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Playing Three Games in Six Days, Men’s Basketball Historically Thrives

The men’s basketball team is in Hempstead, N.Y. today to take on the Hofstra Pride in a game between two of the league’s three remaining unbeaten teams. For both teams it will be the second game in three days as this is the week the CAA has Monday-Wednesday-Saturday contests for all its teams. Sounds demanding but thanks to New Year’s Day being on Saturday, it’s actually a break from past seasons. In typical years, teams would play four games in eight days. This year, it’s down to just three contests in six days.

The current schedule became so demanding beginning with the 2005-06 season when Georgia State and Northeastern joined the league. The only time since then that the league hasn’t had three games in six days was 2007-08 when the conference tournament fell on the second weekend in March. Over the other four seasons, the Patriots have managed to put together an 11-1 record in those first-week-of-January games. But then Mason has never had to play more than one of those games on the road. Until this year.

The first season of the current scheduling format, the Patriots played at Northeastern and home against VCU and Delaware, sweeping the three. In 2006-07, Mason hosted UNCW, went to Towson and hosted James Madison, again with three wins. In 2008-09, Mason hosted Georgia State, went to Towson then hosted Old Dominion. Last year, the Patriots finally lost a contest in that stretch as they won at home against Hofstra, lost at Northeastern then came home to beat UNCW.

Two Patriots who are no stranger to the early-season stretch are senior Isaiah Tate and junior Mike Morrison. GoMason Blog asked the two about playing those three games in six days.

“It’s definitely going to be tough, especially getting our wind back and with the teams we’re playing,” Tate said. “They are teams that play really, really hard in this league. At the same time, we’re excited and pumped, we’re all in college, we’re young, so we should be able to put together enough energy for these games.”

“You have less time to prepare for each team and on top of that, it’s physically taxing,” Morrison said. “It’s more that you need to focus more. In the past, we haven’t had too many problems with that. I don’t think (the three games in six days) makes that much of a difference as long as you focus on getting your matchups.”

The two road games is a new wrinkle but as Tate pointed out, it’s just as much about the three-game road trip which begins today as the three games in six days. The Patriots go to Old Dominion after facing Hofstra, then they travel to Northeastern.

“These next three games might be the toughest since I’ve been in college,” Tate said. “I haven’t won at ODU since I’ve been here, I haven’t won at Northeastern since I’ve been here, and Hofstra… Charles Jenkins is always going to get his shots up and he always has good games.  So these three games are definitely big. We have to go into places where teams play really at home.”

The Patriots have won on their past two trips to Hempstead, including a double-overtime thriller in 2008. Mason’s lone CAA win over the Huskies came in their first season in the league, topping Northeastern 71-68. Mason’s last victory at Old Dominion was Feb. 28, 2004.


Big Surprise – Former Standout John Vaughan Appreciates Mason’s Defense

GoMason Blog was sitting courtside at the men’s basketball game on Monday night, watching the Patriots take on the Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens. We noticed someone else sitting courtside, someone with a little more basketball acumen and decided it would probably be more interesting to hear what he had to say about the game rather than what we had to say. So without further ado, here are some thoughts on last night’s game from former Patriot standout John Vaughan (2004-09). Oh, and a Happy Birthday to JV.

As a former player, I now understand the importance of the little things in basketball that were stressed under the great leadership of Coach Jim Larranaga. As I watched Monday night’s game against Delaware, it is clear that the defense is the backbone of our team. As we now get into conference play, the teams are very familiar with each other and on most nights an offensive explosion will not occur. I saw last night that our team defense has greatly increased from the beginning of the year. Although Delaware made some shots, I felt that the majority of them were not easy makes. Mike Morrison does a great job being a strong last line of defense with blocks and charges. Isaiah Tate has vastly improved his defensive technique and intensity. Cam Long and Andre Cornelius did a great job of making the primary ballhandlers for Delaware very uncomfortable, and I believe Delaware got away with a few traveling violations. Luke Hancock and Ryan Pearson are doing a tremendous job of crashing the boards. Overall the team defense has been a collective effort and has shown great improvement.

