In a League of Their Own: Comets, Firebirds Dominate GMC

In the past three seasons, the Mason Comets and Lakota West Firebirds girls basketball teams have reigned unchallenged by the rest of the Greater Miami Conference (GMC).

As of February 11, the Comets and Firebirds had combined for 90 straight wins against the other eight GMC schools. The last school to beat Mason or Lakota West was the 2013-2014 Princeton Vikings. Those Vikings were headlined by Kelsey Mitchell, who now averages 22.8 points per game for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Those ‘13-14 Vikings defeated Lakota West on March 8, 2014 in the regional final of the postseason tournament. The same team defeated Mason on February 1, 2014. Since those dates, both the Comets and Firebirds have an undefeated record (combined 87-0) against the rest of the GMC.

Lakota West head coach Andy Fishman said the sustained dominance of the two schools over the rest of the league is due in large part to his and Mason head coach Rob Matula’s length of career at their respective schools.

“If you look at it from a program perspective, you’re talking about two programs that have had the most coaching continuity,” Fishman said. “Sycamore was good for many years in the GMC when Paula Hayden was the head coach for 10-15 years running and she was the most tenured coach in the GMC. I think that coaching continuity and leadership has a lot to do with it. You have to have that, and you have to have families that are willing to commit to the way you do things in your program. It’s a combination of that leadership and also the players and parents and everybody buying into what you’re doing.”

Fishman is currently the longest tenured girls basketball head coach in the GMC at 20 years. Matula is not far behind as he is currently in his 12th year with Mason. Matula believes the key to the success of his and Fishman’s programs is the level of talent that has come through the schools.

“I think it takes a lot of talented players number one,” Matula said. “With talented players, you have the opportunity as coaches to really hone their skills and hopefully take them to the next level. We’ve been very blessed here, and West in the same boat, to have not only talented players but depth of talent. I think that’s probably what is separating these two schools right now. That’s not saying there isn’t talent at other schools. That’s not saying coaches at other schools aren’t good coaches and aren’t trying to hone the skills of those players. It’s just right now West and Mason seem to have a deep talent pool compared to some of the other schools.”

GMC historian and Lakota West co-Sports Information Director Bob Ashby points out that Mason and Lakota West are both blessed with large schools, and thus a larger pool of girls basketball players, but the success has resulted from more than having a slight advantage in size.

“It is instructional to note that Lakota West has a 10 game win streak going over Lakota East and have a series record of 30 wins to only three losses versus East,” Ashby said. “This disparity exists even though both schools have always had about the same enrollment, with East now slightly larger, and the same even handed philosophy regarding various sports and boys versus girls.  The most glaring difference between our two Lakota schools is that East has had 4 head coaches during this West 10 game win streak and has had 7 different head coaches to West’s one over the last 20 years that these two schools have existed.”

This dominance is not only tallied by the win streaks, but often by the margin of victory. The Comets and Firebirds are the only two teams in the league averaging a margin of victory greater than five points per game in conference games, with Mason coming in at 31.8 ppg and West leading the way with an average win of 39.2 ppg.

In both matchups against their Lakota counterparts this season, the Firebirds have obliterated the Thunderhawks in the first half, heading into the break leading by a combined 69-3 score. Fishman said the team tries to maintain their standards needed in order to improve from each game, regardless of the scoreboard.

“I think it’s important from a program perspective, what we do is we have standards,” Fishman said. “There are certain things we’re trying to accomplish every game. It’s not based upon who we’re playing, but it’s based upon our pillars of what we’re trying to do. In a game like (against Mason), it’s a great environment where that bottom line is we have to do these four things. And whatever the outcome is, if we can do those four things, then we come out getting better. It’s always what we’re doing to get better. It is a challenge; I’m not going to tell you that doesn’t present any challenges. We would prefer to play in more competitive games.”

Matula said he always wants his team to focus on what they worked on in practice, but that he doesn’t believe in running up the score.

