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Miami Marlins race towards hot start

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    Outfielder Giancarlo Stanton hits a towering home run against division foe Philadelphia

   If one word can recap the 2016 season for the Miami Marlins, one must look no further than mediocre. Led by the late Jose Fernandez, Miami stumbled to a third place finish in the National League East with a 79-82 record. Marred by a lackluster offense, Miami failed to produce run support for a budding pitching rotation and solid defense.

  Entering the offseason with middling expectations, Miami locked down young players Derek Dietrich, Aldeiny Hechavarria, Marcell Ozuna, Tom Koehler, and A.J. Ramos to one-year deals to bolster the lineup, along with the supplementary addition of starting pitcher Edinson Volquez.

  Despite opening the season against playoff contenders in rivals Washington and New York, Miami was able to power through the infancy of the season with an unremarkable 3-3 record, taking two of three games against the Mets.

  Phil Kimmel of Marlins Manic comments, “We have seen a lot of promise from this ‘middling’ team. While the Fish may lack a big name starter, they have made up for this in other ways.”

  Kimmel refers to the sudden power outlet that is Marcell Ozuna, leading the Fish with 5 home runs and 18 Runs Batted In (RBI), preceding slugger Giancarlo Stanton in the lineup. Proving to be a deadly duo, the Marlins have been able to utilize contact specialists in Ichiro Suzuki and Aldeiny Hechavarria.

  In the following week, Miami squared off against Atlanta, in which the series was split with each team winning a game apiece. Miami then took on foe New York once again, surprising the Mets by winning three of four games, thoroughly vaulting them to the pole position of the NL East.

  Albeit the early nature of the season, the Marlins can already point to bright spots in the lineup. J.T. Riddle blasted a two run walk-off home run on Easter Sunday to improve the record to 7-5, according to hardballtalk.com.

 Dayn Perry of CBSSports.com commends Riddle’s home run in stating, “There are unlikely walk-offs, and then there’s a walk-off that’s the first career home run by a player who entered the game as a defensive replacement and who tallied just 20 homers across parts of five minor-league seasons.”

  With his youth and athleticism, Riddle can emerge as a reliable starting shortstop in the near future.

  The Marlins now head out west, facing the interleague Seattle Mariners in which they have already won and lost a game with Wei-Yin Chen throwing a gem, totaling seven innings pitched with no hits surrendered, according to mlb.com.

 Looking to continue their success, Miami will continue to implement a potent offense and consistent starting pitching.

 

Have the Heat burnt out?

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    Dion Waiters Shooting a game winning three-pointer over Golden State's Steph Curry in a January 23rd 105-102 win.

  In the fading weeks of the 2017 National Basketball Association season, the hometown Miami Heat are in the midst of a dogfight for the eighth and final playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.

   The Heat started the season with an abysmal 11-30 record, including a six-game losing streak, followed by a five-game losing streak. With the starting lineup marred by injuries to Justise Winslow, Chris Bosh and Josh McRoberts, Miami scrambled to piece together an NBA-caliber starting squad. Embarking on a daunting January road trip in which the Heat finished 1-5, many anticipated that the Heat simply bow out of competitive play and vie for a lottery pick.   

  Center Hassan Whiteside commented following the road trip, “We just looked ourselves in the mirror and said, ‘We gotta wake up. We gotta play better.‘”

  As February rolled around, players began to return from injury, and confidence levels rose. Taking advantage of a weak schedule, the Heat valiantly fought for a thirteen-game winning streak, landing the team square in the playoff hunt.

  Quality play through March has kept Miami in the thick of things, but they still find themselves behind former player Dwyane Wade and the Chicago Bulls.
  With two games remaining in the regular season, Miami would need to beat Cleveland and Washington to slide into the eighth seed, with help from the lowly Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets in beating Chicago. Miami could also move into a playoff spot with an Indiana loss to Atlanta, under the condition that Miami wins their final game.

