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Avalanche offseason depth chart: Plenty of question marks, openings to fill with a tricky path forwa

Avalanche offseason depth chart: Plenty of question marks, openings to fill with a tricky path forwa

25/05/2024, USA, Multi Sports, USA Publications, Article # 31784160

For a handful of teams around the NHL, it is existential crisis season.

Early playoff exits lead to macro-level discussions like does Team X have the right core players or does Team Y’s style of play not work when the calendar flips to May.

The Colorado Avalanche has a different kind of offseason ahead, but the road might be just as arduous.

This core group of Avs has reached the mountaintop. They thought they had a group that could do it again this year. But just getting back to that point might not be easy, given the roadblocks Colorado faces.

“The salary cap is a significant challenge for us, and we’ve got things we’re going to have to navigate,” Avalanche general manager Chris MacFarland said Thursday. “Obviously, the Val wrench is something that you’re not counting on. Like injuries happen and every team deals with that. We have another one, and does that impact things that potentially you want to try and do over the next few weeks? Very well may. But that’s our job is to try and find workaround solutions or workable solutions.

“But we still have Nathan Mackinnon and Cale Makar and Mikko Rantanen (and) Devon Toews, and that’s a pretty good launch point.”

The “Val wrench” is a suspension of at least six months for the guy who could have been next on MacFarland’s list of core players: Valeri Nichushkin. His $6.125 million cap hit is off the books while he’s suspended, but has to go back on when he gets reinstated, which could happen as early as mid-November.

Another guy who is also part of the inner-circle group when he’s available is Gabe Landeskog, and he’s the other big uncertainty. He’s confident he’ll play next season after missing the past two, but when is still unclear and how effective the Avs captain will be is also a mystery.

With those two large and expensive questions in mind, the Avs could have a tricky summer. Let’s break down where the depth chart stands as of today, and what solutions MacFarland and his staff need to come up with.

Center

Sept. 15 age Cap hit* Through
Nathan MacKinnon 29 $12.60 2031
Casey Mittelstadt 25 RFA RFA
Ross Colton 28 $4.0 2027
Yakov Trenin 27 UFA UFA
Chris Wagner 33 $0.78 2025
Fredrik Olofsson 28 UFA UFA
Ondrej Pavel 24 $0.87 2025
Ivan Ivan 22 $0.85 2026

(Can’t see chart on mobile? Click here.)

MacKinnon might be the reigning league MVP when next season begins. Casey Mittelstadt was a great fit after the trade deadline and played well in his first NHL postseason. His contract could set up everything that Colorado can do this offseason if it gets done early, or could impact roster building in the other direction if it drags into July.

The Avs seem pretty happy with Ross Colton as the No. 3 center. Calum Ritchie might factor into Colorado’s top three in the future, but MacFarland pointed out that having these three guys will allow them to be patient with the club’s top forward prospect. Expect another year in the OHL for him.

Trenin would be a great signing, on the right deal. He really fit well as the 4C and on the penalty kill. Get used to this phrase: He might be outside the Avs’ price range.

Chris Wagner could start the year as the No. 4 center. Ondrej Pavel might have a shot at the job with a strong training camp. This is definitely a spot where the Avs could add someone.

There could be an opening or two where the Avs survey what’s available in June or July, don’t find what they’re looking for at the right price and essentially bank on finding another guy like Trenin before the trade deadline. Colorado should have more clarity on the short- and long-term futures of Nichushkin and Landeskog by then and would have lots of extra cap space to work with one of them not on the active roster.

Left Wing

Sept. 15 age Cap hit* Through
Artturi Lehkonen 29 $4.50 2027
Jonathan Drouin 29 UFA UFA
Gabriel Landeskog 31 $7.0 2029
Miles Wood 29 $2.50 2029
Zach Parise 40 UFA UFA
Andrew Cogliano 37 UFA UFA
Nikolai Kovalenko 24 $0.90 2025
Riley Tufte 26 UFA UFA

(Can’t see chart on mobile? Click here.)

Artturi Lehkonen is having offseason shoulder surgery. MacFarland said “It will be close” for the start of training camp, so the Avs could begin without three of their top four wings (along with Nichushkin and Landeskog).

Even if the Avs don’t know if Landeskog will be ready for the season on July 1, the salary cap situation means they aren’t likely to be chasing any expensive players to fill in, anyway.

Zach Parise is going to retire. Andrew Cogliano said he hasn’t decided on that, yet. He played 86 games this year, including the playoffs. The Avs could want him back, even in a part-time role.

There are four clear-cut candidates to fill out the depth chart here — Lehkonen, Landeskog, Miles Wood and Nikolai Kovalenko. One of those four could end up on the right side as well.

The Avs would love to have Jonathan Drouin back, but he’d almost certainly need to give them a discount from what other clubs will line up to offer.

Right Wing

Sept. 15 age Cap hit* Through
Mikko Rantanen 27 $9.25 2025
Valeri Nichushkin+ 29 $6.13 2030
Logan O’Connor 28 $1.05 2025
Brandon Duhaime 27 UFA UFA
Joel Kiviranta 28 UFA UFA
Jean-Luc Foudy 22 $0.85 2025
Oskar Olausson 21 $0.86 2026
Jason Polin 25 UFA UFA

(Can’t see chart on mobile? Click here.)

