The Battle Plan

April 17, 2014

ANOTHER A-DAY WEEKEND IS UPON US

A-Day at the University of Alabama is a very special time. It provides an opportunity for all former letter winners as well as alumni and fans to visit the campus at what might be the most beautiful time of the year. The dogwoods and azaleas are in full bloom. The grass, trees, and shrubs are all in prime color.

The primary focus is to view the culmination of spring football practice. It is fun to speculate on who is going to play which position, and which players will step up to fill voids left by graduation. It is also interesting to watch the competition for position and the depth in key spots that have materialized since the end of last season. And it all happens, to the fans at least, without the pressure of winning or losing the game that is felt in the fall.

It is a perfect time to reunite with teammates or classmates or friends or family around a plethora of activities before, during and after the game. But it has also become a very important time for Alabama fans to continue to show the world how important Alabama football is to the Bama Nation by their presence at the A-Day game.

Alabama has led the nation in average attendance at this event since Coach Saban came to the University in 2007. I encourage you to come on out Saturday and let's fill up the stadium to show our support for the 2014 Crimson Tide Football Team.

Thinking about A-Day takes me back 51 years to my senior year at Alabama. I was President of the A-Club and had the responsibility to plan the A-Club banquet and dance. Jimmy "Chink" Wilson, who we lost last year, was Secretary-Treasurer.

I remember going in to meet Coach Bryant a few weeks before the event and nervously asking him about whether we could have certain things on the menu and how much we could spend on a band. He basically said, "When we win you can do anything you want!" Our team went 10-1 and beat Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl so I took that to mean we could move forward with gusto.

Chink had the A-Club checkbook and we started making plans, making deals, and writing checks. A few days later we got a call to immediately come to meet with Coach Carney Laslie, who managed the athletic department's money. He chewed us out big time and told us before we wrote checks in the future; we should make sure there was money in the account! That experience was probably our first real life lesson in economics, but I can assure you it did have a lasting impact on us both!

We look forward to seeing you in and around Bryant-Denny Stadium this weekend and hope we can make it back to Birmingham in time to help our SEC and NCAA Regional Champion gymnastics team win their seventh NCAA National Championship. We also hope Bama fans can make it out to support our men's and women's tennis teams, and women's golf team as they compete in SEC Tournaments this weekend.

JACOB & WHITSETT ARE PORTRAITS OF ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE

Over the past three years, 13 University of Alabama student-athletes have earned NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships, a total that ranks second nationally over that span of time. Only Stanford, with 18, has more and the Cardinal sponsor 36 scholarship sports programs compared to our 17. On both the national and conference level, our academic achievement ranks among the best.

Two of our outstanding student-athletes were recognized by the SEC office earlier this week as gymnast Kim Jacob and golfer Cory Whitsett have been named finalists for the prestigious H. Boyd McWhorter Scholar-Athlete Postgraduate Scholarships. Since 1986, the SEC has presented the McWhorter Scholar-Athlete Postgraduate Scholarship to the league's top male and female scholar-athletes. Alabama has a proud tradition of McWhorter Award honorees, having won eight McWhorter Awards, including last year's when Barrett Jones of the football team was honored.

We are extremely proud of everything that Cory and Kim have achieved throughout their careers. Both have been part of NCAA championship teams, both have earned Southeastern Conference Postgraduate Scholarships, and both have won NCAA Elite 89 Awards during their careers that is presented at each NCAA championship event to the participating student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average (GPA). This latest honor is a testament to their hard work, dedication and commitment to excellence. They are the epitome of what we look for in student-athletes and they are tremendous ambassadors for the University and its athletics department.

The SEC will name the 2014 recipients of the H. Boyd McWhorter Scholar-Athlete Postgraduate Scholarship on May 6. Each year, the SEC and AT&T provide the league's male and female McWhorter Scholar-Athlete Postgraduate Scholarship recipients with a $15,000 post-graduate scholarship. The 22 remaining male and female finalists receive a $7,500 postgraduate scholarship.

Kim is the first gymnast in SEC history to be named Gymnastics Scholar Athlete of the Year by a vote of the league's coaches three times (2012, 2013 and 2014). She carries a perfect 4.0 GPA while majoring in exercise science. She's a three-year Scholastic All-American, a three-time member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll, a seven-time All-American and was a vital part of the Tide's 2011 and 2012 NCAA championships. Kim is an active presence in the community, earning a place on the 2013 and 2014 SEC Community Service Teams while volunteering with numerous charities and causes throughout her career.

