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Analysis: Ryan leaves Harvard game with ankle injury

(11/15/99 10:00am)

Penn sophomore Kris Ryan left the game just six yards shy of 1,200 on the season but could return next week. BOSTON -- Until you lose something, you don't realize how valuable it really is. The Penn football team certainly proved that adage to be correct on Saturday, struggling to get in gear once starting running back Kris Ryan left the game early in the second quarter with a sprained right ankle. "I give our kids credit -- we just battled," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. "When you consider we lost Kris Ryan and we lost Kunle Williams [to an unspecified injury] during the game, we really played hard and I have a tremendous amount of admiration for our kids for hanging in there." Entering Saturday's affair, the Quakers offense was one of the most balanced, and most threatening, in the Ivy League. Through eight games, Ryan's 1,161 yards on the ground had kept opposing linebackers honest and opened up passing lanes for Penn sophomore quarterback Gavin Hoffman. In return, Hoffman's 1,636 passing yards had kept opposing secondaries from loading the defensive front, thereby opening up running lanes for Ryan. Kind of like symbiotic organisms, the Quakers offensive duo worked together to stymie the opposing 'D.' But if you take away one of the two? When Ryan hurt his ankle after catching a Hoffman pass in the right flat with 12 minutes left in the second quarter, the running back had rushed 12 times for only 33 yards. But the sophomore had also caught four passes for 38 yards and had a rushing touchdown brought back by a holding penalty on the offensive line. More importantly, with the Crimson secondary forced up into the box lest Ryan break one for a big gain, Hoffman was able to hit 13 of his first 15 passes for 122 yards. After Ryan went down, Penn's quarterback could only complete 16 of his final 33 passes. The second half saw Harvard pressure and batter Hoffman. Without the threat of Ryan, the Crimson could guess -- and guess correctly -- that a pass play was coming on almost every down. "I don't know if we abandoned the run -- they're a very good run defense anyways, and obviously when you lose a kid who's rushing for a 150 yard average a game, there weren't a lot of options left for us," Bagnoli said. Before Hoffman's 50-yard bomb to Brandon Carson on fourth-and-10 with a minute to play, the Quakers had only picked up 94 second-half yards. "We feel like we're letting the defense down every week, because they're playing so well and so good every week," said Crimson senior tight end Chris Eitzmann, discussing his squad's comparable offensive woes along with his respect for his teammates on defense. Penn running backs Matt Thomas and Mike Verille tried admirably to fill Ryan's void. But the duo could only pick up 26 yards on 10 carries without a rush between them of more than five yards. All told, the Quakers gave up on the idea of establishing any rushing attack in the final 30 minutes. Thomas and Verille ran six times against 24 Hoffman tosses in the second half. "I certainly think the other kids we had [Thomas, Verille] really played great, but obviously when you miss a kid of that stature [Ryan], it hurts you," Bagnoli said. Ryan's strength, speed and ability have not gone unnoticed in this, his first real season of Ivy play. His injury, then, immediately keyed the Crimson in to the fact that Penn could not run the same smashmouth offense with a different back in the backfield. And Harvard's defense responded. "I thought we played tremendously defensively," said Harvard coach Tim Murphy, extolling the virtue of his front line in particular. Still, Hoffman would not be denied. Now the sole focal point of the Penn offense, and without his symbiotic partner, Hoffman stood tall on the game's final drive, converting a third-and-14 and a fourth-and-10 en route to the win. But Hoffman's heroics aside, one can be sure that Bagnoli would rather have both offensive weapons available come time for the season finale versus Cornell next Saturday. With Ryan -- a proven big gainer, although still only a sophomore -- the Quakers are a multi-dimensional offense that is destined to succeed. Without Ryan -- no slight to Thomas or Verille intended -- the Quakers struggle and impart a lot smaller degree of fear in opposing defenses. But fear not. Preliminary X-rays indicate that Ryan's ankle injury is just a sprain. An MRI is still scheduled but there is a good chance that Ryan will be ready to go in five days.

Notebook: Countdown to M. Hoops opener: 8 days

(11/09/99 10:00am)

Only eight days remain until the Penn men's basketball team opens its 1999-2000 season. The Quakers' first game will be played at Kentucky next Wednesday and will be shown live across the country on ESPN. And you can sense the jubilation in the air. "I don't know if there can be any more excitement than the fact that you're playing Kentucky at Kentucky," senior co-captain Matt Langel said. "It's the Pre-Season NIT with a tournament atmosphere. And then the fact that it's going to be ESPN nationwide just kind of adds a little bit more to that whole mystique of being down there at Kentucky." A majority of Penn's away games this winter will be televised in one capacity or another. DirecTV, CN8 and Comcast SportsNet will show Penn games across the Delaware Valley region, and games with Auburn, Kansas and Penn State will be shown in various parts of the country on ESPN's Regional Coverage. · Need a measuring stick for the competition that the Quakers will face this upcoming season? Try the preseason AP Poll and the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll. Auburn (No. 4 in both polls), Temple (No. 7 in both), Kansas (No. 11 in both) and Kentucky (No. 12 Coaches Poll, No. 14 AP) are all on Penn's schedule. So how does the Quakers' schedule stack up against the rest of the Ivy League? It's on the top. Perennial Ivy co-favorite Princeton has No. 11 Kansas and No. 17 Syracuse on its slate and No. 5 North Carolina is a possible second-round opponent in a December tournament. Columbia, a team which lost all five starters and is predicted to finish in the bottom of the Ivies, may be overmatched in games with No. 10 Duke and No. 13 Stanford. The other five members of the League, however, are slacking in scheduling. Dartmouth, the third-place Ivy finisher last winter, has ACC also-ran Virginia as its toughest opponent. Brown faces cross-city rivals Providence and Rhode Island in its toughest matchups, though neither opponent is expected to finish in the upper half of their leagues. And Harvard's toughest non-league opponents are South Florida and Marist. · And how did Penn place in these polls? Well, the Red and Blue picked up one vote in the Coaches poll -- technically, this means a ranking of No. 56 in the country. After defeating Temple last November, the Quakers peaked in the polls, topping out as the No. 29 team in the nation. The Quakers, however, were shut out by the voters in the preseason AP Poll, which was released yesterday. Princeton, on the other hand, received a single vote. · The '99-00 season will be the first in which the NCAA allows the uniform Nos. 1 and 2 to be worn. In previous years these numbers had been left unused so as to not confuse the game scorekeepers when fouls are signaled by the referees. Penn was quick to take advantage of this new standard -- freshman forwards Ugonna Onyekwe and Koko Archibong took No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, for the upcoming season. Quakers senior co-captain Michael Jordan, of course, remains No. 23. · Temple coach John Chaney, notoriously strict in how he runs his ship, once again instituted 5 a.m. practices for his squad. But this year there is one additional twist -- no jewelry and no facial hair. This move was made by the 18th-year coach at Temple to try to increase team unity and establish control over what may be his strongest team ever. "I don't like to see kids come out with guys having all kind of earrings on and beards and all that on and those corn poles in their hair," Chaney said at the Atlantic 10 preseason media day in Philadelphia last week. "Are you an individual or are you on a team?" Chaney, though, was disappointed that NCAA regulations prevent the school from paying for the removal of tattoos. The 67-year-old coach half-jokingly suggested that Temple should pay for a trip to South Street in order to have the etching surgically removed from his players. All ideas of team-building aside, rebellion would likely occur at Penn if a policy of no facial hair were to be implemented, likely on the part of center Geoff Owens in defense of his new goatee. · Not returning for the 1999-00 campaign is Dartmouth small forward Charles Harris. The sophomore averaged 8.2 points and recorded 33 blocks -- fifth best in the Ivies -- a year ago and was figured to return to his starting role for the Big Green. But Harris chose to focus solely on academics this year. Now, Dartmouth will have to be content with returning only four starters. "I'm sure if you ask the Dartmouth guys, they're disappointed by that. He's a good player, that Charles Harris," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. "I don't know who might be the next guy in line, to be honest with you -- we haven't looked that far in advance because we've got a lot of other teams we're preparing for." · New to the Ivy League this fall are Yale coach James Jones and Brown coach Glen Miller. The coaches inherit programs with identical records, as both teams finished 4-22 overall last season and tied for last in the league at 2-12. · The Quakers' first and only preseason scrimmage will take place this Friday at 4 p.m. at the Palestra. Penn will take on a traveling club team, the Nantucket Nectars, composed of former college players. "We're going to do what we always do, and just try to execute our offense the best we can," Dunphy said. "We'll find some different combinations that are going to play during the course of the year and get everybody a lot of work." The team has been hard at work in practice thus far, though several small injuries -- Langel's ankle, Josh Sanger's knee -- have slowed the Quakers at times. Still, even when assorted ailments keep some of Penn's players from joining their teammates in a run across the Palestra floor 16 times at the end of practice -- in a span of 60 seconds no less -- the team will be ready for its first on-court competition. "It's a little bit [of wear and tear]. Some little bumps and bruises, but if we were playing tomorrow, they would play," Dunphy said.

