This year was supposed to be the “rebuilding year” for Geno Auriemma’s team, but wins over 9 top 25 teams rebuked that notion. They have been the best college team in the country this year, but with close games against good competition and the recent scare against Tulane, we can’t just give UCONN the trophy yet. There IS a way to beat UCONN, and if last year’s tournament didn’t emphasize this enough, anyone can lose on any given night. The writers at GladiatHers® love competition and we have a pretty good idea of who can beat UCONN and how they can do it.
This morning I found myself in the midst of a debate about late bloomers. The question at hand: Is it possible to get a scholarship to a NCAA Division I school and not have received any major accolades for your athletic prowess in high school? Of course, being the fan of underdogs that I am, I was team #YesYouCan. Well today’s Woman Crush Wednesday proved me right. Phylicia George is one of the top hurdlers in Canada and the world, but things weren’t always so glamorous on the track for her. Unlike many of her peers, George didn’t start running until she got to high school and even then it took her a while to find her niche. She lovingly settled into the sprint hurdles, but didn’t attract a great deal of attention from colleges. The coaches at the University of Connecticut; however, gave her a chance. And it paid off, kinda. While George set school records in the 60m and 100m hurdles, she didn’t earn any national accolades. When she graduated she was equipped with a degree in Biological Sciences and was poised to enter medical school, but she chose to follow her dreams of being an Olympian. Her track record (pun intended) didn’t support this dream, but she believed. Her faith paid off. Within a year of graduating, George ran a sub-13 second 100m hurdles, and made it all the way to the finals in the 2011 World Championships. Cramping prevented her from running in the finals, but she came back in 2012 with a vengeance. In 2012, she won the Canadian Track Athlete of the Year award, won silver in the 100m hurdles and gold at the 100m in the Canadian Championships and she achieved her dream; she became an Olympian. Not only did she compete in the Olympics, but she made all the way to the finals in the 100m hurdles and placed six; all the while setting a personal best of 12.65 seconds…
Because her life is a true testament that it’s never too late to start chasing your dreams and that how you finish is more important than how you start, Phylicia George is our Woman Crush Wednesday. But don’t think George’s career is over. She’s gearing up to return to the Olympics this year and she’s off to a good start. This past weekend she competed in and won the 100m hurdles at the FBK Games in the Netherlands. Keep an eye out for her because if history tells us anything, she’ll likely make a podium appearance in Rio. #HiPhylicia
Last week, in the midst of talks about equal pay and how good women’s basketball is getting, there was also talk about basketball rims. Yup, basketball rims; you know, the usually orange, shiny things that basketballs are shot through. Chicago Sky star, Elena Delle Donne, reignited a conversation that originally began in 2012 with University of Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma. Auriemma’s and Delle Donne’s solution to improving and drawing more attention to women’s basketball is to lower the rim. Their theory goes that if women can dunk (play “above the rim”), more people will watch women’s basketball. In support of this theory, Delle Donne points to the different sex-based standards in tennis (where women play fewer sets in grand slams) and golf (where women’s tees are set closer to the hole). While both Delle Donne’s and Auriemma’s track records confirm that they both are coming from places of genuine concern for growing women’s basketball, their solution is completely misguided. It’s misguided not for their lack of experience or goodwill, but because it’s based on at least one false premise, that if women play more like men, more people will watch.
It’s rare that fans of women’s college basketball get to experience the madness of tournament time like those who watch the men’s tournament. Usually, in the NCAA women’s tournament, the higher seed wins; there aren’t too many shocking upsets. Well this year, the women have started to make up for lost time. The upsets have come early and often and we’ve loved every minute of it. It all started when no. 10 seed St. Bonaventure sent no. 7 seed Oklahoma State home in the first round. Round 2 gave us more of the same when no. 6 DePaul shocked everyone by beating no. 3 Louisville. And the underdogs only picked up steam from there. In round 2, no. 7 Washington left us flabbergasted with their win over no. 2 Maryland, a team many predicted to make it to the Final Four. Washington continued to bust brackets when they sent no. 3 Kentucky and no. 4 Stanford home in the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight, respectively. Not to be outdone, Tennessee’s no. 7 Lady Vols wreaked some madness of their own when they went from barely making the tournament to knocking off no. 2 Arizona State and no. 3 Ohio State on their way to the Elite Eight. This year also saw some no. 4 seeds end the Final Four hopes of no. 1 seeds when Syracuse beat South Carolina and Stanford beat Notre Dame in the Sweet Sixteen. It has been true madness at its finest.
