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Gators ready to journey to Relays

(04/27/00 9:00am)

The Independent Florida Alligator During last year's running, roughly 96,000 fans crammed in to watch this national track meet. "The Penn Relays is a bragging rights meet," Florida men's coach Doug Brown said. "It's a mini-nationals. If you do well, it can give you a boost. If you don't do well, it can get you working harder for SECs and Nationals." This national meet is just as big for the Gators women's team as it is for the men's team. "For some of these kids going to Penn is as important as going to nationals," Florida women's coach Tom Jones said. The women's 4x800 meter relay team will enter the Penn Relays looking to defend last year's Penn Relays title. The 4x800m relay team set a new world record by running a time of eight minutes, 24.65 seconds. Running this year's 4x800 relay are sophomores Nona Allen, Erin Merten, Melissa DeLeon and senior Tamieka Grizzle. The men are coming off a ninth-place finish at the USTCA National Team Championships held last weekend in Austin, Texas. During the 14-team meet, junior Aaron Armstrong pulled up with a hamstring injury, forcing the 4x100 meter relay team out of contention. Stepping in for the injured Armstrong will be junior Stephen Jones. Jones, who usually runs the 110 meter high hurdles, is making his first appearance on the 4x100 relay team. "Aaron Armstrong's shoes are big shoes to fill, but they needed somebody to step in or else they wouldn't be able to run," Jones said. "I just want to come in and help get us to nationals. I'm supposed to be running anchor leg. The main goal is to stick around and try to run a fast time." The men's and women's teams are implementing a different strategy this weekend -- divide and conquer. Each team is sending the bulk of its field event athletes to the Knoxville Invitational, while deploying the runners to Philadelphia for the Penn Relays. "We're just going to take the field events people to Knoxville because Penn is not too good for field events like the pole vault," Jones said. Junior Emily Carlsten and senior David Furman will be two field event athletes venturing further north to compete at the Penn Relays. Furman will compete onlyat Franklin Fiel for the Relays.


COLUMN: Another chilly April for M. Lax at Franklin Field

(04/19/00 9:00am)

The Quakers have been like lions the past two Marches -- going 5-2 in 1999 and 4-3 this year against stellar competition. Those auspicious starts have not translated into successful trips through the meat of the Ivy schedule, however. Penn has been lamblike in April. The Red and Blue went 1-5 last April and are 1-4 thus far this season with games against powerhouse Syracuse and Delaware left to play. The second month of spring has been the foil of coach Marc Van Arsdale's team over the past two seasons, preventing Penn from putting together the top-notch Ivy year that seemed imminent after the head man led his team to a 6-6, 3-3 campaign in 1997, his very first season in West Philadelphia. Van Arsdale is a friendly, down-to-earth person with a seemingly genuine concern for each and every one of his players. He looks and sounds the part of a perfect player's coach. He is highly regarded by his peers, and his teams have shown definite flashes of brilliance -- cracking the national top 15 in '99 and '00. But they have yet to put it all together. They have yet to seriously challenge for an Ancient Eight title. Last spring, the Quakers looked golden as March drew to a close. They captured attention in the lacrosse world by defeating a highly touted North Carolina team, 14-7, in their second game of the year and shut down Yale, 7-2, to open Ivy play. Carrying a No. 14 national ranking and a 5-1 record, the Red and Blue traveled to the green pastures of Harvard University to take on the Crimson on March 27. Penn walked away from Cambridge with a heartbreaking 10-9 defeat in overtime and its first Ivy loss of the season. And things just got more gut-wrenching from there. Penn wound up on the short side of all but one of its remaining Ivy games. And to make Quakers fans wince, Brown's 10-6 win over Penn was the only one of the team's four Ivy losses that was decided by more than one goal. This string of razor-thin margins was highlighted by a 9-8 loss to Princeton, the closest league game that the Tigers have had throughout the course of their current 29-game Ivy winning streak. In short, it was enough to make a Red Sox fan sympathize. Penn fought hard, went shot-for-shot with some of the best programs in the country. But balls just didn't bounce its way. And Penn was denied a .500 Ivy League record for the eighth time in nine seasons. The '99 team was a complete package. With a defense anchored by four-year starting goalie Matt Schroeder and always reliable defenseman Ziggy Majumdar, the Quakers were able to send back most of what teams threw at them. The Red and Blue offense usually purred like a kitten as well. The shooting of first-team All-Ivy and honorable mention All-America selection Pete Janney coupled with the deft passing of Todd Minerley helped Penn outscore its opponents, 139-119, while going just 6-8 on the year. Schroeder's graduation and the departure of Majumdar and fellow workhorse Brett Bodner prompted questions about the Penn defense, but the same offensive nucleus returned this season to galvanize a similarly encouraging March. In Penn's first regular season contest on March 4, Janney's four tallies and Minerley's pair of scores paced the Quakers past Notre Dame, 10-7, catapulting the Quakers to a No. 12 national ranking. Quality wins against Bucknell and Lafayette followed, but those victories sandwiched a frustrating 11-10 loss to Yale over spring break. March 25 brought a 15-12 loss to Harvard that, much like the Yale game, got out of Penn's reach early. The Quakers roared back late, but the comeback fell short. April 1 brought a different problem. Penn led early on against Cornell but then collapsed down the stretch, losing 16-7. A tough win over Dartmouth helped things yet was outshined by losses to Princeton and Brown. Perhaps the epitome of Penn's troubles this spring came against Villanova on April 12. 'Nova prevailed 15-14 in two overtimes, but that was after Penn's Billy Reidy's apparent goal with five seconds left was called off after he landed just inside the crease. It just seems like the stars are never right for things to go the Quakers' way as the weather gets balmy.


COLUMN: Will Schnur stay on top at Sheerr?

(04/04/00 9:00am)

Is Schnur the answer for swimming? Penn men have been swimming in the Eastern Intercollegiate Swimming League since 1936. Women have been swimming for the Red and Blue in the Ivy League since 1982. In their 81 seasons of combined competition, the Quakers have put together a grand total of eight winning league seasons, one regular season championship and one season-ending meet championship. It is time for a change. Penn swimming as we know it must cease to exist. This history of futility is far from being Mike Schnur's fault. For the last 15 years, Schnur has done nothing but bleed Red and Blue. He has given his all for Penn as a swimmer in the pool and as an assistant and interim head coach on the deck. He has been the ultimate company man. "I learned a lot of my coaching from [longtime Penn coach Kathy Lawlor-Gilbert]," Schnur said in February. "Sometimes when you hear it from a different person, it gets reinforced a little more. I think I'm telling the team a lot of the same things she did." Which is exactly the problem. As devoted as Schnur is to the Quakers and as likable as he is, his roots will always tie him back down to Lawlor-Gilbert and the long, arduous history of Penn swimming. Schnur will always be able to say, "When I was a swimmer here?" The new coach, whoever it is, must never be able to say that. The ghosts of the past that haunt Penn swimming need to be driven away. The Penn Athletic Department has had the wisdom to go about its recent coaching hirings with just this frame of mind. Andy Nelson's brand of women's soccer helped the Quakers to their first-ever NCAA Tournament berth this fall. Kelly Greenberg all but refused to talk about Penn women's basketball history on the way to coming within a few bounces of its first Ivy League title. And at Franklin Field tonight, Karin Brower has the Penn women's lacrosse team over .500 and shooting for its first three-game winning streak in years. While Schnur's two teams did show improvement this year, the Quakers are still far from being among the league's elite. Penn's women won their first two Ivy League meets since 1993, but they still finished dead last at the league championship meet. The men finished 4-5 in the league, but still have not finished above .500 in the EISL since 1991. Schnur does have an eye toward the future -- he said in March that five of the 10 early-decision recruits on the women's side swim regular times that are better than Penn school records. But how good is that? At the Ivy Championships a year ago, the Quakers set three school records, but still finished in last place at the meet. This year, Penn's women broke two, but the team again finished last. The Penn men set three school records this year but landed in ninth place as a team. To Schnur, though, this is not a big deal. "When you get to Ivy Championships, it's not about all 18 swimmers," Schnur said after this year's meet. "It's really about what your best five or six do." That's not the kind of talk you'll hear from Harvard men's coach Tim Murphy or Princeton women's coach Susan Teeter, both of whom were rightfully jubilant after winning their respective league championships this year. As pleasing as school records are, they do not translate into wins at Penn. They have not done so since 1936. It's time to bring someone to Sheerr Pool who can change that.


