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Center of title hunt, Owens stands tall

(11/16/00 10:00am)

Here's the funny thing about Geoff Owens: For someone who's a foot taller than the average guy, who wears a size 17 shoe, whose nickname is "Big," for crying out loud, he's pretty down to earth. He works hard at school. He's always in bed on time. He's had a steady girlfriend for three years. He likes to play video games. This is the same guy who holds the Quakers record for career blocked shots in three years of play, who grimaces ferociously when he dunks and who once finished a game after breaking his jaw. Just introduce yourself. He'll shake your hand and give you a sincere "How are ya?" You'll take a seat and he'll recline in his easy chair, leaning back slouched enough so that he can look at you at eye level, almost as if to apologize for his 6'11" frame. You wouldn't guess that you're sitting with a guy who stands at the literal center of a Penn basketball team vying for its third consecutive Ivy League championship. You wouldn't guess that this mild-mannered fellow is the Quakers' only captain and one of the last remaining members of a heralded group that reinvigorated Penn hoops. This Dr. Jekyll quickly turns into Mr. Hyde on the basketball court, regardless of opponent or injury. "He's as tough as I've seen, no question about it," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. "I'd be hard pressed to say anybody's tougher. He's proven that over the years." Owens has had a lot of opportunity to prove his toughness, too -- battling a slew of injuries throughout his career -- though perhaps none so telling as his performance at Dartmouth two seasons ago. Just one minute and 48 seconds into the game, Owens dove to save his own loose ball and hit his face hard on the Leede Arena floor. The trainers gave him six stitches at halftime to patch up a gash on his chin, without realizing Owens had actually broken his jaw. Despite tremendous pain, Owens still managed to finish the game with eight points and seven rebounds, shooting four-of-six from the field to help lift the Red and Blue to a decisive 82-49 victory. "I don't remember [the rest of the game]," Owens said. "I think I had a concussion from getting hit so hard. There are bits and pieces. I really didn't remember the ride home. Pretty much the rest of the season's a little bit of a blur." He missed all of one game. For about a month after the Dartmouth game, Owens had to have his jaw wired shut, but he played nonetheless, setting the school record for blocks in a season with 58 and putting up a personal best 9.3 points per game. "It was just so painful," Owens said. "I'm not a person who ever gets headaches, but I just had constant headaches, constant pain. I couldn't eat. I darn near asphyxiated myself trying to run the court because I couldn't breathe so well. "That was the worst." The broken jaw came just a season after he had to sit out due to a heart condition. Owens collapsed in practice in the preseason of what would have been his sophomore year, and was diagnosed with hypertension. With tragic memories of Hank Gathers and Reggie Lewis fresh in mind, doctors advised Owens to sit out the year, while he underwent a battery of tests to determine the gravity of the problem. After four months of extensive tests, doctors gave Owens a clean bill of health and cleared him to play basketball again. "They did about four months of testing and found nothing -- we're talking hours and hours," Owens said. "They probably had 500 hours of my heart on the monitor, and not one even minimal mistake, and I haven't had any problems since." This season, Owens only has a nagging case of heel spurs to deal with, but his teammates know from experience that he'll play through the pain without complaint. "I always ask him how he's doing, and he always says he's fine," freshman forward/center Adam Chubb said. "He just wants to play. And I know that not even from him telling me, just from the way he acts." Owens' actions over his three seasons have placed him in the role of captain, a role to which the usually soft-spoken center is still adjusting. "I have to step it up and really lead vocally more this year as well," he said. "I'm getting better at it. I think I have the respect of the players, so I want to make sure I get everything out of it by being really vocal." A vocal presence in the middle is crucial for a team that graduated mainstays and outspoken co-captains Michael Jordan and Matt Langel. With the departure of the two guards, and the graduation of forwards Paul Romanczuk and Jed Ryan two years ago, only Owens remains of the core group that brought a 12-14 squad to the top of the Ivy League in two years. But this year's team is clearly Owens' team -- one that he said is still struggling to define itself in the post-Jordan era. "I think this team has a completely different identity than any team I've played on," said Owens, who anchors an unusually deep frontcourt. "We really haven't blended as well as we need to yet," he said. "I think that's going to come. I think if we do, we could be one of the best teams -- with no disrespect to Matt and Michael -- I've played on." Of course, Owens has his eyes set on the obvious benchmark -- an NCAA Tournament win, which eluded Jordan and Langel each of the past two years. "I want to get to the tournament and win a couple games at least," Owens said. "It's been very disappointing going in and [not playing] to our potential two years in a row in the tournament. It's really bothered me a lot." Owens hopes to follow his recently graduated teammates overseas to continue his basketball career, a prospect brightened by his 6'11" size -- a hot commodity in European basketball leagues. "I want to play anywhere I can," Owens said. "I have a God-given gift here, and I'm going to try and use it as long as I can. "If I get myself a nice neighborhood, a nice city, I'll enjoy it." After all, Owens is a nice guy. At heart, though, Owens craves the competition that brings out the Mr. Hyde in him. His life is strangely incomplete without basketball. "The only time we're ever regular Penn students is the week after the season, when we have nothing -- we're just off," he said. "It's such a strange feeling. I get cabin fever. 'OK, I did my work, now I have five hours to kill.'" Owens may feel uncomfortable with the idea of becoming just a normal citizen, but this seven-footer is a lot closer to the ground than most.

Another comeback victory for Football

(11/13/00 10:00am)

