Tuesday, June 30, 2009

TOSSS Hot Seat: John Kreger (Part Two)

The second part of our exclusive interview with the best volleyball broadcaster in America, MSU's John Kreger, is below. For part one, click here. Once again, his responses are brought to you unedited and in full.

Who's your favorite player, past or present, and why?

I can't give you an all time player, but how about an All-Time Team. Some qualifiers here, I'm only listing players that I have broadcast matches for, so that removes anyone previous to 2001. Also, Only players who have appeared in two or more seasons are eligible. There are players who transferred, and some younger players on this team who were and are very good. I like to look at a multi-year body of work. Rules aside.....here we go!

Nikki Colson (class of 2003): The only player that has started at setter for more than a single season while I've been behind the mic, Nikki would get a nod even if that were not the case. One of only two three-year captains for the Green and White, Colson was a leader in every sense of the word. She gave 110% every match, and demanded nothing less from everyone else. In 15 years as a professional journalist, Steve Yzerman of the Red Wings is my all time favorite leader of a team at any level. Nikki Colson is number two.
Right Side:
Erin Hartley (class of 2001) EH was capable of taking over a match. An All-American,and the most dominant opposite I've seen in Green and White. Coaches in the conference STILL talk about the shots she pulled off. What solidifies her place on this list is the heart she played with. I'll forever remember her being consoled by coach Todd Dagenais after we lost to Wisconsin in the second round of the NCAA's that year. That was an unfair seeding (three top 25 teams, MSU, the Badgers, and Notre Dame were in the same 1st/2nd round site, in the name of saving money on travel) and the Badgers were supposed to win. Hartley, however, tried to get the W on her own, almost did, and was despondent at not pulling the upset. When you see a kid with that much heart....it's....special
Outside Hitters (3)
Katie Johnson (class of 2007), Ashley Schatzle (Class of 2007) Kyla Smith (class of 2002)
When Cathy George came to East Lansing in 2005, she named Sophomore Katie Johnson as a Captain. Johnson had shown signs of ability, but was still growing into her game. I'll admit, I wondered if it was the right choice. I do not wonder anymore. KJ was the heart and soul of Spartan Volleyball for three seasons under George, and was one half of the best 1-2 left side punch the school has ever seen. One of two Spartans to play professionally during my tenure, KJ has to her credit countless matches won by putting her team on her back, one of the more fun serves I've seen, and is the only Spartan to break an opponent's nose with a shot. She grew more as a player and person than almost any Spartan I've watched, and is one of my favorite people, too.
Ashley Schatzle sat in Cathy George's office at Western Michigan and was told she had the talent to be an All-American. Four years later at MSU, she was one. She made the jump from MAC to Big Ten Volleyball, and proceeded to become one of the conferences best. Schatz was quiet, and mild mannered....until she stepped on the court. She had every shot in the book, and the intelligence to choose the correct one. Schatz had a look I'll never forget when she was determined. It said, plainly, "I'm not losing today" When I saw that look, I knew it would be a fun night. I hope someday I see a left side team as good as the Shatzle-Johnson duo at MSU, but they've set a standard it will take top-class talent to match.
Kyla Smith, a native of Comox, B. C. had one of the tougher roles ever asked of a player by Chuck Erbe. As injuries cropped up on the 2002 team, Kyla played Left, Right, and one match at Middle for the Spartans. When she was told of these changes, Smith didn't complain, just shouldered the load, and got the job done. An integral part of the sweet 16 run of 2002, Kyla had the shots needed to win, and the mindset of a champion. Coach Erbe relied on her to be steady, and she responded. She's a player that was cut from traditional cloth. When adversity arises, don't ask why, just figure out how to defeat it. She did.
Middle Blockers (2)
This category was the toughest for me to pick, there are so many good players at this position, Jenny Rood, Megan Wallin, Brook Langston, and Jess Hohl all had great moments, and are wonderful people, but the two in my tenure that stand above the crowd are:

Angela Morley (class of 2002), Vanessa King (class of 2009),
A-Mo is the All-Time school leader in blocks, and the ovation she received at Jenison when she broke the mark in 2002 against Illinois was thunderous. She had both the quick, and the slide in her arsenal, and she was a force at the net. When Morley was a blocker, she'd handle 2/3 of the net on her own, and it felt like any shot hit near her was either altered by her block, or easily funneled to passers because of it. When the Spartans went in to Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament, there was much said that Notre Dame's big middle attack might be too much for her. Morley settled the argument by doing what she did best: feeding off of opposition errors, and getting into hitters heads. When it was all over, Morley and the Spartans were off to the Sweet 16, and the vaunted Irish.....went home.
Good athletes help the team with their skill. Great athletes help the team by making others better. That's what makes King special. She is talented in her own right, with every weapon that a middle could possibly possess at her disposal. The force with which she can control the net is second to none. Player of the week accolades aside, and talent non withstanding, what puts this current Spartan on the list before her playing career is done is the way she handles herself as a leader. On every championship caliber team, there is an athlete or two who have the ability to command respect on the practice floor, and in the huddle. Through solid play and leadership by example, King has the ability to be an anchor in a close match, and focus the Spartans. Some of her best moments came playing through injury, in both of the last two seasons. In the 2007 NCAA tournament and the 2008 match against Illinois in Champaign, King played through the pain. To quote the famous movie title, that's True Grit.
Defensive Specialists (3)
Emily Engel (Class of 2002), Nicole Colaluca (Class of 2006), Miken Trogdon (Class of 2007)
Engel was the first Spartan of my time with them to truly use her serve to turn a set. She holds the Spartan invitational record for aces in a match, and for a single tournament. Her jump serve could pull a team ridiculously out of system. She was a fiery competitor who took it upon herself to handle some of the conferences best attackers singlehandedly. Between Morley's block at the net, and Engel on defense, a great many hitters left a match with the Spartans frustrated. What I'll remember most about Emily however, was something she did as a senior Captain in 2002 before the 2nd round NCAA tournament match with Notre Dame. At pregame meal that day, each of us had at our seats a cardboard cut out caricature of us. Emily got up, told us that these figurines represented us as members of the Spartan Family She noted that if we were to beat the Irish that night, it would take the effort of the WHOLE family, from players, to coaches, to.....broadcasters. The message hit home, and we got the win. For Engel, the name on the front of the jersey meant more than the name on the back.
Nicole Colaluca can be summed up in one story. In 2005, Cathy George's first year, Colaluca had 45 digs (a school record) in a five set loss to Sacramento State. The Spartans, however, dropped the match. When I congratulated her on the record that night, she simply said "I'd rather have 20 digs...and a win." Cola rewrote the MSU single season record books for digs, and would hold the MSU career mark no question had she played for four years in East Lansing instead of two. A relentless competitor, she was an anchor for the Spartan defense, and could almost patrol the space behind the three meter line by herself. Cola's defense, I believe, was one of the things that allowed the MSU offensive stars to take more risks and grow into the George offensive scheme. Nicole was gone when the Spartans reached the sweet 16 in 2007, but the spirit she showed got the Spartans to the dance in 2006,and helped lay the groundwork for defensive stars to come.
Although her career numbers aren't at the top of any list, Trogdon was special in that she came to compete every night, even in 2004 and 2005, when the transition between Chuck Erbe's final year and Cathy George's first meant nearly 2 losses for every Spartan win. Miken was fearless, and played with an energy that had the potential to lift her teammates. Her dig total in 2007 ranks among the all-time best at MSU, and she was a source of calm in an otherwise very young Spartan defense. One of the more accomplished students in the history of Spartan Volleyball, Trogdon juggled the demands of an athlete with those of TWO degrees, criminal justice, and Spanish. Above all else, however Trogdon gets a place on this list for her efforts the second half of her senior year. Halfway through the season, Trogdon hit a bit of a wall. That can happen to athletes, and Cathy George sat her starting Libero for a match. As a journalist, I'm faced every day with professional athletes who when put in a similar situation whine, moan, and mail the season in. Trogdon did the polar opposite. She dedicated the rest of her season to her teammates, refocused, embraced her role as a leader, and had 13 matches that she'll not forget. She saved the best for last, posting a career high 23 digs in her last match, the Sweet 16 loss to Nebraska. She learned her lesson, and in the end, taught us all one on what it means to be part of a TEAM.

What are your observations on the state of MSU's volleyball program now? Are we headed in the right direction under Cathy George? I've worked for two coaches in my eight seasons at Michigan State, and I've interviewed many more. If I had my choice of any volleyball coach in the country, I'd choose Cathy. The time I've spent with her has been some of the most rewarding of my career. What impresses me most about the work that Cathy and her staff are doing, is the national respect that Michigan State has received on the recruiting trail. In the 4 years that Cathy's been in East Lansing, there is a definate improvement in the caliber of athlete committing to Michigan State. Top athletes now are considering MSU more than ever when choosing where to play in college. When an MSU coach walks into a gym, people take notice, and MSU is on track to claim its place among the top programs in the conference, and the country.

