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"Every Rep Every Drill Every Day": Reflections on Women's Basketball's Breakthrough Season

The sports world is abuzz with the soaring popularity of women's basketball. Iowa's remarkable Caitlin Clark has developed a national following. She led the Hawkeyes this past weekend to victory in the Big Ten's post-season tourney at Minneapolis in front of a sold-out arena. By contrast, there are still plenty of seats left for the men's tourney in the same venue starting Wed Mar 13. 


Another example of the growing interest in the women's game came when Steph Curry eagerly engaged in a three-point shot competition with Sabrina Ionescu during the NBA AllStar Game festivities last month.  The WNBA's New York Liberty star held her own against the Golden State Warriors superstar who needed a bevy of late shots to narrowly win the contest.    


Women's college basketball in the New York metro area is also having a banner season. With identical Ivy League records of 13-1, Columbia and Princeton seem destined for a Sat aft Mar 16 5P rubber match for the right to earn the qualifying bid to the NCAA tourney.  (The Ivy League as a whole hasn't yet earned the respect of the tourney selection committee to get a second bid in addition to the league champion.)


The Ivy League tourney this year will take place at Columbia's cozy Levien Gym on 120th Street just east of Broadway.  On Fri Mar 15 at 430P Princeton will have to dispatch 4th place Penn and then Columbia will try to beat Harvard for the third time this season at 730P.  These games will be televised on ESPN+ with the Sat Mar 16 5P final being broadcast on ESPNNEWS.


Based on past record, Harvard is a more formidable opponent than Penn, but if the dream final matchup happens, it will mark the final appearance of Abbey Hsu in her home gym. The great thing about following women's basketball is that you can see the growth of a player from "the kid" - what coach Megan Griffith affectionately called Abbey early in her career - to the polished all-around veteran and candidate for national awards. 


Hsu gets plenty of help from the Henderson sisters from Australia, junior Kitty and first-year Fliss; the versatile junior transfer from Bucknell Cece Collins; and the emerging sophomore front court threats of sophomores Perri Page and Susie Rafiu. Heralded first-year Riley Weiss is also showing signs of becoming an important contributor off the bench. 


Perennial champion Princeton, coached by former UConn star Carla Berube, is led by the formidable powerful rebounder and passer Ellie Mitchell and sharp-shooting guard Kaitlyn Chen. Both, from the standpoint of this Columbia partisan, are fortunately seniors.  Madison St. Rose is another dangerous guard and she is only a sophomore.  


(ESPN2 is televising all the Ivy League men's games from Levien.  Sa Mar 16 at 11A, top-seeded defending champion Princeton plays the refreshing new blood from Brown, and at 2P Yale and Cornell tangle. The final will be on Su Mar 17 at noon.)   


Division III basketball, neither men's nor women's, gets very little press or TV coverage, but coming up this Thursday Mar 14 at 730p is a titanic matchup of undefeated teams, the NYU Violets (29-0) versus the defending D-III champion Transylvania Pioneers (31-0) from Lexington, Kentucky. The Pioneers are carrying a 64-game winning streak into a game that will streamed on NCAA.com/game/6285164.  (Smith from Northampton MA and Wartburg from

Waverly, Iowa, meet in the 5P semi-final but it seems likely that the true championship game will pit the Violets against the Pioneers.)  


The last time NYU lost a game was to Transylvania in last year's Elite Eight, 73-69. It is a testimony to NYU's perseverance that they have remained a constant title contender even though they were without a home gym near campus for almost eight years - the new Paulson Center on Bleecker and Mercer Streets was finally opened for this season on the site of the demolished Coles Field House.


I had the pleasure last weekend of seeing the Violets ease into the Final Four with convincing victories over the Hardin-Simmons Cowgirls from Abilene, Texas and the University of Scranton Lady Royals. Before the first game of the Friday doubleheader, a Brass Quintet from the NYU music school gave a no-frills but stirring rendition of the National Anthem.  They went two better before the Saturday final by delivering a septet version of the Anthem.  


If you are wondering where I got the title for this blog, it came from the saying on Scranton's warm-up T-shirts:  "Every Rep Every Drill Every Time". 

The slogan worked well on Friday when they eliminated the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays from Baltimore.


The Royals needed more than a slogan on Saturday when they tangled with NYU.  After a tight first period, NYU pulled away to a 14-point half-time lead and eased their way to a 73-55 victory.


Confident coach Meg Barber, a 2002 NYU graduate now in her 6th at the helm, is proud of her squad's versatility on offense and defense.  Don't blame her when she can send out such potent front court players as shot-blocking whiz senior Natalie Bruns; graduate transfers point guard Megan Bauman and forward Morgan Morrison; and sharpshooting junior guard from Mendham NJ Belle Pellecchia.  


Once again you can stream the game Th Mar 14 at 730P on ncaa.com/game/6285164.  And here's one more shout-out to NY metro area teams having great seasons:  The Fairfield Stags (yes, a women's team named Stags!) went 20-0 in MAAC conference play as they head to their conference tourney and beyond. The Sacred Heart Pioneers, winners of the Northeast Conference, are also heading to playoffs with dreams of more March Madness and beyond. 


And here's an idea to broaden women's basketball interest.  How about all you teams with Pioneers nicknames start a contest to come up with more original and livelier names.  Say you heard the idea here. 