“You gotta continue to maintain that you’re going to get better,” Matula said. “You have to really focus in on the details of what you had practiced during the week and to truly try to develop that muscle memory of those things that you really want to get better at. With that being said, I do believe that it makes it difficult at times to get your team entirely game-ready, and again that’s no disrespect to the other schools, but I know that I don’t personally want to take a 20 or 25 point lead and make it a 40 or 45 point lead. I just don’t believe in that. I don’t think that’s classy or being a very good sport. Yet you have to juggle: are you getting your team ready for big games when they do happen.”

Lakota West won the regional championship, and ultimately the state championship, in 2015. Mason was crowned regional champions a year ago after defeating the defending-champ Firebirds in the regional final. In order to gear up for these postseason runs, teams often try to schedule tough teams at the end of the season. The GMC conference schedule, however, requires each school to play 16 conference games, many of which come at the end of the year.

When asked what could be done to give the Comets better competition leading into the tournament, Matula admits it would be beneficial to have some tough out-of-conference games at the end of the year.

“I don’t know what can be done except that it would be nice to be able to have a little bit of leeway in the number of non-league games, abilities to go to different parts of the state, out of state,” Matula said. “To maybe upscale the non-league games so that you can increase the number of games that are tight and give you the ability to really get ready for tournament-type atmosphere games. Any point (in the season helps), but if you can backload that and get yourself ready, that would be nice. I don’t know specifically how to do that. I think that would be up to somebody either smarter than me or our athletic directors.”

The Comets and Firebirds split their regular season matchups this year, with Mason taking a 44-42 victory on December 3, and Lakota West taking a 64-61 advantage in a game on January 29. Matula said the matchup is enjoyable because he knows they will get a back-and-forth nail-biter.

“It’s kind of cyclical, right now it’s West and Mason (at the top of the GMC),” Matula said. “You’ll see other teams will build that depth of talent. But right now, it’s fun. When we get to go head to head with them, and know that it’s going to be a great game, and know that people are going to be in the stands, and the crowd’s going to be really jacked up for it, it makes it very exciting.”

Fishman suggested that although the teams in the GMC won’t change, they could modify which teams play one another twice.

“The league is the league, and that’s not going to change just because of girls basketball,” Fishman said. “Perhaps we can get more creative with scheduling. Maybe, and Rob (Matula) and I have spoken about this, perhaps doing something where we can modify the schedule to where you only play your league opponents once and then perhaps splitting it from that point and taking your top tier and your next level tier and having separate scheduling to block those with more of a competitive balance.”

 

January Article: Hood works outside of home to support family on top of being varsity wrestler.

File_000.jpeg
Senior Jaimen Hood, center, with his two brothers Bryan (left) and Zack (right).

For senior wrestler Jaimen Hood, wrestling for family is more than just a bond he shares with his teammates. On top of being a varsity wrestler, Hood has worked outside the home for several years in order to support his family at home.

 

While many Mason High School students have to grow accustomed to having just one or two siblings, Hood’s single mother got into fostering and adopting children who needed a home, which led to as many as eight children being raised in his house at once.

 

“Initially we started out with me and my mom and my dad and my three sisters who are all older,” Hood said. “My mom and dad split around when I was five years old. My dad stayed in Indiana for a while and we moved to Mason. My mom raised me and my sisters and then my mom got into fostering and adopted kids so, I couldn’t really count the number, but I’ve had about ten total kids come in and out of my house, three which stayed with us that are adopted so for a while we had seven kids in the house. And then at one point we had eight because we had another foster kid. It has slowly dwindled down as my sisters have gone off to college and moved out and my brother got kicked out. Currently it’s just me and my brothers, Bryan and Zack, and my mom. Bryan is 15 years old and Zack is 19 years old.”

 

In order to make ends meet and support his mom, Hood said he and his brothers work as much as they can to provide for their family.

