Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Postcard from London: Eric Heins

For the past few weeks I have had numerous people ask me if I was excited to go to the Olympics, of course the answer was yes, but honestly I did not feel that much excitement while in Flagstaff. Maybe there was just too much going on with running camps, preparing for the upcoming season and the start of a new recruiting season. Sure I was excited, but until I touched down at London Heathrow Airport, I was just going through the motions.

The fact that I was attending the Olympics did not hit me until my wife (Kaci) and I went through customs in London and the agent swiped my passport. On her computer screen something flashed up that I was there for the Olympics in some official capacity. I explained that I was the coach of a Mexican athlete running the 10,000 meters. She explained that I should get my accreditation so that I can travel around the city for free. I looked at Kaci and I was overwhelmed with pride and excitement.

I grew up dreaming of competing at the Olympics, but was never quite that level of an athlete. I was fortunate enough to run competitively in college and then post-collegiately for a few years and even ran in the 2008 Olympic Trials marathon. But I knew there was no way I was going to ever make an Olympic team, it just wasn’t in the cards. I owe this opportunity all to Diego Estrada for asking the Mexican Olympic committee to bring me as his coach and for this experience I can never thank him enough. He is a special young man that has earned every bit of recognition he has received.

As a coach at Northern Arizona University I have been extremely fortunate to work with some amazing student-athletes. As we all know by now, this Olympiad will have three NAU distance runners represented. Graduates Lopez Lomong and David McNeill will be donning the USA and Australian uniforms, respectively. I will be in attendance to support current student-athlete, Diego Estrada, who will be representing Mexico. I am listed as one of their coaches and will meet with Diego on August 3rd for final preparations before his race, which will be on August 4th.

I will write again soon about the preparations for Diego’s race, how he is feeling and what the “Olympic” experience is all about. 


Thursday, July 26, 2012

My Olympic Experience: 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta

By Steven Shaff, NAU Media Relations

Northern Arizona student-athletes, coaches and staff will be blogging from London over the course of the next two weeks. This is the second in a series of blogs about the 2012 London Olympics.

I posed proudly at Fulton County Stadium in the press box at the 1996 Summer Olympics.
In 1994, I volunteered for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games held in Atlanta. They were going to be held a five-hour drive from Gainesville, Fla., where I worked at the University of Florida in the media relations department, two years later. How many times were the Olympics going to be within driving distance? It was a great opportunity and I had to do it.

I secured a spot on the media team for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) as a writer. We were randomly assigned sports to cover for the ACOG website, producing recaps and features during the games. The goal was to serve as a news service for the event in Atlanta. 

To qualify for my position, I had to cover a test event in Atlanta during the summer of 1995 to earn my credentials. I was chosen to cover badminton. Now, I had played badminton once or twice but knew nothing about the event. I had to do a lot of homework. The biggest challenge was doing interviews via translators, as most of the top players did not speak English. It was a difficult task but I got the hang of the sport, the interviews and my responsibilities.

We were not paid for the work or provided housing. So my first task in preparation for the following summer was to secure a place to stay. I needed to be in Atlanta for the duration of the games – two weeks. After asking around, I found that a friend of my dad’s daughter lived in Atlanta and would be willing to “rent” me her spare bedroom. The cost: Florida-Georgia football tickets. As a UF employee I got two tickets every year to the game in Jacksonville called “The World’s Biggest Cocktail Party”. I worked the games so I had no use for the tickets. While it hurt me to give my tickets award to a Bulldog fan, they helped me in a big way.

The plan was to take vacation – all of my vacation that year – to work in Atlanta. I was not super excited to cover badminton but I was going to the Olympics. Two weeks before I was to travel to Atlanta, I got a call from my boss at ACOG. My assignment had been switched to baseball.

Now I have been a baseball fan all my life and had just finished my first season as the baseball sports information director for the Gators. We went to College World Series, finishing third in the nation in 1996. Our top player was a freshman named Brad Wilkerson, who would go on to play in the 2000 Olympics and win a gold medal.

