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This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Tara VanDerveer

     (Born June 26, 1953) -- Buffalo Seminary isn't exactly known as a basketball factory. Yet one of its graduates is one of the greatest coaches in women's basketball history.

     Tara VanDerveer was born in Boston but her family moved to Niagara Falls when she was young. In her book, she wrote fondly about her summers on Chautauqua Lake. VanDerveer was a 1971 graduate of Buffalo Seminary.

     From there it was on to Indiana University, where she was a guard. Three years after graduation, VanDerveer was a head coach at Idaho. She moved on to Ohio State, where she made three NCAA tournaments in five years.

     In 1985, though, VanDerveer truly found a home when she became the head coach at Stanford. She won two national championships in her first seven years, and took a year off in 1995-96 to lead the American team to the gold medal in Atlanta in the summer of 1996. The success has continued since then; the Cardinal has made the last five Final Fours.

     VanDerveer is in the Basketball Hall of Fame, the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, and Ñ naturally Ñ Buffalo Seminary's Athletic Hall of Fame.
    
--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Marcus Stroud

     (Born June 25, 1978) -- Defensive tackles in the National Football League are supposed to be big Ñ big enough to have restaurants close when one pulls into the parking lot. At 300 pounds-plus, Marcus Stroud certainly met the physical requirements.

     Stroud has been used to attention throughout his life. He appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in high school in connection with a story on National Signing Day. Stroud weighed 266 in high school, and wound up going to Georgia after Florida fired its coach. The defender played with Jonas Jennings with the Bulldogs.

     Stroud went 13th to Jacksonville in the NFL draft , one that saw such other defensive tackles as Richard Seymour, Casey Hampton and Kris Jenkins. He made the Pro Bowl in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

     In 2008, Stroud was traded to the Bills for a couple of draft choices. He spent three seasons in Buffalo, and played pretty well here.

     Buffalo released him early in 2011, and he signed a two-year deal with the Patriots. however, New England let him go before the end of training camp. Stroud sat out the season while recovering from shoulder surgery.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Strait of Dover wires Queen’s Plate

By Gene Kershner

TORONTO -- Channeling his sire’s stamina, Strait of Dover wired the field setting a new polytrack record in winning the 153rd Queen’s Plate at Woodbine Racetrack on Sunday afternoon. Before a full house, the English Channel colt went the 1 1/4-miles in 2:01.99 to win Canada’s most famous race and the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown.

Jockey Justin Stein won his first Plate riding Strait of Dover ($9.60, $5.80 and $4.30) who entered the race off a six week layoff. Trainer Daniel Vella won his second Queen’s Plate, last winning in 1994 with Basqueian. The fractions were an honest 23.85, 47.74, 1:12.31 and 1:37.07. The winner held off the late charging filly and Woodbine Oaks champion Irish Mission ($8.40 and $6.20) who finished second by 1 1/4-lengths. The $1 exacta paid $54.20.

The filly, Dixie Strike ($5.50) finished third for trainer Mark Casse, who still is seeking his first Queen’s Plate. The $1 trifecta paid $275.75 and the $1 superfecta with Colleen’s Sailor underneath paid $4,271.35.

Fillies have had a lot of success recently in this race, with Inglorious winning last year’s edition and Milwaukee Appeal finished third in 2009.

The winner started his career at Hastings Race Course in British Columbia, but did not take to the one mile dirt track there losing his first two career starts by a combined 30 lengths under trainer Cindy Krasner. The owners, the Leongs of Canyon Farms, decided to ship him to Toronto under the tutelage of conditioner Daniel Vella.

“The credit goes to Danny and his crew, if it wasn’t for him we wouldn’t be here and with the ride that Justin made,” said owner Wally Leong.  Trainer Daniel Vella gave the reins to his jockey and he was happy with the way he rode his horse. “I really believe in the end he is a great horse and he made the fractions. They were honest fractions,” said Vella.

