Friday, April 18, 2014

Hatters' Farrell Gets Unique Fifth-Year Opportunity

By Stetson University Athletic Communications

As a senior standout for The Citadel indoor volleyball team, Rachael Farrell had her postgraduate plans all figured out. She wanted to stay at her alma mater to begin her master’s degree while serving as a graduate assistant coach for the Bulldogs volleyball program.
 

But the best-laid plans often go astray, and when Farrell’s opportunity fell through during her final semester, she started contacting coaches from all over the country looking for an open GA spot. 

One of those coaches to receive an email from Farrell was then-Stetson head coach Tim Loesch. 

“Coach Tim got back to me and said, ‘We don’t have a GA position, but how would you feel about playing sand for a year to use up your eligibility?’” Farrell said. “I said, ‘Do you want to let me come play sand for a year? I would love to.’” 

There was just one small problem.  

Farrell had never had any formal sand training. However, she got to work right away and came down to Siesta Key, Fla., in June to play in a beach tournament with current Hatter Taylor Kennedy. That is when assistant coach Meghan Bryant got her first look at Farrell playing sand. 

“We actually had played The Citadel in indoor, so we remembered her,” Bryant said. “We had seen her in action. Actually, she lit us up that game, so we knew what kind of athlete she was. It was just a matter of seeing her play sand.” 

It didn’t take long for Bryant to see Farrell’s potential. While many players have difficulty making the transition from indoor to sand, Farrell seemed to be handling it quite well.

“She is an incredible athlete, she is very strong, and she obviously had very good training at The Citadel,” Bryant said. “It was interesting, because she was still learning the (sand) game, and you could tell how much she didn’t understand some of the basics.”

Learning curve aside, Bryant was still impressed with Farrell’s ability to stay calm under pressure.
 

“The thing that I really liked the most about watching her play was her ability to keep her composure,” Bryant added. “A lot of players get easily frustrated in sand when it is just two girls out there. Although she was making little errors here and there, she never let it affect her play. I thought that was awesome.” 

Soon after that tournament, Stetson made a formal scholarship offer to Farrell, which she eagerly accepted. 

There was just one more small problem. 

“At that point, I had not been accepted (to Stetson) yet. I had not even come to visit,” Farrell said. “In a span of about three weeks, I applied to Stetson, got accepted, found an apartment, moved down here, and started taking classes.” 

Logistically, things were falling into place for Farrell. But how would she handle fitting in with her new team and experiencing her first extended training in sand volleyball?

“I did not realize how different playing sand was,” Farrell said. “I felt like the fall was a huge learning curve for me. I was really thankful that sand was a spring sport, because where I am now is nowhere near where I was in the fall. The girls have taken me in and helped me learn how different everything is. It has been a blast, and I love it. I really wish I had another year that I could play.” 

Farrell is making the most of her one season of eligibility, going 8-7 with teammate Julie Bassett at the No. 2 and No. 3 positions. Farrell credits Bassett with teaching her a lot of the nuances of the game itself. The pair have helped lead the third-year Stetson sand program to its most successful season to date, with a 14-3 record entering this week's Atlantic Sun Championship. 

“I feel really honored, really grateful for this opportunity,” Farrell said. “I have grown up always being on a sports team, so going to school and not being on a sports team just seemed like such a crazy concept to me. I was so thankful to even just be around the girls, so to be able to contribute on the sand with the team is a very humbling and amazing experience.” 

Farrell and the Hatters will look to capture the A-Sun Championship this Friday and Saturday in Fort Myers, Fla. Although Farrell was not part of last year’s team that came within a few points of the title, she is already immersed in the determination this year’s squad has to accomplish its goal. 

“I know it would mean the world to me, and the whole team,” Farrell said about winning the A-Sun title. “The returners have been working since the end of conference last year. This team is the most driven team I have ever been on. From day one, it wasn’t, ‘Oh, I think we can win the conference,’ it was, ‘We are going to win the conference.’ Every day, we are coming out and putting in everything we can, working on every aspect trying to get better. We know when it counts we are going to finish it.” 

Mercer's Development Translating Into Success

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

With Mercer's 5-0 win today against FGCU in the opening match of the 2014 Sand Volleyball Championship, the Bears continue to show that perhaps the third time is the charm.