Obviously, I was excited beyond belief. I arrived in Atlanta to the credential processing site to get my pass and uniform. All employees were required to wear the Olympic uniform, including shirt, pants, belt and shoes. We actually got two shirts so you did not have to do laundry every day.

I stayed in Marietta, which is North of Atlanta so I had the pleasure of taking MARTA through downtown to Atlanta-Fullton County Stadium, the baseball venue and then home of the Atlanta Braves. I watched a World Series games against the Yankees their later that year.

One of my top memories of my experience was attending the practice Opening Ceremonies. It was the full show minus a few of the celebrities. If you remember Muhammad Ali lit the cauldron, so he had a stand in. I think it was a Wednesday and all the volunteers were invited to attend. I was amazed the stadium was full.

I had to cover three games a day and write at least two features each day. I had a seat in the press box with my own Olympic broadcasting television that had every feed from every venue. I could watch anything I wanted to. It was cool.

R.A. Dickey
The United States roster included of host of future Major League players including current Met R.A. Dickey (Tennessee), former Diamondbacks Augie Ojeda (Tennessee) and Travis Lee (San Diego State), Troy Glaus (UCLA) and Jacque Jones (USC) to name a few. Overall, there were eight countries participating: Australia, Cuba, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, Nicaragua, South Korea and the United States. 

Over the next 10 days, I covered every game of the Olympic tournament. Cuba was the top team in the world and Japan and South Korea were pretty good too. I remember penning features on Jones, who was one of top collegiate players in the country, and the Italian baseball team after a big victory.

The United States finished third behind Cuba and Japan.

Centennial Park from the ACOG offices in downtown Atlanta.
I had one day off during the event and took advantage of the free time to visit the Olympic Centennial Park in downtown. I had lunch in the park area and wanted to stay for a concert later that night. But I was exhausted and had plans to have dinner with my hosts.

Later that night, there was a terrorist attack via pipe bomb that killed two people and injured 111 at Centennial Park. With the recent news about the shooting in Aurora, Colo., the feelings I had about the incident have been on my mind this week. Even though I was not there at the time, I was that day. It was scary. I did not feel safe and my Olympic experience was tarnished. Would there be another incident? I almost went back to Gainesville. 

I did a couple interviews with the newspapers in Gainesville and Tucson with reporters that knew I was in Atlanta. They asked if I was going to stay. I decided that the incident was not going to send me running. I decided it was one bad person who did a very bad thing. I was not going to leave. I would finish my responsibilities.

Today, July 27, is the 16-year anniversary of the bombing and the start of another Summer Games in London. I will watch the Opening Ceremonies with great excitement for many reasons including my own experience.

I also will remember watching four years ago and the pride I felt when Northern Arizona’s Lopez Lomong was the flag bearer for the United States. It will be a special night and a memorable next two weeks.

Let the Games begin!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

An Alaskan Adventure for Women's Basketball Alum Pratt

After completing her playing career as a Lumberjack and graduating from NAU in the spring, Katie Pratt embarked on an Alaskan excursion and is working on a boat in Ketchikan. The parks and recreation management major from Salina, Kans. checks in with the Lumberjack Talk blog about her experiences in The Last Frontier.  

Hello friends! So I am living in Ketchikan, Alaska for the summer working as a naturalist on a boat that takes cruise ship passengers out to the Misty Fjords National Monument wilderness area. I have been living here in Alaska for almost two months and will be here until mid September. I am absolutely loving pretty much everything about this area, and I say pretty much because of the weather. Ketchikan is the wettest city in the US, averaging about 13 feet of rain per year, being in a rainforest and all! I am definitely a sunshine type of girl, so this has been hard for me.

Other than that, everything has been wonderfully crazy. It's for sure a different way of life here, especially when anywhere from 2 to 5 cruise ships pull into Ketchikan and thousands of people from all over the world file off the boat into this little town of about 8,000 residents within the city limits. It is such a weird concept to grasp. So my typical day as a naturalist consists of hanging out with these people from all over the world on a boat that takes them out to Misty Fjords. During this is time, I am giving them information about Ketchikan, surrounding islands of the Inside Passage, and fun facts about wildlife, the national monument itself, and whatever else comes up on our trip. I have already seen tons of humpback whales, orcas, porpoises, eagles, and I saw my first black bear and her cub just the other day! Misty Fjords is so spectacular with its cliffs, mountains, and waterfalls, that I cannot believe that this is my "job".