Offensively, the team seems to be gelling more together. Although I’m sure coach wants them to tone down on the turnovers, I’m very sure he is happy with the assists in tonight’s game. 14 out of the 26 field goals made came off of assists. That is a sign of good team chemistry and familiarity with one another. I was also very impressed with the continued efforts of the team in the second half to get the ball in the post to Ryan Pearson once he got it going. Mike Morrison’s post footwork has vastly improved as well, as evident by the drop step facial he gave that Delaware defender. It was good to see Isaiah Tate provide the spark off the bench on offense with his three-point shooting and attack of the basket. Cam Long also has shown great leadership by providing baskets at key moments in the first and second half. His leadership by example has really improved. I was also very impressed with the development of Andre Cornelius being able to run the offense effectively from the point guard position. Luke Hancock just always seems to be in the right place at the right time when a play needs to be made, he just plays the game with good intensity which leads to positive results.

Overall, I enjoy watching my George Mason family play and succeed. I believe this can be a very successful year for the Patriots and I look forward to watching them continue to get better throughout the year. I also want to thank the George Mason fans, alum, staff and Patriot Club members for their continued support and love shown towards me at each and every game. It is truly humbling and so much of a blessing to have the great support of such wonderful people. We are truly a family and I appreciate all of you!

John Vaughan

GoMason Blog Presents the Top 10 Mason Moments of 2010

What kind of blog would the GoMason Blog be if we didn’t give you a year-end top-10 highlights?

Here, in chronological order, is a very unsophisticated look 2010’s top-10 Mason moments:

January 30 – The men’s basketball team beats James Madison, 70-68, to tie the school record with its 17th-straight home win over a CAA opponent. In the process, the Patriots improved to 10-1 in the CAA, the best 11-game start in conference play in school history.

February 28 – The women’s basketball team tops Georgia State, 47-43, picking up its 10th win of the year. It marked Mason’s first 10-win season since 2005-06 as the Patriots also picked up their first two-game conference win streak in four years.

March 19 – Ashley Danner capped a brilliant sophomore season with a runner-up finish in the 100-yard breaststroke at the NCAA Swimming Championships. What did it take for Arizona’s Ann Chandler to beat Danner?  An NCAA record and the second-fastest time in history. Danner had three All-American finishes at the meet while Kristen Meier became just the second female Patriot to ever compete at the NCAA Diving Championships.

March 20 – Becky Anderson pitched the fourth perfect game in school history as she recorded 15 straight outs to beat Georgia State 8-0 in the second game of a doubleheader. Anderson went on to be named All-CAA for the third time in her career as she set a school record with a 1.29 ERA and seven complete-game shutouts.

May 1 – The men’s track and field team captures the CAA Track and Field Championship, the fourth in program history but the first since 1995. The women’s team, meanwhile, placed second, its highest finish since 2004. Grace Mavugara was the Outstanding Women’s Field Performer after sweeping the long and triple jumps.

May 8 – The softball team closed the season with a three-game sweep of Delaware, missing the CAA Tournament by one game but finishing with a 21-24 record. It was the highest win total for the program since 2005 and the fifth-place finish in the CAA was the highest finish in conference since 2002.

May 23 – Ryan Soares finished off one of the best seasons in school history by setting one CAA record and two school records as the baseball team ended the year with a 17-9 win over Towson. Soares entered the game tied for the CAA single-season record for doubles and the Mason school record for career doubles and he hit two to break both marks. He entered the day with a chance to break the school record for single-season batting average and he didn’t falter, going 5 of 6 to finish with a .438 batting average, shattering the mark of .420 set in 1985. Soares was a first-team All-American and finalist for the Wallace Award, given to the nation’s top shortstop.

Oct. 29 – The women’s soccer team just missed a spot in the CAA Tournament in 2009, finishing the season tied with JMU for the fourth seed and missing out on a tiebreaker. This year, Mason didn’t allow it to come to a tiebreaker as the Patriots beat Towson 2-0 in the season finale to earn the third seed into the CAA Tournament. It was Mason’s first trip to the CAA Tournament since 2007 and the Patriots brought their A game to Hofstra. It took penalty kicks against JMU to end Mason’s season after the teams tied at 1-1 after regulation and two overtimes.

Nov. 21 – Laura Sinclair put together a terrific sophomore season as she was CAA Runner of the Week multiple times, was named All-CAA and All-East, set the Delaware Invitational event record and was Mason’s top runner in every single meet. She finished second at the ECAC Championships.

