Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Stuart's Postseason Victory Is a Family Affair

Stuart's Postseason Victory Is a Family Affair
By B.J. Koubaroulis
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, February 24, 2009; E07

Following Stuart's 59-53 first-round Virginia AAA Northern Region tournament victory over visiting Herndon last night, Stuart senior Mo Ibrahim interlaced his fingers on top of his head and stared at the ceiling outside the locker room, looking for the perfect word to describe his team.

Watching Ibrahim squirm, Stuart junior Antonio Harris Jr. interjected.

"Family," said Harris, a 6-foot-1 sharp-shooter who connected on a variety of pull-up jumpers, floaters, bank shots and crafty finishes for a 17-point performance that gave the Raiders their first regional tournament victory since 1996.

Stuart (19-6) will travel to No. 4 T.C. Williams (24-2) tomorrow.

"Yeah, that's right. Family," said Ibrahim, who finished with eight points and absorbed two key charges from Herndon senior Isaac Johnson (21 points) to squash Herndon's fourth-quarter push.

Some teams preach family to foster unity; at Stuart, no preaching is necessary -- the Raiders really are family. Harris's father, Tony Harris, is the head coach; cousin Kevin Harris is an assistant and back-court running mate Trey Ford, a senior guard, is also his cousin. Stuart seniors Dominique Kosh and Raymond Watson are cousins.

Last night, Watson (11 points), Kosh (10 points) and Ford (11 points) surrounded Harris Jr. in a run-and-gun approach that ended perennial power Herndon's season at 13-10.

"Tonight was a big step," said Tony Harris, who two years ago left his coaching position at Falls Church High School and took with him both Ford and his son, starting a turnaround that took a program that averaged 3.5 wins per season in the previous seven years to a 34-15 record in the past two. "This is a big sigh of relief. We finally got what we deserve."

Ibrahim, a 6-5 high-flying senior, showed promise as a sophomore and was pulled up to varsity. However, he asked to play down with the junior varsity squad -- a team he thought had a better chance of winning.

"I've never heard of anybody doing that," said Tony Harris. "No one ever does that. I mean, he thought it was okay to just play with his friends and I understand that part of it, but that will never happen here again."

Stuart 59, Herndon 53

Times Are Changing: In the seven years before Tony Harris took over as coach, the Raiders had combined for a total of 25 wins -- one less victory than Herndon posted during its 2006 season, when it rode McDonald's all-American Scottie Reynolds (Villanova) to a 26-5 state runner-up finish.
Up Next: Stuart advanced to a date tomorrow with reigning region and state champion T.C. Williams, which has won the past two region titles.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Achhal Is Victorious In a Split Decision

Achhal Is Victorious In a Split Decision
Annandale Resident Wins Pro Debut
By B.J. Koubaroulis
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, February 22, 2009; D04

Iman Achhal dropped to her knees, slapped her open palms onto the canvas and then cupped her face with her glove-wrapped hands in near disbelief when she heard the announcer call her name as the winner of the largest female Mixed Martial Arts card ever held in the metro area.

Annandale's Achhal, 32, won the first and third rounds of an undercard at Ultimate Warrior Challenge 5: Man "O" War -- a nine-card Mixed Martial Arts event at George Mason University's Patriot Center last night that drew 6,248 fans.

"It's not kicking in yet," said Achhal as she sat surrounded by media, coaches and trainers while she iced a baseball-sized blackened knot that continued to swell underneath her left eye. "It's been a long road here."

Achhal, nicknamed "Mannie," won an unexpected split decision victory over Felice "Lil Bulldog" Herrig, a two-time kick-boxing champion. Both fighters were making their professional MMA debuts.

"I knew she was going to come out swinging," said Achhal, who continued a ground assault as much of the crowd chanted "Mannie" throughout the final five-minute round she won by working a repetition of take downs. "There was no way she was going to touch me on the ground. That's my world."

Achhal, who abandoned a guillotine choke-hold early in the first round, avoided Herrig's strikes early, but took a hard right hook at the start of the second round that ballooned her left eye nearly shut and left her scrambling to tie up around the edges of the hexagon.