Football cages Tigers in Homecoming blowout

(11/08/99 10:00am)

Analysis: Five-minute Penn flurry buries Tigers For the first 2 1/2 quarters on Saturday, the Penn football team was locked in a defensive struggle with the Princeton Tigers. Midway through the third quarter, the game was knotted at six and neither team had yet found the end zone. But the Quakers changed all that in a five-minute span in the third period, finding their offense and turning a close battle into a blowout. Three Penn touchdowns in less time than it takes to clean up the toast deflated the Tigers and put Penn on its way to its biggest win of the fall, 41-13. "We went into the half and it was a hard-fought battle. Both sides had played well and it was a heavyweight prize fight," said Princeton coach Steve Tosches, who then went on to list his team's three faulty drives which led to Penn's quick scores. "Then all of a sudden we opened the door. The turnovers -- the mishandling of the reverse -- gave them a short field. The shanked punt on the next series gave them another one and then we throw an interception for a touchdown. All of a sudden, from a 6-6 game, before you know it, its 27-6. That's what did us in right there." In 1998, Penn came out bursting with energy at Princeton, taking a 21-0 lead before the first quarter had ended. In '99 a different story emerged early. The first half was low-scoring and marred with missed chances inside the 20 yard-line by both teams. When Penn quarterback Gavin Hoffman was intercepted by Princeton's Gary Beem just three minutes into the third quarter, it seemed that the Tigers might be poised to break free of their scoring drought. But two plays later, Quakers senior lineman Mike Germino forced a fumble on a Princeton reverse and teammate Qurran Rogers fell on the bouncing ball. Penn's offense took over only 34 yards from glory and the home team never looked back. On the fourth play of the ensuing drive, Hoffman hit wide receiver Rob Milanese across the middle for a 22-yard touchdown to make it 13-6 Penn. There was 8:41 left in the third. Princeton's next possession was highlighted by back-to-back sacks by Penn's Jim Hisgen and Jason Maehr that forced the visitors into an ungodly third-and-27. On fourth down, it only got worse for the Tigers -- they shanked a six-yard punt. Taking over on the Princeton 29, Penn wasted no time striking again. On the fourth play of this ensuing drive, Quakers running back Kris Ryan ran in from five yards out to make it 20-6. There was 4:35 left in the third. Think Penn -- and its defense -- were done? Not by a long shot. Princeton shifted its offense and took to the air to try to get back into the game quickly -- but the Quakers were ready. As a result of porous pass protection, Princeton starting quarterback Tommy Crenshaw was knocked out of the game on the drive's second play. Tigers backup Jon Blevins was then handed the reins to the offense. Blevins probably wished he'd stayed on the bench. Seconds later, just as he was releasing his first pass, he was handed a seat courtesy of Germino. In turn, Blevins handed Quakers strong safety Kunle Williams a wobbling pass at the Princeton 41-yard line, which the sophomore returned up the right sideline for a touchdown. Williams' touchdown made it 27-6, bringing the crowd to its feet and broke the Tigers' backs with 3:27 left in the third. Germino was the Quakers defender who laid the particularly vicious smack on Blevins just as he released the ball on Williams' interception. "I heard the crowd roar and you knew what it was right away," Germino said. "It was a great feeling to come off the field after we've made a big play and you were a big part of it." In a span of 5:14, the face of the game had changed dramatically. A 6-6 defensive battle had become a three-touchdown game with 18 minutes remaining. But for all intents and purposes, the game was over. "[Princeton's offensive line] fell apart in the second half," said Germino, who had a sack, a forced fumble and three tackles for a loss in the victory. "You really got a sense that they folded and just said 'Enough is enough, we can't do this.' "Midway through the third quarter you really felt it." Whether the Tigers folded is up to debate, but what is not up for debate is that they were outclassed in a major way for five minutes in the third frame. In the crucial third quarter, the Tigers offense could muster only 19 yards on 22 plays. The visitors were sacked three times and turned the ball over three times as well. The Penn offense, however, took only eight plays to cover 63 yards and tally two offensive scores. Hoffman completed two of three passes for 43 yards, Ryan scored for the 10th time this season and the Quakers offense executed when it needed to. "It's all about making plays, and obviously you like to make big plays, and when you can turn them into touchdowns it's more of a bonus," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. "Until we can create some more opportunities in short fields, it's going to prevent us from winning some of those close games and today I thought we did a pretty good job of doing that." For 55 minutes on Saturday, the rivals were even. In fact, the Tigers had more first downs, more passing yards and fewer penalties than Penn. But that became irrelevant, because for one short stretch in the third quarter, the Quakers created opportunities, converted scoring chances and simply outplayed the Tigers.

From sideline to frontline: Penn's corps of young receivers has risen to the occasion

(11/06/99 10:00am)

With three games remaining in the 1999 season, the two leading wide receivers for the Penn football team are? sophomores Rob Milanese and Colin Smith. Huh? Rob Milanese and Colin Smith? Didn't Penn end its '98 campaign with its top five wide receivers -- all soon-to-be juniors and seniors -- primed and ready to return for this fall's Ivy title defense? Well, times have certainly changed on the gridiron for the Quakers, as have almost all of the team's receivers. With 26 catches for 450 yards and two touchdowns, Milanese is the rising star of Penn's aerial assault. Throw in 21 snares for 202 yards by Smith and you have a talented sophomore duo -- both of whom have yet to reach the age of 21. If you factor in unheralded receivers John Holahan (seven catches for 88 yards and one touchdown), and Erik Bolinder (five receptions for 98 yards and one touchdown), the Quakers receivers can pull down the football with the best in the Ivies. Oh, by the way, this quartet caught all of two passes last fall. Fat chance that Penn receivers coach Rick Ulrich could have predicted this just two months ago. "I think the receivers were aware that they'd have an opportunity to play just because of our numbers and the situation given us with losing a couple of guys that we were counting on to be on the field," Ulrich said. "They knew they were going to have a chance, and they've responded very well. They've come a long way." Well, the Quakers certainly needed them to come a long way. The loss of three of Penn's leading receivers -- All-Ivy selection Doug O'Neill to a knee injury, David Rodgers to a Mormon mission and David O'Neill to academic probation -- was one heck of blow for the Red and Blue to absorb this off-season. Throw in the recent injury to junior Jason Battung (seven catches in '99), and the Quakers lineup is without the personnel who caught 93 of the team's 123 passes at the receiver position in '98. Ulrich's corps of receivers could have been crippled by these losses. But considering that last fall, half of the Quakers new quartet of pass-catchers was crippled -- literally -- this team knows where to start. Heading into September, Milanese and Holahan were happy just to be practicing, never mind on the playing field. Milanese, it seems, wrenched his back his senior year in high school -- not from catching a pass rifled by teammate Chris Simms, son of former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms -- but in the weight room. As a result, Milanese's freshman year of football at Penn consisted of standing on the sideline wearing an huge back brace. "Last November Rob was really hurt and had been in a back brace for such a long time -- it used to hurt me just to look at him walking around," Ulrich said. But Milanese needn't have worried about going stir-crazy on the sidelines. He had company in Holahan. After appendicitis caused the junior to sit out much of his freshman year, Holahan's sophomore campaign was derailed before it started. The culprit? A torn left ACL in spring practice that same fateful first year. "We hung out on the sidelines last year," said Holahan of injured reserve compadre Milanese. "So now we get excited when we see each other out there on the field." But the duo's excitement will be tempered come this weekend. It seems that Holahan -- who broke through with two multi-catch games and a touchdown in recent weeks -- will be sidelined once more. However, he should be back by the Harvard game. "It's just bad luck," Holahan said. "Now I separated a shoulder at Yale and probably won't play Saturday. I landed right on my shoulder with [a defender] on my back, and it really just threw it off. It was kind of weird -- the collarbone popped up. "It wasn't the funnest. The biggest thing for me is to stay healthy, and the rest just happens naturally I guess." Momentum-wise this couldn't have come at a less-desirable time for Holahan. The Norwood, N.J., native seemed to have found his groove in Battung's absence. But fear not -- this is Penn football. Adversity is the squad's middle name. Surely there's another underclassman ready to take on a few more passes a game, right? That player could very well be Smith. But truth be told, it could just as well be returning honorable mention All-Ivy selection Brandon Carson. The senior has hauled in a respectable 19 passes, and as the Quakers' lone healthy returning receiver, is Penn's true leader at the position. Spreading the play-calling around, though, is just the nature of Penn's passing game, where everyone is taking advantage of their shots. Not worrying has evolved into the Quakers' theme on offense, thanks especially to 652 receiving yards and 86 punt return yards from Smith and Milanese. Still, week in and week out, the opposition has no idea to whom Penn quarterback Gavin Hoffman will throw. But Ulrich does, and he has every confidence in the world in his fledgling stars. One such receiver is Smith -- whom Ulrich recruited and has since developed into a punt-returning, pass-catching star. "Colin Smith is a guy I recruited. He was already verbally committed to Nevada-Reno, but just taking the trip to Penn and checking out Philadelphia and seeing what the Ivy League education may do helped sway his decision," Ulrich said. "Maybe it was because I was in his corner and had the opportunity to coach him, but I knew he had some talent and some skill." Under the guidance of the fifth-year Quakers receivers coach, Milanese, Smith, Holahan and Bolinder have improved upon their naturally quick feet, steady hands, and smart play to stand out on the gridiron. "Those guys are all catching the balls, and that's been the key," Ulrich said. "That was the frustration three years ago, that we weren't catching a lot of balls. Now you see guys making great catches -- going up for the ball and coming down with it. "That's a testament to those guys. They have good concentration and they're very coachable -- you only tell them one time." Not that his pupils at wideout would mind added instruction from their teacher. "Before Doug went down, Coach Ulrich always looked at us as being kind of like the leaders," Smith said. "I guess there was pressure, but Rick helped us through that and made the transition pretty easy." As the season has unfolded and Penn's coaching staff has seen what the wideouts can do, opportunities for the passing game in general have shot up. Witness the fact that two of the program's top three games ever -- 399 yards at Columbia and 343 versus Brown -- came in October. Milanese's 450 receiving yards puts him fifth in the Ivies, which is astounding considering that three weeks ago the Wyckoff, N.J., native had amassed only 81 yards. First there was an eight-catch, 184 yard performance at Columbia; then a seven-catch, 114 yard game against Brown; and most recently a low-key three-catch, 71 yard day at Yale. Not a bad month's work. His favorite catch of them all? "My best play might have been the 79-yard touchdown at Columbia," the sophomore said. "It felt good to run after the catch." But Ulrich was not overly surprised to see Milanese -- one of the team's speedier players -- motoring toward the end zone. "I don't pay that much attention to the speed, because I know that when the game goes and the whistle blows, some guys have a tendency to run just a little faster -- to run as fast as they need to run," Ulrich said. "Rob is one of those types of players where he can go as far as we let him go." If Milanese can keep up this frenetic pace, he's sure to go many places; for now, he's just psyched for Princeton. "My sister's boyfriend is a defensive end for Princeton, so I was talking to him over the summer and letting him hear it a little that we were going to beat up on him," Milanese said. "So I'm excited to play against him. "And I'm excited for this game -- it should be a big crowd with Homecoming, and Princeton's always a good rivalry, so it'll be fun." Of the members of Penn's new receiving crew, Smith was the only one to face off against Princeton in '98. In fact, he was the only one with game experience prior to September. Even so, his two career catches for 33 yards weren't that much to write home about? so the junior did something about it. Smith worked himself into a starting role in the Quakers' passing sets, while still finding time to return the odd punt or seven. With receptions in every game, highlighted by five against Fordham and four at Yale, Smith is Penn's most dependable wideout. "The one thing that they both have done -- with Rob on the field for the first time this year, and Colin maybe playing 10 snaps a game toward the end of last year -- is that those guys have really matured," said Ulrich of his players' steep learning curve. "They've had a real good go at learning quickly." Strangely, Smith doesn't seem to fit the mold of a Penn receiver. No debilitating injury. Playing time his freshman year. And a name even the public address announcer can pronounce right. Well, the last one might not be true. Note to the press box: it's COL-IN, not COL-ON. So, to what do these guys attribute their success in their fledgling season involved in Penn's offense? The confidence of the coaches in their play must help. So must the zip on Hoffman's passes. And more downfield play-calling can't hurt a receiver's confidence. But could it be the hair? "Me and Gavin and Carson were trying to get [Milanese and Smith] to dye their hair blonde," said Holahan, who displayed his bleached locks. "Colin, I think, would do it, but Rob's a little more on the conservative side -- but we're working on him." Shyness in the face of peroxide may be the only time that you will see Penn's receivers favor the conservative side. On the field, the opportunity to get 10, 20 or even more snaps per game has turned unknowns into forces to be reckoned with for the Quakers. "I think we've been more comfortable as the season's gone on," Milanese said. "Experience is a big part of that. I'm learning how to get open more, and I'm learning how to run better routes. Rick does a very good job teaching that, and I'm catching on." Are they unassuming? Yes. Are they unheralded? Well, have you ever heard of them? But this suits the younger Penn receivers just fine -- they're just happy to have been given the opportunity to play. So watch out for Nos. 5, 17, 23 and 84 the rest of November, and at least next fall too. It's an up-and-coming show that you don't want to miss. "Right now, you could say we're 3-4, but we're not forgetting about this season at all," Holahan said. "We're going to win the rest of the games. "But it is really exciting to see that we have everyone coming back, and it looks for a very bright future for the passing game."

