Billed as a Derby horse for Dermot Weld as soon as he made his debut at this course in August of last year, he was then beaten six lengths by none other than Australia in the corresponding renewal of the John Deere Juvenile Turf Stakes. That was Free Eagle’s last start as he was sidelined with injury but he came back with a swagger as 9-10 favourite, with Pat Smullen sitting off the pace set by stablemate Rock Critic before cruising into the lead on the home turn and allowing his mount to stride seven lengths clear. Free Eagle made a quite stunning return to the racecourse after a year’s absence in the KPMG Enterprise Stakes at Leopardstown. Weld said: “He did it very impressively. It’s a case of what might have been, but such is life. He’s come back nicely and we’ll see how he comes out of it. He’s very laid-back and it was difficult enough to get him as fit as I wanted for today, but he was pretty right. He should improve, naturally. “He’ll have one more run and the English Champion Stakes looks the logical race. He’s entitled to a crack and that’s the plan. He’s just a very good horse and he’s done it very very well. It’s just a worry now that he stays sound and right. “He had a stress fracture of his tibia in the spring and was stood in his box for 12 weeks. Today was the very first day that it was practical to run and it was the right race to bring him back in. Losing him was a huge blow but thank God he’s back. Pat was thrilled with him.” Toe The Line got the better of a desperate finish to the Irish Stallion Farms E.B.F. ‘Petingo’ Handicap. A 7-1 chance for the respected John Kiely yard, the five-year-old mare has been in excellent form all year and was produced with delicate timing by Fran Berry. Winter Lion tried to slip the field around the home turn but a whole host of challengers came to the fore inside the final furlong, with Toe The Line getting to the post a neck in front of Cassells Rock and Silwana. Kiely said: “She’s always been promising and showed a lot from day one. She’s been unlucky once or twice. She ran well behind the Galway Hurdle winner at the Curragh and the trip was too short in Killarney. “She’ll probably stay on the Flat for a while. I thought she would be going jumping. They went a good gallop today which helped. The prize-money is high and it’s a good day to have a horse for.” Press Association
Freshman defender Catie Sessions scored her first collegiate over the weekend against Penn State while also adding her third assist.[/media-credit]Wisconsin women’s soccer suffered a tough 1-0 loss at Ohio State Friday to start off the weekend that halted the Badgers’ unbeaten streak at 10. But after that disappointment, the Badgers headed to Penn State. Against the Nittany Lions, Wisconsin (7-4-4, 4-1-2 Big Ten) secured its first win since the Iowa game Oct. 3.As head coach Paula Wilkins spoke Monday, she mentioned it was a total team effort that resulted in the win.“As I told the players after the game, this was their victory,” Wilkins said. “The way they played as a team set the bar for the rest of the Big Ten and showed me they’re ready to beat the rest of the Big Ten.”The game was a homecoming for Wilkins, who grew up near the Penn State campus and had been involved with the women’s soccer program there from the time it became a varsity sport in 1994 until she became the Wisconsin head coach in 2007. That included the 2001-2006 seasons that Wilkins spent as the Nittany Lions’ head coach, leading them to a 109-13-5 record and six NCAA tournament appearances.“It was very exciting and emotional for the coaching staff,” Wilkins said. “These were all my players…[they] had been under my philosophy, under my tactics, under my sort of culture change. For them to beat Penn State after four years was pretty amazing.”Penn State’s Jeffrey Field, Wilkins’ old stomping ground, is one of the hardest places for visiting teams to win in the country, but under her lead, the Badgers did just that.“Penn State has only lost three games ever, and we were the third, ever on Jeffrey Field,” Wilkins said. “That was an accomplishment, as I mentioned to [my team]. That was [my team’s] victory, more than anything: They had done things that other teams had not done.”Wilkins also emphasized the importance of using the Penn State game to propel them through the final three games of the regular season.“I told them, ‘This can’t just be a small stepping stone. You guys keep building on that,” Wilkins said. “To go to a place where you know the mystique is so great because you helped build it, knowing that to break it down is difficult, especially the way we did it…it’s an emotional roller coaster.”Team ChemistryWilkins said that she is seeing her team come closer together during the final stretch of the regular season, as emphasized by the play of some freshmen on the team.“I think it speaks volumes for the team that as the team has evolved they have let freshmen have a huge impact,” Wilkins said. “Sometimes upper-classmen sort of watch after their territory but this team isn’t like that.”Kodee Williams, a freshman, drilled the winning goal against Penn State for her second of her season and career. Another freshman contributor, midfielder Catie Sessions, scored the first goal at Penn State and assisted the second. She has three assists on the season.Wilkins also acknowledged the play of some of the upper-classmen on the club, juniors Erin Jacobsen and Laurie Nosbusch.“I think [Jacobsen] is probably the biggest unsung hero of our team,” Wilkins said. “She doesn’t really have the stats to show it but yesterday in the game, probably against one of the best players in college soccer, Christine Nairn, she basically shut her down. What she did really was a key to the game, a key to our success.”Nosbusch is the team’s leading goal scorer with five after Sunday’s game.“[Nosbusch] just scoring goals [contributes],” Wilkins said. “I think the commentators said that sometimes they’re not the prettiest goals. Sometimes they are very good goals, but sometimes they’re just scrappy and I think the goal she scored against Penn State was a testament to that.”The spirit of the bench players and the way the team has bonded with each other has especially caught the eye of Wilkins.“When I said it was a team victory, it wasn’t just the 12 people that played,” Wilkins said. “The people on the bench brought the energy needed to overwhelm and overcome what Penn State had there. We’ve talked about that all year and it’s really been the [thing] with our team, the bonding and the attitude of everyone involved, understanding what role they play and how they affect the outcome.”In second place and closing the season with three games at home versus Michigan State Friday, Michigan Sunday, and Northwestern Nov. 1, Wisconsin is looking to win its first Big Ten title under Wilkins. An emphasis has been placed on changing the culture of Wisconsin women’s soccer since Wilkins entered, something she says she’s beginning to see.“They understand they can fight in games and battle,” Wilkins said. “Their resolve is incredible, they [don’t] flinch…They believe they can do anything. And that really goes to the leadership of the team.”