By now I’m sure you’ve seen it; the kick heard round the
world. In less than two rounds Holly
Holm executed the roundhouse kick that shattered Ronda Rousey’s jaw and her
unblemished record. It was shocking and unbelievable
to watch how Holm’s speed, precision and power took out the face of women’s MMA
and the UFC. Early on in the bout you
could tell that the normally confident and in control Rousey was frazzled and
unable to assert her usual dominance, but no one (except maybe Holm and her
support team) thought that Rousey losing the first round would be indicative of
the entire fight. Most expected Rousey
to bounce back and end the fight like she had so many times before,
victoriously. But Ms. Holm had another
ending in mind, one that had her hand being raised at the end of the fight. Holm was relentless in her pursuit of that
ending and it paid off, she got the upset.
She handed Rousey her first loss and claimed the UFC bantamweight
title. While Holm’s upset victory might
not have paid off for Rousey or the many who bet in Rousey’s favor, it certainly
paid off for Holm and women’s MMA as a whole.
Every athlete, professional or otherwise, strives for excellence. No one gives their blood, sweat and tears to
lose or to be mediocre. Athletes train
to be unbeatable. Unfortunately, few can
say that their careers survive without experiencing the agony of defeat. That so many are destined to experience
losses does not stop anyone from striving for perfection however. Practice after practice and game after game
athletes try to outwork and play their opponents, hoping for victory. It’s a beautiful thing to witness how the will
to win drives competitions.
Unsurprisingly, fans usually want the same level of
performance from their favorite athletes and teams. They want their girl(s) to win every time,
preferably in dominating manner. That’s
why so many people love Geno Auriemma and the University of Connecticut Women’s
Basketball Team, they are proven winners.
And that’s the same reason that so many love Ronda Rousey. Until this weekend, she was an undefeated
champion who got unquestionable wins.
She owned the UFC and her fans loved her for it. Many tuned in fight after fight to see, not
if, but how Rousey would win, and the UFC made plenty of money off it.
But just like there are fans of proven winners, there are
also fans of underdogs and rivalries. For
many fans, what makes sports so attractive is that on any given day any player
or team has the potential to win. Yes,
undefeated careers and seasons are great, but many people watch and attend
sporting events because they want genuine competition. They want to see the last second
buzzer-beater from the team that wasn’t supposed to win. They want to see two rivals battle it out
year after year for bragging rights.
Fans want to know that they don’t exactly know who’s going to come out
on top. That’s why the NCAA Men’s
Basketball Tournament is so successful.
That possibility (and strong likelihood) of seeing a Cinderella story keeps
arenas packed year after year.
So that’s why Holm’s victory was so important for the women’s
MMA market. It will help draw in the
fans who like and believe in parity in sports.
For all the Rousey and UConn fans there are many others who want to see
a new champion. Until Holm’s victory,
parity seemed to be some far off ideal in women’s MMA and the UFC. There was Rousey and then there was everyone
else. For many that dynamic was a bit
boring and kept them disinterested. Holm
and her astonishing victory give hope to fans of legitimate competition. Seeing the queen fall will draw in many who
want to see a genuine rivalry develop between two well-trained, talented
athletes. Sports fans love Rousey but
now they will have someone else to root for, Holly Holm. Beyond the fans, Holm’s victory makes the
belt seem attainable. Her upset will
inspire more fighters to chase after it and will bring more viewers in to watch
new athletes in their pursuit for greatness.
All of this is better for women’s MMA.
Sure the UFC may have to come up with some new marketing strategies and
may need to invest more money into talent other than Rousey’s, but that’s all
great for the sport. The upset will draw in more fans willing to spend time and money to see a good fight. While Rousey’s jaw, pride and record might be sore
right now, that’s a beating the women’s MMA and the UFC needed to take in order to attract a larger fan base and encourage new talent. So congratulations and thank you Holly Holm,
lots of fans can’t wait to see what’s next for you and women’s MMA.