Playing in its third A-Sun Sand Volleyball Championship, Mercer claimed its first A-Sun Championship match win in program history along with giving the Bears their third victory this season against FGCU. The win, however, is much more of an indication of the turnaround that the program is experiencing in its third season of sand volleyball.

Mercer, like most collegiate sand volleyball teams, began its program with indoor players who had some sand experience. Like most since the first season, Head Coach Damien Elder has also begun to recruit players for sand only. However, the seniors from indoor on this Bears team, particularly Emily Rochefort and Zoe Becton, have led the way.

"Our seniors from indoor were pioneers for our program, and they have led the way as we have continued to develop," said Head Coach Damian Elder. "They have won a majority of our matches this season, led by Emily Rochefort and Zoe Becton."

Playing as the No. 3 pairing all season, Rochefort and Becton posted a 10-9 overall record and a 5-3 mark in A-Sun play. Benefiting from the leadership of those seniors, however, Elder points out that a pair of freshmen have also made an immediate impact. Tori Penrod, the 2014 Sand Volleyball Freshman of the Year, has been a part of seven wins for the Bears, six of those playing in the No. 1 pairing with Natalie Braun. Penrod and Braun also posted as 3-3 mark in A-Sun matches.

Emma Peel, another of Elder's first-year standouts, has been a part of five wins, four of which came in the No. 2 pairing with Jamie Duffy. Together, Penrod and Peel also recorded a 1-4 overall mark.

Elder says that one of the strengths of this team is how it has processed the experience from the first two seasons to improve. He points to the progression and the total about-face that indoor players must go through to adapt to the sand game.

"The effort has been there since we began sand volleyball," said Elder. "We have played hard for two seasons. Before when we would spray a lot of balls, now we are turning those into successful rallies, point and wins.

"Volleyball players, particularly indoor, have been drilled in a specific skill training as long as they have played the game," said Elder. You spend years in club doing specific things over and over again. But there is a great deal of improvisation in sand, and it just takes a while to adjust and to gain the instincts and to get the timing and feel of the game."

Elder says that even for him, learning to coach sand volleyball has been a learning experience.

"I played sand volleyball, and I am still figuring out the coaching part of this," he said. "I am still getting a feel as to what I have to say and how and when I say it is the most valuable for them."

Another factor in the program's development has been Elder's commitment to and ability to develop a rapport with his players. He recalls that component was clearly missing in the team that he inherited in his first season in 2011, but that is something that he has been able to create by taking steps such as regularly working out and training with them.

"It has been great to see this team come together as players and with me," said Elder. "It seemed obvious to me that to have a coach do the stuff with you that you have to do it would make an impact, and it has. To this group, that matters. We have established trust between our players and staff and it has made us a much stronger volleyball team than Mercer ever had before."

Elder also points to the A-Sun's relationship with the AVCA and its willingness to take a leadership role in the sport's development as a factor in not only his program's development but the conference's development as a whole. The A-Sun was the first Division I conference to conduct a championship in sand volleyball, led the way by structuring regular season scheduling and was the first conference to receive an automatic bid to the AVCA Collegiate National Championships.

"The A-Sun's role in sand volleyball has been huge for the conference," Elder said."Two years ago everyone was struggling to develop schedules and looking for a consistent format, and I think our structure led the way, sort of providing a template and reigning everyone in. It took a lot of hard work to stick to it and to push for what we have now, but I am glad that we had a part in leading the way to legitimize the sport."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The A-Sun Scores Hole In One


As the 2014 Women’s Golf Championships concludes Wednesday in Jekyll Island, Ga., don’t be surprised if someone's scorecard comes up aces.

Over the course of the 2013-14 season, A-Sun women's golfers recorded four holes-in-one, a feat not many other conferences can claim.

USC Upstate’s Allea Hawkins kicked off the impressive accomplishment from the A-Sun quartet, recording a pair of aces in back-to-back tournaments in September. Her first came on the Pine Lakes course at Jekyll Island, this year's host of the A-Sun Championship. Using a hybrid club at the par-3 165 sixth hole, Hawkins scored her first collegiate hole in one. Two rounds later, at the Country Club of Spartanburg, Hawkins stepped up to another par-3 sixth and recorded her second ace.

