A.J. James stood across the court from a 12-year-old Rhiann Newborn and let loose a booming, “Come on!”Her coach had just crushed a ball past Newborn, and he yelled to encourage Newborn to yell after she won a point.“I used to play her and beat her all the time. I’d yell a lot so, whenever she could get a ‘Come on!’ in, it felt like she was getting the best of me,” James, the AJ Elite Tennis Academy coach, said. “I think that helped her. I want my students — not to celebrate every little thing — but to pump themselves up.”Newborn carried that habit with her to Syracuse, where the sophomore’s shouting makes teammates think of Serena Williams, she said. Newborn is undefeated through five singles matches this season, and credits the success to her energy and vocal nature on the court.Playing in high-pressure situations in professional tennis tournaments and competing with friends in the video game Mortal Kombat has prepped her well to bring a competitive, high-energy style to SU.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“That’s what I trained her on,” Newborn’s father, Darryl Newborn, said. “If you don’t want to get after it, stay home.”When Newborn was young, her neighbor, Olivia Garza, would play her every day in Mortal Kombat, on Newborn’s PlayStation 1. Newborn used Kitana most often, a character noted for the steel blades in her hand fans. Hurling the damage-inflicting fans at her opponent from across the arena was her favorite move.The girls struggled to establish dominance through 20-50 rounds per day.“We’d just keep playing,” Garza said. “Until one of us was satisfied with winning.”If Newborn’s hunger to win wasn’t fulfilled, she usually challenged her father to the game at home. And when her father — a former cornerback at the University of Texas El Paso — taught her other sports, he did so in the only way he knew how.“Passion and aggression,” Darryl Newborn said.When she was 4, her parents brought her to local tennis courts where they competed with hergrandparents. Newborn would storm the court and steal one of the rackets.Nearly two years later, she interrupted yet another match, announcing once again she wanted to play. But she didn’t have a racket. Armed with only a stick she had picked up nearby, Newborn demanded a spot on the court.Darryl Newborn knew he had no choice, so he replaced the stick with a racket. He worked with his daughter to craft a tennis style around her personality — competitive, aggressive and loud.“I think yelling intimidates (my opponents), which I like because then they get scared and I can beat them,” Newborn said, laughing. “This is the style I chose to play. I yell extremely loud, it just makes me want to compete harder.”Syracuse head coach Younes Limam first saw Newborn’s fiery style when he was recruiting her to Rice, where he used to coach.Fully-throated, guttural yells were heard above the sound of balls being hit. Parents of opposing players snickered and furrowed their eyebrows. Spectators familiar with Newborn’s work grinned.“She feeds off her energy,” Limam said. “Her presence makes the difference in close matches. It’s a big strength to have.”In the Orange’s home opener, Newborn was facing an opponent she had seen on the Texas junior circuit. Frustrated, she let out a particularly angry snarl.“You know, Rhiann’s always been this way,” the opponent’s mother said from the stands.And teetering on the brink of dropping the set, Newborn pulverized a forehand winner from the baseline past her opponent.Newborn pumped her fist, stiffened and delivered the most deafening howl yet.“Come on!” Comments Published on February 18, 2015 at 12:15 am Contact Sam: email@example.com | @Sam4TR Facebook Twitter Google+
It’s hard to believe it’s taken more than two years, spanning the better part of three seasons.But Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, the Wisconsin football team finally did something it hasn’t in 34 contests dating back to Sept. 15, 2012 against Utah State: it won a close game.Since that 16-14 victory over the Aggies, who, coincidentally, were coached by current UW head coach Gary Andersen at the time, Wisconsin has lost every game decided by seven points or fewer.The Badgers haven’t struggled by any means over the course of the last three seasons. They’ve lost just 11 games in that time, and two of those were bowl games. But of those 11 defeats, all but one of them came by more than a touchdown. The only one that wasn’t within seven points was a 34-24 loss to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl last January. That’s 11 losses by a combined 58 points.Wisconsin has been on the verge of some special victories in that time, too. They did finish 8-6 and 9-4 in 2012 and 2013, respectively, but just think if the Badgers had been able to finish games. They might have won the Rose Bowl in 2013 against Stanford, and they could have had a completely different season last year that maybe would have involved another trip to the Big Ten Championship game. But for a collection of different reasons, the Badgers just couldn’t get over that final hump. They could get close, but those maybes never materialized and close just didn’t cut it.And then there’s this year. The Badgers led 17-7 over LSU at halftime, but gave up 21 points in the second half in what could have been a signature win. Then in Evanston in the first Big Ten game of the season, the Badgers squandered a 259-yard performance from Melvin Gordon and threw away a chance to tie the game in the late going.The Badgers could be, and probably should be, undefeated right now, at least if they were able to win the close games. But instead of talking about a possible playoff berth heading into the final game of the regular season, it’s just about making the Big Ten Championship Game.But the fact that there’s even talk about going to the Big Ten Championship game has a lot to do with finally breaking through in a close game. Sure, Wisconsin still could have moved on to Indianapolis after next weekend, but the scenario would have been much more complicated if they had lost to the Hawkeyes. The two-point victory over Iowa kept UW in control of its own fate, and instead of having to rely on Iowa to lose to Nebraska next weekend along with beating the Gophers, the Badgers can just get a win and move on.Now, for once we can look back at how Wisconsin finally crested the hill rather than sliding back down it. And in doing that, the gaze doesn’t fall in just one direction because Wisconsin is no longer as one-dimensional as it once was.In the season-opening loss to LSU, you might remember that redshirt junior quarterback Tanner McEvoy started and was underwhelming at best with his paltry 50 yards through the air. When Wisconsin lost for the second time, again the quarterbacks cost Wisconsin the game, with redshirt junior Joel Stave throwing three interceptions in his first game back.The quarterbacks have continued to progress to the point of being using interchangeably, but in an important game against Nebraska last week, neither really factored into the outcome.But with Melvin Gordon slowed Saturday, Stave and McEvoy had the game in their hands for the first time since the loss to the Wildcats. And they both came through. Stave added his skill set, while McEvoy complimented the Wisconsin offense with his unique abilities. They did what was expected of them to keep Wisconsin in the game with Gordon struggling to do anything on the ground.That’s what kept Wisconsin in the game, but that’s not what won the game for the Badgers. The win came from McEvoy and Stave doing what they needed to, and then a little bit more. But it wasn’t just the two quarterbacks; Melvin Gordon seized the moment too. He made the most of a 200-yard game on the ground, and transformed into Wisconsin’s top receiver on the second to last drive with two grabs for 45 yards, leading UW to the end zone on what proved to be the winning score.And that’s the piece that had been missing in the 34 games Wisconsin went without winning a game that came down to one possession. It wasn’t necessarily missing a certain type of player like Gordon, Stave or McEvoy. It was related somewhat to not having enough balance, but it wasn’t that much either.It was about making the right play at the right time. That’s what Gordon did when he caught a 35-yard pass on a 3rd-and-12 to move the chains. It’s what Stave did too, when he scrambled for 12 yards to pick up the final first down of the game while absorbing a huge hit in the process. And despite struggling in the second half, it’s also what the defense did when redshirt senior Marcus Trotter and the Badgers denied a 2-point conversion to stay up 19-17 in the fourth quarter.The Badgers made the right plays Saturday to scratch out a hard-earned victory. The same will be required next Saturday when they take on Minnesota.