not like Houston — which entered Friday as the No. 2 seed, at 34-12 — is regularly canning these looks. The Rockets are connecting on just under 30 percent of their shots from that deep,1When the Rockets take 3s from above the break, their average shot distance is 25.8 feet from the basket, the second-farthest in the NBA. a far cry from the 36 percent league-average mark from 3-point range in general.Still, there are several reasons that those shots help the team even if they don’t go in, and just about all of those reasons stem from the spacing these long shots create. Chris Paul and James Harden certainly benefit from the extra room, and they already rank among the NBA’s best playmakers, even without the help.Watch this pick-and-roll play against Utah, where Paul comes down and finds big man Clint Capela for a dunk. Jazz swingman Joe Johnson was prepared to help at the rim, but began scrambling back toward sharpshooter Ryan Anderson, even though he was standing nearly 30 feet from the basket. Johnson’s recognition that Anderson can make shots from that distance was enough to send him rushing away from Capela.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/spreadpr.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Capela, who’s in the middle of his best season and is currently leading the NBA in field-goal percentage, has been perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the additional spacing. Harden and Paul, two of the best no-look passers, have had a field day throwing him lobs (He’s second in the league in dunks). His average shot attempt this season is coming fewer than 2 feet from the basket.“Having all that extra space definitely enhances Clint’s game,” said D’Antoni, who told me he gave a handful of players (namely Anderson, Harden and Eric Gordon) the green light last season to experiment with the longer 3-point tries.The importance of Capela’s vertical floor-spacing role within the offense can’t be overstated. For starters, the Rockets run an NBA-high 62 direct2Meaning an action that led directly to a shot, foul or change of possession. pick-and-rolls per 100 possessions, according to Second Spectrum and NBA Advanced Stats, meaning he’s involved in dozens of scoring opportunities each game, with both Paul and Harden. One thing worth noting about this trio: Paul, Harden and Capela have led the Rockets to a 19-0 mark this season when all three suit up and play. The team is just 15-12 when one or more of them doesn’t play.When I asked Paul what it’s like playing in an offense with so much space, he explained that he’s still learning to adjust to how open some of his teammates are. “My friends joke with me and tell me I’m a new player now, but it’s a cool way to play,” he told me. “Nobody argues about shots or anything. When you see us get frustrated, a lot of the time it’s because we’re not defending. The offense is free-flowing, and guys just let (long shots) go.”Giving players like Paul and Harden more space to work with is almost cruel. A weak-side defender’s inability to help leaves primary stoppers on an island, and the star point guards are happy to take their chances with those matchups. The result so far: The Rockets go 1-on-1 more than any other NBA team and are the league’s most efficient isolation team by a wide margin.3Their current scoring rate is the highest on record in the Synergy Sports database, which goes back 14 years. Similarly, Harden and Paul rank No. 1 and No. 2 in isolation efficiency among those who go 1-on-1 at least three times per contest. (Harden is somehow scoring nearly 53 percent of the time in iso scenarios to this point.)But the isolation plays are just one way the extra spacing has helped Harden this year, after he showed himself to be perhaps the NBA’s best passer last season. The extra room has also enabled him to toy with defenses at times. In this first video of the Rockets playing against Sacramento, Harden draws three defenders at once — two of whom run into each other — and feeds the ball to Capela after the Kings fail to account for him in the paint. Less than two minutes later, knowing that the defense won’t make the same mistake and leave Capela open again, Harden makes it look as if he’s going to throw the ball back to his center but instead swings the ball to a wide-open Anderson, who’s waiting 5 feet above the top of the key.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/capelakings.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/andersonkings.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.In just those two plays, the Rockets illustrate how easily they can break a defense. If you pay too much attention to Harden or Paul, they’ll simply go over the top to Capela. Pay too much attention to someone cutting through the paint? There’s a good chance it’s going to cost you 3 points, given the caliber of shooters they have lining the perimeter. And it goes without saying that if you neglect Harden or Paul driving into the paint, Houston will either score or draw a shooting foul, which the Rockets do better than anyone.All of this explains why Anderson likes to stand so far off the line: It forces the defender to make a choice: Am I going to come out and guard him up to 30 feet from the basket and be too far away to provide help on James or Paul, or do I want to be in position to guard against the drive and risk letting Anderson or Gordon get an open 3 from basically another county?“I kind of like shooting it from that deep. Most times, no one wants to come out that far, so it feels kind of like a free throw, where there’s no pressure,” said Anderson, who was prodded by D’Antoni to start taking that shot based on what his coach had seen in shootarounds and practices. “And if they do hug up on me, like Harrison Barnes was doing tonight, all it does is leave room for James and Chris.” (Harden finished Wednesday’s game with 25 points, 13 assists and one turnover.)You might think this sort of dilemma might send a defense scrambling, but opposing teams sometimes treat the court like a minefield: Often they’re a bit too confused about who they should shade toward and wind up unwilling to make a definitive step in any direction. Houston’s opponents move at the league’s seventh-slowest rate on defense, according to Second Spectrum. On the flip side, the Rockets know exactly what they want to do when they have an open look, regardless of how far away they may be from the basket.“They’re really comfortable out there,” D’Antoni said of his players, who get more wide-open 3s per game than any other team. “If it’s just as comfortable [as a shorter 3], why not shoot it? I’m willing to live with that.”