As Harvard kicker Robbie Wright's wobbly 33-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left with 10 seconds left on the game clock, the Penn football team rushed the field, jubilantly releasing a season's worth of tension. The Quakers had just stolen their third consecutive come-from-behind victory by the narrowest of margins, escaping from Franklin Field with a 36-35 win which keeps them squarely in control of their own destiny in their quest for the Ivy League title. Penn's (6-3, 5-1 Ivy League) dramatic triumph over Harvard (5-4, 4-2) means the Quakers remain in a first-place tie with next week's opponent Cornell, whose own comeback win over Columbia sets up a final week showdown for the Ancient Eight crown in Ithaca, N.Y. Junior quarterback Gavin Hoffman continued his assault on the Penn passing record books, leading an offense that for most of the afternoon was as crisp as the cold November wind blowing in from the northwest. Already the most prolific passer in Quakers history heading into Saturday's contest, Hoffman completed 34-of-47 pass attempts for 394 yards and two touchdowns, including the game winner to Rob Milanese with one minute and 24 seconds left to play. Hoffman spread the ball to nine different receivers, finding tight end Ben Zagorski 10 times for 125 yards and a touchdown and Milanese eight times for 84 yards -- capped off by the 16-yard game-clincher. Running back Kris Ryan added 74 yards rushing and a touchdown on 25 carries. Penn took an uncomfortable 24-21 lead into the locker room at halftime, despite controlling the ball for more than 23 minutes in the first half. Harvard scored all 21 of its first-half points in less than a minute, collectively. On Harvard's first play from scrimmage, Carl Morris took junior quarterback Neil Rose's short pass 77 yards for a touchdown after a missed tackle by cornerback Joey Alofaituli. Just two minutes later, the Crimson took a 14-7 lead on Ben Butler's 54-yard interception return. Penn appeared to have righted its ship once lineman Kevin Martin forced a Rose fumble. Penn cornerback Fred Plaza pounced on the loose ball at the Harvard 16-yard line. Three plays later, Hoffman threw his first touchdown pass of the day -- a 13-yard strike to Zagorski. The momentum swung clearly to the Quakers' side after a nine-play, 72-yard scoring drive to open the second quarter put the Red and Blue up 21-14. But again, the Crimson broke a big play to check Penn's steady offensive surge. Tailback Nick Palazzo burst through the line of scrimmage and a host of would-be Penn tacklers for a 66-yard touchdown scamper, tying the score at 21. Penn kicker Jason Feinberg chipped in an 18-yard field goal to put the Quakers up 24-21 at the half. In the third quarter, however, the Penn offense flagged, failing to convert on consecutive Harvard fumbles deep in Crimson territory. Harvard started its second and third drives with fumbles on first down, but Penn went three-and-out after the first fumble recovery, and Feinberg missed a 44-yard field goal into a 17 mile-per-hour headwind. Imbued with new life, Rose subsequently drove Harvard 73 yards, completing a 1-yard touchdown pass to Chris Stakich for a 28-27 lead. After freshman linebacker Dante Balestracci returned a Hoffman interception to the Penn 29-yard line, Rose found Morris for another touchdown, this one a 26-yard catch on fourth down and seven. But Penn's defense stifled the Crimson in the fourth quarter, taking advantage of costly Harvard penalties and allowing only one third-down conversion on five attempts in the quarter. Penn took the ball at the Harvard 48-yard line after a Crimson punt with 1:36 left in the game. Hoffman wasted no time conjuring up memories of comebacks past, first completing a 32-yard pass to Jason Battung and then finding Milanese for a 36-35 lead. The two-point conversion failed, leaving Harvard a window to spoil the Quakers' Homecoming with even a field goal. And it almost happened. Rose drove the Crimson 69 yards to the Penn 11-yard line with 54 seconds to go. But a false start and three incomplete passes left the Crimson with a fourth-and-15 with 15 seconds left, forcing Harvard coach Tim Murphy to send out freshman kicker Wright for a 33-yarder into the wind. "[Kicking] is far from a strength," said Murphy, whose kickers have converted just three of 12 field goal attempts this season. "We tried to not have to do that today." But after Wright's attempt missed badly and Hoffman took a knee to run out the clock, Penn players and fans breathed a collective sigh of relief, with students spilling out of the stands onto the Franklin Field turf and the newly-fortified west goal posts. It's just as well the goal posts refused to come down, because only a Penn victory at Cornell this Saturday can win Ivy laurels for the Quakers. News and Notes Feinberg's 12 points on the day moved him to 209 for his career, as he passed former Dartmouth kicker Dennis Durkin to become the leading scorer among kickers in Ivy history. He is one behind running back Brian Keys' Penn career points record of 210... Rose broke the Harvard single-season record for passing yards.

Football, Brown to air it out

(10/27/00 9:00am)

If you want to know why Ivy League football teams nowadays are putting up more points than their basketball counterparts, look no further than Brown. Tomorrow at Franklin Field at 12:30 p.m., Penn (3-3, 2-1 Ivy League) welcomes the Bears (4-2, 1-2) -- the godfathers of the new pass-happy, wide-open Ancient Eight. Even though Brown's potent offense has graduated the Ivy League's all-time touchdown passer, James Perry, and his favorite target, current New England Patriots wideout Sean Morey, the Bears are still setting the benchmark for offensive excellence -- and not just in the Ivy League. With Perry understudy Eric Webber taking the reins, the Bears have climbed to the top of Division I-AA, leading the nation in total offense by almost 30 yards per game. Brown puts up a whopping 513.8 yards per game on average. And just last week, the Bears dropped an Ivy League record 690 yards on Cornell in a 56-40 trouncing of the Big Red. Unlike years past, Brown coach Phil Estes has managed to coax a running game this season, behind junior tailback Michael Malan. Malan was honored as the Division I-AA Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts against Cornell. He ran for 234 yards and three touchdowns, caught a touchdown and threw for another on a halfback option. But make no mistake, Brown's bread and butter remains its prolific passing attack. Senior wideout Stephen Campbell leads the nation in receptions per game and receiving yards per game. Last week, Campbell broke Morey's Ivy League career receptions record of 251 catches. His career total now stands at 253, and he is on pace to come within 10 receptions of Jerry Rice's Division I-AA mark of 301. Yet Penn's offense has been quick to follow in the footsteps of the Bears airshow. The Quakers are undefeated at Franklin Field this season, averaging 45.3 points per game at home en route to a 3-0 record. And junior quarterback Gavin Hoffman could post his fifth 300-yard-plus passing effort this season against a Bears defense that is giving up 305 yards in the air per game. In fact, despite the 4-2 mark, the Brown defense is giving up almost 37 points per contest. But the Quakers may have to go at it once more without the services of last year's league leading rusher Kris Ryan, who is still recovering from a knee injury he sustained two weeks ago against Columbia. "We're cautiously optimistic," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. "The trainers were pleasantly surprised. Psychologically, it would good if we could have him for 10-15 carries." With or without Ryan, the key for the Quakers will be containing the explosive Bears offense. "The things you can't let happen are big plays," Bagnoli said. "Obviously, anytime you give up big plays it makes it very difficult to contain anybody." Limiting the big play capabilities of Webber and his cadre of talented receivers is a tall order for a Penn defense that has been victimized by Brown the last two seasons, especially with the absence of senior lineman Brian Person, who is out for the year with a broken ankle. In 1999, Perry passed for 440 yards and five touchdowns as Brown outshot the Quakers 44-37 on their way to a share of the Ivy League title. Two years ago, the Red and Blue lost a back-and-forth Ancient Eight epic, 58-51. The teams traded scores in the fourth quarter, Penn on the ground behind now-Indianapolis Colts fullback Jim Finn and Brown through the air and the arm of Perry. The combined 109 points -- 58 of which came in the final quarter --ÿremain an Ivy League record. Tomorrow's game has major implications on the race for the Ivy crown. Five teams -- Penn, Cornell, Harvard, Princeton and Yale -- all sit atop the standings with a 2-1 conference record. Even if Brown should emerge the victor and catch up to the league leaders, the Bears are ineligible to win the Ivy League this year because of recruiting violations.

