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Early Sping 2004

Boxed Into a Corner

How Matt Vanda Went from Action Hero to Accused.
Checking out of Hockey
Football is in his future as a Gopher, but Dominique Barber kept his skates on for his last season as a Wayzata Trojan.
Heart and Soul
If Lindsay Whalen is the heart of the Gopher Women's basketball team, the case can be made that Janel McCarville is the soul.

How Matt Vanda Went from Action Hero to Accused

by Doug Frattallone
Early Spring 2004
To say the least, it's been a winter of discontent for Matt Vanda.

Rewind to Jan. 16, inside the Minneapolis Convention Center. ESPN2 crews were there to televise "The Predator's" Friday night fight with Sam Garr, his toughest opponent to date. Vanda would win the 10-round split decision — his first TV bout — and his pro record would remain unblemished at 30-0.
That was the good news. After that, it's been nothing but body blows to the pride of St. Paul's East Side, starting with the negative buzz from the fight. When the contest was over, it was apparent Vanda would — by most accounts — be the recipient of a hometown decision. That's expected in close fights — but some feel the out-of-towner Garr won handily, and was robbed. Looking back, it may turn out to be the least of Vanda's worries.
found "small amounts" of suspected methamphetamine and mushrooms. His roommate, Derek Nelson Burr, 30, was also arrested. Police say Burr was carrying about 8 ounces of suspected marijuana in his car.

Fast-forward again, to Feb. 12. The Ramsey County attorney formally charged Vanda with possessing cocaine with the intent to sell the drug. The drug was allegedly found during a police search of the boxer's bedroom. His roommate, Burr, was charged with possessing marijuana with intent to sell and possessing psilocybin mushrooms with intent to sell.

Vanda, touted as a junior middleweight to watch, a St. Paul boxer on the verge of greatness — suddenly had more to worry about than if he was getting too much hometown cookin' by the fight judges.

"It hit us like a wrecking ball," said Vanda's former manager, Tommy Brunette. "I never saw it coming."

Brunette, who says he's known Vanda since he was 12 years old, says The Predator is no longer affiliated with his Arcade Street Gym. After Vanda's initial arrest, Brunette would only say that he and the boxer had "a brief conversation." And that was it ... a parting of the ways.

Former heavyweight contender Scott LeDoux — who is now a commentator for ESPN — says Vanda "left on his own volition," hinting that Vanda was trying to divorce himself from the Brunette's, instead of the other way around. There was no comment from Brunette on who left who. It should also be mentioned that LeDoux and Brunette display little love for each other ... with Matt Vanda at the center of their vitriol.
Rewind, again, to the Minneapolis Convention Center. LeDoux said he was sitting at ringside, and couldn't believe Garr didn't win the fight that Friday night.

"It wasn't close," LeDoux recalled. "He (Garr) outscored him by 150 punches." One judge scored the fight 97-95 for Garr, the other two had it 97-95 and 97-93 for Vanda. As a result, The Predator would walk away the winner. "The decision was atrocious," LeDoux told MaxBoxing.com. "It was one of he worst decisions I have ever seen."

"I don't agree with that at all," Brunette countered. "I thought Matt had an edge. He had Garr hurt, he had Garr bleeding. It wasn't an atrocious decision. (It was) a good, tough fight."

Brunette claims LeDoux has always carried "a bad torch" for Vanda, and
went so far as to accuse the ex-fighter of "poisoning" fellow ESPN analyst Teddy Atlas on Vanda. Atlas, who called the fight that night, also thought Garr had won.

When told of Brunette's allegation, LeDoux guffawed. "I don't even talk to Teddy," he said. "I haven't spoken to him before, since or afterwards. It's a joke. I deal in truth. He (Brunette) has a bitterness towards me because I'm for truth and honesty."

"Watch the fight, turn off the sound," Brunette suggested, saying that without the Atlas commentary, one would have a different opinion of who really won.

While it seems improbable that the gap between LeDoux and Brunette will be sealed this century, both men do agree on one thing: they hope Vanda is proven innocent of the drug charges hanging over his head.