COLUMN: Early success signifies new era for W. Lax

(03/24/00 10:00am)

It may have gone somewhat unnoticed -- overshadowed by the men's basketball team's quick exit from the NCAAs, obscured by Brett Matter's national wrestling championship. But an important change took place in the program, and it is well worth noting. On Tuesday, the Penn women's lacrosse team won its second game of the season. In most years, this would not be big news. In most years, it would not deserve much attention. But in this particular season, it signifies something special -- a new beginning in the history of the team. For the first time since 1972, Anne Sage is not listed as the official head coach of the program. Former Princeton assistant Karin Brower has assumed that title, and with the change, her team has assumed a new outlook. Prior to last season, the Quakers petitioned the Athletic Department for Sage's removal. All 22 members of the squad signed the petition last February, refusing to play any games with Sage at the helm. They complained of the coach's frequent absences and unstructured practices. Going into the season, the players realized Sage had not prepared them at all. Sage was asked to take a leave of absence for the spring. Then-assistant coach Alanna Wren served in her place, and the Red and Blue stumbled to a 1-12 record, the worst in team history. Then, this summer, Brower replaced Sage as the official head coach. A new era had begun. Yes, much of the personnel is the same and the team has only won two games, but the 2000 Quakers are not the 1999 Quakers. And most of that can be attributed to Brower. While Sage did little to prepare her players for the spring in the past few years, Brower has been getting her team ready since the fall. The results can already be seen in the Quakers' early-season record. For the first time since before many of the current players ever stepped onto Franklin Field, Penn is above .500. On March 14, the Quakers traveled to Washington to take on American and left with a 17-8 win. A close loss to a tough Yale squad on the road followed, and then Penn recorded its second win by beating Villanova, 14-7, on Tuesday. They have not played a single home game yet, and the Quakers have doubled their win total from a year ago. Technically, two wins already makes this season more successful than last. But with this year's Quakers, much more is possible. That possibility for success is a result of the new attitude that was born when Brower took over the team. "I think everyone's really excited," Brower said yesterday. "I think they are gaining confidence every time they take the field, and it's totally different team." While last year's squad had the unneeded burden of worrying about the coaching situation, this year's team can focus solely on the action on the field. Tomorrow, Penn will be in Ithaca, N.Y., to play Cornell. Last year at Franklin Field, the Big Red jumped out to an early lead, and Penn never had much of a chance in a 14-6 loss. Tomorrow's game promises to be much more of a contest. The same could be said of every game the Red and Blue play for the rest of the season. No one at Penn should start planning an Ivy League championship party for the Quakers, but games like last year's 20-2 loss to Dartmouth or the 17-3 debacle against Princeton may be things of the past. "I'd like to see us be fourth in the league," Brower said when asked what would make this season a success. Tomorrow should indicate how far up the Ivy standings Penn can move this season. Brower calls Cornell a comparable team to the Red and Blue. A repeat of last season is unlikely, but the Quakers still know that every Ivy game will be a challenge. There are still things the Quakers need to improve upon, including pushing the ball in the attack and protecting it in the midfield. And although the six freshmen seeing significant time in the lineup are adjusting well to the college game, they still have much to learn. When the 2000 season comes to an end, however, Karin Brower's Quakers will be a far cry from the squad that ended last season. And the second chapter in Penn women's lacrosse history will be well on its way to success.


COLUMN: DiBatista: A perfect champion

(03/23/00 10:00am)

At the Kiel Center in St. Louis, Mo., Quakers senior Brett Matter edged Boise State's Larry Quisel, 4-2, replacing DiBatista as Penn's most recent wrestler to win an NCAA title. Almost 60 years before Matter, DiBatista established a bar of achievement so lofty that it will never be surpassed. Say what you will about records being made to be broken, but his achievements cannot be topped -- equaled, perhaps, but not bettered. That's because from the day DiBatista first stepped onto the mat at Lower Merion High School to his final match at Penn, he never lost. Not once. He wrestled in 82 matches for the Quakers, first on the freshman squad and then on the varsity, winning all of them. Better yet, no opponent ever held him to the mat for longer than 15 seconds before he escaped. In 1940-41, his first season of varsity eligibility, DiBatista stunned the wrestling world by beating 29-year-old Al Crawford of Appalachian State, an AAU veteran and former international champ. The next year, he defended his 175-pound title by defeating Iowa State's Leon Martin. In '43, he copped Outstanding Wrestler honors at the EIWA tourney and was a safe bet to win his third NCAA championship. But World War II intervened. "The Easterns were held at Penn in the Palestra, and I won for the third year in a row," says DiBatista. "But they cancelled the national tournament because of the travel restrictions during the war." Still, the cancellation hardly puts a damper on the career accomplishments of DiBatista, a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. At Lower Merion, he won the 155-pound title in 1938 at Pennsylvania's first-ever state championship tournament. Recruited by both Penn wrestling coach W. Austin Bishop and football legend George Munger, he prepped a year at Franklin & Marshall Academy -- where he won a national prep school title -- before coming to Penn. At Penn, the 5'7 1/2" DiBatista carried 190 pounds on the football field as a fast blocking guard on Munger's famous single-wing offense, routinely playing in front of 70,000 fans at Franklin Field. But he found his true calling on the mat. "Bill Medcraft, who came out for football and didn't make the team, was an excellent wrestler. He couldn't make 175, he weighed 225. I didn't want to go 175 because that meant I had to pull weight. But the coach talked me into coming down to 175." As unbelievable as it sounds coming from an undefeated wrestler, DiBatista actually believes he would have had an even easier time at heavyweight, where many of the wrestlers in those days were just lumbering football players. Meanwhile, 175 was one of the toughest classes in the country. "Most of the all-around athletes in those days stood about six-foot, 180 pounds. That was a good height and weight in those days, for football, basketball or any sport. So you had your better all-around athlete pulling five pounds or so and wrestling at 175. Heavyweights were generally heavy and awkward without that much skill." Regardless, DiBatista had little trouble at 175. Only once did his match end in a draw, when Iowa State's Martin artfully stalled -- in an era when stalling was called infrequently -- to avoid DiBatista's notorious arm-drag takedown. After three three-minute periods plus overtime, the score stood at 1-1. But the ref awarded DiBatista the bout, and the 1942 NCAA title. The 1941 match, however, played out much more dramatically. "In the finals I met this fellow Crawford. He toyed with everybody he wrestled. He would sit on them, spin around on them, let them stand up and then take 'em down again -- everybody enjoyed his wrestling because he was so colorful. He just played with everybody, and then he'd pin 'em." A 29-year-old freshman -- unlike Penn, Appalachian State had freshman eligibility -- the flamboyant Crawford was supposed to walk all over DiBatista. As an Eastern wrestler, the 20-year-old was relatively unheralded, but he knocked off champs from the Big 10 and the Big 6 to reach the finals. In a bygone era when some coaches were also refs, renowned Quakers coach Bishop was busy refereeing another match during the 175-pound final, leaving Lehigh's legendary Billy Sheridan in DiBatista's corner. "He said, 'You know, you're lucky. To take second place in this tournament is very big for an Eastern wrestler.' He was my coach, and he'd already decided I wasn't going to win." On Sheridan's advice, DiBatista tried uncomfortably to run away from Crawford, drawing a slew of four-letter words from the frustrated veteran. But referee Cliff Keen -- himself a wrestling icon -- not only refused to caution Crawford for his inappropriate language, he slapped DiBatista with a stall -- in those days worth a two-point takedown. Amid a chorus of boos from the action-hungry fans, DiBatista -- who, amazingly, had battled a cold all week -- decided to ignore Sheridan's advice and wrestle his own style. It worked, and he stunned Crawford, 7-3, for the title. In the locker room, a fuming Crawford came searching for DiBatista. "In comes Al Crawford, yelling, 'I'm going to beat the crap out of you! You ran away from me!'" But longtime Penn trainer John Brennan, a wisp of a man at barely 125 pounds, blocked the shower entrance. "[Brennan] said, 'You're not going to get to him unless you get through me!' And Al Crawford looked at him with disdain and then threw his hands up and walked away." The next day, Crawford -- in school only to win an NCAA title -- dropped out. DiBatista, meanwhile, came home to find himself splashed across the sports sections of all the Philly papers. Now 79, DiBatista -- who spent years as a teacher and coach at Lower Merion while also earning a reputation as one of the country's top collegiate officials -- currently lives in a retirement community in Media, Pa. An Internet-savvy neighbor recently put a surprise in his mailbox -- a print-out from the Wrestling Hall of Fame Web site of the biographical recording that plays from a phone beneath DiBatista's plaque. It begins: "His string of victories ran the gamut of state high school, national prep school, regional AAU and National Collegiate championships. His string of defeats ran the gamut of? well nothing at all?" The photo at the Palestra may be dusty, the accomplishments a little more forgotten with each passing season. But the records of Dick DiBatista will never be surpassed.