Life as a longtime “Jeopardy!” champion is a strange one, chronologically speaking. Holzhauer has been watching the world wonder when his streak will end, all the while knowing exactly when it would happen. On its taping dates, the show records five episodes back-to-back, with just a change of clothes in between. The episodes don’t air until much later. If he could alter time, maybe buy a time machine with that $2,462,216, would he have approached the game any differently?“The only things I would do differently from the start of my run: never wear a sport coat, which interfered a little with my buzzer form, and use gel insoles in my dress shoes,” Holzhauer said.“Both were fixed by the second taping day.” Note: This article discusses the results of the June 3, 2019, episode of “Jeopardy!”James Holzhauer claims not to remember many particulars of how he lost on “Jeopardy!” for the first time, other than that he blanked on a clue about the city of Albany and his opponent quickly took control of the board, landing a game-changing Daily Double. Before long, it was all over. Monday’s episode marked the end of Holzhauer’s two-month reign as one of the winningest, and certainly the most radical, champions in the decades-long history of the trivia game show “Jeopardy!”Holzhauer finished Monday’s game in second place with $24,799 behind Emma Boettcher’s $46,801. But during his 32-win run, he averaged about $77,000 per game — an average nearly identical to the record for the single richest game ever played before he took the podium in early April. In the process, he laid claim to the entirety of the top 10 highest-scoring games of all time, including one single half-hour haul of $131,127. It was a historic run driven by immaculate trivia knowledge, disciplined strategy and calculated aggression.But other records will forever remain just out of reach. Holzhauer’s streak ended with total winnings of $2,462,216 — less than $60,000 shy of Ken Jennings’s record $2,520,700 which was amassed over a nearly incomprehensible 74 straight wins in 2004. Holzhauer will sit second on the all-time money list until the arrival of some other great champion. (Or he might sit there forever, which seems more likely.)1These records are for the show’s “regular season” play, ignoring its occasional special tournaments.“I played every day exactly according to my game plan, so I have no regrets,” Holzhauer told FiveThirtyEight a few days before the fateful episode aired. Holzhauer rewrote swaths of the show’s record books. But his biggest contribution may be to “Jeopardy!” strategy. Holzhauer exploited the game’s Daily Doubles to their fullest, hunting them down and betting big on them. Over his 32 wins (and one loss), Holzhauer — a professional sports bettor from Vegas — not only got significantly richer but likely changed how the venerable game show will be played. Holzhauer was such an effective and alien force that opponents began to mimic his style out of desperation, like growling at a hungry lion in hopes of scaring it away. They hopped wildly around the game’s board whenever they could, picking big-dollar clues early, searching madly for the Daily Doubles and betting big when they found them — just the sort of unalloyed aggression that had quickly become Holzhauer’s trademark and the fuel for his success.“Many of my opponents played like I do, but I’m not sure they would have done so without provocation,” Holzhauer said. “You don’t want to inadvertently make your opponents play a better strategy. In a sense, I may have helped bring about my own downfall.” The insoles seem to have worked. Holzhauer has earned a spot in the pantheon of the “Jeopardy!” greats, and he gives himself prominent placement there. “I think there is a nebulous top three of Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter and me,” he said. “Ken’s 74-game streak remains the most impressive achievement in the show’s history.”Rutter is no slouch, either — he has won more money than any other “Jeopardy!” contestant, and he’s a man who has never lost to a human. Rutter’s initial winning streak was ended by the show’s rules at the time, which limited a defending champion to five appearances. But between those appearances and the show’s Tournament of Champions, Ultimate Tournament of Champions and Million Dollar Masters, Rutter won $4,688,436. (Here’s a free idea for the “Jeopardy!” producers: Holzhauer vs. Jennings vs. Rutter in the Ultimate Tournament of Ultimate Champions.)A couple of days after we first emailed, however, Holzhauer followed up to amend his initial assessment. “Amidst all the people comparing me to Ken and Brad, I totally forgot about the two greatest Jeopardy champions of all time: Cindy Stowell, who won six games while dying of cancer, and Eddie Timanus, who’s … blind and was an undefeated five-time champ in his initial run. It’s impossible for me to compare myself to them, so perhaps they should be in their own category.”Holzhauer’s plan for now is a return to normalcy. “The 19-year-old version of James would be thrilled by the opportunities” that the winning streak has brought his way, “but married parent James is hoping to keep his home life settled.”The game that made him famous, however, has been left unsettled. Lots of esteemed competitive pursuits have been “broken” lately. Baseball. Basketball. Even the spelling bee just last week. An innovative strategy or an outlier talent can deeply alter the games we’ve played for decades. In the process, the cadence or tenor of the game might be rendered unrecognizable for someone who hadn’t seen it in a few years. These innovative strategies are often driven by mathematical analysis, data and statistical rigor — things that a sports bettor from Vegas must embrace in order to eat. I asked Holzhauer if “Jeopardy!” now belonged in this category of sabermetrically altered pursuits.