King’s decision to swim at Indiana was right move

The AT&T Winter Swim Nationals is a U.S. championship, but that doesn’t mean all of the best swimmers in the country were in Federal Way, Washington. And not all the swimmers who competed had U.S. citizenship.
The meet was an open-ended competition that included unattached swimmers, club teams and college teams.
It’s why Lilly King, who won the 200-meter breaststroke and finished second in the 100-breaststroke to a Russian champion, was cautiously excited by her performance while representing Indiana University.
She knows some of the swimmers who are ranked ahead of her in those events were at the meet.
Still, King, a former Reitz High standout who is now a freshman at IU, gained confidence from her performance.
With the U.S. Olympic Trials in late June and early July, King now knows that if she continues her dramatic improvement since arriving in Bloomington, she will have a strong chance to qualify foru the U.S. team in the 100 and 200 breaststroke.
“Now that I actually have a shot at two events it’s kind of nice because I don’t have to put all my eggs in one basket,” said King. “It definitely takes a little bit of the pressure off.
“It’s kind of crazy (that she won the 200 breaststroke) because I was 16th at nationals this summer and now I win it. I went from being 16th to first.”
She swam 2:24.47 in the 200 to break an age-group record for swimmers 17-18 that had been held by former Olympian Amanda Beard. The time was five seconds faster than her previous personal record.
In the 100, which she had hoped to win, she swam another PR (and setting another IU school record) with a time of 1:06.43.
But she was beaten by Russian Yulia Efimova, 23, who won the bronze medal in the 200 breast at the 2012 Olympics in London. Efimova was 7th in the 100 in London. And four years earlier she was 4th in the 100 and 5th in the 200 in Beijing.
The weekend validated King’s decision to swim at Indiana under head coach Ray Looze, who has a program that strives for team success in the Big Ten and NCAA but also wants his swimmers to aspire for greater things.
The Big Ten was well represented in the meet with four of the top eight women’s teams in the standings, including Michigan, Indiana and Ohio State finished 2nd through 4th behind California-Berkeley. In the combined standings for men and women, Michigan was first followed by Indiana and Ohio State.
“There are some programs that have a more collegiate approach and at Indiana we have an international approach,” said Looze. “NCAA and Big Ten is important to us but we also want to produce Olympians and help people thrive at the international level.”

A winning drive for the ages gets Michigan State in playoff

When it comes to making a clutch drive in the final minutes of a college football game, what Michigan State did Saturday night in the Big Ten championship game against Iowa was remarkable.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more dramatic, determined and meaningful drive ever in a conference championship game.
The Spartans covered 82 yards on 22 plays while burning more than nine minutes off the game clock. Freshman running back LJ Scott finished the game with 73 yards on 22 carries. He picked up 40 of those yards on 14 carries on that game-winning drive that Scott capped with a bullish, twisting run with 27 seconds left.
“It was amazing,” said Scott after the 16-13 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has a motto, “Reach Higher.” Scott amended that with his “Reach Further” effort to get the football across the goal line by clutching the ball in his right hand after it was clear he wasn’t going to get his body into the end zone
“Nothing’s been handed to us,” center Jack Allen said, so a 22-play drive “describes us pretty well.”
Quarterback Connor Cook was named the MVP of the game. Cook did pass for 191 yards and rush for 8, accounting for 199 of MSU’s 365 yards of total offense. But after the game, he didn’t just praise the Spartans’ offensive line, he handed off the MVP trophy.
“They grinded it out, opened up the hole for LJ. They put the team on their backs that last series,” said Cook. “Whoever was watching, I mean honestly, couldn’t be more obvious they deserved that award.”
Now Michigan State (12-1), which was denied a spot in the playoffs last year, will be the No. 3 seed this year and will face No. 2 seed Alabama (12-1) in a semifinal on New Year’s Eve in the Cotton Bowl at 7 p.m.
ACC champion and top-ranked Clemson (13-0) will play No. 4 seed Oklahoma (11-1) in the other semifinal in the Orange Bowl that day at 3.
Both games will be televised by ESPN.
No doubt the disappointment of not completing an unbeaten season and being included in the four-team playoff was crushing for head coach Kirk Ferentz and his Iowa players, but they did receive a nice consolation prize. The Hawkeyes (12-1) will play Stanford (11-2) in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. It will be televised by ESPN.
If you are keeping score at home, there will be 10 Big Ten teams in bowls, matching the most by any conference. It’s the second-consecutive year that many teams have earned bowl bids, but the first time two teams with losing records were part of the crowd.
Nebraska and Minnesota both made it with 5-7 records because there were enough teams with at least six wins to fill the 80 spots in 40 bowl games.

