Welcome back to Huddle Up! I hope your holiday break was great. Now we get back to the routine of winter sports beginning tonight as the Ripley County Girls Tournament begins at Jac-Cen-Del High School. The boys portion will begin tomorrow night at Batesville High School. If you are free, this is the best ticket in the area for the rest of this week. Get out and root for your favorite team.Coaches Corner will be resuming next Monday night.
It was another successful weekend for the University of Wisconsin volleyball team, as they clinched their seventh victory this season in the HotelRED tournament.The Badgers opened their doors to Lipscomb and Texas A&M Thursday, with three days of play allowing for each team to play each other at least once in the schedule. As the hosts, the Badgers took the first game Thursday night against Lipscomb.Wisconsin volleyball dominates at K-State invitationalThe University of Wisconsin women’s volleyball team remains undefeated, moving to a 5-0 record off a very successful tournament at Read…UW’s success Thursday night can largely be attributed to Tionna Williams, who set several personal records after an outstanding performance. Williams tallied 11 blocks and 10 kills, earning her first career double-double.The Badgers managed to pull away from Lipscomb early in the first set, and that momentum allowed for an equally successful second set. It was in the third set that Lipscomb managed to fight back, keeping the game close in scoring between the two teams, but Wisconsin eventually managed to silence the Bison.Friday night was a night off for the Badger, as both visiting teams took on one another at the Fieldhouse. Texas A&M walked away Friday night with a win, defeating the Bison three sets to one.Volleyball: Team remains strong despite losing best players from previous yearThe University of Wisconsin volleyball team had been a dream team in the Big Ten, but when four key seniors Read…Saturday night’s final matchup pitted the Aggies and the Badgers against each other. Even though the Badgers were a little rusty from their day off, they still managed to outplay the Aggies from the beginning.Fans were also in for a surprise when Lauryn Gillis came back on the court to play with her teammates. Gillis has been out for a majority of this young season, still recovering from an ankle injury she acquired from last yearWhile Gillis might have only played a fraction of the game, it was a great look into just how dominant this team could be when they are all playing. Gillis and her fellow Badgers earned yet another three-set sweep, their seventh of the season. Wisconsin has performed outstandingly well this non-conference season, with the Badgers never giving a single set to any of their opponents. With as much success as they’ve had during non-conference play, good things are sure to come to the Badgers once they begin Big Ten play.The Badgers will wrap up their final non-conference game of the regular season next weekend when they host the Badger Classic tournament at the UW Fieldhouse. Wisconsin will welcome Marquette and Southern Mississippi to Madison in what is sure to be an exciting weekend tournament.
Anthony Smith is one of the most unlikely title challengers in UFC history.At the start of last year, the 30-year-old Smith, who faces Jon Jones for the light heavyweight championship in the main event of UFC 235 this weekend at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, sported a 28-12 record crafted over a decade competing at middleweight in an alphabet soup of organizations throughout the United States. “When I fought in the CFFC, which wasn’t that long ago, I flew myself and my corners out there on my own dime. I made zero money to fight those fights because I needed the opportunity. It’s not that I wanted to do that — I needed to do that; I had to because I needed to get a W over the No. 1 unsigned prospect in the world — that’s what I needed and I did it twice, back-to-back, because that’s what I had to do to get to the next level.”He paused and caught his breath, before adding, “I’m not doing any of this for any other reason than I need to be successful and I need to be the world champion or I’m never going to be happy.”Does that sound like a guy you want to count out before the fight has even began? Join DAZN and watch more than 100 fight nights a yearBefore he worked his way back to the UFC a little over three years ago, there were a pair of two-fight stops Strikeforce and a one-off inside the Octagon, as well as back-to-back appearances in the Bellator MMA cage, both of which yielded victories. There were also a number of fights at random events in random locales, many of which undoubtedly took place in random venues, in front of few spectators and for very little money.He was the definition of a journeyman and while he had made his way back to the UFC and done enough to establish himself as a fixture on the roster, few viewed “Lionheart” as a guy who would one day be challenging for championship gold. That number likely shrunk a little more when his 2018 campaign began with a second-round stoppage loss against Thiago Santos in an entertaining back-and-forth brawl that seemed emblematic of Smith’s entire career.Although there were points where he stung the hulking Brazilian and he hung tough as “Marreta” attacked with his fiery brand of offense, Smith was ultimately felled by a body kick and several follow up punches. It was another crucial loss to a tough opponent at the most inopportune time and felt like it nailed down the ceiling on Smith’s capabilities inside the UFC cage.“It means everything to me,” Smith said of the opportunity to challenge for UFC gold on Saturday evening when speaking with Sporting News earlier in the week. “I’ve had this goal of being a world champion — you could probably find interviews where I said it in ’07 and ’08. This isn’t something that I just started saying. I’ve been saying, ‘I’m going to be a world champion or I’m going to die trying” and I mean that with every ounce of my being and here we are. It’s time to go get it.“(This fight) means everything. It’s all the work that I’ve put into this — and not just the good times, but the pain and the struggle too. I’ve been suffering in this game for a long time and everyone around me that has been with me for a long time, this is just as much for them as it is for me.“It’s time for me to prove ourselves right,” he added. “I don’t really give a s*** about proving everyone else wrong; this is about doing what we said we were going to do from the beginning.”But just as this opportunity is about more than just himself, Smith sees his unlikely path to challenging for the light heavyweight title as something more than just a feel-good MMA story as well.“I think the world needs to see people like me,” began the challenger, whose adolescent and early adult years mirrored the rollercoaster that was the first several years of his mixed martial arts career. “It’s real easy to look at the people that have been on top for a long time and seemingly had everything come easy for them — and I’ll never fault anyone for that. I’m not going to fault Jon Jones because he’s just naturally good at this and he was just born a great fighter, but regular ass people can’t relate to that because that’s not the norm.UFC 235: Jon Jones vs. Anthony Smith fight date, PPV price, how to watch and live-stream“I think that people need to see someone like me. They need to see me succeed, not just in fighting, but in life in general. The place that the world is in right now, people need to see that hard work and dedication can get you anywhere and it doesn’t matter who you, where you come from or the problems that you had, the failures you’ve endured or the bad cards you’ve been dealt. You just put one foot in front of the other, put your f—ing head down and keep pushing forward, and as long as you believe in yourself, it doesn’t matter what is thrown in front of you.“If it slows you down, f–k it — it slows you down, but as long as you keep on moving, that’s what’s important,” he continued. “It’s when you stop that things will kill you. That’s when s–t keeps you up and night and gets you depressed.“I always kept moving forward. It wasn’t always pretty. It wasn’t always fast, but I’m always moving forward.”Following his loss in February, which was preceded by a terrible weight cut for the long and lean fighter who stands six-foot-four and always struggled with making the 185-pound limit, Smith and his team decided that it was finally time to move up to light heavyweight and he attacked his arrival in a new division with the same relentlessness that has defined his career.Just four months after earning Fight of the Night honors with Santos in Belem, Brazil in the main card opener, he snapped up an opportunity to face former champion Rashad Evans in a contest that closed out the Fight Pass portion of the UFC 225 prelims. Like so many previous instances in his career, it wasn’t the ideal opportunity, but it was an opportunity nonetheless and Smith made the most of it, framing up a knee along the fence brought the fight to a halt less than a minute after it started.It was an impressive finish, but one that was immediately framed as further evidence of Evans’ decline, rather than a sign of Smith’s potential in the light heavyweight ranks; a point of view on the performance that was crystalized when Evans announced his retirement from the sport soon after.A month later, Smith pounced on an offer to face Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in a short-notice main event assignment in Hamburg, Germany, where he replaced recent title challenger Volkan Oezdemir. Just as he had with Evans, the light heavyweight newcomer made quick work of the Brazilian legend, putting Rua down with a devastating elbow along the fence and a couple quick follow-up strikes .The fight lasted just 89 seconds, but similar to the bout with Evans, Smith’s performance was again chalked up to being more representative of the former Pride standout’s decline, despite the fact that he entered the contest on a three-fight winning streak.With two impressive performances behind him, but with few people believing he was truly a legitimate threat in the light heavyweight ranks, Smith signed on to face Oezdemir in the main event of the UFC’s debut in Moncton, New Brunswick just three months after he had dispatched Rua. If dismantling two former champions wasn’t enough to get peoples’ attention, surely finishing the last man to challenge for the light heavyweight title would?Oezdemir came out fast as expected, but Smith weathered the storm and as the Swiss contender started to fade, the indefatigable Factory X representative turned up the pressure, securing a rear-naked choke finish in the closing moments of the third round.Standing in the center of the Octagon following the victory, one arm draped over his long-time jiu jitsu coach Scott Morton, the other on UFC commentator Dan Hardy’s shoulder, Smith politely asked for a title shot.This weekend, more than a decade after his first official professional bout and 13 months after the most transformative year of his career began, Smith will make his 45th trip into the cage to challenge Jon Jones for the UFC light heavyweight title.“Goddamn what a long 13 months it has been,” Smith said with a laugh, reflecting on the journey on the eve of the next in a never-ending run of the biggest fight in his career.As much as it has been an incredible ride that has cast a spotlight on his unbreakable spirit and true willingness to do whatever it took to make it back to the UFC and chase down his championship dreams, the articulate 30-year-old title challenger admitted that he hasn’t really taken any time to sit back, look at what he’s accomplished and enjoy the fruits of his labors because there is still work to be done on Saturday night.“I’ve been so in the moment for the last 13 months because it has been back-to-back-to-back-to-back that I haven’t had any time to just sit down and let any one of the wins sink in,” said Smith. “Unfortunately, the way my brain works, it has always been about the title, so I don’t really enjoy them that much.“Obviously I’m excited and relieved that we got through another one, we got another W and we’re getting closer to what we want, but as soon as we fought Oezdemir, the first thing I said to Marc (Montoya, Smith’s head coach) — I hadn’t even gotten up yet — was, ‘We’ve got to get better because that was harder than it should have been.’“That’s how my brain works and I’m really looking forward to just going home and I think for once in my life, I think I’ll be able to genuinely rest for a little while. I’ve just wanted this title so bad that I think the title itself has consumed me so much that I don’t think I have ever really rested. I’ve never really enjoyed a win because it’s always about what the next thing is and so I’m just really looking forward to maybe for once being able to sit down and actually take it in and not think about it for a while.”At least that’s what he hopes will happen.“But maybe I’m wrong,” he quickly added. “Honestly, that’s the biggest fear that I have. It’s like a dog chasing a car — what the hell is he supposed to do if he catches it? I don’t know. Maybe my brain will click over and be like, ‘Now we’ve got to defend it 10 times’ and I’ll never enjoy it. Maybe I’ll just spend the rest of my life chasing something. That’s my biggest fear, but goddamn it, we’re going to find out.”And everyone that has doubted him to this point or questioned his place in this weekend’s championship main event is going to find out Smith is deserving of this opportunity and going to be a much more difficult challenging for Jones than the betting lines and many pundits are predicting.“I think Jon is going to do what Jon does,” said Smith, offering his insights on how he sees Saturday’s main event playing out. “He’s going to come out and play his game the way he’s always played it and I really think it’s going to be one guy trying not to fight facing a guy who is trying to make him fight.“I’m telling you with everything I have, Jon Jones does not want to f—ing fight me. He wants to play his game, do his thing and do everything he can to avoid getting into a dogfight with me and that’s just not going to happen.“No matter what, I deal with the things Jon does best and I think that’s what’s going to shock people,” added Smith, who has only gone the distance three times in 44 career fights, including 28 finishes in 31 victories. “I don’t think me going in there and finishing Jon Jones is going to be a shock to anyone because on any day, at any point in time, I can finish anyone walking on the planet.“But I think what’s going to shock people is my ability to deal with Jon’s best tools and that’s what I’m looking forward to is seeing the people sitting in the crowd with their jaws dropped, like, ‘Holy s–t — this guy means everything that he’s been saying.’ That’s what I’m looking forward to is just being able to show the progress that I’ve been able to make in 13 months and shutting Jon down.“I don’t need to beat Jon at his best game; I just need to stop him. That’s something no one has had the ability to do and I believe that we’ve got the answer.”Plenty of people have said that and many will scan Smith’s resume, see the 11 losses and the long odds and dismiss his chances instantly, but doing so would be foolhardy.The 30-year-old might be one of the most unlikely title challengers in UFC history, but he didn’t get here by accident. He didn’t string together a couple of mediocre wins at just the time to capitalize on a low period within the light heavyweight division or stand as the only available option as the UFC scrambled around to fill the main event slot for this weekend’s fight card at the 11th hour.Anthony Smith set out with this moment in mind more than a decade ago, kept at it when his record stood at 5-6, banging it out on the Midwest circuit for chump change, and doubled down after he went 0-3 in 2013 with losses in Strikeforce, his UFC debut, and his return to Victory Fighting Championship.“You do what you have to do and that’s what it comes down to,” said Smith, explaining the unwavering drive that kept him pressing forward when countless others would have called it quits. “That’s what the world needs and I think that’s what it means to me and everyone else — it’s not about doing what you want. I haven’t been able to do what I want in a long time, but you do what you have to and fighting in some of those bulls–t places like strip clubs and bowling alleys and barns and dirt-floor arenas.