“I can see the parallels, for sure,” he said. “At its heart, all these shifts are just attempts to increase your chances of winning. Why would anyone not want to maximize their chances?”Plenty of outlets have written that, thanks to Holzhauer, “Jeopardy!” is now broken. But there’s art in that. While the game may look a bit different than it did before, it may also be closer to perfection — to an ideal expression of trivia game-show strategy. Broken is beautiful. From ABC News:
Ohio State women’s lacrosse coach Alexis Venechanos and Samuel L. Jackson might have a little something in common. “She reminds me of ‘Coach Carter’ and that’s my favorite movie,” said Gabby Capuzzi, junior midfielder and team captain. Ken Carter is a tough-love high school basketball coach portrayed by Jackson in the 2005 film. Mental toughness is something Venechanos focuses on every week in practice, Capuzzi said. Each week there is a new “mental toughness challenge” during practice, and the player who wins the challenge wears a construction worker’s vest the following week during workouts. Venechanos, 30, is in the middle of her first season at the helm of OSU women’s lacrosse. She is just the second coach in the program’s history, which began in 1996. Former coach Sue Stimmel led the Buckeyes for 15 seasons and compiled a 122-111 at OSU. Stimmel resigned last May to pursue other professional opportunities. This season has been about introducing philosophies and getting players dedicated to bringing the program back to prominence, Venechanos said. “We aim to empower our student athletes to be the best they can be,” she said. “We challenge them every day and look to improve.” Senior midfielder Maghan Beaudrault said Venechanos’ philosophy blends aspects of men’s and women’s lacrosse, particularly on offense. “It has been a breath of fresh air,” she said, “something new.” Before coming to OSU, Venechanos led the Massachusetts women’s team through four seasons, from 2007 to 2010, and was an assistant at Northwestern from 2004 to 2006. When Venechanos first took over at Massachusetts, the program had not qualified for the NCAA Tournament in more than 20 seasons. By her third season, in 2009, the Minutewomen returned to the postseason, and also appeared for a second consecutive time in 2010. The Buckeyes have not played in the NCAA Tournament since 2003. However, Venechanos said she envisions a similar turnaround at OSU like the one she conducted at Massachusetts. “We have a program full of strong people and a strong base,” she said. The team is 6-4, with a 0-1 record in the American Lacrosse Conference, which Venechanos considers the strongest conference in the nation. With five games remaining for OSU, four of which are against conference opponents, Venechanos said a return to the NCAA Tournament this year is still possible. A berth in the semifinals or championship during the ALC Tournament should garner consideration for an at-large NCAA berth, she said. In any event, both Capuzzi and Beaudrault are both excited about the future of the program under Venechanos. “She is tough and pushes us to reach high potential,” Capuzzi said. “The future is bright for the program.” Beaudrault said she is happy to have been a part of the beginning of the process and that she will be proud to look back at the program in a couple of years. “I’m confident the program will be taken to levels we never thought of before,” she said. The OSU women’s lacrosse team continues ALC play against Vanderbilt on at noon Sunday at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
While the summer is a time for jobs, internships and working on tans for many Ohio State students, it is also a great time in the world of sports. The summer of 2012 is no exception, with enough drama and intrigue to keep us glued to our televisions for the entirety of this shortened summer break. Here are a few things to watch for. Euro 2012 (June 8 – July 1) For the reader at home thinking, “There’s no way I’m wasting my time watching soccer,” I implore you to give Euro 2012 a chance. Aside from the World Cup, the UEFA European Football Championship best exemplifies why soccer is considered to be the beautiful game. The best European soccer players come together as 16 European countries compete for the Henri Delaunay Trophy. Spain won the previous tournament in 2008 and also won the World Cup in 2010. They hope to become the first country