According to a list compiled by MMAweekly.com, two of the top 10 most viewed MMA events of all time were women's fights CBS aired in 2008. Each event drew more than five million viewers, prompting UWC President Marcello Foran to add the female card to his third MMA venture at Patriot Center.

"We deserve to do what the guys do, I just proved it," said Achhal, who at age 18 fled Morocco to escape an arranged marriage and spent much of the 10 years that followed enduring poverty and homelessness before she rose up the local MMA circuit -- posting a 4-0-1 amateur record. "Do what you want to do. Don't let anybody tell you what you're supposed to be doing."

Achhal is now a trainer and fighter at Capital Jiu-Jitsu -- a chain of local schools operated by MMA legend Royce Gracie.

Mike Easton, a 22-year-old who grew up in Anacostia, submitted Justin Robbins with 16 seconds left in the third round of the main event to earn the bantamweight championship belt. "I just had to get my forearms into that guillatine," said Easton, who landed a series of overhand rights in a fairly uneventful first two rounds before taking Robbins to ground for the chokeout submission. "The guillatine, I love it, it's one of my best submissions." Easton (7-1), a 5-foot-5 muscular showman nicknamed "The Hulk" who trains at Lloyd Irvin Martial Arts in Temple Hills, fought Robbins (13-8-1) instead of Chase "The Rage" Beebe, a former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) champion from Chicago who failed to show at Friday's official weigh-in. He suffered a knee injury that hampered him from making the contractually-set limit of 135 pounds, according to promoters.

Last night, promoters announced UWC 6: Capital Punishment scheduled for April 25 at Patriot Center.

Foran "wants to feed," said nine-time UFC Champion Matt Hughes, one of several mixed martial arts stars in attendance last night. "[Foran] wants to bring local talent in and get them to the next level and that's exactly what he's doing. He's going to continue to grow and make money."

In his 185-pound fight against Richie "The Dirty Samurai" Hightower (7-3), Foran's brother Marcus (6-2) -- a two-time All-Met wrester and 1993 graduate of DeMatha -- absorbed a series of elbows to the back of the head that left him bloodied and unconscious. Because a blow to the back of the head is illegal, the fight was ruled a no contest.

"It was unintentional," Marcus Foran said.

MMA Note: Washington Redskins tight end Chris Cooley and Washington Capitals stars Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and Donald Brashear attended last night's event.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Achhal Fights, Seizes 'Independence'

Achhal Fights, Seizes 'Independence'
Annandale Resident Set to Make MMA Debut
By B.J. Koubaroulis
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, February 19, 2009; 2:53 PM

Iman Achhal pinched each of her cheeks between her thumbs and index fingers and pulled them in a sharp upward motion as she reenacted the worst beating she ever received.

"If you ever wondered if it was possible to lift someone up by their cheeks, I know that it is," said Achhal, a 32-year-old Annandale resident who will make her professional debut on an undercard in Saturday's Ultimate Warrior Challenge 5: Man "O" War -- a 10-card Mixed Martial Arts event at George Mason University's Patriot Center in Fairfax.

During a break in her training earlier this month, Achhal, nicknamed "Mannie," peered out from underneath her Adidas baseball cap and relived what she called "the beating of her life" when, at 18 years old, she endured a 30-minute verbal and physical pounding at the hands of her mother. She was devastated that her daughter had refused an arranged marriage to a man she had hand-picked from their hometown in Morocco.

"I just knew I could do better than to marry someone I didn't know or I didn't love and just end up barefoot and pregnant, so I knew I had to get out of that situation," said Achhal, who, at 18, fled the small country in northern Africa and came to the United States on a green card she won through her biological father.

"At that time [the government] was giving out visas, lottery visas, and I guess [my dad] was one of the lucky ones that got one," said Achhal's half-brother, Anas Achhal, who was one of four siblings that accompanied their father to the United States in 1995.