Rantanen is entering the final year of his contract. It won’t affect the Avs’ cap for next season, but a huge new deal could further impact the offseason. Particularly, if Colorado wants to pursue anyone in a trade with multiple years left on a deal, or any free agents (beyond Mittelstadt) that want longer contracts.

Logan O’Connor didn’t come up Thursday, but he had hip surgery in March and his availability at the onset of training camp could be in question. He earned some games in the top six this past season after a hot start, but he’d ideally fit next to Wood and Colton on the third line.

Brandon Duhaime could come back as a depth option, but he could also be a popular target July 1 and end up with a bigger contract than Colorado can afford. Joel Kiviranta played his best hockey for the Avs in the playoffs, and could be welcomed back on an inexpensive deal.

Jean-Luc Foudy missed the start of this past season with a lower-body injury and Oskar Olausson’s year ended in February because of shoulder surgery. One or both of them could earn a place on the roster during camp, especially if key guys aren’t ready.

Left defense

Sept. 15 age Cap hit* Through
Devon Toews 30 $7.25 2031
Samuel Girard 26 $5.0 2027
Jack Johnson 37 UFA UFA
Caleb Jones 27 UFA UFA
Jack Ahcan 27 $0.78 2025
Wyatt Aamodt 26 RFA RFA
Sage Weinstein 19 $0.79 2027

(Can’t see chart on mobile? Click here.)

Toews is starting a new seven-year contract. He and Samuel Girard were both excellent during the 2024 playoffs. Given good health, the Avs look set at those two spots.

The depth beyond that is a significant question. Jack Johnson has expressed a desire to keep playing. Would the Avs bring him back on another cheap, one-year contract?

Not playing for weeks at a time isn’t easy, but Caleb Jones filled the No. 7 role well this past season. Will he try to find a bigger role elsewhere?

Those two cost $1.55 million combined against the cap, with both on league-minimum deals. Will the Avs be able to find anyone who could be an upgrade at a similar cost? Would they be able to engineer the budget so more funds are available for a No. 5 defenseman?

All are good late-May questions.

Right defense

Sept. 15 age Cap hit* Through
Cale Makar 25 $9.0 2027
Josh Manson 32 $4.50 2026
Sean Walker 29 UFA UFA
Sam Malinski 26 $0.85 2025
Brad Hunt 36 UFA UFA
Nathan Clurman 26 UFA UFA
Sean Behrens 21 $0.91 2027

(Can’t see chart on mobile? Click here.)

Like the left side, Makar and Josh Manson are a fantastic 1-2 punch to start. Manson is nearing an age where some decline could creep in, but he was really good next to Girard in the second half of the season.

His skill set is also pretty valuable to this group in particular, and finding a replacement with his blend of size, physicality and skill at around $4.5 million would be a challenge.

Also like the left side, there are questions beyond those two. Sean Walker seems like the best bet among the UFAs for the Avs to be priced out of the market. Sam Malinski looks like a natural choice to slide into the third pairing, but a veteran insurance option could be on the shopping list as well.

Sean Behrens had a great junior season with Denver, but he could need a full season or more in the AHL.

Goaltender

Age on Sept. 15 Cap hit* Through
Alexandar Georgiev 28 $3.4 2025
Justus Annunen 24 $0.84 2026
Ivan Prosvetov 25 UFA UFA
Trent Miner 23 $0.78 2025
Arvid Holm 25 UFA UFA

(Can’t see chart on mobile? Click here.)

Here’s a spot that could be relatively straightforward. Alexandar Georgiev is entering the final year of his contract, so he’s eligible for a new deal in July. Justus Annunen earned the chance to be the No. 2 guy with his strong work in the second half.

Trent Miner played well in a similarly small sample for the Eagles. The Avs need to add another goalie to play with him at the AHL level, and don’t be surprised if it’s an older guy who fits in as the No. 3. Miner could then compete with him for the starting role with the Eagles.

On a macro level, there are still more questions than answers. That might be true Sept. 1, as well.

There are many possibilities. The best-case scenario is Landeskog looks a lot like the pre-2023 version of himself and Nichushkin finally gets the help he needs while also mending his relationship with the guys in the locker room.

That might be the only path to being the same level of no-doubt Stanley Cup contender as the 2023-24 edition, unless MacFarland and Co. can find another Drouin (or two) this offseason.

* In millions via capfriendly.com | + Suspended | UFA = Unrestricted free agent | RFA = Restricted free agent

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https://www.denverpost.com/2024/05/25/avalanche-offseason-depth-chart-questions/
Renck & File: The days are long, years are short. Final game as sports parents brings joy, tears

Renck & File: The days are long, years are short. Final game as sports parents brings joy, tears

25/05/2024, USA, Basketball, NBA (Basketball), Article # 31784159

The days are long, but the years are short. This advice is advanced to parents about raising children. It applies to life, but in our case sports.