ever to win three consecutive major tournaments. NBA Finals The Eastern and Western Conference Finals will come to a close this week, with the winners of each moving on to the finals. Regardless of who advances between the Spurs and Thunder and the Celtics and Heat, we are in for an extremely interesting finale to the 2012 NBA season. The Spurs and Celtics are two aging franchises, led by hall-of-fame players past their primes, hoping to capture one final championship ring. The Thunder are the exact opposite, a group of young but talented players trying to begin their own dynasty. And of course there is the Miami Heat led by LeBron James – the team and the player that nearly everyone seems to hate. James is still seeking his first championship after famously predicting that the Heat would win not one, not two, not three, not four… NBA offseason The most exciting action in the NBA this summer might actually take place off the court. Though it is not receiving as much hype as summer 2010, in which James and Chris Bosh signed as free agents with the aforementioned Miami Heat, this NBA offseason is just as compelling. It all begins with the NBA Draft on June 28, where teams will try to turn around their failing franchises by selecting prospects from one of the deepest draft classes in recent memory. The real fun beings on July 11 when teams can start signing free agents. Will Dwight Howard finally be traded from the Orlando Magic? Where will All-Star point guard Deron Williams sign? What will the Lakers do with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum? These are just some of the questions that should be answered this summer. 2012 Summer Olympics (July 27 – August 12) Is there really anything better than the Olympics? For a few weeks the country pulls together to support our nation’s top athletes as they compete in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Whether you’re watching the men’s basketball team attempt to defend their gold medal or Michael Phelps swim at his final Olympics, the 26 different sports provide something for everyone to enjoy.
Fueled by some early hitting and a strong performance from freshman right-hander Jake Post, the Ohio State baseball team defeated Marshall, 5-0, on Wednesday. “All (the offense) need to do is support this pitching staff and crunch out a few runs,” said OSU head coach Greg Beals. “You give that group of pitchers a four-run lead right off the bat, it’s going to be a tough ball game.” The Buckeyes wasted no time to take the lead, scoring four runs in the first inning. Redshirt senior center fielder Joe Ciamacco started the top of the first by singling to center field. After he stole second, redshirt senior infielder Ryan Cypret followed with a base hit to right center, scoring Ciamacco. After senior infielder Kirby Pellant was retired on a pop up, sophomore right fielder Pat Porter reached on an error when Marshall sophomore shortstop Sergio Leon slipped trying to field a groundball. In the next at bat, freshman infielder Jacob Bosiokovic scorched a double to deep left center to score the runners and put OSU up, 3-0. Marshall redshirt sophomore pitcher Kyle Kessler was then replaced by senior right-hander Matt Hummel. A wild pitch by Hummel allowed Bosiokovic to cross the plate for the Buckeyes’ fourth run of the inning. The Buckeyes threatened again in the bottom half of the second by putting three runners on base, but they were unable to get them home. A lightning delay in the middle of the third halted action for 40 minutes before play was resumed at 8:05 p.m. The delay did not seem to slow the OSU offense down, however, as they were able to tack on another run in the bottom of the fourth. Leading off, freshman infielder Troy Kuhn narrowly beat out a groundball that deflected off of Marshall senior first baseman Nathan Gomez’s glove for a single. A stolen base advanced Kuhn to second before redshirt senior first baseman Brad Hallberg was able to knock him in with a base hit up the middle. Ciamacco said that the offense is starting to realize what it does best. “Our coaches always talk about our identity as a team, and I mean, for a lot of us, we’re a whole bunch of speed guys,” Ciamacco said. “We just need to put the ball in play and let our wheels do the talking for us.” Post (2-0), tossed five scoreless innings, allowing three hits and striking out four batters. Despite a solid outing, the right-hander thought he had more gas left in the tank. “I felt like I could have went longer,” Post said. “Either way the coaches were just concerned with the gap, you know sit down for a while and pick it up. They just wanted me to take it easy.” In relief, the quartet of sophomore Ryan Riga, redshirt senior David Fathalikhani, redshirt junior Tyler Giannonatti and sophomore Trace Dempsey sustained the shutout for the Buckeyes. With the win, OSU improves to 21-10 on the season while Marshall, which used eight pitchers in the game, dropped to 13-19. The Buckeyes are set to travel to Lincoln, Neb., over the weekend for a three-game series against the Cornhuskers. The first game is scheduled to begin at 5:05 p.m. on Friday.