Football stops Columbia back

(10/17/00 9:00am)

The story on Columbia this season has been fairly straightforward -- as Johnathan Reese goes, so go the Lions. And in the third quarter of Saturday's 43-25 Penn victory, Johnathan Reese went. Penn and Columbia played a tight game through the first half, the Lions moving the ball on the ground via running back Reese, and the Quakers through the air on the strength of quarterback Gavin Hoffman's arm. Two crucial Columbia turnovers assured a precarious 23-19 Penn lead at halftime. But a swift five-play, 76-yard scoring drive at the start of the second half brought Penn the momentum and an 11-point lead. Down two scores, the run-driven Columbia offense stalled, opening the door for a Quakers runaway victory. Penn's defense came up big in the third quarter, stifling Reese, the Ivy League's second-rated rusher. Reese had carried the ball 20 times in the first half for 84 yards and two touchdowns. But in the third quarter, Reese only managed 13 yards on four touches. With Reese rendered ineffective, Columbia had to turn to uncomfortable territory -- the passing game -- and the results were even worse. Junior quarterback Jeff McCall went 2-for-5 for six yards in the third period, leading the Lions to only one first down and an anemic 19 yards of total offense. By contrast, Hoffman and the Quakers OO' picked up right where they left off, scoring 14 third-quarter points and opening up a 37-19 lead by the quarter's end. Penn's offense was on the field for more than 10 minutes in the third quarter, nullifying Columbia's run-driven, clock-eating offensive attack. "I thought we were right in the game, and then they just whipped us in the third quarter," Columbia coach Ray Tellier said. "We just couldn't continue to generate offense. They did a better job defensively and continued to do a good job on offense." But Tellier and his Lions were hard-pressed to explain just what happened at the start of the second half. "We got our ass kicked," Tellier said. "We didn't execute -- call it what you want." The Penn defense buckled down in the third quarter, forcing rush-happy Columbia into third-and-long situations. On their three first downs in the third quarter, the Lions managed to gain 1, -1 and 0 yards. "In [Columbia's] offense, you keep giving the ball to Reese, who's a pretty good player, and sooner or later they're going to find a crease," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. "It wasn't until we were able to get out in front by two-plus scores that you took him out of the equation a little bit." In the end, Penn held Reese to a season-low 28 carries and 113 yards rushing. Reese, however, is still on pace to be Columbia's first-ever 1,000-yard rusher. Reese needs just 270 yards in the Lions' five remaining games to pass the 1,000-yard threshold. And any hopes 2-3 Columbia has for finishing the season on a winning note lie squarely on the junior tailback's shoulders. In Columbia's two wins, Reese gained an average of 186.5 yards rushing. In its three losses, however, Reese rushed for a less impressive average of 119 yards per game. Reese has powered Columbia to the Ivy League's second-best rushing offense this season. But with the Lions passing game mired at the bottom of the Ivy standings, Columbia can ill afford to have Reese shut down.

Dartmouth proves no challenge for Football

(10/02/00 9:00am)

Gavin Hoffman passed for 336 yards and four touchdowns as the Penn football team steamrolled Dartmouth, 48-14, on Saturday. The Quakers scored touchdowns on their first four possessions en route to a 35-7 halftime lead and an easy victory in both teams' Ivy League opener. Penn's (2-1, 1-0 Ivy League) offensive onslaught marked the third time in as many games that Dartmouth has played(0-3, 0-1) where they have given up 40 or more points. "I just thought we got our asses handed to us," Dartmouth coach John Lyons said. "It was that simple." First-year Penn offensive coordinator Andy Coen's unit was firing on all cylinders. "Last year I was sort of rushed into the starting job," Hoffman said. "I didn't feel that comfortable." But the second-year Northwestern transfer looked completely at ease slicing and dicing the Dartmouth secondary on Saturday. He completed 15 of his first 16 pass attempts and did not throw an interception. Hoffman finished the day 25-for-30, hitting 10 different receivers. Wideout Rob Milanese caught six passes for a team-high 107 yards and two touchdowns. The Big Green -- who in their two previous games had fallen behind 21-0 -- appeared to have righted their ship early on. They marched 74 yards in 3:45 for a touchdown on the first possession of the game for a 7-0 lead. But the Quakers countered immediately, finding the end zone little over one minute later. Hoffman took Penn 70 yards in just four plays, capping the quick drive with a 35-yard strike to a wide-open Colin Smith. On Dartmouth's very next play from scrimmage, quarterback Brian Mann, rolling out of the pocket under pressure, threw an interception to Penn cornerback Kunle Williams, setting up the Quakers at the Dartmouth 27-yard line. Penn wasted no time getting back into the end zone. A screen pass to Smith went for 23 yards, and then Kris Ryan took his first carry of the season in for a four-yard score, putting the Quakers up for good. After that, the momentum swung squarely to the Quakers' side. The suddenly-sluggish Dartmouth offense gave up the ball twice on downs and twice on turnovers, while Hoffman and his receivers continued to run like clockwork. Sophomore linebacker Travis Belden keyed the Penn defensive effort, totaling four and a half tackles and four pass deflections. "They caught us on our heels [with the first drive]," Belden said. "They kind of drove it down our throats." But the defense regrouped and stifled the Dartmouth offense the rest of the day, especially in crucial situations. The Big Green went 4-of-14 on third down conversions and just 1-of-5 on fourth down conversions. All four of the fourth down stops came in Penn territory, two of them in the red zone. On the other hand, Penn converted 12-of-18 third down situations. Three times, the Quakers scored touchdowns on third down plays. "That's a sign that we're getting a little bit more mature," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said of his young squad. "When your offense scores right away, and then the defense slams the door." With a 42-7 lead midway through the third quarter, Bagnoli relieved many of his starters, including Hoffman and running backs Mike Verille and Ryan. Sophomore quarterback Mike Mitchell went 4-for-6 passing for 64 yards, including a 34-yarder to freshman Jonathan Robinson. The third-down connection extended a long drive that culminated in sophomore running back Todd Okolovitch's first collegiate touchdown. Okolovitch carried the ball a game-high 13 times, gaining 48 yards. Ten of those rushes came on the touchdown-scoring drive, which ate up 7:07 worth of clock in third and fourth quarters. News and Notes With his third completion of the day -- a 20-yard first quarter pass to Milanese -- Hoffman passed the 3,000-yard mark in his Quakers career.... Penn now leads the all-time series with Dartmouth, 35-31-2. Penn won the first meeting 16-0 in 1896 .... Milanese is the third-most prolific receiver in Division I-AA, with 8.33 catches per game. Tops is Brown's Steve Campbell, with 12.33, and second is Dartmouth's Damien Roomets, at 9.00.

Football rolls over Big Green

(09/30/00 9:00am)

Gavin Hoffman passed for 336 yards and four touchdowns as Penn steamrolled Dartmouth 48-18. The Quakers scored touchdowns on their first four possessions en route to a 35-7 halftime lead and an easy victory in both teams' Ivy League opener. Penn's (2-1, 1-0 Ivy League) offensive onslaught marked the third time in as many games the Dartmouth (0-3, 0-1) has given up 40 or more points. The Big Green appeared to have righted their ship early on, marching 74 yards in 3:45 for a touchdown on the first possession of the game for a 7-0 lead. But the Quakers countered immediately, finding the end zone little over one minute later. Hoffman took Penn 70 yards in just four plays, capping the quick drive with a 35-yard strike to a wide-open Colin Smith. On Dartmouth's very next play from scrimmage, quarterback Brian Mann, rolling out of the pocket under pressure, threw an interception to Penn cornerback Kunle Williams, setting up the Quakers at the Dartmouth 27-yardline. Penn wasted no time getting back into the end zone. A screen pass to Smith went for 23 yards, and then Kris Ryan took his first carry of the season in for a four-yard score, putting the Quakers up for good. With the lead, the Penn defense regrouped and put the clamps on the Dartmouth offense, especially in crucial situations. The Big Green went 4-of-14 on third down conversions and just 1-of-5 on fourth down conversions. All four of the fourth down stops came in Penn territory, two of them in the red zone. On the other hand, Penn converted 12-of-18 third down situations. Three times, the Quakers cored touchdowns on third down plays. "That's a sign that we're getting a little bit more mature," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said of his young squad. "When your offense scores right away, and then the defense slams the door." Hoffman finished the day 25-for-30 passing, and passed the 3000-yard mark in his Quakers career. With a 42-7 lead midway through the third quarter, Hoffman was relieved by sophomore Mike Mitchell, who went 4-of-6 for 64 yards.