Special teams.Just by the name, the unit separates itself from all other units in a team. Yet, despite what your second-grade teacher might say, simply because something appears special doesn’t mean it’s all that special. Special teams is the area on many teams where second- and third-string players get their chance to see some playing time.That’s how it mostly was under Pete Carroll. Unless a kicker pulls a kick wide, the long snapper snaps the ball over the punter’s head or the return man muffs a punt, the unit remains like Michael Cera — you don’t know he’s there unless something happens to him.That’s all changed with new coach Lane Kiffin. With him, special teams really is special.Kiffin wasted no time in making it known that he was going to put a large emphasis on special teams. For the first 30 minutes of the first spring practice, Kiffin had every player participate in special teams drills. Linemen were catching punts and running backs were blocking kicks.Senior tailback C.J. Gable, senior wide receiver Ronald Johnson and redshirt junior linebacker Chris Galippo have all said they’ve never spent as much time on special teams as they have this year.“We got more emphasis on it now,” Johnson said. “It’s a lot better now. Everyone’s paying a lot more attention to detail and everyone’s buying in, and we are just making big plays now.”The added emphasis has paid off, as already the Trojans have two returned kicks for touchdowns and blocked one field goal. To compare, in the last four years, the Trojans had a combined four kicks returned for touchdowns and it already has two in three games.“I would challenge that we put more time and dedication into our special teams than anybody in the country and it’s continued to pay off for us three games in a row,” Kiffin said.Not only has it continued to pay off, but it’s paid off at critical points in all three matches.The biggest momentum-turning play on special teams happened last week at Minnesota. The Golden Gophers, big underdogs, had just taken the lead in the third quarter, and you know how underdogs work. The longer you let them stick around, the more dangerous they become.Freshman wide receiver Robert Woods wanted no part in that, so he acted like the bully at school who steps on ants for fun and returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. That gave the Trojans a lead they would never relinquish.Then there was the Virginia game two weeks ago. With 3:49 left in the game, USC had a 17-7 lead, but Virginia was lining up for a 35-yard field goal attempt to make it a one-possession game. The last thing many Trojan fans expected was for Virginia to be within a touchdown that late in the game.Senior cornerback Shareece Wright made sure that didn’t happen. He twisted off the right side and blocked the kick to preserve the two possession game.Lastly, don’t forget about Hawai’i, when senior wide receiver Ronald Johnson returned an 89-yard punt, the longest for USC since 1992, in the third quarter to put the Warriors away.I would argue that without those three plays on special teams, USC would have one or two losses next to its name.How does this happen? How do you get a team that paid as much attention to special teams as a kindergartner does to broccoli to all of a sudden buy into the fact that the broccoli turned into chocolate?It’s great coaching by Kiffin and special teams coordinator John Baxter.“It brings a lot of trust,” Johnson said. “At first, last year a kick return, I didn’t trust it at all. Now Woods is hitting it full steam ahead and coach Baxter really installed a lot into us.”One person that Baxter needed to buy into the system is Galippo. The redshirt junior was a starting linebacker for the Trojans last year and now his playing time mostly comes on special teams. But instead of complaining about his demotion, Galippo has taken his new role very seriously.“It’s pretty special,” Galippo said. “Coach Baxter’s a heck of a coach. To be in week three and have two special teams touchdowns, they both came in critical points in the game that completely flopped the momentum — it just shows how important they are and how playing on special teams you’ve contributed to the team.”For Baxter, this is nothing new. Before coming to USC this year, he spent 13 years as special teams coordinator at Fresno State where he routinely turned out some of the best units in the country.The Bulldogs led the nation with 49 blocked kicks and punts between 2002-09 and scored 39 special teams touchdowns during Baxter’s time there. For those non-math majors out there (my chemical engineer roommate helped me out here), that means Baxter’s unit averaged three special teams’ touchdowns per year.“We’re not spending too much time,” Baxter said. “We’re spending what you should spend. They didn’t before. That’s not my fault. I got nothing to do with it. All I can control is what our staff does. You guys are used to watching [a team spend little time on special teams] but I’m not.”It’s because of Baxter and Kiffin that special teams has become special again at USC.“Spittin’ Sports” runs every Thursday. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Kenny at firstname.lastname@example.org.