Some other adventures I have been on here include adventure karting, snorkeling, hiking, fishing, and I am going to go ziplining soon as well! The Ketchikan people are awesome and I am loving all the fresh, yummy sea food! I mean, this is the salmon capital of the world, and I have also eaten lots of crab and halibut. We don't have this quality of sea food in Kansas or Arizona that’s for sure. That's all I have for you for now but look up Misty Fjords pictures and though they do not do justice, it will give you a better idea of what I am talking about and how truly lucky and blessed I am for this opportunity!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Lance Kriesien Talks About Playing Football in Serbia

Lance Kriesien played for the Lumberjacks from 2005-08, finishing his career ninth on the career passing list for 3,522 yards, ninth in total offense with 4,704 yards, ninth in passing attempts with 507 and ninth in completions with 298. Overall, he contributed 38 touchdowns including 15 rushing, 21 passing touchdowns and four receiving in 33 career games.

BELGRADE, Serbia - So far, so good. We are well into our schedule and approaching the playoff season. We have been fortunate enough to find victory each week as we are currently 9-0 and undefeated in both out domestic and international leagues. The guys have been working hard all year and it is showing as we progress through our games: we are improving each week.

The coaches have kept us in favorable positions by getting ready for a fresh approach to each game while keeping things simple and allowing us to maximize our collective talents. Since my arrival, I have been impressed with my teammate's knowledge of the game and ability to adapt in game situations.

Their effort and the coaches savvy have allowed me to blossom as an athlete as I am currently leading the league in passing and rushing. I am surrounded by greatness!

So far we have had games against teams all over the country, Slovenia, and Croatia, as well as road games against an Austrian team. This week we travel to Budapest, Hungary to rematch a team we beat earlier in the season 53-35. The team is much improved and will provide another good test for us. Here is the game preview provided by the league:

Traveling with the team is always a great experience. We are able to enjoy our journeys combining a light-hearted approach to the trip while maintaining a "business trip" mentality and purpose. We travel well and the teams needs are always met when are on the road. For me, it offers a chance for me to gain prospective as a traveler and player: my passport is definitely getting a workout too.

Living abroad has been an experience of a lifetime. Being able to further my career as a player and coach has truly been a blessing. Lately, I have learned a lot about myself as a person, player, and student of this game. Serbia has offered a unique opportunity to redefine life as an American.

During my down time, I have been able to take trips to 8 different countries where I have learned a lot about what life is like outside of the States. Which, in turn, has proved to be one of the things I have enjoyed the most during my time out here.

We have reached our goals thus far this season, but there is still much work to do. Anything less than a championship is unacceptable for us. I am looking forward to another great performance from my team as we move forward in our quest for a ring!

Ajmo Vukovi !
(let's go wolves - Serbian)

Also, the game is going to be televised regionally (Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Slovenia, Bosnia, Montenegro, etc.) . Click the following link for more information:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Battle of the Lumberjacks: Round 1

Three former Lumberjack Football players are playing overseas in Germany: Conrad Meadows, Michael Herrick and Reid Worthington. They faced off on the field on May 19. In of a series of blog updates from overseas, including quarterback Lance Kriesen, who plays in Serbia, the Lumberjacks talk about their experiences.

By Conrad Meadows, Berlin Adler

We (Berlin Adler) traveled west to face Mike & Reid’s team, the New Yorker Lions, in Braunschweig, Germany, on Saturday the 19th of May. We pulled out a 21-7 victory. The game itself was very exciting. The fans in Braunschweig are very supportive of their team and are loud on every play making it hard for myself to hear my quarterbacks’ cadence and audibles. I was very impressed with the knowledge and passion of the fans out there.

As far as playing in the game it was a great experience. Reid and I had our share of jokes and words for each other on the field which made it fun. I only played a couple snaps on defense so Mike and I didn’t get to interact too much. However I flopped on a late hit out of bounds on the Lions sidelines and drew a 15-yard penalty.