COLUMN: SHALL WE DANCE?

(03/06/00 10:00am)

The Quakers clinch an Ivy title and NCAA berth The Quakers clinch an Ivy title and NCAA berthThe Quakers emerge as true champs They did it. They made all preseason predictions come true. They won the Ivy League. In many ways, the Red and Blue are doing nothing more than what was expected of them. But in doing so, they proved that they are indeed a championship team. It may have seemed like the Ivy season was a cakewalk for the Quakers, like they were playing on a level far above the one on which their opponents operate. At times, they were. But to think winning a second consecutive Ivy title was an easy task would be wrongheaded. It was a difficult journey for the Quakers, but the only important thing is that they came out on top. And with a win tomorrow night against Princeton in the regular season finale, they can emerge from the league season unblemished -- a feat Penn has not accomplished since the 1994-95 season. However, if Harvard's Dan Clemente had hit his final three-point attempt on February 26 or if Cornell had made a few more shots in its close loss to Penn on January 29, the thousands of Quakers fans at Saturday's game might not have had any reason to rush the court. But rush the court they did. Championship teams are too tough to lose games like the ones against the Crimson or the Big Red. The Penn Quakers are a championship team. Over the course of the past month, they proved it several times. Back on January 27, I wrote a column on these pages that said that the Quakers needed to be prepared for the dangers that lay ahead in the quest for their second straight league title. It was the day before Penn was to open its Ivy season at Columbia, and there was plenty to be worried about at the time. The freshmen starters were making stupid mistakes; the entire team suffered from poor shot selection; no one in a Quakers uniform could hit a free throw; and most of the time, the five players on the court were never on the same page. In that column, I wrote, "There is no doubt in my mind that the Quakers have more skill than any team in the league, and I believe that eventually everything will come together for them. Before the end of the season, we will see a cohesive unit that can go out and be competitive with anyone. "But league play begins tomorrow night, and that cohesive unit has yet to make an appearance." Well, here we are at the end of the season -- 13 Ivy games and 13 Ivy wins since I wrote those words, and the Quakers are champions. Penn is riding the second-longest winning streak in all of Division I college basketball. Its 15 consecutive wins are second only to Utah State's 16. The Ivy title is wrapped up; the net on the Palestra's west basket is down; and the Quakers' invitation to the Big Dance is sealed and in the mail. Does that mean everything is perfect with Fran Dunphy's squad? No. The freshmen still make freshman mistakes. There are still lapses in the offense. And there are definitely times when the shots just do not fall for this Penn team. But the point is that they made it through the conference season. They are undefeated in the league. They are the best in the Ivies. They are champions. When the Ivy season began back on that cold Friday night in Columbia's Levien Gymnasium, I firmly believed that Penn was the most talented team in the league. But a talented squad does not always equate with a successful squad. To their credit, the Quakers knew what they needed to do to repeat as champions, and they did it. Weekend escapades to the north, visiting the tiny gyms of the other Ancient Eight schools, can be dangerous tasks, but Penn survived. It survived for many reasons. Michael Jordan and Matt Langel led this team, often hoisting it on their backs and refusing to let it lose. Two weeks ago at Dartmouth, the Big Green would not relent, and it was Jordan and Langel's combined 44 points that kept Penn on top. But Jordan and Langel are not alone. Frank Brown is ending his up-and-down five-year career on a high note, busting back into the starting lineup and burying open jumpers when needed. Geoff Owens has returned to full force after suffering from shin splints, establishing himself as a tough inside presence and the best shot blocker in Penn history. And Ugonna Onyekwe is putting the finishing touches on a season that should earn him the Ivy League Rookie of the Year award. Most importantly, though, the 14 men in Red and Blue have finally come together as a team. A team that can now call itself champions of the Ivy League.


COLUMN: Tie-breaks a key part of Ivy life

(03/02/00 10:00am)

Penn's remaining contests were a home battle with the Lions and a trip to Old Nassau. With no conference tournament, Penn needed only a win to get to the NCAA Tournament, not just the top seed in the league bracket. They fell in overtime at the Palestra and were routed at Princeton's old Dillon Gym. Columbia's subsequent victory over Brown put the Lions into a first-place tie with Penn with just one game to go on the league slate -- a clash between the Tigers and Bears at Dillon. A Princeton win would make a three-way logjam atop the standings. The result was as close as Ivy League basketball -- men's or women's -- has ever come to a three-way tie. When Princeton defeated the Bears by 19 points, there was indeed a three-way tie -- for the Eastern Intercollegiate League title. Although the Ivy League agreement had been signed and there was a 1955 All-Ivy team, Ancient Eight play did not officially start for another two years. "We in this office, to keep things clean, recognize the 1956-57 season as the first [Ivy League season]," Ivy League Associate Director Chuck Yrigoyen said. So, as this 1999-2000 season draws to a close, it seems as though something unprecedented might be about to happen. If the Penn women's basketball team wins its final three games and Harvard can pull out a win at Dartmouth on Tuesday, then the three frontrunning schools will finish the season tied for first place. The situation has the folks at Ivy League headquarters in Princeton scrambling for their policy manuals, trying to work out all of the hypothetical situations and prepare for the possibility of a three-way playoff. "[The playoff] likely would be Thursday and Saturday of next week," Yrigoyen said. "That's not set in stone yet. We're still talking to see if it would be [better] Friday-Sunday or Thursday-Sunday. The manual says Thursday-Saturday at a neutral Ivy site so you're not going somewhere else to play the second game." Such a playoff would determine who gets the Ivy League's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, making the regular season more valuable than the chase for a conference tourney's top seed. This is much more serious than what the Ivy League does in volleyball, a sport whose regular season amounts to little more than an arduous preparation for the Ivy Tournament. But the fun here really starts when it's time to determine which team would get the first-round bye in the event of the three-way playoff. "The determination of the bye would be first to take the tied teams' records against each other," Yrigoyen said. That means that the frontrunners' records against each other would be the first tiebreaker. But the Crimson, Green and Quakers would be 2-2 against each other in such a scenario. So, the tie-breaking process continues. "Then you go to the next team in the standings and compare head-to-head records of those three schools against that school. If there's still a tie, you go to the next team. The way the tiebreaker is written is that you go to the next team in the standings." Yrigoyen said. There were no such concerns 45 years ago. Penn and Columbia had already settled into their tie while Princeton still had a game to go, so -- almost purely out of convenience -- the Quakers and Lions faced off in a playoff game at a neutral site -- Dillon Gym. The playoff game was slated to follow the Princeton-Brown tilt. If Princeton won, there would be another playoff game between Princeton and the Penn-Columbia winner. A Brown victory would send the victor of the nightcap to the NCAAs. Princeton won to force the three-way tie and Penn's collapse wrapped up with a two-point loss to Columbia. Two days later, the Tigers, who had been two games out with two to play, advanced to the NCAA Tournament by beating the Lions at Rutgers. After last Friday night's loss, Penn's women were two games back with four to play. They now stand to once again prove the worth of not having a conference tournament as they attempt to come all the way back to clinch the Ivy crown. Were there a conference tournament to follow the season, the teams would simply be seeded, and then maybe a team like Cornell could suddenly heat up and nullify what has been a glorious regular season. There's just no reason to have one. Between the men and women, there have been 16 EIL and Ivy tie-breaking playoffs since the first between Penn and Princeton in 1916. Hopefully, that will remain the only sort of playoff that the Ivy League will ever need.


