A Fan of the Game

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Column: Miami overhyped

This is the full version of my column in the Collegiate Times:

Column: Miami Overhyped

Ray Nimmo

For the last several years, when the University of Miami wins a game, the media proclaims the U is back.

And unfortunately for Hurricanes fans, the U never really is back.

Once again, the media jumped on the Canes bandwagon following Miami’s 33-17 rout of Georgia Tech last Thursday.

Jacory Harris

Miami quarterback Jacory Harris

Sure, Canes quarterback Jacory Harris was 20-25 with 270 yards passing and threw 3 touchdowns, but the Yellow Jackets’ passing defense ranks 85th in the NCAA.

In Georgia Tech’s first game, they allowed Jacksonville State quarterback Marques Ivory to be 23-38 and throw 193 yards and two touchdowns.

So before crowning Harris as the next Jim Kelly or Vinny Testaverde, gain some perspective.

The first game Harris played this season against Florida State could easily have been a loss for the Canes; however, it quickly turned into a Harris lovefest.

Harris threw two interceptions in the contest, bringing his career total to nine compared with 17 touchdowns. When Harris faces a real defense on Saturday, people will find out just how good he is.

Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster will have his crew ready for the biggest Atlantic Coast Conference game of the year.

Harris has only been sacked once this year and hasn’t faced much pressure from defenses. Expect a lot of blitz packages and pressure from defensive end Jason Worilds. The Hokies will get to the quarterback and force Harris to make bad decisions.

It will then be up to the ball-hawking secondary to make the necessary plays to shutdown Miami’s speedy wide receivers.

There are a few problems, though.

While the defensive gameplan will, without a doubt, be an excellent counter to Miami’s offense, the execution is in question.

The Hokies defense has not performed up to typical lunch pail standards.

Tech is ranked 77th in total defense. They haven’t been out of the top-10 in that category since 2003.

Pinpointing the problem is nevertheless difficult.

The young linebacking corps? Injuries in the secondary? Defensive line not living up to the billing?

What about the offense? Because of their impotence and consistent three-and-out play, the defense must be on the field for more than half the game. Look back to the Alabama game. When was the last time you saw a Tech defense that worn out at the end of a game?

These are some of the best athletes in the country, and there is no excuse for being that tired with the high-class conditioning that goes on at Tech.

The defense did answer the bell against Nebraska by not allowing a touchdown, and employing a bend-but-

Virginia Tech vs. Miami

Virginia Tech vs. Miami

don’t-break mentality.

Miami is not Nebraska, though. The Canes may actually have better athletes the Alabama and Nebraska, so it’s paramount the offense find a rhythm early to keep the defense well-rested.

This game has much bigger implications than the previous three. This one counts. No excuses. With Miami being in the Coastal Division and already boasting a 2-0 record in the ACC, this game could very well decide the Hokies’ ACC title hopes.

The players and coaches know it, though.

“This game might as well be the ACC Championship game,” running back Ryan Williams said. “It’s big for us. It’s real big for us. We have to come out fighting strong from the first quarter through the fourth quarter.”

Coincidentally, Williams grew up a Miami fan, and looked up to previous Canes running backs: Willis McGahee, Clinton Portis and Frank Gore.

Williams has the Miami-type swagger. He showcased it against Nebraska when he did his variation of the “Dirty Bird” touchdown dance—he calls it the “Dirty Hokie.”

Williams redshirted last season and didn’t take part in last year’s 16-14 loss at Miami.

He will be here this time around, in Lane Stadium. The last time the Canes traveled to Blacksburg, the Hokies destroyed them 44-14.

The Canes did take care of the Hokies in 2005, in Lane, 27-7—a game that will hereby be forgotten, but the Hokies are 4-2 against Miami the last six meetings.

Tech knows how to beat the U, and the media has forgotten it. Miami jumped in the rankings from No. 20 to No. 9 in the Associated Press poll this week. With that jump, they leapfrogged No. 11 Tech.

Perhaps someone should notify the authorities the Hokies are three-time ACC champions. Miami has won the ACC championship exactly zero times.

The ACC championship runs through Blacksburg, so don’t sweat the Miami swagger.

Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor

Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor

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September 25, 2009 Posted by | Football | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Gergen sisters not an ordinary duo

Wednesday, September 9, 2009; 10:01 PM

Two young sisters visit the Grand Canyon and enjoy a masterpiece of nature.

Jill Gergen walks ahead of her family, and the view inspires her. Noticing a chipmunk in a nearby tree, she smiles and meanders along the canyon’s edge. She continues ahead, looking left and right, allowing her feet to instinctively lead the way.

She is in no danger. She knows how close she is to the edge.

No fear.

Her older sister Jayme stays back with the family and carefully observes her younger sister. The more important masterpiece of nature – the sisterly bond – begins to exert itself. Muscles tense up and nerves tingle.

