Tag Archives: sports commentary

Support for teams can ensure achievement

Welcome back to what is sure to be another jam-packed semester of exciting sports at Linfield. Unless you live under a rock, you’ll recall that our softball team is the defending national title-holder, and its season got underway last week. Is a repeat title in the works?

The baseball program is beginning the season with high expectations as well, and the chance to finally break open the deep playoff run that’s been millimeters out of reach for the past few seasons.

And in sports news, the Trail Blazers had a recent piece of feel-good news that will have Portland fans everywhere bouncing in their seats with joy and excitement.

But first, our softball team. Last Wednesday, the reigning national champion Linfield softball program began its title defense, and what a defense it was.

Catball pounded helpless National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics foe Concordia-Portland in a back-to-back, 7-3, 10-3 beat down at the newly-christened Del Smith Stadium.

From the look of things, the team is picking up right where it left off last season with a full head of steam. Senior slugger Emilee Lepp had a padded stat line, finishing with five hits, six RBIs and a homer.

The fresh pitching tandem of senior Lauren Harvey and sophomore Karina Paavola had an impressive collective performance as well, striking out 14 combined batters.

Make no mistake, folks: even with many returning starters to anchor the team, promising newcomers plugging holes and a unanimous preseason No. 1 ranking, repeating as national champions is extremely difficult.

I think this team is capable of pulling it off, and hopefully come May, it can take its talents to Salem, Va., and play for the national championship.

On the men’s side of sports, the baseball team looked poised to have a breakthrough season. For the past few years the team has been playoff-bound but has always come agonizingly close to a deep run before running out of gas.

This season’s team received a lofty preseason ranking at No. 4 in the nation.

You will recall that last year the team peaked at No. 3 before eventually finishing at No. 9, and this year’s team looks better on paper than it has in years.

If it can play to its potential and stay healthy, Linfield fans might have double national titles to celebrate for the first time in a very, very long time.

Now, about those Blazers. Earlier this week, former Portland center and current retiree Joel “The Vanilla Gorilla” Pryzbilla has decided to return to Portland for the veteran’s minimum contract, a surprising move that has this writer giddy with anticipation for his first game back.

Pryzbilla has been getting back into NBA shape for months, and after passing a physical Sunday, he’ll be eligible to play as early as March 1.

On Feb. 27, the team will sign him and make a choice on which player currently on roster to waive.

If you ask me, put Greg Oden and his two bum knees on the chopping block and finally rid Rip City of his bloated contract.

It’s time to wash our hands of this “era” and the good vibes surrounding Pryzbilla’s return ought to more than compensate for the severance of this once number one draft pick.

When you really think about it, Pryzbilla’s choice is as inspiring and surprising as any I’ve ever seen. The Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat, two of the NBA’s hottest teams this season, were seriously courting him to shore up their depth in the middle.

It just goes to show that the love for a city like Portland can trump the desire to join a title-contender, and that Rip City’s fans truly are the greatest on Earth.

When Pryzbilla steps onto the court for the first time this season in a Blazers jersey, the Rose Garden just might explode from the sheer noise Blazers are certainly going to make.

With that feel-good story in your minds, I bid you adieu. Go watch some sports this week, both at Linfield and on television. Remember: fans are half of the equation!

Chris Forrer/
Sports columnist
Chris Forrer can be reached at linfieldreviewsports@gmail.com.

Blatant power protecting taints 2011 playoff bracket

I tried not to write this column. I really did. I sat on my couch and went in circles over it for an hour and a half before realizing that I’d be upset with myself if I didn’t speak my mind. I hinted at it two weeks ago in an article about the playoff bracket. Head football coach Joseph Smith has openly decried it. Analysts across the World Wide Web have scratched their heads. We’ve all come to the same conclusion:

This year’s D-III football bracket is broken and broken badly. Pundits have called this season’s playoff format a ‘Travel Bracket,’ in which teams from far out of region are grouped together, creating matchups between teams who have never before met on the turf.

The few supporters of the bracket say it facilitates ambassadorship between far-off schools in ways that aren’t possible in the regular season. But those supporters are few.