My wife and I were thrilled our two sons showed interest the first time they held a bat and threw a ball. It was in the family DNA with her past as a cheerleader and her brothers playing football and my life growing up as an identical twin with my father serving as a coach for all seasons.

I was ecstatic when our oldest son Dagin first used a spoon left-handed as a baby, viewing him as a pitcher. I was surprised how competitive our youngest son Brady was, wanting to win at everything starting at four years old. Sports defined our spare time. I coached. My wife functioned as a general manager and treasurer.

Our family vacations became travel ball baseball trips to Cooperstown, Omaha, Las Vegas, Phoenix and St. Louis. The boys played in 11 states. Their careers overlapped for one year at Longmont High School. Dagin pitched for three years at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Brady won an NAIA championship at Westmont College, and joined Pepperdine as a grad student.

We traveled to Las Vegas on Wednesday to watch Brady play in the West Coast Conference tournament for our final game as a sports family. Brady homered in what we figured was his last at-bat. Turns out he had one more line drive to left to add to his statistics. But when that ball exited over the right field fence, it hit us hard. My eyes welled up with pride, and when I turned to my wife, it was like looking in a mirror.

After 21 years of watching our sons compete, it was over. This was always the likely expiration date, but it did not make it any easier. A few days later, I continue to struggle with the abrupt ending. So many endless days, and poof, it was gone in a blink. We would not change a thing.

Youth sports remain eviscerated as too competitive, too expensive, too toxic. And there are threads of truth to this. But they are also wonderful, meaningful, a fertile ground for teaching discipline and accountability, while experiencing unbridled joy and forming lifelong friendships.

Our journey ended Wednesday afternoon with our sons taking a picture down the left-field line. The calendar moves on. Sports will remain a part of our lives, just not in the arena. But I would be lying if I said I won’t be mindlessly glancing at that picture, trying to live in that snapshot forever.

Listening to Gabe Landeskog talk about his recovery from right knee cartilage replacement surgery was revealing. The Avs captain told me he’s no longer motivated to become the first athlete to return from this procedure. His motivation is more simple. He wants to skate off the ice and hug his family. …

File away tight end Lucas Krull’s name. With Greg Dulcich still searching for solutions to his hamstring issues, don’t be surprised if Krull becomes an X-factor in the Broncos’ offense. …

Not a fan of marriage proposals at sporting events. But Phillies star Bryce Harper acting as a wingman for a high schooler’s promposal — knocking on the door and getting a yes — that was cool.

Mail Time

I’m a native Denverite, and yes this Nuggets (Game 7) loss hurts more than anything that I can remember. I’ve suffered through years of Broncos losses in the regular season and playoffs, but this has stuck a knife in my heart.

— Kal Zeppelin, via email

This response is related to my Monday debate with Sean Keeler about the worst loss in Colorado pro sports. The Nuggets’ collapse was shocking as they became the first modern NBA team to blow a 20-point lead in a Game 7. But for me, nothing tops the Jacksonville Jaguars upsetting the Broncos in the 1996 playoffs, preventing a potential three-peat of Super Bowl titles. The Jags were a 12.5-point underdog and had won two road games before stunning a Broncos team spangled with Hall of Famers. That loss remains the ultimate crowbar to the shins.



https://www.denverpost.com/2024/05/25/sports-parents-final-game/
Renck & File: The days are long, years are short. Final game as sports parents brings joy, tears

Renck & File: The days are long, years are short. Final game as sports parents brings joy, tears

25/05/2024, USA, Multi Sports, USA Publications, Article # 31784161

The days are long, but the years are short. This advice is advanced to parents about raising children. It applies to life, but in our case sports.

My wife and I were thrilled our two sons showed interest the first time they held a bat and threw a ball. It was in the family DNA with her past as a cheerleader and her brothers playing football and my life growing up as an identical twin with my father serving as a coach for all seasons.

I was ecstatic when our oldest son Dagin first used a spoon left-handed as a baby, viewing him as a pitcher. I was surprised how competitive our youngest son Brady was, wanting to win at everything starting at four years old. Sports defined our spare time. I coached. My wife functioned as a general manager and treasurer.

Our family vacations became travel ball baseball trips to Cooperstown, Omaha, Las Vegas, Phoenix and St. Louis. The boys played in 11 states. Their careers overlapped for one year at Longmont High School. Dagin pitched for three years at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Brady won an NAIA championship at Westmont College, and joined Pepperdine as a grad student.

We traveled to Las Vegas on Wednesday to watch Brady play in the West Coast Conference tournament for our final game as a sports family. Brady homered in what we figured was his last at-bat. Turns out he had one more line drive to left to add to his statistics. But when that ball exited over the right field fence, it hit us hard. My eyes welled up with pride, and when I turned to my wife, it was like looking in a mirror.

After 21 years of watching our sons compete, it was over. This was always the likely expiration date, but it did not make it any easier. A few days later, I continue to struggle with the abrupt ending. So many endless days, and poof, it was gone in a blink. We would not change a thing.