 

“Everybody has a job,” Hood said. “I work at Perkins, and when I can work the hours I work as much as possible, usually about 25 to 30 hours a week, but since it’s wrestling season I only get to work Sundays, but I work a double on Sundays so I can make as much money as possible. My brother (Zack) works at Longhorn and BIBIBOP and my brother Bryan works at Taco Bell”

 

Former head coach Craig Murnan, who coached Hood in his first three years of high school, said that although he follows a philosophy to treat all his athletes in the same manner, he and the other coaches knew they would have to tackle some hurdles in order to give Hood the same opportunities as the other wrestlers.

 

“You want to make sure that you recognize that everybody that’s coming to you is different and they have different needs and different backgrounds,” Murnan said. “For us, we recognize that Jaimen’s situation is different than another kid’s on our team and we just try to make sure we give him the opportunities so he can be successful. In order to do anything at a high level, it’s going to cost you some money, because you gotta get exposure and gotta get experience. For wrestling, that’s just entering into camps at times and tournaments. We got him a sponsor once so he could go to a camp with our guys.”

 

Hood said although he is always busy with wrestling and work and school, his mom encourages him to live a typical life.

 

“I try to prioritize, because my mom says I am a teenager so I still need to live a high school experience, but I do want to contribute as much as I possibly can,” Hood said. “I wrestle and have practice until about six o’clock every day and then we compete on Saturdays so I try to work a 10:30 to 7:00 shift every Sunday. And then if I’m not wrestling it’s like a 2:30 to 8:00 shift.”

 

Hood said he and his family follow a mentality that no matter how difficult a task may seem, to persevere and do whatever is needed to be done.

 

“Since it is pretty tough getting between wrestling and work and doing well in school, you just develop the mentality to just get it done no matter what you have to do,” Hood said. “That’s what my mom has always told me too, because when she was younger she used to work three or four jobs to support her family, and she says family comes before everything so whatever you gotta do, you just do it. Tying it back to wrestling, you get into a hard practice, or you’re in the middle of a tough lift, just figure out a way to get through the lift, figure out a way to get through the practice, just get it done.”

 

Murnan said Hood is someone he believes other male athletes should look up to as a role model.

 

“I just think he’s a young, African-American leader,” Murnan said. “He’s a great role model for male athletes in this school. He’s a great role model for people with an ethnic background. He’s a great role model for doing things the right way. He’s a great role model for not making excuses and just overcoming. I think what impresses me the most is that he’s humble, but when you talk to him you can sense a sense of passion. There’s an energy level that you like and are attracted to. He’s got a confidence about him when he speaks, and I recognize that. He’s somebody you want to be around; he’s somebody I’d want my kid to be around. There are lots of engaging things about Jaimen that make him unique, but make him a leader. Sometimes it’s really hard to quantify a leader, sometimes I just know it when I see it, and to me, that’s what I see in him, a humble leader.”

Even Professionals Falter Under Pressure

In this November edition, fellow sports writer Lauren Thomas wrote a great story on the pressure and implications of penalty kicks in postseason soccer. This year, both our girls soccer and boys soccer teams fell in postseason play at the hands of PKs, a game largely decided by chance and guessing.

For the boys, it was a night of missed opportunities that was culminated in PKs. Forwards Jack Hancock and Max Mitchell, both seniors, were the first to step up for the Comets. Both of them missed. Mitchell sent his high over the bar and Hancock’s was easily controlled by the opposing keeper.

This sort of pressure isn’t just found in soccer, but another kind of football. There have been two ties in the NFL this season for the first time since 1997. In both instances, crucial late field goals could have swayed the game either way.

In Week 7, the Seahawks and Cardinals tied on Sunday Night Football. Both kickers had an opportunity to win the game for their team with under four minutes remaining. Both missed. Steven Hauschka of Seattle even missed a 28-yard field goal with just 7 ticks remaining in OT. Thats a shorter attempt than an extra point now.

The ensuing Sunday morning, the Bengals and Redskins tied in London. Although it may not have been such a strange occurrence for the English across the pond, it was an extremely dissatisfying ending for American fans. Redskins kicker Dustin Hopkins had a chance to win it with a 34 yard field goal attempt with just over two minutes remaining in the contest. He missed, and neither team was able to score in the remaining two minutes.

