Posts Tagged ‘college sportswriting’

BCS is an illogical end to a season

November 30, 2008

Once again, college football’s top level, Division I, will have a pseudo champion, one determined as much off the field as on it. So why should anybody care? They shouldn’t. Athletic directors, college presidents, NCAA officials and any sports writers who support the current system should be ashamed.

cartoon by NICK ANDERSON/Houston Chronicle

cartoon by NICK ANDERSON/Houston Chronicle

A playoff would offer a true football champion, something that is done at NCAA Division I-AA, II, III (and at IV, V and VI, if they had them). Playoffs determine titlists in baseball, basketball, field hockey, ice hockey, and lacrosse, among others.

Yet, NCAA Division I football would rather be lumped together with figure skating, synchronized swimming, and competitive cheerleading, sports that rely on judges to determine winners. (Oklahoma, Oklahoma, that’s our team, if they can’t go to the BCS then nobody can! Woo.)

Let’s face it: The BCS is not working.

The latest evidence? At least two Big 12 teams are going to get sacked because they happened to have lost later in the season. Texas lost to Texas Tech about a month ago, while Texas Tech lost to Oklahoma a few weeks ago. That Oklahoma lost to Texas is okay, though, since that defeat came early in the season. These three teams are tied atop the Big 12’s South division, but only one team will go to the conference championship. That will be determined when the new BCS standings come out later today. (more…)

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College papers explore Red River Rivalry

October 11, 2008
The Daily Texan regularly packages its football preview material in a section called 'Double Coverage.'

The Daily Texan sports staff regularly packages its football preview material in a section called 'Double Coverage.'

Apparently, playing in front of a packed football crowd is as difficult as we all had imagined. As Tennessee Titans tight end Bo Scaife once told Longhorns coach Mack Brown: “Coach, I think I’m hyperventilating.” Stories like this are a joy to read. The Daily Texan covered nearly many angles on the 103rd game between No. 5 Texas and No. 1 Oklahoma. The newspaper posted stories that reflected on last year’s game, analyzed some match-ups, and offered some commentary. Would have also liked a slightly more traditional piece that also examined the match-ups, offered assessments from Oklahoma’s players and coaches, and put the Red River Rivalry into more perspective.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Daily offers a story with that kind of analysis, showing, for example, how Texas linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy leads a defense that allows only 51.8 yards rushing per game. Sportswriter Kyle Burnett also includes comments on the match-ups from coaches and players. This is a pretty good story, one worth reviewing. As always, this story would have been better – and more insightful – had comments from the opposing team been included. Yes, getting comments from opposing teams can be a challenge, but plan early – call sports information directors at other schools early in the week to set up interviews. A second story, part of a three-part series on the rivalry, does include comments from Texas, which shores up a pretty good effort by the Oklahoma Daily on this highly anticipated game.

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Daily Skiff goes public with concerns

September 24, 2008

So what can sportswriters do when they can’t get a straight answer from a coach? Explain the situation to readers. That’s what Texas Christian University’s sports editor William Wessels did when Horned Frogs head coach Gary Patterson refused to say whether a senior tailback would remain suspended for last Saturday’s game. He posted a column about the situation in this morning’s edition.

It’s one thing to not tip off opposing coaches and to dodge questions from a room full of journalists, but do the fans not deserve an honest understanding of the situation?

I get it.

Why risk losing your competitive edge on opponents for answers to questions that people who are spending time and money to support the Horned Frogs want to know?

Sometimes, angry coaches may refrain from speaking because they did not like a published story. At other times, athletic directors may refuse to hand over public documents. By and large, most coaches and ADs are reasonable people (at least, in my experiences). But, there will be times when sportswriters will need to determine whether to apply public pressure, an action that exacerbates a situation. So, first, try to resolve problems privately, calling in a third party to help. If that does not work, consider going public. Check out how TCU’s Daily Skiff handled their frustrating situation.

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Where are the weekend updates?

September 21, 2008
The Independent Alligator posted 1 game story, 3 sidebars and 1 blog online about Florida's football game this weekend.

The Independent Alligator posted 1 game story, 3 sidebars and 1 blog online Saturday about Florida's victory over Tennessee.