The first New Yorker Lion player to greet me after the hit was Mike. Two weeks prior Mike and Reid came to Berlin and stayed with me for the weekend. Mike had spoken about that exact flop I used to do in college, and then I used it against his team in a close game during the 3rd quarter. I’m not sure if he thought it was so funny during the game. Anyways, both of our teams will be much improved when we play each other again in August.

Life in Berlin is exciting and full of entertainment. Any night of the week one can find great food or music along with other types of entertainment. Everyone in the Berlin Adler organization from the coaching staff, equipment staff, and training staff along with the guys on the team is great and welcoming.

My first bus trip back from my first away trip was unexplainable; these guys simply know how to have a good time. I’m living with a German, two British and an American (other import) and we all get along which makes life here much more comfortable.

We are 3-0 in the GFL and we start our Eurobowl run this weekend vs. United Kingdom’s London Blitz here in Berlin, Germany. 

By Reid Worthington, New Yorker Lions  

The game on Saturday was another great experience. It was fun lining up against Conrad and joking around on the field. There is only so much as an individual player you can control. I just go out every play, give it my best and have fun. I’m just thankful for the opportunity to play football one more time. Living here is different to say the least. I’m glad to have Mike with me. There are some great things in Germany like the culture, history and art. It’s been fun traveling and have new life experiences.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lumber...Jack Murphy To Lead New Era of NAU Basketball

By Stayson Isobe, NAU Media Relations 
Today, Northern Arizona University ushers in a new era in Lumberjack men’s basketball. After what seems like months of anticipation, the Lumberjacks have a new basketball coach in Jack Murphy and the hiring has received hoots and hollers that could be heard from atop the San Francisco Peaks.

So who is Jack Murphy you say? Well although he’s just 32 years of age, Murphy has a wealth of experience under his belt at both the collegiate and professional levels. He started of his career at the University of Arizona, spending eight years under Hall of Fame coach Lute Olson in a variety of positions. Hee began as a team manager, Murphy ascended up the ranks to recruiting coordinator, administrative assistant and video coordinator and finally took over as the director of operations.

Murphy played a big role in recruiting a high level of talent to UA, including future NBA talent such as Chase Budinger. While he was with the Wildcats, Arizona made eight-straight NCAA Tournament appearances, posting 20-plus victories in all eight seasons in the process and appeared in the national title game in 2001.

Following his stay at Arizona, Murphy moved on to the Denver Nuggets where he spent three years as an advance scout. While his main responsibilities involved scouting and breaking down game film of opponents, Murphy gained a reputation as one of the top trainers, working with stars such as Allen Iverson, Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony during his tenure.

Most recently, Murphy has spent the last three seasons as the top assistant at Memphis. Serving under Josh Pastner, a fellow assistant dating back to his UA days, Murphy helped guide the Tigers to a set of 20-win seasons, a Conference USA regular season championship and two conference tournament championships resulting in a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances.

With 14 years of experience in a number of positions in the basketball world, Murphy appears to be just what the men’s basketball program needs in a period of transition for a number of reasons.

First, he’s a fantastic recruiter. As mentioned before, Murphy had a hand in bringing in guys of the caliber of Budinger to Tucson, but he also played a huge role in Memphis’ recent recruiting success. In 2010, Memphis brought in a recruiting class that was ranked No. 2 nationally by, No. 2 by and No. 4 by ESPN and featured four players ranked in the nation’s Top 100 and two McDonald’s All-Americans. Since then, the Tigers have signed three more Top 100 players and two more McDonald’s All-Americans.

His strong recruiting background will prove to be pivotal in turning around a Lumberjack squad that will enter the 2012-13 season on a 16-game losing streak and coming off a 5-24 campaign. The Lumberjacks will return solid players on the perimeter and will also have Gaellen Bewernick and Ephraim Ekanem in the paint, so Murphy isn’t walking into an empty cupboard. His ability to recruit will only help bring the Lumberjacks back towards the top of the Big Sky Conference.

