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Neptune wins round one with impressive win at CBA Colts lose to conference foe for first time since 1999

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first_img By doug mckenzie Staff Writer Neptune wins round one with impressive win at CBA Colts lose to conference foe for first time since 1999 VERONICA YANKOWSKI CBA senior Pat Discipola goes up for a shot over Neptune’s Robert Layton during the Colts’ loss to the top-ranked Scarlet Fliers in Middletown on Jan. 22. It had been almost two years since anyone from the Shore Conference had beaten the Christian Brothers Academy basketball team. The Colts’ domination of the Shore is well documented, and despite preseason prognostication that said otherwise, they were still considered by many to be the team to beat this year. After beating a talented Neptune High School team led by the dynamic Louisville-bound Tyquan Dean three times last year, the Middletown school’s team had to know that the Scarlet Fliers would be looking for revenge when they came to CBA’s gym Jan. 15. What they didn’t know was that this Neptune team had been anticipating this victory since the end of last year’s Shore Conference Tournament. "They beat us three times last year, and none of us forgot that when we came here," Dean said after his team thoroughly dismantled CBA 48-28, by far the Colts’ worst loss in years. "I guess we got the monkey off our backs. But we’ll see them again, and we know they’ll be better next time." As the top-ranked Fliers took the floor, the Colts’ student section welcomed them with their familiar chant of "overrated." But it didn’t take long for the Shore’s top team to quiet the home crowd. Neptune struck first when junior guard Eugene Harris sank a basket to quiet the raucous CBA crowd. But Chris Kenny, who is headed for Monmouth University, West Long Branch, in the fall, got all the members of the standing-room-only crowd on their feet when he answered with a basket of his own. With both teams playing tenacious defense, the first quarter went quickly as both teams struggled to find good looks at the basket. Neptune, featuring a frenzied match-up zone, displayed the type of patience on defense needed to overcome CBA’s precise, backdoor-oriented offense. The Colts got few shots inside the paint, and when their outside shots missed, Neptune’s forwards were there to gather the defensive rebounds. CBA was not getting any second shots, which was troublesome given the poor quality of looks they were getting. On the other end, Neptune was struggling as well, as Kenny held Dean scoreless in the first quarter and the CBA guards did a nice job of containing the Scarlet Fliers’ quick point guard, Terrance Todd. At the end of the first quarter, Neptune held a 9-5 edge but walked off the court with the same swagger they brought into the building. Dean finally got on the board from the foul line at the 5:15 mark of the second quarter to give his team a 14-5 edge. CBA responded with their first basket of the second quarter at the 4:21 mark, and when Dean went to the bench for a breather, the Colts built a 6-0 run, bringing the score to 14-11 with 3:30 left in the half. After a timeout, the Colts came out in a zone of their own, which seemed to give the Fliers trouble. However, CBA’s inability to gather defensive rebounds began to hurt them, and Neptune went on a run to end the half at 22-11. The second half was more of the same, as Neptune continued to control the tempo of the game and dominated the boards at both ends of the floor. Marques Alston was particularly effective on the boards for Neptune, grabbing 12 rebounds, and scoring on several put-back chances. At the end of the third quarter, Neptune held a 33-20 lead, and with the way CBA was shooting the ball (to the tune of 22 percent), appeared poised to cruise to the win. In the fourth, Todd’s outstanding ball handling and game-high 11 points allowed Neptune to control the tempo once again, while CBA continued to struggle offensively. Neptune made nine of 10 free throws down the stretch to ice the win, as the CBA faithful looked at each other, not sure how to react. It had been a long time since a Shore Conference foe came into their building and dominated the Colts the way Neptune did. When it was over, Neptune celebrated their achievement, although to a player, the Scarlet Fliers insisted that they expected this result all along. "We know this is our year," said Dean, who was held to 10 points, all from the foul line. "We came in here, played aggressive and got the win. We earned this." And the win apparently did wonders for Neptune’s confidence, as evidenced by Saturday’s shocking upset of St. Anthony’s of Jersey City, the No. 2 team in the nation according to USA Today. The Colts will meet the Fliers again on Feb. 7 and potentially in the Shore Conference Tournament. Nobody would be surprised to see these two teams in the final of that tournament. For now, the Colts will concentrate on their next game but will likely keep last week’s Neptune game in the back of their minds. CBA is not used to losing like they did to Neptune, especially not in their own building. Next time around, it will be the Colts seeking redemption, and the Fliers will have to defend their deserved title as the team to beat.last_img

