Running – As the 2018 NYC Marathon approaches on Sunday, November 4, the city’s calendar will begin to fill with events leading up to the race.The annual “Dash to the Finish” 5k is staged the day before the marathon and will again serve as the USATF National Championship at the distance.
Asheville-area running fans can watch the NYC Marathon on WLOS-ABC 13 on November 4 at 9:00 a.m. Check back for the November 3 broadcast start time for the5K Championship on NBCSN.
College Football – Austin Brown (pictured) is a graduate of Asheville’s Erwin High School and currently directs the NCAA DII Mars Hill Lionsfrom under center in the South Atlantic Conference (SAC). The lefty has the Lions leading the conference in overall passing and against Limestone on September 29 threw for 371 yards and tied a school record with six touchdown passes.
The Lions (2-5) return to the gridiron on Saturday to face Wingate (4-3) on the road. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN3.
Women’s College Soccer – The WCU Catamounts are 3-4 to date in the 10-team Southern Conferenceand currently in seventh place in the league. In their final two regular-season games they’ll strive to move up a place in the standings as the league’s top six teams earn a spot in the conference quarterfinals, while the bottom four must compete in an additional play-in game. Last year, the Catamounts advanced to the SoCon final before falling to UNCG. (photo – Ashley Evans, WCU Athletics)
“We told our guys that there were a lot of positive takeaways from today,” said UNCA head coach, Scott Friedholm. “One of the biggest aspects was having our younger guys play in a tough SEC environment and in front of a great crowd for a fall game.”
College Cross Country – Montreat’s Lydia Wilson continued to prove herself as one of the top cross-country runners in the region as she finished 14th in a field of 413 runners at the Queens Royals Challenge on October 12 in Charlotte. The sophomore set a cross-country PR (17:45) at the 5k distance in the process and also broke the school record.
Former Western Carolina Catamount Detrez Newsome faced and met what may prove the biggest challenge of his career – making an NFL roster as an undrafted rookie free agent. The Los Angeles Chargers kept Newsome on their final 53-man roster earlier this month after he led the team in carries, yards, and touchdowns during the preseason.
Newsome’s 6,969 all-purpose yards as a Catamount are the most in school history. He also has the most touchdowns in WCU history with 46.
College Football– WCU defeated in-state rival Gardner-Webb on Friday night, 28-10. The road game was moved from a scheduled Saturday start due to the pending arrival of Hurricane Florence. The Catamounts are 2-0 after two non-conference games and received votes in this week’s FCS Top 25 poll.
They open their 2018 Southern Conference schedule when they host VMI on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
College Soccer – A month into the season, the area’s five men’s soccer teams are in their early stages of conference play. UNCA is the region’s sole DI entry (WCU doesn’t sponsor men’s soccer) and travels to Davidson (2-3) tonight to face the Wildcats at 7:00 p.m. Montreat is the only other WNC team in action today as they host Georgia’s undefeated Point University (NAIA) (5-0-1) at 4:30 p.m.
In addition to the five WNC teams, Furman is 3-3 on the season and this evening travels to face Clemson at 7:30 p.m. The meeting of the two rivals is the 56th in the series that dates back to February 2, 1934. The Tigers hold a 40-12-3 advantage and captured the last meeting between the two teams in 2015.
Cross Country – Montreat sophomore Lydia Wilson earned Appalachian Athletic Conference (AAC) weekly honors as the conference’s top runner. At last week’s Lenoir-Rhyne Invitational, she finished sixth overall in a field of 66 runners and prevented NCAA Division I Appalachian State from claiming all top seven spots in the race. She was also the top non-NCAA runner in the field. Look for a feature on Wilson in next week’s Black Mountain News.
CHATHAM, NJ (c. 1980) – To write at all of the poor tennis I played in my youth is to unduly elevate it, but it was marginally elevated by its context in something of a tennis town. Our small boro of Chatham, New Jersey produced Peter Fleming, the lanky blonde whose own considerable talent was both enhanced and obscured by that of John McEnroe. Fleming and Mac won four doubles crowns at Wimbledon and three at the U.S. Open in the late 70’s and early 80’s. In all, they landed 57 doubles titles together.
During his career, Fleming also scored isolated singles victories against Mac and other tennis greats such as Bjorn Borg and John Newcombe.
Around Chatham, there was a distinct Fleming-awareness that drifted down Main Street and diffused across the town’s plentiful tennis courts. In the younger players, Peter instilled a zeal for the put-away winner that bordered on manic. From the same courts upon which we labored, Fleming, all 6’5” of him, had smashed his way to the upper tier of tennis’s elite. If he hit a drop shot en route, word of it never made it back home.
Tennis town or not, we were in northern New Jersey so Chatham was replete with sweltering humidity, the steady drone of cicadas, and town courts laid bare by the relentless sun searing through hazy summer skies. With flat tennis balls, worn-out Stan Smith’s, and the occasional big hitter’s groan we’d play match after endless match in the stifling heat.
