Kicking and Cooking

When Bethanie Griffin joined her high school swim team in Nebraska, she set herself a brash goal—to beat her father’s best time for the 100-yard butterfly, 56.68 seconds. “I didn’t give it much thought,” she admits. “Guys’ times are fast.” Little did she know, she would chase that challenge for the next six years.

She didn’t beat it in high school, but she did lead her team to victory in the 400-yard freestyle relay at the Nebraska state championships in her senior year. “It was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life,” she says.

Griffin could’ve hung up her goggles then and there, but she wasn’t finished yet. “I got out of the water and said, ‘I can’t give this feeling up.’ I decided that I wanted to swim in college.”

Griffin visited Xavier and met the swim team. She loved campus and the team felt like a family. When she won a St. Francis Xavier scholarship—full tuition, room and board—her decision was made. “All of the pieces just fell together,” she says. She joined the Musketeers as a freshman walk-on, impressing her coaches with her work ethic and speed. “I’m definitely a sprinter,” she says. “I don’t have the stamina to do much more than 100 yards.”

For most of the year, Griffin was up before the sun six days a week, lifting weights or swimming laps. She came back in the afternoon for more training. “It’s a massive time commitment,” she says. Her only day off was Sunday. “It was the one day a week I didn’t have to set an alarm,” she says. “Sundays were wonderful.”

It was also her day to catch up on her studying. She was majoring in biology, with minors in math and chemistry. “I’m a math and science kind of girl,” she says. She had already completed college coursework in chemistry and calculus before she even got to Xavier.

When she wasn’t in the pool or the science lab, Griffin was in the kitchen, pursuing her other passion—cooking. “My mom and I have been cooking together since I was really young,” she says. She loves baking most of all, a discipline that demands a scientist’s attention to detail. “It’s like a giant, tasty chemistry experiment every time.”

Griffin’s teammates enjoyed the fruits of her hobby at potluck brunches after Saturday morning practices. “I would make this egg bake, with sausage and cheese and different spices,” she says. “It was a massive hit every time. I’d never seen some of my teammates move as quickly as when I brought the dish that last time.”

The team ate Thanksgiving dinner together, too, assigning different dishes to each class. In her senior year, Griffin brought the turkeys—two of them, “because we’re swimmers, and we eat a lot.” She roasted the birds to a golden perfection, with butter, herbs and salt stuffed under their skins to keep them moist.

Meanwhile, Griffin was making a splash in the pool. She broke Xavier’s 50-yard freestyle record, and swam on four record-breaking relay teams. And in her sophomore year, she finally beat her father’s 100-yard butterfly time, breaking the Xavier record in the process. It took her 56.13 seconds. “I didn’t even have to look at the clock to know that I got it because I could hear my teammates cheering so loudly,” she says. “There is nothing quite like that moment when you achieve a long-term goal.”

“She was a great competitor,” says Xavier swimming coach Brent MacDonald. “That was a great swim for her and very fast. That would still beat a lot of guys today.”

A scientist and a foodie at heart, Griffin wanted to do something “with meaning and use” after she graduated last year. She decided on culinary school, back in her hometown, Omaha. She’ll spend the next year and a half honing her skills in the kitchen. Then she plans to go to grad school to get her master’s in food science, with the hope of landing a job researching food preservation, or special diets.

“I love being in a kitchen,” Griffin says, “but I don’t really want a bakery. The hours are crazy. If I can work in a lab, I still get to play with the food, and tie in the science and have a life, which is something I’m looking forward to having again.”

Her feet aren’t entirely on dry land, however. Griffin is also back at her old high school, as a volunteer coach for the swim team, helping younger girls reach goals of their own.

Sport Smart

The Xavier swim teams are cool in the pool and hot in the classroom. Both the men’s and women’s teams were named to the Scholar All America Team by the College Swimming Coaches Association of America, the men earning a No. 19 ranking with a 3.26 team GPA, while the women’s team ranked No. 75 with a 3.22 team GPA.

The women’s golf team, meanwhile, was ranked 17th in the nation for highest team GPA by the National Golf Coaches Association. Xavier’s eight team members had an average GPA of 3.66.

