“In particular in the striking department, we’ve had a lift. We’ve looked okay in the majority of games and have deserved more points than we have, but at the same time we’ve looked like we’re not going to score too many goals. “The lift from the three strikers has helped the squad and will settle us.” It was Papiss Cisse who started the ball rolling when, after five months on the sidelines nursing a fractured kneecap, he climbed from the bench and, with Pardew freely admitting he should not even have been in the squad, scored twice to salvage a point against Hull. Summer signing Emmanuel Riviere took up the baton at Palace when he ended his wait for a first competitive goal for the club at the seventh attempt as he also claimed a double. Asked how hard it has been for the Frenchman, Pardew said: “He hasn’t really carried it as hard. His confidence has been strong in training. “I have spoken to him on a number of occasions on things I thought would help him get the goal and he always seemed very assured – strikers are made like that. “But you don’t want to go too long without a goal, particularly at this football club and particularly when he got the competition he has at the moment, so they were very important goals for him.” Cisse, keeper Tim Krul and midfielder Yoan Gouffran could all be available after missing the trip to Selhurst Park through illness, and Pardew is hoping the outbreak has been contained. He said: “I haven’t heard anything from the doctor that makes me worry.” The 53-year-old woke on Saturday morning to read claims that he is “Dead. Finished. Over.” if the Magpies lose at Stoke on Monday evening. Club officials immediately dismissed Ashley’s comments to a reporter in a Soho bar as a joke, and Pardew, who has come under intense pressure from dissenting fans in recent weeks, is viewing the sports magnate’s remarks as a positive. Newcastle manager Alan Pardew is treating owner Mike Ashley’s joke threat to sack him as a back-handed vote of confidence. He said: “I think he was trying to be supportive in his own kind of way. They [the comments] are what they are and unfortunately we have had those sort of headlines for two or three weeks. “The focus for me really can only be Monday night.” Pardew and his players have steadied the ship somewhat in the last week with a determined fightback from 2-0 down to claim a 2-2 draw with Hull with the manager’s critics in full voice at St James’ Park last Saturday, and then a 3-2 midweek victory at Crystal Palace which ensured the club’s continued participation in the Capital One Cup. However, they will head for the Britannia Stadium sitting at the foot of the Barclays Premier League table and still awaiting their first three-point haul of the campaign. Pardew said: “We are very conscious that we haven’t had the win. We have got to try to get the balance right because it’s not a boxing match, we can’t fight our way to a win. “We have got to get a balance between having enough fight and playing, and I think we got that right at Palace. We had enough determination to win the game, but also were relaxed enough to play.” Pardew admits the pressure he has been under, and in many ways remains under, has been far from enjoyable but a better week has salved some of the wounds. He said: “You’re going to carry some scars as the week progresses. You can get an injury, the team doesn’t function in training or the press are giving you a hard time, so it does change your mood when you get lifts like we’ve had this week. Press Association
The No. 15 Wisconsin volleyball team endured a challenge that no other team in the country has faced this season. Spanning the last few weeks, the Badgers (17-5, 6-4 Big Ten) completed a six-match streak of ranked opponents last Wednesday, a test that no other team in the country has encountered this season.Wisconsin finished 3-3 in that stretch, including the first time in program history the team has defeated back-to-back top ten opponents.With the team entering the second half of league play this weekend, Wisconsin currently sits tied for fourth place in a Big Ten conference with seven ranked squads and three others receiving votes.The Badgers have beaten five ranked opponents this year, including four in the Big Ten. This is the most victories over ranked teams since the 2006 Badger squad recorded six top-25 wins.Junior outside hitter Ellen Chapman said this is not a position most teams expected Wisconsin to be in at the start of the year.“I don’t see ourselves as an underdog, but I know starting the season off everyone saw us as an underdog,” Chapman said. “Now that they realize how good of a team we actually have, they’re starting to scout us more and take us more seriously — that’s going to make our job a little bit harder.”A highlight of Wisconsin’s difficult stretch of matches was the two straight victories over then No. 5 Michigan State and No. 7 Minnesota. In the win over the Golden Gophers, the Badgers tallied the second-most kills and third-most assists of any match they have played this season.Chapman said she wasn’t surprised at Wisconsin’s performance over two high-caliber teams — she said if the team plays to its full potential, it can beat anyone in the conference.Senior libero Annemarie Hickey said wins over two of the best teams in the league does not come close to the expectations the team has yet to fulfill.“Those two wins were great, but we can do a lot more,” Hickey said. “This team has a lot to prove; we’re just going to keep working harder and harder each week to prove [to] everybody that we are a great team, and that we’re not going to fall flat the second half of the season.”An important change from prior seasons and prior months has been Wisconsin’s surge in confidence. Head coach Kelly Sheffield said he has seen a competitive fire in players like Chapman and junior outside hitter Deme Morales that was previous lacking.In wins over then No. 14 Ohio State, Michigan State and Minnesota, Wisconsin had lost the first set by at least five points, but the team bounced back to take the second set in each match. Against Michigan State and Minnesota, Wisconsin proceeded to win three straight sets after the game one stumble.Sheffield said in recent weeks the team as a whole has displayed an increased willingness to battle and an overall better feistiness during matches.