Notebook: M. Hoops hungry for opener

(11/02/99 10:00am)

It's barely November, and the Penn campus is already abuzz with the imminent start of the college basketball season. The 1999-2000 edition of the Quakers men's basketball team (21-6, 13-1 Ivy League in 1998-99) has already garnered much praise this off-season, including being unanimously picked to defend its Ivy League title in the preseason Ivy media poll. Needless to say, the Quakers are also lusting hungrily for the upcoming season. "I think we look at it as last year we had a taste of the NCAA Tournament and this year that's just made us even more hungry to get back there -- and we're not going to give it up," Penn center Geoff Owens said. "We're just going to go and work as hard as we can to get back to where we were because that was a great season last year." Of all people, Owens should know about working as hard as he can. As fans will remember, the 6'11" big man broke his jaw diving for a loose ball in a win at Dartmouth last February. Like a true fighter who does not stay down, Owens had his jaw wired shut, and while subsisting on liquid meals consumed through a straw, returned to play in four of the Quakers' final five games. · The captains of this year's edition of the Red and Blue will be senior guards Michael Jordan and Matt Langel. Jordan, who was a tri-captain on the '98-99 squad, led Penn in scoring (15.3 points), assists (4.7) and steals (1.3) per game a year ago. Langel, who finished sixth in the nation in three-point accuracy two years ago, brings his 11.3 points per game and his 43 percent shooting from behind the arc back as well. "This is my second year as a captain and I'm honored because it's the guys that pick you," Jordan said. "It shows me that the guys respect my work ethic and the things that I can do on the court. So I'm proud that they selected me as captain and hopefully I can fulfill that to the best of my abilities." · Season tickets for the Quakers' 13 home games went on sale amid great fanfare yesterday morning. According to the Penn ticket office, 228 students were camped out in "the Line" in the hallways of the Palestra as of 6 p.m. Sunday night, which was the deadline to enter the lottery for tickets to away games at Temple, La Salle and Princeton. Many groups of students also joined the line after 6 p.m. but before the tickets went on sale. This is an increase of almost 50 percent from last year's numbers and represents an extremely strong showing of support for the team. Latest numbers indicated that over 100 additional Penn students purchased season tickets yesterday. · An Ivy League ruling this past offseason allowed each men's basketball team to schedule an additional, 27th regular-season game beginning this fall. In response to this decision, the Quakers added a game at the Arby's Hardwood Classic in Birmingham, Ala., on December 11, where Penn will face the defending SEC champion Auburn Tigers (29-4 in '98-99). In addition, because the Pre-Season NIT -- in which the Quakers will face off with Kentucky -- is a tournament exempt from this 27-game limit, Penn will be playing at least 28 contests this winter. This represents the highest number of regular-season games ever for the program. · Penn opens its season in Kentucky's historic Rupp Arena on November 17 at 9 p.m. in the first round of the Pre-Season NIT. This game will be broadcast live on ESPN. The Wildcats (28-9 in '98-99), who made it to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament last March, have once again been predicted to be a top 10 team by a slew of college basketball magazines. But this does not deter the Quakers, who narrowly lost to No. 8 Kansas, 61-56, and defeated No. 6 Temple, 73-70, to start the '98-99 campaign. "I'm looking forward to Kentucky," Jordan said. "I've never played in Lexington. It's the whole mystique of Kentucky and this is little old Penn, so it's like David and Goliath all over again. We're going to go down there and try our best. "We get challenged early and often this year, but if you want to play with the big boys, you've got to travel. You've got to go to Kentucky. You've got to go play at Auburn. That's why we came here. Coach [Fran Dunphy] plays some tough non-conference games and Kentucky's the first one of a long list." The final time to catch the Quakers in action before Kentucky is in a scrimmage against a local club team, the Nantucket Nectars, at 4 p.m. on November 12. · The word out of practice so far this fall is that the squad has remained relatively injury-free. Owens (leg) and freshman forward Andrew Coates (head) missed the Quakers' annual Red and Blue scrimmage on October 23, but both returned for last Saturday's Coaches versus Cancer open practice. Also, forward Josh Sanger -- who went down with an apparently serious injury to his right knee two weeks ago in practice -- will be returning sooner than expected. "In all honesty, if you had come to me after that afternoon and said that the diagnosis is that he has a strained ligament and will be out for two weeks, I would have said that's tremendous," Quakers coach Fran Dunphy said of the surprising current state of Sanger's health. "I thought he was a goner. I thought that he'd either torn his ACL or had a broken leg. It was pretty nasty. "So I think he'll be able to give us minutes versus Kentucky, so we're grateful for that. And yet he will have missed a couple of weeks of practice, which will put him behind, and he was playing pretty well."

Philadelphia teams come together for Coaches vs. Cancer

(11/01/99 10:00am)

On Saturday, the Palestra played host to the first annual "Philly Six" Open Practice Session for men's basketball. Sponsored by Coaches vs. Cancer -- an organization established in 1994 in memory of former North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano -- this day-long event featured each of Philadelphia's six Division I basketball squads practicing for 45 minutes and signing autographs for another 15 following their workout. Donations were accepted at the door and proceeds went to fund research by the American Cancer Society. The Coaches vs. Cancer Association has sponsored a Golf Classic in early October, a March Madness Tip-off Breakfast and several other in-season events during the past few years, each time raising additional money for their cause. "I think today was great and I think the idea behind the occasion was great," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. "I hope we raised some significant dollars and I hope we raised a tremendous amount of awareness as to what Coaches vs. Cancer is about. "Hopefully we're making a dent in our research and we can truly be a meaningful group in terms of raising money for fighting cancer." In the midst of Penn's annual student camp-out line for season tickets, this event was both an exciting diversion and a solemn reminder of pressing problems. "I think this means a lot to all of us," La Salle coach Speedy Morris said. "We've all been affected by this. My dad died of lung cancer when I was 12 -- he was 42 years old. It's such a dreaded disease and we've come a long way with it, and people are living a lot longer. Our goal is to knock it out in our lifetime. "Things like this really help, and it's an opportunity for us to get together and do some things for other people too, so I think it's a splendid idea." Temple opened the event at noon before a crowd of several hundred, using a variety of three-on-three matchups, drills and and shooting displays to demonstrate the skills that have made the Owls into a preseason top 10 program. Returning All-Atlantic 10 selections Lamont Barnes, Pepe Sanchez and Mark Karcher each drew a large following, as was evidenced by the number of area children waiting patiently for their autographs off the court. After signing autographs with his players for a slew of young fans after directing his strong and deep squad, Owls coach John Chaney was quite pleased with the day's events. "I think it's a great thing that we have, with the kids being involved," Chaney said. "They may not be able to contribute much money now, but if they carry the tradition on later, there will be more money and more research done in the area of cancer." The Owls were followed onto the Palestra hardwood by fellow Atlantic 10 teams St. Joseph's and La Salle at 1 and 2 p.m., Big East heavyweight Villanova at 3 p.m. and 33rd Street resident Drexel from the America East conference at 4 p.m. La Salle, in particular, put on an impressive display of dunking, both from its big men and its smaller star forwards Rasual Butler and Victor Thomas. The Penn squad concluded the day's open practice at 5 p.m. with a series of fast break drills, five-on-five scrimmages and half-court buzzer-beating shots. Save for junior forward Josh Sanger (knee injury) and freshman point guard David Klatsky (family event), every member of the 1999-2000 Quakers played for -- and to -- the excited crowd. The event was also a celebration of sorts of the rebirth of the Big 5 -- all the Philadelphia Division I programs save Drexel -- which will return to the full round-robin format that ruled the city until 1991. Beginning in a few weeks, the Owls, Hawks, Explorers, Wildcats and Quakers will face off against each of the other four Big 5 squads during the winter to crown a City Series champion.

