Sunday, December 20, 2009
Following are two stories of how to deal with a winning streak.
#Wednesday, December 16, 2009
One Patriot's lament
By Greg Garber
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Troy Brown walks, smiling, into the Renaissance Boston Hotel, which is a pooched punt's distance from Gillette Stadium.
Former Patriots star Troy Brown wishes the 2007 team openly embraced the challenge of finishing unbeaten.
Brown, who played for the New England Patriots for 15 seasons and caught 557 passes, is wearing a blinding piece of bling that goes above (and far beyond) most fashion statements. It's the ring he received after the Patriots won their third Super Bowl, XXXIX, over the Philadelphia Eagles.
He'd be wearing one with four huge diamonds, he insisted, if the Patriots had embraced their perfect regular-season run more openly during the 2007 season.
"We should have acknowledged the fact that we were undefeated," he said last week. "Tom Brady, myself or somebody should have stepped up and said: 'We are undefeated. It's a great thing. But we have a lot of work that's undone.'
"We spent more time and energy trying to cover that fact up and not really talk about it, [rather than] try to just acknowledge it and move along."
As it turned out, the Patriots fell one quarter short of an unprecedented 19-0 season when they lost to the New York Giants 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII. Like the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints of 2009, the Patriots' consistently downplayed their destiny -- to their detriment, Brown said.
"I just felt it put more pressure on us," he said, "and more tension in the room by just not coming out and saying, 'Yeah, we are the first team to go 17-0.' Every time that somebody interviews, just say it and put it out there and get it over with. And, boom, there's no elephant in the room."
What did that denial cost the tight-lipped Patriots?
Brown winced and said, "The Super Bowl."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
#Culture of hard work key to successBy Antonya English, Times Staff Writer
Published Tuesday, December 15, 2009
The unprecedented success can be directly traced to a culture, developed and nurtured over three decades, and based on the belief that nothing breeds success better than hard work.
In 31 years, Russ Rose has tried to instill that into every volleyball player he has coached at Penn State.
"I think all teams work hard," said Rose, the women's coach. "We have a culture that I work hard to maintain and try to keep people working hard all the time. And I don't care if they are mad at me, and I don't care if they are mad at each other. I care that we realize that the next team that we play is going to write a slogan on their T-shirt if they beat you. It's a lot different than just coming to work every day and being a college athlete. So you sign on for something, and when you get that chance to do something special and great, I hold them to that."
And he has held them to it. To say Penn State is in the midst of doing something "special" and "great" is an understatement.
The No. 1 ranked Nittany Lions (36-0) are preparing to compete for their third consecutive national championship this week at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa. Rose has taken Penn State to 29 straight NCAA Tournaments.
Penn State is on a record 100-match winning streak, which dates to September 2007. It is the longest win streak in Division I women's sports history and the second longest for any sport, trailing only the Miami men's tennis program, which had 137 straight wins from 1957 to 1964.
Yet "the streak" — as it has become known — is the farthest thing from Penn State's mind. When the team won its 100th straight match Saturday over Cal in the NCAA region final in Gainesville, the Penn State fans began chanting "100."
"Honestly, we had no idea what the streak is," junior middle hitter Blair Brown said. "They were chanting a number, and we had no idea why."
That is all by design.
"We don't talk about the streak at all," Rose said. "I don't know the number; it doesn't make a difference. We're not thinking about the streak. When you're in the NCAA Tournament, you need to win the next match or you're celebrating Hanukkah. I don't know the number. I don't care about the number."
When told the number was at 100, Rose said, "It's 100? Well triple figure is better than double figures for sure."
Others marvel at the streak.
"What's incredible about that is things happen during a season," Florida State coach Chris Poole said. "You overlook a team on the road, or you have a heavy test week for your team, or you have the flu going through them and you drop a match you really shouldn't have dropped. That happens to everyone. It hasn't happened to Penn State. … They obviously find a way to win no matter what."
The Nittany Lions have taken every opponent's best shot — and persevered. That alone has made them a better team.
"I think that's true; people said we have a target on our back ever since the streak began," Brown said. "I think it helps us that people come out with their A game all the time against us, because it pushes us to be better and to have to come out every single time with that energy that we need. We have to step up right away. We can't come out and be casual because people jump on us."
Rose credits outside hitter Megan Hodge and setter Alisha Glass as the strength of the team — both are seniors who have won national titles.
Just making it to the Final Four isn't the goal. Making history is.
"I think our team is very focused on our side of the net," Hodge said. "When we control what we can control on our side of the net, I think we're a very powerful force for any team. So it's kind of us having that mentality that when we do what we need to do, we can beat anybody."
Added junior Arielle Wilson: "Our goal this year was not to make it to the Final Four. We have higher goals for the season, and I think we're concentrating on that."
Which should be a concern for the rest of the field.
Times staff writer Brian Landman contributed to this report.