 

On His Game

Tennis standout Doug Matthews has taken his tennis skills from the courts to the coaches’ corner, being hired as an assistant coach this year after graduating in 2009 with back-to-back honors as the Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year. But he’s also proving that he hasn’t lost his game. In July, Matthews won the men’s singles title at the Cincinnati Met, the city’s highly competitive, highly prestigious public tennis tournament. He was also part of the teams that won the men’s doubles and mixed doubles titles, making him only the second person in the tournament’s history to win three titles in the same year. The titles give Matthews a total of eight Met championships of the 14 in which he’s played.

In the Spotlinght

For one hour on one day, the sports world will have its eyes focused firmly on Xavier athletic director Mike Bobinski. The leader behind Xavier’s sports programs is becoming the leader behind what is arguably the most important, influential and highest profile committee in all of sports: the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. In September 2012, Bobinski takes over as chair of the committee, on which he has served for the past three years. By becoming chair, he becomes the man who must face the media and explain why the committee picked certain teams to play in the Tournament and kept other teams out.

Aside from the one-day hotseat and glare of the national spotlight, the appointment is a bright spot for both Xavier as a whole and Bobinski in particular. The 53-year-old Bobinski came to Xavier in 1998 and has helped propel the athletic programs to new heights athletically, particularly men’s basketball. The Musketeers are one of only a dozen schools to make each of the past six NCAA Tournaments. Xavier has advanced to the Elite Eight twice and the Sweet 16 two other times during his tenure.

A 1979 magna cum laude graduate of Notre Dame, Bobinski played baseball for the Irish while earning a degree in business administration. He worked in public accounting and for Disney before being hired as the associate business manager at his alma mater in 1984. He later served as the associate director of athletics at the United States Naval Academy and as athletics director at Akron before coming to Xavier.

Amy’s Attitude

Amy Waugh is all about challenges. As a youngster, she would pick up her basketball, head outside to the driveway and take on her two older brothers, who found great pleasure in blocking her shots and pushing her around. Her only recourse: outsmart them by developing a shot and a game they couldn’t stop. She did.

As a player for Xavier in the early 2000s, Waugh was sidelined by a tendon injury during her sophomore year. The normal recovery time for that injury was nine and a half months. She couldn’t wait that long. Her only recourse: outwork the expectations. She did, coming back in three months. “I had to be kicked out of the training room,” she says.

As a senior, ESPN invited her to participate in a three-point shooting competition at the men’s Final Four. She beat seven other women to be the female champion and then faced men’s champion Darnell Archey of Butler University for the title. Her only recourse: outcompete him. She did, taking home the title of nation’s best three-point shooter.

And it’s precisely that kind of determination and attitude that propelled her to earn her place last spring as Xavier’s new women’s basketball coach. The 2003 graduate became Xavier’s sixth head coach and its first alumna.

But it’s also precisely that kind of determination and attitude she’s going to need as she walks onto the court this fall, still in the shadows of Kevin McGuff, who in his nine years as head coach developed Xavier into a widely recognized, nationally competitive program. Combined with what Melanie Balcomb accomplished before him, Xavier fans have grown accustomed to winning teams and now expect nothing less than titles and tournaments from the program.

Waugh, though, just shrugs and smiles with the confidence of someone who’s been in the pressure position before. And she has. As a sophomore under Balcomb, Waugh led Xavier to a record-breaking 31-3 record and the school’s first appearance in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. In 2010, she helped Xavier reach its second Elite Eight appearance as an assistant under McGuff, who was Waugh’s coach her senior year and brought her back as one of his assistants in 2009.

 

It’s unlikely, though, that any outside pressure could top what Waugh already feels internally. “The expectations we have for ourselves,” she says, then, hesitating for a moment, restates her comment, “We’re determined to continue the program at the level it is right now. We just lost two All-Americans and WNBA draft picks in Ta’Shia Phillips and Amber Harris. The team is determined to prove that the program can still play at a high level. I’m excited about it. We have a huge challenge in front of us, but we’re going to work hard and put in the time and get where we want to be.”

While it’s impossible to replace players like Phillips and Harris, Waugh’s brought in two new players—a freshman and a junior college transfer—to complement her three seniors. And six of her 12 players are more than 6 feet tall.

She smiles at the prospects such a roster provides. “I know what it takes to be successful here,” she says.

