The lights came on around Thanksgiving (if not sooner) and will stay up for another couple of weeks, but after the usual build-up and anticipation, Christmas has come and gone.
Just like that, weeks worth of picking, purchasing and wrapping presents is now a thing of the past – at least for another 300-plus days.
I hope those of you who celebrate the holiday had a wonderful day with friends, family and loved ones and that, sprinkled in there among the gifts, goodies and overeating, you had an opportunity to remember the true meaning of Christmas.
My moment came in the form of a gift from my aunt, who, in honor of my late uncle (who passed away one year ago) paid off the layaway bill for several families in the Denver area. She then wrote a letter to each of us in the family and explained that the families had been taken care of in our honor and through my uncle's inspiration. He once did that for her gift, years ago, and she always said it was one of her favorites.
I now know why.
Anyway, in keeping with the theme of great gifts, here's a quick look back at the top 10 moments given to Jayhawk fans during 2013.
Enjoy! And, once again, Happy Holidays!
1. Women's track and field brings home a national championship — There are tons of good things on this list and most of them drew a lot more attention than this, but it'll be hard to argue with putting this No. 1 because hanging banners is what it's all about. The women's track team, which was loaded with talented athletes and wonderful people, dominated in Oregon last spring and brought home a trophy that inspired a billboard on I-70. Big-time stuff.
2. Andrew Wiggins picks Kansas — Recruiting is no joke around these parts and the day of Wiggins' announcement was full of the usual bag of mixed emotions. Many feared he would pick Florida State, North Carolina or Kentucky. Others were certain he was Kansas-bound. When the time came for Wiggins' announcement, he told a gym full of supporters in Huntington, W.Va., that he would play his one season of college hoops in Kansas. It's been a Beatles-esque run of Wiggins-mania since then and the 6-foot-8, 200-pound Canadian forward currently leads the Jayhawks in scoring at 15.5 points per game. Wiggins was merely the headliner of a class that included Joel Embiid, Wayne Selden, Brannen Greene, Conner Frankamp and Frank Mason. It also should be pointed out that the recruiting crazies went nuts again in November, when top-five big man Cliff Alexander picked Kansas.
3. Make it 9 straight Big 12 titles for Bill Self — The unprecedented streak of consecutive Big 12 regular season titles continued in 2013, as Self's Jayhawks held off serious charges from Oklahoma State and Kansas State to win it again. Just in case anyone disputed whether the Jayhawks were really the champs, KU went ahead and won the Big 12 conference tournament title, too, dispatching K-State for the third time in the semifinals to put the icing on the cake.
4. KU football snaps conference losing streak — After 27 consecutive losses in Big 12 play, a streak that dated back to the 2010 season, the KU football team finally broke through with a dominating, 31-19 victory over West Virginia at Memorial Stadium in November. The victory set off a wild celebration on the field between the players and the fans in the stands and, as is customary with big wins, the students ripped down the goal posts and sent them swimming in Potter Lake.
5. KU volleyball makes 1st ever Sweet 16 — Inpsired by the disappointment of getting so close and coming up short last season, a senior-heavy KU volleyball team finished second in the Big 12 Conference for the first time ever and followed that up by winning first- and second-round matches at Allen Fieldhouse to advance to the Sweet 16 in Los Angeles. Although the run ended there, this team, which featured All-American Caroline Jarmoc, Big 12 setter of the year Erin McNorton and Big 12 coach of the year Ray Bechard (who won the honor for the second year in a row), will likely be remembered for a long, long time over at Horejsi Family Athletics Center.
6. Sweet 16 times 2 for KU hoops — For the second year in a row, the Kansas basketball programs each reached the Sweet 16, with the men falling to Michigan in a heartbreaker and the women getting back to the Sweet 16 for a second time after being one of the last at-large teams put into the tourney field.
7. Another No. 1 seed for the KU men — Despite their shocking loss to Michigan, the men achieved a heck of an accomplishment at the Big Dance's outset when they earned a No. 1 seed for the 11th time in school history and the fifth time in 10 seasons under Bill Self.
8. Tier-3 TV deal puts KU in more homes — Although it produced some anger locally, KU's partnerships with Time Warner Cable and ESPN3 brought to homes across the country 70 live KU events, more than 600 hours of shoulder programming and several pre- and post-game shows highlight KU sports. “This is the backbone of providing Jayhawk fans with access to all of our sports in a way that they've never experienced before,” athletic director Sheahon Zenger said of the deal.