Jayme is nervous. She wonders if Jill knows how close she is to the edge.

Jayme expresses her anxiety to her mother who reassures her everything is all right.

As different as people can be from their siblings, the bond between them created at birth never goes away. It’s no different for Jill and Jayme, but that bond might be stronger than most.

“I won’t let anything bad happen to her,” Jayme said.

That sisterly bond comes with a side effect of sibling rivalry, though. Ask your doctor before starting your daily dose of Gergen attitude.

A game of dodgeball showcased the attitude. “Keep your eye on the ball” is the motto. Jill wasn’t looking, and Jayme pegged her right in the face. No “I’m sorry.” Just “That’s why you keep your head on a swivel.”

Never-say-never is an incorrect phrase for the Gergen sisters. They definitely have ‘never’ in their vocabulary, except ‘never’ is followed by ‘quit,’ ‘die’ and ‘stop.’

Jayme is in her fifth year as an assistant coach for Virginia Tech volleyball. Jill, a redshirt senior, plays libero on the team.

The two come from Topeka, Kan. – almost one thousand miles from Blacksburg, Va. How did they end up here?

The journey began for Jayme when she signed to play with Georgia Tech and started her career there in 2001. During her tenure, she was an American Volleyball Coaches Association honorable mention All-American, first-team All-ACC honoree, and Academic All-District selection.

She finished her career ranked second in career hitting percentage for Georgia Tech (.353), fifth for career block assists (426), and total blocks (473).

Jayme Gergen during her career at Georgia Tech

Jayme Gergen during her career at Georgia Tech

Meanwhile, Jill was anything but jealous. She wanted to be just like her sister. When she stopped growing at 5 feet 6 inches, the realization came that her goal would not come true.

“My mom wrote me this letter before a tournament, one time,” Jill said. “(My mom) said, ‘Jillian, you’ve got to jump out of (Jayme’s) footsteps and start making your own.’ I think that really just inspired me, and I think I’ve done a great job making my own. Hers are great to follow – they’re just a little too big for me.”

Current Hokies head coach Chris Riley was the head coach for Towson University at the time, and Riley wanted to bring Jill there. Unfortunately, Riley didn’t have a scholarship for the libero position, so Jill was left to find a school elsewhere.

She landed at the University of Nebraska-Kearney for her freshman year in 2005, but the experience wasn’t what she had hoped for. Luckily, Riley became the head coach at Tech, and she talked to him about joining the team.

Her sister, Jayme, had been an assistant coach with Virginia Tech the year prior to Riley’s arrival, so it was an added bonus.

Jayme as assistant coach for Virginia Tech. Photo is from her first year at VT

Jayme as assistant coach for Virginia Tech. Photo is from her first year at VT coaching against GT

“Everything happened the way it was supposed to happen,” Jill said, looking at her sister.

Not wanting to appear a coach’s favorite, Jill and Jayme decided to keep their sisterhood quiet in the beginning.

“We really wanted to keep that separate for her,” Jayme said. “It was going to be better for her experience to establish herself as a teammate and player.”

The sisters easily kept the secret. They sound alike, but Jayme talks much faster than Jill. They don’t look too much alike, Jayme being 6-feet tall and Jill 5-feet-6-inches, so no one noticed.

Since then, the two of them are easy to recognize and remember, but for different reasons.

“If you have Jayme Gergen as a friend, you’ll have her as a friend for life,” Riley said. “She’ll never forget you. She’ll always be there.”

When asked what each admired about the other, their eyes met, and, within half a second, all the memories and stories of their lives were unlocked.

Both of them said, “You go first.”

“No, you go first.”

“I’ve met very few people who have such a sunny disposition,” Jill said, “and are just so sweet to everyone. I think her personality is one of a kind.”

Jayme smiled and pondered her admirations of Jill.

“What I value most about Jill is her fight,” Jayme said. “It’s the size of the fight in the dog here. This kid has battled it out in a lot of different ways in life. She never quits. She never gives up. She just keeps working because she knows if she works hard, good things are going to happen for her, and they have … and she’s amazing.”

Jill going for a dig during a match

Jill going for a dig during a match

Maybe the most admirable trait both have is their love of their family. So many times people mention family as the most important part of their lives. The love these sisters have for their mom, dad and brother is palpable.

Jill talked about taking a characteristic from her family members and using them in all aspects of her life. She chose her dad’s patience, her mom’s persistence, Jayme’s dedication and her brother Jake’s fearlessness.

“If I could take a little bit of every single person in my family, I think I’d be superwoman,” Jill said.

Jill digging a ball

Jill digging a ball

If that’s the case, superwoman is a closet mathematician. Jill loves being a math major and teaching math to people who don’t understand it.