Walsh, Huskies top CJ II;

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first_img Walsh, Huskies top CJ II; CHRIS KELLY Matawan’s Thomas Walsh finishes first in the boys’ Central Jersey Group II race at Holmdel Park on Saturday. Eagles’ boys and girls first Cross country titles abound at state sectional meet By tim morris CHRIS KELLY Middletown North’s Amanda Scibetta finishes 17th overall in the girls’ CJ Group IV race at Holmdel Park on Saturday. Staff Writer Prior to Saturday’s Central Jersey Group II Championships at Holmdel Park, Matawan Regional High School had never won a state sectional title. Now, thanks to an individual win by Thomas Walsh and a solid group effort, Matawan has two championships. "It’s a big thing," Walsh said of Matawan’s title. "It’s a real accomplishment for the team." Walsh did his part for the Huskies, winning the state sectional title in 16:43.0. The sophomore paced himself wisely for the first third of the race, took charge leaving the bowl and then outran everyone over the last mile. He led virtually from start to finish. "I ran the first mile a bit easier today and pushed the last mile," Walsh said. "I took smaller steps up the bowl and that made a difference." It was a breakthrough 16:34 at the Monmouth County Championships last month that paved the way for Walsh’s Central Jersey title. "I had no idea I could do that until I ran 16:34 in the county," he said. Now, with a state sectional title under his belt, Walsh has established himself as one of the state’s top underclassmen. Behind Walsh, the Huskies ran superbly. Chris Bradley was third (17:11.2) and John Smith, 10th (1738.4). Matawan clinched its first sectional cross country title with Donald Norbut taking 19th (18:10.5) and Erison Hurtault (18:19.0) 21st. The Huskies had 54 points, easily beating runner-up Hopewell Valley (80). Middletown South’s boys pulled off one of the day’s biggest surprises by topping defending champion Red Bank Regional for the Group III title, 69-76. The Bucs’ Rob Dennis repeated as the individual champion (16:27.5), but the Eagles soared by, packing their first four runners in the top 15 and then clinching it with a 27th by fifth man Oliver Haller. Dan Ciambrone ran as close to Dennis as he could, and that resulted in a second place (16:37.4). Matt Tacheron (17:58.9), Ray Brennessel (17:59.2) and Blaise Hickman (18:02.6) set the stage for the upset by finishing 12th, 13th and 14th. That helped make up the Bucs’ putting three runners in the first seven. Fifth man Haller (18:15.6) had an 11-point edge on the Bucs’ fifth man, and that enabled the Eagles to pull off the victory. Holmdel was third (106), led by Leo Vignone’s third place (16:51.9). Alex Emerel was 16th (18:03.2). Middletown South’s girls used their five-runner pack to offset the superior one-two punches of Red Bank Regional and Princeton. The Eagles’ depth prevailed with 68 points, followed by Princeton (97) and RBR (110). RBR’s Katy Trotter picked up Saturday’s win in 18:16.7 with twin sister Amanda at her side in 18:16.9. Kolleen McCauley led the South effort with an eighth place (20:04.5), with teammate Jaimie Liberti right on her heels in ninth (20:06.8). They were followed by Tina Morrison (20:16.8), 12th; Lisa Zino (20:58.1), 15th; and Jane Wood (21:21.8), 24th. The top 10 individuals and top five teams at the sectionals advance to Saturday’s NJSIAA State Group Championships at Holmdel Park. By tim morrisStaff Writer Eagles last_img