I can understand some of the benefits of building a ‘Travel Bracket,’ like getting to travel to a new region and facing East Coast programs with storied histories. But don’t be confused, folks: this is not a travel bracket. It’s a power protection bracket, no matter what the NCAA says to the contrary.

Perennial powers Mt. Union and University of Wisconsin-Whitewater have met in the NCAA D-III finals for the past six seasons, and their path to the Stagg Bowl has never been simpler than this season.

Consider their areas of the bracket, in which both received a No. 1 seed. The combined win-loss record of the teams in Union’s bracket is 70-9; Whitewater’s is 70-11. Those brackets feature, excluding the two top seeds, a paltry eight teams in the top 25 and only three in the Top 10.

That’s not a typo: half of the teams in Union’s and Whitewater’s brackets are unranked. They include such teams as 7-3 Benedictine and 6-4 Albion, who only made playoffs by virtue of winning conference titles in two of the nation’s softest regions.

For a perspective check, Linfield’s area of the bracket featured four teams in the Top 10, a combined win-loss record of 69-6 and features four of only eight schools to make the semifinals in D-III football during basically the last decade (Linfield, Wesley, Mary-Hardin Baylor and Trinity).

No team in the bracket has more than two losses and only one of them isn’t ranked in the Top 25. This bracket quadrant is disgustingly and blatantly loaded, to the point that No. 8 California
Lutheran didn’t even get a home playoff game despite finishing the regular season in the Top 10.

How can you call this anything but power protection? The NCAA is looking out for its two top contenders without even trying to conceal it. Beyond that, they’re making half of the playoffs
completely uninteresting by stuffing Union and Whitewater with cupcake teams en route to yet another Stagg Bowl matchup.

Top 10 teams get shafted, half of the bracket sucks and we get a seventh consecutive Union-Whitewater national championship; could this possibly get any worse?

Believe me when I say that this column isn’t a justification for the 49-34 drubbing the ’Cats suffered in Dover, Del.; that game was a winnable one against a talented Wesley team that Linfield just couldn’t close out. This column is frustration that even in Division-III football, where values, ethics and the love of the game trump scholarships, NFL scouts and Heisman trophies. Corruption runs deep.

I hope the NCAA listens to the chorus of ‘boos’ it’s receiving from the D-III community and gets its head on straight next season by creating a more equitable bracket. If Mt. Union and UW-Whitewater are so damn good they can prove it on the field against tougher competition, just like everybody else.

Chris Forrer/
Sports columnist
Chris Forrer can be reached at linfieldreviewsports@gmail.com.

Sports fans create needed game atmosphere

Hey ’Cats. It’s my favorite time of the year: playoff season. With so many Linfield sports (golf, softball, baseball and tennis) heading to the Division III playoffs and with the NHL and NBA elimination rounds well underway, there’s
never a shortage of good, hard competition to feast on in late spring.

On the subject of playoffs, I was lucky enough to land tickets for Game 4 of Portland’s first-round series against the Dallas Mavericks on April 23. I’ve been to Blazer games before and seen the raucous Rose Garden fans, but this was a beast like nothing I’ve ever seen. Every time Dallas touched the ball, “DE-FENSE” boomed throughout the arena: Every steal, every rebound, every basket was cheered for as if we had just won the NBA finals.

And then, when the game was on the line and Brandon Roy was dropping shots like the hoop was 100 feet wide, the entire stadium flew into a delirium that bordered on complete chaos. Being swept up in that emotion, that overwhelming wave of energy and passion, was a borderline spiritual experience for a long-time sports fan.

But besides going down as a game I’ll remember for the rest of my life, it also got me thinking. Portland is widely considered one of the most loyal sports cities on the planet, and as a result of that, the Rose Garden is among the NBA’s most difficult arenas to play in. But could this mania be translated from a professional sports team to small-school athletics in the middle of rural Oregon?

I believe it can, but not without first eliminating a toxic term from our vocabularies: “spectator sport.” “Spectator sport” is a lie in the highest degree. Sports aren’t meant to observed like a professor proctoring an exam; they’re meant to be participated in. Portland understands this.