The Independent Alligator blew out its coverage of Florida’s easy victory over Tennessee, one of two big Southeastern Conference football games this weekend. (I guess when you have five teams in the Associated Press top 10, your conference will have plenty of big games each week.) The Independent Alligator filed a gamer, a sidebar on running back Brandon James, two other siders and a live game blog (glog). By far, the best weekend coverage by any college newspaper this weekend.

But I am always a little perplexed why a staff would not devote some resources to cover other weekend events. Florida’s student newspaper clearly has the resources to cover sports during the weekend, yet the staff did not file a story on the Gators’ equally amazing performances in cross country. The Gators’ men and women each blew away the competition in the 20th annual Mountain Dew Invitational. The men even took the top five spots for the bare minimum 15 team points. The women scored 17 points.

The Independent Alligator does a terrific job covering sports, as I have noted before. However, sports staffs need to start posting updates for other sports as well, especially if the newspaper has enough sportswriters to do so. Football is not the only sport during the weekend. College newspapers should also file stories on soccer games, cross country invitationals, and volleyball matches through the weekend. Still, the Independent Alligator is far ahead of most other college newspapers in offering weekend sports updates. Tennessee’s Daily Beacon Online has not updated anything for almost a week.

Several other schools failed to offer any sports updates during the weekend. The Daily Bruin did not post a gamer on the Bruins’ 31-10 loss to Arizona but they did post a live-game blog (or Glog). Not sure why this coverage extended through only three quarters, though. You also cannot find any sports updates from the following college newspapers – South Carolina’s Daily Gamecock, Connecticut’s Daily Campus, Alabama’s Crimson White, Oregon State’s Barometer, the Michigan Daily, the Daily Texan, Notre Dame’s Observer, Southern Cal’s Daily Trojan, Kansas State Collegian, Auburn Plainsman, Wake Forest’s Old Gold and Black, and the FSU News, to name just a few.

Here’s how a few other college newspapers covered sports this weekend.

■ The Daily Reveille relies on an Associated Press story after No. 6 Louisiana State defeated No. 10 Auburn 26-21 victory in a late-night game. But LSU’s newspaper also offered a live-game blog throughout the game. The Auburn Plainsman did not have any coverage as of late Sunday morning.

■ The Daily Kansan did a great job posting a variety of information online after the Jayhawks thrashed Sam Houston State, 38-14. The staff posted a live-game blog, a photo gallery, a podcast, and a game story. However, the gamer did not include the score. … The Daily Skiff offers a solid gamer on Texas Christian University’s 48-7 romp over Southern Methodist, which earned the Horned Frogs the Iron Skillet.

■ Cash Kruth does a great job assessing the reasons Michigan State ran over Notre Dame in a game story that is both well-written and well-sourced in the State News.

■ Penn has not defeated Villanova since 1911. A fumble in overtime prevented the Quakers from finally prevailing in this rivalry. David Gurian-Peck keyed on that play to write a solid game story in the Daily Pennsylvanian.

Virginia Tech scored 17 unanswered points to rally past North Carolina, 20-17, a game the Collegiate Times covered well. The Daily Tar Heel, meanwhile, posted a short basic gamer.

■ The Daily Collegian offers a great deal of updated weekend sports information. Penn State’s newspaper tells readers that five tennis players advanced in a tournament and that Joe Paterno watched the Nittany Lions’ rout of Temple, 45-0, from the press box. Apparently, he hurt his leg the week before. They even posted an update after Florida State’s loss to Wake Forest, something that enabled Paterno to become college football’s winningest coach for at least a week. The newspaper did a fine job offering updated sports results but the staff might want to consider expanding these gamers in the future.

■ In the Daily Eastern News, Scott Richey posted a solid game story on Eastern Illinois’ 25-21 victory over Illinois State that focused on key plays and included comments from coaches on both teams.

■ Houston’s rally fell short against Colorado State, but the Daily Cougar did not. Houston’s college newspaper posted a story on the Cougars’ 28-25 loss in Fort Collins, Colo., that included the key facts, key plays, and comments from key people. … Oregon also failed to recovered from an early deficit in losing to Boise State, 37-32, a game the Daily Emerald covered on Saturday.