In the first round of the playoffs, the Mason Comets took down the Elder Panthers 21-20. Although Matt Sora’s 39 carries for 250 yards is what made the headlines the next day, punter Reed Naglich had a punt with 30 seconds remaining that downed the Panthers at their own one-yard-line. If Reed shanks that punt, Elder has a few plays (with a passing attack that had been successful throughout the game) to get into field goal range and win it.

Chronicle sports writer Eric Michael interviewed Naglich about the moment, and he stressed how he simply went out and only thought about getting the punt off and clean. He thought about all the repetition that had led to successful punt after successful punt. He took a few deep breaths and told himself not to think about all the possible outcomes of a poor punt.

And boy, did he deliver.

Naglich’s example is one where a calming mentality and focus allowed him to deliver under the brightest lights.

Which brings me to my point. Often at home, we dream about catching a winning touchdown, hitting a walk-off grand slam, scoring the winning goal, etc. When these athletes, these professionals, finally had their opportunity to win it for their team, they faltered. My opinion? Enjoy it. This is the moment every athlete dreams about, wishes they could have.

This isn’t just present in sports. A salesman dreams about the perfect pitch; a journalist wishes they had the best, most revealing story; a recent college graduate might dream about the perfect job interview.

My message is this: opportunities to make an impact on a game, a sale, or your own career don’t come every day; that’s why the pressure is there. Shouldn’t we embrace the opportunity with joy and excitement? Sure nerves will come, but that’s when we all have to remember that the greater the pressure, the brighter the lights, that’s when we can reach our potential an accomplish something truly meaningful.

Article: Mason Girls Volleyball Finds Tremendous Success Despite Young Roster

The Mason girls volleyball team re-claimed the GMC title last Thursday, October 13th with a win over Oak Hills, finishing with a conference record of 9-0.

The team dominated GMC play, winning all nine matches in straight set victories. The team’s lone loss came against Ursuline Academy came on September 1. This means the team did not drop a set in the last 45 days of the regular season, from their loss on September 1 to the last game of the regular season on October 15.

Head coach Tiann Myer said the loss was a turning point for the team and reinforced what they needed to change in order to get better.

“Losing to Ursuline was a huge wake-up call,” Myer said. “We played well for the most part; we know there are things that we could’ve done better. That was our focus point: we gotta learn from this part of the game, and they did a really nice job doing that. We just really strive on perfecting our game, and everyday in practice that’s one of our goals is to get better.”

After the loss, the Comets surged forward on a dominating streak, winning 46 straight sets en route to a 21-1 regular season record. The 21 wins is the most in Cincinnati and earned the Comets a #2 seed for the postseason tournament.

Myer said the team’s success can be most attributed to the players’ love for the game and how they can rally if they find themselves in a hole.

“It’s mostly their love for the game,” Myer said. “Overall, I just think it’s working well together and staying strong and tough. At times I’m shocked that we are (this good), but they do a lot of great things for me. They’ve dug themselves out of some holes, which in the past maybe that’s not always happened and they’ve let a few points go, but this team really digs in and pulls themselves out if need be.”

The team has also achieved this success without playing a single senior on the court. The roster’s lone senior, Julia Allen, acts as student assistant coach to the team.

Junior Anna Brinkmann said the team lost a lot of leadership from the team to graduation, but this year’s team is not far behind.

“Our senior leadership last year was incredible,” Brinkmann said. “But I feel like the people who have stepped up have done an amazing job and even though we weren’t as successful last year as we are this year, I feel like it’s hard to compare the two because last year we had seniors and this year it’s a lot different.”  

Sophomore Maggie King said that although they don’t have any seniors on the court, they still have a lot of varsity experience.

“This year we have people like Anna Brinkmann, Sammie (Puisis) and myself; we were on the team last year,” King said. “I feel like we have really good leadership and we look up to all the leaders on the team. I feel like everyone’s stepped up this year. Even if they weren’t on varsity last year, they just really stepped up into the role and they’ve done a great job throughout the season.”