When Blazer fans go to games, they don’t sit idly by and let the action unfold without taking a central role in dictating the flow of the game.

We, as supporters of one of the Northwest’s oldest and most storied athletic departments, can no longer afford to be spectators; we must be participators, actively involved in the battles that take place on the field or the pitch or the court.

If our team goes hard, we must go hard with them. If the players struggle, it is up to us to scream and cheer until they find the will to win. If one of our players gets fouled hard, get up and let the other team hear what you think about it. If one of our players smacks a home run over the far end of the fence, get up and dance in the bleachers like there’s no tomorrow.

Fans play a more dynamic role than I believe most people give them credit for and it is up to us to spread the word that Linfield students and fans will be spectators no longer.

Together, we can make Linfield a place that teams fear entering because they know what’s coming: a wall of sound and emotion that hits them in the gut and keeps on swinging. I get chills just thinking about it.
Our time has come, fans, and we must seize it.

Chris Forrer/For the Review
Chris Forrer can be reached at linfieldreviewsports@gmail.com.

Assessing ’Cats wrap ups, prospects

Hey ’Cats. I know what many of you are expecting out of this week’s column, but I’m going to disappoint you if you’re looking for a continuation of the hub-bub over last week’s article. I’ve decided, in the words of Paul, John, Ringo and George, to “Let it Be” and get back to basics this week.

There have been some exciting new developments this week in the Linfield sports realm and some sports have just concluded their seasons and deserve mentions here as well.

The women’s lacrosse team wrapped up the 2011 season this week with a tough 19-8 loss at home against Pacific. The game looked close early, with Pacific up 2-1, but a 13-goal explosion put the contest out of reach thereafter.

Speaking of lacrosse, I’ve noticed that interest in forming a men’s LAX team has been on the uptick recently, at least, if the guys who keep meeting over on the field across from the quad with lacrosse sticks are any indication. Another sports program here at Linfield is never a bad thing so those of you that are interested should drop by Riley and see about getting some info.

The softball team continued its steamroller-like run through the regular season last week by belting a whopping six homeruns in a game against Puget Sound this week, raising their season total to 80 homeruns. To put this in perspective, not only is this a Linfield and NCAA Division-III record, but the team still has 13 games left to play in the regular season to better its record, let alone make the playoffs. Wowza.

Junior Emilee Lepp hit her 24th homer of the season, tying her for the most in a single season in D-III history. At this point, outside of setting the top mark in other individual and team areas, there’s really little left for this team to do but keep marching toward the playoffs; it’s looking mighty likely that Linfield may witness the coronation of its first national champion since 2007.

Both men’s and women’s golf teams competed well during the Northwest Conference Spring Classic earlier this month. The annual tournament brought together every golf team in the NWC, and the women finished third while the men shaved off 19 strokes on the final day to capture the tournament title. The men’s team is on a heater this season, also winning the Pacific Lutheran Invitational and placing second at the Puget Sound Invitational as well. The NWC championship takes place on April 22-23, and if the NWC invite final score is any indication, we can look for the men’s team to make a run at capturing the conference title.

Last, but certainly not least, Linfield football landed a whopper of a recruit on April 5 in the form of Truckee High School quarterback Ben Bolton. During the past two seasons Bolton led his team to a 24-0 record and back-to-back state championships. Quoted online in an article from the Sierra Sun, Bolton’s local newspaper, head football coach Joseph Smith said he was impressed with Bolton’s arm strength, frame (he’s a tough 6’4” and 205 lbs.) and ability to escape pressure and move out of the pocket, the last of which being a necessity for head coach Joe Smith’s tricky signal-calling spread offense. Smith also said in the article that he sees Bolton competing with the other half-dozen quarterbacks committed to or currently on the roster.

The heir-apparent to the offensive helm looks to be sophomore Mickey Inns, who has seen mop-up action in his first two seasons and was also one of only a few underclassmen to be on the sidelines in uniform during the playoffs. Smith has stated the position is wide open and will certainly be a battle.