COLUMN: Turn overs could hurt NCAA hopes

(02/29/00 10:00am)

Two Big 5 teams are currently riding the crests of 13-game winning streaks. But only one of those teams is garnering the lion's share of national attention. The No. 7 Temple Owls (22-4) have been on a remarkable roll of late. John Chaney's squad has not dropped a contest since St. Bonaventure shocked Temple, 57-56, on January 15. In the course of this 13-game-long run of luck, the Owls have beaten Penn, 44-40, and most notably, then-No.1 Cincinnati, 77-69. The nation is abuzz with word of Temple's near invincibility with Pepe Sanchez in the lineup. Meanwhile, since falling to the Owls on January 20, Fran Dunphy's Quakers have put together a 13-game run of their own. The fanfare directed at Penn has been considerably more subdued, however. With the possible exception of the two votes that Penn just received in the AP poll released yesterday, the Quakers (18-7), who sit comfortably atop the Ivy League at 11-0, seem to have justifiably slipped below the national media radar. Still, the Quakers, who will likely get at least a No. 14 seed in the NCAA Tournament if they win two of their three remaining Ivy League games, have the ability to make waves in the postseason. On the other hand, that possibility will get infinitely more remote if the Quakers continue to turn over the ball as much as they have this season. This past weekend, the Red and Blue lacked cohesion on offense, and their offensive miscues almost cost them dearly at Dartmouth and Harvard. Penn needs to be more careful with the basketball, or else the Quakers don't have a shot at going anywhere in the tournament. All the weapons are there. The execution just needs to improve. This past Saturday, the Quakers took the court against a Dartmouth squad that was just 8-15 heading into the game. In the early going at Leede Arena, the Quakers were sluggish and gave the lowly Big Green reason for optimism. After Dartmouth's Shaun Gee sent the opening tip out of bounds, Penn inbounded the ball and brought it up the court. Matt Langel then took a pass at the top of the key. He looked left; then he looked right; then he passed the ball right -- right out of bounds with no other Quaker in sight. On the next Penn trip down the floor, Michael Jordan's errant pass intended for center Geoff Owens gave Dartmouth possession on a second-straight turnover. The Penn mishaps invigorated the Dartmouth crowd and, more importantly, spurred the Big Green on to a vigorous 12-7 start. "I think we were a little careless with the basketball early," Dunphy said after the Dartmouth game. In the first half, Penn gave up nine turnovers to a Dartmouth squad not known for its defensive prowess. On the night, Penn yielded 14 turnovers to Dartmouth's eight. It took 44 combined points from the Jordan-Langel backcourt to secure the 69-55 victory. The Quakers are currently averaging 12.9 give-aways per game, the 13th-worst clip in Division I. This problem played an even bigger role the next night against Harvard. Penn had a carbon copy of its first half against Dartmouth, except that the turnover barrage came after halftime at Lavietes Pavilion. The Quakers had nine miscues in the second half, compared to only two for Harvard. Those Penn turnovers were most damaging down the stretch. Penn looked golden with a 10-point lead with 6:06 left to play, but three Penn turnovers and three minutes later, the lead was down to a scant three points. Owens, whose ill-advised and seemingly rushed pass was intercepted by Harvard's Elliott Prasse-Freeman to begin the turnover run, was not pleased. "I think we were just a little bit passive on offense. We can't really ever do that," he said. Owens is right. No matter how many stellar individual performances the Quakers get out of their roster -- his 17-rebound night at Harvard included -- they need to be more careful with the basketball if they want this to be a finish to remember.


COLUMN: Ivy League basketball: Let's play two!

(02/24/00 10:00am)

As baseball's spring training opens to our south, I feel the spirit of Ernie Banks. "Let's play two!" Although I do love baseball, what's on my mind is Ivy League basketball. I'd like to see some doubleheaders. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to go to both games? The current structure of the Ivy League schedule makes it so that when a men's team is at home, a women's team faces the same team on the road, and vice versa. It's not a bad system, but there are certainly advantages to having doubleheaders, the most obvious of which is that fans could attend all of their school's men's and women's basketball games. I'll get my wish on March 7, when Princeton visits Penn with both of its squads. It's my hope that some day this sort of occurrence will be more the rule than the exception. Last weekend, it is possible that the only Penn students on hand to see junior forward Diana Caramanico break the all-time women's scoring record were the other members of the Quakers. That's not to say that a twin bill that also featured the Penn men would have drawn enough Penn fans to make Newman Arena seem like the Palestra, but at least some of the die-hards would have had more of an incentive to make it to Ithaca. The Penn men's team -- a Palestra mainstay at women's games before the Ivy season got underway -- could also get a chance to watch. "We don't get to see them play during the Ivy season," men's center Geoff Owens said. "It would be neat, especially with them playing well? and it would help them to get a few more fans out to their games." More fans at the games would also mean more money spent at the concession stands, especially during the customary 30-minute break between the opener and the nightcap. That could help to offset worries about giving out more free tickets with the added number of family members in attendance. The Penn Athletic Department has been very busy this week promoting this weekend's women's games to the student body, especially Saturday's tilt with Harvard. But you can't raffle off Final Four tickets on a weekly basis. And when there is a heavy promotion, it would be a matter of trying to boost student attendance from an already steady base of season ticket holders, instead of starting from scratch. Doubleheaders helped to boost attendance in the Northeast Conference in the early- and mid-1990s until that league's expansion made routine twin bills no longer feasible. So, the Patriot League is now the only conference that currently features doubleheaders. "It helps. It helps a lot, especially with those teams that don't have many fans," said Penn women's coach Kelly Greenberg, who was an associate head coach at Holy Cross last season. Holy Cross is in the Patriot League. While Penn doesn't really have a tough time attracting fans, teams around the Ancient Eight routinely play to empty seats, especially in women's basketball. Last weekend's Penn women's games at Cornell and Columbia combined to draw under 500 people. In addition to fans, Penn has something else that the rest of the Ivy League does not have -- the Palestra, a building that owes its mystique as much to the days of Big 5 doubleheaders as anything else. "My dad all the time tells me how much history there is in the Palestra," said guard Claire Cavanaugh, a native of Drexel Hill, Pa. "People of our generation haven't really gotten a taste of that." And while the days of running many men's Big 5 games back to back seem to have passed, there is certainly little reason that the tradition of the City Series could not be revived with some men's and women's double dips in the Palestra. "I think we should have them more with the Big 5 games especially," Owens said. "There's definitely no reason why we shouldn't. They might play the same team three days earlier than us, and I just think, why not play a doubleheader?" Why not, indeed.


COLUMN: The Great Hockey Sit-In of '78

(02/18/00 10:00am)