Equally as impressive is the reaction that the community has toward the team. Cathy and her staff have not only quality athletes, but leaders in the community. I see hundreds of young women, aged 5-15 who look to MSU Volleyball players as a group of people that serve as role models, and an example for young women everywhere. The work that Cathy, her staff, and her players are doing deserves commendation, and I couldn't be prouder of all that they've done.

Monday, June 29, 2009

TOSSS Hot Seat: John Kreger (Part One)

Fresh off his award as the nation's top volleyball broadcaster, MSU volleyball play-by-play man John Kreger sat down with TOSSS for an exclusive interview. His answers, unedited, are reprinted below.

Is MSU volleyball your full-time gig, or do you do other things as well?
While it is a large time commitment during the season, I am also a producer/reporter for WDFN radio 1130AM in Detroit. I cover Detroit area sports for them, as well as for national radio networks (I am the Detroit Lions reporter for ESPN Radio, for one). I also work as a broadcast engineer for teams that come into Detroit to play, that do not travel engineers on their own. In that capacity, I have covered the NBA finals, the Major league Baseball All Star Game, the NHL playoffs, and the American League Championship series.

What's your dream gig? It really has been a dream to work for MSU for nine seasons. As a child growing up in Detroit, I had the pleasure of listening to some great broadcasters. Bruce Martyn and Paul Woods calling Red Wing Hockey, George Blaha calling Detroit Piston Basketball, and of \course MSU Football, and the Great Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey as the voices of the Tigers. For me, to serve any of those teams would be a high honor, but I'd have to pick Red Wings or Tigers Play By Play in a tie for number 1. That said, Football Saturdays in Spartan Stadium are magical, so I wouldn't mind that as well!

How did you get started in broadcasting? Unofficially, Mom has tapes of me calling games into a tape recorder at age 9 or 10, Officially, I got my start at WSDP-FM (88.1) radio in Plymouth MI. It's a high school station out of the Plymouth-Canton District. I was the sports director there for two years, and learned a great deal as a young student. Working high school sports with my good friend Denny Kapp still ranks as some of the most fun I've ever had behind a mic.

How did you get to be MSU's play-by-play volleyball guy? In the fall of 2001, I was approached by Scott Moore of the Spartan Sports network, who let me know of the opening at MSU. He encouraged me to submit a demo to Will Tieman, President of the network, and I was hired for what was then a 7 match package. We went full season in 2002, and have been ever since. I'll broadcast my 250th match with MSU November 21st at home against Minnesota. Coincidentally, the match I called as a demo match to get the job in 2001 was MSU-Western Michigan. The Broncos that day were coached by current head coach Cathy George.

Are there a lot of volleyball play-by-play guys in the Big Ten? There are nine, of which I have the third longest tenure. Eight of the schools have full season packages, Penn State has home only, and Ohio State and Norhwestern have no professional broadcast. It's here that I have to credit the Michigan State Athletic Department, lead by Mark Hollis and Shelley Appelbaum, and The Spartan Sports Network and Will Tieman. While there are 9 full season broadcasts NOW, when we went full season in 2002, we were just the third school in the conference to do so. Web streaming media was not as common as it is now, and MSU was out ahead of the crowd on that. Their decision to adopt a full season package showed a real commitment to Women's athletics, and I'm proud to be a part of it.

What's it like traveling with the team? I've gotten to see some great volleyball in some great places. The on-court action is great, and attending games at powerhouse schools like USC, UCLA, and Nebraska, not to mention the big ten has given me some great memories. What's most special, however, is the time I get to spend with our athletes and coaches behind the scenes. Whether it's the team singing in the back of the bus after a win (with "creative" harmony from some members), observing intense cribbage games between assistant coaches (Mike Gawlik is a pro), or just shooting the breeze on a bus ride. I've gotten to get to spend time with the Spartans when the pressure of competition is off. When you get the chance to know people beyond jersey numbers and statistics, you realize that what makes them great as athletes and coaches is that they are even better people. That's what makes my time on the road so special.