Yale visits Cornell in early-season Ivy showdown

(09/22/00 9:00am)

For Cornell and Yale, the Ivy League season opener just might turn out to be one of the most important games of the year. Tomorrow, Cornell (0-1, 0-0 Ivy League) welcomes Yale (1-0, 0-0) to Schoellkopf Field in an early-season showdown of the two preseason Ivy favorites. The Big Red and the Elis both received seven first-place votes in the Ivy League preseason football media poll. Penn finished third with two first-place votes of its own. It's hard to call the second game of any season a must-win, but tomorrow's victor will claim the inside track to the Ivy crown, with third-ranked Penn still yet to begin Ivy competition. The all-important clash of the Ancient Eight heavy hitters could not come at a better time for Yale, riding a 10-game winning streak -- the longest in Division I-AA. Further swelling the Elis' sails is their record-setting 800th victory last week against Dayton. Yale beat Michigan -- which has 798 wins -- to the 800-win landmark, becoming the winningest college football program in the nation. And the Elis did it in impressive fashion, thrashing the Flyers, 42-6. Yale got an impressive debut from quarterback Peter Lee. The 6'5" lefty completed 19-of-23 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns. Lee backed up standout Joe Walland last season after transferring from Wisconsin. Cornell's season, on the other hand, began on a downbeat note, with a 38-15 drubbing at Bucknell. The Big Red jumped out to a 7-0 lead on a 15-yard Ricky Rahne touchdown pass to Keith Ferguson, but it was all downhill from there. The Bison rattled off 31 straight points, effectively putting the game away by the beginning of the fourth quarter. Yale knocked Cornell out of Ivy title contention last year with a convincing 37-20 win that propelled the Elis to a share of the league lead with Brown. The Elis outperformed the Big Red in front of 16,071 fans at Schoellkopf Field, putting the game away with two fourth-quarter touchdown runs. News and Notes Yale is tops in the NCAA with 800 wins. Filling out the top 10 are: Michigan (798), Notre Dame (769), Nebraska (744), Princeton (737), Texas (736), Alabama (735), Penn State (735), Penn (734) and Harvard (729).

Alofaituli wants to enjoy football

(09/14/00 9:00am)

The little things don't bother Joey Alofaituli. Come to think of it, the big things don't seem to bother him either. Penn's starting weakside cornerback and one of four team captains, Alofaituli can often be spotted in a Hawaiian shirt, sporting a large grin. For Alofaituli, it's the same in life as it is in football -- it has to be fun. In a meeting of team captains before training camp, Alofaituli stressed his philosophy. "We had dinner, and he just said, OThis has to be fun,'" junior running back and fellow captain Kris Ryan said. "I agree with him. If it's not fun, it's not even worth doing. "It's not to say that you don't need hard work, but at the same time, if you're not having fun just playing football in general, it's not even worth it." Things haven't always come so easy to Alofaituli, though. After moving to Los Angeles from Hawaii when he was 3 years old, his parents divorced. His father moved upstate to San Francisco, where Alofaituli visited odd weekends and holidays. Spending much of his time in L.A., Alofaituli forged a very close relationship with his mother, Denise Dellomes. It was for that relationship that Alofaituli was to give up football, and for that relationship that he would eventually return to the game. His childhood was characterized by constant moving around until the family settled in Torrance, Calif. "We've been in Southern California, but we've moved like six times," Alofaituli said. "I had been to so many different schools up until high school." Once in high school at North Torrance, Alofaituli wasted little time making his mark, athletically and academically. He was a tri-sport standout in football, basketball and baseball, captaining the first two teams. He won All-League awards in football and baseball and was named the Scholar-Athlete of the Year as a senior. When it came time to choose a college, Alofaituli looked east, short-listing Penn and Columbia. An L.A. kid through and through, Alofaituli knew New York wasn't the place, so he came to Penn. But freshman year, things weren't much fun. After an unhappy first year at school and with his mother going through her second divorce, Alofaituli quit the football team and went home, doubtful that Penn was the place for him. Determined to give it another chance, Alofaituli set out to use his sophomore year as a litmus test. All it took was one football game in the stands to realize that he sorely missed the game he loved. He returned to the Quakers that year in spring ball, with a newfound determination to prove he belonged. That determination carried over into his other newfound commitment, the dance group Strictly Funk. "I know Joey worked his ass off to make his schedule work so that he could do both," Strictly Funk founder Jennifer Weber said. "He would be running, running back and forth from practices. Sometimes he'd have to go to make-up football practices because he would miss football for dance or vice versa." After that, Alofaituli rose to become one of the leaders of the Penn defense while being named an All-Ivy honorable mention last year. Now in his fifth year at Penn, Alofaituli is one of the most game-tested Quakers at any position. Penn coach Al Bagnoli said that his combination of experience, excitement and work ethic makes him an asset at captain. "He likes everything about [the game], and that kind of rubs off on some other people," Bagnoli said. Said sophomore defensive back Fred Plaza: "I think he's probably the most exciting kid on the team. He's always up for anything. He gets everyone pumped up before games." And he's back to having fun.

Finn makes NFL debut for Colts

(09/07/00 9:00am)

Jim Finn has taken a career path different from those of his fellow 1999 Wharton graduates. He has shunned spreadsheets for stat sheets, Goldman Sachs for just plain sacks. Last Sunday, Finn was in Kansas City to play his first regular season NFL game as a fullback for the Indianapolis Colts. As fullback, Finn's primary responsibilities will be blocking for Indianapolis' superstars, running back Edgerrin James and quarterback Peyton Manning. But with 1999 Offensive Rookie of the Year James handling the lion's share of the running game out of one-back sets, Finn's major contribution to the Colts this season will come on special teams. Finn embraced the role and is one of only three players on the Colts to be on every special team. "[In the NFL], every position, every play is extremely important because you have such good athletes," Finn said. "There's a lot of preparation and game planning, each day studying film for special teams." Finn's NFL career started off on a dubious note, as he was dubbed "Mr. Irrelevant" after the Chicago Bears made him the last overall pick in the 1999 draft. In Chicago, Finn was a member of the practice squad last year after getting cut from the regular roster in the 1999 preseason. This summer, Finn caught on with Indianapolis and is now the No. 1 fullback on the depth chart for Jim Mora's Colts, one of the league's elite teams. "I couldn't have asked for a better situation," Finn said. "I never really had [many] doubts. I always believed that I could play in this league. In some respects [getting cut] makes you work even harder." Last Sunday, in the Colts' 27-14 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, Finn made two special teams tackles and saw limited time on offense. In the preseason, he had 22 carries for a respectable 63 yards. "Fullback isn't used every down," Finn said. "I'm only in for five to 15 reps on offense, so I have to make them count." Finn is used to making his presence felt on offense. At Penn, he was an integral part of the 1998 Ivy League champions, setting school records with 1,450 yards on 323 carries. He also won the Bushnell Cup as the Ivy League MVP. Now, though, Finn gets to perform in front of crowds a bit larger than those in the sparsely populated Franklin Field bleachers. Finn lived every young ballplayer's fantasy last Sunday, walking out into a sold-out Arrowhead Stadium on opening day. "It was everything I thought it would be," Finn said. "I've always dreamed of walking out onto the field in front of 80,000 people. You can barely hear yourself think." While the noise level may take some adjusting, Finn said the jump to the NFL from college has not been as daunting as one might think. "It's sort of like going from high school to college," he said. "It's a little bit faster, but it's not anything unbelievable. "You get thrown into the fire -- either you adjust or you get thrown out of it real quick." Coming from the Ivy League, which only has a handful of players in the NFL, has not been a problem for Finn, either. "Once you're here, you're here, because you can play football," Finn said, although he did admit to an occasional ribbing. "It's not like they belittle you -- it's just your school." Finn follows Quakers standouts Joe Valerio, Miles Macik and Mitch Marrow into the NFL. Offensive lineman Valerio was drafted by Kansas City in the 1991 draft and spent six years with the Chiefs and Rams. Macik, a wide receiver, signed with the Detroit Lions for a year in 1996, and after that played in NFL Europe. Defensive lineman Marrow was drafted in the third round of the 1998 draft by the Carolina Panthers, but injuries ended his career before he played a game