"Both shots were high cut shots into the hole," said Hawkins. "I didn't even see the first one. I thought it was behind the hole but one of the people I was playing with got excited and told me it went in. I thought it was in the shadow of the flagstick. I looked in my range finder and it was in the hole. Today, I was going crazy. I saw it go in."

Kennesaw State’s Ines Lescudier, the reigning A-Sun Individual Champion, recorded her first career ace at the Lady Paladin Invitational. Lescudier hit a four hybrid at the 164-yard par-3 to record the hole-in-one. Not only the first career ace for Lescudier, but also the first in head coach Rhyll Brinsmead tenure at KSU.

Lescudier, a junior from Marseille, France, has been a force since coming to Kennesaw State. She holds several team records and was the 2013 Atlantic Sun Conference Player and Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Despite all the hardware, the hole in one had eluded Lescudier until this year. Along with serving as the Owls' number one player, Lescudier competed for Team France at the European Ladies Team Amateur Championship.

The final member of the 2013-14 hole-in-one club from the A-Sun was senior Carlie Gehlhausen from Jacksonville. She recorded her hole-in-one at the Pat Bradley Invitational back in October 2013. Using a 7-wood on the 174-yard par-3, Gehlhausen collected her first career ace. Gehlhausen’s shot came in the final round of the fall for the Dolphin squad.

The most exciting shot in golf was a big part of the women’s golf season, and it would only be fitting if it came into play during the final rounds of the 2014 Atlantic Sun Championship. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Stetson Teammates Enjoy Holiday Safari


Courtesy: Stetson University and GoHatters.com

Among the many benefits of competing in college athletics is the opportunity for student-athletes to make life-long friends. Often these friends come from vastly different backgrounds and experiences.

Such is the case of Claudia Redinger and Ryan Ashburn from the Stetson women’s golf team. Both seniors, Ashburn is a Florida girl, from Seminole, while Redinger is from Durban in South Africa.

Over the Christmas break from school, Redinger hosted Ashburn in her home country. For Redinger, it was not only a chance to spend time with family, but also a chance to show off all that her homeland has to offer. For Ashburn, it was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

“This was, by far, one of the best Christmas breaks I have had at home since coming to Stetson,” Redinger said. “South Africa is a country that is so diverse, not only with the people who live there, but in the plants, landscapes, traditions and history. I am proud to say that I am South African, and it was an honor showing Ryan around my country.”
For Ashburn, every experience she had while visiting South Africa was new.

“When I arrived, Claudia and her younger brother, Wesley, were there to pick me up from the airport,” Ashburn said. “I made the mistake of getting in on the wrong side of the car and when Claudia asked me if I wanted to drive, I quickly headed for the other side.”

Redinger played tour guide for her teammate for two weeks – from December 27 until January 10. During that time she gave Ashburn the kind of views of her country, which is roughly twice the size of Texas, that only a native could provide.

“I really enjoyed playing the role of tourist in my own backyard,” Redinger said. “I wish that we had more time as there is still so much to see, from the peaceful midlands, to the great Kruger National Park, the Drakensberg to Namaqualand on the western coast.”
Both players documented their trip with journals and photos. Here are a few of the highlights. For a more complete look at their holiday in South Africa, visit www.GoHatters.com.

On Ashburn’s first full day, the duo visited the Inanda Dam and spent the morning tubing and water skiing before flying west across the country to Cape Town and Table Mountain for a spectacular sunset.

“Cape Town is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to,” Ashburn said. The day ended with a visit to the Cheetah sanctuary in Somerset West, on the eastern side of the Cape.

December 30 started at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens for a bus tour around the city of Cape Town. Stops included Groot Constantia (the oldest vineyard in South Africa), Hout Bay, Camps Bay Beach and the Mount Nelson Hotel before ending the day with a picnic in the botanical gardens.

New Year’s Eve was spent at Boulders Beach where they saw some African penguins. A drive along Chapman’s Beak Drive, which is cut into the granite cliffs above the Atlantic Ocean, before a late afternoon flight back to Durban.