9. KU football lands more transfers — In May it was Nick Harwell, the all-time leading receiver in Miami (Ohio) history who said yes to KU coach Charlie Weis. And just last week it was Florida tight end Kent Taylor. Weis' experience and coaching pedigree continue to attract big-time talent and, although the ones who have made their way to Lawrence thus far have not been stars, it might just be a matter of time before a few of them pan out.
10. Professional Jayhawks continue to make noise — Whether it's Gary Woodland on the PGA Tour, Chris Harris with the Denver Broncos or a record number of former KU basketball players in the NBA, 2013 was a good year for Jayhawks on the professional map. Woodland won a tournament title again, Harris is a key part of a defense on a team with the best record in the NFL and others like Ben McLemore (Sacramento Kings), Aqib Talib (New England Patriots), Darrell Stuckey (San Diego Chargers), Xavier Henry (Los Angeles Lakers) and many, many more are doing their part to represent their school well at the highest levels.
Unless this is your first visit to KUsports.com in the last month, you're surely aware by now that the Kansas University volleyball team has advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history and will take on Washington on Friday in Los Angeles.
It's a great story about a great team and one that cannot be told too many times.
As is the case with any team that gets hot — at any level — we've jumped all-in with this squad and covered them inside and out during the past few months, partly because they're winning and playing at a high level and partly because they're an awesome bunch.
I've been a volleyball fan for a long time. My wife played volleyball in college, Olympic beach volleyball has taken off in recent years and even when I was covering high school sports volleyball was one of my favorites to watch and write about.
As for the Jayhawks, I've been a fan of this team since the middle of the 2012 season, and I figured now was as good a time as any to explain why.
The No. 1 thing I enjoy about Ray Bechard's 16th squad at Kansas is how hard it competes. It never matters who they're playing or how they're feeling, they always bring it. That's the case when they're up two sets to none and are looking to close out the match with a three-set sweep and also the case when they're down two sets to one and need to win the last two sets to win the match.
It's not just a couple of players either. It's all of them. I'm sure some of that comes from the fact that they're as close as a team can possibly be — five key players even live together — and I'm sure some of it is just who they are and how they're coached.
“The chemistry on our team is so awesome,” said senior libero Bri Riley. “It's funny, when we talk to other girls at other schools it's, 'I hate so and so and I hate so and so,' and I love everyone on our team. It's hard to be mad at someone who you love so much and I think that really does carry over onto the court.”
Another thing I enjoy about this year's roster is their personalities. These girls have fun out on the floor and they're always smiling, laughing, joking around and messing with each other however and whenever they can. That demeanor has helped keep them loose when things have been at their most intense and helped them plow through the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament at Allen Fieldhouse last weekend instead of tightening up and letting the moment and opportunity get the best of them.
Beyond their general personalities, this team has all the parts you would want. A jokester or two, a super-focused senior, a bubbly newcomer, an All-American badass and a lot more.
To help illustrate that, I sought the input of a handful of people inside the program for a couple of quick buzzwords about each of the KU regulars. The words they came up with were a perfect representation of what this team is all about and why they've saved their best for last — fun, ferocious and fearing no one.
Here's a quick look at the way some folks inside the program view the girls who will go down in history as some of the most important volleyball players ever to come through Lawrence:
Senior libero Brianne Riley – immature, pretty, tan
Senior setter Erin McNorton – sleepy, "Eeyore," witty
Senior middle blocker Caroline Jarmoc – blunt, engineering phenom
Junior outside hitter Chelsea Albers – ridiculous, inappropriate
Senior outside hitter Catherine Carmichael – animated
Freshman middle blocker Tayler Soucie – gullible, delicate
Sophomore outside hitter Tiana Dockery – social, therapist, popular
Junior outside hitter Sara McClinton – squeaky, baby giraffe
Senior defensive specialist Jaime Mathieu – miniature ginger
Freshman defensive specialist Cassie Wait – buff, apologetic
As you can see, most of those responses came off the cuff and were shared with an eye toward this team's comedic nature. But as the pressure of following up last season — which, until now, had been the best season in KU volleyball history, statistically speaking — landed on their shoulders from Day 1 of the 2013 season, this team's ability to stay loose and laugh helped allow them to dig in when it mattered most and lighten up when needed.