The hype before the game
With the correct strategic process and good performance data, Coach Russ Rose usually assesses the opposition by identifying their tendencies during the scouting process.
We presumed that he has positioned the team with a plan that is focused on creating technical mismatches against the opponent. As mentioned in a previous post, Coach Ross has prepared his team to align with his plan by explaining the reason why it will work and why their team will be victorious.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Win streak adds to volleyball championship hype
TAMPA, Fla. -- It's a week before Christmas and it's raining and humid in Tampa. Despite the dreary weather, the Penn State and Texas women's volleyball players and coaches seemed in festive spirits Friday, the day before their decisive national championship battle (Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2, ESPN360).
Before the day's press conferences, the Penn State players sat eating and talking together. They looked loose and relaxed, laughing at each others' stories and reminiscing over moments during the season. On the podium, coach Russ Rose was his usual entertaining, thoughtful and occasionally sardonic self. When asked if he remembered what it felt like to lose (the Lions haven't lost since 2007), Rose replied, "Yeah. I'm married with four kids."
Relaxed demeanor aside, the Nittany Lions have much at stake Saturday night. Their win against Hawaii in a semifinal Thursday was their 101st victory in a row, the longest Division I winning streak in any women's sport. They have been ranked No. 1 throughout the entire season and are one of only two teams besides Stanford to have been invited to the NCAA tournament every year since its inception in 1981. They have won 17 straight NCAA tournament matches, dating to 2007, and the win Thursday night was also Rose's 1,000th career victory.
Just mention those numbers to the Penn State players. Much like the NFL's 14-0 Indianapolis Colts, they profess that going undefeated wasn't an outlying goal at the season's start. Instead, it's been more about focusing on the match ahead.
"Our team takes it one match at a time," senior Cathy Quilico said Friday. "I can't say every match we know we'll win, but we go in and prepare very well for each match."
"We don't like to talk about the streak," added Blair Brown. "Before you [a media member] said it, we didn't know what number we were at. We don't focus on it, and like Cathy said, we take it one game at a time, especially this time. We want this game."
That they didn't know about win No. 101 is a bit questionable, given all the hype around it. However, Rose is pretty matter-of-fact about the reality of that streak eventually ending. He just hopes it isn't Saturday.
"Losing happens all the time. It hasn't happened in a while in this program, but it'll happen, and when it does, we'll work on the things we need to get better for our next match."
For now, players and coach said Penn State-Texas will be an intriguing battle, regardless of the outcome. "It'll be an interesting matchup because we're both so physical," Brown said.
"They certainly match us and surpass us in some of the physical aspects of the game," Rose said. "Juliann [Faucette] hits the ball as hard as anyone in college volleyball, Destinee [Hooker] has a high contact point. A number of these players we've recruited, so I'm very familiar with them. I think they're a very talented group and have all the right reasons to be in the position they're in."
Rose shied away from drawing too many similarities between the teams in increasing hype.
"I think maybe we're similar because the players are bigger players, but I wouldn't compare a 5-1 [player] and a 6-2 [player] and say they are similar," Rose said. "Each team has a dominant attacker and a middle attack. I think that the similarity is the teams have the same goals."
Indeed, Texas came to the podium next with a more businesslike tone. Coach Jerritt Elliott immediately pointed to the hype around the matchup, noting, "We know that this is the match that everybody associated with college volleyball wanted to see at the beginning of the year."
Texas has had an impressive season as well, at 29-1 and 19-1 in the Big 12. To return to NFL comparisons, much like the Minnesota Vikings, the Longhorns' one loss doesn't reveal many weaknesses. They are still very much a threat to every team they face, given all their weapons.
Earlier, reporters had fished for Penn State players to speak directly about Texas' Hooker, the 6-foot-4 three-time NCAA champion in outdoor high jump. While Rose pointed to Hooker's vertical abilities on her shots, he said the entire Texas team was a challenge.
Texas answered in a similar fashion when asked which Penn State players they'll target, drawing comparisons to earlier-season opponents.
"Nebraska is a good, strong physical team that we've faced, and Penn State has some tall players. … Blair Brown, I think that we've seen others that relate to those players," Faucette said Friday. "We've been challenged, but they are the No. 1 team in the nation and are there for that reason."
Some stats to note: Texas has made 60 blocking errors to Penn State's 41; Texas has had 76 service errors to the Nittany Lions' 60. Penn State has totaled 1,723 kills while limiting opponents to 1,167; Texas has totaled 1,446 while holding opponents at 1,149. The statistical edge slightly favors Penn State in almost all instances, including its impossible-to-ignore win streak.
"College athletics is about emotion, being focused and competing on a high level," Elliott said. "Russ has gotten that out of his team night in and night out. People think it's easy when you have talent, but there's so much more that goes into it. Hopefully his streak will end tomorrow."
/// When the attributes of strength, speed, and skills between two competing teams are equal, the coaches are focused on the team's will to win.