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Penn grad student Chris Gagliardi, above, is nicknamed the `Wiz' for his superior skills manning the net for the Quakers. (Ryan Shadis/The Daily Pennsylvanian)

The championship had been years in the making. The transition from a fledgling program comprised of a group of recreational hockey players to a successful, cohesive organization occurred in a series of slowly evolving developmental phases. Five years after the founding of the Penn men's club roller hockey team, the Quakers enjoyed their first taste of championship glory last Wednesday. After losing in the championship series two straight seasons, the Red and Blue finally reigned supreme. With a stirring 4-1 defeat of the Mustangs, the Quakers captured a 3-2 series victory to claim the men's league title. "I am absolutely thrilled," current team captain and former club president Fran Lattanzio said. "The last two seasons we finished second, and now we've got the title that we've worked hard for." The Penn men's roller hockey team was founded in 1995 by undergraduate student Kevin Weissman. The team competed in its first season in a men's league in Woodhaven, Pa., in 1995. Following two years of playing in the Woodhaven league, then-captain Brendan Brennan, along with John Huck of Penn State-Altoona, networked with other local college programs to establish the Eastern Collegiate Roller Hockey Association. After two seasons of league play and the establishment of a National Tournament in 1998, the rapidly expanding league consolidated into segmented regional competition. Within Penn's region, two circuits for roller hockey within the ECRHA were formed, the Local Area Leagues and the Mid Atlantic Region. Whereas the area-specific leagues were intended to be developmental , the MAR was created as a competitive circuit for the region's elite programs. It was in a local men's league that Penn garnered its first championship. "We used the local competition as a means of improving our level of play," Penn's veteran goalie, Chris Gagliardi said. Gagliardi, nicknamed "The Wiz" for his superior goaltending ability -- or so he tells the DP -- began playing with the club in 1997. The team came looking for a goalie," Gagliardi said. "I thought I could help out and also work on my graduate degree at the same time." When Gagliardi first began playing for the Red and Blue, the team featured primarily graduate students. Since then, the team has gotten progressively younger.

"The Wiz" believes the Quakers' youth movement has aided its development. "The fact that the team has gotten younger allows us to plan," Gagliardi said. "We now have a core of guys for multiple years and can build upon past season's accomplishments." Current team members echo Gagliardi's sanguine demeanor. "We're a bunch of guys who like to play hockey," captain Drew Saunders said. "I like playing hockey in a competitive environment and improving my hockey abilities." Players also appreciate the four-on-four game format and the absence of rules regulating offsides and icing. "I wanted to try a new style of play in which I could develop my fundamentals," sophomore Erik Lu said. "The open space resulting from playing four on four allows me to do this." Beyond being a close knit, competitive team in the rink, the Quakers also know how to enjoy themselves when they're not competing. "Our weekend trips are a lot of fun," Gagliardi said, alluding to the nine weekend tournaments that comprise the ECRHA season. "We don't take anything seriously." "Besides the games, that is," a smirking Gagliardi quickly added. In addition to struggling to build a successful program, the Red and Blue have also faced the challenge of legitimizing the team to the Penn student body. "We've had a tough time gaining acceptance as 'real sport,'" Lattanzio, a junior, said. "Positive exposure is great for our club and the sport." Despite the growing recognition amongst Penn students, the team has yet to acquire a stable fan base. "Last season, we were playing in the men's league championship game," sophomore Brett Topche said. "My parents and grandparents came down to Philadelphia to see the game. That set the team attendance record." Future attendance doesn't look to be skyrocketing anytime soon. "It would be great to see some fans," Lattanzio said. "But, with our limited resources, we can't afford to bring fans along to games. "Although it would energize the team, I just don't see it happening." But looking far ahead to the team's future, the Red and Blue are more optimistic. "We've already seen a tremendous amount of improvement in such a short time," Lattanzio said. "In the future, as the team expands and we receive greater recognition on campus, we can only get better."

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