PINSTRIPE BOWL: Saturday, Dec. 26, Indiana (6-6) vs. Duke (7-5), Yankee Stadium, New York, 2:30 p.m., ABC
FOSTER FARMS: Saturday, Dec. 26, Nebraska (5-7) vs. UCLA (8-4), Santa Clara, Calif., 8:15 p.m., ESPN
QUICK LANE: Saturday, Dec. 26, Central Michigan (7-5) vs. Minnesota (5-7), Detroit, 4 p.m., ESPN2
HOLIDAY: Wednesday, Dec. 30, Wisconsin (9-3) vs. Southern Cal (8-5), San Diego, 9:30 p.m., ESPN
OUTBACK: Friday, Jan. 1, Northwestern (10-2) vs. Tennessee (8-4), Tampa, Florida, 11 a.m., ESPN2
CITRUS: Friday, Jan. 1, Michigan (9-3) vs. Florida (10-3), Orlando, Florida, Noon, ABC
FIESTA: Friday, Jan. 1, Notre Dame (10-2) vs. Ohio State (11-1), Glendale, Arizona, Noon, ESPN
TAXSLAYER: Friday, Jan. 1, Penn State (7-5) vs. Georgia (9-3), 11 a.m., ESPN

Indiana football coach Kevin Wilson on getting bowl bid

The Indiana University football team accepted a bid to play in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 26 against Duke at Yankee Stadium. IU coach Kevin Wilson and his players talked about ending the Hoosiers’ eight-year postseason drought.

Q. What is the key to preparation so you go there fully prepared?
COACH WILSON: “You want to win the game. The greatest bowl experience is the victory. It’s not the ring. The watch is going to break. I still got my Blue Bonnet Bowl sweater from 1980, first one. I got ‘em all. Got every T-shirt, every hat. They sit there and collect dust.
“But I can tell you some games … You remember, to me, the ultimate is the game experience. It’s nice to get the reward, but ultimately as a program and competitor, it’s about the game. You just want to get prepared to give yourself a chance to go win.”

Q. You have a chance to get some guys back?
COACH WILSON: “Yeah, I think so. You got Danny Friend going out there, Andre Brown. Yeah, we’ll see. Some of those guys have been hurt long enough, they could get a medical. Danny Friend can get a medical and go a sixth year. I don’t know if guys want to play college football for six years, especially when you’re lifting and squatting and running. We’ll talk to some of those guys.
“Jordan Howard had a knee scope. We were trying to get through the game. The deal was, we thought we might go through Purdue, then scope him, get him back for the bowl game. Well, when he came to Maryland, we sped it up a week. We’ll see what his timeline is. I don’t know anything about that. The thought process would be he might, could.
“At the same time, he’s a great player, a lot of things to consider. We’ll be smart there.
We have other backs. You guys don’t talk about it, but the line and tight ends block good and helps the running game a lot. The runners are good, but we ran it good.”

Q. Does it help in recruiting to know about a contract extension?
COACH WILSON: “Well, it helps in recruiting that they know you’re going to be at a place. That’s always something. But it’s not my decision. It’s the administration’s. Like I say, our deal is we keep trying to do everything we can to make the team better every day, whether it be program development, academic development or right now recruiting.”