Anas, a 26-year-old student who lives in Prince William County, is the only family member with which Iman remains in contact.

"Iman left us a month or so after we came [to Virginia]," said Anas. "She had always lived with her mom and she didn't grow up with my dad's house rules and when she came here, you know, he had his house rules and I guess she didn't like them and that's why she left."

A self-confessed tom-boy, Achhal's passion for athletics was smothered back in Morocco "because that's just not, you know, what girls are supposed to being doing," she said. "When I came here, once I had my freedom, I realized that I could work out, that I was allowed basically to work out and I just went all out. I would be at the gym for, oh my god, four to six hours."

She left her family, her religion and her country to pursue a life that better suited her "independence," said Anas.

"My family is my coaches and my trainers," said Iman, who spent most of the 10 years after she left her father's home working as a day-laborer, braving frigid early mornings in front of local convenient stores waiting to hop onto the back of a contractor's truck.

She said she spent one winter homeless, finding shelter in a tent in Bull Run Regional Park in Manassas.

"So, you're not allowed to live in a park, so I had to basically just pretend like I was camping," said Achhal. "The only bad thing in that picture is that it was snowing and really cold, so a lot of people were looking at me like 'there is no way you like being in a tent' but I had to make it look like it was awesome."

She remained homeless until she saved enough money helping to remodel homes, hanging drywall and painting to rent a different bed, basement, floor or room each week all over the D.C. Metro area.

Fluent in Arabic and Spanish, she said she taught herself English by listening to the radio and television.

In 2005, she was one of 30 recruits who spent 22 weeks in training to become a Fairfax County Firefighter.

"She told me about the arranged marriage and how she got here and ended up being homeless for awhile," said Fairfax County Firefighter Ron Gemsheim, a 45-year-old captain who was Achhal's superior officer at the Franconia Fire Station in Alexandria. "Honestly, she inspired me. To come from something like that and stay upbeat the whole time, really made me look at my problems and say 'What the hell, mine are minuscule compared to that.'"

Mike Lee, a 28-year-old firefighter stationed at Fire Station 14 in Burke, was part of Achhal's class at the academy in Fair Oaks.

"She really didn't have any prior experience, but what she had was heart," said Lee, who works out with Achhal four to five times a week. "She might not have been the most technically proficient person, but she had the heart to push through a lot of stuff. And that's basically the same deal with her fighting, it's like, regardless of whatever setback she might have, she always has the heart to keep on pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing."

Achhal recently left firefighting to become a full-time fighter and trainer at Capital Jiu-Jitsu -- a mixed martial arts gym that has local centers in both Sterling and Alexandria that are part of MMA legend Royce Gracie's chain.

According to a list compiled by MMAweekly.com, two of the top 10 most viewed MMA bouts of all time were women's fights televised in 2008 by CBS. Each fight grabbed more than 5 million viewers.

That prompted local promoters to add a female card to their third MMA venture at Patriot Center.

UWC President Marcello Foran says that Achhal's fight against Felice Herrig -- an 18-2 world champion kick-boxer also making her professional MMA debut could be the "highlight of the show." Herrig has won bantamweight titles with the International Kickboxing Federation (IKF) and World Association of Kickboxing Organizations (WAKO) and gained national attention when she appeared on "Fight Girls" -- a 2007 television show on the Oxygen Channel.

"On the 21st, win or lose, I really don't care," said Achhal. "I care about how I perform. I want to perform well. I owe it to myself. I went way too far. I've done so much on my own and this is just the result of hard work and persistence. I'm very persistent and I got here."

Notes: Saturday's card will also feature a co-main event. Local fighter Mike "The Hulk" Easton (6-1) will take on Chicago's Chase "Rage" Beebe (11-3) in a five round 135-pound matchup for the UWC Bantamweight World Championship and Jamal "The Suit" Patterson (4-2) will square off with Antoine "The Juggernaut" Britt (8-1) in a 205-pound fight . . . the fight will also be streamed live on Sherdog.com.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Soccer Star's Heart Is on Hardwood

Soccer Star's Heart Is on Hardwood
The Sport That Brought Kalipinde To the U.S. Is Taking Him to College
By B.J. Koubaroulis
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, February 16, 2009; E03

Given Kalipinde flings open the door of his dorm room at Episcopal High School. "Come in, come in, come in," says the 19-year-old with a toothy grin.