“Over the summer, we were all thinking, 'Can we do it twice,'” Riley admitted. “Can we figure it out and put all the work in and execute to do it a second time?'”
The answer to that question has been a resounding yes, as the Jayhawks are playing deep into the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever and competing with a keen and hard-to-corral mindset that is equal parts relaxed and driven.
“I think we're really good at focusing on the now,” McNorton said. “Coach B always says the next game is the most important game of the year.”
Never has that been more true than today.
With the Kansas University football team knocking off West Virginia last week to snap its 27-game Big 12 losing streak, a lot of the talk early this week was much different than it has been in past weeks.
Here's a look back at the past couple of days worth of Twitter activity, which includes some KU hoops and volleyball chatter, as well.
RT ICYMI: Iona’s Armand: ‘I’m expecting to beat Kansas’ http://zagsblog.com/articles/ionas-armand-im-expecting-to-beat-kansas/
RT Kansas keeps climbing! Up to No. 11 in the RPI this week. #RockChalk
RT “@KUsports: Tom Keegan thinks it's time for Ben Goodman to give Benny Goodman a listen: http://bit.ly/1bzZ2Nq ” @B_Good_Man #KUfball
RT Hey KU fans, u've got to do better than this for your favorite volleyball/chem engineering major, Ms. Jarmoc. Vote? http://www.seniorclassaward.com/vote/volleyball_2013/
#KUfball Monday Rewind: The day almost crept by without me getting this in; Credit Weis for changing w/ times… http://ljw.bz/IdBrue
Weis said Tony Pierson is questionable and we'll get a new update tomorrow after Weis talks with team doctors again… #KUfball
Weis said there's no update on Darrian Miller's status… And that Brandon Bourbon should get some more carries again this week #KUfball
Weis said Gavin Howard was looking for help to dump the Gatorade bucket on him and couldn't find many volunteers… #KUfball
Weis said winning vs. WVU was nice hurdle to clear & he wants to go get a road win… Adds: It's gonna be tough sledding up there… #KUfball
Weis said it's an easy week for him b/c he can criticize players w/o worrying about them getting too low… #KUfball
Weis: it was Ben Goodman who blocked the WVU field goal… Official stats gave it to Agostinho & I heard @ least 1 other guy credited #KUfball
Weis said Sims wasn't just running hard on Saturday, "He was trying to punish people." Great way to put it… #KUfball
Weis said the high for Saturday in Ames is supposed to be 23º… Added: Factor in the wind chill and it'll probably be 0º at kickoff #KUfball
Weis said #KUfball will continue to add to passing game, but said: "If the line's continuing to control the line, there's no reason to do it
Weis said C Gavin Howard likes to talk a lot of trash on the field & had a lot of fun last week b/c can't talk trash when losing #KUfball
Weis: Damon Martin has really come along lately and looked good; Ngalu Fusimalohi has been #KUfball's most consistent lineman all season…
RT Athlon Sports and the @Big12Conference honor James Sims for his record-breaking performance: http://kuathne.ws/1aCe8of #kufball
RT It's a good week to be James Sims. @ESPN names Sims Big 12 Player of the Week http://kuathne.ws/17GO7pI #kufball pic.twitter.com/IzYcBy0bfW
Weis says scrimmaging other teams in off/preseason would be nice. Said ideal scenario would be #KUfball vs. MU at Arrowhead for charity...
"Better." #KUfball coach Charlie Weis on Hawk Talk radio show when asked by Bob Davis: How was your weekend?
RT Tyshawn Taylor puts up numbers for Brooklyn, Chalmers' elbow meets Dirk's face & more from Hawks in NBA blog #kubball http://ljw.bz/I1zcej
If you haven't heard: Kickoff for #KUfball vs. K-State on Nov. 30 is set for 11 a.m. Game will be shown on Fox Sports 1...