  Shooting guard Tyler Johnson says, regarding the playoff race, “That’s all we can do, You can only control what you can control. We understand what we were able to do the second half of the season when people were kicking dirt on us. That’s the only way you can go out and finish the season with a win and we need a win to have an opportunity to get into the playoffs. We can’t control what other people do.”

  Dion Waiters, arguably the best player for the Heat down the stretch, remains questionable for the final games, being out for the past eleven with a sprained left ankle. Waiters’ absence from the lineup could prove to be the crushing blow to Miami’s season, as Heat fans eagerly wait an announcement.  

  The Heat close their season on April 12th against the Washington Wizards in a crucial game that has playoff implications for at least three teams.

 

Rowe will go

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    Florida Panthers interim coach Tom Rowe addressing the media after a 4-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on April 3rd.

Amid a vastly disappointing year, the Florida Panthers’ front office has officially announced that interim head coach Tom Rowe will be dismissed following the season finale next Sunday.

  Rowe, former coach and General Manager of the American Hockey League’s Portland Pirates, was hired as the Panthers head coach after the controversial firing of former head coach Gerard Gallant in November.

  Coaching the team for a total of 61 games, Rowe amassed a paltry 21 wins as the Panthers continuously plummeted down the standings this year. Ambitions were high this year, following a record-setting 103 point, division-winning season just one year ago. Now, Florida will likely finish the year with less than 80 points and seventh in their division.

  Fans outraged with Rowe’s performance have been vocal, as “Rowe must go” chants are heard throughout home games.

   Frustration seemingly piqued as a plane with a banner towing the message “Rowe must go! Call him a cab!” flew the area surrounding the BB&T center in the hour before the Panthers squared off against the Montreal Canadiens on April 3rd.

  Rowe was quoted as saying, “I knew coming here, to be part of it, if things didn’t go well I would be taking the brunt of it. But that’s fine. I can handle that. Fans pay great money to see us play and it’s their prerogative to speak their mind. I have no problem with that.”

  Very few positives have come from Rowe’s decision making this past year, such as the playing of 20-year old Aaron Ekblad following his third concussion in two years – which was added onto, as Ekblad was injured in his first game back.

  Adam Gretz of NBCSports.com reports, “After missing a few games, he was cleared to play by the team’s medical staff and returned to the lineup on Tuesday, 10 days after the injury, and played 18 minutes in a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Based on what happened in the aftermath of that game, it seems pretty obvious he may not have been completely ready to return to the ice.”

  At this point in time, it is unknown who the leading candidates are for the head coaching vacancy that will be present, but Rowe is expecting to retain a position within the team’s front office.

 

Bettman, NHL break off from Olympics

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  In what many fans and athletes have found to be a questionable move, the National Hockey League (NHL) has decided not to take part in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The announcement was released on April 3 and immediately received backlash from analysts and players, which can potentially result in a major issue.

  According to Gary Bettman, the Commissioner of the NHL, the main reason behind the lack of participation in the Olympics is timing. While hockey season officially commences in October and the regular season ends in April, the Olympics takes place in February for nearly three weeks, creating some overlap between the two. In the official statement from the NHL, Bettman said, “I think the overwhelming sentiment of the teams is that it’s very disruptive on the season and there is somewhere between fatigue and negativity on the subject.”

  In addition, the NHL seems to have found issue with the funds for them to play. While the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) offered to pay for the league’s participation in the 2018 Olympics, Bettman and some of the owners feared that the money would take away from starting lower-level hockey organizations that required the funds. There was also argument between the NHL and the International Olympic Committee about possible earnings to the hockey organization.

  Ben Shpigel of the New York Times said, “They [NHL owners and officials] have argued that they deserve a portion of the revenue that the International Olympic Committee receives from the tournament and they do not like the injury risk.”