Football ready for Brown star Perry

(10/22/99 9:00am)

Brown's James Perry is one of the best quarterbacks in Ivy League history. In case you haven't paid much attention to Ivy League football over the past three years, here's something you won't want to miss. The Penn football team hosts Brown at 1:30 p.m. tomorrow at Franklin Field, and Bears quarterback James Perry is one of the best in Ivy League history. The senior's 634 career completions are the most ever in the league. Ditto for his 60 touchdown passes. And if Perry can pass for just 259 more yards in his five remaining collegiate starts, tack on the career passing yardage mark as well. So it comes as no surprise that when the Bears (4-1, 2-1 Ivy League) take the field, the Quakers (3-2, 2-0) will be in for one of their biggest challenges of the season. "We're watching a lot more film of [Perry] than of the other Ivy quarterbacks," Penn senior defensive back Anthony DeSalle said. "And there's so much film on him because all they do is throw. "There's just tons of tape to watch and barely enough time to watch it." One tape that the Quakers must have viewed innumerable times was the one of the most recent meetings between these two teams -- a 58-51 last-second victory for Brown last fall. In that shootout, the top two Ivy squads of 1998 combined for a ridiculous eight touchdowns in the final quarter. It was the highest scoring game in Ivy history. Despite 259 rushing yards and six touchdowns from Quakers running back Jim Finn, Brown found a way to match and better every single Penn score. The reason? Perry. The senior had a record day of his own, completing 37-of-52 passes for 470 yards and five touchdowns. "I don't think any of us went into last year thinking it would be 58-51," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. "Both defenses have the ability to stop the other offenses and both offenses have the ability to make some big plays. "We're going to be tested more this week than we've been. It's going to be a little bit of ebb and flow to the game, so we'll just see what happens." What Bagnoli hopes he'll see is Penn's defense responding to this test and containing the opposing quarterback. In its past three games, the Quakers 'D' has certainly done this, allowing only 19 points a contest. But if Brown's offense, which is averaging 34 points a game, has anything to say, tomorrow's meeting will mirror last fall's offensive theatrics. "[Perry] directs our offense and he has a great sense of being in the pocket," Brown coach Phil Estes told The Boston Globe yesterday. "And our receivers have really stepped up." "We've set goals for the team each game -- to beat Yale at the Yale Bowl, to beat Princeton at Brown, where we hadn't beaten them since 1987, and now it's to win at Franklin Field." Brown has already accomplished the first two goals with a 25-24 win at Yale and a 53-30 win over Princeton; all the remains is winning at Penn for the first time since 1979 Perry connected on 28-of-50 passes for 299 yards and four touchdowns in a 27-25 victory over Rhode Island last Saturday and seems primed to lead the Bears to their first win at Penn since 1979. All told, Perry has thrown for 1,532 yards this fall, bringing his mammoth career total to 7,591. Brown also boasts the nation's top receiver in Division I-AA in Stephen Campbell, who hauls in 8.4 receptions a game. Furthermore, the success of the passing game has opened up defenses to permit running back Michael Malan to quietly amass 426 yards and a 6.5 yards-per-carry average. With an offense averaging over 450 yards a game, Brown appears headed for success. But don't count out the Penn secondary, which has shined recently. The Quakers defensive backfield shut down Columbia in a 41-17 victory last Saturday, holding two Lions quarterbacks to 12-of-34 passing. Two second-half interceptions by DeSalle led the way for Penn, as Columbia's offense was shut down and shut out after the half. "The interceptions were certainly a big confidence booster because against Brown the pressure is on the secondary to play really well," DeSalle said. "But Brown's passing game is slightly different [than Columbia's]. They throw downfield a little bit more and the pressure's going to be on all of us because they send four or five guys out every time. "They have a real complex passing game." Meanwhile, on the offensive side of the ball for the Quakers, it appears that the home team is developing a complex passing attack of its own. In completing 25-of-32 passes for a Penn-record 399 yards at Columbia last Saturday, Penn sophomore Gavin Hoffman finally showed signs that he was reading the same playbook as his receiving corps. Hoffman hit sophomore Rob Milanese eight times for 184 yards. Hoffman hit junior Ben Zagorski seven times for 70 yards. Hoffman hit one Brandon -- Clay -- for a 63-yard touchdown, and another -- Carson -- for a 35-yard score. In fact, Hoffman seemed to hit everything that moved and was wearing a Penn uniform in the victory, throwing four touchdown strikes and no interceptions. "It definitely helps when you get both the running game and the passing game going in sync, because the defense doesn't know which one to overcommit to," Hoffman said. "And it's good that we distribute the ball equally because that allows defenses to not key on just one guy." When asked his thoughts on a possible Perry-Hoffman duel, though, Penn's signal-caller was not concerned. "I don't really care what [Perry] does over there," Hoffman said. "I'm just worried about our offense against their defense, because that's the only thing I can control." Adding in their 189 yards pounded out via the rushing game against Columbia, Penn's offense is now the second-best offense in the Ivies. The No. 1 offense? Why Brown, of course. Once Penn steps onto the playing field, though, statistics become meaningless, and the team will be ready for the challenge that defending Perry -- and the Ivy title -- brings with it. "Everybody knows what's at stake for this game," DeSalle said. "They're coming after us again because they didn't get the title last year."

Football looks to tame the Lions

(10/15/99 9:00am)

The Quakers resume their Ivy League schedule with a game at Columbia. Penn bea tthe Lions 20-0 last year. As sports fans may have noticed, there's a big game happening in New York City this weekend. No, it doesn't involve the Yankees. And no, not the Mets either. When the Penn football team (2-2, 1-0 Ivy League) takes on Columbia (2-2, 0-1 ) tomorrow at 1:30 p.m., it may not get top billing by the major television networks, but the importance of the Quakers' return to Ivy League play cannot be understated. "Obviously, it's a league game, so it becomes very important," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. "I'd like to see improvement. Last year about this time we started getting better and better every week, cutting out the inconsistencies." Taking to the road for the first time this fall, Penn looks to pick up its second Ivy League victory against a team shrouded in mystery. How else could one describe the Lions -- a team whose defense was shredded without mercy in a 63-13 loss to Lehigh two weeks ago, yet held Bucknell scoreless for the final 3 1/2 quarters in a 10-7 win last Saturday? "We just played a lot harder against Bucknell," Columbia coach Ray Tellier said. "We just played so poorly against Lehigh. We tackled poorly and we allowed big plays. That wasn't a good experience and I think our players were embarrassed. "So we just hung in there a little bit better and found a way to beat a pretty good Bucknell team." Against the Bison, the Lions found a way to win by adding a new wrinkle into their offense -- a quarterback who can actually throw the ball. Completing 25-of-31 passes for 285 yards in his first start, senior quarterback Mike Glynn -- the Lions' third play-caller this fall -- showed everyone that he really can play. "That's as well as we've had a quarterback throw the ball in a few years here -- he's certainly going to start this week," Tellier said. "I don't know if you can expect that every week.? He was just outstanding. If he can throw the ball well and provide some stability in our offense, it's going to make us a better team. "I'm just trying to leave him alone -- it's like a pitcher throwing a no-hitter in the ninth inning, you don't want to talk to him or touch him or screw him up." So is Penn's defense prepared for this aerial challenge? Well, for what it's worth, the Quakers certainly have history on their side, having pitched a shutout against the hapless Lions offense a year ago at Franklin Field, 20-0. With the return of senior defensive backs Joey Alofaituli and Hasani White, Penn's defense -- which allowed Fordham to complete only 19-of-47 passes in a 35-18 win last week -- hopes that it can tame the resurgent Lions. "We are expecting them to open it up a little," Penn linebacker Jim Hisgen said. "He did throw for 300 yards last game, so we're going to be cautious of his ability. But we also want to take notice of their running game, which looks explosive. We want balance." The real question mark of this game for Penn may not be its defense, but rather how effectively Penn can run the passing portion of its "balanced offense." So far, Quakers sophomore quarterback Gavin Hoffman has completed 56 percent of his passes for 644 yards, but he has also thrown six interceptions and only three touchdowns. Statistics aside, it does not appear the Northwestern transfer has gotten into a working rhythm with his receiving corps, which is a problem the Quakers coaching staff had hoped it could have worked out by this point in the season. "Columbia's an eight-man front and that's hard to run against," Bagnoli said. "It puts pressure on your quarterback and your receivers to try to back them off the line. My hope is that we continue to get better with the young kids so we can back [Columbia] off the ball and get them into a more conventional set." In direct contrast to Penn's passing game, the team's rushing attack under Kris Ryan (588 yards on 86 carries) has been little short of tremendous. In fact, Ryan's success tomorrow can almost be taken for granted. Why? Because the defense of New York's finest has done its best impression of a sieve in stopping the run in '99, allowing 264 yards on the ground to Harvard, 291 to Lehigh and 212 to Bucknell. And Ryan is coming off a 256-yard performance against Fordham -- the third highest single-game total in Penn football history. "That's a concern, obviously," Tellier said of the Quakers rushing attack. "We're a little younger defensively and we need to get better against the run. Ryan is a very impressive back -- he's a big concern." Columbia's defensive leader, senior Jason Bivens, agrees with his coach's assessment. "To be quite honest, Penn has always had a great running football team," the 1998 second-team All-Ivy selection said. "We have a healthy respect for their running game, but also we understand that there are certain things that we need to do -- playing together as a team [and] playing better team defense to help our overall run defense, which hasn't been as good this year." Ryan -- whose 147 yards per game average places him fourth in Division I-AA -- remains cautious in his optimism, however. "I just want to go in and play my hardest," Ryan said. "I do what I can to help the team out. I put it in God's hands and do my best." After three straight non-league games, the trip to Columbia marks the continuation of Penn's quest to defend its Ivy title, and in light of the Quakers' inconsistent play thus far, the Lions must not be taken lightly. With both teams looking to make a statement to the rest of the league in a big way, Tellier knows what his team has to keep in mind. "You can't afford to not be at your best in a game like this," he said. Daily Pennsylvanian sports writer Will Ulrich contributed to this article.