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Daily Kansan captures key to loss

September 16, 2008
Daily Kansan photographer Jon Goering captures the decisive play in the Jayhawks' 37-34 loss to South Florida last Friday night in Tampa, Fla.

Daily Kansan photographer Jon Goering captures the decisive play in the Jayhawks' 37-34 loss to South Florida last Friday night in Tampa, Fla.

The Daily Kansan’s B.J. Rains breaks down the Jayhawks’ 37-34 loss to South Florida by focusing on a decisive play toward the end of the game, a play where a mere 12 inches may have changed the game’s outcome. A key play is usually a great way to introduce a game story or a folo-up piece. Rains does a solid job teasing readers with conflict in the lead, but he also puts the play into perspective and describes the interception in the final minute. (Notice also that photographer Jon Goering captured the key play.)

TAMPA, Fla. — If faced with the same decision again, Todd Reesing would do only one thing different — throw the ball about a yard farther.

Trying to get the Jayhawks into field goal range with 41 seconds left and the score deadlocked at 34-34 with the then No. 19 South Florida, Reesing dropped back to pass and saw wide receiver Raymond Brown streak down the middle of the field. Reesing took a chance and let it fly, but the ball fell a yard short of Brown and right into the hands of a leaping Nate Allen of USF.

“We got what we wanted,” Reesing said, who passed for 373 yards and three touchdowns. “I kind of fell off my back foot a little bit and just didn’t quite get it there. If I had to do it again, I’d probably make the same decision. I just didn’t make the play.”

Allen stayed on his feet and returned the ball 38 yards to the Kansas 26-yard line. After a one yard run, freshman Maikon Bonani hit his third field goal of the game — a 43-yarder as time expired — to give South Florida a 37-34 win.

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Michigan Daily's Maize Gauge is a fun extra that complements game coverage.

The Michigan Daily covers sports better than most by offering solid coverage, great packages, and reporting in new media. I really like the little extras, like the newspaper’s Maize Gauge, not only because it is visual, but because it breaks down some stats that might get lost. On the other hand, I am not a fan of game predictions that are, really, mostly about ego. Readers, for the most part, do not care who we pick unless we make the process entertaining for the reader, even if the pick is clearly a poor one. Don’t fret about your weekly record; instead, gloat about the readers you’ll attract. Of course, the line is finely drawn between funny and perplexing. Nobody is better at having fun with predictions than the Orlando Sentinel’s Jerry Greene, who proves that it’s not who you pick, but how you pick’em.

Game of the Week 2
ATLANTA (1-0) AT TAMPA BAY (0-1)
Wonder what Bucs Coach Jon Gruden plans on doing after he’s through coaching football (you know, like maybe next year?) Perhaps boss of a reclamation project such as rebuilding the Republican Party? This guy loves to tinker. That’s why he’s dumped quarterback Jeff Garcia and gone back to Brian Griese, a guy he’d dumped before. If you’re a kid at home playing with your Legos, this can be fun. Not so good, however, while coaching in the NFL.
LINE: Bucs by 7.
JERRY SAYS: Falcons by 3.

Leads Don’t force a connection, or comparison, when one does not exist. That’s what happened in the following lead. The fact Southern Cal faced Ohio State in women’s volleyball has no bearing on the same match-up on the football field. Better to use the straight lead offered in the second graph below. (Also, feel free to delete adjectives like ‘screaming’ before fans.)

On a weekend with a theme to “Beat the Buckeyes,” the Women of Troy set the bar high for their male counterparts on the gridiron.

The No. 7 USC women’s volleyball team breezed past unranked Ohio State (25-16, 25-13, 27-25) in a sweep Friday night at the Galen Center in front of more than 4,000 screaming fans.

Similarly, I am not sure the connection between Chinese superstitions and Michigan’s success on the volleyball court. Delete forced connections; instead, focus on the games themselves.

According to Chinese culture, three is a lucky number.

It’s been good fortune for the Michigan volleyball team this year as well.

The Wolverines grabbed their third tournament of the year this weekend, winning 3-0 at the Pepsi Challenge in Ann Arbor.