He strolls past the Shaquille O'Neal poster taped to his wooden armoire, dodges the bunk beds and slaps his hand on the cinderblock wall next to a Kobe Bryant poster hung over his roommate's desk.

"Kobe Bryant right there. My coach doesn't like him, but, hey, he's the man. Kobe Bean Bryant."

In many ways, he sounds like just another basketball-obsessed kid enjoying his senior season. But Kalipinde's journey to the elite boarding school in Alexandria has been a unique trip. A product of the NBA's Basketball Without Borders program, Kalipinde's basketball voyage started at home in Zambia and continued to South Africa before the 6-foot-3 guard finally arrived in this country in August 2007.

Video by B.J. Koubaroulis/The Washington Post

Honored last fall as The Post's boys' soccer All-Met Player of the Year, Kalipinde has signed a letter-of-intent to play basketball at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles. His room bears no evidence of his soccer prowess.

"Basketball is what I love doing and it's the reason I'm here," says Kalipinde.

Kalipinde has a graceful jump shot, poise, speed, ballhandling ability, an enveloping wing-span and impressive strength. He has paced the Maroon (13-6, 7-3 IAC) by averaging a team-high 20.8 points, 8.9 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals entering tomorrow's first-round Interstate Athletic Conference tournament game against St. Albans (3-20, 1-9).

Among the colleges that have expressed an interest in Kalipinde were Wake Forest, UNLV, George Mason, Richmond, Boston University and Fordham. He chose Loyola, however, out of loyalty; LMU assistant Myke Scholl helped bring him to the United States.

"The first time I saw him playing was with boys much older than him, 14 years old playing with 18-, 19-year-old guys and he just showed a lot of promise," said Scholl, a former Detroit Pistons scout who spent 10 years as director of international programs for Miles and Associates International, a sports marketing firm in Johannesburg. "You find, in the development over there, that there are lot of centers and power forwards that come over here and have success, but you haven't found guards like him. That's what struck me at the core about him. . . . He was just so natural."

While in South Africa, Scholl also established the country's first national high school basketball league. It was sometime around 2004 when Scholl first saw Kalipinde on a basketball court.

"He's been my coach since, I guess, probably since I was 14," Kalipinde said. "That helped me out, having someone I know out there, helping me out each and every day."

Scholl had heard of Kalipinde while the player was still in Zambia and helped secure a spot for him in 2006 at the Basketball Without Borders camp in Johannesburg. The camps, part of the NBA's international global outreach initiative, include instruction from NBA players and are made up of the continent's top emerging 19-and-under talent. Kalipinde was one of two players chosen from Zambia.

"He was the first guard that I saw that really had the ability to come over here and earn a college scholarship," Scholl said.

Soon after the camp, Kalipinde left Manali boys' high school in Lusaka to attend Durban -- a boarding school in South Africa.

"Once Myke had him at Basketball Without Borders, that's when he got him enrolled at Durban to help him academically," Episcopal Coach Jim Fitzpatrick said.

Episcopal Director of Counseling Jeff Goodell met Scholl at the Basketball Without Borders camp, setting in motion the sequence of events that relocated Kalipinde. That process included two visits by Scholl to Episcopal, online tours by Kalipinde, testing, submission of writing samples, application for financial aid and phone interviews with Episcopal staff members.

"At Episcopal, one thing about the athletic programs, and specifically basketball in this area, you have to make sure that you get good kids here that are also good players, who have some talent," Fitzpatrick said. "You have to be creative."

Though he is 19, Kalipinde is not a fifth-year senior. He has had four years of high school, but a teachers strike in South Africa kept him out of school for months before he came to Episcopal.

"The first thing I wanted to do when I got here was go to the basketball court," said Kalipinde, who is in the United States on an I-20 student visa. "Once you get to the basketball court, it doesn't have the U.S. written on it, you know, it's just a basketball court."

Because Episcopal students are encouraged to play more than one sport, Kalipinde soon found his way to the soccer field.

In a soccer-rich metro area that is infused with ultra-competitive club, travel and Olympic Developmental programs, Kalipinde flourished despite playing the sport for a total of six months in the past two years.

A goalkeeper on the Zambian under-18 national team, he played forward for the Maroon and scored 14 goals to go with 22 assists. There was interest from such college soccer programs as Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Old Dominion, but it wasn't reciprocated.

"Our message to all the soccer coaches was clear," Episcopal soccer coach Rick Wilcox said. Kalipinde's preference was plain. Another factor that played his role his decision was that a full college scholarship was more likely in basketball than soccer, which might have only netted him a partial scholarship.

Currently, Kalipinde receives a financial aid package from Episcopal that pays for most of the $41,000 annual tuition. Kalipinde often works odd jobs and at athletic youth camps at Episcopal to send money to his mother, four brothers and sister in Zambia, where the average per capita annual income is $800 per year, according to the World Bank. Kalipinde's father died when Given was young.

"I could run to the mall with this money and get some clothes or Xbox or something," Kalipinde said. "Coming from where we came from, where things are not so easy, and not getting things as kids, I guess it teaches you a lot. Giving back and helping out, you know, kind of keeps you on a helping page with everyone back home. It keeps you kind of thinking, you know 'I'm still part of the family.' "

Though he is far from his family, Kalipinde has grown close to Fitzpatrick, who has turned a spare room in his house on campus into a bedroom that Kalipinde uses when most others at his school return to their families during vacations and holidays.

"I look at Given like a son," Fitzpatrick said. "Luckily for me, he has let me be a part of his life and be a father-like figure in his life and, luckily for me, he's allowed me to look at him like a son. When this journey is over at Episcopal, I think Given will always be a part of my life and I a part of his."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hummer and Zanna to Battle Again

Hummer and Zanna to Battle Again
Gonzaga and McNamara Ready for Rematch:
No. 7 Gonzaga (21-3, 12-2 WCAC) at No. 5 Bishop McNamara (18-6, 10-3)

By B.J. Koubaroulis
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, February 12, 2009; 11:47 AM

Before a practice this week, Gonzaga senior center Ian Hummer let out an uncomfortable laugh when the conversation turned to his matchup with Bishop McNamara's Talib Zanna.

During a 67-41 home victory over the Mustangs on Jan. 13, Hummer contained Zanna, holding the 6-foot-9, 220-pound Pittsburgh recruit to just four field goals and a total of 11 points.

"I was fortunate to come out on the winning end of that one," said Hummer, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound Princeton-bound senior. Hummer scored 17 points in the victory and established an inside presence that both disrupted McNamara's flow and allowed Gonzaga to free up its outside shooters. "That will be my assignment again. [Zanna] is one of the best big men in the league. I definitely got to force him to his weak hand. He's improved his jump-shot a little bit, so I definitely got to look out for that."

Zanna, who is leading the fifth-ranked Mustangs with 15.7 points per game, is widely considered one of the top talents in the talent-rich Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.

"Last time I learned that I have to be patient when I get the ball," said Zanna. "I had two charges because I was trying to rush the play. This time I have to take my time, make my move and create some baskets or some wide open shots."

Friday's 7:30 p.m. rematch in Forestville will pit two of the area's top teams in a key WCAC showdown that should help create space in a tight league race for seeding in the upcoming tournament.

Gonzaga (21-3, 12-2 WCAC) is currently atop the league standings, while McNamara (18-6, 10-3) sits in fourth place behind DeMatha (20-3, 11-2) and Bishop O'Connell (19-6, 11-3). A McNamara victory would give the Mustangs the school record for wins in a season.

