Monday, March 16, 2015

Anteaters and Flyers and Great Danes

Since "my" teams aren't even in the NCAA basketball tournament this year with a few highly tangential exceptions (I was born in Las Cruces, NM, and have always liked the New Mexico State Aggies, and I've rooted for the Oregon Ducks for years), I thought this was a good time to distract myself from my teams' plights and reprise my post of two years ago regarding my favorite college nicknames.

Here is the second ten of my favorite college monikers: 

University of California at Irvine Anteaters. The Anteaters make their initial appearance in the NCAA Division I basketball tournament this year. While the Anteater name is a little bit of California too-cool, having been chosen in a student election in 1965, it is unique and, unlike the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs, not completely absurd. Plus, how can you not like the school battle-cry: "Zot!"?

"Peter the Anteater." Peter seems extraordinarily well-
muscled and slim for an anteater. (photo from

Dayton Flyers. The Flyers are named, naturally enough, after native Daytonian pioneers of flight Orville and Wilbur Wright. Beats the school's first nickname: the Saints. 

Albany Great Danes. Also the result of a student election, also in 1965, the Great Dane was chosen to replace Pedwin the Penguin, the former mascot. You can't make this stuff up.

Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils. There doesn't seem to be any information on how the Delta Devils got their nickname, but that doesn't make it less cool. Plus, Jerry Rice went there, increasing the coolness factor exponentially.

Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns. Formerly one of Louisiana's "directional schools" (Southwest Louisiana) the Cajuns are another moniker chosen by a coach. In 1963 football coach Russ Faulkinberry changed the nickname of his team from the Bulldogs to Ragin' Cajuns in homage to the school's location in Acadiana, deep in Cajun Country.

Indiana State Sycamores. Originally the "Fighting Teachers" the students voted for Sycamores as their new nickname sometime in the 1950's. Apparently they had male and female Native American mascots but abandoned those due to sensitivity issues in the late '80's. Now their mascot is "Sycamore Sam" a "furry woodland creature." Can't win 'em all. But the Sycamores almost did win it all once.

Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens. A nickname with a history that dates back to the Revolutionary War, the Hens are named after famous fighting cocks that originated in Delaware and were know for their recognizable blue plumage and ferocity. Presumably PETA has yet to successfully convinced the school to change its mascot.

Murray State Racers. The Racers were originally the Thoroughbreds, but the name proved unwieldy for copywriters and was shortened first to T-Breds, then to Breds and Racers. Racers was adopted as the official name in 1961, although the baseball team stuck with tradition and Thoroughbreds or Breds until last year.

Texas Christian Horned Frogs. The TCU website boasts that the nickname has existed longer than the school's name itself, having been chosen by four students in 1897 at what was then AddRan Christian University. Turns out the Horned Frog is not in fact a frog but a lizard that, when angered, "can squirt a fine, four-foot stream of blood from [its] eyes." Don't mess with the Frogs. Lizards. Whatever.

Western Illinois Leathernecks. The only non-military university in the U.S. authorized to use a military nickname (which makes sense since there is no separate academy for the Marine Corps), the school has been known as the Leathernecks since 1927. It was then that Ray Hanson, the AD and coach of the baseball, football, and basketball teams (busy man!) sought permission from the Corps, in which he had served during WW I, to use not only the nickname but also its official seal and mascot (the bulldog) at the school. Salute!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Then Again ...

Did I overreact to the result of a friendly?


But examples of equal overreaction to the U.S. Women's win in the finals of the Algarve Cup abound as well.

Yes, the U.S. was missing Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe and Sydney Leroux in its 2-0 loss in a friendly last month. But Rapinoe and Leroux made mere cameo appearance in its 2-0 win over France in the Algarve Cup final last week. Meanwhile, the French were missing five of their starters in the match in Portugal who had featured in the earlier game in Lorient (including both starting center backs, playmaker Louisa Nacib, and Elodie Thomis who torched the American defense repeatedly in their first meeting of the year).

What can we learn from the second match? First, as hard as it may be to admit, the team needs Solo. She is athletic and commanding in the box. She made a good save on the late penalty kick, but more importantly her presence seems to calm all of the U.S. defenders. And that unit also seems better equipped to handle fast, skilled players with Julie Johnston partnering with Becky Sauerbrunn in central defense.

Second, the team has a new star in Christen Press. While she may not have been able to shred France's Wendie Renard and Laura Georges the way she did their substitutes in the Final in Portugal, she is a dynamic player whose individual skill on the ball is going to be needed if Jill Ellis' team continues to play balls over the top to its forwards (whoever they will end up being between Alex Morgan, Amy Rodriquez, Abby Wambach, Sydney Leroux, and Press) rather than possession soccer.

Press at the Algarve Cup (photo from

Which brings me to third, why I'm not sold on the team yet. It probably has more to do with the type of soccer that I like to watch than it does whether I believe the U.S. will win the Women's World Cup in Canada. It seems that Ellis is intent on playing with no true attacking wing midfielders, putting Press and Carli Lloyd out wide and letting Lauren Holiday (of whom everyone but me seems enamored as a playmaker) and Morgan Brian run the center of midfield.

Moving Press and Lloyd "out wide" means that they rarely play as out-and-out wingers, but more like additional center-mids, which is fine if you want to control possession and play a small-pass game. Which, puzzlingly, the U.S. has not done in any of the matches that it's played in that alignment. I've long expressed my admiration for the skills of Rapinoe and Tobin Heath, who excel at wing play (although Heath, like Press, is more adept at challenging players from the wing and cutting inside than Rapinoe, who sends in crosses with the best of them). If Ellis continues to use Press and Lloyd at outside mid, then the U.S. attack will be less varied, more predictable, and not nearly as entertaining as when Rapinoe and Heath play.

I don't expect that the exhibitions that the U.S. has scheduled over the next three months will tell us much about how the U.S. will fair in Canada. But they will very likely confirm what Ellis' plans are for the formation they will use and the players that she is counting to prove that Portugal, not Lorient, was the bell weather of what their chances of success are.