“I’ve been really, really impressed with our ability to get after it every match,” Sheffield said. “We’ve really been ready to play every one of our conference matches. That’s really hard, and it’s not something every team is doing.”Now in her third season, Chapman said this is the highest level of volleyball Wisconsin has displayed in her career. With the arrival of Sheffield at the helm of the program, she said there is a sense of effort and determination on the team she has never seen before.“Our togetherness is way better than it has ever been in the past two to three years,” Chapman said. “Everything on the court is just different — the mentality is different, we’re all trying our hardest out there. [With] the second half of the season rolling around, none of us are going to give up on anyone. That’s very different from what’s happened in the past.”Battling back during matches and after tough losses has become the name of the game for Wisconsin during the past three weeks. Before defeating Michigan State, Wisconsin was swept by No. 16 Michigan at home. The Badgers also dropped a match to Illinois 1-3 on Sunday — a contest in which Wisconsin outscored Illinois in every offensive category.Sheffield said in the Big Ten, there is not much separation of teams near the top and bottom of the conference. Illinois has undergone the toughest schedule in the country this year — it is the only team in the top 75 of the RPI with a record below .500.Even though the Badgers are coming off the toughest streak of matches in the country, UW’s schedule doesn’t let up in the team’s remaining 10 games. Wisconsin faces six ranked opponents in its last 10 matches, including a rematch with No. 16 on the road this Saturday.Sheffield said if the Badgers are playing at the high level that he expects, no opponent is too difficult an obstacle to tackle.“I think we’ve got talent,” Sheffield said. “I think all of us think we can win, think we can beat anybody. We’ve got a lot of confidence in ourselves.”
After spending spring break playing on the sands of Queen’s Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii, the No. 3-ranked USC beach volleyball team (9-2) is back in action on the mainland when they host No. 6-ranked Long Beach State (2-5) and No. 19-ranked Cal (7-4) Tuesday at Merle Norman Stadium. First serve against the 49ers will begin at 12:30 p.m., while the match against the Bears will follow at approximately 2 p.m.Starting out the season ranked atop the AVCA National Poll, a pair of tight 3-2 losses to Pepperdine and Florida State in a span of six days pushed USC back to sit at third overall in the nation. However, the Women of Troy seem to have regained their stride after a successful trip to the Islands, in which they posted four straight victories over tournament host and No. 5-ranked Hawaii and No. 15-ranked Nebraska to win the Hawaii Invitational.USC defeated both schools twice over the weekend as part of the four-team tournament, recording a pair of 4-1 victories over the Rainbow Wahine and the Cornhuskers on Thursday. In Saturday’s rematches, the Women of Troy put up a clean 5-0 sweep over Nebraska in the morning and capped the evening off with a 3-2 win over the host school. With the victories, the Women of Troy extended their winning streak to five dual matches in a row.In addition to winning the team tournament, the Women of Troy also produced a trio of champions in the Hawaii Invitational Pairs Tournament. USC’s top six teams dominated the field as all three championship matches in each flight were made up of USC pairs.In the gold bracket, the No. 1-pair of juniors Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes defeated teammates and the No. 2-pair of junior Sophie Bukovec and senior Alexa Strange, 21-15, 21-19. The silver bracket final saw No. 3-pair of juniors Nicolette Martin and Allie Wheeler outlast underclassmen and the No. 4-pair of sophomore Jenna Belton and freshman Abril Bustamante in three, 21-15, 19-21, 15-9, while the bronze bracket final had the No. 5-pair of sophomore Jo Kremer and senior Zoe Nightingale win over the No. 6-pair of sophomore Terese Cannon and freshman Katrina Kernochan in two sets, 21-15, 21-18. Furthermore, the bronze flight had freshman Becca Dunn and senior Emily Young win the fifth-place consolation match as USC’s seventh pair. Overall, USC went 16-4 on the day, with three of those losses coming at the hands of other Women of Troy pairs.After spending time on the island, the Women of Troy are now back in Los Angeles ready to face two in-state rivals at Merle Norman Stadium. USC will start with some familiar faces across the net in No. 6-ranked LBSU. Having defeated the 49ers once already this season, the Women of Troy have the upper hand playing at home. However, Long Beach State is one of just two programs in the country that own a winning record against USC all-time, albeit a slim 5-4 margin. The teams’ last meeting was back on March 6 at Zuma Beach for the Pepperdine Kick-Off, where the Women of Troy had to rely on Martin and Wheeler to win in 3 sets and seal the exciting 3-2 victory.The No. 19-ranked Cal Bears also come to Troy with a four-match winning streak. Tuesday will mark just the second all-time meeting between the two Pac-12 foes, with the last meeting going in USC’s favor by way of a 5-0 sweep over the Bears. Both matches on Tuesday will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Network.