Article: Mason Ultimate Values Teamwork, Chemistry As Team Prepares for State

The Mason Ultimate Frisbee team is full of brotherly love, and not just in the form of star brothers Axel and Sion Agami.

In a sport where it is illegal for a single player to run down the field, whoever has the frisbee in hand must rely on his teammates to help advance the team and score. The elder Agami, Sion, said the team enjoys great team chemistry which stems from the players being great friends with one another off the field.

“Everyone on the team is really good friends with each other,” Agami said. “We all hang out outside of the sport and we all sit at lunch together and we just love being together. That helps when you’re in a tough game and you need to make a play and you need to rely on your teammates. We all know that everyone has each other’s backs.”

The 2017 team, which returned all of its players from the 2016 campaign, has a talented crop of seniors that have been able to play together all four years of high school. Senior Alex Barnett said that the players’ experience with each other is what leads to their great teamwork on the field.

“I’ve been playing since my freshman year,” Barnett said. “And a lot of people: Sion, Jeremy Jackson, they’ve all been playing since freshman year as well so we all started off on the worst team that we had and then we’ve all just grown together skill-wise and chemistry-wise up until varsity. We all now compete at a very competitive level and definitely having the team chemistry, especially on the longer throws or very tough points, you have that go-to person and know you can count on them to either catch it or put it deep perfectly. Overall, we have very good chemistry as a team and it definitely shows on the field.”

On April 22 and 23, Mason competed in the annual Neuqua Knockout tournament in Neuqua Valley near Chicago, Illinois. Agami said the Comets played well against competition from all over the country.

“It’s like the biggest high school tournament in the nation,” Agami said. “There were 42 teams there and from all over. There was a team from Texas; there was a team from Massachusetts; there was even a team from Canada. We played really well, even though some people decided to go to prom and then drive up Sunday morning. We played the team that won it all and we lost on universe, which is next point wins, and they just destroyed everyone (else), so I’d say it was really successful. We got 10th but it should’ve been higher because we had to play the best team really early.”

The team that won the tournament, Center Grove (IN), escaped their match against the Comets with a 9-8 victory. Center Grove would become the #1 ranked team in the nation by Ultiworld following the tournament win. The game against the Comets was also by far their closest game of the tournament, as they won 13-5 in the finals.

Following the tournament, Mason Ultimate was invited to partake in the national high school tournament in Rockford Illinois. It’s the first time Mason has ever been invited to the tournament which fields only the best 16 boys teams and 16 girls teams in the nation.

The Comets compete this weekend, May 13-14 in the Ohio state championship tournament. The Comets have placed second the last two years, falling to the same team in Holy Family Catholic, a team comprised of home-schooled students that, according to Agami, have been playing together from a young age.

“They’re really good,” Agami said. “All of them start to play when they’re really really young and it’s a bunch of brothers on the team because they have big families and they’re always really deep and well-coached and they’re always just really really good. It should be us in the (state) finals. If for some reason they screw up the seeding, we might meet in the semifinals but us and them are the best two teams.”

Barnett said that Mason will be looking to unseat the defending champions and that the Comets have already played them very closely.

“This year they lost a few players,” Barnett said. “We actually didn’t lose anyone. We played them very tightly in previous tournaments; we took them to universe. We’re expecting to at least play them very well, if not take the W. It’s been (us and them) for the past three years. We were on opposite sides of the bracket and dominated all the way up until the finals.”

Holy Family Catholic also competed in the Neuqua Knockout and was beaten by Center Grove by a final of 11-5.

Coach Jimmy Chisholm said the Comets control their own destiny in the state tournament.

“Our skill level and the way we play is at a level where the only thing holding us back is that Ultimate is a mental game,” Chisholm said. “Once you get to a certain level, you start playing the same game. Once they can go into the games with the right mindset, I truly believe they could blowout the whole tournament.”

Article: Softball pitchers go the distance while baseball counterparts test physiological limits.

Senior softball pitcher Elle Buffenbarger once pitched a triple-header — 21 innings — by herself. Some baseball pitchers don’t pitch that many innings in a season.

As Honors Anatomy and Physiology teacher Maggie Long explains, the natural bone structure of a shoulder causes the softball underhand pitch to be safer than its overhand counterpart.