Dec. 30 – Cayle Byers was expected to have a big year in 2009-10 but he ended up redshirting the season due to injury. He returned with a vengeance this season. Byers started the year 16-0 and beat the No. 1-ranked wrestler in the nation. His undefeated year came to an end when he fell in the finals of the Southern Scuffle to the nation’s second-ranked wrestler.

Gracia and Moss Turn the Tables, Going From Player to Commentator

How would you like to go to work every day and have hundreds of people, sometimes thousands, watching your every move and criticizing your every mistake? Wouldn’t you relish the opportunity to switch roles and be one of the ones doing the critiquing? Well that’s the opportunity that a couple of Mason student-athletes have had the past few months.

Ryan Gracia and Kimmy Moss have been both players and media in the fall season. Gracia played in the midfield for the men’s soccer team this year with a goal and three assists as the Patriots finished 8-7-2 and had a final RPI of 64. Moss was named second-team All-CAA after scoring two goals and handing out three assists from the back line as the women’s soccer team made the CAA Tournament and finished with a final RPI of 76.

Moss, who hopes to do to television or radio broadcasting in the future, has done color commentary for some of the men’s soccer Internet broadcasts. She also runs for the track and field team. Gracia, who wants to be a print or electronic journalist (preferably covering the NBA), has covered several events for Connect2Mason.

Both feel that being a student-athlete and having competed as well as having actual relationships with the people they’re covering has been a help, not a hindrance.

“As an athlete, covering another athlete, I know which part of the game is important to write about,” said Gracia, who came to Mason from Rockville, Md. Growing up in the area and loving basketball, it was natural for him to become a Wizards fan.

“I’m a huge NBA fan and I read all the blogs and articles about the NBA and I just really enjoy that style of writing,” Gracia said. “Whether it’s just something I continue with or a stepping stone, I think it’s a good start for me.”

Gracia has had the chance to cover Mason basketball, as he wrote the Connect2Mason story for the Patriots’ win over George Washington. He’s also had to deal with covering a tough Mason loss as he was on hand when the women’s volleyball team gave up a 2-0 lead over Northeastern in the season finale and lost, thereby missing out on a spot in the CAA Tournament. Finally, he’s also had the opportunity to cover some of his closest friends as he wrote about the 3-on-3 intramural basketball tournament won by Mason Soccer.

“Being a writer, you have an eye for the big plays and the most important things,” Gracia said. “You kind of have a sense of what the athletes are feeling whether they turn the ball over or hit the game-winning shot, you know the ups and downs of the game.

“I don’t think it’s too difficult (to be objective). Being an athlete and being able to understand writing, you kind of know what points to get at and what points not to get at. You’re not going to kill a guy for messing up.”

While Gracia chose to combine two of his loves, sports and writing, to pursue a career in sports writing, Moss has taken her main love, talking, and used it to work toward a career doing something she been a part of her whole life. Her father is Mike Moss, a long-time anchor for WTOP, the Washington area’s highest-rated radio station.

“When it comes down to what do I enjoy the most and what do I want to spend my life doing, I really enjoy talking, Moss said. “What had a big impact was my Dad being in the business. I kind of thought that it would be exciting to follow suit in that as well.”

Moss, who comes from nearby South Riding, has had plenty of experience through internships, including one with WUSA Channel 9. That gave her the opportunity to see every part of what made a TV station work. She also had experience at Mason when she worked several men’s soccer matches.

“It’s definitely hard to be objective when you’re broadcasting your own team,” Moss said. “You know them so well. But the biggest problem is you know more about your team than the other team. I would research for a couple of hours to learn the other players, but it’s just not the same.

“It’s a challenge, but it has its advantages. You can give insight that others can’t.”

Gracia, a junior, will be back next season for the Green and Gold. Moss just completed her senior season with the women’s soccer team but she has two years of eligibility remaining for track. She is weighing whether to apply for a graduate program at Mason so she can compete in 2012. So will the pair have to worry about saying something their fellow Mason student-athletes might take the wrong way?

“You have to be critical for both teams, it doesn’t matter who you’re for or who you’re against,” Gracia said. “You just have to convey it the right way.”