Virginia Tech's Angie Tincher

Angela Tincher

Campus roundup The Daily Trojan offers a solid gamer on USC’s surprisingly easy win over Ohio State. … The Collegiate Times offers an update on the USA National Softball Player of the Year, Angela Tincher, whose number was retired Saturday in Blacksburg, Va. … Allie Perez shows she understands soccer in her gamer for the Cornell Daily Sun. Allie analyzes the game well without opining and also includes quotes that explain other key subtleties of the game. Soccer, without easily mapped out play by play, can be a challenge to cover, but Perez does it well. Also, check out another fine soccer game story by the Missouri’s Maneater. … The Michigan Daily does a pretty good job assessing the volleyball team’s roster and chances to return to the Sweet 16. But stories like this are much stronger when more reporting is included. Ask opposing coaches for their assessments, something that will better inform your writing (and that will also enlighten readers.)

Typically, don't focus on national stories or figures (like Jamie Moyer, above) unless you do additional reporting or find a local angle.

Typically, don't focus on national stories or figures (like Jamie Moyer, above) unless you do additional reporting or find a local angle.

Columns Missouri’s football team is 3-0, the women’s tennis played well in a five-team tourney, and the women’s soccer team has won three in a row. So why write a column about Jamie Moyer, major-league baseball’s perplexingly good (and ancient) pitcher? Yes, the 45-year-old Phillies hurler is 14-7, and 7-1 in his last 13 starts, but leave the commentary to those who regularly cover MLB and the Phillies. Instead, think local in all columns. A college newspaper needs to fully cover its campus, offering news (and perspective) that readers cannot get elsewhere. Unless you can find a local angle (or can do additional reporting), leave national stories alone.

Profiles South Florida’s soccer goalie decided to play for a U.S. under-17 team a few years ago, which precludes Diego Restrepo from playing for his native Colombia. This is a nice feature on the player’s tough choice during a week when many Bulls fans (and alum like myself) are rejoicing in a football victory over Kansas.

Language Games are ‘tied,’ not knotted. And ‘trailed’ is preferred over ‘down,’ as in ‘Ohio State trailed Southern Cal 7-0.’

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Speaking with the enemy

September 3, 2008
Check out how Sports Illustrated covers games, speaking with numerous and varied sources.

Check out how Sports Illustrated covers games, speaking with numerous and varied sources.

Alabama certainly rolled over Clemson last weekend, handing the Tigers their worst college football defeat in about three years, something that almost assuredly destroys Clemson’s BCS title hopes. After the game, Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said: “We got whipped about every way you can get whipped. We never established any control in the game.”

Nobody could argue with that assessment. But the fact Alabama’s Crimson White included this quote from an opposing coach is a shocker, sadly enough. Few college football writers interviewed opposing players or coaches in their football game stories this past weekend.

Joe Paterno tied Bobby Bowden for most career college victories after Penn State routed Coastal Carolina 66-10 last Saturday at 373, something that prompted the Daily Collegian to solicit a comment from the opposing coach. “It’s not part of good history you’re the team he beats to tie the record,” Coastal Carolina coach Dave Bennett said. Daily Collegian sportswriter Josh Kangenbacher did a fine job reporting on a game that was never in doubt, which can be a challenge.

Talking with only the home team is clearly the norm at college newspapers, but it is a poor reporting. Plus, this makes college sports editors appear more like homers – whose allegiance is to a single team – than like independent journalists who seek enough facts to put events into proper context. This may sound like a lofty requirement for somebody covering sports. Yet, it is not. The prefix ‘sports’ does not absolve journalists from working like others in the newsroom – even if they are young students learning the craft. Good habits are learned at the beginning. Please, start speaking with as many sources as possible for not only game stories, but for previews, features, analysis, and (hopefully) for in-depth news stories related to the business of sports.

Here is how some college newspapers covered football this past weekend.

Louisville lost to Kentucky at home for the first time since 2002, but readers never get to learn the reasons for this lopsided victory. Did the Cardinals ofensive line have difficulty creating holes inside, causing the team to punt nine times? Did Kentucky have a better game plan? Not sure. The Kentucky Kernel only spoke with Wildcats coach Rich Brooks and three players. At bigger games like this, why not assign a reporter to both locker rooms, sharing the uotes afterward. Plus, the sports information director can collect additional comments as well. (Not sure why the Louisville Cardinal did not even post a game story on this in-state rivalry game. Instead, the paper offers preview stories about this game as well as the one against Tennessee Tech next week.)