Notebook: Hoffman will not miss time

(10/06/99 9:00am)

Despite suffering a slight concussion, Gavin Hoffman will start against Fordham. Seeking to rebound from a 23-16 loss to Bucknell on Saturday, the Penn football team might be glad to see Fordham on its schedule for the upcoming weekend. On paper, the Rams (0-4) appear to be a far cry from either Villanova or Bucknell, who are a now a combined 8-2. Fordham was even shut out by a weak Princeton squad, 27-0, last week. The Quakers (1-2), though, are not taking anything for granted. "I think it's kind of gotten to the point where it really doesn't matter who we're playing, we just need a win right about now," Penn quarterback Gavin Hoffman said. "We need to get our confidence up going into the Ivy League. So it's not like we're like 'we should win this game' or 'we shouldn't win this game' -- we're try to win every game. "We just really need a win at this point." · This week, the major question on many Penn fans' minds is whether Hoffman will be able to play on Saturday. The answer: Yes. Hoffman, who suffered a concussion and sat out several series in the Bucknell loss, will indeed start. Despite a painful weekend, after practicing yesterday he is ready to get back onto the field. "I'm playing -- everything cleared up Monday," said the Penn sophomore, who managed to complete 19-of-31 passes for 205 yards in the loss to the Bison. "I had some real bad headaches on Sunday and Monday and I tried to do some studying and reading, but I couldn't concentrate. My memory was all fine but lights hurt and things in the distance bothered me. "That was my first time that I've ever had to leave a game due to injury. Even in high school I've never had to leave the field." · Against Bucknell, with Hoffman suddenly on the sidelines, freshman Mike Mitchell was brought in to take the reins of Penn's offense. "I didn't even know [I'd be going in]," said Mitchell, who was 4-of-8 passing for 41 yards in his college debut. "They just called upon me and so I went in. It felt good. I just tried to do the best that I can to move the team down the field and just do my part." Although the freshman's first drive ended with an interception in the Bucknell end zone, Mitchell impressed Penn's coaching staff. "I thought that for his first time, for a freshman being in a game, it was great," Quakers quarterbacks coach Larry Woods said. "The biggest thing wasn't his coming out and making completions and moving the offense -- it was the poise when he comes into a pressure situation in his first varsity game and first varsity snaps. "To play with such poise and control, that was the neatest thing," Woods added. "The fact that he had success didn't really surprise me that much." With fellow backup quarterback Reed Werner sidelined by a back injury, Mitchell is now the one who will see action if Hoffman can't stay healthy against the Rams. And that role is alright by the freshman. "I'm just the No. 2 right now, so I'm ready to go in at any time," Mitchell said. "I'm working hard in practice and whenever they call upon me, I'm ready." · Hoffman's concussion happened during the second quarter last week on Bucknell's second sack of the afternoon. The Bison had six sacks in the game, bringing the total number of times Hoffman has been decked to 10 in 1999. Matt Rader was only sacked 12 times in 10 games in the 1998 season. Still, Woods feels that the protection offered his quarterbacks by the offensive line has been acceptable. "We've protected Gavin really well," Woods said. "There were a couple of breakdowns and there will be breakdowns in the course of a ballgame -- especially in a game like that where you have to drop back a lot and where you're playing catchup. "What we've got to rely on Gavin to be able to do in those situations is to get us out of negative yardage. When we break down up front, [he needs] to have the awareness to feel that and to get the ball out of his hands." Hoffman agreed, stressing that this is all a part of getting on the same page as his line. "I think sacks are just as much my fault as their fault," he said. "We're new to each other. Sacks happen. I think they're blocking fine and we're getting good protection -- we're running the ball well." · In contrast to the 177 yards rushing that Bucknell gained on Franklin Field last weekend, Fordham's game plan on Saturday will likely revolve around its passing game. Why? The Rams have averaged only 70 yards per game on the ground in '99, at a clip of just over two yards per carry. Add to this the fact that Fordham wide receiver Gerry McDermott is up to his old tricks -- he has caught 22 passes for 259 yards and a touchdown already this fall. As some may remember, McDermott pulled down nine passes for 125 yards and three touchdowns against Penn in 1998. · Nearing the end of the team's longest homestand since 1961, Penn is less than enthused with its results thus far in '99. The team's "home-field advantage" has seemed anything but as the Quakers will head back into Ivy play with no better than a .500 overall record. "At this point, guys are a little disappointed in our record obviously," Hoffman said. "I think we're close -- if you watch film, we're an inch away here and an inch away there from making a big play. No one's discouraged right now but it's starting to get a bigger sense of urgency." With one final week to tune up before taking on league rival Columbia, Penn needs to show improvement across the board immediately or risk being disappointed in the Ivy League.

Analysis: Football could not make the big plays against Bison

(10/05/99 9:00am)

The Quakers could not match the big plays Buckness made on Saturday, including two successful fake punts. Most college football coaches bring a well-balanced game plan to the field every Saturday. Run. Pass. Fake a punt. Fake a punt? How about faking two punts? If you're Bucknell coach Tom Gadd, that's the kind of risk-taking, big-play style that you bring to the gridiron week in and week out. While Penn (1-2) was unable to come up with the big play until late in the fourth quarter, the Bison (4-1) were able to turn a blocked punt and an interception into scoring drives under Gadd. Throw in another drive-killing interception and a forced fumble and you have the secret to Bucknell's success in its 23-16 win on Saturday. Whether it was more the product of Penn's turnovers or Bucknell's big-play ability, it was a multitude of turnovers and other intangibles -- more so than any Bison rushing or passing success -- that set the tone for the win. "I'm giving Bucknell a lot of credit," Quakers coach Al Bagnoli said. "They've got themselves a good team, they do some nice things and they cause you some problems. Every big play they had to make, they made. Probably the score should not have been as close as it was." With Bucknell facing a fourth-and-six from its own 23 just six minutes into a scoreless game, everyone in the stadium was confident that the Bison would be punting the ball away. Everyone but Bucknell's linebacker-turned-running back Shawn Redd, who took a direct snap and ran 34 yards up the middle for a first down. And that was just the beginning. Every time the Quakers felt sure that something positive, or even normal, would happen, they were wrong. Both Penn quarterbacks that saw time in the second quarter -- sophomore Gavin Hoffman and freshman Mike Mitchell -- saw one of their passes snatched out of the air by a Bison linebacker. One of these turnovers set up a Bucknell touchdown; the other prevented a Penn score with seconds remaining in the half. That's the definition of a big play. "We've got some problems that we have to deal with," Bagnoli said. "Some of it is preparation, some of it is attention to detail. Just some things we have to get done before we're going to be a good football team." One of the things that the Quakers have to get done is to learn from their mistakes. Just six minutes into the third quarter, facing a fourth-and-two on their own 34, Bucknell lined up to punt. But they didn't. For the second time in the afternoon, Redd rushed up the middle for a first down and again, the crowd sighed in dismay. Due to the uncertainty that Bucknell brought to each punt, the Quakers were unable to set up an effective return, gaining just 16 yards off punts and not putting themselves in good field position once. "We think we're a decent football team and we were going to play our game and try to make some things happen and not play conservative and see if we couldn't find the way to win the game," Gadd said. In the third quarter, still in a tight 10-7 game, both teams were looking for the game-breaking play. Penn was stopped in its own end and forced to punt. But Bucknell blocked the kick, its third so far in 1999, and took over just 30 yards from the end zone. Nine plays later, the Bison scored their second touchdown of the day to go up 16-7. "They did a nice job on some special teams things with two fakes and made all the big plays on the third and fourth down in the red zone," Bagnoli said. But that's not where it ended. With less than a minute to play and Hoffman and the Quakers threatening to force overtime, the Bison came up with their final big play of the afternoon. A vicious blind-side sack of Hoffman, the sixth time he was nailed on the day, forced a fumble just 30 yards from the end zone. End of game. "It all comes down to making plays," said Bagnoli after the loss. Thus far in '99, however, the Quakers have turned the ball over 11 times in three games. More often that not, Penn has been the one not making the big plays but receiving them instead. Like two fake punts.