  Although Bettman and the NHL may see no significance in this refusal to participate, multiple professional hockey players have stepped forward to demonstrate their disgust. Henrik Lundqvist, an integral part of the New York Rangers and the Swedish national team, and one of the most prolific goalies of the century, took to Twitter on Monday immediately after the announcement. The Swedish goaltender’s numerous tweets stated, “Disappointing news, @NHL won’t be part of the Olympics 2018. A huge opportunity to market the game at the biggest stage is wasted. But most of all, disappointing for all the players that can’t be part of the most special adventure in sports.”

  Probably the most well-known dissenter, however, is Alexander Ovechkin, captain of the Washington Capitals. Ovechkin said, “It’s my country. You know, I think everyone wants to play there. It’s the biggest opportunity in your life to play in the Olympic Games. So, I don’t know. Somebody going to tell me, ‘Don’t go,’ I don’t care. I just go.”

  He even received agreement from the Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, who revealed an unwillingness to stop Ovechkin, among other Washington players. However, there are major issues with this. The Capitals, among other hockey clubs that have players who leave to participate in the Olympics, can be severely punished.

  Frank Seravalli of TSN said, “Bettman can impose a fine on a team owner for as much as $1 million and revoke draft picks…In other words, Bettman could issue a decree that any breach of contract by a player not pursued by his club would be subject to a fine of $10 million.”

  It will be interesting to see what happens to these players, especially since these disagreements have the potential to become a lockout.

  While the league refers to discussions as closed, there is still time to strike up a deal with the International Olympic Committee.  

Henrik Lundqvist, pictured at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, is one of the numerous players upset about Bettman’s decision on the Olympics. Photo courtesy of iihf.com.
Henrik Lundqvist, pictured at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, is one of the numerous players upset about Bettman’s decision on the Olympics. Photo courtesy of iihf.com.

Team USA skates toward equality

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 After months of negotiating, and nearly two weeks of striking, it appears that the American women’s hockey team succeeded in achieving full and equal wages, an endeavor that garnered support from other athletes and even Congressmen. This started nearly 14 months ago, when the female hockey players began talking with USA Hockey about a possible increasing in earnings and benefit.

  Conflict steadily increased throughout the past month, beginning on March 15, when the members of Team USA, including Meghan Duggan and Jocelyne Lamoreaux-Davidson – cornerstones of the team who have played for years – decided to boycott the upcoming International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship. This created issues for USA Hockey, as the championship starts March 31 and takes place in Michigan; had the players continued to boycott, it would have shone a bad – or worse – light on the organization.

  U.S.A. Hockey had been paying the women a fraction of what the men had been receiving, with barely any benefits. Originally, they refuted this, saying that the women were capable of obtaining a maximum of $85,000, a large amount of which would come from incentives. This was a statement that Lamoreaux-Davidson would later refer to as misleading “because $37,500 of the $85,000 would be earned only if the team won a gold medal, and $24,000 of that figure comes from [United States Olympic Committee], not U.S.A. Hockey,” said Seth Berkman of the New York Times.

  Things looked bleak for the strikers when USA Hockey began to turn towards high school, collegiate, and minor league female players in order to replace them. Ahiza Garcia of CNN said, “On Saturday, two high schoolers, Cayla Barnes and Natalie Snodgrass, tweeted that they’d been approached by USA Hockey and turned down spots on the replacement team.”

  However, the women were finally able to achieve full wages on Monday, after hours of discussion. This new deal, which lasts for four years between the team and the USA Hockey organization, gives the players a monthly salary of $2,000, and includes significant improvements in the quality of their treatment.

  Garcia, in a different article, said, “USA Hockey paid for the disability insurance of players on the men’s team but not for players on the women’s team.” This does not even include the fact that, prior to this new agreement, while the men sat in business class and had the opportunity to bring a guest, which the organization paid for, the women sat in coach and had to share rooms with teammates rather than guests. In addition, the female players also experienced slower and less efficient medical treatment and examination.

  According to Ken Campbell of The Hockey News, “This season, the women’s national team could collectively earn anywhere from $850,000-$950,000 depending on their performance the rest of the year, including at the upcoming World Championship in Plymouth, Mich., and $950,000-$1 million in the years that follow.”