On the alumni circuit, I’ve been loosely keeping tabs on former quarterback Aaron Boehme as he begins his professional career on the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns of the German Football League. Boehme got the start in the Unicorns’ first and only preseason game against the Franken Knights and brought home a 33-23 victory. According to the former Wildcat blog, “Dude’s Days in Deutschland,” it was a solid game but both offense and defense had their issues. Specifically, Boehme threw for two touchdowns and ran in another, although his blog post indicates he didn’t complete as many passes as he’d have liked. I’d get some more specific numbers to put here, but tracking down box scores is a little tough when the team’s website is
entirely in German…

That’s all for this week, folks. If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a chess club and math team meeting to attend in Ford Hall. You know, the ones that all theatre majors go to. You stay classy, Linfield, and I’ll see you next week.

Chris Forrer/For the Review
Chris Forrer can be reached at linfieldreviewsports@gmail.com.

D-III deserves post-season tourney

Hey ’Cats! In the thick of spring, things really start getting hectic, don’t they? I can’t speak for the entire campus, but I sure as hell know I’ve had to slam on the gas pedal right after returning from Spring Break. It might only be the beginning days of April, but the sprint to the finish has already begun for many of us.

Speaking of sprints to the finish, how ’bout my Ducks?

This season, they exceeded expectations with a fresh head coach, some new assistants and a lot of young talent, and they got the chance to compete for a national title. Oh, I’m talking about their basketball team, by the way; Oregon does have other sports teams outside of football, you know.

In his first year heading the program, coach Dana Altman led the Ducks to a .500 win-loss percentage, and the team that is set to play Creighton in a winner-take-all game three of the College Basketball Invitational.

OK, so the CBI may not exactly be a national title but it’s still a post-season experience for a team that played at a level most didn’t expect to see this year. It’s not a secret that Oregon’s basketball program isn’t among the nation’s best, but this surprising run in the CBI garnered some national attention for a program that has taken major steps to rebuild following former head coach Ernie Kent’s dismissal more than a year ago. These kinds of tournament opportunities, such as the NIT and CBI, for schools who don’t make the cut into The Big Dance are hugely positive for all of those involved. The programs get to make statement wins over other teams of similar size and ability; young coaches get some tournament experience to bolster their budding futures; young players get a valuable baptism by fire into a tournament setting, and seniors get to be sent off in style and, possibly for Oregon, with a tournament title under their belt.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Division III sports had something like this? There are zero post-season opportunities for Division III schools that don’t make the NCAA tournament in their respective sports. What happens, then, when a team like Linfield’s women’s basketball or soccer goes beyond expectations but still falls short of reaching said postseason? The parity between what Dana Altman and new Wildcat head coach Robin Potera-Haskins did with their respective programs in a single year is staggering.

I’m talking comparable increases in win-loss percentage, scheduling games against high-profile opponents, garnering regional attention and exceeding expectations for what’s been labeled a “rebuilding period.”

But the sad difference between these programs now is that Oregon was still able to apply for participation in the CBI, and, through their mostly dominant run to their upcoming title match, has put a huge exclamation point on a season of solid improvement.

Where are the CBIs and NITs for small-school divisions? It’s not like Linfield couldn’t put butts in seats to make the tournament organization money. Our school has a rich tradition of athletic excellence and alumni would turn out in droves to watch, not to mention our always-eager student fan base. Plus, with the way junior veteran Gretchen Owens and freshman newbie Kaely Maltman were playing this year there’s a large chance our squad could have made a deep run into a Division III CBI-like tournament. And don’t even get me started on freshman Emily Fellows; that girl is a firecracker on the pitch.

Unfortunately, the small schools that aren’t among the upper-crust of their division have to be content with what they can put together in the regular season and settle for celebrating a good year rather than playing through February and March. If an alternative Division III tournament is ever going to come into existence, it’s likely to do so at the expense of benefactors and generous sports aficionados rather than the NCAA, which makes its odds slim-to-none.
But, as ever, I remain optimistic for the future. Until then, I’ll toast to a banner year for our women’s sports teams and keep laying my bets on our softball juggernaut to bring home some gold this season.

Chris Forrer/For the Review
Chris Forrer can be reached at linfieldreviewsports@gmail.com.