What's your favorite arena to broadcast from on the road, and why? OK, I've got to split this up into conference, and non-conference. My favorite non-conference arena is by far the Nebraska Coliseum. That is by far the best volleyball crowd I've ever seen, and the broadcast position is great, elevated at the end of the floor. What makes the place so special, though is the respect given to other teams. We went there in 2003, and Nikki Colson was our setter. She was from Lincoln, and when she was introduced, they gave her a standing ovation. I've never seen that for a visiting player ANYWHERE else, EVER. That gave me chills. Best Big Ten arena is a tough one. The two front runners are Penn State and Wisconsin. The positions for me are great views (although they're both in the rafters and require quite a hike to get there) The crowds are huge, and outstanding. Wisconsin gets the win for 3 reasons. 1. Live stat monitors 2. Jen Armson-Dyer is no longer with Penn State Sports information, giving Diane Nordstrom the edge in what was a stalemate between two SID's who have ALSO won Burger awards. 3. The Wisconsin band. They're just that good. Honorable Mention goes to Purdue, since Wendy Mayer does an outstanding job as their SID, and I love telling war stories with Kim Cook, who has been calling Purdue volleyball for the better part of TWO decades. It loses out though because Belin Court has the toughest broadcast position in the conference. On the floor, behind the end line, so I have to look THROUGH one team to see the other.

Walk us through a match day for you. On the road, I'm up at about 8AM, to meet the team for breakfast. I usually will interview a player for intermission after the meal. I like to help our fans get to know them on, and off the court. While the team goes to practice, I'll read over game notes, and prepare for that evening's match. Around 4, we meet for pregame meal, and then head for the gym. Usually by 5 I'll have set up my gear. At five, or as near as possible, I interview the opposing coach, and then meet Coach George to tape the Farm Beaureau Insurance pregame show. We're on the air 15 minutes before first serve, and the Spartans take care of the rest. After the match, we head to our next city on Friday, and home Saturday night. At home, I arrive at Jenison around 4PM for our 6:30 starts,and the routine is pretty much the same.

What's your favorite road trip story (aside from calling the 25-8 game during a tropical storm in Delaware, though I know that's got to be up there)? Can I give you two? First, in 2001, we went in to Penn State and won at Rec Hall. It's the only time I've ever broadcast a Spartan win there, and not many teams beat the Nittany Lions at home. Erin Hartley, who was an All American, had a great match. Our bench was electric, and I've never seen a Spartan team happier on a plane ride home. More recently, the Sweet 16 appearance in 2007 at the Wisconsin Field House. We were up 2 sets to nothing on the defending national champion Nebraska Cornhuskers. We didn't win, but in 15 years as a reporter, I've never seen a team at any level, in any sport, fight harder, and play with more heart. They FORCED the college volleyball world to take notice of how special they were. That was a magical night.

How does Jenison stack up against other volleyball venues from the broadcaster's perspective? Simply put, Jenison Fieldhouse is a special place. The history of that building, of the magical (no pun intended) things that have happened there, It's fun to call that home. We have some of the best fans in the nation, and they give our athletes a lift. The energy in that place is spectacular, and I've had some of the best calls of my career there. Rick Adkinson and his event management staff are top notch, and with the Athletic Communications staff, A broadcaster's job gets a lot easier. The location for me to do games is one of the best in the conference, Elevated, and on the end of the floor. In a sport with lateral movement like volleyball, it really helps to see plays develop. There are other venues in the conference that have some perks that are nice (Wisconsin and Purdue have live stat monitors, and that REALLY helps, Penn State is really good at updating out of town scores) Overall, though, in the words of Judy Garland...."There's no place like home."

For Kreger's all-time Spartan volleyball team, as well as his thoughts on Cathy George and the state of the Spartans, come back Tuesday for part two.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Kreger Named Best Volleyball Broadcaster in America

Michigan State volleyball play-by-play broadcaster John Kreger was named best college volleyball broadcaster in America today by the American Volleyball Coaches Association.

Kreger, the voice of Spartan volleyball since 2001, was picked as a finalist for the association's Grant Burger award, which honors the top person in volleyball media that year. The top sports information director, print writer, broadcaster and online writer in the land vie for the award - with Kreger picked to represent broadcasters.

"Obviously, we are very excited for John, he is an avid Michigan State volleyball fan, but more importantly he truly cares about the game of volleyball at all levels," said head coach Cathy George. "I have had the privilege of working with John for the past 4 seasons and am amazed at his ability to depict such a vivid and accurate image of our sport with his words."

Anyone who has listened to Kreger call a game via MSUSpartans.com would likely agree with that statement. The awards committee clearly does - AVCA officials cited Kreger's play-by-play precision when announcing the award:

"There is never a moment during a broadcast where listeners are left without details of where the ball is, who recorded the kill, who posted the dig or even what play was run," AVCA officials said in a statement. "Kreger also institutes detailed interviews with both of the matches head coaches in to his match-night broadcasts and is an avid blogger, all helping to take the promotion of the sport of volleyball to new heights."

Will Tieman, president of the Spartan Radio Network and voice of MSU basketball, agreed.

"John possess a passion for the sport which he artistically conveys during his broadcasts," Tieman said. "He is more than deserving of this award."