The next few days were spent at the beach, playing some golf and enjoying the South African summer along the Indian Ocean. One adventure was zip-lining at Oribi Gorge.
“I really enjoyed playing the golf courses there,” Ashburn said. “Every course is completely different and there is so much elevation change. No matter if it was just a small public course or a nice private one, the views from some of the holes was amazing. Some would look over the ocean, the city or just the valleys, but it was all beautiful.”

The next morning included a drive with a park ranger where they saw many more animals and were even charged by an elephant.

Redinger said that getting to show off her home country to her American teammate was something she really enjoyed. “When I came to Stetson, it was quite a big change for me in terms of the food, culture, people and the way that things get done,” Redinger said. “I think it was much the same for Ryan, but I think that it was an awesome opportunity for her to learn about other cultures.

“South Africa is such a great country and Ryan was immersed in multiple cultures due to our ethnic diversity. I think some of her experiences might have been quite eye-opening.”

Ashburn said her favorite memories from the trip came from the interaction with the Redinger clan.

“I really enjoyed being able to hang out with her family and get to know them,” Ashburn said. “Claudia has a lot of great history in her family. Her grandpa was, and still is, a phenomenal athlete, and her grandma was a teacher. I found it so fascinating that they could all speak at least three different languages.

The only disappointment Ashburn had from her trip was that it didn’t last long enough.
“I do miss South Africa and wish I could have stayed longer,” Ashburn said. “The views were absolutely breathtaking and you could see so far and so much of the city from wherever you were. I would definitely like to go back very soon because there are more places I would like to visit.

They will help lead the Hatters close the season in the A-Sun Championship at Jekyll Island, Ga., where they hope to take Stetson back to a league title and a berth in NCAA Regional play.



Friday, April 4, 2014

UNF Sand Volleyball Team Aims To Expand Its Impressive History

The North Florida Sand Volleyball team is on the verge of achieving a rare accomplishment, a third consecutive A-Sun Championship title.

The Atlantic Sun has served as a pioneer for collegiate sand volleyball from its inception, becoming the first conference at any level to sponsor a conference championship in 2012. In 2013 the A-Sun next became the first conference to receive an automatic bid to the AVCA Collegiate National Championship.

During that time, the Ospreys have led the charge in the A-Sun. In fact, now in its third season, North Florida has yet to lose an A-Sun regular season or tournament match. To put into perspective what North Florida is poised to achieve this season, since 1985 only two other volleyball teams have won three consecutive A-Sun titles in indoor volleyball. UCF did so 1992-97 and Lipscomb accomplished the feat 2009-11.

UNF Head Coach Steve Loeswick appreciates on the early success of his program.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to attract hard-working student-athletes,” said Loeswick. “They come in and try to be the best they can be each day. Our focus is narrow-sighted and each year is a new challenge for us.”

This year’s group of seniors is building a foundation and a legacy both on and off the sand courts for future players at UNF. The Ospreys’ current A-Sun win streak stands at 16, but current Osprey standout and graduate student Dagnija Medina says the expectation is for more to come.  

“While our goal is to win the conference, we are more focused on how to get better today, in our next match,” said Medina. Medina and senior Anna Budinska were the first pair to represent the conference in the AVCA National Championship, along with becoming two-time All-Conference selections (2012, 2013), the 2013 Atlantic Sun Tournament Most Valuable Pair and All-Conference Academic honorees.

“Our academic focus is just as high as our focus to get better on the court. We are a family and we support one another in the daily process of trying to be the best,” Medina added.

As the sport continues to grow on the collegiate level, even high school level, Loeswick talked about future goals for his program.

“It’s an exciting time in the sport of sand volleyball,” said Loeswick. “Today there are more opportunities for student-athletes to compete as more programs are formed across the country. We want to continue to attract the right people to our program who work hard every day. The Atlantic Sun Conference, with its automatic bid to the national tournament, gives our program the chance to compete at the highest level.”

Currently North Florida sits at 6-0 in league play, securing at minimum a share of its second straight regular season title. The Atlantic Sun Conference Championship will be held in Fort Myers, Fla., April 18-19, where the Ospreys are ready for the opportunity to join a select group of Atlantic Sun Conference Champions. 


Friday, March 21, 2014

A-Sun Enjoying Record-Setting Postseason Appearances

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With March Madness now underway, this year’s schedule of postseason play is particularly bright for the A-Sun as the conference celebrates yet another milestone in men’s and women’s basketball.