Secondly, Murphy, who was in charge of Memphis’ defensive efforts this past season, will bring a level of credibility back to NAU on the defensive end. This past year, the Tigers were 10th in the country in field goal percentage defense at 38.6 percent. As for the Lumberjacks, they were 335th out of 338 Division I teams at 49.3 percent. Memphis was also 44th in defending the three-point line, only allowing opponents to shoot 31.2 percent from behind the arc, compared to NAU who was 337th in allowing their opponents to shoot at a 39.8 percent clip. At times this season, when the Lumberjacks struggled to score on the offensive end, they had no answer at the defensive end, which was a big reason for 18 double-digit losses.

All in all, Murphy seems to be the perfect fit for our Lumberjacks. If you don’t believe me, check out what those closest to him are saying. That’s right, the likes of Olson, Pastner and George Karl, along with NBA pros who’ve worked with him all hold Murphy in high regard.

“I told him that Northern Arizona is a perfect fit,” Karl said to me. “I think the alumni and the university will love his ambition and his passion.”

Throw in the fact that he’s worked his way from the bottom up with his start as a student manager, and Murphy won’t be taking anything for granted. He’s known for his work ethic, something that Luke Walton emphasized among the others.

“His work ethic and his love for the game have made him a great career in basketball so far,” Walton said. “He’s one of those guys that is up early ready to work and staying up late looking at game films and doing whatever he can to give his team the best opportunity to win. He’s going to be a great fit for NAU.”

Coupled with the hiring of Dr. Lisa Campos as the new vice president of Intercollegiate Athletics, there is renewed excitement around NAU Athletics and specifically the men’s basketball program. Opponents should beware starting next fall because at 7,000 feet, they’ll be entering the new and improved Lumberjack Country.

Go Lumberjacks!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Behind the Scenes of the 2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament

By Stayson Isobe, NAU Media Relations/ writer

Last week, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work the NCAA Men’s Basketball West Regional in Tempe and what an experience it was.

For those that don’t know, when I’m not moonlighting as a Couch Side writer, I work at Northern Arizona University as a graduate assistant in the media relations department as the Sports Information Director for the Lumberjack women’s soccer and men’s and women’s tennis programs.

This past fall, Arizona State, the host of last week’s West Regional Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight games at the U.S. Airways Center, asked our media relations department if we would like to volunteer at the games and really who would turn down an opportunity like that? Well the four of us in the department as well as our assistant AD for marketing made the trip down to the Valley last Wednesday and I can’t lie, I was stoked (and again who wouldn’t be?)

Upon arrival at the U.S. Airways Center, the home of the Phoenix Suns, we made our way to the media press conference room. Immediately I was amazed by the rows of tables set up for media members from across the country and the press conference seating area on the stage which would soon be the scene of the Regional’s star players and the incredible coaches that would lead them into battle for a spot in this year’s Final Four.
Of course we had to eat, so it was then off to the media buffet area. Need I say more than free food? After filling up on chicken tenders and hot dogs (again I’m not complaining, it was free!) we got our first assignments. We would be in charge of gathering locker room quotes from the players that would not be speaking to the media in the press conference room. I was assigned to Louisville, so instantly I read through their media guide and tournament notes to gather as much information as I could about the Cardinals.
After learning as much as I could about the Big East Tournament champions, I made my way to the locker room where the players were sitting around following their first practice on the U.S. Airways Center courts. My three player selections to interview: Gorgui Dieng, Chane Behanan and Kyle Kuric. Of course I would’ve loved to speak with starting point guard Peyton Siva, but he was on his way to the press conference room so opportunity lost. I’ve never been one to get nervous during interviews dating back to my days as a member of The Lumberjack sports section, but this was clearly a level I’ve never been at before.

The interviews went well and it was cool just to introduce myself and tell these guys I was gathering quotes for the NCAA! After speaking with the three players, my next duty was to transcribe the quotes, which was then placed in quote packet along with a transcription of the press conference for Louisville and distributed to the media for use. Who knows, maybe my quotes were used in a story for the Louisville/Michigan State game in some newspaper somewhere in the country?