Full disclosure here: Both TOSSS authors know Kreger on a personal and professional level, but I'd be singing his praises even if I'd just heard him on the radio.

My favorite Kreger broadcasting story comes from this past year, when Kreger covered MSU's historic victory over the University of Delaware live from a creaky old fieldhouse in Newark, Del., the roof of which couldn't stop the rain from the remnants of Tropical Storm Hanna that was raging around outside. Water dripped from the roof so much that play had to be halted after every few points to mop up the floor. His commentary bench was on the floor, set off to the left of one of the court sides and partially behind a team bench. Easily the worst spot one could have to call a game.

Yet Kreger didn't miss a beat, his voice crescendoing with every Spartan point as he masterfully narrated Michigan State's most dominant set win ever - a 25-8 shellacking to cap a straight-sets victory over the Blue Hens on their home court.

"He is passionate, hard working, and carries a genuine excitement for MSU and Big Ten Volleyball," George said. "He is an integral member of the Spartan family, but to say that he only represents our conference would be an understatement."

Amen to that, and our hearty congratulations to one of MSU's finest.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Spartan Shirt Finalists

Michigan State has released its finalist designs for the new student section football shirt for this upcoming season, and the decision is in your hands.

The front of the shirt has three options, all of which feature the Spartan helmet in some fashion. It's prominent on designs one and three, and fairly reserved on design two.

On the back are the words "We Are Spartans", a fairly familiar refrain, alongside"United in Green and White", which is a pretty new slogan for MSU. I can't recall it being used in any wide-scale effort over the past few years, and it's certainly not part of the casual fan's lexicon.

While the front three designs could all be said to be variations on the same theme, the back three are pretty different. The top has MSU's 2009 schedule, the second is just simple block lettering, but the third is easily my favorite. Hence why it's pictured.

Vote now - the polls close on July 17.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Final Four Friday: Home Conference Games

In the last Final Four Friday, we took a look at MSU's non-conference schedule. Today, we'll look at the most anticipated home conference games.

Michigan - The conference season starts out with a bang, thanks to a game against MSU's most hated rivals. This year's Wolverines won't be as good as those that won every in-state tilt from 2002-07, but they're not going to be as bad as last year's sad sack excuse for a squad. Despite MSU going in as the favorite - again - I don't think fans will have a problem getting up for this game.

Northwestern - The Wildcats will likely be just as solid a team this year as they were last year. Still, it's hard to get really animated about playing Northwestern, unless one remembers the last time they visited Spartan Stadium and how bad that overtime loss felt. One thing's for sure, Northwestern will remember how bad it felt to get spanked by us in their place last year, and they'll be looking for revenge.

Iowa - Very little would give me more pleasure than waxing the Hawkeyes, especially after their disgusting lobbying for a better bowl game than NW and MSU, despite being beaten by both. It's not that I dislike Kirk Ferentz, Kinnick Stadium or the state of Iowa. I like corn, really I do, and Field of Dreams was a good movie. But some of those shameless Iowa boosters just rub me the wrong way, so this home date is circled on my calendar.

Penn State - You know what we needed to make the Land Grant Trophy really valuable? A good MSU team, that's what. Last game of the season, possible January bowl game on the line against a team that's likely to be in the Big Ten championship hunt all year. Plus the annual "is this JoePa's last Big Ten game?" question. It'll be a big day for both schools. Yep, this rivalry is actually starting to mean something, even if it is a bit friendly for my taste.

And the winner is... Michigan. I want to pick Penn State, but quite frankly the game I'll always want to win most is against Michigan. It's just no contest.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

10,000 to 1 Odds

"If anyone gives you 10,000 to 1 odds on anything, you take that bet. If John Mellencamp ever wins an Oscar, I will be one rich dude." - Kevin Malone, The Office

Lucky for Kevin, the bookies have Betfirms.com have listed our own Michigan State football team as 10,000 to 1 odds to win the BCS National Championship game. Folks, those are insane numbers. To put it in context, they're the same odds a British bookmaker gave last fall to a bettor who guessed that Barack Obama would forgo the presidency to coach the English soccer club West Ham United.

Not that the 10,000-1 odds are wrong, mind you, but if you were to put down $100 bucks and State pulls it off, you're a millionaire.

So just how unlikely is it that State wins it all? Well, let's compare some other long-shot odds:

38-1 - Hitting a single number in roulette on a regulation wheel (it pays at 36-1).
50-1 - Mine That Bird's odds before winning this year's Kentucky Derby.
70-1 - The biggest longshot winner in Belmont Stakes history, Sarava, went off at 70-1 in 2007.
100-1 - The Detroit Lions win next year's Super Bowl.
309-1 - You'll die when someone deliberately shoots you.
3,216-1 - Hitting a straight flush in any given hand of Texas Hold-em poker.

