RC Focus on Football

by minton on July 25, 2023

Yes, football is returning to Roanoke College in the near future, but Roanoke graduate James Rowe ‘23 and anticipated December graduate Cyrus Pace ‘23 are already making their impact on the college football world. If you watch NBC’s Sunday Night Football, you are accustomed to hearing statistics and player ratings generated by Pro Football Focus (PFF). Announcer Cris Collinsworth is owner and chairman of PFF, which has a crew of employees watching game film and grading player performances on every play.

James and Cyrus were chosen from a large group of applicants to join that crew. They are going through training this summer, so that their grades are consistent with other PFF employees. For this fall, each will analyze one college football game per week. Their ratings will be compiled into player evaluations used by several NFL teams to identify the best players to draft or sign after the season.

In February, James and Cyrus competed in the National Collegiate Sports Analytics Championship. James ranked 14th in the qualifying round, and had an excellent score in the finals. Cyrus was top 20 qualifying and advanced to the Sweet 16 in the finals. Their strong performances were noted by PFF recruiters and played a role in their successful internship applications in a competitive job market. They have both interned with the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs, and James has also interned with the Salem Red Sox.

Congratulations to James and Cyrus! We are excited to see what the future brings for them in sports analytics.

Magnificent Seven

by minton on March 27, 2023

Lilly Blair has told her women’s lacrosse teammates that they are not allowed to wear her number 7 next year. In 2022, Lilly scored 71 goals and was named ODAC Offensive Player of the Year and a national All-American. In sports, such performances often result in a number being retired (not worn by future players). The Roanoke men’s team has, in fact, retired #7 in honor of Bob Rotanz.

Concerns of athletic legacy have nothing to do with Lilly’s decree to leave her number alone. She wants the 7 available when her younger sister Zoe arrives at Roanoke College in 2024-25. Lilly wears number 7 to honor family. Lilly plus four siblings and parents Tommy and Kim make a family of 7. One sister was born on 7-7, another on 3-4 (read as 3+4), and there are other numerological reasons for 7 to feel lucky for each member of what can be called the royal family of Roanoke College.

Lilly and Zoe

Tommy and Kim are RC alums and hold administrative positions in the college. Older sister Emma, whom Lilly idolized and emulated growing up, graduated in 2019 with a triple major in Economics, Actuarial Science, and Spanish (see https://mcsp.pages.roanoke.edu/the-first/ for more on Emma). Lilly was a 2022 valedictorian with majors in Mathematics and Economics, and is finishing her third major of Actuarial Science this year. Brother Zach is a sophomore Business major, and Zoe has committed to Roanoke College. No pressure on youngest sister Eliza.

Lilly has an amazing set of accomplishments at Roanoke College. Here are seven. (1) Valedictorian with a perfect 4.0 GPA. (2) 2022 ODAC Offensive Player of the Year and second team Division III national All-American. (3) Triple major with top Senior Scholar awards in each major. (4) First team Academic All-American. (5) Top 16 finish in the qualifying round for the 2023 National Collegiate Sports Analytics Competition. (6) Over 200 career goals, reaching #200 in game 61. (7) In honoring her as valedictorian, economics advisors Allie Kassens and Michael Enz wrote, “Lilly made a special place in our hearts because of her character, personality and humility.”

I interviewed Lilly for the scholarship competition at Roanoke when she was a high school senior. I had been told, by an anonymous older sister, that I might have a hard time getting her to talk. This was not at all the case. Lilly is thoughtful, quick to laugh, and enjoyable. I had her in six classes plus Stat Crew (adding up to, of course, seven) and she is an ideal student: hard-working and engaged with the material. She was, as advertised, not very talkative in class but a few well-timed questions and a sympathetic smile when an attempted joke completely misses are much appreciated.

One of Lilly’s lacrosse teammates describes her as calm and collected but passionate, a leader who inspires you to do the right thing and is composed enough to help you do it right even in the heat of the moment. Lilly has also been a leader with Stat Crew, which collects data at Roanoke home games. The challenge is to maintain focus for the entire game while cheering on the Maroons and commenting on the game. Lilly is reliable, accurate, and fun. A surprising side effect was her involvement in the National Collegiate Sports Analytics Competition. Contestants were given large data sets of play-by-play data from basketball games, and tasked with finding and communicating something interesting. Lilly’s analysis placed 16th nationally in the fall (see https://cardinalnews.org/2023/03/08/roanoke-college-team-comes-close-to-a-national-title-in-sports-analytics).

Academically, Lilly’s Honors in the Major project is a highlight. Blending her three majors, she analyzed the spread of measles. The question is whether models of measles outbreaks must contain random components to explain their erratic dynamics, or does chaos theory explain the apparent randomness. Lilly studied several epidemiology models and some of the fingerprints of chaos (e.g., the butterfly effect). Her conclusion? Probably a blend of randomness and chaos.

While enjoying her final year of lacrosse, Lilly is interning with HippaWare, a local company that works on self-funded insurance rates. Her job is supersized underwriter work, and has great possibilities for giving her important leads into the insurance business. There are actuarial exams to work on and temptations to try other fields, but for now a career in insurance is plan A. Whatever the future holds, you can bet on success and family playing central roles.