Cory carries a perfect 4.0 GPA, is a two-time NCAA Elite 89 Award winner, and is on track to graduate in May with a degree in business. He was the 2013 SEC Player of the Year and SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year and earned a place on the 2013 Capital One Academic All-American At-Large First Team. A three-time SEC Academic Honor Roll selection, Cory led his team to the 2013 NCAA championship and also spent time as the world's No. 1 amateur while helping lead the United States to victory at the 2013 Walker Cup and Palmer Cup. The 2011 SEC Freshman of the Year, Cory has earned first-team All-SEC honors in each of his first three years, was a consensus first-team All-American in 2013 and a second-team selection in 2011 and 2012. A member of the 2013 All-Nicklaus Team and the 2011 All-Mickelson Team, Cory owns five career individual medalist honors (the second most in Crimson Tide history) and is third in school history in scoring average.

NATIONAL RANKNGS UPDATE: 3 TEAMS IN THE TOP 5 AND 6 IN THE TOP 10!

Two teams - women's tennis and men's track - have achieved their highest rankings ever this week! The women's tennis team climbed to No. 3 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association poll and the men's track team is No. 7 in the latest Track Coaches Association rankings. This week, seven of our 10 teams currently active are ranked in the top 11 nationally of their respective sports this week, including an incredible six teams ranked in the top 10 - and an amazing three teams are ranked in the top five nationally. Here's a look at Alabama teams that are nationally-ranked this week:

Men's Golf..... 1st
Women's Tennis..... 3rd
Gymnastics .....4th
Softball .....6th
Men's Track .....7th
Baseball .....8th
Women's Golf .....11th

A MONUMENTAL ACHIEVEMENT

Our women's tennis team produced a historic first last weekend, highlighting another stellar week for our spring sports teams as we approach the beginning of the championship phase of the all-sports calendar:

  • What an unforgettable weekend for Coach Jenny Mainz and our third-ranked WOMEN'S TENNIS team! A win at No. 8 Georgia on Friday clinched at least a tie for the program's first SEC regular-season title, and then a win at Tennessee on Sunday gave the Tide the title outright.
  • The 4-3 win over Georgia on Friday was remarkable for many reasons, including the fact that the Tide had to erase a deficit to take the victory. But it also was notable from a historical standpoint as it was the Bulldogs' first loss at home this season and the win allowed us to clinch at least a share of the SEC title for the first time in Alabama history. After we took an early lead by winning the doubles point, Georgia moved to a 2-1 lead by taking two singles matches. The Tide evened the match at 2-2 as Maya Jansen won her match. The Bulldogs took the lead one more time, 3-2, with a singles victory. To win the match, the Tide had to win the final two singles matches.

    Emily Zabor did her part, overcoming a one-set deficit to win a tiebreaker in the second set to tie her match before prevailing, 6-1, in the pivotal third set. That set the stage for Luicelena Perez to become the answer to a Tide tennis trivia question: "Whose singles victory enabled the Crimson Tide to clinch at least a tie for its first SEC regular season conference title?" Luice dropped her first set by a score of 6-2 and was down in the second before coming back to win 6-4 and even the match. In the third set, she fell behind again but battled back gamely. Luice broke the Georgia player's serve to take a 5-4 lead, setting up the victory. Luice earned SEC Co-Player of the Week honors for her gritty performance, the second time this season that she has earned that recognition.

    The win at Tennessee lacked suspense as the Tide swept the Volunteers in a 4-0 victory, ending the regular season with a 12-1 mark in league play (the best record in program history) to begin postseason play with a 20-3 overall mark. The win at Tennessee was also Jenny's 200th victory as head coach at Alabama. This is Alabama's second consecutive 20-win season and the fifth in program history. The turnaround of this program the last few years under Coach Mainz is a testament to persistence, patience and determination. The team had some lean years a few seasons back, but things have improved dramatically in recent seasons. Jenny's leadership, belief in her plan, and growth as a coach has served the University well.