  While this has been a huge step for the female Team USA – and gender equality in general – there are still some social miscues. For example, the University of North Dakota, a school renowned for its hockey teams (both male and female), which produced Lamoreaux-Davidson and her sister Monique Lamoureux-Morando, just announced that it will end its women’s team (during recruiting no less). A move that has irritated numerous members of Team U.S.A., including the Lamoreaux sisters, it makes their hunt for equality even more special.  

  The efforts of the team members (which earned support from Congress) have shown extreme courage and promise, but there is more work to be done.

  The IIHF Women’s World Championship begins on March 31, with Team USA playing Team Canada at 7:30 P.M.

After winning their negotiations, Team U.S.A hopes to win the World Championship. Photo courtesy of usahockey.com.
After winning their negotiations, Team USA hopes to win the World Championship. Photo courtesy of usahockey.com.

Miami Heat’s new chapter

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  This past free agency, the Miami Heat lost many important players, Dwayne Wade specifically. This left the Heat in a very unfortunate position leaving many to believe that the Heat were doomed for a losing season. The team resigned a few players on major contracts such as Tyler Johnson and Hassan Whiteside, and although this did not provide much hope, it was something.

  The beginning of the season was difficult for the Heat as they lost many games, and it was evident that the chemistry was not there. Ever since the All-Star break, the team has only lost three games.

  This is the result  of good team-play, amazing coaching and even better chemistry. The Heat are on course to make a final playoff spot, and many believe that they could possibly go past the second round because of their amazing play. Many NBA analysts have the Miami Heat as a top 10 team in the NBA.

  The team is being led by Dion Waiters, a subpar point guard that came into his own this year, Goran Dragic, a past-his-prime ex-star point guard, and Hassan Whiteside, a rebounding machine with an attitude. This ragtag band of NBA misfits have come together under head coach Erik Spoelstra to be a viable and winning basketball

Dion Waiters commanding the heat offense
Dion Waiters commanding the heat offense

Cheerleading is in fact a Real Sport!

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The Atlantic Community High School Chearleaders
The Atlantic Community High School Cheerleaders

Cheerleading hasn’t been around for long compared to other sports. The official birth date for cheerleading was on November 2, 1998. Many people say that cheerleading is not much of a sport, but that is false. The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) has recognized cheerleading as an interscholastic sport.

Not only is there cheerleading for school, there is also a type called competitive cheer. The FHSAA board gave final approval to a competitive cheerleading season at its annual meeting on June 2. The board says that, “the first season will begin Aug. 6 and conclude with the first FHSAA competitive cheerleading championships in March 2008.”

Competitive cheer is when teams from all across the world compete against each other to see who has the best routine, including jumps, tumbling, cheer, and dance. Cheerleading is just like any other sport; if the team wins certain competitions they move on to what you call regionals. Then, from regionals the team goes to state championship, and if states is completed they move on to  world championship.

Cheerleading has scholarships just like any other sport played today, another reason why cheerleading should be considered as a real sport. Many girls around the world would love to get a scholarship from cheer. Getting a cheer scholarship is hard. To get  one you have to be the best of the best.

Even though cheerleading has not been around very long, it is a dangerous but fun sport to be involved in. For those who still don’t believe that cheerleading is sport, now you have your proof!

Four Florida teams play their way into the NCAA Tournament

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    The 2017 field of teams

 

   This past Sunday, the NCAA Tournament committee selected the sixty-eight teams that will compete in this year’s rendition of March Madness.

  Four teams from Florida will make the run for the championship, those teams being the University of Florida, Florida State University, the University of Miami, and Florida Gulf Coast University. FGCU will represent the Atlantic Sun conference, following their winning of the conference championship.

  Following a successful season, Florida State looks to redeem a disappointing second-round exit in 2012 at the hands of Cincinnati. Led by junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes, averaging 10.8 points and 3 rebounds per game, as a three seed, the Seminoles face South Florida foe Florida Gulf Coast on March 16 in Orlando.