Just to make sure you saw that one in the middle - apparently the Lions are 100 times more likely to win the Super Bowl coming off an 0-16 season than the Spartans are to win the national championship the year after going to the Capitol One Bowl.

If the Spartans can pull this off, Kevin Malone will be a very rich man.

Editor's note: Gambling is illegal in most parts of the U.S., and we here at TOSSS do not condone betting on MSU or any college athletics. If you do choose to gamble, be smart, and seek help if you get in over your head.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Another Reason to Love William Gholston

By now, you've likely heard that MSU reportedly landed a "soft verbal" commitment from the top football player in the state - Detroit Southeastern DE/LB William Gholston. That news came one day after news that State hooked Detroit Renaissance CB Mylan Hicks.

That brings MSU's unofficial recruiting count (because formal letters aren't signed until February, 2010) to four. The other two: Traverse City St. Francis LB Max Bullough and Detroit Crockett ATH Tony Lippert.

Now, I'm not going to comment on the strength of State's recruiting class. I don't watch enough high school football to know what the heck is going on with a bunch of 16 and 17-year-old kids, nor do I have a crystal ball which predicts how well they'll do once they have to fact the Trojans of USC, rather than East Lansing.

But I do know that this class so far is the latest bit of evidence of Mark Dantonio's Michigan-first recruiting effort. It's one that has paid big dividends for Tom Izzo in basketball and Joanne P. McCallie, and now Suzy Merchant, in women's basketball.

That's not the only reason why I'm loving the Gholston commitment. He and the three other recruits from Michigan will cost Mark Dantonio's football program a combined about $62,000 less per year in tuition, and up to $248,000 less than comparable recruits from Ohio or Florida or anywhere else over four years. In-state tuition in 2008-09 was $10,264, while out-of-state tuition was $25,722. And the football program has to pick up that tab.

So given that Michigan's economy is in the tank, and not likely to recover any time soon, give Dantonio credit for finding players he thinks will help MSU win championships while also saving thousands of dollars on the side.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Governor Perles?

MSU Trustee George Perles, the former head football coach, has been rumored for a while to be thinking about running for governor. According to a report in the Free Press, Perles has decided to go for it.

I know what you're probably thinking, and no, this is not a joke. Perles, a registered Democrat, actually has experience as a statewide elected official, as he was the top vote-getter when he won election to the Board in 2006. He's a successful entrepreneur, having founded the Motor City Bowl, and is probably one of the five best-known politicians in Michigan.

Of course, there are several difficulties standing in his way. For one, almost the entire Democratic establishment has lined up behind Lt. Gov. John Cherry. Those who haven't are generally fans of state Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith.

Then there's the fact that, in order to win a Democratic primary, one typically has to do well in Ann Arbor, where Perles is about as popular as Rich Rodriguez is in East Lansing. And even if he got through that, he'd run into the winner of perhaps the strongest Republican primary field in years - Attorney General Mike Cox, Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land and U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra are among the favorites.

Now, I don't know what chance Perles has - but he did get MSU to a Rose Bowl, so I suppose anything's possible.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Construction Update: MSU's Shooting Facility

Another tidbit from last week's Construction Junction was the slide show of images of the almost complete John and Marnie Demmer Shooting Sports Education and Training Center. The center, a $3.5 million, 23,000 square ft. center will be the second largest of its kind in the Midwest. It will be used to support MSU's shooting sports, as well as classes and activities for both Michigan State students and greater community education.

The complex is a natural fit at MSU, a school with strong agricultural and resource management ties. Students interested in a variety of related degrees can benefit from having this type of experience. While the NCAA does not sanction all shooting sports, MSU still fields club teams in Archery and Rifle Marksmanship.

Images courtesy of Michigan State University.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Construction Update: Football Parking

Sorry for the delay on this post, but once last Sunday's wedding "after party" stretched on to Wednesday morning, I realized that I could wait until Thursday's Construction Junction for a more complete update. Congrats again to Derek!

First and foremost, it was announced at Thursday's meeting (and it was reported in the State News) that Mt. Hope road will be resurfaced this summer. This wasn't originally on the schedule, but evidently the federal stimulus package is contributing the funds. The stretch of road that will be affected is from the US-127 bridge to Farm Lane. Construction is slated to begin in late July or early August, in order to have the project finished by fall welcome for students (and whenever anyone says "fall welcome for students," think "first football game." That is what everyone really cares about.)