ABCCL fourth annual all-star game a thriller

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first_imgWooden bat league FARRAH MAFFAI staff Middletown’s James Koehler, who attends Rutgers University-Newark, warms up a pitcher prior to the ABCCL’s All-Star Game at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood July 27. The Atlantic Baseball Confederation Collegiate League’s (ABCCL) fourth annual all-star game was held July 27 at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood. The League’s eight teams sent their top players, who competed against each other as the Yogi Berra and Larry Doby squads. The Doby squad won a closely fought 8-7 victory. The game started with the ABCCL’s commissioner, retired Seton Hall coach Mike Sheppard, throwing out the first ball with more than 500 fans in attendance. Before the game, early birds were treated to a pro scout workout held for the 60 all-stars, which was organized by the head of Major League Baseball’s scouting, Don Kohler. About 12 scouts were present, and they expressed interest in several of the players. Follow-up visits by the scouts occurred during the ABCCL playoffs held July 29 through Aug. 1. The Berra squad wasted no time in jumping to an early lead against Doby starter Mike Chiciak (Cherry Hill/University of Delaware). Bayville’s Mike Rooth (Felician College) and Manchester’s Travis Musolf (Marist College) led off with base hits and were followed by three consecutive walks to Marlboro’s Chris Contrino (Brown University), Holmdel’s Mike Pahira (Pace University), and Manchester’s Bill Ryan (Caldwell College). Point Pleasant Beach’s Chris Wilson (The College of New Jersey) then came through with one of the big hits of the game with a double to deep center field, which gave the Berra squad a 5-0 lead. Toms River South’s Steve Holt (Rutgers) started for the Berra squad and retired the Doby squad in order, including his college catcher Colin Gaynor (Toms River/Rutgers). Holt was followed by Manalapan’s Justin Cocliff (Rider), who also kept the Doby squad hitless as the Berra squad held onto its 5-0 lead. The Doby squad struck back off hard-throwing Mike Weckenman of Newtown, Pa., (Temple University), with the aid of poor fielding to score two unearned runs, with a key hit coming from Marlton’s Mike Scanzano (University of Pittsburgh), which took advantage of the fielding lapses. Bayonne’s Bill Opel (The College of New Jersey) kept the Doby squad in check to hold the 5-2 lead, but the Doby squad chipped away at Elizabeth’s Tim Cowan (William Paterson University) with some unearned runs, and Oldwick’s Matt Kamine (Lafayette College) to jump to an 8-5 lead. The big blow was a two-run homer that wrapped around the foul pole by West Orange’s Lee Rubin (Mary Washington College, Virginia), driving in Marlton’s Ed McDonnel (University of Delaware), who was 2-for-2 for the Doby team. The game settled into a pitchers’ duel, with shutout innings thrown by the Doby pitchers, including Great Meadow’s Cole Kimball (St. John’s University); Chris Reddout of Pittsburgh, Kan., (Pittsburgh State, Kansas); Floral Park’s James Lally (St. John’s University); Marlton’s Dane Mason (Oklahoma State University); Ryan Keefe of Essex, Vt., (Quinnipiac University, CT); Drew Atchison of Charlottesville, Va., (College of William & Mary); and Justin DeVincenzo of Plains, Pa., (University of Sciences in Philadelphia). The Berra hitters were dominated by the Doby pitchers and could only muster a single base hit by Holmdel’s Chris Kapsales (Brookdale) over the next seven innings after their first-inning outburst. The Berra squad pitchers matched the Doby squad to keep it an 8-5 game going into the last two innings. Shutout innings were thrown by several Berra squad pitchers, including Edison’s Brian Cirri (University of Pennsylvania), Kapsales, Toms River South’s Anthony DeRogatis (Caldwell College), and Dallas Sims of Floyds Knobs, Ind., (Lincoln Trail College, Illinois). The Berra squad chipped away at the lead the last two innings with three walks and a double-play ball against Justin Green of Salem, Ill., (Olney Central College, Illinois) to make it an 8-6 game going into the last inning. Berra hitters finally came alive against Nick Chanock of Potomac, Md., (Haverford College, Pennsylvania), as Dumont’s Sean Abate (University of Pennsylvania) and Somerville’s Tom Ciccarone (Marist College) had base hits and combined with a fielding error, and the Berra squad cut the lead to 8-7. With the tying run on third base, Chanock faced Elizabeth’s Jonathan Torres (Bloomfield College), who hit a ground ball to deep short that was fielded by Union’s Perry Schatzow (Kean University). Schatzow made a great play by throwing out the speedy Torres, who dove headfirst to try to beat the throw but was out by a step, and the Doby squad held their 8-7 lead for the victory. D-BAT partially sponsored the game with all-star shirts, batting gloves, and MVP bats. The MVPs were voted on by the pro scouts in attendance and were awarded to Point Pleasant Beach’s Chris Wilson (The College of New Jersey) and West Orange’s Lee Rubin (Mary Washington College, Virginia), who both received an engraved D-BAT as the MVP trophy.last_img

Sports Shorts

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first_imgThe Knights of Columbus Council 11349 announced the winners of its Free Throw and 3-point competition, held recently at St. Benedict’s gymnasium in Holmdel. The competition was open to all boys and girls from ages 10 to 14. The free throw winners were: age 10 — Matthew Demello and Jessie Fifield; age 11 — Matthew Anderson and Ashley Stenftennagel; age 12 — Conor Gilbertson; age 13 — Lauren Clarke; age 14 — Greg Charte and Holly Jones. The 3-point contest winners were: age 10 — Christopher Calandra; age 11 — Matthew Anderson and Ashley Stenftennagel; age 12 — John Coleman; age 13 — Lauren Clarke; age 14 — Greg Charte and Holly Jones. All of the above winners were invited to participate in the Knights’ District Level Competition held Feb. 5; five will now progress to the next level. The Matawan-Aberdeen Men’s Softball League is accepting teams and/or player applications for the Sunday morning doubleheader season. Team fees are $1,450 for a 32-game season. Call (732) 290-2541 or e-mail meatmachine9@aol.com for more information. The Monmouth Women’s Softball League is looking for individual players or teams. Teams must have own home field for modified pitch league. Season is from May to August, Sunday or Monday nights. For more information, call (732) 530-7305 or email MWSL2002@yahoo.com Freshman Chris Swensen (Aberdeen/St. John Vianney) of the Muhlenberg College wrestling team contributed to the team’s successful season. Swensen finished the season with two victories, both coming on pins at the Petrofes Invitational. He pinned his Ursinus opponent in 2:52 and pinned his Gallaudet opponent in 1:31. Swensen finished one win short of winning a place at the event. The 33rd annual Vince Lombardi Awards dinner sponsored by the Rotarian Clubs of Monmouth County will honor Raritan’s head coach, Robert Generelli, as Coach of the Year: and Middletown South’s football team as Team of the Year. The awards dinner will be held on Thursday at the Sheraton Hotel, Eatontown, at 6 p.m. Guest speakers for the evening include Dave Jennings, retired NFL punter who will serve as emcee; Kevin Callahan, Monmouth University head football coach; Harry Flaherty, also retired NFL player and CEO, Fellowship of Christian Athletes. NFL legend Leonard Marshall, Super Bowl champion and three-time all pro bowler, will offer the keynote speech. Proceeds from the event will benefit the American Cancer Society, the Rotary’s Haiti Project and the United Way of Monmouth County. Middletown South Eagles had a remarkable year, defeating their opponents handily. The team was ranked No. 1 in Monmouth County and won the state championship by defeating Wall Township. Numerous players were name to the All-Shore Team, others to the All-State and the All-County teams. Raritan, under the direction of Generelli, turned their team around. Generelli said he attributes much of the success to a great group of young men determined to prove themselves victorious. Raritan also won the state title by defeating Carteret in December. The Hazlet Youth Athletic League will be holding grandfather registration for its Pop Warner Football and Cheerleading Program March 19 from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Raritan High School cafeteria. Birthday cut-off is Aug. 1. Registration fee for the flag program (5 and 6 years old) is $55. The fees for the football and cheerleading programs are $110 for one child, $165 for two and $220 for three or more family members. In addition to the registration fees, please bring checks for a uniform deposit, a work deposit and the mandatory fund-raiser raffle. Rosters will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. If you have any questions, please call (732) 264-3060, ext. 4. The Hazlet Youth Athletic League will be holding open registration for its PopWarner Football and Cheerleading Program on March 19 from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the Raritan High School cafeteria.last_img

Hawks top Villanova

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first_imgTop: Monmouth University’s Carissa Franzi (6) steps over a Villanova University player who was knocked down during an illegal pick during a home game, as the Hawks snapped a five-game losing streak with a 15-12 victory over the Wildcats on March 15. Left: Monmouth’s Rachel Feirstein (19) drives to the goal. PHOTOS BY CHRIS KELLY stafflast_img

Saturday in the Park benefits women’s, children’s services

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first_imgThe Jersey Shore Running Club’s 22nd annual Saturday in the Park 5K “Women Taking Steps to Help Women” will be at Holmdel Park Sept. 5.The event features a Women’s 5K Run and Scenic 3-Mile Walk that start at 9 a.m. and Children’s Races at approximately 10 a.m.Close to 500 women runners and walkers are expected to join together to raise funds for and promote awareness of organizations that provide essential services to women and their children in Monmouth and Ocean counties.Race-day registration begins at 8 a.m. Entry fees are $25 before Aug. 28, $30 after Aug. 28 and $5 for Children’s Races. Participants who raise $75 or more in pledges receive free entry.All women in the 2015 5K will receive a high-quality, women’s style wicking v-neck shirt, goody bag and finishers gift.“We are very excited to be celebrating our 22nd year. The main reason for celebration is knowing that this race annually supports programs dedicated to providing shelter, counseling, advocacy and education for women and their families in both Monmouth and Ocean counties.” Penny Hinck, race director of the Jersey Shore Running Club, said in a prepared statement. Since its inception, Saturday in the Park has raised more than $212,000 and has created greater public awareness of options and services available to women.The Saturday in the Park event was first staged at Bodman Park in Middletown and was then held at Monmouth University and Brookdale Community College before finding its home at Holmdel Park in 1999. This year, organizers are extending free entry to any previous-year champion and are reaching out to past participants to see how many years they may have participated, planning to recognize those who have participated most frequently. Contact the race director at penny@saturdayinthepark5k.org.The Saturday in the Park Women’s 5K has enjoyed enthusiastic support from many girls high school and youth athletic teams. To show appreciation to these teams and to encourage continued support of Saturday in the Park and the race’s beneficiaries, the race offers two benefits to high school and youth athletic teams. First, all members of these teams will get the special entry fee of $20 prior to Aug. 28. Second, awards will be given to the top three teams based on their number of participants; awards will be a contribution to team funds of the three largest teams, based on the number of participants.For more information on Saturday in the Park 5K, contact Penny Hinck at 732-571- 2162 or penny@saturdayinthepark5k.org, or visit www.saturdayinthepark5k.org.last_img

Suarez ‘champing at the bit’ to be back from bite ban

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first_imgBy Alan BaldwinUruguayan striker Luis Suarez is ‘champing at the bit’ to return for Liverpool this week after the expiry of a 10-match ban for biting, manager Brendan Rodgers said.Suarez is available for Wednesday’s Capital One (League) Cup tie against Manchester United at Old Trafford after being suspended for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic in April.“It has been a really difficult time for him not playing games,” Rodgers told reporters.“How he has prepared himself over the last number of weeks has been fantastic. He’s really champing at the bit to help the team,” added the manager.“Everyone knows the depth of his quality and his attitude. Once he gets back on the field again he will show what he has shown since he’s been here.”Rodgers did not confirm Suarez would start although he is expected to partner in-form striker Daniel Sturridge against United.“The two of them will be a very strong partnership. I’m sure Suarez will be ready to be thrown back in,” defender Kolo Toure told the Liverpool Echo.“He has been very difficult to defend against in training. He is a winner. He’s always working hard and fighting. You want those kind of players.”last_img

Sharapova and Ivanovic reach Brisbane final

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first_imgBy Julian LindenRussia’s Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic of Serbia won their semi-finals at the Brisbane International on Friday to set up a highly-anticipated showdown in the lead-up to this month’s Australian Open.Sharapova beat the talented Ukrainian Elina Svitolina 6-1 6-3 to reach the final without dropping a set while Ivanovic battled her way to a 7-6(2) 6-4 victory over American Varvara Lepchenko.Sharapova beat Ivanovic in the 2008 Australian Open final and both women are in devastating form heading towards the first grand slam of the season, starting in Melbourne on Jan. 19.Sharapova has dropped just nine games in her three matches to get to the final and showed no mercy against Svitolina, a rising star who won the 2010 junior French Open, as she reached her 56th WTA final.“I expected her to play well. I think I did a lot of things good to try to take away her game,” Sharapova said.“In the end, it became a little bit more difficult. She became more free, went for her shots a little bit, a few unforced errors from my end, but overall I’m happy I stuck with it and finished the last point.”Ivanovic, who came from a set down to win her previous match, once again had to dig deep before seeing off Lepchenko after nearly two hours on the Pat Rafter Arena.Lepchenko twice served for the opening set but Ivanovic broke back both times then won the tiebreaker.In the second set, Ivanovic charged to a 5-1 lead before she got the wobbles, allowing Lepchenko to reel off the next three games before she finally sealed the win on her seventh match point.“Definitely, (my) heart was racing a little bit, especially that it was really becoming a battle,” Ivanovic said.“Even though I was 5-1 up, still felt like a battle all the way through.”Ivanovic will be chasing her 16th WTA career title and her fifth in 12 months after she began her latest resurgence up the world rankings.Currently ranked seventh, the 27-year-old is looming as one of the favourites for the Australian Open.A former world number one who won her only grand slam title at the 2008 French Open, Ivanovic credits her return to form to finally learning how to cope with fame.“I struggled to be in the spotlight. For me, this is something that took time to get used to because I was very shy,” she said.“It was really overwhelming for me and all the pressures. I always play tennis as a game and not all these pressures and expectations.“I felt like I had no time to go to movies with friends, you know, and this is what every person needs. So I really feel since maybe year and a half I found this balance.”last_img

Serena holds off battling Muguruza to win Wimbledon (Update)

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first_imgBy Toby DavisSerena Williams claimed a sixth Wimbledon title and fourth successive grand slam crown by suppressing the spirited attacking instincts of 20th-seeded Spaniard Garbine Muguruza to win Saturday’s final 6-4 6-4.American Williams reinforced her stranglehold on the women’s game by overcoming an early wobble and resisting a battling fightback to claim a 21st grand slam title that leaves her one behind German Steffi Graf’s record haul of professional era majors.The world number one was simply too powerful and too consistent for surprise 21-year-old finalist Muguruza, who began with a valiant positive approach but could not maintain her early high level.After losing a close first set and battling bravely to come back from 5-1 down in the second, the Spaniard was eventually downed after one hour and 23 minutes of combat, to leave Williams to receive the acclaim of the Centre Court crowd.Williams now holds all four majors at the same time — the so-called ‘Serena Slam’ — having also won the U.S., Australian and French Open titles.“I can’t believe I am standing here with another Serena Slam. It is so cool,” Williams said courtside.“It has been a pleasure and an honour to have so many years in this unbelievable place.”Muguruza, playing in her first grand slam final, began with calm authority and it was Williams who seemed to suffer an attack of the butterflies, hitting three double faults and facing four break points before losing her serve in the opening game.But Williams eventually cranked into gear and started to find her range, forcing Muguruza to save two break points in the sixth game before the American got her reward on the Spaniard’s serve to level at 4-4.Williams increased the pressure and, when Muguruza served a double fault to bring up set point, the top seed smashed a forehand winner before pumping her fist in celebration.Muguruza was visibly deflated. She managed to hold her first service game, but was then subjected to a brutal barrage of winners from Williams, who broke twice for a 5-1 lead.The Spaniard simply would not lie down, however, and broke back twice, going toe-to-toe with Williams from the back of the court and swinging her racket to brutal effect.Just when it looked like she could force the match into a decisive third set, though, her serve collapsed and Williams forced three match points before the contest suffered an anti-climactic finish.A Muguruza shot landed long and Williams stood still, unsure of the call and whether to celebrate or wait for a challenge.It eventually dawned on her that she had clinched the title and she raised her arms to the sky before embracing the vanquished Muguruza.last_img