  ESPN basketball writer Eamonn Brennan said, “When FSU is flying up and down the floor, seizing mismatches and attacking the rim, as they were for most of the 2016-17 season, they’re one of the best teams in the country. But when they’re bad, they’re really bad.”

  Brennan cites the inconsistency shown by the team, specifically away from home. As the Seminoles know, tournament games are played at neutral sites, so if they want to advance, they must play efficient basketball.  

  The University of Florida enjoyed a successful season, finishing with a 24-8 record and ranked seventeenth. Competing in the relatively weak Southeastern Conference (SEC), the Gators have much to prove if they are to be seen with relevance on the national scale. The Gators enter the tournament as a four seed, matching up against Eastern Tennessee State University in the opening round, which should be seen as an easy win.

  Dropping games to fellow tournament teams Gonzaga, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Duke, Florida State, and Kentucky shows that Florida is relatively unsuccessful in competitive games. Carrying the team with a high octane offense, the Gators look to control the pace of play and score from the perimeter.

  Florida Gulf Coast is returning to the “big dance” for the second time in the past three years. Recalling the 2013 run to the Sweet Sixteen, FGCU, being the first and only fifteen seed to do so, was filled with high energy and spectacular dunks. Dubbed “Dunk City,” FGCU returns as one of the most athletic teams in the country,

  Dana Caldwell of the Naples Daily News said, “FGCU (26-7), which has won seven straight is, by far, the ASUN’s (Atlantic Sun) most athletic and deep team. Probably of all-time. Those ‘great’ guards are 6-foot-2 junior point Brandon Goodwin (team-high 18.2 points per game), an electrifying transfer from UCF and the ASUN’s Newcomer of the Year; [sic] 6-2 sophomore combo guard Zach Johnson (11.8 ppg), a fantastic driver with the ability to light games up from  behind the arc.”

  The Eagles will seek to return to the Sweet Sixteen with athletic playmaking and three-point shooting.

  Located in Coral Gables, the University of Miami presents an interesting opponent in the tournament. Plagued by inconsistency, the Hurricanes struggle to produce in high stakes games, as seen in their 78-53 loss to North Carolina on March 9. Despite this, UM is never a team to take lightly, as they are always capable of an upset. Duke found that out the hard way following a loss on Feb. 25.

  Miami matches up against an underwhelming Michigan State squad, in which they should be seen as favorites, as an eight seed. Historically, Miami has not been a strong tournament team, oftentimes bowing out in the first or second round, but aim to prove critics wrong, as they would likely play top seeded Kansas.

 Tournament play begins this week across the country.

Team Italy gears up for World Baseball Classic run

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    Italy manager Marco Mazzieri

  Announcing their roster this past week, Team Italy aims to surprise once again following a successful run in the 2013 event.

  Occurring every four years, the World Baseball Classic showcases the top baseball players competing against one another on the international level.

  A number of Major League players anticipate making the roster including Francisco Cervelli and Brandon Nimmo, giving the Italians solid hitting with strong defensive play. Upsetting the accredited Mexican team in the past iteration of the WBC, the Italians will not be taken lightly this time around.

  Italy will compete in group D alongside powers Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. With the presence of a strong pool, it will likely be tough for Italy to advance into the second round of games. This fact is supplemented by the loss of Chicago Cubs star Anthony Rizzo due to injury.

  Rizzo led the Italians in 2013 in hitting and was instrumental for a ninth-inning comeback against Mexico and a 14-4 thwarting of Canada.

  Baseball writer Tony DeMarco says, “The schedule-makers did Team Italy no favors, as this arguably is the deepest and most-balanced first-round pool. Keep in mind that host Mexico will be looking for revenge for a 2013 loss”

  The spotlight fixes on New York Mets outfield prospect Brandon Nimmo as he will attempt to be the power in the middle of the Italian lineup that they so desperately need. Following a mediocre season with the Mets in which he posted a .274 batting average, Nimmo hopes to showcase his power and defensive prowess.