She’s finishing her undergraduate program in math and starting her master’s degree in education. Yes, that’s right, Jill wants to be a math teacher. The reasoning behind it, though, may not be what you’d expect.

Teachers used to tell her she wasn’t good at math, and she took the lowest math courses in grade school.

“When I tell people I’m a math major back home, they just drop their jaws,” Jill said. “I’m not good at it, but I love it.”

It sounds modest, but Jill doesn’t always understand the math at first, and it takes a while to click in her head. That’s precisely why she believes she can be a good teacher –  understanding how the student thinks.

Jayme also understands how players and people think. She majored in psychology at Georgia Tech, and it’s paid dividends in her coaching career. Trying to get a group of players to commit to the same goal can be tough for any coach, but Jayme does it well. Besides coaching during the season, she also coaches a club team in the spring and is the volleyball camp coordinator for the many summer camps at Virginia Tech.

“Jayme’s willingness to help people is completely based on her personality,” Riley said. “She’s going to be a great head coach some day. She’s going to win more games than I’ve ever won. Her kids will run through walls for her, no question.”

Having both Jill and Jayme on the same coaching staff after Jill graduates could be an interesting team, much like Seth and Brad Greenberg years ago for Tech basketball, but it probably won’t happen.

Jill’s passion is teaching, but volleyball is something she will always love. She is still considering coaching high school volleyball along with being a math teacher. The dynamic duo might not be completely separated after this year.

“I always told Jayme she should be a high school psychology teacher – that way we can have lunch breaks together,” Jill said jokingly.

Either way, the Gergen sisters will always be a pedal-to-the-metal pair, ready to take on the world – but watch out for cliffs and canyons.

September 11, 2009 Posted by | Volleyball | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Virginia Tech Falls to East Carolina

I decided to take a couple days off before I wrote about this loss. My emotions were really strained on Saturday and any blog I wrote would have been out of emotion rather than logic. So 48 hours later, I find myself thinking the same things I was Saturday.

27-22. The final score. ECU beats #17 Virginia Tech.

So much for the undefeated season! Well, that was not going to happen anyway (The last two national champs have had at least 1 loss). Let’s break this down and figure out what is wrong with this team.

1. Sean Glennon

After last year’s performance things were looking up for the redshirt senior. On Saturday, I felt like I was watching the first year starter Glennon making questionable decisions that a veteran like himself should not be making. I realize he has a completely new wide receiver core but he should not be worrying about them catching ball. Just do your job Sean! Throw the ball where you are supposed to, do ot adapt to these young receivers! Glennon’s pocket presence is still dreadful and anytime pressure comes to him it seems like he has no clue what to do. I do think I know what is going on. Last year Glennon and Tyrod Taylor were both the quarterbacks. Glennon did not have all the pressure on his shoulders; if he was not doing well Tyrod could come in and give a different spark to the team. But because of head coach Frank Beamer’s decision to redshirt the sophomore, pressure was put firmly back on Glennon.

Simply put. NOT GOOD.

2. Bryan Stinespring – Offensive Coordinator

The running game was looking fairly decent throughout the game but instead of sticking with it in the fourth quarter, the ball was put back in Glennon’s hands. I just do not understand that at all. Kenny Lewis, who has come back early from an injury was very productive. Give the big dog the ball in those situations. He is a big boy now.

3. Special Teams

Well, Tech’s ‘defensive’ special teams showed up blocking the extra point and returning it for a safety. But punter Brent Bowden had his first punt blocked which ended up deciding the game. He needs to know the situation a little bit better. It is the fourth quarter and you are backup in your own territory. The punt needs to be quick. This also goes on the line up front for not blocking well enough. Learn from it. Don’t do it again.

4. Frank Beamer

Coach, please take the redshirt off Tyrod Taylor. It is going to be a long season for you and Hokie fans if Glennon is the one and only. We need Taylor. Glennon needs him. You need him. He has a maturity beyond his years and that needs to be showcased. It is not too late. The season can still be salvaged.

5. Hokie Fans

After this loss, I saw a lot of different reactions varying from the ‘Kill Sean Glennon’ type to the ‘Glennon did great!’ Then Tech fans start to turn on each other on how they are reacting. I think it is quite stupid for this to happen when you are not going to change somebody’s reaction. Just let them be. Personally, I think it is good when fans go off on their team after a loss. It shows they really love their team (ironic, isn’t it?) and that really want them to do well. They have high expectations for the team. I also understand the people who just want to support the team. Positive encouragement is good, but that is never going to solely help a team out. Just ask any coach for any sports team above 13 years old. You must criticize to get better.

So, the season is not over. Tech faces Furman this Saturday which, in theory, should be an easy victory but should not be overlooked. The Hokies must figure out how to fix things because next week is their first conference game against Georgia Tech. 11-1 is still possible.

-Ray

September 1, 2008 Posted by | Football | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment