It was a great week for USC athletics, dominating UCLA on the hardwood and closing emphatically on National Signing Day. While an entire column could, and will, be written on the resurgence of USC basketball, USC’s incredible triumph on signing day deserves major recognition and applause.I was among the many Trojan faithful who were concerned in the weeks leading up to National Signing Day, as USC’s class looked top heavy at skill positions and practically barren on the lines. Coupled with a relatively new staff, there were legitimate fears that this year’s football class could have been disastrously thin.Instead, USC finished with tremendous flourish, reminding everyone the power of the Trojan brand and giving coach Helton a major achievement as he enters his first spring at the helm of the Trojan football program. Helton and the rest of his recently assembled staff pulled off an almost perfect National Signing Day, closing on targets all across the country, flipping commitments from top tier schools and securing Letters of Intent from every commit they had entering the day.As I noted last week, recruiting isn’t everything. Steve Sarkisian is the perfect example of this notion as he had phenomenal signing days the previous two years and was not able to capitalize on his success. I have a feeling Helton will be different.In contrast to the over-the-top, one-of-a-kind event that went on at the University of Michigan last Wednesday, Helton went about his success in a workmanlike way. His ability to constantly redirect attention back to the players and the program is well appreciated by fans and athletes alike. Unlike the former two coaches, who were unfortunately the focus of the program, under the Helton regime players and on-the-field performance will receive their due attention as well.Helton had every chance to stand up and pat his own back for the work he and his staff did on Wednesday, but instead he took the humble approach and instead congratulated his staff and his players. There is a lot of talk about Helton’s unwavering attention and devotion to each player on the roster and how much that is respected in the locker room. Fans caught a glimpse of that on Wednesday, and it was a refreshing moment, contrasted with what has gone on in the past.It wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable if USC didn’t come out on top on Signing Day, but the combination of the two is practically unbeatable. The Trojans were able to go deep into Georgia, prying physical and athletic lineman E.J. Price out of Dawg nation, leaving the Georgia faithful stunned at Price’s choice. Price has the size and agility to develop into an anchor on the line.Pete Carroll emphasized going across the country to find recruits in every state, and that focus produced stalwarts like Mike Williams, Brian Cushing, Keith Rivers and Dwayne Jarrett. In his first class, Helton demonstrated a propensity for similar recruiting behavior. In addition to Price, the Trojans were able to snag physically imposing Jahmel Cook, a prospect at safety, and Keyshawn Young out of Miami. Cook was a commit to Florida State, so getting him to switch was even sweeter.The Trojan brand extended beyond the South, securing a Hawaii native and Oregon commit Vavae Malepeai, a highly touted tailback. The fact that he will be attending USC is even sweeter as it saves Trojan fans from watching him torch the USC defense as a Duck for the next three or four years.Across the board, USC was excellent, filling all of their gaping holes and allowing the team to further recover from a roster that was once threadbare from sanctions. The team was somewhat restricted by the blue shirts, players from last year’s class, that count against this year’s numbers. Even so, the program was able to compile a standout class that will help propel the Trojans into a new era, free of distractions and sanctions, where the team can get back to playing football.Recruiting classes don’t mean everything. Player development and in game schematics are still exceptionally important. However, having better talent makes everything else a lot easier. Helton and the rest of the staff still have to put a quality product on the field, but for now they have passed their first test with flying colors. For that, Helton deserves a pat on the back, and since he is not the type of coach who will do it himself, everyone else in the Trojan nation should.Jake Davidson is a junior majoring in accounting. His column, “Davidson’s Direction,” runs Mondays.
Stakes just got higher for the Wisconsin Women’s Hockey team, who will be finishing up their WCHA campaign this weekend.The best-of-three security blanket the Badgers previously had against University of Minnesota-Mankato is gone, and play in the WCHA Tournament is now single elimination. As the No. 2 Badgers (32-3-1, 24-3-1 WCHA) will take on No. 20 UM-Duluth (15-20-1, 10-17-1 WCHA) Saturday afternoon.Even though the Badgers swept UM-Duluth during both regular season matchups between the two programs, junior forward Mikayla Johnson knows the Bulldogs are still a threat to Wisconsin’s hopes of making the WCHA finals.“Playoff games are so different,” Johnson said. “People put so much more on the line. When we went there, they were the people that broke our shut-out record, so obviously know that they can put pucks in the net and that they can score.”Last time outThe last time the Badgers saw UM-Duluth, they walked away with a weekend sweep, winning 5-1 and 3-1.But the games against Duluth were not a walk in the park. The Bulldogs managed to slide pucks behind junior goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens, not just once, but twice. Considering Desbiens has allowed .77 goals per game this season, scoring twice was no small feat for UM-Duluth.Key aspects of the gameKeeping emotions in checkNow that the Badgers no longer have the security of a best of three series, every game is equally important for the rest of the Badgers’ season. Every game is a fight to their season alive.But winning also comes with consequences, and those consequences mean ending another team’s season. This can lead to a tougher, grittier game than most, with more power plays and scoring opportunities for Duluth.No good deed goes unpunishedIf Wisconsin wins on Saturday, there are high odds they will find themselves facing UM-Twin Cities in the WCHA Final. This means the Badgers would play their rival in Minneapolis with one day in between games.If the Badgers want to walk away from this weekend as WCHA Tournament winners, they need to be prepared to take on their rivals to get that title. With such little turn-around between games, the sooner they prepare the better.Opposing player to watch: Ashleigh BrykaliukBrykaliuk is UW-Duluth’s top goal scorer (18 goals, 29 assists), and currently leads her team with points on the season. The junior forward was also responsible for both assists during the team’s last matchup against Wisconsin. Anytime that Brykaliuk is near the net, she is a threat to Wisconsin keeping points off the scoreboard.
Moyne Templetuohy take on Silvermines this afternoon in the first of this weekends two County Senior Hurling relegation battles.Their Round One game throws-in at 4 o’clock in Clonoulty.Tomorrow Moneygall and Knockavilla Donaskeigh Kickhams lock horns in Templetuohy at 1.30. There are also four County Senior Hurling Championship games down for decision on Sunday.Kilruane MacDonaghs meet Carrick Swans in the first of a double header at Holycross – throw-in is at 1.45pmDrom & Inch and Loughmore Castleiney face off at 3.30pm.The other two games get underway at 3 o’clock tomorrow – Borrisoleig and Burgess meet in Dolla while Mullinahone will take on Ballina in Templetuohy.