This season a record number of eight A-sun teams took the court in postseason tournaments, with three teams (ETSU men, Stetson women and Northern Kentucky women) already claiming wins and advancing to the second rounds of their respective tournaments.

For the first time in A-Sun history four men’s teams – Mercer, FGCU, ETSU and USC Upstate – earned opportunities to extend their seasons in postseason play. Each enjoyed a level of success throughout the season that led to the conference milestone, including advancing to the semifinals of the 2014 A-Sun Championship.

The A-Sun’s previous record for postseason teams was three, which has happened on five occasions (1988, 2004, 2009, 2011 and 2012).

In its third straight postseason appearance, No. 14 seed Mercer returned to the NCAA Tournament today for the first time since 1985 and proceeded to upset No. 3 seed Duke, 78-71. Two years ago the Bears claimed the A-Sun’s first postseason title, along with its program’s first as well, by winning the CollegeInsider.com Tournament title. Last season Mercer knocked off their next opponent, Tennessee, in the NIT first round before falling to BYU in the second, and now the senior-laden Bears continue to make their mark in NCAA March Madness. Mercer now boasts a 27-8 record, which includes a share of the 2014 A-Sun Regular Season title. 

Atlantic Sun teams have combined for 14 postseason wins in the past four seasons; seven of which came from Mercer.

 After becoming the first 15-seed to ever reach the NCAA Sweet 16 a year ago, FGCU set itself up to enjoy another run in postseason by claiming a share of this year’s A-Sun regular season with Mercer. Falling to the Bears in a thrilling A-Sun Championship final, the Eagles then took their 22-12 record to Tallahassee to face top-seeded FSU in their first ever NIT action. In a tight contest throughout, the Seminoles eventually edged the Eagles 58-53.

USC Upstate and ETSU both earned home games in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament as the Spartans hosted Towson on Wednesday, while the Buccaneers tangled with Chattanooga. Both teams reached the A-Sun Championship Semifinals and both have history in the CIT, as the Spartans claimed a win vs. Kent State in 2012, while ETSU reached the 2011 CIT Semifinals. After tying the game with 1.8 seconds remaining to seemingly force overtime, Towson did the unthinkable and drained a half court shot at the buzzer to top Upstate 63-60 at the Hodge Center.

The Bucs picked up their third victory in CIT competition on Wednesday, topping Chattanooga 79-66 and will continue as host as the y welcome Towson to the ETSU/MHSA Athletic Center tonight at 7 p.m. ET.

For the second year in a row Atlantic Sun Women's Basketball finds four teams playing in postseason tournaments with FGCU leading the way with a No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The four teams  – FGCU, Stetson, Northern Kentucky and USC Upstate – in postseason play ties for the most squads the league has landed in the postseason with Stetson, FGCU, Northern Kentucky and Mercer making tournaments in 2013.

The Eagles face No. 5 Oklahoma State in West Lafayette, Ind., on Saturday, March 22nd, at 11 a.m. The first round match-up will be available live on ESPN2. This is the Eagles’ second trip to the big dance with a repeat performance as a No. 12 seed.

For the first time in A-Sun history the league marked two teams with 25+ wins as FGCU and Stetson entered postseason with 26-7 records. The Eagles won the A-Sun Regular season title and grabbed a 72-70 overtime victory against the Hatters in the A-Sun Championship final to earn the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Stetson earned a trip to the WNIT and the Hatters took advantage, knocking off Miami 70-63 on the road. The Hatters’ season continues to be historic as they set a program record for wins in a season (now 27) and are making their fourth-consecutive appearance in postseason play with NCAA appearances in 2013 and 2011 and a WNIT game in 2012. The Hatters now await the winner of today’s match-up between USF and North Carolina A&T, with the potential of hosting their second round contest.

Northern Kentucky finished third in the A-Sun regular season and received a postseason berth for the second-straight year as the Norse hosted McNeese State in the Women's Basketball Invitational (WBI) Thursday evening. The Norse, the No.3 seed in the West Region, controlled Thursday’s game with the Cowgirls and claimed the 84-72 victory on the strength of Kayla Thacker’s game-high of 25 points. NKU now travels to Charleston to face the College of Charleston, who knocked off No. 6 seed USC Upstate 85-71 on Thursday.