Youth sports remain eviscerated as too competitive, too expensive, too toxic. And there are threads of truth to this. But they are also wonderful, meaningful, a fertile ground for teaching discipline and accountability, while experiencing unbridled joy and forming lifelong friendships.

Our journey ended Wednesday afternoon with our sons taking a picture down the left-field line. The calendar moves on. Sports will remain a part of our lives, just not in the arena. But I would be lying if I said I won’t be mindlessly glancing at that picture, trying to live in that snapshot forever.

Listening to Gabe Landeskog talk about his recovery from right knee cartilage replacement surgery was revealing. The Avs captain told me he’s no longer motivated to become the first athlete to return from this procedure. His motivation is more simple. He wants to skate off the ice and hug his family. …

File away tight end Lucas Krull’s name. With Greg Dulcich still searching for solutions to his hamstring issues, don’t be surprised if Krull becomes an X-factor in the Broncos’ offense. …

Not a fan of marriage proposals at sporting events. But Phillies star Bryce Harper acting as a wingman for a high schooler’s promposal — knocking on the door and getting a yes — that was cool.

Mail Time

I’m a native Denverite, and yes this Nuggets (Game 7) loss hurts more than anything that I can remember. I’ve suffered through years of Broncos losses in the regular season and playoffs, but this has stuck a knife in my heart.

— Kal Zeppelin, via email

This response is related to my Monday debate with Sean Keeler about the worst loss in Colorado pro sports. The Nuggets’ collapse was shocking as they became the first modern NBA team to blow a 20-point lead in a Game 7. But for me, nothing tops the Jacksonville Jaguars upsetting the Broncos in the 1996 playoffs, preventing a potential three-peat of Super Bowl titles. The Jags were a 12.5-point underdog and had won two road games before stunning a Broncos team spangled with Hall of Famers. That loss remains the ultimate crowbar to the shins.



https://www.denverpost.com/2024/05/25/sports-parents-final-game/
Josef Newgarden was on top of world after winning last year’s Indy 500 before this season took dif

Josef Newgarden was on top of world after winning last year’s Indy 500 before this season took dif

25/05/2024, USA, Multi Sports, USA Publications, Article # 31784039

By JENNA FRYER

Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — A social media post designed to introduce drivers in the Indianapolis 500 to the general public put Josef Newgarden in an awkward light when the reigning race winner was asked a simple question.

“Which IndyCar driver would you take on a road trip?” asked the questionnaire.

“Solo,” Newgarden responded.

An odd answer for a driver who a year ago was practically inseparable from Scott McLaughlin, his Team Penske teammate. The “Bus Bros.” had a media company, a YouTube show and merchandise. They appeared to be the best of friends and McLaughlin celebrated Newgarden when the Tennessean finally broke through to win his first Indianapolis 500.

Twelve months later, the Bus Bros. are no more, the friendship apparently unraveled after Newgarden went solo and unfollowed everyone on social media — including his wife — in a bid to rebuild his love of racing. Winning the Indy 500 wasn’t as fulfilling as he had expected; for the two-time IndyCar Series champion, racing had become a grind of too many failures and not enough successes.

Insulated but re-energized when he returned for this season, Newgarden scored an emphatic victory in the opening race in St. Petersburg. Six weeks later, IndyCar discovered illegal push-to-pass software on the three Team Penske cars and threw out both Newgarden’s win and McLaughlin’s third-place finish.

Newgarden returns to the speedway for Sunday’s race as the defending Indy 500 winner but caught in a cheating scandal that has damaged his pristine reputation and that of Team Penske. A deeply embarrassed Roger Penske suspended four team members, including team President Tim Cindric, Newgarden’s strategist.

If the drama is distracting Newgarden, he’s not let on.

He qualified third to complete Team Penske’s first front row lockout in Indy 500 qualifying since 1988. McLaughlin won the pole and Will Power qualified second.

Asked how different this year has felt from last season, when Newgarden won in his 12th try, he felt nothing much has changed.

“Feels really similar to me in a lot of ways. I feel a lot of respect for this facility and this race, this track,” Newgarden said before turning the topic to how good his Chevrolet was a year ago. “We were fortunate enough as a team, as a group, where it just fell into place for us. We had a great car. … it was our day.

“I feel the same in that regard. I think I’ve got another great race car,” he continued. “I had sort of let go of the fact that I was ever going to win this race. It’s such a tough race to win, I think you had to be comfortable with that. I think that rings true for a second. I’m happy to be here, happy to have a shot.”

Paddock unrest

There remains dissatisfaction about the scandal, particularly from teams who simply don’t believe the Team Penske explanations as to how Newgarden, his engineers and McLaughlin found nothing to be amiss when their horsepower boosts worked when they should not have. It took IndyCar said Penske drivers had manipulated the push-to-pass software system on their cars; Penske and Cindric called it a miscommunication and breakdown in process.

Zak Brown, head of Arrow McLaren Racing, said the Penske punishments were too light; he called Cindric’s presence at Penske’s sports car win at Laguna Seca two weeks ago while under suspension “a bad look.”