Analysis: Tailback Ryan has breakthrough day against Bison

(10/04/99 9:00am)

Usually, losing a running back who rushed for over 1,400 yards and won the Ivy League's prestigious Bushnell Cup as Player of the Year would present a problem for a football team. Usually. But after yet another strong rushing performance by Penn sophomore Kris Ryan, Quakers fans may soon find themselves asking: Jim who? Ryan had a career day in Saturday's 23-16 loss to Bucknell, rushing for 152 yards on 24 carries, including his second touchdown of the season, a 33-yard scamper to put Penn up 7-0. Through three games in 1998, Jim Finn had gained 320 yards on the ground. Through three games in 1999, Ryan has gained 332. And Ryan has done it on 44 fewer carries. "I think that [Penn] had a good game plan," Bucknell coach Tom Gadd said of a Quakers offense that rushed 28 times in the first half. "When you go up 7-0 and you're running as well as No. 41 is running I don't know why you'd stop. "He's a horse." On the Quakers' second drive of the afternoon, Ryan literally looked like a horse -- both in his strength and in his speed -- as he almost single-handedly took the Red and Blue down the field to stake them to an early lead. The 33-yard run by Ryan culminated a nine-play Penn drive and saw the 235-pound tailback bounce off of several Bison defenders before outrunning its secondary for the score. In all, six of the Quakers' nine plays on the drive were handoffs to the sophomore, as Ryan racked up 59 yards in one offensive series. A Bucknell team that saw Finn rush for 136 yards in 1998 must have thought it was experiencing dZj^ vu: Ryan racked up 120 yards by halftime and refused to go down to one tackler alone. "We were tackling but we weren't wrapping up -- and he's a big back," Bison linebacker Shawn Redd said. "When you have a big back like that you just have to try to run your feet through him." In the second half, though, Penn's bull in the backfield saw less action as the Quakers switched their focus to the pass in hopes of quickly cutting into Bucknell's ever-increasing lead. In addition, halftime changes by Redd and the Bison defense -- which limited Towson State to minus-30 yards rushing in a win earlier this fall -- stymied Ryan and the rest of Penn's rushing offense. Though Ryan's 32 yards on eight second-half carries is respectable in its own right, it was somewhat tame compared to his first-half stats. "I'm sure they made some adjustments on defense," Ryan said. "I think they came out a little more ready to play than we did in the second half -- they were coming off the ball a little harder than we were. "I really don't know if anything was too different. We were playing hard but we just didn't work as well." Though the Quakers couldn't complete their fourth-quarter heroics, the team was able to take at least one thing away from the game. In averaging over 6 1/2 yards per carry, No. 41 stepped out of the Quakers' run-by-committee system to seemingly win the starting role outright. While fellow Penn backs Mike Verille and Matt Thomas combined for only four carries, Ryan handled the brunt of the rushing duties by taking 24 handoffs. "Kris has obviously been one of the bright spots of our offense," said Quakers coach Al Bagnoli of his sophomore running back, in whom he clearly has gained more confidence as the season has progressed. Back in August, with Northwestern transfer Gavin Hoffman stepping into the starting quarterback job and a strong corps of wide receivers returning, Penn's offensive weak spot was expected to be in the backfield. Now in October, with Hoffman throwing twice as many interceptions as touchdowns and three of the Quakers top returning receivers not on the playing field, Penn's runners have proved themselves solid as a rock. Last year, Ryan ran just once for 18 yards. He has shown that the big gain was not a fluke, though, as he has posted consistently long runs, including a 49-yard touchdown in the season-opener. "We had a huge void in Jim Finn graduating," Bagnoli said, "but we've seemed to solidify that part of [our offense].We're comfortable there. "It's good to have him be around for another three years."

NOTEBOOK: Football ready to get back on track after 'Nova loss

(09/29/99 9:00am)

Following the worst home loss in Al Bagnoli's Penn career, the Quakers prepare for Bucknell. Coming off a 34-6 drubbing at home by Villanova, the Penn football team is trying to repair its fragile psyche in time for this weekend's meeting with Bucknell. Saturday's loss to the Wildcats is the program's worst home defeat during the tenure of coach Al Bagnoli and the Quakers' worst loss at Franklin Field since falling to Division I-A Army, 41-3, in 1985. "Let's learn from [the loss]," Bagnoli said. "We've got to forget about it and at the same time we've got to concentrate on Bucknell. We've got to learn from the mistakes we made last week. "But as of Tuesday, whether you win or lose, last week is history." And despite what outsiders may think, the Quakers (1-1) are not disheartened by this home loss. "Sunday it didn't seem like we were down at all -- we were just looking forward to the next week," Penn senior defensive back Joey Alofaituli said. "We knew Villanova was a tough team coming in and we knew that we had to play great, mentally and physically. And we had a few mental breakdowns but we knew what our mistakes were watching the film and there's just a few adjustments we have to make. "We're hungry for this next week. Just like last year, coming off of Richmond, I think our attitude is pretty much the same. It's over with? and we're really excited about this next game." In 1998, fans may recall, the Quakers came back from a 34-18 loss to the Spiders with a 20-10 win over Bucknell seven days later. · One major aspect of the game that Penn needs to improve is its offensive play deep inside its opponent's territory. "Play inside the red zone is definitely something that the coaches will want to address," Penn running back Kris Ryan said. "We have the tools and everything -- we've just got to put it together. Hopefully we can use this week and kind of gel a little bit more." Five trips past the Villanova 35-yard line yielded only two field goals last Saturday. In two games, the Quakers have one touchdown on 10 trips inside their opponents' 35. "It doesn't have to do as much with the plays as much as it does with the execution," Bagnoli said of Penn's offensive woes. "[Villanova] was a good defensive team that closes fast down there and when you have the field constricted they can close even faster. "The other part of the equation is when you get opportunities to put points on the board, you at least have to come away with something. Preferably you want to score touchdowns, but you certainly want to come out with at least three. "But twice we didn't even manage to come out with a field goal." · For the second straight week, Penn will be taking on a team that has more games under its belt than the Quakers in 1999. Before Penn even opened its season, Bucknell (3-0) had already played two games and had picked up a big road win over Patriot League rival Colgate, 21-16. · One positive that can be taken from Saturday's shelling is the play of the Quakers' run defense. The Wildcats rushed for just 85 yards against Penn, with 41 of these yards coming late in the fourth quarter with the game's outcome no longer in doubt. Led by Justin Maehr and Jim Hisgen, the Quakers recorded eight tackles for a loss. Penn's front line also sacked Wildcats quarterback Chris Boden twice. "The good news was we were able to hold up versus their running attack? so we take away some positives from it," Bagnoli said. "But we just could not cover [their receivers] to the degree we'd like to cover them." Though Boden was able to direct a successful attack without relying on the ground game, Penn's rushing defense did present problems. "[Penn's] defensive line did a great job of putting pressure on us all day," Boden said after the game on Saturday. "We want to come out pretty much 50/50 run and pass on offense. But early on, they had a great run defense and threw everyone in the box and we kind of were forced to throw the ball." Heading into this game with Bucknell, a team that Penn sacked four times and limited to just 21 yards on 26 carries in 1998, this strong play up front is a very good sign. · With three interceptions against Villanova, the Quakers now have five on the season -- tops in the Ivy League. Overall, Penn has forced seven turnovers in two games, tied with Harvard for most in the Ivies. "I think our D-line has to do with that greatly because they put a lot of pressure on the quarterback," said Alofaituli, who recorded four tackles and broke up a pass in the end zone against 'Nova. "Most of those interceptions are actually by our linebackers -- we cover the long ball pretty well and force them to throw those short balls and that puts our linebackers in the perfect position." Penn freshman linebacker Travis Belden has surprised many with all-around strong play, including a team-leading two interceptions, both of which came against the Wildcats. Unfortunately for Penn's defense, an erratic Quakers offense that has seven turnovers of its own often seems to give the ball right back to the opposition. While this may appear to hurt the Penn defense, they actually see it as a challenge. "Coming off the field after a big turnover like that, obviously we're pumped," Alofaituli said. "We get off and then a couple plays later we have to get back on. "But we don't really dwell on the fact that the offense is sputtering -- we realize that it's a team sport and that we're going to have some times when [the defense is] going to struggle. "But it seems that a couple of times [after the offense has turned it over] that we get right back on the field and stop them." · Perhaps the most consistent offensive weapon for the Quakers thus far has been Ryan. Essentially a part-time running back, the sophomore has rushed for 180 yards in two games. "I'm just going out there and playing my hardest and playing my heart out," Ryan said. "And the other two guys [Matt Thomas and Mike Verille] are playing their hearts out too -- I've just been the luckier one to this point. Hopefully I can keep it up." Aside from attributing his success to God, Ryan also praised some of his earthly counterparts for his six yards-per-carry average. "The offensive line has been playing great," Ryan said. "That's what I like to say as a running back -- you can't do anything without the line." · Another good sign in the loss to the Wildcats was in the Quakers' kicking game. Penn punter Ryan Lazzeri averaged 44.3 yards on six punts on the day, an increase of almost seven yards per attempt over his punts in the season opener.