Q. Talk about your connection with Duke in terms of them being a rival when you played at North Carolina?
COACH WILSON: “That’s a good deal because, like I say, I’ve been fortunate to be at places. It’s the same deal. A guy a few years ago took me to a Carolina-Duke basketball game. I’m a Carolina guy. This guy was a huge Duke alumni guy. Took Coach Stoops and myself and the AD, go up into Coach K’s office, see the facility. If they won, we were going to get a chance to go in the locker room after the game. Even though I’m a Carolina guy, I’m like, ‘This is cool, I’m all in. I want to go see Coach K and his guys.’
“I appreciate how great that program is and how great that school is. I have a lot of respect for Duke. What Coach Cutcliffe has done is one of the premiere jobs in the country. It’s no accident what he’s done. It’s going to be a strong, strong test. But I got a lot of respect for their program.”

Q. Whenever we talked about bowl games the last five years, you mentioned it, is young guys getting those extra practices, the ones that maybe aren’t going to play this year or redshirting. How much more can they get out of this?
COACH WILSON: “It’s huge. We’re making recruiting decisions right now based on looking at practice. That comment was made today. Where are you going to week? I’m going to X school. Why? Well, if this guy ain’t ready, I need to go get me one of those, whether it be high school or junior college. It gives you an opportunity to build your team, gives you an opportunity to eval your team.”

The love-hate relationship between readers and writers

I’ve been doing this sports writing thing professionally since 1976, which is the year I was named the Sigma Delta Chi South Carolina Rookie Journalist of the Year while working as a one-man sports staff, backup photographer and backup news reporter for the Beaufort Gazette.
I’ve won state press association honors in three states — South Carolina, Florida and Indiana. I’ve been named a top 10 columnist by the Associated Press Sports Editors Association. I’ve served as a vice president of APSE and overseen the small newspaper caucus. And, as I like to brag, I’ve spent time sitting in a golf cart with Jan Stephenson. And it was the 1986 Jan Stephenson, too. So yeah, there have been days where it has been good to be me.
Alas, there have been a lot more days when it hasn’t been good to be me.
Having been a sports editor at three newspapers in three states for a total of 23 years, I’ve been accused of being a grad of at least 50 high schools and 15 colleges.
And at the moment there is a group of Evansville IceMen fans who are convinced I hate hockey.
Seriously, that’s not true. When I was the sports editor in Tallahassee, there was an ECHL team, the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks, that my staff covered. I even had a dedicated writer for the team.
But three years after I arrived in town, the Tiger Sharks moved and Tallahassee was no longer a hockey town.
Keep that in mind as IceMen owner Ron Geary makes his threats about moving the team if he doesn’t get a better deal with the city over Ford Center rent.
Guess what, folks? UE isn’t going anywhere. Neither is the USI. Neither are any of the SIAC high school athletic programs.
But the IceMen? Who knows if Geary’s threats are real or if he’s just crying wolf again.
There’s one other factor that sometimes forces us to chase the IceMen when they are at home. It’s simple, really. We only have a five-person sports staff compared to the 11 I had in Tallahassee, so we have to prioritize what we staff at times.
I wish that wasn’t the case, but its the reality of newspaper economics these days. The number of newsroom staff in Tallahassee isn’t what it used to be, either.
But I want to make it clear that I don’t root against any of the teams in Evansville. I also don’t cheer for any of them like a fan. I’m a journalist, and we aren’t supposed to cheer in the press box.
But I would prefer that the Aces, Eagles, IceMen and Otters won. Ditto, for the best area high school teams in each sport.
Losing coaches and players make for grumpy coaches and players, which makes it much more difficult to write entertaining stories anyone will read on the web or in print.
So please don’t hate. And I’ll try to be a little less snarky on my Tweets.