The second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown is slated for Fort Erie Race Track on Sunday, July 15, and it could be the second straight year that the Plate winner skips the Prince of Wales. Last year, Inglorious’ connections decided to try the Alabama Stakes at Saratoga instead.  With Strait of Dover’s breeding and his early history of difficulty on dirt, Vella has to decide whether to run at the Fort.

“He’s bred for the turf, someday we’ll try it, but we’re making a living right now,” added Vella. “As for Fort Erie, it’s a tough decision for us. We may have to try him over the course and see how he does. Right now we’re going to enjoy this one,” said the winning trainer without committing to a plan for the Prince of Wales.

It’s been a pretty good year for jockeys that have surfaced from Hastings Race Course, with Mario Gutierrez winning the first two legs of the American Triple Crown. Stein added this year's first Canadian classic to that total. Stein, a popular jockey at the BC track, left Hastings in 2005 to ride regularly at Woodbine. “It’s been a tremendous year for Vancouver, it was sort of like fate, almost like it was meant to be,” said Stein. “The stars were aligned with Gutierrez winning the Derby and the Preakness and my horse coming into the Plate the way he did, dominant and myself being there. Then, of course, we have the Vancouver rain now falling on Toronto,” said a jubilant Stein.

Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer and handicapper who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com and tweets @EquiSpace.

Post Time: Casse seeks first Queen's Plate

By Gene Kershner

TORONTO – Mark Casse has achieved almost everything possible when it comes to thoroughbred racing in Canada. The one missing ingredient to a sparkling training career is a win in the Queen’s Plate, the first leg of Canada’s Triple Crown.

Canada’s most famous horse race is this weekend’s premier race on Sunday afternoon at Woodbine Racetrack for the 153rd running of the $1 million Queen’s Plate. North America’s oldest continuously run stakes race will send 14 starters to the gate.

The second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown is the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie Race Track, slated for Sunday July 15 at the border oval.

Casse, a four-time Sovereign Award winner as Canada’s Outstanding Trainer, won his fifth straight training title in 2011 on his way to a record 119 victories and over $6.6 million of purse money. The Queen’s Plate, however, is the monkey on his back, having failed at ten previous chances. Last year he finished second with 61-1 long shot, Hippolytus who paid a whopping $41.30 to place. He will send out two colts and a filly to the gate on Sunday.

“It’s been a long, high climb - it’s trying to get to Mt. Everest. I feel like I’m up near the peak, but I just can’t seem to get there,” said Casse.  “Maybe this will be the year.  I think we have two very legitimate chances and one outside chance.”

One of the horses that Casse hopes will get him over the hump is the lightly raced Golden Ridge (6-1). Casse is bullish on the Distorted Humor colt that broke his maiden last month with Luis Contreras aboard. “Obviously you have to like Golden Ridge, he’s an up and comer and has a pedigree that is impeccable,” said Casse. Golden Ridge’s dam Indian Vale was a very good race mare, winning the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis amongst her seven career victories.

With Contreras aboard, the jockey who won his first Plate last year on Inglorious, before sweeping the Triple Crown with Pender Harbour in the final two legs, Golden Ridge has a solid chance to upset the Plate field. “I got a great feeling with my horse,” Contreras told me at the post position draw.  Contreras, who rode Prospective in this year’s Kentucky Derby for Casse, is no longer the new kid on the block. “Last year I was more nervous. I’m a little bit more relaxed this year,” Contreras said.

Casse was pleased with the way the colt broke his maiden. “I was impressed with his maiden win because he got in a little traffic down the backside.  I was a little concerned.  But when Luis asked him to go, he took off.  I think that experience of being in traffic is really going to help him in the Queen's Plate."

Casse’s filly, Dixie Strike (8-1) is coming off a troubled fifth place finish in the Woodbine Oaks, but has performed at a high level against top competition during both her 2 and 3-year-old seasons. She would be the second straight filly to capture the Plate. “If she comes with her ‘A’ game, she’ll be right there,” said Casse who said you could draw a line through that last race in the Oaks. “She had a lot of excuses, we think she has it in her or we wouldn’t be giving it a try.”