  Team Italy opens their tournament play on March 9 against Mexico.

Panthers claw their way into a playoff spot

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  Following a rather tumultuous first half of the season, the return of forwards Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov have rejuvenated the Florida Panthers to five straight wins and a clear path to the playoffs.

  This past offseason, co-owners Doug Cifu and Vincent Viola took steps towards success, signing top free agent defensemen Keith Yandle and Jason Demers. In these signings, Cifu and Viola showed that they are willing to spend in order to win games, something that the Panthers’ management has never done in the past.

  Mediocrity emanated through the first half of the season, with the Panthers sitting squarely at tenth place in the Eastern Conference, due in part to a multitude of injuries to top flight players including the aforementioned Huberdeau and Barkov. By All-Star Weekend, Florida was seen largely as a non-threat for contenders like Washington and Pittsburgh, possibly being noted sellers on the March 1 trade deadline.

  Panthers beat writer George Richards, following a  December 28th loss to Toronto, said, “Florida came into the night closer to last place (three points in front of New Jersey) in the Eastern Conference than to Boston for third place (four points back) in the Atlantic. On the 28th, the Maple Leafs beat the Panthers for the third time this season, albeit by a smaller margin than the 6-1 rout in Toronto last month.”

   Expectations were low – set even lower following the controversial firing of head coach Gerard Gallant in November – and all of the makings of a largely forgettable season were present.

  On the morning of Feb. 3, Panthers team doctor David Westerdahl officially cleared Huberdeau and Barkov for play, setting the duo up for a return that night against Anaheim. The Panthers proceeded to win that game by a score of 2-1, one of the goals being scored by Huberdeau on a feed from Barkov.

  In this single game, the two highly skilled players showed their true impact on the Panthers. Danny Janicas of TheRatTrick, regarding the game, said, “Huberdeau did not skip a beat once in last night’s game. He was all over the ice like a mad man [sic]. Whether it was beating his opponent to the puck, laying a big check, or even making plays, Huberdeau did it all last night. In his return to the lineup, Jonathan Huberdeau notched the game winning goal in what would be an important 2-1 win for the Cats.”

  As Florida began to rack up wins in the following games, momentum began to build. Cifu and Viola’s team was finally seen in its fruition. A fast, skilled, overpowering hockey club that had not been seen this year up until the past three weeks, bringing concern to the remaining teams in a playoff race, as the Panthers were quickly climbing the standings.

  Beginning Feb. 11, Florida embarked on a daunting five-game road trip, facing off against five playoff teams, and the always dreaded California road trip. Captain Derek MacKenzie said, “This is a season on the line road trip. We have to leave it all on the line here.”

  Leaving it all on the line is just what they did, putting up seven goals on Nashville in the first game of the trip, winning by the score of 7-4, followed by a clean sweep of California, defeating San Jose, Anaheim, and Los Angeles, respectively before closing out the excursion with a win over St. Louis, in which center Vincent Trocheck scored the game winner with 4.6 seconds remaining.

  The success of the five game stretch carried over to the players, as they have a newfound confidence regarding the twenty-seven games they have remaining, and find themselves in a playoff spot, sitting at third place in the Atlantic division, sitting at 66 points, four behind second place Ottawa and four behind Montreal for the division lead. Hockey pundit Tim Reynolds shows the dominance shown by the Panthers, quoting the statistic, “The Panthers played 18,000 seconds of hockey on this road trip and trailed for 93 of them.”

    This return to form can almost solely be accredited to Barkov and Huberdeau’s strong play out of the gates from their return, with Huberdeau amassing eleven points in the eight games that he has been back.

  Moreover, stellar play from backup goaltender James Reimer has carried the team, playing six of the last seven games, resting thirty-eight year old Roberto Luongo for a potential playoff run.

  Florida looked incredibly sharp as a team these past several weeks and they look to continue their winning ways on Feb. 24 against Johnny Gaudreau and the Calgary Flames in South Florida.

  

 

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