Then there is the bigger issue of the delay to the Farm Lane underpass project that was first discussed on this site back in April. The project appears to be staying on the revised schedule, which should have it completed sometime within the first few weeks of football season. We'll let you know if we hear anything different.

Finally, there is a massive steam tunnel reconstruction going on at Wilson and Birch on campus. This is the area between Wilson and Holden Residence Halls. This project is slated for completion before "fall welcome for students."

Looking at all of these projects together, the first few football games this year have the potential to either be much better traffic-wise than last season, or be much worse for parking and traffic than anything experienced recently. If all projects finish on time or early, football traffic should be a breeze this fall. But, assuming that Farm Lane does not open, than football parking will start with the same busing hassles that fans endured last season. If either the Mt. Hope resurfacing or the Wilson/Birch projects are delayed, fans will be looking at additional issues. Wilson/Birch is very close to the student tailgating area at the Tennis Courts, which can already be a traffic nightmare before some games.

If Farm Lane is closed, and Mt. Hope is delayed, there will not be much of a difference to those parking in the commuter lot. A few extra minutes added to an already much longer trip is not worth complaining about, and many people who would park in that lot are parking in other areas until Farm Lane reopens. However, the "fun" scenario is if Farm Lane opens early, but Mt. Hope is delayed. Fans will flock back to the commuter lot for parking and what will be the quickest bus trip ever to Spartan Stadium. But first, all those fans would have to endure the massive backup caused by the resurfacing in order to get there.

If I were to make a prediction based on my knowledge today, I would guess that Wilson/Birch will finish on time, Farm Lane will open about two weeks into football season, and Mt. Hope will open sometime after the first game. So, parking for that first game could be tricky. Working in fans favor though is MSU's schedule, where the first game is hardly worth printing the fancy glossy tickets. There is a good chance some fans won't be showing up anyway.

We'll continue to monitor the status on these projects.

Image courtesy of Michigan State University.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Final Four Friday: Non-Conference Games

The big topic on ESPN.com this week is college football non-conference scheduling. Specifically, that certain schools (Penn State, Wisconsin) don't do squat in terms of actually trying to put tough teams on the schedule.

Michigan State wasn't listed among the wimpy schools, nor was it among the giant killers. So given that State has scheduled four non-conference games, we'll take a look at one fan's view of the most anticipated non-conference games.

Montana State - Quite frankly, I'm not excited about this game at all. It's patently offensive that we're even playing them. MSU, to this point, is one of just four FBS schools to have NEVER played an FCS school - and the Grizzlies will end that streak the first game of the season. So what if we win by five touchdowns? I don't care if we win 100-0. It's blood money we're giving them, and I absolutely hate it. No guaranteed money is worth killing our streak.

Central Michigan - On paper, this is a great matchup for MSU. Dan "Catch the" LeFevour returns to quarterback an explosive Chippewa offense, and a lack of Chips defense should make this a very high scoring game. You don't want to sit there in the early part of the season and watch a defensive struggle, do you? No, you don't. And this won't be one.

Notre Dame - Touchdown Jesus, Charlie Weis and Jimmy Claussen. In South Bend. Very few things could be better than this. I mean, this is what Spartan football is all about. The annual rivalry is a huge game for MSU, and is arguably one of the biggest games each year. Oddly enough, this is the start of the biggest three-game stretch for State this year - @ ND, @ Wisconsin, home to Michigan. Win those three, and it may be hello to a New Years Day bowl game yet again.

Western Michigan - This game was meant to be played at Ford Field, except the troublesome Michigan economy forced Western to abandon the "home" game in favor of a road trip to Spartan Stadium. I can't say much about the Spartans-Broncos game, except that it's the second Directional Michigan game this year, and it comes late in the season between visits to Minnesota and Purdue.

And the winner is... Notre Dame.

If I've got to see just one game, based on how good the game will be, it's probably Central. But I'd rather see Charlie "We'll never lose to State again" Weis have to eat his words one more time - and in front of his home fans - than almost anything else this football season. Bring on the Irish!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

An Odd Definition of a "Bad Round"

You know that old phrase: If you can't do, teach?

MSU women's golf coach Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll has either never heard of it, or doesn't care.

Slobodnik-Stoll won the Michigan Women's Mid-Amateur Wednesday with a five-over 146 at Redford's Western Golf and Country Club, defeating her nearest rival by four strokes. It was her - get this - fifth straight victory in the tournament.