The test of friendship

I’ve got a former college teammate, now Facebook friend, who has much different political views than me.
He’s also way less tolerant than me, posting things from political blogs and other websites that he can’t possibly believe are true but commenting as though he has drank the Kool-Aid. And one of his confounding and absolute views is that all journalists are commie scum who should have their hands and tongues cut off.
And don’t get him started on sports writers who criticize our beloved Gamecocks (and there’s been plenty of that this season).
Anyway, this is the comment he left on my Facebook page after we had a recent political sparring session over my belief that there should be tighter gun control laws nationwide. He essentially called me an idiot to which I had responded that I was disappointed; that I never thought it would get personal between us.
“Your are one of my friends and a teammate but you already know how I feel about journalists in general and sports journalists in particular. Mostly you are all left and I never have claimed to be tolerant.”
I’ve been called worse by readers through the years, and lately by Evansville IceMen fans. But hey, I’ve got thick skin (maybe too thick in the middle).
I still love you Bourne. Next beer is on me at the next reunion.

Don Mattingly wants to build an R.B.I. program that lasts in Evansville


No one was more disappointed that Don Mattingly when his plans to launch an R.B.I. – Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities — league fell apart a year ago.
He had connected with a former Babe Ruth All-Star teammate, Dean Hall, and felt that Hall would be an ideal point person to roll out the R.B.I. program because of his connections in the Center City. But somewhere along the line Mattingly said the program “got off track” and he and the board of Mattingly Charities chose to pull the plug and cut ties with Hall.
Even Hall admitted that he didn’t clearly communicate his vision to Mattingly when the two talked about starting a league. Hall wanted to involve as many churches and community organizations as he could, possibly lining up more than two dozen teams in various age groups for baseball and softball. He also made late requests to the Mattingly Charities board for stipends he could offer coaches. He reportedly also sought a salary for himself.
Other R.B.I. leagues have done that, so Hall wasn’t completely out of line with his requests. But he also made the wrong assumption that Mattingly would be willing to write a check to cover all the league expenses, no matter how much they piled up.
“That’s kind of the philosophical problem of it,” said Mattingly, now manager of the Miami Marlins.
Consider it the curse of being both rich and a part-time resident of your hometown. There’s always someone coming out of the woodwork who believes the know how to spend your money better than you.
Mattingly has been dealing with sketchy business proposals in Evansville since his Donnie Baseball playing days with the New York Yankees.
He’s disappointed the R.B.I. league took that sour turn shortly after holding a launch party at the Blush Ultralounge that attracted a lot of community support.
From his standpoint, Mattingly envisioned that the league would start out as a program for younger age groups, involve no more than 50 to 75 players and rely on volunteer coaches.
When he learned that Hall was trying to throw together a much larger program, involving hundreds of players in five or six age groups, Mattingly and his Mattingly Charities board were concerned that their charitable resources would be spread too thin. They had planned to operate on a much smaller budget that would pay umpires. cover field maintenance expenses and give every player a ball, bat and glove.
“I wasn’t comfortable with the direction it was going,” said Mattingly. “It never changed what I wanted to do, it just had to reorganize a little bit. The goals are still the same, it’s just a little different leadership in place now.”
He’s now aligned himself primarily with the Boys & Girls Club of Evansville.
He and wife Lori are also hosting a fund-raising event at the USI Theatre on Thursday night with country singer Toby Keith and former St. Louis Cardinals player Albert Pujols. Sorry, it’s sold out.
Additionally, he has arranged for Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter to speak to a business group on Friday with the money raised from that event going to Mattingly Charities to fund programs in Evansville.
He said the Mattingly R.B.I. league definitely will be launched in the spring.
As for how he managed to line up Toby Keith for the event: Mattingly said he and Keith became friends after the country icon performed at Roberts Stadium in 2009 and he learned that Keith was a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I’m a bit of an all music fan, but if I’m turning the radio on, I usually end up on country,” said Mattingly. “Whatever city I’m in, I usually end up on country.”
He’ll be relieved to learn that even Miami, with its airwaves jammed with hispanic, hip-hop and rock stations, does have one country station, WKIS-FM – Kiss Country.