That was really my only job on the first day, so I spent the remaining part of the day listening to Buzz Williams (Marquette head coach), Tom Izzo (Michigan State head coach) and Billy Donovan (Florida head coach) among others speak to the media in the media room. I also got to stand courtside and watch these four teams practice in preparation for their games the following day, which was amazing. I couldn’t believe I was watching these first class basketball programs with first class coaches leading the practice right in front of me! Not to mention, I got to see Reggie Miller, Len Elmore and Kevin Harlan (the broadcasters for the game) as well as they sat watched the practice sessions from their courtside seats.

The following day was game day and I was eager to head back to the arena for what would be the most exciting basketball games I’ve ever had the chance to watch live in person. There wasn’t much to do pregame except for another trip to the media buffet! My stomach satisfied, it was then time to get our game day assignments, which in my case was distributing halftime and postgame stats to my designated media area. There were 60 media members just in my row alone! One thing that I found astounding was that we could not hand out the starting lineups for the first game of the afternoon no sooner and no later than an hour before tip-off.

Aside from my halftime and postgame responsibilities, I was free to watch both games from the sweetest seat I’ve ever had to any live sporting event (well other than the ones I work here at NAU). I was just a normal fan in awe from my seat across the benches in the first row behind the media. If it didn’t hit me that I was actually watching Sweet Sixteen basketball before, it was at the tip-off of the Michigan State/Louisville game that I was here and this was really happening.

Of course, the West Regional portion of my bracket was busted that day as both Michigan State (the top seed in the Regional) and Marquette (the third seed) lost one game shy of my prediction of them making it to the Elite Eight. Nevertheless though, I saw two excellent games that featured a handful of potential NBA prospects including first-team All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year Draymond Green (Michigan State), Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder (Marquette) and First-Team All-SEC selection Bradley Beal (Florida).

Not to mention that both Dieng and Behanan were the players that were invited to the press conference room to accompany head coach Rick Pitino after Louisville’s win over Michigan State. I guess I did a good job picking the key players to interview the day before? After all, Dieng (5 points, 9 rebounds, 3 steals and 7 blocks) and Behanan (15 points, 9 rebounds, 3 steals) were key in limiting Green to just 5-of-16 from the field! blogger Stayson Isobe met his favorite baseball player, L.A. Angels slugger Albert Pujols and former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, at the 2012 NCAA men's basketball tournament in Tempe, Ariz. Isobe worked at the West Regional of the tournament, gathering quotes for the NCAA.

If all of this wasn’t enough, I was in the presence of huge names in the sports world including Magic Johnson, Muhammad Ali, Steve Mariucci, Kirk Gibson and Tony La Russa. But none of them mattered more than the guy that I happened to be sitting right in front of the entire night: Albert Pujols. As a die-hard and lifetime Angels fan, I could not believe he was right behind me and I didn’t even know! Best described as the closest I’ve ever gotten to hyperventilating, I very nervously told him that I was a huge Angels fan (whether he actually believed me is another question) and shook his hand before asking for his autograph and getting a picture with him! To think I met the greatest hitter of my generation and newest $240 million member of my Angels is absolutely surreal to me and days later I’m still in shock. I spent two whole days at Angels spring training to come up short and here he was at the Sweet Sixteen games I happened to be working and he was just a row behind me. I guess I’ll always have the game lineup card with his autograph on it to remind me of that exact moment.

In all, it was two days I’ll never forget. Would’ve loved to have spent the final two days there to catch the Elite Eight game, but my beloved tennis teams were playing up in Flagstaff and my actual responsibilities called. Still, to have that experience is something not everyone gets to enjoy.

I got to see three coaches with national championships to their name in action and speak to the national media. I saw maybe the greatest point guard in the history of the NBA and got the autograph of the new star of my favorite sports team of all, a guy that is already mentioned along the likes of Ruth, Mantle and Aaron. I spoke with Rick Reilly and told Rick Pitino congratulations after his win. And that’s just a few of the things that made those two days two of the best I’ll ever have in my entire life.

How many people get to do any of that, much less all in a two-day span?

A dream come true beyond my wildest imagination, that’s the only way I can describe it.

Check out for more blogs by Stayson and other NAU students.