One summer, when Mac and Fleming were mid-doubles reign, my friend Chris and I played daily at a place called Minisink, a swim and tennis club named after a Native American tribe. I mused, as a smirking teen, that some local Boy Scout leaders, fresh on the heels of a camping jamboree spent in tee-pees, somehow snuck the name past the same dozing town elders who saw fit to loftily dub our other modest town pool the Chatham Fish & Game Club.
We would belt all day, relentlessly, and the dead balls would wedge into the fence twenty feet behind the baseline with regularity. We would hit overhead smashes that would go the entire summer without catching the baseline, and we’d spit in disgust as if we had reason to expect otherwise. We would sweat profusely and pursue the same string of big shots: the blistering serve that we could never master, the snapped, low-to-the-net, cross-court forehand that never cleared or never landed, and the passing backhand that rocketed sideways in a menacing, flared trajectory towards unsuspecting players on the adjacent court. Lobs were not part of our one-track repertoire.
In a weak moment, drained by summer vacations, Minisink named Chris and me second doubles for an upcoming match. We were erratic singles players at best, terrible at worst, and to my recollection never played a set of doubles. We regularly scattered other disgusted club patrons to distant courts under a shower of errant shots when they played in our vicinity. “Sorry” to a nearby player covers three to four mis-hits; after fifteen or twenty near-incidents it’s as useful as shouting, “Get my ball!”
A doubles opponent to practice against simply could not be had. So to practice, we discussed the technique of Fleming and Mac, and we played poolside ping-pong to sharpen the finesse game we fancied a skilled doubles player possessed.
Finally, match day came, and we showed up at Minisink, poised to represent the club. Our opponents never arrived. Forfeit, victory to the untalented big hitters from Chatham and a doubles record of 1-0 on our career – a tally to hold unchanged for a lifetime. No matter. The club had fronted two tins of new tennis balls, and before they could grab them back I took my spot across the net and the balls flew wildly that afternoon, our only fresh cans of the summer. It was August, and the twentieth year for the twenty-year cicadas, and they were a raucous audience, whirring to a roar as we drilled smash after smash.
Between matches in those summers, we would adjourn to a nearby house, and if it were Grand Slam season, we’d scan the dial for doubles matches. In the pre-sports channel era, doubles matches were parked in the vacant lots of television coverage or skipped altogether. If you were going to catch a doubles set, you looked early and often.
With enough persistence, the effort would pay off, especially during the fortnight of Wimbledon. Its manicured lawns rendered everything on our ailing TV screen a shade of green, including the players. The tennis whites were overlaid with green shadows, and only Mac’s budding Afro, a cloud of smoggy brown pinned to his head by a straining terry-cloth band, could hold its color. The blonde Fleming, garbed in white, was a hard-hitting extension of the grass.
I remember early one July weekend heading down to a friend’s who lived a convenient 100 yards from the municipal tennis courts. When I got there, he was mid-battle with his father over the need to mow the lawn before playing tennis. I stood with my racquet by the front door, listening to the neighborhood lawnmowers fire up to a crescendo around me and hoping they wouldn’t inspire Mr. Johnson into holding fast.
Then, miraculously, onto the living room television screen slowly strode McEnroe and behind him our Fleming. The English roared their approval of the bratty American and his partner.
The argument simply ceased midstream, Dave no longer wishing to play tennis and Mr. Johnson forgetting altogether the encroaching grass or any relationship it had to his son. He stopped talking, crossed his arms, ignored us, and stared at the screen. We stood and watched, and the first hour passed and then a second and then the 1979 Wimbledon crown was won, and part of it belonged to us.
With time, we drifted into the back of the local tennis pack as pickup players with fading interest and skills, contentedly spending less time with the game. As the sport moved to the periphery of our lives, Fleming began to fade from the national scene, and my peers and I left our small town for colleges across the East.
For a brief while, a handful of us were stirred again to interest when Colin Dibley, the talented Aussie who once held the record for the world’s fastest serve, moved next door to a close friend of mine. It was a passing fancy, however, as our college diversion by the time of his arrival was Wiffleball, a game in which hitting towering shots is the primary accomplishment, and an avoidance of aerobic activity the secondary. Our interaction with Dibley was largely limited to extricating without incident from his yard the errant Wiffle balls that nightly littered it. He will never write nostalgically of those lazy summer evenings, and the loud roars of “It’s outta here!” from over the hedges.
My last class of college in the late 1980s proved to be a one-credit introductory tennis class. I’d miscalculated my transfer credits tally required to graduate, and I needed to take a single-credit class to don the cap and gown that same month. Rather than panic, I saw it as a small bit of good fortune that I would graduate while playing tennis every day.
For a complete month, I awoke early each morning and hit one big forehand after another and rallied at length with a like-minded student from Ohio. They played unskilled big hitter’s tennis outside Cincinnati too, apparently. To my pleasant surprise, I discovered that with a little tutelage I was a much-improved player and still loved the game.
Returning home that summer, my last in Chatham, I found that a small-circuit pro tennis team had set up shop on the edge of town. The team was an entry in a league headed by Billie Jean King, and our local club featured Tracey Austin, the one-time teen phenom who won the U.S. Open at the precocious age of sixteen. She was in her late twenties now, and like Fleming her tennis star had dimmed considerably.