Hamilton revved up for a new start in Spa

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first_imgBy Alan BaldwinTHE holidays are over and Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton faces a new start as the second half of the season revs up at Belgium’s Spa-Francorchamps circuit this weekend.The rules have been tweaked, meaning drivers on the starting grid can no longer be assisted over the radio by data-crunching engineers to find the optimum clutch settings that will ensure the quickest getaway.Hamilton, 21 points clear of Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg after 10 of 19 races, has had three poor starts in a row despite all being from pole position and the big question is what difference the change will make.Another failure in Spa, where the Mercedes drivers started on the front row last year but collided on lap two, would only make the Briton’s bosses more jittery after neither finished on the podium in Hungary in July.Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff warned this week that the team must stay focused.“There is never a moment you can take your foot off the gas and Hungary proved once again that any slip is an opportunity our rivals will grab with both hands,” he said.After hanging out with movie and music celebrities, as well as his dogs Roscoe and Coco, in Barbados, New York and The Hamptons over the August break, Hamilton is raring to get back on track.But he recognised after Hungary, where he finished only sixth while Rosberg was eighth, that the championship could be entering choppy waters – particularly at Spa where rain is regularly a factor.“I expect more unpredictable starts,” Hamilton said then. “I imagine it is going to get worse, but that’s racing.”The key difference is that the clutch ‘bite’ point, hitherto adjusted by engineers after assessing temperatures and track conditions, will be fixed from the moment the cars leave the pit lane.The drivers will then have to determine for themselves the ideal point at which to release the paddles and accelerate away without triggering a loss of traction and wheelspin.Rosberg, who won last season’s pole trophy but has been outqualified 9-1 by Hamilton this year, can sense an opportunity.“There will be more variables and it will be more difficult to predict,” he said. “I like it because it gives me the opportunity to try and beat Lewis in that area. Until now it’s been difficult because it was not really in the driver’s hands.”The German qualified on pole in Belgium last year but the race, on the longest circuit on the calendar, was won by Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.Hamilton, who retired while then-championship leader Rosberg finished second, accused his team-mate of hitting him on purpose “to prove a point” in a controversy that proved a turning point in the season.The fired-up Briton won the next five races and ultimately his second title.“It’s been good to take a break from racing and spend some time relaxing, training and recharging the batteries. But, of course, there’s always that flame in the back of your mind that just wants to get back out there and get on it,” he said ahead of his return to the Ardennes.“Spa is a great track to kick off the second part of the season…I love this track and I’ll be gunning for that top spot again.”Rosberg, winner of three races to Hamilton’s five with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel taking the other two, said everything was still to play for.Ferrari will be in the hunt again but Williams also fancy their chances of returning to the podium after failing to score in Hungary.“The layout is normally strongly suited to the characteristics of our car, so I head to this weekend looking for a strong result,” said Finland’s Valtteri Bottas.last_img