Villanova too tough for Football

(09/27/99 9:00am)

In their first meeting since 1980, Villanova stormed past the Quakers with little trouble in a 34-6 romp. Prior to Saturday, it had been 19 years since Penn and Villanova had last met on the football field. After the powerful passing display put on by the No. 14 Wildcats in their 34-6 win over the Quakers (1-1) this weekend, Penn may just want to wait another 19 years before challenging 'Nova on the gridiron again. "Until you look at the films, you don't know how you technically played," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. "But I think that just from a casual observation, you can see why Villanova is the 14th-ranked team." Penn's secondary, for one, could definitely see why the Wildcats (3-1) came in as the favorite in this cross-town matchup -- Villanova quarterback Chris Boden was 33-for-43 passing for a school-record 424 yards, including two touchdowns. Penn quarterback Gavin Hoffman, by comparison, completed only 14-of-28 passes for 108 yards in the loss. Any possible highlights for the Quakers, including the success of the team's rushing defense and two interceptions by freshman Travis Belden, were overshadowed by Boden and his endless corps of receivers. Nine Wildcats caught passes, and 18 of Boden's 33 completions went for 10 or more yards. Only three of Hoffman's 14 were of that length. "Coming into the game, we knew that their quarterback and their passing attack was their strong point," Penn defensive back Anthony DeSalle said. "And throughout the game we tried to disguise our defenses and coverages. We were in position to make some plays and sometimes we did and a lot of time we didn't, and that's what it came down to." Try as they might, though, the Quakers secondary just could not stop Boden's aerial assault. Behind 57 yards passing by Boden, Villanova moved easily down the field on its first possession. A 24-yard field goal staked the visitors to a 3-0 lead. The teams then proceeded to trade several punts and after one quarter, the stands remained full and the scoreboard remained stuck at 3-0. But then the second quarter came along, and the roof caved in for Penn. The first three plays of the quarter saw Boden hit three different receivers with passes, covering 87 yards and culminating with a Brian White touchdown reception. Needless to say, it would be a long day for the Quakers. "I thought we'd do OK versus the run but they were able to exploit [our secondary]," Bagnoli said. "They've got a kid [Boden] who's really a headache to play against? who knows where the ball should go and who throws it on time." But the most damaging point in the contest came later in the quarter. Down by seven, the Quakers were a beneficiary of a holding penalty that brought back another 'Nova passing touchdown. Penn's defense then held to force a punt and it appeared that the Quakers might be able to put together a drive before halftime. But on Penn's first offensive play of the series -- a screen pass to running back Mike Verille -- Hoffman threw directly into the hands of Villanova defensive end Joe Kearing, who ran it back 16 yards for a touchdown and a 17-3 lead. "It was pretty disappointing to throw a pick for a touchdown," Hoffman said. "I guess I didn't see him -- he just stepped right in front of it." "That's one of those plays in the game, where if you're Penn it's a backbreaker," Villanova coach Andy Talley said. "We weren't setting the world on fire at that time and I think that really hurt them because it was a cheap play -- it's not something that you worked hard to get." And things did not go any better on Penn's next two possessions. Penn running back Kris Ryan fumbled away the ball at the end of a 20-yard run to end one drive and Hoffman threw two incompletions to stall another. When the Wildcats took the opening kickoff of the second half and went 63 yards on five plays for yet another score, the stands began to empty. Not even a determined six-minute, 17-play drive by the Quakers -- which ended with a missed field goal -- could convince Penn fans to stay. This missed field goal, one of two on four attempts by Jason Feinberg, was symbolic of Penn's day. Offensively, the Quakers were shaky at best. Hoffman had several passes batted down at the line of scrimmage and was sacked twice. Ryan rushed for 81 yards but the rest of the Quakers running game could only amass 26 yards on 26 carries. And any Penn drive that remotely approached the end zone seemed to stall. "I thought we had a solid approach to what we were trying to do," Bagnoli said. "But when it came crunch time and we got down into the red zone and we had to make some third-down plays, I don't think it was anywhere near the efficiency that we had last week." Limited success was exactly what Villanova did not face on offense. Wide receiver Murle Sango had 10 receptions for 125 yards. And White pulled down six more catches for 78 yards despite throwing up on the sideline following a bone-rattling hit. "We have a ton of weapons and we're ready to use them," said Boden, who has now thrown for a touchdown in 28 straight games. Still, the Wildcat's offensive leader was less than beaming about his record-setting performance. "I had no idea about the passing record -- I was just pissed off at the three interceptions I threw," Boden said. The Quakers, however, only could manage a second-quarter field goal out of these turnovers. "Villanova did well on defense," Hoffman said. "They had some good athletes out there, but I didn't play well either, to account for part of what they were doing." Chalk Villanova's win up to the great play of Boden and his receivers. Or chalk Penn's loss up to the fact that this was only the Quakers' second game in 1999 -- as Talley suggested. Whatever it was, though, this meeting -- much like Villanova's 34-3 win in 1980 -- was thoroughly one-sided.

Football begins its title defense with Big Green

(09/17/99 9:00am)

The Quakers will host Dartmouth in what is usually a close battle. It's not that the Penn field hockey team's heartbreaking 3-2 loss in overtime to St. Joseph's and its exhilarating 4-2 win over visiting Villanova were not important. It's just that for the Quakers, the real season begins on Sunday. At noon, the whistle will blow and Penn and Dartmouth will battle to open Ivy League play on Franklin Field. Every year, the Quakers open their Ivy schedule with the Big Green, and every year it is a hard fought battle. "It is going to be a competitive game that is important in the standings since it is both teams' first Ivy game," Penn forward Katie McCuen said. Penn (1-1) defeated the Big Green on Dartmouth's turf last season in a nail-biting 3-2 contest. The year before, however, Dartmouth came back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Quakers 4-3 in the final minutes of the game. "It is a very bitter memory in the minds of those that remember that loss," Penn coach Val Cloud said. "They are very persistent." It is difficult to predict a team's success from individual games when the season is so young but Cloud does have some knowledge on the Big Green. "They've played two teams but it is hard to tell how they will be," she said. "I'm still waiting for a another scouting report to confirm what I do have on them. Like us, they have a lot of experienced players and they use a lot of passing. They also like to attack from right to left." Two very definite scoring and midfield threats for Dartmouth are senior twin sisters Lauren and Kristen Scopaz. With Kristen at the the center midfielder spot and the co-captain and leading scorer Lauren as the center forward, the duo could present problems for Penn. In Dartmouth's season opener against the University of Maine, Lauren Scopaz scored four goals and assisted on another to defeat Maine, 6-3. The Big Green could not duplicate that performance in the next game, falling 2-1 to Syracuse. Regardless of the records, however, something mysterious happens when two Ivy teams match up to open the regular season. With two teams as strong and feisty as Penn and Dartmouth, it will be anyone's game. "Any Ivy would be a tough opener, but I have a great deal of respect for [Dartmouth]. I never know what they are going to do," Cloud said. "[Dartmouth] is tough on offensive corners I have to prepare the team for that. Hurricane Floyd interrupted yesterday's opening preparation for the Big Green. So today Cloud will have to prepare her team for the Big Green's offensive corners and dominant right field play.

Baseball ends on a high note

(04/28/99 9:00am)

The Penn baseball team ended a disappointing season by sinning three road games against Cornell. "We're going to win all four games at Cornell. And if you want to quote me on that, you can," Penn pitching coach Bill Wagner said a week ago. Unlikely as that seemed at the time -- the Quakers had just lost four to Princeton and 17 of 18 overall when Wagner made the prediction -- Penn almost pulled off this improbable task last weekend on Cornell's Hoy Field. The Quakers (9-28, 6-14 Ivy League) took the first three from the Big Red, 3-2, 8-5 and 4-1, before falling in their season finale 17-5. "For the first time all season, we learned how to win," Quakers coach Bob Seddon said. "We had a good weekend. It's a shame about the last game, but we played well." The trip to Cornell (9-23, 6-10) started off on the right foot for the Quakers, as leftfielder Jim Mullen's home run and centerfielder Kevin McCabe's RBI single gave Penn two early runs in the first game. After allowing two runs to knot the score at two, Penn starter Mike Mattern (6-3, 4.02 ERA) settled down on the mound, getting out of numerous jams and not allowing the Big Red a run after the third. The staff ace, who ended the year with 67 percent of the Quakers' victories, allowed only three hits while striking out seven in six innings of work. With two outs and nobody on in the fifth, Penn senior Russ Farscht stepped to the plate for what turned out to be the key point in the game. Showing his opposite-field power, the first baseman proceeded to smack his sixth home run to left-center. Thanks to the late-inning pitching of Mattern and sophomore Brian Burkett, Farscht's run stood up and Penn left Hoy Field with a 3-2 win. "Farscht had an unbelievable weekend," said Seddon of his first baseman who hit four home runs -- including one in his last collegiate at-bat on Sunday -- and knocked in eight runners during the series. But the Quakers weren't ready to stop right there. After spotting Cornell a 3-0 lead in the first inning of game two, Penn stormed back with four in the top of the second inning en route to an 8-5 come-from-behind win. A two-run double by junior second baseman Anthony Napolitano, who was 7-for-13 on the trip and hit .350 on the year, was the key to the four-run second. But the biggest inning came two frames later when, with the score tied, back-to-back home runs by junior Jeremy McDowell and Napolitano put Penn on top to stay, 6-4. Quakers starter Sean McDonald (2-6, 6.75) threw his fourth complete game and picked up a 'W' over Cornell for the second consecutive year. Following the Saturday sweep, the visitors, showing a confidence seldom seen in '99, came out again on Sunday obviously ready to play. Key hits and stolen bases by McCabe, Glen Ambrosius and Napolitano gave Penn a 4-0 lead after two. And that was a lot more than the Quakers' pitching needed. Sophomore starter Matt Hepler (1-5, 4.68) and freshman Dan Fitzgerald combined to shut the Big Red machine down -- completely. The two threw a one-hitter that saw no Cornell batters get the ball out of the infield in a 4-1 win. "My infield was playing great," Hepler said. "I was able to throw a lot of ground balls and keep it down. And I had good command of all my pitches and was getting ahead in the count on all of the batters." Despite getting hit on the pitching arm with a line drive in the fourth, Hepler remained perfect through that inning. When the sophomore departed due to soreness in the fifth, the scoresheet was amazing -- 11 ground ball outs and four strikeouts. Fitzgerald then came in and mopped up the host team in order in the sixth and seventh -- domination at its best. If not for a walk and an infield hit in the fifth, the 125 fans in attendance might have seen a perfect game. "Hepler was breezing," Seddon said. "His pitch count was low and there wasn't one fly ball in the entire game. I was happy for Hep, he has really improved." Three wins in a row -- Penn had not accomplished something like this in a while. Emotions and hopes were running high. Could the Quakers sweep to finish the year on a roll? Unfortunately for Penn, it didn't happen. Scoring during every inning, the Big Red cruised to a 15-run lead lead in a big 17-5 win. Cornell's Jordan Schaeffer had three hits, including a two-run blast in the first, as the home squad snuck away with one victory. Quakers freshman Mark Lacerenza (0-6, 5.92), who had looked strong at times as a starter, was lit up for nine runs in just over two innings. Despite the season-ending loss, the squad left Cornell with an extremely positive end to the 1999 season. "People look at our team and our record and they get the wrong impression," Seddon said. "We're not leaving the season with negative feeling because we stink. We know we underachieved. "We'll be a better team next year -- but we'll still have to see."