Baseball conquers Italians

(08/31/00 9:00am)

The only Italian word the Penn baseball team needs to know is vittoria. The Quakers had a successful trip to Italy in late May and early June, going 5-1-1 on the continent. Former Quakers catcher Jeff Gregorio did not need an interpreter to figure out San Marino Expos pitching. The Penn leader in home runs and runs batted in, who graduated in May, hit a three-run shot, highlighting a five-run third inning. But the Expos tagged starter Ben Krantz for five runs, and added another off Mike Mattern to force a 6-6 tie. The game was called after eight innings due to dipping temperatures. The next day the Quakers got back on track, as Bill Collins and Chris May propelled Penn past Goda in a 10-3 triumph. Collins went 2-for-3 with a double and three runs batted in, and May chipped in another RBI. Paul Grumet -- who as a freshman led the Quakers staff with a 1.38 earned run average -- rendered Goda's bats silenzioso, allowing one run in three innings of work. Mark Lacerenza came on in relief, giving up two runs on three hits. He struck out four in four innings of work. Penn ended its Italian voyage with a game against a third-tier opponent, the Rimini Torreos. Gregorio pounded three homers, getting six RBIs on the day, and Andrew McCreery hit a grand slam in the second inning as the Quakers rolled, 18-0. Ron Rolph and pitcher Dan Fitzgerald also added dingers for Penn. After scoring 14 runs in the first two innings against the overmatched club, Penn coach Bob Seddon made adjustments accordingly, letting his pitchers handle much of the batting duties in the last few innings. Gregorio, after four years as a catcher at Penn, saw his first action at center field, while regular center fielder Kevin McCabe got to pitch an inning. In his first outing since high school, McCabe fared well, retiring the side in order. Ben Otero, who went 3-3 for the Quakers as a freshman, was molto buono against Rimini. He threw six strikeouts in two innings against the Torreos. The 18-0 win was not the only thing that impressed Seddon about Rimini. "What a beach!" Seddon said. "You have to see it to believe it. There are no beaches here like that." Seddon said that the seven-game schedule at times got a bit hectic. The team would often go straight from sightseeing to the ballpark. But the Quakers spent the final two days of the trip resting and relaxing in Switzerland. Penn's only loss on the trip came at Nettuno, which leads Italy's top baseball division. Overall, though, Seddon said that the state of baseball is still fledgling in Europe. "It really hasn't improved a lot [since the 1970s]," Seddon said. "You don't see a lot of baseball fields, but the fields you see are really nice." While the purpose of the trip was not exactly competitive, Seddon did get a chance to look at players in different positions for next season. Seddon made frequent substitutions so that everyone got equal time on the field. The Quakers were happy to pick up five wins in Italy, but were happier about the food. "We ate at all the top restaurants," Seddon said. The games took on the feel of a friendly international meeting, with teams trading hats and eating together afterward. Twice the Quakers had to lend pitchers to their opponents. "We were there to play baseball, but we were also there to have fun," Gregorio said. "It was great to play [while] nice and relaxed.

Baseball hits 20 wins to end season

(05/03/00 9:00am)

Penn split four games with Columbia in a home-and-home series to avoid the basement in the Lou Gehrig Division. The Penn baseball team celebrated May Day one day early this year. Junior right fielder Chris May's seven runs batted in propelled the Quakers (20-21, 9-11 Ivy League) to a doubleheader sweep of Columbia (10-34, 6-14) on Sunday. Sunday's wins avenged two losses at Columbia the day before and stopped a late season tailspin that saw the Quakers drop seven games in a row. "There was a pride factor [in Sunday's doubleheader]," senior captain Kevin McCabe said. "In my mind, we were a lot better team than Columbia. We wanted to prove to ourselves and everyone else that we were a better team than that." In Sunday's first game, freshman Andrew McCreery pitched a complete game, holding the Lions bats at bay. McCreery scattered six hits over seven innings, allowing just three runs in a 13-3 Penn rout. Penn's hitters, held in check the weekend before by Princeton's staff, erupted early, affording McCreery the luxury of pitching with a huge lead, unlike the tight game that he pitched last Monday at Old Nassau. May -- batting in the cleanup spot --Etouched Columbia starter Ryan Kiernan in the bottom of the first for a two-run homer, his first of two dingers on the day. In the bottom half of the second, Penn rallied for five more runs, all with two outs. After Kiernan gave up singles to McCabe and Jim Mullen and hit May with a pitch to load the bases, the junior pitcher walked Glen Ambrosius to bring in a run. Designated hitter Jeff Gregorio then singled in two more runs. A single by Ron Rolph brought in Ambrosius, and Gregorio came around to score from first on an error. It appeared as if Columbia would strike back in the top of the third inning. After a William Hess triple brought in two runs to make the score 7-3, McCreery walked the bases loaded. But the freshman -- who finished the year leading Penn's regular starters with a 4.99 earned run average -- buckled down and struck out Keith Palmieri to end the inning. McCreery shut the Lions down after the third, throwing shutout ball the rest of the game to pick up his team-leading fifth win of the year. In the nightcap, junior Brian Burket picked up a win in relief of freshman Ben Otero. Burket pitched the last 4 1/3 innings of the game and held off a late Columbia rally in Penn's 13-9 triumph. The win brought Penn to the 20-win plateau for the first time since 1996, when the Quakers tied for the Gehrig Division title. The win also marks the 12th time in his 30-year career that Penn coach Bob Seddon guided his team to 20 or more victories in a season. "One of my personal goals was to get at least 20 wins," McCabe said. "It's certainly something to build on -- we made an 11-game turnaround." Last year's squad finished 9-28. Penn jumped out to a 6-3 lead in the third inning. The six-run rally was highlighted by May's bases-loaded double, which scored two. Burket relieved Otero in the top of the fifth inning with the bases loaded and one run in. But Burket got Andrew Pisano to fly to right field, ending the inning. Burket's win came a day after the junior hurler picked up a loss in Saturday's first game in New York. After starter Mike Mattern was lifted in favor of Burket in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Lions pounced to erase a 9-5 lead. Columbia scored five runs in their last at-bat to steal the game 10-9. In the second game, freshman Ben Krantz was tagged for seven runs in three innings and gave up eight walks. The freshman's record dropped to 2-2 for the year as Penn's ninth inning rally fell short. Despite 16 hits, the Quakers stranded nine runners in the 9-7 loss.

