Associate Sports Editor
The Rams began the 2006-2007 season with a new man at the helm, first-year Division I head coach Anthony Grant. Grant replaced Jeff Capel at VCU after serving as an assistant to Billy Donovan at the University of Florida for 10 years.
In the CAA pre-season poll, VCU was predicted to finish sixth out of twelve teams by the league’s coaches and sports information directors. That appeared to be a realistic expectation after returning home from the Virgin Islands in mid-November, having dropped two out three contests in the Paradise Jam Men’s Basketball Tournament. The Rams dropped to 2-2, which proved to be the lowest point the team reached throughout the season.
VCU never looked back after that. The Rams proceeded to win 17 of their next 18 games to set the pace in the CAA with a record of 19-3, with those three losses by a mere seven points
combined, before losing a tough game at Hofstra.
All of their success in conference play allowed the Rams to gain control of their own destiny down the stretch. Meanwhile, Old Dominion was enjoying some very good conference play itself. The Monarchs won the rematch between the two schools in a heated contest in Norfolk on Feb. 10, cutting the Rams’ CAA lead to just one game.
After a non-conference BracketBuster loss to Bradley, VCU rebounded with a strong win over James Madison on Senior Night. The only obstacle between the Rams and the regular season CAA crown was Georgia State, a team they trumped by 29 points at Homecoming. The second time around went much differently, though, with the Rams relying on a late Jesse Pellot-Rosa tip-in basket to win the game 72-70, as well as the conference title.
Despite VCU earning the top position in the CAA, talk arose that opponents were no longer intimidated by VCU’s pressure defense and ability to score and run the floor.
The Rams held seed with convincing wins in the first two rounds of the CAA Tournament over Georgia State and Drexel respectively, landing them a spot in the championship game versus George Mason. GMU entered the finale having already played on the three previous days. That didn’t phase the Patriots, as they led the Rams until the final minutes of the game, when fatigue finally set in. The more talented Rams prevailed with a narrow victory, 65-59, on the back of point guard Eric Maynor’s 20 points and two late steals.
The Rams earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament with their third CAA Tournament championship. They landed the 11 seed in the West Region on Selection Sunday with Duke as a first-round opponent. In Buffalo, the Rams used the same formula against the Blue Devils as they had 10 days earlier against the Patriots, overcoming an unusually inexperienced Duke squad that was accustomed to advancing to the Sweet 16. Maynor was once again the hero as he sunk a smooth jump shot with 1.8 seconds remaining, advancing the Rams with a 79-77 win.
Pittsburgh was the next opponent, a team that easily outsized VCU with its two seven footers. The Rams trailed the Panthers by 19 points midway through the second half and refused to give up. They eventually took a two-point lead with under a minute in regulation and forced overtime, only to fall short, 84-79.
The season ended but not before the Rams had the most successful season in school history (28-7 overall, 16-2 CAA).
Coach Grant was named CAA Coach of the Year and Maynor was named to the All-CAA first team.
The women’s basketball team entered the 2006-2007 season as a young and mostly inexperienced team, with Michele Cosel and Miranda Smith as the only seniors on the roster.
After leaping to a 7-0 start, good for first place in the CAA, the Rams encountered some hard times upon entering conference play. They had some high points characterized by strong fundamentals, as well as play that looked very sloppy, which all added up to a very streaky season.
Fortunately for VCU, only four conference opponents were impassable for most of the season. William & Mary was the one team in its sights that wasn’t passed.
The women entered the CAA Tournament in Newark, Del., as the No. 6 seed and dominated 11th-seed Northeastern in the first round, 74-58. They then fell to Delaware by a similar final, 79-58.
VCU will now look to next season in what appears to be a promising squad, highlighted by the excellent play of rising star center Quanitra Hollingsworth.
The men’s tennis team looked to continue its dominance of the CAA as it entered the 2007 season, having previously won 10 CAA Championships. On March 21, the squad was in first place in the conference and ranked 20th nationally with a record of 13-6. Senior Petr Olsak was ranked 56th and Arnaud Le Cloerec was ranked 62nd in singles play at the same time, while in doubles, Sebastian Ripoll and Emil Lindgen were ranked 66th.
