By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Welcome in to the Tuesday take, the first in a series of columns that I will write each Tuesday for the SEC Digital Network. In my role in the Southeastern Conference, I primarily focus on our league’s Web site and social media presence.
In that capacity, hundreds of news stories about a variety of sports, athletes, coaches and schools come across my desk each day. We do our best to feature the most pertinent of the stories on the Web, while trying to give you an inside look into each program. Still we aren’t always able to cover everything that happens in the world of SEC sports. With this column each week, I hope to give you a look into some of the stories that might go unnoticed and offer my analysis on the under the radar items you might have missed.
The Man In The Suit Getting It Done
When Jon Lipsitz took over as Kentucky’s head soccer coach more than two years ago, his attire raised a few eyebrows.
You see, Lipsitz wears a suit and tie to every game that he coaches. He has been doing it since 2005 when he was named the head coach at Charlotte. When he arrived in Lexington, it was perhaps the first step in changing the culture of the school’s soccer program.
It certainly wasn’t the last step.
With a 2-0 win against Southeast Missouri on Sunday, the Wildcats ran their record to a perfect 7-0-0. It equals the best start in program history, also accomplished by the 2001 squad. It’s also the longest winning-streak for Kentucky since that same streak a decade ago.
Personally, I like the look. Lipsitz says he likes the sense of professionalism that it brings to the game. As far as he knows, he is the only women’s soccer coach in the country who wears a suit on the sidelines for every game. He does it even when battling the rain and the heat.
While Lipsitz has always looked like Pat Riley coaching the Los Angeles Lakers, now his team is performing up to that level also. Interestingly enough, though, his team’s progress doesn’t seem to be making the headlines consistent with its performance.
Think about this: the Wildcats were predicted to finish last in the SEC Eastern Division in a preseason vote by the league’s head coaches. They are now just one match away from entering league play with an undefeated record. Kentucky travels to Dayton on Saturday before beginning the conference slate the following week.
Grab your coat, it should be a fun ride for Lipsitz’s Wildcats.
Young Players Battle-Tested and Succeeding in Knoxville
With the success that the Tennessee volleyball program has had under the direction of head coach Rob Patrick, it’s probably not a surprise to many that the Lady Vols are 7-2 heading into conference play and are knocking on the door of the AVCA Top-25 poll.
But an in-depth look at the Tennessee program tells you just how impressive that feat actually is. Of the seven players in the Lady Vols’ starting lineup, there is just one upperclassman – junior DeeDee Harrison. The remainder consists of three freshmen and three sophomores.
The schedule hasn’t been easy, either. All of the teams the Lady Vols have played against are in major conferences and are perennial NCAA Tournament teams. Patrick’s scheduling is sure to have his young players battle tested heading into Friday’s start of conference play.
Even if his team’s record weren’t as impressive as it is, he likely could have still considered the pre-conference portion of his slate a success, but the victories have proven that his young team has tremendous potential. Not potential for the future, but potential for now.
Impressively, the team’s on-court offensive leader, setter Mary Polmiller, is just a freshman. Appropriately so, she was named this week's top SEC freshman. Directing a 5-1 offensive scheme, Polmiller played every point of Tennessee’s three victories at the Virginia Tech Invitational this past weekend, totaling 110 assists over the course of the weekend.
Tennessee will test its young team against league opponents this weekend, opening up against Georgia and Auburn at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Must Have Seemed Like Déjà vu for Gator Fans
Earning the starting nod for the Washington Redskins this past Sunday, former Florida standout receiver Jabar Gaffney caught three passes for 53 yards with a touchdown to help his team to a 28-14 win against the New York Giants.
It must have seemed like Déjà vu for Florida fans, considering Gaffney’s touchdown came courtesy of a former Gator teammate in quarterback Rex Grossman.
With the Florida-Tennessee rivalry game on the horizon this week, it made me have recollections to the 2000 edition of that game with Gaffney’s controversial catch to seal the win. Current ESPN analyst Jesse Palmer was the quarterback in that game, not Grossman, though he was on the team.
It’s a play that will go down in SEC lore. With Florida at the 3-yard line and 20 seconds remaining, Palmer found Gaffney a few yards in the end zone. The slant pass from Palmer was grabbed by Gaffney before Tennessee defenders knocked the ball out of his hands to give Florida the go-ahead score.
Florida fans said he caught it. Tennessee fans said he didn’t. And that’s the way it will always be.
It was another great finish in the Florida-Tennessee rivalry and we may be gearing up for one again this week. Be sure to tune in at 3:30 p.m. ET for the first CBS game of the 2011 campaign.
Set Your DVR for “Herschel” Re-Airs
If you haven’t seen “Herschel,” the first documentary in the SEC “Storied” series, you’ll want to set your DVR for the re-airs. It’s an hour that you’ll be happy you tuned in for. From Walker’s dominating football moves, literally running over players, to his battle with childhood bullying and later with Dissociative Identity Disorder, “Herschel” gives you an inside look into every aspect of his life.
It re-airs at 10 p.m. ET Thursday on ESPNU and at 1 a.m. ET on Sept. 16.
Props to Bowden For Creating Prostate Cancer Awareness
It’s not an SEC-related story, but it affects everyone.
Just weeks after legendary Tennessee head women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt announced her diagnosis with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type, another legendary coach has come forward.
Former Florida State head football coach Bobby Bowden went public this week, acknowledging that he underwent treatment for prostate cancer during the spring of 2007. Bowden kept it hidden – he saw it as a weakness, something his opponents could use against him in recruiting.
He feels that way no longer. Bowden announced Monday that he sees it as his “moral duty” to bring his health issues into the open. He is now becoming a spokesperson for On The Line, a national prostate cancer education initiative.
In our society, many people like to hide their medical issues. As if it will make them weaker, or less able to perform their jobs, or less of a person to admit that they have a disease or are fighting an ailment. After all, sports figures are among the most admired people in our society – their toughness and bravery is valued.
I applaud Bowden and Summitt for coming forth with their health issues. Because when they speak, people will listen. There are thousands of people who will participate in the necessary screening processes for these diseases just because an influential coach urged them to do so. It makes them realize, if this portrait of strength can have cancer or dementia, so can they.
The coaches have that platform to help others and, many like Bowden, can help save lives through that stage.
Now that is true strength.
SEC Digital Network Heads To Starkville
The SEC Digital Network is looking forward to Thursday. It should be a great game when LSU travels to Mississippi State in a top-25 match-up between the two teams at Davis-Wade Stadium, and we will be there.
My partner Eric SanInocencio (@ericsan) and I will be hitting the road Thursday morning to experience gameday in Starkville. We will report on Mississippi State’s new facilities, taste some of the local cuisine, check out the tailgating scene and watch a great game. We’ll have full reports, along with a live chat during the game from the press box.