King said that even though the team relies on a lot of sophomores, she feels like everyone gets along as if they were all the same grade.

“I haven’t thought about it that much, but I guess it’s kinda cool to have someone look up to you even though they may even be older than you,” King said. “But it doesn’t feel that way because I feel like everyone on the team is the same age. We all get along so well so it doesn’t feel like they’re older than me.”

Myer said that the youth of her team can be visible at times, but they always make up for it with their performance on the court.

“It’s a completely different team when it comes to that chemistry-wise and dynamic-wise. Last year I had seven seniors and three or four that had played a couple years already on varsity so things got done, in regards to they knew every expectation that I had. But overall, (this team) makes up for that on the court, because they know what they’re doing. They’re very good in that aspect; they get the job done on the court.”

they know what they’re doing. They’re very good in that aspect; they get the job done on the court.”

Article: Soccer program goes high tech to monitor performance

The next time a Mason varsity soccer player feels his heart racing before opening kickoff, he better be careful: his coaches are watching.

 

While the boys soccer coaches may not stare down a player to gain a feel for how nervous they are, Coach Paul Reedy and staff do have a new tool to check the physical condition of their players: heart rate monitors.

 

Reedy said the idea to purchase heart rate monitors came from goalkeeper coach Marc Johnson.

 

“(The idea came from) one of the assistants on our staff, Marc Johnson, he’s also the goalkeeper coach for the women at Xavier University.” Reedy said. “Xavier, in their women’s program, use more advanced heart rate monitors than what we have, but as he became used to using those at the college level, it was his idea to see if our soccer boosters would be willing to purchase them for our varsity players to wear.”

 

Mason’s boosters delivered. During every practice and every game, each player is now equipped with a heart rate monitor strapped around their chest that sends data straight to the coaching staff. The coaches can then look at the data to make conclusions about the fitness level and work rate of their players.

 

Junior Philip Springsteen said he was excited for the monitors because they would provide actual data to help the coaches make decisions to benefit the team.

 

“I was really excited because it eliminates a lot of the unknowns about soccer, especially the physical aspect.” Springsteen said. “So as opposed to sometimes the coaches would tell you to take it a little easier in practice if they noticed how many minutes you played, whereas now they give you a lot more quantitative data to see how high your heart rate’s going and for how long you’re going.”

 

Reedy said the monitors not only help the coaches ensure the players are giving their best effort, but that it also gives an indication of when they might be pushing the players too much.

 

“It gives us another tool to evaluate our players, and make sure that they’re working at a level they should be, because as we say, the monitors don’t lie,” Reedy said. “It also helps us realize when we may be going too hard and we have to tone it down, especially if we have a match the next day.”

 

Sophomore Collin Hawkins said that some of the players experienced difficulty with wearing the monitors during games, but that it was largely the fault of the players for not securing them properly.

 

“Some guys had to take them off because they were too loose, but that was more our fault because they didn’t tighten them the right way,” Hawkins said. “But we’ve never had a problem with them that it would hurt or they would become too irritated.”

 

Springsteen said the monitors were uncomfortable at first, but it was only a matter of getting used to playing with it underneath their jerseys.

 

“Especially in the very beginning, there was a lot of readjusting, tightening the straps, Springsteen said. “It was a little bit uncomfortable, but as we played with them more and got used to it, the discomfort starts to go away and you really don’t notice it as much in a game. There’s a physical aspect to soccer so people tug on your jersey, and occasionally they can get the heart rate monitors and pull it off. There’s a little bit of discomfort, but it’s not that bad.”

 

Reedy said that the addition of the monitors has made him more able to notice when certain players need a substitute.

 

“In one of the scrimmages, we have the tablet on the bench that shows every player’s heart rate, and Marc Johnson said to me, ‘these two players need to come out, based on the monitors.’” Reedy said. “And I could tell, looking at the one, I didn’t need the monitor. I could tell he was gassed. He was going to be coming out even if we didn’t have the monitors. But the other one, I didn’t realize because he wasn’t showing some of the typical signs of fatigue, but when we brought him out, we told him why, and he’s like, ‘yeah, I was exhausted.’ That was an ah-ha moment for me as a coach.”