The Rams entered the CAA Tournament in Newport News as the top seed with a 17-7 record. After getting by eighth-seed Hofstra 4-0, they were upset in the semifinals by fourth-seeded Georgia State, 0-4.
Despite its early departure from the CAA Tournament, VCU earned its 15th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Rams suffered a 4-1 loss to Texas Tech in the first round in Los Angeles, cutting short a season with high expectations.
Olsak and Le Cloerec were named to the All-CAA Singles and Doubles First Teams. Alex Israel and Damien Lacombe earned second team singles honors, while Lindgen and and Ripoll earned a place on the doubles second team.
The women’s tennis team had similar hopes for the 2007 season as the men’s team. The team came into play recognized as one of the top teams in the CAA and looked to defend its conference title from 2006.
At its peak, the squad won 9 of 10 matches between Feb. 14 and March 15. Junior Tatsiana Uvarova dominated the singles matches for VCU. Seniors Olga Borisova and Marianna Yuferova were the star doubles team, going 21-4 on their way to a No. 14 national ranking.
VCU drew the No. 2 seed in the CAA tournament and advanced all the way to the final before falling 4-0 to top-seeded William & Mary in Newport News.
Uvarova advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament before falling 6-4, 6-4 to Northwestern’s Georgia Rose in singles play. Borisova and Yuferova qualified for the Round of 16 in doubles competition but lost 6-4, 6-3 to the second-ranked duo of Sara Anundsen and Jenna Long of North Carolina.
The Rams baseball team entered the 2007 campaign with high hopes and the burden of being picked to win the very competitive CAA. With other strong schools such as ODU, GMU, UNC Wilmington, William & Mary and Delaware, it was difficult for any school to distinguish itself from the pack.
The team was built around young, speedy, talented players with good defensive skills. It also relied heavily on senior ace John Leonard, who went 5-2 and was usually the designated hitter or outfielder on days he didn’t pitch.
VCU started slow out of the gate, dropping three of four at San Diego, but quickly rebounded by sweeping a weekend series from Fordham. The Rams lost just four series throughout the season and were never swept themselves.
Despite the logjam of quality CAA teams, VCU finished the regular season strong enough to earn the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament in Wilmington, N.C. The black and gold used momentum to advance past UNC Wilmington, Delaware and Old Dominion, seeded fourth, second, and first respectively, into the championship game against Delaware.
The Rams won the se
cond round game 6-4 between the two schools and again 10-4 in 10 innings in the championship.
VCU couldn’t parlay that conference success into NCAA Tournament success, though, as it struggled to muster offense in a 7-1 loss to Coastal Carolina in Myrtle Beach. In the elimination match, the Rams lost 5-4 in a more closely contested game, giving them their second loss in the double-elimination style format.
Sophomore Rafael Campos recently won the 2007 Johnnie Walker Puerto Rico Amateur Open by six strokes. His four-round total was 292, and his win earned him a sponsor’s exemption for the PGA’s Puerto Rico Open next March. The win in Puerto Rico was his second tournament victory there this season. He earned First Team All-CAA honors this season and had four top 10 finishes this season for VCU.
MEN’S TRACK AND FIELD
Senior Davion Lambert led the way for the Rams in their 2006-2007 track and field campaign. He and fellow senior James Frierson competed in the 2007 East Regionals, hosted by the University of Florida. Both competed in three different events with some of the nation’s top collegiate talent.
Frierson’s best finish at regionals was 14th, coming in the 200-meter with a time of 21.11.
Lambert competed in the long jump, high jump and triple jump.
His best finish was in the long jump, posting a mark of 22’ 10”.
In addition, freshman DeAngelo Wilson finished in 17th place in the 100-meter dash with a time of 10.69, the event he won at the CAA championship.
Sophomore Jason Gallo and senior Derek Altizer teamed with Wilson and Frierson in the 4×100 relay, who also won that event in the CAA championship.