Bill Self audio from today's #KUbball press conference… http://ljw.bz/IcTUY1
Career day for #KUfball RB James Sims lands Player of the Week honors; sights now set on career mark… http://ljw.bz/17EbD1e
Weis: For the future of the program, you can't just say we're gonna win our home games. We know it'll be tough in Ames... #KUfball
Weis: Our defense, all year long, has played good enough to have won games. With Cozart on Offense, everything changes. #KUfball
Weis on Heaps: He's been great w/ Montell, but Jake is one of the most unselfish people I've ever been around… He's a competitor… #KUfball
Weis on Cozart: His athleticism helps hide some of our deficiencies… Montell's got a bright future & this was a good first step #KUfball
Weis: We still have 2 more opportunities to get rid of a couple other things on that list of things that could change the program #KUfball
Weis: Having won that game (WVU) helps us going forward and now we gotta focus on snapping road losing streak… #KUfball
Weis: As a coach, you learn that you can't have highs & lows… you gotta stay even keel. Just like players, though, you get a lift. #KUfball
Weis: Psychologically, I think WVU victory is a very, very big lift for our players. #KUfball
#KUfball RB James Sims named Big 12 co-offensive player of the week for his 211-yard, 3 TD performance vs. WVU... Shared w/ Baylor QB Petty
Didn't Tweet during the game but can't let tonight pass w/o props for former #KUfball LB Steven Johnson. Played big in a huge moment...
Last night, while covering the KU volleyball game (which the Jayhawks lost in five sets to Iowa State), I sent out quite a few Tweets about this week's KU football match-up with Baylor.
I, like much of the rest of the world, have found Twitter to be an incredibly useful tool in getting quick nuggets of information about the teams I cover to the fans who care most about them.
A lot of the time that's done through stories, notebooks, blogs, videos and podcasts here on our site, but, occasionally — quite often, actually — I find myself using Twitter to share little notes, stats, facts and opinions about KU sports. Almost as often, I forget to throw those same things on the site.
It's obviously not a major deal and a lot of them eventually wind up finding their way into my stories or coverage somehow. But in an effort to continue to bring you the most KU coverage you can possibly want, I've decided to start this little "Tweetcap" blog, which I'll post semi-regularly on days when I drop a lot of Twitter knowledge.
More often than not, it'll be short and sweet and simply be me copying and pasting the stuff I put on Twitter throughout the day. But I didn't want you guys to miss any of that stuff either so I dreamt up this idea.
I'm sure a good chunk of you already are following me on Twitter anyway, so for you guys this won't really do much — other than bring those words to one place where you can comment on them and discuss the content with others.
For those of you not following me, that's always an option, too.
But if Twitter isn't your thing, this blog will cover that.
So, without further ado, here's the first installment of my Tweetcap from Wednesday, Oct. 23.
#KUfball CB Shepherd praised senior Darius Willis during player interviews today. Said Willis is a big-time leader & "just loves the game."
Credit #KUfball QB Heaps for his attitude. Mired in worst slump of his life, Heaps said only thing he can do is keep working & stay positive
I asked #KUfball LB Jake Love why he played like such a maniac last week (8 tackles, 1 for loss) & the Okie native said it was b/c it was OU
#KUfball CB Shepherd also credited TE Jimmay Mundine for developing into a quality leader, saying, "I like Jimmay, too. Jimmay shows a lot."
Baylor has an incredible offense and they're fast as heck, but #KUfball CBs JaCorey Shepherd & Dexter McDonald can't wait for the challenge…
#KUfball QB Jake Heaps said he's not worried about a repeat of last week's effort (5-13, 16 yds) b/c last week was "as low as you can get."
Tryin to find out how many times & when #KUfball has been bigger underdog than this week's 35.5-point line vs Baylor… Know there are several
In 1985, Oregon St was 38-point underdog vs Washington & won 21-20. Biggest underdog to win up to that point… Still searching… #KUfball
Thanks to some Twitter help, it looks like 2007 was the year and USC was favored by 41 over Stanford but lost 24-23… #KUfball
At KU volleyball tonight, Caroline Jarmoc recorded block No. 515 for her career tonight, making her the all-time leader in KU history. Stud.
Appropriately, the awesome KU volleyball band broke into "Sweet Caroline" after the announcement. In related news, Boston leads StL 5-0…
RT: Elijah Johnson signs on to play with Rosa Radom, a Polish basketball team http://kuathne.ws/18mWswu #kubball
Note: We're working on a way to make this format more visually appealing, i.e. Storify or something of the like, but, at the moment, our blog tool does not support the embedding of things like that. Bear with me for now. Thanks!