“You need to tread lightly around some sensitive issues or games that are going wrong in an athlete’s life,” Moss said. “But you’re not being fair to your audience if you’re not giving the complete picture.”

Who is the Mason Baseball Toughman? And Why You Should Remember the Name Zack Helgeson

If you’re not a college baseball fan, it’s easy to forget that there’s a fall season for college baseball. In the past, that meant games against other schools with stats and the whole shebang. These days, it means lots of intersquad games and individual work. For the first time, an MVP for the fall season was given out. Winning the 2010 Mark Gibbs Fall Baseball MVP award (as voted on by players and coaches) was Zack Helgeson.

A junior transfer from Pitt Community College, Helgeson had an interesting path to Mason. He signed with Maryland out of Hidden Valley High School in Roanoke but transferred when the Terrapins made a coaching change. Now he’s slated to start at first for the Patriots and bat in the middle of the order. Helgeson made a splash as a H.S. senior when he won the Power Showcase Home Run Derby. That’s the same event in which 2010 No. 1 overall pick Bryce Harper hit his 502-foot home run. Helgeson hit 8 homers in the preliminary round and eight in the championship round including a 465-foot blast. Here’s a Helgeson highlight video from the event (the bombs start about two minutes in) which included a shot onto the catwalk.

Fall baseball also means one other thing. It also means the Mason Toughman Challenge.

Now in its third season, the Mason Toughman Challenge has two winners – one for the positional players and one for the pitchers. They compete in nine events with 10 points awarded for first, eight for second, six for third, four for fourth and two for fifth. In 2008, Brent Weiss won the positional player competition while Shawn Griffith won the pitcher’s award. In 2009, Ryan Pfaeffle won the pitchers award while Chris Cook took home the positional players award. This year, freshman Blaise Fernandez won the positional players challenge (just ahead of Brig Tison) while Brandon Kuter and Pfaeffle tied amongst the pitchers.

The events in the Toughman Challenge are hill climbs, two-mile run, wall sits, bows and toes, six-inch flutter, dodgeball, farmer’s walk, step-ups and an obstacle course. The hill climbs seem straight forward but it’s not just climbing a hill as many times as you can in five minutes. You do the climb with a bucket of 50 balls in each hand. Kuter and Pfaeffle tied for first in that event with 23 ¼. The two-mile run Kuter took first in 12 minutes and 42 seconds.

The wall sit has a player leaning against a wall in a seated position (not seated mind you, but in the seated position) with a sandbag on their legs. Josh Turner was second in that in 12:38. Pfaeffle destroyed everyone in that event finishing in 23:08. Bows and toes has players on their elbows and toes to see how long they can last in that position. Cook won that in 8:09 while Leonardo was second in 6:54.

The six-inch flutter has a player lying on their back and they have to keep their legs moving and at least six inches off the ground. Josh Leemhuis and Leonardo dominated with Leehmuis winning in 21:02 and Leonardo second in 20:28. T.J. O’Grady was a very distant third in 12:44. Dodgeball was a team competition but individuals earned two points for a kill, two points for a catch and three points if you were on the court alive in the game when your team won. Dan Gerjets picked up 18 points to win that event.

The farmer’s walk had players going the length of a basketball court and back (about 190 feet) with weighsts in each hand. Position players had 60 pounds while pitchers had 50 pounds (the lower weight designed to keep too much stress off their shoulders. Dan Schafferman came out on tops for the position players with 5.4 trips. Chris O’Grady, with the slightly lower weight, won amongst pitchers with 12.2 trips.

The step-ups ( “we stole that from ‘The Biggest Loser,’” assistant coach Steve Hay said) saw Grejets do 376 in five minutes with Kuter second with 353. The final event as the obstacle course. That began with a cross country run, followed by doing the stairs at Spuhler Field, then came hurdles and cones, followed by the army crawl on the hill, then a backwards bear crawl into barrel rolls, followed by crawling through the tarp, then some more stairs and finally carrying two buckets of 50-balls each from home plate to the 400-foot sign in centerfield and back. Kuter won that in 25:32.

The baseball season starts on Feb. 18 at USC Upstate.

Konkol Advances to Sweet Sixteen

Earlier this month, GoMason Blog told you about the Shots from the Heart tournament being run by With a tournament-style bracket for head coaches and assistant coaches, the objective of the program is to help to create more awareness for the growing problem of Heart Disease and to raise money to benefit the American Heart Association during the 2010-11 season.

