Practice notes: Pre-NEC title edition

Written by Craig Meyer on .

I consider my colleague Sam Werner a friend, but the fact that he titles all of his Pitt football practice blog posts 'Talkin Bout Practice" is something I will never forgive him for, mostly because it means I can't do it.

Anyway, Andy Toole and select players were made available to the media today after practice. With the NEC championship game almost 24 hours away, I'll let A.I. kick things off...

And away we go.

Andy Toole

Does anything change for your team in terms of preparation, given what a big game is is? “That’s what we’ve talked about all year. It has nothing to do with conference tournament time, it doesn’t have to do with anything except that’s how you have to play all year long. You can’t get emotionally too high, you can’t get emotionally too low. You have to go do the things you’re capable of doing and the things we work on every day. Obviously, with the atmosphere surrounding this game, it makes it a little more of a challenge at times, but it’s something we talk about all year long of playing the way we can play, doing the things we can do, controlling the things we can control. Then we’ll give ourselves the best chance to be successful.”

What makes Mount St. Mary's such a consistently good program? “They have good coaching staffs. Obviously Milan Brown, who’s now at Holy Cross, did a great job when he was there. Jim Phelan before that was a legendary coach. Jamion is doing a terrific job. He’s got talented players, he’s got them playing hard, he’s got them playing together and he’s got them playing a good system. They play very well come tournament time and they always have.”

Do you slow them down? Can you play their game? “I don’t think we can play that game as well as they play that game. They obviously like to make the game frenetic. It can be chaotic and speed you up, make you take quick shots. It’s not that we won’t take advantage if we have advantages because we have some guys that can maybe get some looks in those kind of conditions and make plays in those situations. But we don’t want to play as fast as they play. We don’t want to play slow, but we don’t want to play as fast.”

Do you change anything from your past two meetings this season? “Obviously, there are things you have learned from the past meetings that you’re going to try to not necessarily exploit, but maybe lean toward. The problem is making sure guys can handle it in two days. You have to be smart about what you might change or what you might add or what kind of situations you might put guys in. You can’t all of a sudden throw completely new ideas or concepts at them and expect them to be successful at it versus something you’ve been doing for months on end. There are obviously some things we would like to try to tweak, things we can obviously do better. I’m sure they look at it the same way and say ‘We were successful with this in the first game or second game, maybe it’s something we can go to.’ I think both teams will try to figure those things out. Then it will be a battle of who can adjust on the fly during the course of a game to either limit something they’re trying to do or continue to do something that’s allowing you to be successful.”

Does their style of play translate well to these kind of tournaments? “I think obviously if you look at the success of the people who are doing it, it translates well to all games. You look at what VCU has done, you look at Tennessee-Chattanooga, who has an assistant from VCU. They had a great season in the Southern Conference. Then obviously what Mount has done. It’s just a unique style that if you’re not ready for, it’s difficult to face. It’s a unique style that, even if you have a lead or feel like you’re getting some good things early, it can take its toll on you and eventually turn the tide. It’s something that we’ve seen a number of times, we’ve had success against it on a few occasions, they’ve had success on a few occasions. It will be a good battle tomorrow night to see whose style and whose system can be better.”

Karvel Anderson

Thoughts on tomorrow? “I’m very excited. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to even have a chance to play tomorrow. We feel very confident in our chances of winning. We’re very secure in our gameplan and people we have in our locker room and in our uniforms. We’ve just got to go out there and get it done.”

Is it weird to think about what could be coming up? “It is, but we’ve got to try hard not to think about the end of the game until that time comes. We have to focus hard on winning the game first. Preparing and getting ready to actually play the game is what’s been on our minds. I think the start of the game and going into the game is the weirder feeling. Actually being able to go out there and step on the floor for a championship game is the feeling we have going through our bodies right now. We’ll worry about the court storming and all that stuff when the time comes.”

As an athlete, is this kind of a dream scenario? Win and you’re in? “It definitely is. Going to the NCAA tournament has been all of my teammates’ dream, including myself. It’s the reason we play this game at this level. In other conferences, they have to wait for Selection Sunday to see if they get a bid. To have the chance to control your own destiny is something we feel very confident in. It’s a good feeling. It’s on us if we get in or not.”

What makes Rashad Whack so effective on defense? “With him, the most difficult part is actually getting the ball. Once I get the ball, I feel like I can do what I need to do against whoever is guarding me, but he does a very good job of not allowing me to get the ball. He probably does the best individual job of doing that in the league.”

Is there any pressure as the one seed? “Last year was a little different. We had so much experience on that team that I don’t think we really felt like there was pressure. I’m not really sure what happened, but it just kind of fell apart for us at the end. But this year, the only pressure we have is the pressure we put on ourselves. We worked so hard to be put in this position that it would hurt us individually if we didn’t succeed.”

Is there any extra pressure knowing it's your last chance? “As I said, this is my dream right here. Unless something crazy like the Kentucky thing happens, it’ll probably be my final game here no matter what happens. We have a very high sense of urgency tomorrow. We just want to go out there and have fun. Like we said last year with the Kentucky game, ‘Win or lose, leave everything you’ve got out on the floor, empty your tanks.’ That’s why half the team was cramping last year. Just leave everything you’ve got on the floor and we’ll be happy with the result.”