The race favorite is Strait of Dover (3-1), an English Channel colt that blew the field away in the Marine Stakes in mid-May finishing six lengths in front of the field. Jockey Justin Stein retains the mount and will have a fresh horse that skipped the Plate Trial Stakes to be well rested for this race. He sports two super workouts and appears fit and ready to roll on Sunday.

Trainer Daniel Vella couldn’t have been happier with his most recent workout on June 10. “We were thrilled with his workout,” said Vella. “He’s not a morning horse. His works are always decent, but they’re not run off type works. He galloped out real strong and it was like a pre-race race, his big work before the race.”

One notable Plate entry is Colleen’s Sailor who will race for trainer Roger Attfield in an attempt to win a record ninth Plate victory, breaking a tie with Harry Giddings, Jr. Attfield, always the showman, chose the No. 9 post on Thursday, symbolic of a potential record breaking ninth Plate win. Attfield will be inducted in the National Racing Hall of Fame in August at Saratoga.

Corey Nakatani will ride Colleen’s Sailor after riding him in an allowance win last month. Top jockey John Velazquez was scheduled to ride him, but broke his collarbone last Saturday night in a bad spill at Churchill Downs and is out four to six weeks.

The race has also attracted top trainer Todd Pletcher and one of North America’s leading rider, Ramon Dominguez who will make the trek up to Woodbine to ride the Indian Charlie colt Big Creek.

The race appears to be wide open, but this could be the year that Casse scales Mt. Everest to win his first ever Queen’s Plate.

Post Time Outlook: 1 – Golden Ridge; 2 – Strait of Dover; 3 – Dixie Strike; 4 – Colleen’s Sailor

Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer and handicapper who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com. He posts every Friday at the Sports, Ink blog at www.buffalonews.com and can be found on Twitter (@EquiSpace).

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: John Tortorella

     (Born June 24, 1958) -- Once upon a time, John Tortorella's name was completely unknown when he was in Buffalo, even among big hockey fans. He's much more well known now.

     Tortorella certainly paid his dues in the business. He played college hockey at Maine, spent a year overseas, and then had four years of play in the Atlantic Coast Hockey League. At that point, it was time to move into coaching.

     Tortorella worked his way up the ladder, with coaching spots in the minor leagues. He arrived as an assistant coach with the Sabres in 1989, and stayed through 1995. Then it was on to Rochester to be a head coach, and he won a championship there in 1996.

     Tortorella was hired as a full-time head coach by Tampa Bay in 2001. It took him three years to reach the Holy Grail, winning the Stanley Cup with a win over Calgary.

     He lost that job in 2008, but it didn't take him long to land another head coaching job. He was hired by the Rangers during the middle of the following season, and he's been there ever since.

--- Budd Bailey

What Title IX means to me

Coaches and athletes around Western New York are marking the 40th anniversary of Title IX on June 23. The federal law prohibited gender discrimination in educational opportunities and shortly after its passage, the statute was applied to athletics where it gained notoriety and began a cultural shift in the United States for women in sports.

Hear the interivews Buffalo News sports reporter Amy Moritz had those on the WNY sports scene about Title IX and its impact on their lives:

Mike Rappl
Softball coach and former women’s basketball coach Canisius College

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We say it’s the 40-year anniversary of Title IX, but did we really get serious about athletics for girls until the mid-80s? It’s really not that long ago and we’ve come a long way with things like facilities and full-time coaches.
Interview: Mike Rappl

Doris Ortega

Basketball player, St. Bonaventure

Ncs8da0j2idq6ftbPlaying in the A-10 is really physical. …. You have to go into the game with the mentality that you’re probably going to get beat up during the game. That’s how it is. I like the physical play. The whole beating up and going at it, that describes the A-10 and that’s how I’m used to playing.