More on baseball and movies and music next time.  But I wanted to give women's hoops deserved love.  Here's to good health for every team and some great competition ahead.   And as always, stay positive, test negative, and take it easy but take it.





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Hard To Beat This Time of Year: My New Book Arrives, Spring Training Begins, and Columbia's Women Cagers Fight For Title While Badger Men Scuffle

Copies of my fifth book, BASEBALL'S ENDANGERED SPECIES: INSIDE THE CRAFT OF SCOUTING BY THOSE WHO LIVED IT (University of Nebraska Press, official pub date April 1), arrived at my doorstep a few days ago. To open that box was an amazing feeling, seeing years of work and doubt turned into a handsome hardback with legendary scout Tom Greenwade on the cover. 


As readers will find out, Greenwade famously signed not only Mickey Mantle but among others Hank Bauer and Bill Virdon for Yankees and Rex Barney and Cal McLish - Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma McLish - for Brooklyn Dodgers and gave thumbs up to Jackie Robinson after seeing him play for Negro League Kansas City Monarchs.


The calendar has turned to March and starting on the 13th I'll be in Sarasota to check in on Orioles spring training, listen to some of the music at the Sarasota Jazz Festival, and take in the lush scenery for a few days in and around Florida's most interesting city. 


It's my first visit to Sarasota in twelve years.  I'll never forget chatting in 2011 with three generations of fans while sitting in the left field pavillion at renovated Ed Smith Stadium. It was during an Orioles-Phillies exhibition game. It turned out the father of an avid 10-year old fan was slugger Ted Kluszewski's grand-nephew. 


His father-in-law happened to be a Madison (Wisconsin) West High School graduate as was Wisconsin Badger forward Keaton Nankivil (one of the great names ever in sports). 12 years ago Keaton and his

teammates were a lock to be entrants in March Madness. By 2014 they made the Final Four and in 2015, the Final Two only to lose to Coach K's Duke. 


I will never forget how Kryzewski, mercifully retired now, openly addressed the officials on national TV at halftime urging them to call more fouls on the Badgers. They complied and not long after the title went to the Blue Devils, one of the referees was led into retirement.


This year, the Badgers may miss the tournament for only the second time in an almost a quarter-century.  At least, they may have found a coming star in first-year guard Connor Essegian, who is not only the grandson of Chuck Essegian, who played in the Rose Bowl for Stanford and homered in the 1959 World Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers.  On his mother's side, Connor E. is related to Robin Yount. 


New Wisconsin athletic director Chris McIntosh, a former football lineman under Barry Alvarez, recently told fine Madison sportswriter Jim Polzin, that cager coach Greg Gard's job is safe for at least a couple of years. I hope that's true because Gard deserves the chance to right the ship.  


Getting sophomore point guard Chucky Hepburn's head in the right place is an important task ahead for Gard.  As well as getting his recruiters to find more able front court players and bring them to Madison.


The Big Ten regular season is a fierce mosh pit and no wonder that no team in what is really The Big 14 has won March Madness since Tom Izzo's Michigan State over 20 years ago.  They beat up on each other for 20 games and then play an intense tournament.  It says here that they are probably too battered to make a good national showing. 


On the other hand, my Columbia women's basketball team brings a 22-4 overall log and 11-2 league record into its final regular season game on Sat Mar 4 at 2p.  It will mark the final home game for three senior starters Kaitlyn Davis, Jaida Patrick, and Hannah Pratt, and four reserves Sienna Durr, Madison Hardy, Lillian Kennedy, and Carly Rivera.  


An interesting sidebar to Hannah Pratt's story is that her brother Michael Pratt was the Tulane University

quarterback that led the 2022 Green Wave to its best season in well over a half-century and a thrilling

victory over USC in the Cotton Bowl. 


I haven't even mentioned the emergence of junior sharpshooter Abby Hsu who is on a watch list for national recognition.  She is an improving defender, too, which is essential for playing in coach Megan

Griffith's fast-breaking fierce-defending system. 


Tickets are going fast for the last Sat home game and are available at gocolumbialions.com  For the third straight season, Columbia will then head for the Ivy League tournament the weekend of Mar 10-11, this year at Princeton where the red-hot defending champion Tigers are determined to hold off Columbia and Penn and Harvard. (In 2024 Columbia will host the tourney for the first time.)


That's all for this post.  But one last note.  Virginia Woolf's "Room of Her Own" is closing

on Sun Mar 5 on the first floor of the main branch of the 42nd Street/Fifth Avenue Public Library.


It might surprise you that Woolf was a great admirer of Ring Lardner's baseball writing. She wrote in 1925 that in an America without an established society, Lardner understood that baseball served that function. 


I didn't see any reference to baseball in the NYPL exhibit, but I was moved by her 1927 thoughts on gender:  "All we can do, whether we are men or women, is to admit the influence, look the fact in the face, and so hope to stare it out of countenance."


I'm also happy to report that the opera "The Hours," based on Michael Cunningham's novel inspired by

Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway," will return to the Met next season with the same all-star cast of Joyce DiDonato, Renee Fleming, and Kelli O'Hara. 


The music by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts reminds me of Samuel Barber more than

Philip Glass who composed the score for "The Hours" movie of 20 years ago.  That's a plus in my

book.  In the NYC area on Fri Mar 17, the opera "The Hours," taped at the Met, will be on PBS.


That's all for now.  Always remember: Take it easy but take it, and stay positive test negative. 











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