There is skepticism that Cindric won’t be involved in some form in the race. IndyCar set no parameters on what the suspended team members can or can’t do, leaving the discipline to Penske to dole out. Penske owns not only the race team, but IndyCar itself, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy 500.

“Do I think Tim Cindric is engaged during the Month of May? Yes. In what way, I don’t know the rules they set out, I don’t know that,” Brown said. “But do I believe that Tim Cindric is sitting on his couch, turning on the race and watching it as 5 of 6 million other people are? No.”

Newgarden can win a $440,000 bonus from trophy-maker BorgWarner if he becomes the first driver to win back-to-back Indy 500s since the award was established in 1995. It’s been claimed only once — by Helio Castroneves after 2001 and 2002 victories — and only five drivers in 107 runnings have won “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in consecutive years.

Newgarden is the race favorite, followed by McLaughlin and Kyle Larson, according to BetMGM Sportsbook. The odds made McLaughlin a little nervous and same for Larson, who couldn’t understand why anyone would “waste their money betting on me.”

Said McLaughlin: “My first Indy 500, I was headed out to driver intros and some guy screamed at me he’d bet $20,000 on me to win. And all I could think was ‘Why?’”

Larson effect

This year’s race has NASCAR star Kyle Larson in the field as he attempts to become the fifth driver in history to complete “The Double” and race in both the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day.

The 2021 Cup Series champion is the first driver to attempt the 1,100 miles of racing since Kurt Busch in 2014. Weather is not in his favor with the Indy forecast calling for rain on May 26.

Larson qualified fifth for his debut Indy 500 and a year’s worth of prep has gone into his joint effort between Arrow McLaren Racing and Hendrick Motorsports. Rick Hendrick, his boss, now seems to be having second thoughts about pulling Larson from Indy to get him to Charlotte Motor Speedway in time for the evening’s NASCAR race.

“At this point, just hoping the weather cooperates to get all 1,100-miles in. It’s been something I’ve looked forward to for close to two years,” Larson said. “It doesn’t look too promising for Indy on Sunday, but I think for me, where I sit, if it’s going to rain, I hope it rains all day. That way it can just get pushed to Monday or something. We can get (NASCAR) in on Sunday night and then come here Monday.”

McLaren boss Zak Brown said the decision would be solely for Hendrick to make.

Chevrolet vs. Honda

Chevrolet clearly had the speed benefit in qualifying when the engine maker claimed the first eight spots in qualifying. But Honda showed it can hold its own in race trim, which means there is no obvious favorite for Sunday.

“I think Chevrolet has a little bit of a power advantage right now, but you never know once the race starts,” said Chip Ganassi, who failed to qualify any of his five Honda-powered cars inside the top 12. “I’ll take a handling car any day over horsepower.”

Brown’s own double

Brown has his own eye on the weather and a plane ticket on hold for Saturday to take him to the Monaco Grand Prix if it appears the Indianapolis 500 will be rained out.

He would then attempt his own version of “The Double” and watch his F1 drivers Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri on Sunday in Monaco, then return to Indianapolis for the 500 on Monday. If he decides to stay in Indianapolis but the 500 is rained out, Brown said he’d travel to North Carolina to cheer on Larson in the Coca-Cola 600.

“I just hope it’s not a rain delay,” Brown said. “I hope it’s either a washout, chucking down rain and we’re not racing Sunday and leave, go to Charlotte, and come back. That’s the delay I want.”

 



https://www.orlandosentinel.com/2024/05/25/josef-newgarden-was-on-top-of-the-world-after-winning-the-indy-500-this-year-feels-much-different-2/
Previewing a talented Miami Hurricanes running back corps after significant churn

Previewing a talented Miami Hurricanes running back corps after significant churn

25/05/2024, USA, Multi Sports, USA Publications, Article # 31783794

The 2024 season is on the horizon, and Hurricanes fans hope to see a major step forward in Year 3 of the Mario Cristobal era.

As Miami keeps adding talent through high school and transfer portal recruiting, UM appears poised to be a major contender in the ACC this season.

This summer, we will take a look at a different position group each week to see who departed, who arrived and who should have big impacts this year.

We started last week with Cam Ward and UM’s quarterbacks. Now we look at Miami’s talented group of running backs.

Who left

The Hurricanes lost a lot of talent from their running back room this offseason.

Henry Parrish Jr., a Miami native and Columbus High alum, led UM in rushing yards the last two seasons. Last year, he had 625 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 100 carries. Parrish left via the transfer portal and ultimately returned to Ole Miss, where he started his college career.

A second Miami native also left through the transfer portal: Don Chaney Jr., the Belen Jesuit alum, suffered several injuries while at Miami, but he rushed for a career-high 478 yards and two touchdowns in 11 games. Chaney went to ACC rival Louisville, who faces Miami in Kentucky on Oct. 19.

The Hurricanes also lost TreVonte’ Citizen in the portal. Citizen, a former four-star prospect, never got on the field for Miami in two seasons. He suffered a devastating knee injury in his first fall camp and spent the last two years recovering. Citizen did participate in spring practice this year, and he transferred to McNeese State.