Hearing the history of how the program used to be helps because you never want to go back to a losing season. As an athlete, a competitor, you don’t like to lose. As for the program, it’s great to look at the progress you’ve made over the years. It’s also a reminder of where you were and a point in time where you don’t want to be again. 
Interview: Doris Ortega

Cathy Hummel
Canisius volleyball coach

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Hummel, a 1991 graduate of Hofstra, was a beneficiary of the early years of Title IX. She grew up playing sports with the boys where “tomboy” wasn’t necessarily a bad word:

At that time no, because I got to play with the boys and I was one of the girls who could play with the boys. But as I went through high school and college, there was more of a negative connotation because there were so few women that surfaced up to the college level.
Interview: Cathy Hummel

Jennifer Teague
Softball coach, University at Buffalo

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I didn’t get caught up in what the boys had what the girls had. What drew me to coaching was that I knew how sports shaped who I was. It allowed me to fight through a lot of adversity in my life. It reminded me not be a victim of circumstances. It taught me a lot of life lessons that we through sport. What drew me to coaching was being able to shape young ladies into phenomenal people who are going to give back to society. Obviously I love the competition side of it and I’m extremely passionate about the game of softball. … I don’t know where I’d be without sports.
Interview: Jennifer Teague

Alex Sahlen
Player WNY Flash, soccer coach

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It’s been everything for me. …. You’ve got to keep fighting and supporting each other. Even if you’re, 9,10, 11 support us because when I retire, I’m going to support you. I coached a group of girls a couple weeks ago and asked them to name a WPS team other than the Flash and they couldn’t. To me, that broke my heart. Because you’ve got to support it if you want it to move forward. If you want to see women’s sports successed, you have to support it to see it grow.
Interview: Alex Sahlen

MJ Telford
Former player and basketball coach, St. Bonaventure University 

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I got, not a sneaker contract. I didn’t get any money but I went out and asked some people if we could wear their sneakers and for a while we wore Ponys. But we at least were providing sneakers for the girls which previous to that was unheard of. Even having gear. We used to think it was a big deal. The team would get together and we were so excited when we would pick out sweatshirts that said “Lady Bonnies” on it. And then you got sweat pants. It’s things that I think a lot of young girls at this point who are fortunate enough to have the benefit of the pioneers of the 70s who fought for improvements and enhancements. They don’t even think [sneakers and gear are] some things that you wouldn’t have.
Interview: MJ Telford

Allison Braun
Basketball player, Canisius College

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Title IX means to me the opportunity to even play. My mother is very athletic. She’s a runner but she would always talk to me about how she couldn’t do that back [when she was growing up]. My grandma would talk to me about basketball where you could only take a couple steps. It’s funny to hear now. Title IX to me means equal opportunities. TI’s getting a nice locker room like the boys team has and not seeing some sort of a difference that the reason they have that is because they’re the boys team. It means I can go to school here in and study and travel and represent [Canisius].
Interview: Allison Braun

Reggie Witherspoon
Men’s Basketball coach, University at Buffalo

Ya37c7we5t4zmxpeWitherspoon’s two daughters decided they didn’t want to play basketball, but they’re still huge sports fans. As a coach and a father, he notes the importance of his girls being able to see women in the world of sports:

I think it’s absolutely huge to be able to see someone that looks like you have an opportunity because the reality is it’s not just the opportunity to be an athlete but the opportunity to engage yourself in sports, in athletics. It could be as an official. It could be as a coach. It could be an administrator. I think it’s good. It’s tough to aspire to something you’ve never been exposed to. They’re being exposed to athletes now and exposed to it by looking at it and seeing someone that looks like them.
Interview: Reggie Witherspoon