The Norse were a force to be reckoned with this season as they are in their second year of transition. NKU boasts an 18-12 record and handed the A-Sun Champion Eagles their lone loss in conference play. Upstate reached the A-Sun Championship semifinal and sits with a 17-14 record.

As the A-Sun’s historic basketball postseason continues, it is easy to see why the conference’s star is on the rise. Quality regular-season wins, recent postseason success and an ever-expanding level of individual talent and coaching expertise paint an impressive picture of A-Sun basketball that will continue to earn its place among the nation’s best.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A-Sun, FGCU Partnership a Win-Win Situation

In the 1980s, actor George Peppard played a character named Hannibal Smith in the television show, “The A-Team.” Smith’s character, a former military colonel, became famous for a grin combined with the regularly delivered one-liner, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

For former A-Sun Commissioner Bill Bibb, former FGCU President Bill Merwin and former FGCU Director of Athletics Carl McAloose, they too can sit back with a grin as their plan is coming together nicely.

It was just a few years ago in 2007 when that leadership recognized that a partnership between the two could prove successful. The plan for growth and success was a solid one. FGCU and the A-Sun would continue the development of natural rivalries around the southeast; FGCU would infuse a new energy of growth and support from the southwest Florida community; and the move strengthened the A-Sun’s commitment among its membership of Building Winners for Life in all arenas – academic, athletics and community leadership, while aligning FGCU with members who shared the same commitment.

“I knew we had an opportunity when former Commissioner Bill Bibb came back from a CCA meeting in Naples and the first item he shared with me was his stop at FGCU,” said A-Sun Commissioner Ted Gumbart. “He knew there was potential for a great partnership.

“FGCU had good facilities, a growing relationship with the community, and had experienced success in many sports. It was the conference piece that was missing at Division II.”

For FGCU the partnership with the A-Sun opened doors to compete at the highest level for academic accolades, such as membership to All-Region and All-America teams, to which Eagle student-athletes perennially are recognized. It made available assistance and honors such as the Division I-AAA Athletics Directors Association Scholar-Athlete Teams and Post-Graduate Scholarships, an honor FGCU’s Sarah Hansen claimed in 2012. Eagles were also eligible for other national awards such Senior CLASS among others, along with the highest levels of Academic All-Conference honors.

In the arenas of competition, the A-Sun’s partnership with FGCU allowed the Eagles to begin competing at the highest levels, an opportunity to which they have taken full advantage. Since joining the A-Sun in 2007, FGCU has been a regular participant in NCAA postseason competition, claiming more than 20 regular season or tournament championships in seven sports. Although their opportunity for another trip to the NCAA Tournament was cut short in the men's championship loss to Mercer, their successful regular season certainly sets them up for another postseason run. 

Today women's basketball claimed their second A-Sun Championship title in three years, and the Eagles have played for the title each of the last three seasons. FGCU’s women’s basketball has been to postseason every year since joining the A-Sun, and has tallied three postseason wins during that stretch.



“When we committed to them and they committed to us, we wanted to start full conference competition immediately,” Gumbart continued. "The A-Sun was the first conference to do this, but we were determined to be fully supportive as teams worked through the four years of reclassification. We also wanted all of our membership to have the opportunity to compete and grow together. I think the past few years have proven that it has been a tremendously successful partnership. I'm glad the CCA meetings were in Naples!"


Most recently the A-Sun has taken strides to benefit FGCU – along with the rest of the conference membership – via opportunities for greater coverage as the conference’s relationship with ESPN, particularly in the area of campus production, continues to flourish. Since 2012 the A-Sun has seen more than a 300 percent growth in its original content that is provided to the ESPN family of networks, and now FGCU is now midway through its first year of the on-campus production as well.



In 2012 FGCU also had the opportunity to be recognized as one of the first teams in the NCAA to compete for a conference championship in sand volleyball, as the A-Sun’s leadership role in the sport encompassed conducting the first conference championship in Division I.



So through their teamwork, the A-Sun and FGCU are continuing the mission of providing opportunities for student-athletes to achieve in competition, in the classroom and in their communities. It looks like the plan has come together nicely.