And perhaps no two stories could be more dissimilar. First, there was the end of the Penn Students Against Sweatshop protest against the University's use of sweatshop labor that ended Monday. And next there was the story that held top billing on both the front and back pages, the tale of the Penn men's basketball team's 55-46 defeat of Princeton on Tuesday. On one hand, there is the so-called sweatshop story, a situation that attracted national exposure. It was an example of Penn undergrads reaching out to the world beyond our Ivy walls. On the other hand, there was the basketball game. For many, Tuesday's painted faces and vulgar chants were examples of the ebullience of Ivy League life, examples of how sheltered Penn students are. There was, however, one point in time in Penn history where these two worlds colorfully collided -- the College Hall Sit-In of 1978. In the late '70s, the University's finances were not as rosy as they are today. So on Thursday, February 23, 1978, Penn admitted to a slew of forthcoming budget cuts, the most visible of which came from the office of then-Athletic Director Andy Geiger. Even though the Penn men's hockey team still had four games left on its schedule, Geiger shockingly admitted that the University was terminating its 12-year-old varsity hockey program effective the next year. The reaction was immediate and furious. Then-DP Sports Editor Dan Rosenbaum gave hockey coach Bob Finke the unhappy news in his office that day, and the Penn head man was livid. "The idea that you [the DP] would know before I would is what upsets me. It's gotta be someone in College Hall. That's what I want to find out. You people at the DP stand up for truth and honesty, right? All right, I want to know who did this," Finke said. "I've got 10 freshmen kids who would have gone to a lot of different places. Now they're asking, 'What the hell is going on here.'" Those connected with the hockey program were understandably enraged, but even more objective voices howled at the University's surprise decision. DP Managing Editor Steven Marquez lambasted Penn for its desire to keep important decisions "as clandestine as possible for as long a period as possible." The indignation over the demise of a team that had managed just four winning seasons in its 12 seasons continued to build throughout the following week. Although the budget cuts had also nixed the women's hockey club, the men's and women's gymnastics teams, the badminton team, the golf team and a host of other University programs, the ire of students on campus seemed to focus on the departure of men's hockey. The anger reached its fevered pitch on the following Thursday when a one-hour Undergraduate Assembly-sponsored rally turned into an all-night sit-in, as 800 angry students stormed College Hall. It would be 87 hours -- nearly a full four days -- before the students would leave. The sit-in of '78, even if it did come at the end of the "Me Decade," made the recently concluded PSAS protest look like a den meeting, and, more importantly, provides today's Penn students with a glimpse of a bygone era where protesters didn't need to look overseas to find an issue to rally around. Ironically enough, when the students spent their first night in College Hall, then-Penn President Martin Meyerson was vacationing in Barbados. But his absence didn't prevent the protesters from getting creative. The sit-in participants carried signs that read innocuous messages such as "Stick with Hockey," but they did go so far as to adorn a golden retriever with a sign that told the world that "I could run U. of P. Better." The University eventually got the joke. The sit-in ended at 3:35 the next Monday morning when 15 students and three administrators signed their names to a document detailing 31 agreements reached in grueling negotiations between students, administrators and Trustees. The compromise, which President Meyerson announced with tears in his eyes, granted the reinstatement of gymnastics, badminton and golf, but left the hockey team out in the cold. Many of Finke's puckmen wound up transferring to other schools, and still others toughed it out without Canada's national pastime for the sake of an Ivy League education. Hockey has never returned, and puck-crazed Penn students still need to settle for a club team. The protesters didn't get everything they wanted, but the '78 sit-in still makes me wonder. The Penn of 1978 is far different from the Penn of today. With soaring admissions numbers and an equally flourishing endowment, it's difficult for us to envision what it would have been like to see a 12-year-old varsity sport with a sparkling new arena sent right down the tubes. In addition, it's hard for us to understand the pure scale of the hockey-induced sit-in. Granted, the administration's initial moves toward an alcohol policy last spring prompted a mob to gather on College Green, but that was about it. There was no sit-in. There was no tearful capitulation by President Rodin. And, yes, the PSAS protest attracted national attention, but its initial 13 participants pale in comparison to the 800 starters in '78. In the final analysis, there's one lesson that I take away from examining the bygone Carter-era protest -- be thankful for Penn sports teams. I would love it if we had a hockey team, but that was taken away from our student body. I implore each Penn fan to take advantage of the opportunities that we have: the chance to watch a basketball game in the glorious confines of the Palestra, the chance to attend Penn Relays and the chance to watch the Penn football team in Franklin Field. With dwindling attendance at football games, it seems as if most of this campus disagrees with this opinion. That's too bad. As the 1978 sit-in demonstrates, being a spectator is not a right -- it's a privilege.


COLUMN: Banged-up Tigers have tough task

(02/11/00 10:00am)

And after the Quakers' calamitous collapse last February at the Palestra, I'm not even sure the laws of physics have much reign either. It seems as if this showdown creates a crucible in which balls bounce funny, players have special nights and a team can lose a game that it was leading 29-3. The uniqueness of this rivalry aside, however, all signs seem to point to the Quakers having the logical edge at this point in the season. Penn is coming off of a weekend where it made each of its Ivy League opponents look like high school teams. If the Quakers continue their winning ways this weekend against Harvard and Dartmouth, their position gets even more enviable. Meanwhile, Princeton's roster is decimated by injuries, and the Tigers lost a heartbreaker to Yale last Saturday night, 44-42. The smart money on Tuesday has to go with the Red and Blue, but the Palestra faithful shouldn't start celebrating just yet -- betting on a Penn-Princeton game is a pastime only a bookie could love. Princeton's Bill Carmody has been acting more like a triage nurse than a basketball coach of late. In the Tigers' defeat at the hands of the Elis on Saturday, Princeton sported a starting lineup that lacked two perennial starters. In reality, Princeton had just five healthy varsity players, with a sixth -- junior Nate Walton -- playing with a broken hand. It's gotten so bad that Carmody was forced to bring up four players from junior varsity. One of those players sprained his thumb as soon as he was called up to the big club. "I will say that I have never seen a team that I've been with as a player or coach have this many guys get hurt," Carmody said. "But what can you do? You can't use that as an excuse to stop working hard or trying." Considering how extensive his team's casualties have been, Carmody's attitude is laudable. It all began with Mason Rocca's ankle injury in late December. The senior forward reaggravated a problem that had been ailing him since high school and had surgery to remove bone chips on December 29. Rocca, who had been averaging 13 points per game in the seven contests he played in for the Tigers this season, got his cast off this past Monday, but Princeton officials report that doctors have not yet given him clearance to practice. He will be out for at least the next five games -- Tuesday's Penn contest included --and possibly the rest of the season. Rocca's departure is especially painful for the Tigers this time of year, since he was so integral to what Princeton fans like to call last February's "Miracle at the Palestra." He scored eight points during an 11-2 Princeton run that cut into Penn's seemingly insurmountable lead just after halftime. Rocca wound up with 13 on the night, and his offense will be sorely missed this year at Jadwin Gym. On February 1, the Tigers lost yet another 13-points-per-game performer when freshman standout Spencer Gloger went down in practice with a second-degree sprained ankle. He returned to light practice this week, but his status for the weekend and Tuesday is still uncertain. Gloger has been razor-sharp from the outside throughout his first season in Old Nassau. Before his injury, he was shooting a stellar 47.4 percent from three-point territory. Without the first-year star in the lineup, Princeton shot a revolting 12.5 percent from behind the arc against Yale. The Tigers were outrebounded by the Elis as well, 34-29. This is somewhat understandable considering that their frontcourt is depleted with Rocca sidelined, sophomore forward Eugene Baah out with a thigh contusion that is very slow to heal and Walton still playing with a broken shooting hand. With such a lengthy list of casualties, it's clear why Carmody, who used just four different starting lineups in his first 79 games after taking over for Pete Carril and is loathe to go to the bench, has had to play musical chairs throughout most of this season. With Rocca out indefinitely, and with the host of other health situations that are at the very least questionable, you can expect such tinkering to continue. You can also expect virtual unknowns like sophomore Ray Robins and Mike Bechtold to log extensive minutes like they did against Yale, with 36 apiece. "We have guys, like Ray Robins and Mike Bechtold, who didn't play much last year or before this, but we thought they were pretty good players when we recruited them," Carmody said. "We basically told them to go out and prove that we were right about them in the first place." History is also up against the Tigers as well. In each of the past seven seasons, the team that comes away with the Ivy League championship has gone undefeated against every other team in the league except for Penn and Princeton. And since either the Quakers or the Tigers have won the crown in each of those seasons, that means that recent history teaches that you can't lose to any of the other six, lowly Ancient Eight programs. All of that said, Princeton still has every chance in the world to come away with the "W" on Tuesday night. By the same token, however, given the fact that they fell to the Elis, Princeton may very well wind up dropping one or both of its contests this weekend. The perfect scenario for the Tigers, on the other hand, would go something like this: Gloger returns to the lineup for a few minutes this weekend in wins against the Crimson and Big Green and then explodes against the Quakers from the outside. Walton grabs a slew of rebounds and plays clutch defense against Penn, even scoring a few after perfecting his shot off his weak, non-injured left hand. Robins, who began the year with just one minute off the bench in a loss to Syracuse, has a career night similar to the 27-point extravaganza he had against Division III Catholic University, and the Tigers buck the odds and beat Penn. That's about the best that Princeton can hope for. It's not probable. But anything's possible when these two storied teams get together for their Tuesday-night gatherings.


COLUMN: Good tidings come from Bethlehem

(02/09/00 10:00am)

Sitting in the Franklin Field press box on Saturdays last fall, my fellow reporters and I always listened intently as the scores from other Ivy League football games came rolling in. But whenever an Ivy team was scheduled to play a non-conference game against Lehigh, we really didn't need to hear the score coming from the press box speakers. We knew what to expect -- a blowout. It was as if the Ivy teams did not have a chance against the Engineers. Dartmouth, Princeton and Columbia all went down without putting up much of a fight. Although Lehigh is a non-scholarship school just like the Ivies, the Engineers were playing on another level. This was especially true on offense, where they were nearly unstoppable in games against most other non-scholarship programs. It wasn't always like that. As recently as two years ago, games with Lehigh were actually winnable for Ivy League teams. But in the past two seasons, Lehigh has taken off, earning a spot among the Division I-AA powerhouses and leaving most Patriot and Ivy League teams in the dust. And next fall, one of the men most responsible for creating this offensive machine in Bethlehem, Pa., will have a home on the sidelines at Franklin Field. On January 27, Andy Coen was introduced as the Quakers' new offensive coordinator. Coen had been the offensive coordinator at Lehigh since 1996. He replaces Chuck Priore, who had been with the Quakers since 1990 before leaving to take the top job at Trinity College in December. For a preview of what you may be seeing on Saturdays during the next few falls, just take a look at what happened 80 miles up the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Lehigh qualified for the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs in each of the past two years and in 1998 became the first non-scholarship program to ever win a playoff game. The main reason for this was the offense that Coen helped to create. In Lehigh history, there have been eight seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher. Under Coen, there were five consecutive years. Most recently, Lehigh started All-Everything running back Ron Jean, who set Engineers single-season records for most rushing touchdowns (23), most total touchdowns (26) and most points (156). Lehigh also featured quarterback and NFL prospect Phil Stambaugh, who recently completed 12-of-17 passes for 82 yards in the annual Blue-Gray Game. It is not out of the realm of possibility for something similar to happen at Penn. But fans should not expect the Quakers to shoot into the national rankings just yet. Lehigh is a very fine school, but the Engineers can recruit athletes who may not be able to meet the academic standards for admission to an Ivy League institution. That does not, however, mean Penn cannot get some very talented players. Coen is originally from southern New Jersey and while at Lehigh, he spent a considerable amount of time recruiting athletes around Philadelphia and in other areas targeted by the Quakers. In fact, Coen and the other members of the Lehigh coaching staff heavily recruited current Penn running backs Kris Ryan and Matt Thomas when they were in high school. Teams from the Patriot and Ivy Leagues always compete for recruits, and hiring someone already familiar with that recruiting scene will help the Quakers in the next few seasons. But while the next few years may be very promising, next year could be just as good. In Ryan and quarterback Gavin Hoffman, the Red and Blue feature the most dangerous one-two punch of any Ivy League offense. Last season, Ryan rushed for 1,197 yards and earned a spot on the All-Ivy first team. All Hoffman did in his first season as a Quaker was pass for more yards in a single season (2,150) than any other quarterback in Penn history. And now that Brown's James Perry and Yale's Joe Walland will be lost to graduation, Hoffman can assume the role of the premier signal-caller in the conference. The receivers aren't exactly slouches either. Next season, Rob Milanese and Colin Smith will lead an experienced group of pass-catching Quakers. So it is obvious Coen and head coach Al Bagnoli will have quite a considerable amount of talent to work with in next year's offense. Although the offensive line may be a bit depleted due to graduation, Penn should still be the league's dominant offense. Since arriving at his office in Weightman Hall, Coen has been looking at films and figuring out ways to improve the Penn offense. He has also been traveling with other members of the coaching staff on recruiting trips. Coen plans to strike a 50/50 balance between running and passing plays next season, but also plans to allow Hoffman to make more decisions at the line of scrimmage. You might be seeing a few more passing plays on first down as well. None of this will automatically make the Quakers a better team. It will not be a revolution. Andy Coen is not a savior, and there really isn't all that much that needs saving anyway. Priore had success with this offense in the past few years, and you can't ask for much more than some of the performances of recent seasons. But you may be seeing a difference when the Quakers have the ball this season, and maybe, just maybe, you'll see a bit of a transformation resembling the one that took place in Bethlehem over the last few years. Coen wants to be a head coach somewhere someday, and he feels that having success at a school with a winning tradition like Penn's will help that cause. And if he does have that success, reporters in the Franklin Field press box might not have to wait for the Lehigh score to be announced. They might be seeing some stellar offensive performances happening right before their own eyes.


COLUMN: M. Hoops wins with defense

(02/07/00 10:00am)

So far this season, when the Quakers have come into town, their four league opponents have disappeared into a drowsy fog, cowering in trembling awe at their Red and Blue-clad foes. "Their talent overwhelmed us," Brown coach Glen Miller said after his orchestra of Bears played to a less-than-melodious 83-48 defeat at the hands of the Quakers on Saturday. "They're the best team we've played this year, easily -- talent-wise and execution-wise." That is extremely high, although certainly deserved, praise for a team that Miller will have to face againEin less than a month. But the Quakers made this weekend such a nightmare that Miller isn't even focused on immediate revenge. "We're not at a point where we're going to take away their strengths," Miller said. "We want to work on our system and come into next year a better team." The Bears are not even halfway through their Ivy campaign, yet next year is what Miller wants to think about. After Penn's dominance, it would certainly be difficult for Brown -- or for any other Ivy team -- to pick out one aspect of the Quakers to focus on exploiting. Penn shot 48 percent from the field against Yale on Friday, then 45 percent against Brown. And the Quakers made up for that "drop" by shooting 52 percent from three-point range against the Bears. But Penn truly shined on defense, as it has throughout its current six-game winning streak. The Elis shot 23 percent from the floor in the face of the Quakers, while Brown managed just a 36-percent night from the field. The Quakers beat Yale by 25 points and Brown by 35. Yet Matt Langel, who scored 24 points against the Bears, does not "think everything's clicking." Penn's stellar shooting this weekend did hide some of its problems -- problems like committing more turnovers than the Elis on Friday night and shooting 68 percent from the foul line at Brown on Saturday. But what's definitely clicking for the Quakers is the defense. Over the course of its six-game run, Penn has allowed a grand total of 112 first-half points, a scant average of just 18.6. The Quakers held Columbia to nine points in the first 20 minutes on January 28, then kept the Elis to just 13 points in the first frame on Friday. The only team to have more than 22 points at the intermission against Penn during the streak so far was St. Joseph's, which scored 28 on January 31. "[Penn's defense] was very good," Yale coach James Jones said. "I thought they did a great job at understanding what we were trying to create offensively and contesting just about every shot." Even more than their good perimeter shooting, the Quakers' defense has carried them to these six wins, and they know it. "When you can do that defensively, it allows you to not have a perfect night offensively," Langel said. Nowhere was that more evident than at Yale, where the Quakers shot 30 percent from downtown and Jones felt that his squad represented itself well on defense. Onaje Woodbine led the Elis with 10 points, but only managed that on 4-for-18 shooting. Every time he touched the ball, Michael Jordan was right there to get in his face. On the inside, Geoff Owens and Ugonna Onyekwe combined to swat six shots. At the other end of the floor, the Elis had no answer to what Penn could offer, as every defensive shift they made backfired. "Once you try to focus on that one guy, Langel jumps up and bites you, or Owens jumps up and bites you, or somebody else does," Jones said. Brown had the same problems the next night, as the Bears' zone opened the perimeter for Langel's big night. "You pick your poison," Miller said. "You let them go one-on-one, the post guys score at will. You double down, and then you have to have quick, hard rotations. And this team had more than one guy that could shoot the three-pointer." But offense is not even half the story for these Quakers. If an opposing offensive player gets past Owens, then Onyekwe or Oggie Kapetanovic is right there for a defensive stop. The same is true in the backcourt. The Quakers can afford to help on defense because Ivy League teams do not have the same offensive versatility that they have. "That's why they'll probably win the conference and go to the NCAA Tournament," Miller said. "They have a lot of answers, whereas if you concentrate on [shutting down Brown's two top players] Earl Hunt and Alai [Nuualiitia], where's the offense coming from?" Until somebody comes up with an answer to that question, Penn will keep riding its defense to victory.


