Neil Yanke was only a sophomore at the time. He wasn't a concern. In fact, he only averaged 3.6 points per game the previous season. Penn was everybody's pick to win the Ivy League title. And the game was not supposed to be much of a contest. But none of that seemed to matter on January 8, 1999. After missing all of the previous season with a medical condition, Penn center Geoff Owens was playing his first Ivy League game in two years. Owens was the one who was supposed to dominate inside. But Yanke had other plans. The previously unknown Elis center made his mark on the Palestra that evening, scoring a game-high 19 points and shooting 5-of-7 from the field. He also held Owens to just two points. The heavily favored Quakers escaped that first league game with a 68-62 win and eventually advanced to the NCAA Tournament with a 13-1 Ivy record. But if there's one thing the Quakers would remember about that snowy January night, it would be Neil Yanke. And Yanke is certainly looking forward to returning to the Palestra tomorrow night. "It's a great gym to play in, and our team seems to play well there," said the 6'10" center who did not play in the Elis' 69-52 loss to the Quakers at Penn last year, the game which clinched Penn's second straight title. When Yanke steps onto the Palestra floor tomorrow, however, he will find himself in a situation to which he and the Elis are not accustomed -- Ivy frontrunner. Yale enters the dreaded Penn-Princeton road trip with a 3-0 league record, enough to give it a half-game lead over the Tigers and Quakers. And Yanke has certainly had something to do with the Elis' surprising start. The senior captain is currently averaging 11.1 points per game, while pulling down 6.1 boards per contest. Penn coach Fran Dunphy knows that Yanke could pose problems for Penn tomorrow. While the Quakers' frontcourt of Koko Archibong, Geoff Owens and Ugonna Onyekwe is widely regarded as the Ancient Eight's best, Dunphy knows from experience that Yanke is one player who may be able to find success at the low post. "All of Yale's team is a concern, and Yanke is obviously a big part of what they do," Dunphy said. But while Yanke could cause trouble down low, he is still not totally sure if he will suit up tomorrow night. Last week, when the Elis dropped a 90-75 game to Penn State at the Lee Amphitheater, Yanke was forced to sit with an ankle injury. He said the ankle feels fine now and will meet with a doctor this morning to check his condition, but Yanke does intend to play this weekend at both the Palestra and Jadwin Gym. Yanke also said that he does not expect the injury to slow him at all and is quite excited for the Elis' first real chance to prove themselves within the league. In the league's preseason media poll, Yale was chosen to finish eighth. Yanke and his teammates are now out to prove the preseason prognosticators wrong. "We feel very confident, very excited," the Akron, Ohio, native said. "No one expected us to be doing what we're doing, and no one expects us to win this weekend." If the Elis do indeed become the fourth team in Ivy League history to pull off the improbable Penn-Princeton weekend sweep, they will probably need a big weekend from their big man. Although the hot shooting of guard Chris Leanza and the interior play of forwards Tom Kritzer and Paul Vitelli allowed the Elis to hang with Penn State for a while, the Elis will likely need the paint presence and leadership of Yanke to succeed this weekend. So far this year, Leanza's outside touch, as well as having other post players to complement Yanke, has allowed the Elis to surge. "If it were just Yanke to concern yourself with, it'd be wonderful," Dunphy said. Instead, Dunphy must prepare his squad for several Yale threats. None, however, stands as tall as the guy who first made himself known at the Palestra two years ago.Comments powered by Disqus
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