“When we take a look at a baseball pitch,” Long said. “The problem is that a baseball pitch takes the arm out of what we call natural positioning. When we look at the humerus and the scapula, the glenoid cavity, it’s a downward motion. It sits right in there, but the moment we bring it up and out, the pitcher now rotates it into an abnormal position. The softball pitch, it’s what we refer to as a windmill pitch. What we notice is the glenoid and the humerus, they stay in their natural position. It also doesn’t put as much stress on the elbow and therefore that’s why we refer to it as a “safer” pitch, because it’s that more natural positioning, as far as motion of the shoulder.”

Because of the less taxing throwing motion, senior softball pitcher Elle Buffenbarger said that when she’s in season, she pitches daily and might even pitch multiple games in one day.

“It’s almost every day,” Buffenbarger said. “Then on off days for school ball I have pitching lessons, so (I’m pitching) like every single day. Especially in the summer, when you only play on the weekends, I would pitch three games back to back when we were short on pitchers.”

On January 19, the Ohio High School Athletic Association(OHSAA) approved new rules that restrict any baseball pitcher from throwing over 125 pitches in a game, as well as requiring rest days based off the number of pitches any pitcher threw in a game. There are no such requirements for softball pitchers.

Junior baseball pitcher Will Pfennig said that even during the regular season when the team plays several games each week, he may only pitch once a week before having several days of rest until he’s ready for his next start.

“I pitch about once a week,” Pfennig said. “You do your start, and then guys typically do light tossing after their start, and then the second day after your start you long toss, and then your bullpen day is usually a light 20-pitch bullpen just to get the feel and work on pitches and then it’s a long toss and then either another long toss or some guys just do nothing the day before they start.”

Chad Cherny, physical therapist at the Mayo Clinic, said that the unnatural motion of a baseball pitch provides far more stress on the arm than in softball.

“Due to the rapid acceleration and deceleration, there is trauma on the muscles which is why there are limits as to how many pitches one can throw in any given number of days,” Cherny said. “It’s basically needing to allow recovery after maximally stressing the muscle. It is why most pitchers will ice after pitching; they want to minimize the swelling and assist in more rapid recovery so they can pitch the next time they are scheduled.”

According to Pfennig, a college team will roster 35 players and half of those are pitchers, no matter what. Buffenbarger said a softball team really only needs a few pitchers to sustain the team through the season.

“You only really need two or three,” Buffenbarger said. “In summer ball you normally only have two or three pitchers on the team, and they play somewhere else (too) to get playing time.”

From a health perspective, it would make sense to have boys learn how to pitch underhand in order to limit the risks of injury. This brings up the question of whether or not boys should eventually convert to an underhand pitching motion. Buffenbarger said that although male fastpitch leagues exist, it’s advantageous when throwing from far away and there is the stereotype that it’s a girl’s pitch.

“There is men’s fastpitch, and people do learn that way,” Buffenbarger said. “Some (guys) learn that way, and you can throw forever like that. I would say it’ll never happen because it’s more of a girl thing, as much as that sounds weird. Boys can throw so much harder from far away with it and baseball’s never going to change.”

Buffenbarger also said that since the mound is farther away from the plate in baseball than it is in softball, the underhand pitch would lose substantial velocity.

“If a guy pitcher pitched underhand from 60 feet, from that far away, it would come in much slower,” Buffenbarger said. “But the equivalent from our 43 feet, if I throw 60 (miles-per-hour), then it would be the equivalent of an upper 80 mile-per-hour (from 60 feet away). And if the pitcher throws 70, that’s like 90 to 100.”

Cherny said he doesn’t believe the overhand pitching motion is unhealthy, and that it is in the matter of the pitcher in order to ensure he takes care of his arm.

“I am not of the camp that it is unhealthy,” Cherny said. “I think that it is unhealthy when there is too much without appropriate rest. I think rest breaks are very important to preservation of the elbow and shoulder to prevent breakdown.”

Pfennig believes that although a baseball pitch is violent and unhealthy, boys will never pitch underhand because of the loss of pace of the game and because injuries are still preventable.

“Throwing a baseball in a baseball game and pitching is one of the most violent things you can do to your body, in regards to your shoulder,” Pfennig said. “Just with the pace of the game, it’ll never happen because people like seeing the ball come in faster and it’s just a completely different sport. If you take care of your body the right way, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

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.

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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.”