I love her quote to the Free Press about her final round, a four-over 76 that would have left duffers like the two authors of this site weeping for joy:
"It was kind of a scrape-it-around round," Slobodnik-Stoll said. "I wouldn't say anything was working really well for me today. There was no point where I felt like it was coming together for me."

When things "don't come together" for me, I lose nine balls, break a club head and card a 114. Slobodnik-Stoll has a bad round and whips every other amateur in her class by four.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Sad Day for the Victory Burrito

Panchero's location in Spartan Stadium is no more.

For many years, Panchero's Mexican Grill has had a location in Spartan Stadium under section 9, providing Spartan fans with an superb alternative to classic stadium cuisine with their giant burritos. It was confirmed Panchero's will not return to the stadium for the 2009 season.

No word yet on what food vendor will fill the section 9 location, or if there will be an alternative burrito provider somewhere else in Spartan Stadium. The change could mean the loss of an entire genre of food available in the stadium, where variety is already an issue.

Panchero's enjoys a special relationship with East Lansing and Spartan fans. Their East Lansing restaurant on Grand River Ave was one of two original locations opened in 1992. It proved so successful that there are now over 50 locations nation-wide. Last month, Panchero's was named the preferred vendor for the Victory Burrito tradition by both TOSSS writers and in a fan poll.

Workers at their East Lansing location expressed disappointment about the change for the upcoming season. "Now you'll have to come here first, and sneak the burrito into the Stadium."

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Best Laid Plans...

It was the intention of those of us at TOSSS to do a few nice posts this weekend. The plan was to easily write those, while also having TOSSS writer Derek get married (and me attending.)

Well, it is now apparent that posting will not happen. Either things are going very well, and everything's fine and we're all just having too much fun, or everything is collapsing and we are holding off the apocalypse with all our effort. I'll let you decide which it is...

Derek would like me to note that the weekend selected does not interfere with any major Spartan sports. There's no football game, basketball, etc. Red Wings fans, oops...

So, the 2nd construction update will come early next week, and Friday Final Four should return next week. Congratulations to Derek!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Construction Update: Old College Field

During our extended Memorial Day break there was another construction junction, and this was a busy one! It was so busy in fact, that we will be splitting the update over two posts. Today's update will discuss more improvements to Old College Field, and then over the weekend there will be an update on campus traffic and parking issues for the fall.

The big presentation related to athletics at the last construction junction was presenting plans for the Concessions and Restrooms Building at the field, which will serve the new McLane Baseball Stadium as well as softball and soccer. MSU's design of that area is very efficient, with shared common areas for all three fields.

Here are the online notes for the presentation:
    • New soccer and softball fields complete

      • New baseball field was complete on May 2
    • Project scope
      • Add concessions and restrooms to the baseball facilities
      • Added to electrical top the building
      • It will be located at the west end of the field
      • Will look like the batting/pitching facility
      • The building materials enable the building to be “floodable.” Should flooding occur, all doors can be opened.
Note the last bullet point, that the building will be "floodable." This is important because this entire area is located within the Red Cedar's flood plain, and it is very likely that a flood will occur here within the lifespan of this stadium complex.

Images here were taken from the presentation, located online here.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Finals Glory for State Fans

I'm going to come right out and admit it: I'm not a Detroit Red Wings fan. In fact, I'm about the exact opposite - as far away as one can be. It's not the Blackhawks, not the Maple Leafs or any other O-6 team. Not even, though I grew up in South Florida, the perennially-terrible Panthers.

Nope, through a weird quirk of fortune, I'm a Colorado Avalanche fan. So naturally, given that our most hated rivals are in the Stanley Cup finals, you'd think I'd be rooting for Pittsburgh, right?

Not a chance. And the reason for that is not because I've forgotten the overreaction to Claude Lemieux's hit or because I've flaked on my childhood hockey heroes.

Instead, I'm cheering for Justin Abdelkader, a Spartan hockey alumnus who was part of the great 2007 national championship team.

Same story in the NBA finals, where Shannon Brown, he of the thunder dunks back in his Spartan days, helped his LA Lakers squad reach the NBA finals.

So, in honor of Brown and Abdelkader, go Lakers and (as much as this pains me to say) go Wings. Most of all, Go State!

Monday, June 1, 2009

MSU Day!

As a thank you to TOSSS for it's win in the last Final Four Friday, the Big Ten Network made today (Monday, June 1) MSU day on the channel. All day is filled with different programming related to MSU, from past Greatest Games to campus programming. I'm pretty excited to see the 2006 MSU at Northwestern football game tonight at 10:00 ET, a game that I enjoyed from the front row. Make sure you check it out!