Vicki Mitchell
Cross-country and track coach, University at Buffalo

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I make it a point that the women, particularly the distance women, understand we’ve been in order to appreciate what they have. ….. It’s important to know where our women can go out and do a long run in a sports bra and its acceptable, 10 years it wasn’t. …. I tell them in 1972 the longest distance they could run in the Olympics was 800 meters and they’re dumbfounded over that. The first time the women ran the [Olympic] marathon was 1984. Al though to them, because that was before they were born it seems like a gazillion years ago, but when I put it in perspective of how long the men were able to do it and that we had to fight to get the opportunity, they can appreciate that.
Interview: Vicki Mitchell

Jim Crowley
Women’s basketball coach, St. Bonaventure University

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There are two things I love. One, it’s OK now for female basketball players to watch basketball and discuss it and get into those conversations and be valued in them. Our players have arguments with the men’s players about college and NBA games and that’s a great thing. The other thing is that it’s OK for female athletes to be competitive and that’s beautiful. It’s OK for them to knock each other down and battle and have this burning desire to win. That’s the way it should be.
Interview: Jim Crowley



 

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Larry Playfair

     (Born June 23, 1958) -- The Sabres traditionally haven't been known for their big, tough players. Larry Playfair was a noteworthy exception.

     Buffalo was looking to add a little beef with its first round draft choice in 1978. The big defenseman out of Portland of the Western Hockey League, fit that description. He was 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds of muscle in his prime.

     Playfair arrived in Buffalo during the 1978-79 season. He stayed through the 1985-86 season, before he was traded to Los Angeles in a deal involving Doug Smith and Brian Engblom.

     But Playfair wasn't done yet. He came back here in 1988 in a deal for Bob Logan. He played through the 1989-90 season when back problems forced him to retire.

     Playfair opted to stay right here in Western New York. He always was generous with his time for community groups, and that's still the case today. It's partly why he's still one of the most popular Sabres ever.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Harvey Johnson

     (Born June 22, 1919) -- Let's pay tribute to the idea of someone who is loyal to his employer, willing to do whatever was needed no matter what the consequences were.

     In other words, let's look at Harvey Johnson's career in football.

     Johnson was an original Bill, at least as a member of the team's coaching staff (defensive backfield) under Buster Ramsey in 1960. He moved to the front office as director of player personnel in 1962, and stayed there until 1968.

     Fate intervened then, as Johnson replaced Joel Collier as the Bills' coach early in the season. Buffalo went 1-10-1 that season, and Johnson was replaced by John Rauch. History repeated itself in 1971, when Rauch was fired in training camp. Johnson took over again on short notice, and the Bills finished 1-13.

     Johnson went back to scouting. In 1983, he was visiting his doctor when he had a heart attack and died at the age of 64.

--- Budd Bailey

Running notebook: Warm-up period

I spent last week's vacation in Florida. Turns out that was the ideal place to get some practice at running in hot temperatures ... since conditions were identical to what we've had for the last couple of days.

A few notes of interest:

* The Rapid Running Buffalo Half Marathon, set for Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park on June 30, has been postponed. David Mason of Rapid Running said that the company wants more time to allow interest and participation to grow, although did say that support has been strong so far. Mason is hoping to stage it sometime in the fall.

My guess is that, if the statement from the organizers is taken at face value, this is not going to go over well. Training for a half-marathon if done properly requires weeks of training for most people. To have the rug pulled out from under those runners nine days before the race is going to make those runners unhappy. All right, very unhappy.

Also noteworthy -- there's no word in the news release about the postponement concerning refunds to those who have already registered.

* Jon French of UB was ruled ineligible for the JPMorgan Chase and Company Corporate Challenge, so his second-place finish was taken out of the results. Kevin Smith moved up to second. The team competition results still haven't been posted yet.

* Rick Morocco of Niagara Falls, Ont., has been named the new Managing Director of the Niagara Falls International Marathon. He replaces Jim Ralston in that position.

The weekend calendar of races is an odd one. It is absolutely blank on a Saturday in June. For races that were one of seven events scheduled on a Saturday a couple of weeks ago, this is another signal to look around at the calendar before setting a date. Buffalorunners.com has the list:

* Bemus Point 10K, Long Point State Park Bath House, 9 a.m. today, 488-0788.