Owls fly into Murphy Field to face Baseball

(04/12/00 9:00am)

The Quakers will look to avenge their loss to Temple in this March's Liberty Bell Classic this afternoon. Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Unfortunately for the Penn baseball team -- which has lost 10 of its 13 games by two runs or less -- almost doesn't count in baseball. But today at Murphy Field at 3 p.m., the Quakers have a chance to get one of those close losses back. Penn (13-13) welcomes Temple (12-17-2) to the West Side, looking to avenge its heartbreaking 5-4 loss to the Owls in 10 innings at the Liberty Bell Classic on March 28. On a drizzly day at Veterans Stadium, the Quakers squandered a 4-1 lead and an excellent outing from sophomore Mike Mattern, as the Owls rallied to hand Penn its eighth consecutive loss at the Liberty Bell Classic. The Quakers appeared set to cruise to a victory when they tagged Temple starter Chris Joyce for two runs in the fourth and two more in the fifth. But Joyce and reliever Jeff Rugg stymied Penn's bats after the fifth, allowing just one hit -- Chris May's leadoff triple in the eighth inning. But Penn's bats have not been very quiet since. After the Temple game, the Quakers have averaged almost 12 hits a game, including an amazing 33-run, 27-hit outburst against La Salle. But the pitching staff has been another matter. Penn's relievers let the team down last weekend, as the Quakers dropped three of four games to Ivy rivals Dartmouth and Harvard to fall into a three-way tie for first place in the Ivy League's Gehrig Division. Cornell, Princeton and Penn all have 4-4 league records, while Columbia is one game back at 3-5. "Pitching had a rough weekend," said catcher Jeff Gregorio, who leads the Quakers with four home runs and 34 runs batted in. "We're swinging the bat well right now, so that's going to carry us along." Junior Brian Burket starts for the Quakers today. Burket, who is second on pitching coach Bill Wagner's staff with a 4.08 earned run average, has made six appearances in relief for Penn this season. "Brian is kind of a middle guy, but he'll throw strikes," Penn coach Bob Seddon said. "Temple swings the bat. We would love to have a left-handed pitcher for this game." Seddon expects up to four or five pitchers to see action in today's game, mostly ones who will not be depended on for extensive work this weekend, when Penn officially opens its new ballpark at Murphy Field with two doubleheaders against Cornell. Even though the midweek game does not have ramifications for the Quakers as far as postseason play is concerned, the Quakers insist they are not looking past Temple to the weekend series. "It's not an Ivy League game, but you still want to brush up," Gregorio said. "The last thing we want to do is fall below .500." Further spurring Penn is the bitter taste left by the 5-4 loss at the Vet. "We probably should have beat them the first time," Gregorio said. "That's one motivating factor that'll drive us to play better." While Seddon has his lineup mostly solidified, outfielder Jeremy McDowell and catcher Ralph Vasami will see action today. With freshman Andrew McCreery out sick earlier in the year, the senior McDowell made the most of his opportunity to play. McDowell leads the Quakers with a .444 batting average, and in 12 games he has 12 hits and 10 runs scored. The Quakers bench will be a little short today. Sophomore catcher Brian Fitzgerald and freshman standout Zach Hanan are both troubled by back problems. In 14 games, Hanan has managed a .378 batting average, second-best on the Quakers, and he leads the team with a .622 slugging percentage. May has been playing through a pulled groin, and freshman pitcher Kevin Wells' arm problems further stretch a struggling pitching staff.

Baseball loses three-run lead, game to Owls at Vet

(03/29/00 10:00am)

The Quakers had a 4-1 lead after the top of the fifth, but fell in 10 innings to city rival Temple. Even a little rain couldn't spell the Penn baseball team's Veterans Stadium drought. Battling a constant drizzle, the Quakers (8-8) lost their eighth straight Liberty Bell Classic opener, this one a 5-4 extra-inning heartbreaker against Temple (7-11-2). Getting six solid innings from sophomore starter Mike Mattern -- last year's staff ace -- and holding a 4-3 lead after seven innings, Penn looked as if it was on its way to exorcising its Liberty Bell demons. But missed opportunities at the plate and costly walks from their relief pitchers left the Quakers shaking their heads. Mattern got off to an inauspicious start when Temple leadoff man Jim Tully greeted him with a home run in the bottom of the first inning. But Mattern bore down and showed flashes of the stuff that won him six of the Quakers' nine victories last season. In the third inning, Mattern got into trouble when a leadoff single followed by a walk and an error put men on second and third with no outs. But Mattern used two timely strikeouts and a fly out to get out of the jam. Penn responded offensively the next inning. Center fielder Andrew McCreery, who went 2-for-4 on the day, smacked a single up the middle. Chris May then singled to right on a hit-and-run, giving freshman Nick Italiano runners at the corners with just one out. Italiano popped out foul behind third base, but McCreery alertly tagged up and scored, as Owls third baseman Sam Sabolchick had to make an awkward over-the-shoulder catch that put him in poor throwing position. Penn right fielder Kevin McCabe, who has found a new home at the nine-spot in Penn coach Bob Seddon's lineup, singled May home to put the Quakers up, 2-1. After a one-two-three bottom half of the fourth by Mattern, Penn added two more runs to its lead. Glen Ambrosius reached base on a fielder's choice, stole second and advanced to third on an errant throw by Temple catcher Andrew Clemens. Cleanup hitter Jeff Gregorio drew a walk, and then Ron Rolph singled home Ambrosius. McCreery then hit a deep grounder to Owls shortstop Cap Poklemba, whose quick throw to second was mishandled by second baseman Tully, loading the bases with only one out. But the Quakers could only manage one more run in the inning off a May sacrifice fly that scored Gregorio and made the score 4-1 Penn after four and a half. The Owls clawed their way back into the game in the bottom of the fifth. A two-run triple from Temple's top hitter, Rob Cucinotta, brought the North-siders back to within one run. By the end of the sixth inning, Mattern had already thrown 120 pitches, so Seddon and pitching coach Bill Wagner brought in junior Matt Hepler to pitch at the start of the seventh inning. "If we pitched [Mattern] any more, we wouldn't have him for the weekend," Seddon said. "You can't let a kid pitch more than that." After a scoreless seventh, Hepler walked Sabolchick to start the bottom of the eighth, and a wild pitch allowed him to advance to second. Next, Hepler walked Bob Filler, but Hepler's fourth ball was also a wild pitch, advancing Sabolchick to third. With runners at the corners and no outs, Seddon brought in freshman Paul Grumet. Grumet struck out his first batter, but then gave up a sacrifice fly to Poklemba that knotted the score at four apiece. A leadoff walk in the bottom of the 10th turned out to be Grumet's downfall. A single, a sacrifice bunt and an intentional pass loaded the bases. Then, substitute designated hitter Kyle Sweppenhiser singled to right center to clinch the win for Temple. Temple pitcher Jeff Rugg silenced the Quakers' bats in relief of starter Chris Joyce. The junior reliever pitched the eighth, ninth and 10th innings for the Owls, his only blemish being a leadoff, warning-track triple to May in the top of the eighth. "We didn't put them away when we had the chance," Seddon said. "We didn't score when we had a runner on third and nobody out." The Quakers only managed one hit -- May's triple -- after the fifth inning, and four times Penn had runners in scoring position with one out or less, but failed to convert. "It's too bad. That ball almost went out of there," Seddon said of May's warning-track shot. "If he hit it anywhere else in the ballpark it was a home run."