"You're innocent until proven guilty," LeDoux said. "I hope this (the charges) is not true." As does Vanda's ex-manager, Brunette, who says the whole episode is simply a sad affair: "Matt's got the biggest fight of his life coming up right now."
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Checking out of Hockey
Football is in his future as a Gopher, but Dominique Barber kept his skates on for his last season as a Wayzata Trojan.

The recruiting process can be a tough thing to go through. Athletes who think they know where they are going to college as 17-year-olds may change their minds several times before they become 18-year-old adults. But some kids just know.

Dominique Barber (Dom to his friends) remembers the moment when he knew he wanted to be a University of Minnesota his older brother Marion Barber III had just started his freshman year with the Gophers. "When he went to the Gophers in 2001," Dom recalls, "I wondered, 'Will I be able to attend the University?'"

Three years later, his answer was an unwavering yes. The Wayzata High School senior was one of seven Minnesotans to sign national letters of intent with the Gophers on Feb. 4.

But Barber didn't turn into a weight room fanatic after his high sch football career ended in early November (that will come in the spring). Dom instead enjoyed his final year of high school hockeyÑa sport he has a true passion for. "I started playing when I was four or five years old. [Wayzata teammate] Mike Crees and I lived in the same neighborhood and he got me interested," explains Barber.

Barber has excelled. Playing left wing on Wayzata's third line, he still manages to be one of the Trojans' leading goal scorers on a very deep team. Many of his current teammates were on a Wayzata state championship Bantam team two years ago, a club that also included Breck School standout Blake Wheeler, one of the best high school players in the country. At 6 feet and 195 pounds, Barber is good-sized without looking like a football player on skates.

"I think he would be a great college hockey player," says Trojans' head hockey coach Carl Davis. "His intensity for the game is great and he competes so hard. He's a tremendous forechecker who sets the tone for our team. He gives us scorer."

Barber made his verbal commitment to the Gophers public in September and Davis wondered if he might lose his talented winger for hockey season.

The coach asked Dom if he was still planning to come out for hockey. "I think I caught him by surprise," Davis said. "I don't think not playing hockey this year ever crossed his mind."

Barber admits now though that he did consider skipping hockey to avoid the risk of injury for college football. It was his father however, Marion Barber, Jr. who convinced him he should play. "My dad said that if you play thinking you'll get injured, you probably will," Barber said. "Just go out there and have fun."

With Barber's help, the Trojans "fun" season has included a top10 ranking in Class AA all season, a Classic Lake Conference championship, and a shot at becoming the first Wayzata hockey team to advance to the state tournament in 50 year together for so long."

"He's just a good athlete," says Robbinsdale Armstrong hockey coach Greg Aslackson, a refrain heard often when people are asked about Barber. "He's got a good shot, good speedÑa very good hockey player."

"You watch him play and you see the passion that he has for the game," Davis adds.

But it is football where his athletic talents will take him in college. As a senior at Wayzata he split his time between running back, defensive back, and kick returnerÑwithout complaint. "Dom was an extremely team-oriented player," says Wayzata football coach Brad Anderson, who also coached Dom's brother "MBIII" at Wayzata. "Being a senior and one of the best running backs in the state, he could have said 'This is where I want to play.' But Dom was willing to play wherever we needed him."

Barber was named second-team All-State. It's at d Gophers plan to use him.

"It really doesn't matter to me," says Barber of becoming a full-time defender. "I'm hoping that I can fit in the mix that Coach [Glen] Mason is trying to build over there. I want to try to be an impact player as soon as I can."

At Minnesota, he'll follow his brother and fatherÑboth All-Big Ten running backsÑas he continues the Gopher-Barber connection. "My brother and I are pretty close. We talk just about every day on the phone. To see him every day will be nice É I can't say enough how excited I am to play in fron home town, my home state. It's just awesome."

"I think his best days are ahead of him," says Anderson of Barber's football career.

But the hockey skates will be in the trunk. Just in case.
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Heart and Soul
If Lindsay Whalen is the heart of the Gopher Women's basketball team, the case can be made that Janel McCarville is the soul.

by Jim Burke
Early Spring 2004
Heart and Soul: The Gophers' Janel McCarville steps up her game as the University of Minnesota makes its first ever trip to the Women's Final Four.
If Lindsay Whalen is the heart of the Gopher Women's basketball team, the case can be made that Janel McCarville is the soul. The 6-foot-2 junior center is a selfless team player that is not afraid to do the dirty work down low. She prides herself on her rebounding and defense while being a consistent offensive contributor.

On February 12, the Gophers suffered something of a heart attack when W halen broke her right hand in a game at Ohio State. Suddenly there were question marks at the end of a season where exclamation points were supposed to be. With Whalen's post-season availability in doubt and the NCAA Tournament set to begin on March 21, the Gophers are going to need even more production from the woman in the middle.

Janel hasn't snuck up on anybody. As a high school senior, the Stevens Point native shared 2001 Wisconsin Player of the Year honors with Misty Bass who now plays for Duke. In 2002, she became the first Gopher to be named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. McCarville was an All-Big 10 selection last season, and she was the third leading rebounder in the conference while averaging 12.8
points per game.

This season has been more of the same for McCarville; at or near the top of the Big 10 in rebounding, blocked shots, and steals while boosting her scoring average up to 15 points per game and solidifying herself as the team's anchor on both ends of the floor. Prior to Whalen's injury, she and Janel had become one of the most potent one-two punches in the conference.

Janel believes that defense and rebounding are her strengths. "I have the desire to go up and get the ball and work on the boards and there are a lot of great post players in the Big 10, so I have to be on top of my game defensively. The team really needs those things from me."

Having a center who is committed to rebounding and defense is every coach's dream but with the team's top scorer possibly out for the season, Coach Pam Borton asked Janel to pick up some of the offensive slack. "Janel has to be a consistent, double-digit scorer. She is already a dominant force defensively and on the boards. She has to be more of a scorer at this point than maybe she has been." Janel understands, "Personally, I'd rather have a big rebounding night with a few blocks and some steals, the intangible things. The coaches talk about my scoring presence and I do need to become more of a scorer."

photo by Marilyn Indahl
Borton says that the intense physical play in the paint that typifies tournament basketball will put even more pressure on her center. "We need Janel to be a go-to player inside and somebody that other teams have to reckon with." Whalen has no doubt that Janel is up to the task. "Janel has gotten a lot stronger and more physical inside. She has risen to every challenge this year. She'll be ready for the tournament. She lives for games like that."

The importance of having such an effective player in the post is not lost on Lindsay Whalen. "I think any guard thrives with a strong center. Having Janel inside is huge. We can rely on her and she can rely on us. It's a good inside-outside combination."

Janel has learned to take advantage of opposing defenses obsessed with stopping Whalen, "Everyone always has an eye on Lindsay when she has the ball in her hands because she can cause such havoc. When defenses try to contain her it frees me up." With two such consistent scoring threats to contend with, for much of the season opposing defenses were forced to pick their poison. "Lindsay and I compliment each other so well because teams can't shut us both down."

Up until Whalen's injury it had been a wonderful season. The Gopher women have been the hottest ticket in town. McCarville loves playing in f ront of huge crowds at Williams Arena. "The crowds are so supportive and really get us up for games. We're so confident at home. It's got a cozy feeling for us and it's intimidating for our opponents." Williams Arena will host the first two rounds of NCAA sub-regional play giving Minnesota the advantage of some additional home cooking. How's that for cozy?

The once wonderful, then suddenly troubled season can still have a happy ending. In Whalen's absence, sophomore Shannon Bolden and freshman Kelly Roysland emerged as legitimate scoring options at the guard position. There's a chance Lindsay Whalen will be ready to return to action in time for the NCAA tournament.

Janel says she and her teammates feel they have a lot of basketball left. "There's a sense of urgency but it's under control.," said McCarville. "We have some great players on this team. We think this could be the best season ever and we want to take advantage of that." As her junior campaign draws to a close, Janel has never had a loosing season as a Gopher. Not even Lindsay Whalen can say that. "I came to Minnesota because I wanted to come to a program where I could make a difference. With Lindsay leading the way, we have."
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