Lucky Jones

Does this kind of game sort of exemplify the 'going to war' motif you all came up with? “The coaches came up with this from the start of the tournament. They got a new motto – ‘We’re going to war each and every game.’ And to play Mount in the championship, who ended our season-long hope of making the NCAA tournament, it just puts more emphasis on why we really wear these shirts.”

How do you prepare for the game? “Enjoy the rest of your day. Life is too short to be stressing about a basketball game that we have to go out and play hard and have fun in. These are the times like this that people come to college to play for.”

Any pressure as the one seed? “I wouldn’t say there was pressure. We were lucky enough to finish number one because of the hard work we put in. In my opinion, we didn’t take Mount as seriously as we needed to. With us being the number-one seed, we thought we had everything in the bag because we had home court and it’s hard to beat us at home. This year, they went on the road and first, they came back by 20 to a New York team who was very physical. Then they went to Wagner and beat them. We’ve got to understand this is a dangerous, dangerous conference. Anybody can win at any given time.”

With having eight guys, does their pressing style become that much more difficult? “Not really. We played them at their house the first time and not much has changed. The only thing that’s changed that was on the court was Jeremiah Worthem, who really helped us out. In the second game, we had to adjust without him. We just took our time. If they’re going to press us, they’re wearing themselves out as well. We’re going to take it play by play and just take our time. We’re not going to rush anything because we’ve seen what happens when we rush – we turn the ball over and do chaotic stuff. That’s what they want us to do. We’re just going to go out there, go with our game plan and try to be successful at it.”


Craig Meyer: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG

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Deer population, Pitt study

Written by John Hayes on .

Excessive deer populations hurt native plant biodiversity
“When people walk in the woods where deer are overabundant, they don’t realize what’s missing”
PITTSBURGH—Too much garlic mustard in your neighborhood forest? Actually, the problem may be too many deer.

A research team led by Susan Kalisz, professor of evolutionary ecology in the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Biological Sciences, published a paper online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that takes a long view on why invasive garlic mustard plants thrive to the detriment of native species. 
The study, initiated in 2003 at the Trillium Trail Nature Reserve in Fox Chapel, Pa., concludes that an overpopulation of deer (density of deer in the U.S. is about four to 10 times what it was prior to European settlement of North America) is the primary reason garlic mustard is crowding out native plants, such as trillium, which are preferred food for wild deer.
Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a plant native to Europe and Asia and is inedible by deer standards. It was brought to the United States—Long Island, N.Y., specifically—in the 1860s for use as a kitchen herb.
Instead it became a menace, colonizing forest floors in the Eastern U.S. and Canada and has been found in Washington, Utah, and British Columbia, achieving the dubious distinction of being one of very few non-native plants to successfully invade forest understories. The persistence of garlic mustard greatly reduces forest biodiversity.
To study the effect of rampant deer on trillium and garlic mustard populations, Kalisz and colleagues established multiple 196-square-meter plots in the forest. Half were fenced to exclude deer. Years of observation and hours of statistical analysis later, Kalisz and her colleagues have found that in plots where deer were excluded, the trillium population is increasing and the garlic mustard population is trending toward zero. 
“This demonstrates that the high population growth rate of the invader is caused by the high abundance of deer,” she says. This effect is reversible with deer exclusion. The team’s results support “an ecological theory that native species in a community can exert biotic resistance.” This means that native plants as a group can successfully compete against invaders. If the native plants are allowed to thrive rather than being consumed by deer,  the combined natural competitive advantages of those plants—including trillium—allow them to repel the outsiders. 
This study shows that two major ecological and management problems are linked: an excess of deer in temperate forests and an invasion of these forests by exotic plants. Similar links may be found in other ecosystems between overabundant native or managed fauna (such as cattle or sheep) and declining diversity of flora. Management of overabundant animals could be beneficial for conservation of plant biodiversity in general.
“When people walk in the woods where deer are overabundant, they don’t realize what’s missing,” Kalisz says. “They don’t know what used to be growing there. They don’t know that species are being lost and replaced by invaders.”
The solution seems simple, then: Reduce deer populations, restore natives, and prevent invasion. It’s not simple, Kalisz says. Deer management policies vary from state to state, and deer don’t respect political boundaries. Some states keep deer populations low, while others prefer to maintain higher populations to appeal to groups such as hunters. Yet, deer, Kalisz says, exact a toll not only on forest species but also on farms, orchards, and even your car and your car insurance rate. 
Kalisz notes that at the very moment she submitted her manuscript to PNAS, she saw a six-point buck ambling down the street in front of her home in Pittsburgh’s East End. 
Kalisz’s coauthors are Carol Horvitz with the University of Miami’s Department of Biology and Rachel Spigler, a former Pitt postdoctoral associate with Kalisz, now a faculty member with Temple University’s Department of Biology. The work at Trillium Trail was funded by a grant to Kalisz by the National Science Foundation and support from Fox Chapel Borough. The paper, “In a long-term experimental demography study, excluding ungulates reversed invader’s explosive population growth rate and restored natives,” can be found here.