Baseball splits two doubleheaders

(03/27/00 10:00am)

Only two weeks into the season, the Penn baseball team is in unchartered waters -- .500. A pair of split doubleheaders with Mount St. Mary's (9-12) this weekend left the Quakers at 7-7, while the '99 squad went 9-28 for its entire campaign and was 4-10 at this point in the season. Penn relied heavily on the strength of its freshman class, winning the first and last games of a four-game series, 8-7 and 18-6, respectively. Paul Grumet (1-0) and Andrew McCreery (3-0) picked up the wins for the Quakers. Grumet now leads the Quakers with a 1.50 earned run average, and McCreery has the most wins on Penn's staff. Freshman Ben Otero chipped in five innings of work in the second game Saturday, but was outdueled by another freshman -- hard-throwing Brian Santo, who pitched a complete game for the Mountaineers, giving up just three hits and one unearned run, handing the Quakers a 6-1 loss. Penn freshmen also saw plenty of action on the field. Zach Hanan started three of the four games at third base, and Nick Italiano got in time at second base at the end of two games. Fittingly, it was freshman McCreery's walk in the bottom of the eighth that drove in the winning run to start Penn's weekend off with a win. The Quakers rallied to score four runs in the bottom of the third inning to tie the game at six. Then Penn went up 7-6 the next inning on McCreery's ground out. But the Mountaineers tied the game back up in the fifth when Quakers sophomore Matt Hepler walked in a run. After Hepler ran into trouble, Grumet came in and slammed the door on Mount St. Mary's, throwing 3 1/3 innings of scoreless relief. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth, Mountaineers freshman Blake Smith walked McCreery on four pitches to give the decision to Penn. In the nightcap, Penn's bats went dry, held at bay by fireballer Santo and his low-90s fastball. But the Quakers did have their opportunities -- three times they left two runners on base in an inning. Otero was matching Santo, allowing just two hits and a run through four, but the Mountaineers caught up with him in the fifth, tagging him for four runs. "They're an aggressive hitting team, and I left a couple changeups up. They hit some good pitches," Otero said. "But we left too many people on base. He's a good pitcher -- he threw hard, and his off-speed stuff was working. We didn't come out offensively enough." Yesterday's twin bill began with a 7-6 loss for the Quakers. Mount St. Mary's sophomore Brandon Woodward pitched 4 1/3 innings, giving up five runs on seven hits, but was good enough to get the win. Sophomore Mark Lacerenza (0-2) picked up his second loss of the season, going 3 1/3 and getting tagged for six runs, including a five-run fourth that did the Quakers in. Brian Burket pitched the final 3 2/3, allowing a run on two hits. Lacerenza ran into trouble with runners on second and third with one out. He issued four straight walks, bringing in three runs. Then, left fielder Tommy Merical doubled to drive in two more. Penn bounced back with three in the bottom of the fifth. The Quakers scored three after back-to-back doubles by Kevin McCabe and Oliver Hahl, an RBI single by Jeff Gregorio and a wild pitch. But although the Red and Blue had runners on second and third with one out, Ron Rolph struck out and Chris May flied to right to end the inning. Penn finished the weekend off strong, with an 18-6 pounding in yesterday's second game. Penn jumped on Mount St. Mary's starter Adam Byer early and often, building a 6-0 lead by the third inning. Designated hitter Jeff Gregorio, who had five home runs for the Quakers last year, got his first homer of the year the next inning. Gregorio, who bats cleanup, said he was relieved when he hit the three-run blast. "It felt good to get that one out of the way," said Gregorio, who leads the Quakers with 15 RBI. "I've been hitting the ball OK, but I really haven't been driving the ball that much." Mount St. Mary's first baseman Brian Thomas, who had two dingers of his own in the series finale, said Penn's six-run fourth took the wind out of the Mountaineers' sails. "The first three games we played real well, and then the last game I think we basically kind of quit," Thomas said. "A couple of errors and people just hung their heads." McCreery capped a great weekend with 5 1/3 innings of work to pick up his third win of the year. "He seems to have pretty good outings every time he goes out," Gregorio said. "I think it was 13-5 when he came out of the game, and he was still pissed off that he was not able to finish off the game. It's good to see that intensity. He wants the ball all the time." Penn coach Bob Seddon was pleased with the standout performances from his freshmen, but said that the few veterans on his young ballclub need to pick up their games. "You didn't count on those guys [the freshmen], and they're the ones who are really holding us [up]," Seddon said. "If we get the contribution from the other upperclassmen like we expect, if we get some pitching, we'll be a very good team. But until then, we're going to be back and forth."

Wrestling's Matter now national champion

(03/21/00 10:00am)