The Daily Nebraskan offered only two comments, from quarterback Joe Ganz and coach Bo Pelini, in its assessment of the team’s 47-24 defeat of Western Michigan. The paper did offer a nice second story that focused on Western Michigan’s challenges in this game, something readers surely appreciated. Still, papers need to offer a story that combines the elements of several stories into one. You can repeat a few quotes in sidbars and mainbars. First, put together a comprehensive gamer that includes key plays, trends, comments from both sides and offers the game’s significance. Then, offer the siders, analysis, columns, and slide shows. (BTW, football generates more than $87 million a year to businesses in Lincoln, Nebraska. Go find these harder news stories as the Daily Nebraskan did here. Not everything should be bats and balls coverage.)

Daily Illini reporter Wes Anderson speaks with Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel and Illinois coach Ron Zook following a wild, high-scoring game in St. Louis that the Tigers won, 52-42. Solid analysis, fluid writing, and good sources help elevate this story.

In a preview of Oklahoma State’s football game against Washington State, the O’Collegian did not speak with any Cougars players or coaches, nor did it interview other coaches in the Big 12 or any national football experts. Instead, readers heard from several hometown players and the head coach.

West Virginia opened up its offense but the perspective on the game was narrowed to Mountaineer coaches and players. The Daily Athenaeum did not ask Villanova’s defensive backs, linebackers, or coaches how they felt defending WVU’s passing attack. Always get that additional perspective. Always do that extra reporting. In addition, always cite the game’s score early in stories – even in follow-up stories like this. Several game stories and sidebars failed to remind readers of the score.

The Daily Utah Chronicle did not ask Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez about his debut in Ann Arbor, Michigan, even though reporters spoke with five of the Utes’ own players/coaches in a pretty good follow-up story. Rodriguez said his team did not play aggressively. “I didn’t think we played very physical,” Rodriguez told the Michigan Daily. “I thought we played very tentative at times and were thinking a little too much.” On the other hand, the Michigan Daily did not cite any Utah players/coaches.

The Daily Mississipian spoke only with Rebels offensive and defensive coordinators, plus someone named Nutt, after the team defeated Memphis 41-24. Give full titles for all people (like Rebels coach Houston Nutt) in first reference, even if the story is a sidebar or follow-up.

Even pretty good stories by the Daily Trojan and Daily O’Collegian did not include sufficient sources in their game stories. Oregon’s Daily Emerald cited only its coach and quarterback after the Ducks’ 44-10 over Washington while Washington State’s Daily Evergreen offered two quick quotes in its gamer. Plus, the Daily Bruin failed to get any Tennessee folks to volunteer comments on their 27-24 upset loss to UCLA in a game story that was otherwise pretty well done.

Get the full story in all coverage. Yes, it’s more difficult to file a story for football games played late at night, but coverage can still be coordinated. For afternoon games, there is really no excuse for interviewing players and coaches on the opposing team, especially for volleyball matches, soccer games, and cross country meets. Tell the full story.

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O’Collegian, Daily Trojan offer solid follow-up football stories

September 2, 2008
Oklahoma State's O'Collegian focuses on special teams play in its follow-up coverage.

Oklahoma State

Balls ricocheting into nets, special teams breaking tackles, and runners packing together to win a cross country event. College sportswriters focused on these, and other, angles during the first full week of sports on campuses across the country.

Here are some of the high (and low) lights.

Here’s a terrific lead by O’Collegian writer David Youngblood on Oklahoma State’s special teams play on Saturday.

Dez Bryant was surprised by what he saw.

As he returned the first punt of the game against Washington State, Bryant got a block from a teammate, made a cut and turned upfield.

Suddenly, there was no one left in front of him.

“I was excited when I saw open field,” Bryant said. “I couldn’t believe it, to be honest.”

A WSU player would eventually chase down Bryant, but not before he had returned the punt 42 yards and set the tone for a dominating performance by Oklahoma State’s special teams.

OSU rode big returns and an improved defensive performance to a 39-13 victory Saturday against the Cougars in Seattle.