COLUMN: The Palestra's secret team

(01/31/00 10:00am)

Apparently, I have a secret. The Quakers overcame a hearty dose of adversity to roar back and defeat their wrestling archrival, Cornell, 19-16 in a battle between the nation's 14th- and 15th-ranked teams. Very much a winner-take-all affair, recent history tells us the team left standing after the Quakers and the Big Red lock horns will roll to the Ivy title. Think Penn and Princeton have a basketball dynasty? The last time a team other than Penn or Cornell was crowned Ivy League champ, the Fridge was making Super Bowl headlines, Lt. Col. Oliver North was busy selling arms to the Contras and Vice President George Bush was considering a run for the presidency two years down the road. With an air of drama hanging thick over the Palestra, it seems the only thing missing was the Penn students. While the friends, family and alumni of Penn wrestling filled the chairback seats in the south stands and kept the noise level high, a generous estimate might put the number of unaffiliated Penn students at around two dozen. Yet for some reason, almost 2,500 fans were willing to brave a blinding snow storm last Tuesday to trudge down to the Palestra for Penn-Drexel basketball. The sub-.500 Quakers played yet another forgettable game, trying every way possible to hand the game to the undersized Dragons before eking out an agonizingly boring 54-46 non-league win. That's just the way college sports work. The basketball players are minor celebrities, and the wrestlers go unnoticed. At this very moment, most of the people reading this page in the dining hall are probably spilling crumbs on this column as they read the basketball results adjacent to my 1,000 words and two cents. So I'll let it slide, the fact that you call yourself a sports fan and yet somehow skipped out on an opportunity to see some actual excitement at the Palestra. I never planned to write a column about the match, but it was simply too dramatic -- too important -- for me to let it slide by with just a handful of Penn students noticing. Allow me to set the stage. Penn, ranked No. 15, and Cornell, ranked No. 14, shared the Ivy title last year after wrestling to a 16-16 draw early in the season. In '93-94, the Quakers won their first Ivy title in 22 years after edging Cornell and snapping the Big Red's eight-year Ivy unbeaten streak. Since then, the only Ivy loss for the Quakers came at the hands of Cornell in '95. And they had not lost to Cornell at the Palestra since '92. Penn 125-pounder Kevin Rucci broke a bone in his hand at the National Dual Meet tournament, forcing the Quakers -- without another eligible 125-pounder -- to forfeit the weight class to Cornell. Thus, the home squad found itself in a hole from the get-go. With the match starting at 165 pounds and ending at 157, the two squads watched the lead see-saw. Penn took a 6-0 edge after two matches but Cornell led 13-9 after the forfeit at 125. At 133 pounds, Quakers senior Jason Nagle outwrestled Big Red junior Sean Doyle to shrink Cornell's lead to one with three matches remaining. Although the Quakers could count on a win by second-ranked Brett Matter at 157, if they did not win at either 141 or 149, Cornell would be assured the victory, Matter or no Matter. At 141, Penn freshman Jody Giuricich lost the first takedown to Big Red senior Ben New. Giuricich wrestled valiantly, though; trailing by one, he rode out New in the third period to earn a crucial riding-time point and send the match into sudden-death overtime. The veteran from Cornell prevailed, however, taking down the Penn frosh in OT to win the bout and make it 16-12, Cornell. Enter the hero, Penn's Jonathan Gough. A little-known senior in his first year in the starting lineup, Gough squared off at 149 against Alex Berman, a Cornell junior with six pins to his name this year. Berman got the first takedown, sending a hush over the Penn crowd as Cornell inched closer to victory. Gough, however, got the quick escape to make it 2-1. In the second period, Gough again escaped to tie it at two. Even then, however, a betting man would have put his money on the Big Red. The Cornell wrestler would choose bottom, escape for his one, and take the match. But Berman, an Israeli native, chose neutral. "With international-style wrestling, they're not as good on the mat," Penn coach Roger Reina said. "So I think they feared going underneath." Nonetheless, Berman appeared to have Gough just where he wanted when he lunged for a head throw midway through the period. In the instant when Berman was bringing Gough to the mat, it seemed a sure thing that Gough would give up at least the two takedown points -- much less any near-fall points if he landed on his back -- shoring up the Big Red victory. Gough, however, rose to the occasion, rolling through to avoid even the takedown. With the match still tied at two, Gough rallied for a late takedown of his own to win 4-2, pulling the rug out from under the Big Red and keeping Penn alive in the match. The frenzied fans shook the Palestra with excitement while the devastated wrestlers on the Cornell bench hung their heads. Sure enough, a charged Matter tooled 17th-ranked Cornell senior Leo Urbanelli, earning a 13-1 major decision to seal the Quakers' 19-16 victory. "That meet is going to rank right up there with some of the best of all time," said Reina, beaming at the way his squad overcame the adversity of having to forfeit at 125. "Our athletes accepted the challenge and rose to the occasion." As I said, I went to the Palestra as a fan, not expecting to write. But this match was just too exciting to keep to myself. Contrary to popular belief, there is an exciting team of national importance that calls the Palestra home. And that squad has one match left at home, on February 20 against always-tough Lehigh. See you there. The secret, I hope, is out.


COLUMN: W. Hoops' depth is critical

(01/25/00 10:00am)

While Penn's 79-62 victory over Lafayette does not mean terribly much in the grand scheme of the season, especially with those Ivy weekends on the horizon, the way the Quakers won last night should give them quite a boost heading into the next six weeks. Jessica Allen returned to the Penn lineup tonight for the first time since December 12 and was impressive, scoring six points and pulling down four rebounds in 13 minutes. "This is my rookie year in the Ivy League," Penn coach Kelly Greenberg said. "I think I know what it's going to be like to play Friday-Saturday, but I really don't. But knowing Jess is back and knowing we've got to play numbers, that's going to be so key in that second night game, that Saturday night game." With 5:13 remaining in the first half and Penn's star forward Diana Caramanico on the bench with three fouls, Allen entered the game. It was her first action since suffering a stress fracture in her foot and missing six games. Since then, sophomore Julie Epton has played admirably in the starting lineup, scoring in double figures in all but one game. It would be easy and understandable for Epton to worry about her run of increased playing time ending with Allen's return. "I didn't have any concerns, really," Epton said. "In the past, there were times we were tired, and coach wanted to get Jess in there because she was hurt, and in this one, Jess came in and? that just gave us a really nice rotation for the game." So Allen and Epton set to work -- together. On her first defensive possession, Allen swatted a Leopards pass that had been headed for the low post. The next time down, Allen's interference caused Lafayette to throw a pass straight to Epton. Then, the two got busy on offense. With 2:46 remaining before intermission, Epton fed Allen for a layup off a high-low play, then came back down the court on the next possession to score two of her own career high-tying 19 points. Allen closed Penn's scoring for the half with a two-footer off an inbounds pass with 13.7 seconds to go. The Quakers closed the first half with their largest lead of the game to that point, as a one-point advantage became 10 points in about four minutes, a feat that would ordinarily seem unthinkable without Caramanico in the lineup. It is a very good sign for the Quakers that they were able to not only survive, but to excel when Caramanico was forced to sit down. She will, like anybody else, not be able to realistically play 80 minutes per weekend for the next six weeks of Ivy play. "Julie Epton is just coming along," Greenberg said. "She's happy; she's finishing; she's rebounding. And Jess came in, and Jess played awesome. If I'm an Ivy League coach and I see tonight's game, and see that we have a [frontcourt] rotation of [Allen, Caramanico and Epton], I'm a little concerned." It is even more troublesome for the Ivy League coaches that the Quakers played so well with not only Caramanico on the bench, but with senior guard Mandy West held scoreless for the half on 0-for-3 shooting. Because playing back-to-back Ivy League games is so taxing, having as many skilled players as possible will be critical to Penn's chances for the league title. Especially now that she is back and ready for the meat of the Ivy schedule, Allen's injury may have been a bit of a blessing in disguise. After all, it has unleashed Epton's ability, and she has become one more skilled player for the Red and Blue to use down the stretch. Greenberg has stressed all year that she does not have a two-woman team. With Caramanico on the bench and West struggling last night in the first half, the Quakers finally proved her right. And they've done it just in time for the Ivy League season.