Who returns

Miami returns three running backs from last year’s team, all of whom have a potentially large role on this year’s team.

Ajay Allen, a redshirt sophomore, has seniority in that group. He ran for 361 yards and five touchdowns on 70 carries last season, which was his first at UM. Pro Football Focus gave Allen a solid 77.1 offensive grade with a 78.3 running grade.

Allen also graded out well in pass-blocking, earning a 75.6 pass-blocking grade in 28 snaps.

However, Allen missed all of spring practice due to injury.

Similarly, standout sophomore Mark Fletcher Jr. missed all of spring practice with an injury. Cristobal said he is expected back in time for the season, which will be a boon to Miami’s offense.

Fletcher had a breakout freshman year in 2023, racking up 514 yards and five scores on 105 carries. The American Heritage alumnus brings a combination of speed and power to the running back corps; Pro Football Focus gave him an 84.2 offensive grade and an 84.9 rushing grade. His rushing grade was third in the nation among freshman running backs who had at least 20 carries last year.

“Imagine when he really gets comfortable,” said former UM safety James Williams, who was a high school teammate of Fletcher’s. “This is just now. He’s getting his feet wet. Wait till he really simmers down and can be Mark Fletcher for real. That kid’s a problem.”

Miami also returns redshirt freshman Chris Johnson Jr., who received limited snaps last year. The Dillard alum played in four games, running 11 times for 73 yards and a touchdown. Johnson, a former Sun Sentinel track athlete of the year, has elite speed.

Who arrived

The first arrival is a new UM running backs coach. Former position coach Tim Harris Jr. departed so he could return to UCF for a position on Gus Malzahn’s staff.

Cristobal filled the role by hiring Matt Merritt, the former running backs coach at USF.

Merritt will have a strong group to work with, largely in part to who arrived in Coral Gables this offseason.

The biggest addition to the group is former Oregon State running back Damien Martinez, a PAC-12 star who brought his talents across the country. 

Last year, Martinez rushed for 1,185 yards and nine touchdowns and was a first-team All-PAC-12 selection. He has 2,167 rushing yards and 16 scores in his college career.

Martinez earned an 83.1 offensive grade from Pro Football Focus last year. He also had an 88.1 run grade, which was 40th in the nation among running backs with 100 or more carries last year.

Martinez, who is listed at 6-0 and about 230 pounds, was listed as the No. 2 running back in the transfer portal by 247Sports.

The Hurricanes also added two running backs in their 2024 high school recruiting class. Both halfbacks, Jordan Lyle and Chris Wheatley-Humphrey, are Broward County natives. Lyle played at perennial powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas, while Wheatley-Humphrey went to South Broward.

The two incoming Hurricanes were the Sun Sentinel co-offensive players of the year for Broward County large schools.

Wheatley-Humphrey, a three-star prospect, ran for 2,076 yards and 16 touchdowns and helped his team win its first district title in more than 25 years. He arrived on campus in time for spring football.

Lyle, who was a late flip from Ohio State, was rated a four-star prospect. He had 1,376 rushing yards rushing and 21 scores last season.

“Two guys that just amassed a massive amount of yardage this year,” Cristobal said. “Tough yards, open-field yards, made-people-miss yards, catching the ball out of the backfield. Really physical. Really talented. Really intelligent — high IQ guys, both on and off the field. Thrilled to have them.”

 



https://www.orlandosentinel.com/2024/05/25/hurricanes-running-backs/
UCF sees Big 12 baseball tourney run end with semifinal loss

UCF sees Big 12 baseball tourney run end with semifinal loss

25/05/2024, USA, Multi Sports, USA Publications, Article # 31783767

UCF’s run in the Big 12 Baseball Championship ended Friday night as Oklahoma State jumped out early and cruised to a 10-1 win in their semifinal matchup.

The Knights (35-19) must now wait until Monday to see if they’ve done enough to earn a spot in the 64-team NCAA Baseball Championship field.

Meanwhile, OSU (39-17) advances to Saturday’s championship game (7 p.m., ESPNU) and a meeting with rival Oklahoma (37-18).

Friday’s game was a sequel, with these two teams meeting for the second consecutive night, but the result was quite different.

UCF advances to semifinals of Big 12 baseball tourney

Oklahoma State jumped out to an early lead after right fielder Nolan Schubart blasted a 2-1 pitch from UCF starter Wiley Hartley just over the right field wall for a 2-run homer in the bottom of the first inning.

The Cowboys added two more runs in the second after second baseman Avery Ortiz hit an RBI double down the left-field line, bringing in Kollin Richie from first base. Ortiz would score two batters later when centerfielder Zach Ehrhard stroked a long fly ball off the left-field wall for an RBI triple.

Ortiz would add another RBI at the bottom of the fourth with a single off reliever Chase Centala, that scored short-stop Lane Forsythe. Carson Benge would drive in Ortiz with a fielder’s choice, followed by a 2-RBI single by Schubart that extended the lead to 8-0.

UCF got on the scoreboard in the sixth when catcher Danny Neri drove in designated hitter Matt Cedarburg with an RBI double down the right-field line.