 

Reedy said the players have begun to understand that the monitors do push them harder, but it’s for their own benefit.

 

“We’re just in the beginning of this process,” Reedy said. “I think there’s a lot of potential. I think the players are starting to understand that the machine doesn’t lie and that their work rate is being evaluated and if everybody has a high heart rate, and one player doesn’t, they understand the coaches are going to see that.”

 

Dr. M. Atiq Khalid, cardiologist with Middletown Cardiovascular Associates, said that although measuring heart rate does show physical effort, it is not the only way of measuring performance for athletes.

 

“Just the heart rate alone is one of the ways of looking at it,” Khalid said. “Basically what you’re looking at is how efficient your cardiovascular system is. And what your cardiovascular system does is it extracts the oxygen out of the inhaled air and then transmits it to your lungs, to your heart, to your muscle cells, and that involves the efficiency of the whole system itself (such as) the amount of dilatation of your vessels in your legs, the efficiency at which your lungs can extract the oxygen out of the inhaled air, the efficiency at which your heart can contract, and the efficiency of which your muscles can consume that oxygen and get rid of the metabolized (products) that are produced as a result of exercise.”

 

Hawkins said the players can no longer get away with slacking off during practice and are forced to work harder knowing the coaches are constantly monitoring how hard they’re working.

 

“They definitely increase our workrate, because there’s no faking it; you can’t really slack off anymore,” Hawkins said. “It’s really upped our workrate, intensity’s gone up; It’s been a huge positive for the team.”

Fan is Short for Fanatic

sports-fan

With each season passing in the NBA, NFL, MLB and more, new teams implement new techniques that are more entertaining for us the viewers. And it’s easy to like these teams that are fun to watch. But some people take it a little too far. Everyone knows that one guy or girl that is always jumping on the latest and greatest bandwagon. They may have barely heard of that team a year ago, but all of a sudden they know all the stats and have all the merchandise of their favorite player. I’m not going to name any names, but I would imagine nearly all of you already have someone in mind. Whether it’s the long-distance shooting of the Splash Brothers from Golden State, or the streak of 4th quarter comebacks of Tim Tebow for his Denver Broncos in 2011, there will always be bandwagons.

But I would like to take another look at the word “fan,” a word we most definitely overuse. I would like to remind you what “fan” truly means: fanatic. I feel like often times people downplay what being a fan actually means. Mariam-Webster defines “fanatic” as a person “marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion.” A fanatic is the person who owns season tickets and attends every game. A fanatic is the person you see screaming at opposing players from the stands, doing whatever they can to make an impact on the game.

I have lived in Cincinnati my entire life, and when asked who my favorite teams are, I would tell you the staples of Cincinnati sports: Bengals, Reds, Bearcats. Whenever one of these teams are playing, they are the team I’m rooting for. But I’m not a fan. I’m not a fanatic. I’ve been to a couple Bengals games in my life, but not since Ochocinco still went by Chad Johnson. Similarly, I haven’t attended a Reds or Bearcats game in years; it wouldn’t be correct to call myself a fanatic for any team.

And that’s probably why we get so annoyed when we see bandwagon fans. Because at least for me, it’s hard to picture someone who just began liking the Warriors of the NBA or the Royals of the MLB as someone who is intensely devoted to their team. If you are not sticking to your team through every bad season and every breakthrough season, you’re not a fanatic. Period. A typical bandwagon fan likes whatever team is their best in a certain season, but is then quick to jump off when that team or player under-performs.

So here is my challenge to you: if you call yourself a fan, be a fanatic. Be the guy that paints his face or that one lady with the loudest scream in the building. Stick to your team even when they miss the playoffs, or finish in last place. Because that will make it all the more sweeter when your team finally does make it to the promised land.