COLUMN: M. Hoops can launch at Apollo

(01/19/00 10:00am)

Earlier this month, the Quakers lost a rout to the Jayhawks by a whopping 46 points. As a result of that debacle, tomorrow night's game against Temple becomes huge. The Quakers need to do more than just hang tough. They need to truly challenge the Owls up and down the court for a full 40 minutes. It's not a must-win -- but it's close. Obviously, it is rare for Penn to have anything even remotely close to a must-win game in mid-January. It's even rarer for that sort of game to come against a team of Temple's caliber, which just dropped out of the top 25 last week after a suprise loss to St. Bonaventure. It may seem strange, but the result of Penn's game tomorrow night at the Apollo has undeniable importance. First of all, it is a Big 5 game, and the Quakers are certainly displeased with their 0-2 record in the City Series. "We need to go 2-2 in the Big 5," Penn co-captain Michael Jordan said. "Our goal was to go undefeated, and that's not going to happen." Beyond the Big 5, Temple represents the final giant on Penn's hellish pre-conference schedule. Having already faced Kentucky, Auburn and the Jayhawks, the Quakers are very familiar with the spotlight. This will be their last chance to shine under it until March. "This is obviously a city game, and it's against a ranked team, and obviously a talented team," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. "It's a measure of where we are as a basketball team." Once again, Penn will head into a hostile environment -- none of the Red and Blue's highly ranked opponents this year have visited the Palestra. And, as they did with Kansas, the Quakers will face an angry opponent. The Owls will be doubly hungry, wanting to avenge last season's overtime defeat, as well as their recent loss to the Bonnies. Although the Quakers managed to hang tough with Kentucky and Auburn earlier in the season, the Kansas loss seemed to shake their confidence at least a little bit. Penn lost its next game by two points to Villanova and then won by two over Lafayette. This past Saturday, Penn looked to be in real danger of losing to a far inferior Lehigh squad. Out of the embarrassment at Allen Fieldhouse, however, Penn can salvage a lesson -- good teams capitalize on the mistakes of their opponents. Temple is not perfect, and the Owls will make mistakes. The Quakers can win this game if they capitalize on those errors. But the question is not whether Penn can beat the Owls. It is whether these Quakers can really beat -- not just hang close with -- a top-flight team. If Penn loses tomorrow night, that question will hang over the Palestra throughout the Ivy League season. "We need to beat a good team -- a team that gets a lot of recognition," Jordan said. "When you play teams close, you can say it's a moral victory, but you want to win. You get nothing for second place." Jordan is well aware of what a big win over a top program can do for a team's confidence from his experience a year ago when Penn knocked off the then-No. 6 Owls in the second game of the season. After Jordan's 22-point performance at the Palestra, the Quakers won 13 of their next 15 games. This time, the Quakers face Temple in the middle of the season, with a very different team. If Penn does defeat its city foe, the result might be very similar, though. "Certainly, we were at a different stage last year," Dunphy said. "We're in a bit different situation with two freshman forwards, not with the savvy of Jed Ryan and Paul Romanczuk. [Still] we want to play well, and if that results in a win, that will help us a great deal." Now, the Quakers have a modest two-game winning streak going, and they will visit the Apollo tomorrow, and they know that a win might make good things happen. A lot of noise around the team will stop. There will be no more question of whether the Quakers can hack it with the top teams, and their belief in themselves should almost certainly rise back up to where it was at the beginning of the season when Jordan spoke of loftier goals than just making it to the NCAA Tournament. "This is a big game," Jordan said. "A win would definitely help our program and our confidence. I think we need to win this game, and it'll start us. It'll make three [consecutive wins] and hopefully we'll run up to the tournament." It's hard to say what will happen if Penn loses, beyond the persistent presence of lingering doubts for the next two months. It really would depend on how Penn loses. If the Quakers play well and lose, as they did against Auburn, it might not be so bad. One thing is certain. The Quakers cannot afford another performance like they had at Kansas.


COLUMN: Shaky play a cause for concern

(01/17/00 10:00am)

And you really can't blame them. Penn's first half against Lehigh on Saturday was one of the poorest shooting performances I've ever seen from the Quakers, and the sloppy play throughout the game was really not much of a confidence-booster. So what's the problem with Penn? It is obvious that they are full of talent, but for some reason, things just are not coming together for these Quakers. It's impossible to pinpoint any one reason for Penn's underwhelming performance so far. But one thing is clear -- if the Quakers continue to play as they did Saturday night, getting through the Ivy season and back to the NCAA Tournament will not be easy as previously thought. It's hard to know what to expect from these Quakers any longer. They go to California and play well enough to beat a tough Cal team in the final of the Golden Bear Classic and then go to Kansas, only to have the Jayhawks make them look like the Washington Generals in a 105-59 debacle. It wasn't supposed to be like this. The Quakers were supposed to play tough teams like Kansas down to the wire and then make teams like Lehigh look like high school JV squads -- just as they did for much of last year. Yes, a five-point win over the mediocre Engineers counts just as much in the win column as the Quakers' upset of No. 6 Temple last season. But with the way these Quakers have been playing lately, people have to be worried. Fran Dunphy certainly is. "We're very concerned. I thought we had more mistakes in the second half than the first half [against Lehigh]," Dunphy said. "We shot 8-for-30, so it wouldn't matter what the mistakes looked like. We just didn't shoot the ball well in the first half. We didn't turn the ball over very much in the first half. We had a couple of foolish mistakes in the second half." Dunphy went on to highlight an intentional foul committed by Koko Archibong and a play in which Ugonna Onyekwe saved a ball while falling out of bounds. Onyekwe passed it to a wide-open Jared Hess, who took one dribble and then scored an uncontested layup for the Engineers. "Ugonna made a very foolish mistake by saving the ball under the basket," Dunphy said. "I'd say he's been told that maybe 100 times during the course of the practice settings we've had. "Those things were foolish. I'm very concerned." Archibong and Onyekwe are freshmen, and freshmen make freshman mistakes. But as the two starting forwards on a team that expects to win another Ivy League title, they are making mistakes that need to stop. Eventually these problems will be fixed, but that needs to happen soon. Onyekwe and Archibong have more athletic ability than last year's starting forwards, Paul Romanczuk and Jed Ryan, but then-captains Ryan and Romanczuk did not make foolish mistakes like this. The Quakers' troubles, however, extend beyond the freshmen. When a team tries to work five new players into the rotation -- as the Quakers are doing now -- growing pains are expected. The problem is that by this part of their schedule, the Quakers should be past that point in their development. "It's not just the seven new faces. The alley-oop I threw to Ugonna, I probably should have pulled back," guard Michael Jordan said. "We just gotta buckle down and start playing more fundamentally sound." Well, it's clear they have to do something, especially with Temple next in line on Thursday. The Owls have had their share of difficulties this season as well, but if the Quakers come out on Thursday like they did on Saturday, Penn fans might as well not even make the trip to the Apollo. If you take away the silly mistakes, the Quakers still will not come away with many wins when they shoot 26.7 percent from the field as they did in the first half against Lehigh. You also don't win many games when Matt Langel shoots 1-for-7 from the field. And even though Geoff Owens came through with a monster second half to lead the Quakers to victory on Saturday, his performance -- which has been hampered by shin splints for most of the season -- has been inconsistent. It's not just one thing that has caused the Quakers' troubles thus far. The only thing that is clear now is that they cannot continue to play this way. Those midseason Ivy weekends can be trying anyway. But the possibility of a team like Cornell or Yale upsetting Penn only seems to be growing. "We were lucky to get out of here," Jordan said on Saturday. Yes, they were, but luck will not be enough against Temple. And luck will not carry them to an Ivy title.