I drove with a high school friend out to the small outdoor court illuminated by the cartoonishly oversized lights brought in for the pro team. We sat in the temporary bleachers, sipped our tepid beer from plastic cups, and watched the incessant rapping of the team’s hitters, the pace a considerable amount slower than that of the power players of the day. All the while, hundreds of moths tapped at the lights above, the court bordering a murky seasonal bog known locally as “the freshet” and now inundated with its summertime residents. They were a quiet, vaguely adult version of our long-ago cicadas.
As we watched, an appreciation for Austin’s ability to maneuver around the court – she was nursing a foot injury at the time – set in. She was undoubtedly still a skilled player, and seeing her set up and polish off shots without any true velocity was in its way an awakening to the many subtleties of the game, including courage. It was uniquely timed with my pending departure from town and ultimately, the tennis of my youth.
In the intervening years between seeing that match and now, I’ve played an increasingly infrequent game much more akin to Austin’s. Age has proven a whole-body replication of Tracey’s foot injury, something to be worked around and pushed through, your shots placed to account for its hobbling effects. Occasionally I still go for the big hit with the same youthful lack of acumen. But going for the kill and slamming it loudly off the back fence, fun though it may be – and it is – smacks of Wiffleball rather than tennis. Done with salt and pepper hair among the mid-40’s set*, it also smacks of arrested development.
The Bulldogs host the Asheville Invitational on September 21. (photo – UNCA Athletics).
Two of the area’s neighboring programs open the cross-country season with a dual meet on Friday when Montreat heads west to face Warren Wilson College at 5:00 p.m.
The WCU Catamountsopen their 2018 football season on Saturday at home against the Newberry College Wolves. Newberry plays in the NCAA’s Division II and went 5-6 last year, including a 31-14 season-opening loss to the Southern Conference’s Citadel.
The Catamounts went 7-5 overall in 2017 and 5-3 in the SoCon, good for fourth place in the league. (photo – Icon Sportswire)
On Saturday, Mars Hill travels north to face the SoCon’s ETSUin Johnson City. The Bucs went 2-6 in conference last year and 4-7 overall. MHU finished 3-6 overall.
At the Division III level, the Brevard College Tornados have a tough draw as they travel to face Davidson of the FCS at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday. Brevard is led by Duke graduate, Bill Khayat.
That trend continued through the week. The Redbirds moved into second place in the NL Central, trailing only the Chicago Cubs. They now have a half-game lead over Milwaukee as the top wildcard team, and a game lead over the remaining chase pack for the two wildcard spots.
The team is 26-12 under Shildt, good for a .684 winning percentage.
ASHEVILLE, NC (August 21, 2018) – Mike Shildt was named the interim manager of the St. Louis Cardinals on July 14. The former UNCA Bulldog is making the most of the opportunity.
The skipper inherited a team that was an under-performing 47-46 at the time, leading to the dismissalof manager Mike Matheny. They are now 69-57, with a 22-11 mark (.667) while led by Shildt. They have gone 8-2 in their last ten games and are now tied for the final wild-card spot in the National League, and 3.5 games behind the division- leading Cubs for first-place in the NL Central.
Adams previously spent 2012-2017 with the Redbirds, and can play both the outfield and first base. He will likely see time platooning in the outfield against right-handers, as well as pinch-hitting. The move also proves a Redbirds’ counter to the Cubs’ acquisition of Daniel Murphy from the Nationals on the same day.
Shildt is the first MLB manager hired since 2007 without former professional playing experience.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (August 14, 2018) – Earlier this summer, on the far end of a cross-country road trip, I visited the Sacramento and Davis areas of Northern California. There I spent time with Olympian Kim Conley, and her husband/coach Drew Wartenburg.
The first stop in joining the tandem was at Sacramento’s 23-mile American River Parkway (below). The Parkway is comprised of multiple segments, including the paved Jedidiah Smith Memorial Trail, which winds from Folsom to Old Sacramento, and is a leg regularly frequented by Conley in her training. It cuts a green, often-shaded swath through the capital city, and on the morning we visited hosted runners and cyclists taking advantage of a rare traffic-free respite in a major urban center.
Later we traveled to UC-Davis (below) some twenty miles west of Sacramento. The University is the alma mater of Conley, and also where Wartenburg got his head coaching start in the college ranks, after a stint as an assistant at Oregon State, and before moving on to the professional ranks.
Conley became one the program’s first standouts at the DI level in both cross country and track & field, while offering only the smallest of glimpses into the success that awaited her on the professional level – including two USATF national championships and spots on consecutive USA Olympic teams (2012, 2016).
Wartenburg played a key role in continuing the Aggies’ transition from a highly-successful NCAA Division II program to its current place in the Division I Big West Conference.
Conley makes an appearance on the East Coast this weekend, when she travels to compete in the 46th running of the New Balance Falmouth Road Race on Cape Cod on Sunday. (photos – T. Flynn)
Check back here, and at @tomflynn51 (twitter) and @tom_flynn_writing (Instagram) next month for an exciting announcement on the two-time Olympian.