    That progress has renewed fan interest, the result of which I have documented in earlier blog entries. Your support of our program has resulted in the women's program earning a No. 5 showing in total attendance for all of collegiate tennis for the 2014 season, according to the Intercollegiate Tennis Association in figures released on April 11. Not only did our women's team rank fifth in total attendance for the season up to that point, but also ranked No. 8 nationally in average attendance per match. The message is clear: our fan support and our success on the court are symbiotic!

  • The eighth-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide BASEBALL team is 26-11 overall and 10-5 in the SEC after coming back to take a three-game series over Auburn by earning a pair of victories on Saturday and Sunday. We dropped the opening game of the series on Friday to Auburn, 2-1, before winning game two on Saturday, 4-1, and game three on Sunday, 4-3. The Tide has won all six home series this season and has lost only one SEC series overall this season (at Arkansas). At the midway point of the conference schedule, we are in sole possession of first place in the overall SEC standings with a 10-5 record.

    Our crowds last weekend were outstanding! We averaged 5,559 for the series, our best home weekend of the season. Best of all, the crowds were intense and into the games. The Tide is 19-5 at Sewell-Thomas Stadium this season and travels to Tennessee for another crucial three-game SEC series this weekend. Alabama has five games this week, hosting Jackson State on Tuesday before traveling to Birmingham to play UAB on Wednesday at Regions Field, then going to Knoxville for the series with Tennessee on Friday through Sunday.

    Three players deserve special mention for their performances last week. Third baseman Chance Vincent hit .467, posting at least one hit in all four games to extend his hitting streak to eight games. Chance was 7-for-15 with a double and two RBI in the four games. He has broken out of a hitting slump and has a .306 average during SEC play. On back-to-back days freshman pitcher Thomas Burrows made two appearances out of the bullpen against Auburn, getting a win and a save in 2 and 1/3 innings of work. Thomas is 4-1 with a 0.89 ERA this season while holding opponents to a .109 batting average. Pitcher Justin Kamplain went a career-high 8 and 2/3 innings against Auburn on Saturday, allowing one run on three hits with five strikeouts, three walks and three hit batters. Justin did not allow a run until the ninth inning, when he gave up two of the three hits in the game. Opponents are hitting only .201 against him this season. Justin was named SEC Pitcher of the Week on Monday for his efforts.

  • Our sixth-ranked SOFTBALL team split four games last week, winning 4-3 over UAB on Wednesday and 5-1 at Mississippi State on Friday before a couple of setbacks at Starkville on Saturday and Sunday. The Tide remains atop the SEC standings with a 15-3 record and is 37-8 overall. Senior pitcher Jaclyn Traina earned her 13th straight victory on Friday, throwing six innings with five hits and one unearned run. She took a no-decision in a heroic effort in Sunday's loss, throwing nine innings, allowing seven hits and two earned runs. Sophomore outfielder Kallie Case led the Tide at the plate, going 4-for-8 with a run scored and a pair of RBI. Senior infielder Kaila Hunt hit a solo home run on Friday, making her the first Alabama player to have double-digit home runs this season while giving her 56 career homers, just four shy of tying Kelly Kretschman for the Tide career record.

    This weekend the Tide will take a break from conference play this weekend. Coach Pat Murphy's team will travel to Chapel Hill, N.C., to take on Georgia Southern on Friday at 2:30 p.m. CT, followed by a 5 p.m. CT matchup on Friday against North Carolina. The Tide and the Tar Heels will clash again on Saturday at 11 a.m. CT in Chapel Hill before returning to Tuscaloosa.

  • Our seventh-ranked TRACK & FIELD team continues its outstanding season. Last Friday the team hosted an unusual event, a six-team competition featuring schools from the states of Alabama and Mississippi in what Coach Dan Waters devised as "The Border Clash". The unique event was a scored event in which three Alabama schools - Alabama, Auburn and Samford - united to take on three Mississippi schools - Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Southern Miss. The teams competed in 38 events over the course of Friday at the Sam Bailey Track Complex.

    Crimson Tide athletes won 14 of the 38 events, including an impressive win by Diondre Batson in the men's 100 meters in a time of 10.01 seconds! That's the second-fastest time in school history behind the great Olympic gold medalist Calvin Smith, accomplished some 31 years ago.