But any momentum gained was lost in the bottom of the seventh after Benge took a 2-1 pitch from reliever Kris Sosnowski and drove it over the fence in deep center field for a home run that extended the lead to 9-1. The Cowboys would tack on an additional run with an RBI in the bottom of the eighth inning.

UCF’s Danny Neri still riding high after home-run explosion in Big 12 Tournament

Benge (3 for 5) and Schubart (2 for 5) would combine for 7 of Oklahoma State’s 10 runs.

Cowboys starting pitcher Brian Holiday went the distance, giving up 1 run on 8 hits with 6 strikeouts.

In their first trip to the Big 12 tournament, the Knights defeated Cincinnati and Oklahoma State to advance to the semifinals.

The NCAA college baseball championship will be revealed at Noon on Monday on ESPN2. UCF is expected to be among those teams, with the Knights looking to make their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2017.

D1Baseball has UCF as a third seed in its latest projections, with the Knights heading to Knoxville (Tenn.) Regional along with Tennessee (1), Louisiana (2) and Army (4). The regionals would take place May 31-June 3.

Matt Murschel can be reached at mmurschel@orlandosentinel.com



https://www.orlandosentinel.com/2024/05/25/ucf-knights-big-12-baseball-championship/
UCF sees Big 12 baseball tourney run ends with semifinal loss

UCF sees Big 12 baseball tourney run ends with semifinal loss

25/05/2024, USA, Multi Sports, USA Publications, Article # 31783810

UCF’s run in the Big 12 baseball tournament ended Friday night as Oklahoma State jumped out early and cruised to a 10-1 win in their semifinal matchup.

The Knights (35-19) must now wait until Monday to see if they’ve done enough to earn a spot in the 64-team national tournament field.

Meanwhile, OSU (39-17) advances to Saturday’s championship game (7 p.m., ESPNU) and a meeting with rival Oklahoma (37-18).

Friday’s game was a sequel, with these two teams meeting for the second consecutive night, but the result was quite different.

UCF advances to semifinals of Big 12 baseball tourney

Oklahoma State jumped out to an early lead after right fielder Nolan Schubart blasted a 2-1 pitch from UCF starter Wiley Hartley (3-3) just over the right-field wall for a 2-run homer in the bottom of the first inning.

The Cowboys added two more runs in the second after second baseman Avery Ortiz hit an RBI double down the left-field line, bringing in Kollin Richie from first base. Ortiz scored two batters later when centerfielder Zach Ehrhard drove a long fly ball off the left-field wall for an RBI triple.

Ortiz added another RBI in the fourth with a single off reliever Chase Centala that scored shortstop Lane Forsythe. Carson Benge drove in Ortiz with a fielder’s choice, followed by a 2-RBI single by Schubart that extended the lead to 8-0.

UCF got on the scoreboard in the sixth when catcher Danny Neri drove in designated hitter Matt Cedarburg with an RBI double down the right-field line.

But any momentum gained was lost in the bottom of the seventh after Benge sent a 2-1 pitch from reliever Kris Sosnowski over the fence in deep center field for a home run that extended the lead to 9-1. The Cowboys tacked on an additional run with an RBI in the eighth inning.

UCF’s Danny Neri still riding high after home-run explosion in Big 12 Tournament

Benge (3 for 5) and Schubart (2 for 5) combined to drive in 7 runs.

Cowboys starting pitcher Brian Holiday (6-3) went the distance, giving up 1 run on 8 hits with 6 strikeouts.

UCF left 9 runners stranded and was 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position. Cedarburg (2 for 4) and Braden Calise (2 for 3) were the only Knights with multiple hits.

In their first trip to the Big 12 tournament, the Knights defeated Cincinnati and Oklahoma State to advance to the semifinals.

The NCAA college baseball championship will be revealed at noon Monday on ESPN2. UCF is expected to be among those teams, with the Knights looking to make their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2017.

D1Baseball has UCF as a third seed in its latest projections, with the Knights heading to Knoxville (Tenn.) Regional along with Tennessee (1), Louisiana (2) and Army (4). The regionals are scheduled for May 31-June 3.

Matt Murschel can be reached at mmurschel@orlandosentinel.com



https://www.orlandosentinel.com/2024/05/25/ucf-knights-big-12-baseball-championship-oklahoma-state-cowboys-2/
FSU softball’s season ends with Super Regional elimination by 3-time national champ Oklahoma

FSU softball’s season ends with Super Regional elimination by 3-time national champ Oklahoma

25/05/2024, USA, Multi Sports, USA Publications, Article # 31783852

By CLIFF BRUNT

Associated Press

Three-time defending national champion Oklahoma defeated Florida State 4-2 on Friday night to sweep the Norman Super Regional and advance to the World Series.

The No. 2-ranked Sooners could become the first team to win four straight national championships. They will make their eighth consecutive World Series appearance under coach Patty Gasso.

Oklahoma freshman Kasidi Pickering had two hits, including a two-run homer in the fifth inning that put the Sooners up 4-1. Another freshman, Elly Parker, had two hits and scored a run.