The title for this article comes from a classic Western movie. I’ve never actually seen this movie, or its 2016 remake. But it was great being in the supporting cast for Roanoke’s magnificent number 7, and I look forward to the sequels.

P.S. There are 777 words in this article.

Maroons Second in National Championship!

by minton on February 12, 2023

The Roanoke College team of James Rowe, Selam Mekonnen, and Cyrus Pace earned second place at the National Collegiate Sports Analytics Championship in Dallas, Texas, on February 1-2! Syracuse University won the team championship and Jacob Kauffman of Rice University won the individual national championship. The event was organized by Baylor University and hosted by the Dallas Mavericks.

None of the above paragraph is inaccurate, but it could be misleading. If you follow the weather, you may remember that Dallas was shut down February 1-2 by a winter storm. Reluctantly, the RC group cancelled our flight and stayed home. With travel to Dallas shut down, the organizers shifted to a remote event. Although the Roanoke team finished second, the competition was entirely individual work analyzing a massive basketball data set. Team standings were compiled by average scores of schools with three or more competitors.

All four of Roanoke’s original team members can claim “Sweet Sixteen” status. In the qualifying round held in November, James Rowe placed 14th and Lilly Blair 16th. Lilly was unable to be in the finals because of commitments with her women’s lacrosse team. In the finals “in Dallas” contestants were seeded into seven groups, with the top two in each group advancing to round two. Selam and Cyrus gave excellent presentations to advance to the second round, while James was a close third in a highly competitive group. These are great results!

Each competitor was given five hours to take a large spreadsheet of play-by-play basketball data, isolate a team or player or type of play, distill the data into a small number of insights, and highlight those insights in a five-minute PowerPoint presentation. Cyrus, for example, pulled all plays involving Jaxson Hayes and identified strengths (e.g., pick and rolls, plays designed for him after time outs) and weaknesses (e.g., shooting from the left side of the court). After giving their presentations, they answered questions from a panel of judges drawn from professional sports teams around the country. The judges rated presentations in a variety of categories such as use of statistics, graphics, clarity of results, and responses to questions.

The biggest casualty from the winter storm was the loss of unstructured networking time with the judges, who would have been in recruiting mode. All three RC competitors have an interest in pursuing careers in sports. James and Cyrus have interned with the Roanoke RailYard Dawgs hockey team, and Selam has worked with Stat Crew. Despite being limited to zoom discussions, useful connections were made and the team gained valuable experience in the sports analytics field. However, it’s too bad that our Tex-Mex dinner wasn’t in Texas!

Congratulations to James, Selam, and Cyrus for their outstanding performance and representation of Roanoke College!

Making the Top Twenty

December 20, 2022

Three Roanoke College students placed in the top twenty in the qualifying round of the National Collegiate Sports Analytics Championship hosted by Baylor University. The competition is only open to seniors. James Rowe (Health and Human Performance), Lilly Blair (Actuarial Science), Cyrus Pace (Health and Human Performance), and Selam Mekonnen (Data Science) of Roanoke College […]

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A Top Trio

May 3, 2022

Depending on your age and musical tastes, you may remember the great ZZ Top music videos from the 1980s. ZZ Top, a three-piece blues band from Texas, created a sensation with fast-paced videos featuring a hot rod, hot actors, hot songs, and spinning guitars. The two guitarists in ZZ Top featured long-flowing beards. The drummer, […]

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Little ‘Bits

July 20, 2021

Growing up, one of my friends was the son of a mortician. He’s now the leader of The Ted Vaughn Blues Band. We were trumpet buddies in the band, and made jokes about everything, including his Dad’s ghoulish profession. Years later, I was sitting in on an Honors Math and Art class listening to film […]

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Eric Lee and Actuarial Science Secrets

May 18, 2021

Eric Lee is graduating as Roanoke College valedictorian with a major in Actuarial Science (Honors in the Major), and a minor in Economics. Impressive, yes, but that only begins to scratch the surface of what Eric has accomplished at Roanoke. He sang in the choir, going to France with the choir to sing at Normandy […]

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Megan Wheeler and Sports Analytics Secrets

May 15, 2021

Megan Wheeler is the first person to graduate Roanoke College with a concentration in Sports Analytics. The concentration is an interdisciplinary mix of sports management (Megan’s major), statistics (another concentration for Megan), and computer science. The concentration provides a background for students who might want to pursue a career in sports analytics. For more information […]

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See RC Math Books Grow!

May 12, 2021

Roanoke College mathematics professors Karin Saoub and Hannah Robbins have each had textbooks released in April! The books, published by CRC Press, join a long line of textbooks from RC mathematics faculty. Karin’s Graph Theory: An Introduction to Proofs, Algorithms, and Applications was tested in her MATH 268 (Combinatorics and Graph Theory) course, and introduces […]

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Karin Saoub Receives High Honor!

April 23, 2021

Congratulation to Dr. Karin Saoub, who was recently named the Dr. M. Paul Capp & Constance Whitehead Professor of Mathematics. A prestigious honor, this 5-year award provides funding for a physics or mathematics professor in order to supplement their efforts of furthering their research and of providing students with meaningful research experiences. Once a purely […]

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