The Ohio State football team moved up two spots to No. 6 in the College Football Playoff standings, which were announced Tuesday evening, marking the second consecutive week OSU went up in the rankings.The Buckeyes’ move in the rankings comes on the heels of their second consecutive win against a team ranked in the College Football Playoff top 25. OSU beat No. 25 Minnesota, 31-24, on Saturday after topping then-No. 8 Michigan State, 49-37, a week earlier.OSU is the highest ranked Big Ten team in the poll for the second week running, while the Spartans checked in at No. 11, and Wisconsin moved up to No. 16 after topping then-No. 16 Nebraska, 59-24, over the weekend. The Cornhuskers’ second loss of the season dropped them to No. 23 in the latest poll.After falling to the Buckeyes, Minnesota stayed in rankings for the second week in a row.The Golden Gophers’ and Michigan State are the only teams currently in the College Football Playoff rankings on OSU’s schedule. The Buckeyes need just one more win — or a Spartan loss — to clinch a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game, where they would likely face Wisconsin.The Badgers currently top the Big Ten West Division, while Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa are tied for second with 4-2 records in conference play. OSU is alone on top of the East Division, with a one-game lead on Michigan State.Alabama climbed to No. 1 in the poll while Oregon stayed at No. 2 and Florida State and Mississippi State rounded out the top four.The College Football Playoff rankings were decided by a panel of 12 members, including Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, Lt. Gen. Mike Gould and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In total, the panel is set to consist of 13 members, but former Mississippi and NFL quarterback Archie Manning is taking a leave of absence because of health concerns.OSU is scheduled to return to the field Saturday against Indiana at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is set for noon.Complete standings:AlabamaOregonFlorida StateMississippi StateTexas Christian UniversityOhio StateBaylorMississippiUCLAGeorgiaMichigan StateKansas StateArizona StateAuburnArizonaWisconsinUtahGeorgia TechUSCMissouriOklahomaClemsonNebraskaLouisvilleMinnesota
OSU sophomore forward/midfielder Maddy Humphrey (23) runs with the ball during a game against St. Louis on Aug. 28. OSU won 5-0. Credit: Kevin Stankiewicz / Asst. Sports EditorThe Ohio State field hockey team’s four-game winning streak came to an end Wednesday when Miami University’s Henni Otten and Bea Dechant each scored twice to bring the Redhawks a 5-0 victory.Despite being outshot 18-4, the offensively driven first half gave OSU sophomore goalie Liz Tamburro a chance to shine with seven saves at the cage. Combined with the second half’s four, Tamburro finished with a season-high of 11 saves and 49 total for the season. The first goal was scored nearly 23 minutes in as a breakaway goal from Otten, with an assist from junior midfielder/forward Carla Romagosa. Seven minutes later, the Redhawks struck again when Dechant scored through a backhand shot, bringing the game to 2-0.The lead became three goals early in the second half when Otten scored her second goal of the game nearly five minutes in.OSU was unable to break through the opponent’s balanced defense for a goal during the remainder of the game, and Miami scored again at the 52- and 70-minute marks, closing the game in its favor, 5-0.Miami’s strong defense caused the Buckeyes to come out with a season-low tally of four total shots, three of which were on goal. Junior midfielder Paige Hamilton shot two of them, and the remaining two were by junior forward Brooke Hiltz and sophomore midfielder Morgan Kile. OSU is set to hit the field again for a noon game Sunday in State College, Pennsylvania, to face off against Big Ten competitor Penn State.