    The Mississippi teams won the men's competition while the Alabama schools took the women's title. Tide athletes set more than a dozen personal bests on the day and produced eight performances that rank among the all-time Alabama top 10 in their respective events. This week the team is competing at the prestigious Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut Creek, Calif. Keep your eyes on this team as they continue to develop into one of the nation's finest programs.

  • The MEN'S TENNIS team is ranked among the nation's top 35 (No. 33) and our coach, George Husack, is doing an excellent job in building our program into a competitive one in his second season. George did something challenging and commendable over the weekend, scheduling a tripleheader on Sunday to close out the regular season. It was a strategic move to get our team ready for the grind of postseason play and it will hopefully pay off at the SEC Tournament later this week. On Sunday, the team honored seniors Daniil Proskura and Brian Conlon, and then won two of its three matches, dropping a 4-2 decision to No. 21 Tennessee before beating Nicholls State twice.

    The Tide enters the postseason with a 14-14 overall record and will be the No. 10 seed at the SEC Tournament, opening up against No. 7 seeded South Carolina on Thursday in Nashville.

  • Coach Larry Davis's ROWING team earned two top-10 finishes on Sunday at the Knecht Cup Regatta in New Jersey. Alabama's Novice 8 crew earned the best overall finish of the day, placing third in the Petite Final and eighth overall in 7:28.42. The Second Varsity 8 boat was the Crimson Tide's other top 10 finisher, placing third in the Petite Final and ninth overall. The Varsity 4 finished just outside the top 10, placing 11th overall and third in the Third Final section in 8:07.79, trailing the 10th-place Bucknell crew by less than two seconds. The Varsity 8 crew placed sixth in the Petite Final and 12th overall. The team takes this weekend off before resuming action on Saturday, April 25, in Bloomington, Ind., at the Dale England Cup Regatta.
  • THIS WEEKEND'S ACTION

    Check out this weekend's schedule! It's clearly an important weekend for us. There are several major competitions going this weekend that will help determine how this year is remembered for several of our sports. All of these teams are in crucial parts of their seasons, so they definitely need your presence and support. Here's a summary of this weekend's action (times listed are for the location of the event):

    Thursday, April 17

    Time Sport Opponent/Event Location
    All Day Track & Field Mt. SAC Relays Walnut Creek, Calif.

    Friday, April 18

    Time Sport Opponent/Event Location
    12 p.m. Men's Tennis SEC Tournament Nashville, Tenn.
    2 p.m. Women's Tennis SEC Tournament Columbia, Mo.
    2:30 p.m. Softball Georgia Southern Chapel Hill, N.C.
    5 p.m. Baseball Tennessee Knoxville, Tenn.
    5 p.m. Softball North Carolina Chapel Hill, N.C.
    7 p.m. GymnasticsNCAA Championships (Semifinals) Birmingham
    All Day Women's Golf SEC Championships Birmingham
    All Day Track & Field Mt. SAC Relays Walnut Creek, Calif.

    Saturday, April 19

    Time Sport Opponent/Event Location
    11 a.m. Softball North Carolina Chapel Hill, N.C.
    1 p.m. Football Golden Flake A-Day Spring Game Tuscaloosa
    3 p.m. Baseball Tennessee Knoxville, Tenn.
    6 p.m. Gymnastics NCAA Championships (Team Finals) Birmingham
    All Day Women's Golf SEC Championships Birmingham
    All Day Track & Field Mt. SAC Relays Walnut Creek, Calif.
    TBD Men's Tennis SEC Tournament Nashville, Tenn.
    TBD Women's Tennis SEC Tournament Columbia, Mo.

    Sunday, April 20

    Time Sport Opponent/Event Location
    1 p.m. Baseball Tennessee Knoxville, Tenn.
    2 p.m. Gymnastics NCAA Championships (Event Finals) Birmingham
    TBD Men's Tennis SEC Tournament Nashville, Tenn.
    TBD Women's Tennis SEC Tournament Columbia, Mo.
    All Day Women's Golf SEC Championships Birmingham

    At this time of year, SEC and NCAA titles are on the line. If you are in Tuscaloosa, Walnut Creek, Nashville, Columbia, Chapel Hill or Birmingham please get out and support the Tide. If not, let's be with them in spirit and do all we can to Keep the Tide Rising!

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