No. 7 Gonzaga, last year's WCAC tournament champion, had its 13-game winning streak snapped Sunday in a 46-44 loss to O'Connell, but rebounded Tuesday with a 49-44 victory over Paul VI.

"Playoffs is coming up soon and the season is winding down, so to get a big win like this would be tremendous for our confidence going into (the) playoffs," said Gonzaga's Tyler Thornton, a 6-2, 190-pound junior who has orally committed to Duke. "They are another top team in the conference. We sit number one right now and they're not too far behind so to play against that caliber of a team and for us to get a good win at their house, it would be great."

Following its 61-60 loss to Good Counsel, McNamara has won two in a row, including Tuesday's 62-54 victory over St. John's in which Rashad Whack scored 24 points, showing he's fully recovered from the ankle injury that hampered him in the first meeting with Gonzaga.

"Being at full strength will help me because I'll be able to move better, create better shots and defend the ball better," said Whack, a 6-foot-3, 185-pound George Mason-bound senior who is averaging 11.8 points per game and is one of the league's best three-point shooters. "A win over would be great to show that they are beatable and how good of a team we are this year. So just getting a win would be tremendous and a good way to go into the playoffs."

Monday, February 02, 2009

No Starks, No Problem

Little Hoyas Carry On Minus Starks
By B.J. Koubaroulis
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, February 3, 2009; E07

The raucous crowd of 2,000 at Georgetown Prep shared an awkward silence last night as they watched Little Hoyas junior guard Markel Starks roll around in the lane, writhing in pain as he grabbed his left knee following a collision with a group of Landon defenders.

The Georgetown recruit had dazzled the standing-room only crowd through nearly three quarters, displaying his full arsenal of skills -- deep three-pointers, pull-up jumpers, undeniable dribble-penetration moves, high-flying lay-ins, no-look passes -- and most importantly an impressive poise as he scored 17 points to help the Little Hoyas build an early 20-point lead.

But Starks could only watch from the bench with an athletic trainer wrapping his knee in ice as Landon cut that lead in half in the final seven minutes of the third quarter.

He even hobbled to team huddles during timeouts to hype his teammates, but by the beginning of the fourth quarter it was evident that No. 8 Georgetown Prep didn't need him or his pep talks to dominate No. 11 Landon, 69-53, en route to sole possession of first place in the Interstate Athletic Conference.

Georgetown Prep (15-3, 6-0) won its 10th straight and ended Landon's (13-5, 5-1) six-game winning streak.

"When I went down, the whole rest of the team looked at each other and said 'Let's go,' " said Starks, a 6-foot-2 junior who is averaging more than 20 points per game. "I don't look at myself as the savior of this team. I look at myself just like these guys and tonight, it was great to just sit back and watch."

Little Hoyas senior guard Robert Olson (17 points) -- a 6-foot-4 Loyola (Md.) recruit -- senior guard Paul Llewellyn (nine points), sophomore forward Nat Eggleston (eight points), 6-7 senior center Kevin Mulquin (eight points) and junior guard Thurgood Wynn (eight points) not only survived Starks's absence, they dominated Landon in the second half with a smothering defense that held the Bears to three field goals in the fourth quarter.

"[Markel] really is the centerpiece of this team, but I think tonight says a lot about our team," said Llewellyn, a deep sharp-shooter who knocked in two three-pointers as part of the second-half push.

Landon's Daniel Rubin scored 13 of his team-high 18 points in the second quarter to help the Bears crawl back from a 23-7 first-quarter deficit to make it 43-30 entering halftime.

Landon senior guard Christian Webster had 16 points, but Prep's smothering defense helped limit the high-scoring guard's opportunities.

"I think the main thing tonight was our defense," Olson said.

No. 8 Georgetown Prep 69, No. 11 Landon 53 Prepping for Last Night: Since Landon swept Georgetown Prep in the 2004-05 season, the Little Hoyas have posted a 7-1 record against Landon, winning those seven games by an average of 20.7 points. Starks Update: Georgetown Prep junior guard Markel Starks will have an X-ray on his left knee tomorrow, according to a team trainer.