They said it: Indiana coach Kevin Wilson and players Nate Sudfeld after Hoosiers beat Purdue, 54-36

Indiana’s 54-36 victory at Purdue on Saturday earned the Hoosiers their sixth win to make them bowl eligible. Where they will go — likely the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium — will be determined this weekend.

But while the opposition wasn’t the best the final two weeks of the season, it’s important to note that the Hoosiers won two games on the road to get to 6-6, beating Maryland 47-28 and then claiming the 18-point win at Ross-Ade Stadium for the program’s third-consecutive win in the Old Oaken Bucket series.

Here’s what IU head coach Kevin Wilson and quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who became the school’s all-time leading passer, had to say after the game.

Indiana Head Coach Kevin Wilson

Opening Statement:
“Our mantra has been that you’ve got to go hard and go for it, because we have struggled through the years and we didn’t want to get into a game where we are playing not to lose. We just wanted an aggressive mindset. We’ve had some injuries and guys keep stepping up, it was really good to see. I’m proud of the guys to finish with two good road wins and get us to six wins and a chance for a bowl experience.”

On quarterback Nate Sudfeld’s play:
“The last couple of weeks, we had a couple guys out and it shows how good our team is. The key thing is that the line is good, our tight end group is good, and the running game goes which allows Nate to distribute. Nate’s playing good, I’m proud of him. He’s awesome. He may have a chance to be the best quarterback in this league. There are a couple of great ones, but he’s played well. We need to win more games, but he’s playing with a decent group. I don’t know if it’s a great group, but when you put them together it functions pretty well and it is fun to coach.”

On what being bowl eligible means to the program:
“I know how hard these guys have worked. I want these kids to taste some of the rewards for their time and energy. I am just proud of those guys as seniors, those fourth- and fifth-year guys. To me, they had already done a lot, win or lose, and I hold them in high esteem no matter the outcome of the day. I’m just glad we get to spend a few more weeks together.”

On winning three in a row over Purdue:
“I go back to the fact that we are fortunate to have a rival. Not everyone truly does in this game and this sport. We respect their team, their program, and the sport. You want to win with class, and then I told the guys today that at twelve o’clock, we didn’t have the bucket anymore. So, again, I just respect the rivalry. It is about the memories of the week. I respect that we have this rivalry and we are lucky that we get an opportunity to play in this game.”

Quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who now has 7,490 career passing yards and 58 touchdowns
On the running game:
“The running backs did awesome. It really goes to our offensive line for opening up holes and giving me protection. We also have a running back by committee. They all come in and have different strengths. We feel really good about all the guys who come in and run the ball for us.”

On the 71-yard touchdown that gave him the school record for passing yards and put him over 3,000 yards in a season for the first time (3,184 yards with 24 TDs). Against Purdue he had 385 yards and 4 TDs:

“It was a cover-2, so I was thinking play-action to suck the linebackers in and work the slot guy. I peeked at the safety and he was a bit nosey. So, all I knew was I had to get it over the defensive back’s head, and you know [wide receiver Andre] Booker is really fast and then it all worked out.”