The senior, wrestling at 157 pounds, helped lead the Quakers to a ninth-place national finish. ST. LOUIS -- There were no tears of joy. There was no fist-pumping revelry. In fact, at his press conference, Wharton senior Brett Matter seemed to be breathing a sigh of relief. Just minutes before, Matter won the NCAA wrestling championship in the 157-pound weight class. He became Penn's first NCAA champion since Richard DiBatista in 1942. In front of 16,795 fans at the Kiel Center in St. Louis on Saturday night, Matter beat Larry Quisel of Boise State in a tight, 4-2 bout. His victory helped propel Penn to a ninth-place team finish -- its highest in 60 years. While Matter was clearly the star for the Quakers, his fellow tri-captains, senior Bandele Adeniyi-Bada and junior Rick Springman, also earned All-America honors. Springman finished fifth at 174 pounds, while Adeniyi-Bada took sixth in the heavyweight division. "Accomplishing your goals is an unbelievable feeling," Matter said after the match. "It's almost given me peace of mind. I put in so many hours and sacrificed so many different things over my college years, over high school, and now to see it actually come true is unbelievable." In his four years wrestling at Penn, Matter compiled a record of 128-14, making him Penn's all-time winningest wrestler. He also earned All-American honors at last year's NCAA championships, placing fifth. And with his title at the NCAAs this year, Matter and his father, Andrew, joined just three other father-son pairs to win a NCAA championships. Andrew Matter won back-to-back titles at 167 pounds for Penn State in 1971 and 1972. Matter's older brother, Clint, also wrestled for Penn, winning an Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association title and qualifying for the NCAA Tournament in 1997. Wrestling success has become a Matter family tradition, one that Brett seemed destined to uphold. "Brett usually won the tournament that he was in," Andrew Matter said of his son's early wrestling career. Brett posted a 125-9 record at Delran High School in New Jersey and won two state titles. When it came time for college, Matter chose the Wharton School over his father's alma mater. And when it came time for Brett to challenge for the national title, his father was there to dispense first-hand advice. "[My advice was] try to stay focused and be prepared that it's going to be a long three days," Andrew said. "I've talked to him about this tournament and how he has to prepare himself to win it ever since he's been old enough to listen to me." Despite the tremendous family legacy, Brett said he did not feel any extra pressure to win. "[My father] told me I should have won by five or six points, but he always says stuff like that," Matter said. "I think it's his way of building my confidence -- I don't know. He's always been very supportive. He never made me wrestle." As Andrew saw his son write his way into the Penn wrestling history books, he said watching from the stands was more trying than competing on the mat. "It's a lot more nerve wracking when you're not wrestling," he said. "When you're out there wrestling, you're not nervous. All the nerves have to go away after you shake hands. But when you're up here you're nervous the whole time." Indeed, Brett gave his father something to be nervous about in his semifinal match against Corey Wallman of Wisconsin. Matter took a 1-0 lead into the final period against Wallman, but was reversed late in the bout to fall behind, 2-1. With nine seconds left, Matter took the down position on the mat, needing at least an escape point to take the match into overtime and to keep his title hopes alive. With three seconds left in the bout, Matter reversed Wallman, going up, 3-2. He held on to win and advance to the finals match with Quisel, who had beaten Iowa's top-seed and heavy favorite T.J. Williams in overtime just moments earlier. The two semifinal matches -- held on adjacent mats simultaneously -- provided high drama for the record-setting Kiel Center crowd. Quisel took defending champion Williams down to win his match just as Wallman reversed Matter. "I was sitting there for a minute, because [the Penn and Wisconsin coaches] were arguing about something," Matter said. "I saw Quisel win, and then I knew that I had to get out." Quisel's win denied Matter the opportunity to avenge his only loss of the year, a 5-3 decision to Williams in December. Before the match with Quisel, Williams, a sophomore, had not lost a match in his college career. "I think it's very ironic that we started in October and trained every day through yesterday for Williams and it didn't happen," Penn coach Roger Reina said. "We were ready and in some ways disappointed that Brett didn't have the opportunity to wrestle Williams." Williams or not, Matter was determined to achieve a goal he had set for himself since childhood. "I've always been confident that I was going to win," he said. "I think it's natural to have some doubt, but a true champion erases that doubt right off that bat."

Wrestling cracks top 10 in best NCAA finish in 58 years

(03/21/00 10:00am)

Penn finished ninth as Brett Matter became its first NCAA champion since 1942. ST. LOUIS -- The bar is officially raised. The Penn wrestling team continued its steady climb into the national wrestling elite with a ninth-place team finish at the NCAA Championships this past weekend at the Kiel Center. The top-10 finish is the team's first since 1942, when it finished eighth. The tournament also saw Penn produce its first NCAA champion since Richard DiBatista won back-to-back titles in 1941 and 1942. Senior captain and two-time All-American Brett Matter took home the individual title at 157 pounds, beating Boise State's Larry Quisel, 4-2, in Saturday night's final. Captains Rick Springman (174) and Bandele Adeniyi-Bada (heavyweight) also earned All-American honors for the Quakers, placing fifth and sixth, respectively. Mike Fickell (197) fell one round short of placing. The road to the top 10 has been a gradual climb for Penn under coach Roger Reina, who has seen his team's national ranking improve throughout his 14 seasons. "We had the same number of athletes in the semifinals as [eventual champion] Iowa did," Reina said. "We had a finalist and champion. Oklahoma State [had] no one in the finals. "There's some pretty significant comparisons here with the elite programs in the country. I think we made some waves out here." Seeded No. 2 in the tournament, Matter almost hit a serious road bump on his way to the finals in his semifinal match against No. 11 Corey Wallman of Wisconsin. After a scoreless first period, Matter escaped to start the second period for a 1-0 lead. Matter held his narrow lead until very late in the third period, when Wallman got a reversal to go up 2-1. Matter took the down position with nine seconds left in the match, his riding time advantage erased. Matter needed an escape to tie the match and send it into overtime, but with three seconds remaining, Penn's all-time winningest wrestler got a reversal of his own to squeak out the close victory. "I saw my coaches' expressions after I got reversed, and I was pretty confident that I was going to get out, but I wasn't expecting a reversal," Matter said. "I was just going more towards escaping and going into overtime." Matter's semifinal win set up a finals match with fifth-seed Quisel, who shocked the Kiel Center crowd with his dramatic overtime win over top-ranked T.J. Williams of Iowa. Quisel -- who at last year's NCAA Championships placed third and won the Gorrarian Award for most falls -- took the heavily favored Williams down in overtime. Matter, who saw Quisel beat Williams as he took the down position at the end of his match, did not get the opportunity to avenge a 5-3 loss he suffered to Williams at the Midlands Open in December. Instead, he used a late first period takedown to propel him to the NCAA title. After the takedown, he rode out Quisel the rest of the period, building a 2-0 lead. He escaped to start the second period and added another escape point after a Quisel takedown. A scoreless third period left the final score 4-2. Matter and his father, Andrew, join just three other father-son pairs to win NCAA titles. Andrew Matter won championships for Penn State in 1971 and 1972. Adeniyi-Bada earned All-America honors for the second straight year, improving on his eighth-place finish last year. Coming in as a No. 5 seed, Adeniyi-Bada wrestled his way into the semifinals with a close, 3-2 win over Illinois fourth-seed John Lockhart. But in the semis, Adeniyi-Bada ran into Minnesota's massive top-seed and eventual champion Brock Lesnar. Adeniyi-Bada had lost a 5-4 match to Lesnar in the NWCA All-Star meet, but this time Lesnar dominated the match, building an 11-0 lead before pinning Adeniyi-Bada at 6:41. "It's something that might have affected his confidence somewhat," Reina said. "I think Bandele didn't fully get himself up from that semifinal disappointment." Adeniyi-Bada was pinned in the consolation semifinals by Boston College's Antonio Garay -- who won this year's Gorrarian Award. He then lost his fifth-place bout to Tim Courtad of Ohio University. Springman, who was one round short of placing last year, lost a semifinal match to Josh Koscheck of Edinboro. The two had split two close matches this year -- a 1-0 win for Springman at the Midlands and an overtime win for Koscheck at the All-Star meet. But Koscheck used two takedowns to grab a 6-4 victory in the rubber match. After losing in the consolation semis to Randy Pugh of Northern Iowa, Springman came back with a vengeance, winning a convincing 8-1 decision over Mark Dufresne of Lehigh. It was the fourth time the EIWA rivals had met this year, and the second time in the NCAA Tournament, all resulting in victories for Springman, who spent most of the year ranked No. 2 in the nation at 174 pounds. "Rick was heartbroken again," Reina said. "He set his goals at the top -- he came here to win. It's a real character test to have to rebound, and Rick has character in spades." Penn regrouped from an up-and-down dual meet season, in which the Quakers went 9-5 and finished ranked No. 15 in the nation, to regain a level of accomplishment not seen since before World War II. The Quakers are no longer just the Cinderella team from the Ivy League. With its ninth-place follow-up to last year's 11th-place finish, Penn has shown continued and consistent improvement on a national level.