* Buffalo CityBration 5K, Canalside in Buffalo, 9:30 a.m. today, 713-5654.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Queen's Plate draw complete

By Gene Kershner

TORONTO – The post position draw for Sunday’s 153rd running of the $1 million Queen’s Plate, North America’s oldest race took place in the walking ring at Woodbine Racetrack this morning. Strait of Dover (3-1) was made the morning line favorite with Plate Trial winner River Rush (4-1) made the second choice.

Here are some quick hitters from the post draw:

* The Honoray Drawmaster was Mark Tewksbury, a 1992 gold medalist for Canada in Barcelona. He won the 100 meter backstroke for his home country, the first swimming medal for Canada since 1984. He is a member of the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, the International Swimming Hall of Fame and was named Canada's Male Athlete of the Year in 1992.

* Trainer Mark Casse sends out three horses in hopes of capturing the first Plate in his storied career. Casse will take the blinkers off of the filly Dixie Strike (8-1) after a poor performance in the Woodbine Oaks. He will also send out maiden winner Golden Ridge (6-1) and Making Amends (20-1).

* 8-time Queen's Plate winning trainer Roger Attfield, always the showman, selected Post No. 9 for Colleen's Sailor (15-1), in his attempt to extend his record Plate win total to nine and break a tie with Harry Giddings, Jr. Corey Nakatani gets the ride back from John Velazquez, who broke his collarbone in a spill at Churchill Downs last Saturday night. Ironically, Nakatani rode the colt in his last outing, an allowance win at Woodbine in late May.

* Some big name jockeys will be heading north to Woodbine this weekend, including Ramon Dominguez, who will ride Big Creek (10-1) for trainer Todd Pletcher, who will be seeking his second Plate victory. Pletcher won the 1998 edition of the race with Archers Bay with Kent Desormeaux aboard.

* Julien Leparoux, will make his first ever Plate appearance on Sunday. He will ride Peyton (20-1) for trainer Michael Doyle. Another New York-based rider making the trek up to Woodbine will be Rajiv Maragh who picks up the mount on the late entry of Washington Dash (50-1).

* The favorite, Strait of Dover, along with all of the other colts in the race will be riding at 126 pounds, more than 11 pounds heavier than his last win in the Marine Stakes over six weeks ago. His connections decided to skip the Plate Trial so the colt would be fresh for Sunday's big race.

* The two fillies in the race, Dixie Strike and Woodbine Oaks winner Irish Mission (10-1) will both carry 121 pounds.

* The Plate Trial winner River Rush (4-1) drew the rail for trainer Reade Baker, causing him to exclaim, "We're going to start from the one and finish number one."

The post position draw with trainer, jockey and morning line odds is included below:

PP Horse Trainer Jockey Odds
1 River Rush Baker McAleney 4-1
2 Peyton Doyle Leparoux 20-1
3 Macho Whiskey Baker E-J Wilson 15-1
4 Strait of Dover Vella Stein 3-1
5 Classic Bryce Banach Kabel 12-1
6 Wilcox Caroll Pizarro 20-1
7 Golden Ridge Casse Contreras 8-1
8 Ultimate Destiny Keogh Bahen 20-1
9 Colleen's Sailor Attfield Nakatani 15-1
10 Dixie Strike (f) Casse Husbands 8-1
11 Making Amends Casse da Silva 20-1
12 Big Creek Pletcher Dominguez 10-1
13 Washington Dash Miller Maragh 50-1
14 Irish Mission (f) Frostad Solis 10-1
         
  (f) filly      

 

Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer and handicapper who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com and tweets @EquiSpace.

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About Sports, Ink

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey has served in a variety of roles in Buffalo sports in the past 35 years, including reporter, talk-show host, baseball announcer, public relations staffer and author. He covers the Bandits and running for The News when not working as an editor.

@WDX2BB | bbailey@buffnews.com

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