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Finding the Real Story: Reflections from a Weekend with ESPN+

I get paid to talk about sports for a living, and one of a very select few that gets to do this. Data USA says there are about 44,000 of us in this profession as of 2017; I suspect the folks that get to call games at the Division I level & higher is about half that number.

When I was a kid, I dreamed of being on TV and the radio. I wanted my name to pop up on the big screen with an "Announcer" subtitle, more than anything. Naturally, when I got to work on an ESPN+ broadcast a few weeks ago, I was over the moon.

The gigs kept coming. It was Softball on April 3rd with Craig White. Then Women's Soccer two Wednesday's ago with Dan McLoughlin. And finally, this past weekend - the coveted four-game stretch over three days; all at Boston University, all on ESPN+.

In the days before, I did more prep work than I've ever done in my entire career. I talked with three coaches & five sports information directors, made four spot boards, compiled 25 graphics for use on the ESPN broadcasts, attended four pre-production meetings, and recorded four opens. It was just about 10 hours on air between the four games. I crushed through 6 one-liter bottles of water and a Gatorade. After the festivities were over, it was dinner in Back Bay with some friends, a few hard-earned drinks, and an egg-and-cheese in the morning...then back to Providence.

Can you tell I'm tired?!

But throughout my prep work and the events of the weekend, I couldn't help but take a step back and appreciate not only my accomplishments so far, but of the student-athletes I was fortunate enough to cover that weekend. It jogged my mind back to our one-year anniversary interview we did on Episode 47 Beers, Business, and Balls with John Fanta, a fellow announcer who does great work for FOX Sports. It's always a great time with Fanta, but I don't think I've ever connected to something more than his comments on covering the "non-traditional" student-athletes.

"You're the football player; and you're the star of the show. But the tennis player, or the golf player? People don't know as much about him. My job is to find the story. Let's find the inspiration. I love telling those stories. I'm talking to the players that don't get interviewed a lot. What's their why? That's so rewarding to me."

Stories are so powerful, and they can be found everywhere. I had the opportunity to play a role in telling three incredible, unique, and inspiring stories this weekend on ESPN+. Allow me to yield the spotlight.

Bucknell Field Hockey: vengeance achieved by an overdue coach.

Field Hockey - that sport you likely know nothing about. I didn't really either until my days a student broadcaster at Bryant. But Bucknell's story is nothing short of incredible this year. I first talked with head coach Jeremy Cook on Wednesday afternoon; the Bison had almost arrived at their hotel, but were significantly delayed after their bus broke down just hours after they departed their Lewisburg, Pennsylvania campus. For thirteen years, Jeremy Cook had been within only a short reach of the Patriot League championship. He had historic years in both 2014 and 2017, but was knocked out by BU in both title games those seasons. Knocking on the door yet again this year, the mindset wasn't "win or bust" like it usually was; it significantly changed for Cook & the Bucknell Bison. Here was my favorite quote from our pregame chat:

How do you prepare yourself to play a really engaged, tough-minded, disciplined, but joyous game? It could be your last game - maybe we have a case and it shuts us down. It’s been an ongoing conversation this season; prepare for every single game, and avoid the pressure. We’re gonna play better than we did the last game. Hopefully that will be enough."

And sure enough, it was. Unlikely contributors were running rampant over the weekend: senior midfielder Megan Keeney struck first for the Bison in their semifinal game on Wednesday, and was complimented with a host of Bison who scored in penalty strokes to win the game. In the championship game, BU struck first with a lone second left in the 3rd quarter, and looked to capture its 5th title in 8 years. But freshman Kari Melberger kept cool, calm & collected, and put her team right back into the game at 1-1 to force overtime.

Then, it was Kaelyn Long that did the rest; the senior put Bucknell into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history, and I was honored to have my voice behind such an historic moment.

Brown Men's Lacrosse: shattered all expectations after more than 1 year without action

The Ivy's are back! Well...sort of.

It's been 411 days since the Brown Bears last took the field, and man, they went out in style. On March 8, 2020, Brown had a date with Lars Tiffany, the man that arguably built Brown's lacrosse program from the ground-up. Tiffany, the head coach of the Virginia Cavaliers, was fresh-off a national championship victory the year before, and had carved apart everyone in its path before COVID-19 outbreaks abbreviated the 2020 season...except Brown. The Bears controlled most of the game and knocked off the 'Hoos 14-13.

When athletics started to return, the Ivy League lagged behind, and didn't return with most other conferences. Student-athletes transferred in search of better homes (a la TD Ierlan, the nation's leading face-off man, departing Yale for Denver). Many quit their sports altogether. But after meeting a certain testing threshold, Brown was permitted to play their lone game of the season against BU on Friday.

A game that every viewer assumed Brown would come out rusty proved to be just the opposite. Three-time All-American goalkeeper Phil Goss had one of his best performances in recent memory, senior Luke McCaleb became only the 14th player in Brown history to score his 100th career point, and attacker Darian Cook had this sweet behind-the-back look.

The Bears, despite not having a thing to play for but themselves, came to win. They were the loudest, most involved, and athletic group that I've had the pleasure of seeing on a lacrosse field this year. The bottom line? Brown hasn't skipped a beat.

Boston Univ. Women's Lacrosse: seniors go out in style

It's so easy to roll over against a team that carved you apart just weeks before; the Colgate Raiders were all over BU in March, as they won an uncontested 14-9 game. With not much to play for than their pride, the favorite assuredly would've been Colgate to women's lacrosse experts.

But the 9 seniors on the BU roster - most of them starters - had other plans.

In a back-and-forth game that featured a maximum lead of 2 goals by either team (and 8 ties), BU fought its way back to a one-goal lead, and stood off a pesky Colgate attacking force. It was a barnburner (who had the over/under at 29 goals?!), but BU took advantage of a leaky defense & subpar Raiders goalkeeping performance to find the back of the net a whopping 15 times. Emily Vervlied scored a forceful 10 points (4g/6a), instantly becoming a career high. Ava Barry tallied her 100th career point, and Ryan Gaffney scored twice to up her year's shooting percentage to 80%.

Meg Hickey locked it down in goal over the second half - not too shabby for an attacker-turned-emergency goalkeeper. Seriously, how cool is this sport?


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