Youngblood focuses on a key play, describing it through the eyes of player who returned a punt 42 yards. Then, the writer ties this play to an overall theme. It is an excellent story. The writer also cites coach Mike Gundy and three players. Would have liked some comments from Washington State’s coaches and players, something that could have been culled from the game interviews or from follow-up phone calls but I know it can be difficult tracking down sources on Labor Day.

The Daily Trojans’ Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz does an equally fine job in a follow-up to Southern Cal’s 52-7 rout of Virginia. He describes a key play, puts it in perspective and speaks with several key players and coaches at USC.

Here are a few other football game stories to check out.

Daniel, Williams direct Arch Rivalry shootout.

Tar Heels take season opener, barely

Rodriguez and co. can’t come away with win in opener

I love a good cross country story, perhaps because too many young writers believe such beats are not as worthy as football or basketball. (And partly because I ran myself.) If anything, readers and sports editors are more impressed when these stories are covered just as thoroughly as football.

Here is another cross country (who should never, ever be called ‘harriers’) story to check out this week. The Daily Iowan focuses on the importance of pack running.

Some other things to consider when covering cross country:
Convert distances from metric to English standard. Sadly, most readers are not able to tell you that a 6K run is 3.75 miles. (You can slip in the fact that a 5K race is a 3.1-mile event somewhere later in the story.) Plus, try to convert times to pace per mile, writing that ‘someone averaged 5:08 per mile,’ something that is more accessible than writing that someone ran 18:45 for 6K. That’s a foreign language to most non-runners. In addition, find a feature angle when covering sports like cross country, swimming and wrestling, among others. Devout fans will read anything on these sports, but you need to attract the non-fans as well. So approach these stories with the eyes of a coach but with the perspective of an unknowing fan.

Don’t bury leads Get right to the key angle or play. Do not offer background or a general overview like “All good things take time.” The following lead delays the main angle, that Indiana scored twice at the 78th minute to knock off a ranked team.

The IU women’s soccer team (1-2-0) came into the Aggie Soccer Invitational unranked and winless. The other three teams in the tournament were all ranked in the top 14, but the Hoosiers were able to leave Texas with a split in the weekend’s games.

IU picked up its first win of the season Friday night, defeating No. 14 Tennessee 2-0, its first win versus a ranked opponent since it defeated then-No. 13 USC last year. On Sunday, the Hoosiers fell to the host Texas A&M, 3-1.

The game was deadlocked at a 1-1 tie until the Aggies scored twice in the 78th minute.

This story does a pretty good job of offering key facts about a game played 10-plus hours away, too far away to send writers. Instead, the newspaper staff planned well by apparently using the school’s press release and by calling players.

Here are a few other soccer gamers to check out.
■ The Daily Tar Heel poses some intriguing questions in a lead (although I would have liked more answers and details), the Maneater revealed how Missouri adjusted its attack to defeat Auburn, and the Daily Eastern News describes a shot that ricocheted into the goal to break a tie game.

Don’t just offer stats I’m noticing many volleyball stories are really recaps of stats, where writers focus on how many kills, blocks and digs players have. That’s pretty darned boring – especially if the writer attended the game. (Beat writers are required to attend games they cover, right?) Find stories, trends and angles that are cultivated by attending practices and regularly speaking with key people on the team. The Red and Black, for instance, focused more on Georgia’s coach earning a milestone victory.

Show, don’t tell Here’s a story that relies too heavily on telling: “After falling behind 5-0 in the first game, the Frogs got it together and cruised through the second and third games, tightening their passing and hitting along the way.” (Glad to hear the Frogs were hip and relaxed. But this story does not explain how the team worked together and tightened passes?) Writers need to offer reasons and examples for all assessments. If you do not feel as confident on a beat, ask coaches and players to explain the games to you before, or after, a practice. That way, you will learn the sport better and the players and fans will get a more informed report. This takes time, so be patient.

Avoid cliches like the plague Found a few of these in stories this morning – “opened the flood gates,” “started to click,” “the second half was all blue and orange,” “got on the board,” “imposed her will from the left side to the tune of 14 kills,” and “Johnson was once a wrecking ball for UCLA.”

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