Karlie Keeney got the win and Nicole May earned the save for the Sooners.

Oklahoma won the opener 11-3 in six innings on Thursday night. Gasso said afterward that she expected the Seminoles, who finished 46-16,  to put up a fight in Game 2. Florida State won the national title in 2018 and lost to Oklahoma in the championship series in 2021 and 2023.

 



https://www.orlandosentinel.com/2024/05/25/texas-a-oklahoma-ucla-advance-to-world-series/
Texas A&M shocks No. 1 Texas in super regional; Oklahoma, UCLA advance to World Series

Texas A&M shocks No. 1 Texas in super regional; Oklahoma, UCLA advance to World Series

25/05/2024, USA, Multi Sports, USA Publications, Article # 31783768

By CLIFF BRUNT

Associated Press

Three-time defending national champion Oklahoma defeated Florida State 4-2 on Friday night to sweep the Norman Super Regional and advance to the World Series.

The Sooners could become the first team to win four straight national championships. They will make their eighth consecutive World Series appearance under coach Patty Gasso.

Oklahoma freshman Kasidi Pickering had two hits, including a two-run homer in the fifth inning that put the Sooners up 4-1. Another freshman, Elly Parker, had two hits and scored a run.

Karlie Keeney got the win and Nicole May earned the save for the Sooners.

Oklahoma won the opener 11-3 in six innings on Thursday night. Gasso said afterward that she expected the Seminoles to put up a fight in Game 2. Florida State won the national title in 2018 and lost to Oklahoma in the championship series in 2021 and 2023.

 

 

Just like that, Texas’ dream season is in jeopardy.

Trinity Cannon knocked in five runs, and No. 16 seed Texas A&M stunned the top-seeded Longhorns 6-5 in Game 1 of the Austin Super Regional on Friday night.

The teams will meet again Saturday for Game 2 of the best-of-three series. A Texas A&M win would send the Aggies to the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2017 and end Texas’ season. A victory for the Longhorns would force a winner-take-all game on Sunday for the World Series berth.

Cannon’s three-run homer in the top of the first got the Aggies off and running. Texas A&M led 6-0 before Texas rallied late.

Texas A&M led 6-4 in the seventh with two outs and the bases empty when Reese Atwood, a top-three finalist for USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year, hit a solo homer to make it 6-5. Texas A&M’s Emiley Kennedy struck out the next batter to end the game and claim the complete game victory.

All Friday’s Game 1 winners can clinch World Series berths with wins on Saturday.

FOUR-PEAT?

 

BRUINS ARE BACK

Sharlize Palacios hit two home runs, and No. 6 seed UCLA defeated No. 11 Georgia 6-1 to sweep the Los Angeles Super Regional and advance to the World Series.

UCLA was the No. 2 seed last year but lost two straight in regionals for a disappointing end to the season. This year, UCLA enters the World Series on a 13-game win streak.

Taylor Tinsley went the distance and gave up one run on four hits in seven innings.

KILFOYL DOMINATES

Lexi Kilfoyl threw a three-hitter in five innings as No. 5 seed Oklahoma State defeated unseeded Arizona 8-0 in Game 1 of the Stillwater Super Regional.

Kilfoyl, a top-three national player of the year finalist, allowed three walks and threw just 67 pitches.

Karli Godwin had two hits, including a solo homer, for the Cowgirls.

SEC RIVALRY

Laura Mealer’s two-run homer in the fifth inning provided the go-ahead run as No. 3 seed Tennessee held off No. 14 seed Alabama 3-2 in Game 1 of the Knoxville Super Regional.

Karlyn Pickens got the win for Tennessee and Payton Gottschall closed with two scoreless innings for the save.

QUICK STARTERS

Florida scored three runs in the bottom of the first, and the fourth-seeded Gators beat unseeded Baylor 4-2 in Game 1 of the Gainesville Super Regional.

Keagan Rothrock went the distance for the Gators. She gave up two runs on six hits.

Aliyah Binford tried to keep Baylor in it. She had an RBI single in the first and his a solo homer in the third.

ELITE RELIEF

Cassidy Curd threw 5 1/3 innings of hitless relief, and No. 10 seed Duke won 6-3 at No. 7 Missouri in Game 1 of the Columbia Super Regional.

The game was tied at 3 before Duke broke it open in the fifth. Aminah Vega hit an RBI double and Gisele Tapia added an RBI single to put the Blue Devils up 5-3.

BAYOU BARRAGE

Ninth-seeded LSU dominated arguably the nation’s best pitcher in an 11-1 win over No. 8 Stanford in Game 1 of the Palo Alto Super Regional.

NiJaree Canady, a top-three player of the year finalist, gave up six runs on 10 hits in four innings. The sophomore entered the game as the nation’s leader in earned run average and strikeouts.

Kelley Lynch hit a grand slam, and McKenzie Redoutey and Taylor Pleasants each had three hits for LSU.

___

AP college sports: https://apnews.com/hub/college-sports



https://www.orlandosentinel.com/2024/05/25/texas-a-oklahoma-ucla-advance-to-world-series/
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