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Stage AE lineup adds Tyler, The Creator; Boston; Ray LaMontagne; Steel Panther

Written by Scott Mervis on .

Tyler-The-Creator1Stage AE dropped four new shows on us Monday, including a sensitive folk singer, an insensitive rapper, a serious classic rock band and an insincere metal band.

You may notice in the Ray LaMontagne info the words "seated lawn ticket." Yes, chairs on the lawn. This will be a first for the venue, which started its outdoor series in 2011.

May 28: Steel Panther: Over-the-top hair-metal band from -- where else? -- the Sunset Strip. $25 advance; $27 door. On sale Friday.

June 4: Tyler, The Creator. Rapper/producer and main man in hip-hop crew Odd Future. $25; on sale March 12.

June 6: Ray LaMontagne: Impressively bearded singer-songwriter from New Hampshire best known for the single "Trouble." With The Belle Brigade. $45-$55 seated pit ticket; $35.00 seated lawn ticket. On sale March 14.

July 15: Boston: Tom Scholz-led '70s rock band with Brad Delp-sound-alike Tommy DeCarlo on vocals. $35 advance/$38 day of show. On sale March 14.

Tickets at all Ticketmaster locations. Charge by phone at 800-745-3000 or online at



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Film Premiere of “Madame Presidenta: Why Not U.S.?” Drew Sold-Out Crowd at Carnegie Museum of Art

Written by Natalie Bencivenga on .


VM-film still 01 2


When I first heard that Heather Arnet, the CEO of the Women and Girls Foundation (WGF) of Southwestern Pa., had produced, written and directed a documentary called “Madame Presidenta: Why Not U.S.?” about why the U.S. has yet to elect a female president, I was intrigued. But, when I realized she had traveled to Brazil to seek answers to this question, I was confused. What could we, the people of the United States, possibly learn from Brazil?

Well, as it turns out, a lot.

Ms. Arnet’s quest for answers began after her grandmother and activist, Vivan Goldstein, asked a burning question a propos Brazil electing their first female president Dilma Vana Rousseff in 2011: “How the hell did they do it?” Ms. Arnet together with WGF partners ELAS: Women’s Social Investment Fund in Rio de Janeiro committed to find the answers and make the film about it. Ms. Arnet would go on to interview politicians, activists, business owners and mothers both here at home and abroad, using translators and coming back with 36 hours of footage.


VM-film still 02 2


The film premiere of her incredible journey to Brazil and back took place so fittingly on Saturday, March 8, the International Women’s Day, at the Carnegie Museum of Art to a sold-out crowd. The audience’s reactions were much like my own after witnessing the eye-opening film: anger, excitement, frustration and inspiration were only a few of the emotions experienced in the theatre.

After the film, Ms. Arnet sat on stage for a Q&A with Elizabeth Mulenga, an 18-year-old member of WGF, who is interested in running for political office later on after gaining experience and skills at the workshops that the WGF offers. The audience asked a wide variety of questions ranging from “Why is the United States backtracking as a political community?” “How does the film connect to people in Southwestern Pa?” “Where do you think women’s rights will be in the future?” “Why Brazil?”

But my favorite question came from Ms. Arnet’s young son, Travis, a self-proclaimed feminist who asked, “But mom, what do you REALLY think is the reason we haven’t elected a woman president yet?”

Ms. Arnet eloquently responded:

“I think it’s our system. We’ve paid too little attention to the important things. And while some would say, ‘The media sexualizes women,’ I saw plenty of pictures of bikini-clad women in Brazil! It’s deeper than that. As shown in the film, Brazilians treat voting as a mandatory obligation, not a privilege. Change is happening in America, though. It happens when we decide that it’s time.”

During the dessert reception following the film, I was able to sit down and talk with Ms. Arnet (in between filmgoers asking for photos and applauding her work) about what this film means to her and to all of us.

Check out my Q & A with Ms. Arnet in tomorrow’s blog!


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Calling all canine musicians

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

The Pittsburgh Symphony is looking for dogs to bark, heel, etc. during its Point State Park Park concert on June 9. Handlers can submit videos of their dogs at the link below. More from the PSO: 

Does your dog have what it takes to perform with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra? The Pittsburgh Symphony is looking for four canine "musicians" and their handlers to participate in its annual free Point State Park concert on June 9.

As part of the concert, the symphony will perform Leopold Mozart's "Jadg-Sinfonie," a piece that calls for barking dogs to collaborate with the horn soloists.

Please visit to fill out an online application form and submit a link to a Youtube video demonstrating that your furry friend can sit, stay, bark and be silent on command.

Deadline for submission is April 16. Notification of those chosen for the final audition will be made via email on April 30. Final live auditions will occur on May 13 at Heinz Hall.

Following the final audition, four dogs will be selected to perform with the symphony on June 9.

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