Coach L lost on a tiebreaker in the opening round to Vermont’s Mike Lonergan but Mason assistant coaches Eric Konkol and Michael Huger are still very much alive. After winning his opening round match against DeMario Slocum, Konkol has kept the hot shooting alive as he has yet to miss a shot in two rounds. Against St. Mary’s Rick Croy in the second round, Konkol made all 25 shots while Croy missed four shots. The final tally was a 31-25 victory (shots 21-24 are worth two points and shot 25 is worth three points).

Now in the Sweet Sixteen, Konkol will take on the winner of the Craig Neal (New Mexico) – Kellen Sampson (Stephen F. Austin) matchup. Later this month, Huger will try to put two Mason coaches in the Round of 16 as he will take on Santa Clara’s James Ware.

Speaking of, the most recent Mid-Major Top 25 poll came out on Monday afternoon and the Patriots have moved up one spot to sixth. Mason is one of three CAA schools in the top 10 along with No. 2 Old Dominion and No. 9 VCU. Cleveland State is currently first with St. Mary’s in third, Gonzaga in fourth and Wichita State in fifth. Missouri State (7th), Butler (8th) and North Texas (10th), round out the top 10. Drexel is the other CAA school in the poll at 15th while James Madison is receiving votes commensurate with 27th.

The Perfect Road Trip, GoMason Blog Style

Tomorrow the George Mason men’s basketball team plays its first road game of the season. In honor of the event, GoMason Blog put together its perfect road schedule for this year’s team.

The first road game of the year would take the Patriots to Stetson University. While there, the bus could swing by Lady Lake, Fla. and make a trip down Larranaga Drive, the only street in America that shares a name with the Mason head coach. Game Two would be a quick trip up to Yale with the Patriots staying in North Branford, Conn. where the team can walk down Caputo Road.

Game Three is another trip south, this time to play Savannah State and visit nearby Rincon, Ga., home of Huger Street. Konkol Road in Hatley, Wis. would be a convenient place to visit while playing Wisconsin-Green Bay. Game Five would be one of the shortest road trips of the year as the Patriots play at Virginia Tech. While in Blacksburg, they could take a trip down Lombardi Drive.

Allen Road in Southgate, Mich. is a chance for the Patriots to play at University of Detroit. On the way back the team can stop in Berea, Ky. and visit Arledge Court while facing Eastern Kentucky University. Mason’s closest home game would come next on the schedule as the Patriots face UMBC after a brief stop on Armistead Way in Baltimore. A trip just short of the Rockies will take the Patriots to Bennett Avenue in Bennett, Colo. and a contest with University of Denver. The trip home would have a brief stop in Indianapolis, Ind. where Mason could check out Cornelius Avenue before facing Butler.

Boston College is next on the schedule as the Patriots take a detour to see Hancock Street in Quincy, Mass. A visit to the Gateway Arch is next as Mason faces St. Louis University (nearby Saint Ann, Mo. has scenic Long Drive). Big East foe Pitt is next on the schedule as the Patriots head down Morrison Drive during a stay in Pittsburgh. The Patriots then head to the Carolinas for the first time as they visit Pearson Drive in Asheville, N.C. and take on the UNC Asheville Bulldogs.

Have you ever been to Tate Drive in Del City, Okla.? The Patriots head there next to face University of Oklahoma. While out west Mason swings down to San Antonio to take on UT-San Antonio while swinging by Vaughns View.

Just like there’s only one Larranaga street in America, there’s only one Whack Road. It’s in Greeleyville, S.C. and it gives Mason a chance to play a BCS opponent in University of South Carolina. The season is almost over as Mason takes a bus trip up to Williams Avenue in Jersey City, N.J. and a meeting with Rutgers. The longest road trip of the season is at the end as the Patriots fly to face Nevada-Reno with a brief stop on Wright Street in Reno.

OK, so this road trip could never happen, we know that. But give us some credit for putting together 19 games in 19 states. Total roundtrip mileage on the trip? Roughly 29,000 miles, or more than once around the Earth’s equator.

You know what? A trip to Lynchburg and back to face Liberty at 7 p.m. tomorrow on MASN sounds pretty good right about now.