Big ‘birthday’ coming up for me

Next Tuesday I’ll be celebrating one of those “best-days-of-the-rest-of-your-life” moments.
I’ve even come to look upon Oct. 27 as my second birthday. That’s the day I had my aortic valve replaced after I had grown concerned about some angina issues and learned I had a birth defect.
At the age of 60, mind you.
Being married to a nurse had made me promise her I would never ignore chest pains, even something as insignificant as indigestion. It explains how I ended up having my gall bladder removed nearly 14 years ago (at least I think it was that long ago).
Anyway, I had never had a problem with stamina until last summer while cutting grass on a hot day, and even then it was only as I was nearly done. But then it hit me when I was walking to the stadium in Bloomington for a Maryland football game at the end of September, lugging a 30-35 pound bag packed with a laptop, media guide, digital recorders, notebooks and assorted accessories.
Since sports writers don’t qualify as big-spending boosters, I had been parked in the back of the lot, but the walk still was only about a half mile. Yet there I was stopping to catch my breath.
The last time that had happened was having to walk up the steep hill from press parking to the stadium at Clemson. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of as dozens of my sports writing comrades will attest.
Understand, I had played college soccer, coached soccer for 25 years while frequently scrimmaging with my teenage players, and had spent the past couple of decades working 50-60 hours a week while still getting in workouts at the gym. OK, maybe not as often as I should have.
Still, I’ve always handled work-related stress as well as anyone. And trust me, this job comes loaded with it.
But I didn’t know what stress was until Drs. Starrett and Wagmeister double-teamed me with the bad news after I had a heart catheterization procedure the week before I was scheduled to fly by to Columbia, S.C. for a University of South Carolina soccer reunion.
I believe it was Dr. Wags who gave me the answer I didn’t want to hear by saying that it was my decision when to have surgery, that I could go to the soccer reunion if I wanted, but I could also have a heart attack while away.
I skipped the trip and had surgery the following Monday, Oct. 27, 2014.
Best decision I ever made, by the way.
The Heart Hospital and its staff of nurses, respiratory therapists, physical therapists and nursing aides are all top-notch. One nurse in particular, Elsie, was there when I woke up and managed to ease my fears that I could survive the trauma Wagmeister had put my body through.
My wife has had some abdominal surgeries (six in 13 months) that have had me skipping more gym sessions than I’d like over the past year, but I’m still better off physically than I had been before the surgery.
So on Tuesday, I plan to celebrate the day, maybe even with one candle on a cupcake. I’ll be 61 plus 1, after all.

Hoosiers’ collapse against Rutgers was epic

So much for that 4-0 start and dreams of a bowl bid by Indiana’s football team.
While a postseason appearance is still within reach of the Hoosiers, they made that quest much tougher by blowing a 52-27 lead at home against Rutgers last Saturday in a 55-52 loss to the Scarlet Knights.
For all of IU coach Kevin Wilson’s proclamations about having a vastly improved defense this season, the results haven’t shown on the field. At least not consistently.
Now, with a trip to No. 7 and unbeaten Michigan State, Indiana is looking at a four-game losing streak if they can’t upset the Spartans.
If that happens, Indiana would then have to win two of its next four games. That includes home games against surprising Iowa (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) on Nov. 7 after a bye week and then a date with Michigan (5-2, 2-1) on Nov. 14.
Then the Hoosiers will close out the regular season (and the month of November) with road trips to Maryland (2-4, 0-2) and Purdue (1-6, 03).
Those two games provide hope, particularly because Purdue has yet to win a Big Ten home game for Darrell Hazell during his three seasons.
But a win over Rutgers would have given IU a fifth win and a much easier path to a bowl bid.

Looking for feedback on new Major League Baseball page

Once upon a time, a sports editor wouldn’t rush to get in line for pats on the back.
Indeed, we’re usually suspicious whenever folks start lining up, figuring they’re just organizing another gauntlet of abuse. But you may have noticed earlier this week — Tuesday, to be precise — your Courier & Press sports section began including a full baseball page each day again.
In doing so, we’re pretty much bucking the trend. For instance, McClatchy newspapers, another chain, made the announcement this week that they wouldn’t run MLB boxes this season.
Newspapers across the country have been striving to make the best use of an ever shrinking news hole. That typically means more local content and less wire service stories.
And less and less national agate.
A few years ago, we quit running all MLB boxes ourselves. However, we have continued to provide our readers with the boxes from the Cardinals, Cubs, Reds and White Sox games. And that’s not bad.
Most newspapers focus on one team, or maybe two, at most.
But this season, timed with our switch from Scripps to the Journal Media Group, I decided to take advantage of the MLB page that a sister newspaper is producing each day.
If what I suspect is right — that readers in the Evansville area have been wanting us to get back to covering all the teams — then the page should be a popular addition to our section.
I’d like to hear your thoughts through comments you can leave on this blog.
I also can be reached at or 812-464-7613.