Wiley for her 29 years, she also knows it takes more than big players. It takes brains on the bench and a fire in the belly as well. And that she can provide. Guaranteed.

“I’ve always been very competitive,” she says. “I like it when people tell me I can’t do something. It’s even more motivating.”

Just ask her brothers.

No Horsing Around

Alex Calvert, a junior nursing major from Piqua, Ohio, became the first Xavier student to qualify for the Collegiate National Championship Horse Show by winning her division in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association Zone 6 Championships.

Calvert advanced further than any student in the brief history of Xavier’s equestrian club team, scoring enough points in regular season shows to qualify for regional competition, where she placed Reserve Champion—second place. Calvert beat 10 top riders from five different regions in Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Michigan and Canada to qualify.

 

*Feature image provided by Flickr user willg.photography

Selling Soccer

Russ Findlay walks around the hallways of his offices every day, a Sierra Mist held firmly in his grip. To him, the soft drink is more than a caffeine boost. It’s like a baby he’s brought into the world.

The 1994 MBA grad spent almost a decade with beverage behemoth PepsiCo, where he oversaw a billion (with a B) dollar branding effort for the launch of the Sierra Mist soft drink. “When you bring a brand to life,” he says, “you always have a soft spot for it.”

So don’t be surprised to see him dribbling a soccer ball around those same offices in the near future. In January, Findlay was tagged by Major League Soccer to become its first-ever chief marketing officer, responsible for running the organization’s marketing, branding and consumer initiatives as well as the group’s commercial subsidiary, Soccer United Marketing.

How did this switch from soda to soccer come about? “I worked at PepsiCo, a major soccer sponsor, before coming here, so I knew Don Garber and some of the people that work here,” he says. “I’m a certified U.S. Soccer referee, an active player and, most importantly, I am a consumer-focused brand builder, a market-eer.”

The path from Musketeer to market-eer has been something of a natural progression, beginning at home. “I learned how to sell in my mom’s bookstore, basically,” he says. He took those sales skills and applied them to rolling out Pepsi Max and the SoBe Mr. Green soft drink labels. While working on advertising and media strategy for these brands and others, he oversaw numerous Super Bowl ad campaigns, two of which won national awards.

Now the goal is applying those skills to soccer. Heading into its 16th season of existence, Major League Soccer is expanding, adding about three clubs per year. Overall, MLS fan attendance cracked the 4 million mark for the first time last year, meaning there’ll be lots of home-team jerseys, jackets, scarves and soccer balls to move.

Taking Charge

She led Xavier’s women’s basketball team into uncharted territory as a player—its first two Elite Eight appearances—and now Amy Waugh is seeking to do the same as its head coach. The 2003 graduate was named head coach in March, replacing Kevin McGuff, who moved to the University of Washington. Waugh spent the past two seasons as an assistant coach under McGuff. Prior to returning to Xavier in 2009, she was an assistant coach at Wake Forest for five seasons and Youngstown State for one season.

Sports Quiz Answers

 

ANSWERS

University of Kentucky. Adolph Rupp, who was also known as “The Baron” and “The Man in the Brown Suit.” The Fabulous Five.

Cam Henderson. Marshall.

Don Shula, John Carroll University.

Steve Junker.

Sandy Koufax (UC) and Jim Bunning.

Sports Quiz

Jim Brockhoff spent nearly 50 years as head coach of the tennis programs at Xavier. During that time he saw—and made—a lot of history. He offers this quiz to test your Xavier sports knowledge.

QUESTIONS

  1. Name the most famous basketball team Xavier played in the 1940s and 1950s; name its coach and his two nicknames; name the team’s nickname.
  2. Name the basketball coach known as “The Father of the Fast Break” and his team, which Xavier played regularly during the 1940s and early 1950s.
  3. Name the football player who played halfback for another Jesuit school in the late 1940s and early 1950s and later went on to win the Super Bowl as a coach and be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
  4. Name the former Xavier football star who went on to the NFL and finished second to Jim Brown for Rookie of the Year honors.
  5. Name the member of the Baseball Hall of Fame (and his school) who played against Xavier, and the member of the Baseball Hall of Fame who helped coach Xavier before having to leave for spring training.

View answers here.