Baseball plummets further with four losses to Tigers

(04/19/99 9:00am)

The Quakers fell to 6-27 as rival Princeton swept a pair of doubleheaders at Bower Field. If the Penn baseball team had entertained any thoughts of success this past weekend in a pair of doubleheaders against Princeton, its hopes were dashed early. The Tigers scored four runs in the top of the first inning in the first game on Saturday and left Bower Field a day later with a four-game sweep of the reeling Quakers (6-27, 3-13 Ivy League), 6-2, 4-3, 6-3 and 9-3. Penn has lost eight in a row, and 17 of 18 -- including six games by two runs or fewer. "We, as a team, have underachieved -- there is no way we should be 3-13 in the Ivies," Penn coach Bob Seddon said. "The goal right now is to win a game. We've just gone in the tank since the Harvard loss [18-16 in extra innings on April 2]. The team's heart has been broken. "I hardly can remember the [individual] games because they all have the same tune. But we're not as bad as our record [shows]." In Saturday's first game, the Quakers were in a hole from the outset. A single, a stolen base, a walk and three Princeton doubles put Penn down 4-0 before Quakers starter Sean McDonald recorded an out. McDonald held the Tigers (15-15, 8-4 Ivy League) for the most part for the next six innings, however, hurling his third complete game and adding five strikeouts. But Penn could muster only six hits in support of the junior in a 6-2 loss. Saturday's afternoon contest, however, was an entirely different affair. An RBI single by Penn captain Glen Ambrosius and a towering two-run home run by senior Russ Farscht in the first inning put the Quakers in an unfamiliar position -- holding an early 3-0 lead. Up 3-1 going into the seventh and final inning, it appeared that a Saturday split was in the works. But Princeton scored three runs in its final at-bat to steal a 4-3 victory from its archrival. "It was almost like we sat on the three runs and just accepted the lead, when we could have really put them away," said Farscht, who hit his fourth and fifth home runs of 1999 against Princeton. "Unfortunately, we didn't hold the lead. A couple of balls found the holes for them -- you have to give them credit for getting the clutch hits." While credit does need to be given to a Princeton squad that had been batting only .240 before these four victories, the lack of depth in the Quakers pitching staff played a key role in the weekend's outcome. Five of Princeton's six hits in the 4-3 win came in the last two innings, as Penn starter Matt Hepler appeared to tire. "We have a lot of pitching depth and I think that's what was the difference," said Princeton coach Scott Bradley, who went to his bullpen in three of the four wins. "Coach Seddon doesn't have as much pitching depth as we do and when you play four games, he has to go a little bit longer with his starters than we do." The Penn staff threw three complete games in the four outings and the pitch count for each starter was quite high. With a four-man rotation -- and with Sunday's starters Mike Mattern and Mark Lacerenza each having thrown against Drexel on Wednesday -- at times the Quakers staff seemed to be running on empty. "That's absolutely right," said Seddon when told of the Princeton coach's analysis of how the victories played out. "The second game yesterday was a sin. But that has happened a lot. We had a 3-1 lead in the seventh inning, and Hepler probably got a little tired, and he lost his own game." The first game of yesterday's twinbill did not feature an early Penn lead but was close in the early going nonetheless. Another long home run by Farscht tied the score at one in the second, and Mattern (5-3) held Princeton in check for four frames. The Penn starter faltered in the fifth, walking two Tigers and serving up a three-run home run to Princeton first baseman Matt Evans that landed on the Amtrak tracks in deep left-center. Penn was able to get the tying run to the plate in the sixth but stranded two runners in that frame before losing 6-3. Yesterday's second meeting featured the most anticipated event of the weekend -- the appearance of Princeton's behemoth-like hurler Chris Young. The 6'10" Young, the Ivy League Rookie of the Year in basketball, came in with opposing batters hitting only .120 against him. Appropriately, the first two batters Young faced -- Penn's Kevin McCabe and Jim Mullen -- got a walk and a single, and both scored. Through five innings, Young and Penn's Lacerenza were knotted in a 3-3 duel. The sixth frame, though, proved to be Lacerenza's downfall, and the Quakers' hopes of salvaging even one win from the Tigers vanished. Two walks, an error and three hits led to four unearned Princeton runs and the visitors blew open a close game for a 9-3 victory. Tigers centerfielder Jason Koonin, who walked and scored in this inning, reached base on nine out of 15 at-bats and scored six runs. "[Koonin] got three hits the first game, he drew walks [and] he was on base all the time," Bradley said. "As our leadoff hitter, that's key for us." For the second time in four years, Penn was swept by the Tigers and is now eliminated from the Ivy race. "It hurts to get swept by any team but it was a little more painful here," Farscht said. The senior said that part of the blame for the losses lay in the fact that "our bats were too quiet." Despite a 6-for-13 effort from Ambrosius and a 4-for-14 weekend from Mullen, as a team Penn hit only .240. The Quakers also left 22 men on base -- an indication that the hits were not coming at the right times. "I'll tell you the difference -- we don't hit the ball when it counts," Seddon said after the final loss. "We only got five hits in this game." Seddon also blamed the losses on defense. Despite not committing an error in the first game yesterday -- for only the second time in '99 -- the Quakers committed eight in the other outings, leading to seven unearned runs. "We make the clutch error in big spots," Seddon said. "The ball seems to find the places where we don't want it to go." Four losses was obviously not the result that Penn was looking for -- with respect to both this season and to the team's final Ivy games ever at the 19-year-old Bower Field. A new facility will be ready for play on Murphy Field for the 2000 season. "What's happened is they've lost so much that its so hard for the team to get ignited," Seddon said. "They're just waiting for something to happen -- it doesn't work that way, you've got to make it happen. Their hearts have been broken."

Baseball journeys to Drexel in need of a 'W'

(04/14/99 9:00am)

Still holding out hope of turning its season around, the Penn baseball team takes to the road today at 3:30 p.m. to make its shortest trip of the year, to 43rd Street and Powelton Avenue, to face off with the Drexel Dragons. The Quakers (6-22) have lost 12 of their last 13, and with 10 games remaining, stand a single loss away from the dubious distinction of having the most single-season losses in Penn history. "Who knows?" Penn coach Bob Seddon said when asked if his team would bounce back from last weekend's 1-3 Ivy League road trip. "We've got two weeks left and we need a win -- it'll help them mentally and that's what the team needs right now. "We can't just give the game away." The Quakers, who have an important four-game set with Princeton this weekend, are reworking their rotation. Several pitchers who regularly start on the weekend will be summoned to the mound today for what Seddon calls a "tune-up" for Princeton. Likely candidates for three or four innings of work include freshmen Mark Lacerenza (0-4, 5.20 ERA) and Mike Mattern (5-1, 4.03) and junior John Dolan (0-2, 5.06). Mattern and Lacerenza each started one end of the doubleheader at Yale on Saturday, with both throwing at least four innings. Dolan did not make the trip because of soreness in his throwing arm but was re-evaluated at practice yesterday. All three have pitched well for the Quakers in '99 but the Penn staff as a whole has been hurt by numerous defensive miscues that have led to 108 unearned runs -- almost four per outing. On offense, the Quakers have performed well at times, checking in with a .283 team average and nine hits per game. Led by junior Jeff Gregorio at .358, four Penn starters are hitting over .300. Putting these hits together in the same inning, however, is an entirely different matter. "We're sporadic," Seddon said. "We hit well at times, but we don't hit well with men on base. There are games we do, but overall [we don't]." In the '98 matchup with their West Philly rivals, several Quakers were able to hit well with men on base en route to a 7-4 Penn win. Quakers captain Glen Ambrosius recorded a home run and two RBIs, junior Ralph Vasami went 2-for-3 with 2 RBIs and senior Shawn Spiezio added two base hits. "It's contagious in a way," Ambrosius said. "Sometimes the whole lineup hits and sometimes no one does." The Dragons (10-17) come into this contest as winners of five of their last eight and are currently tied for second in the America East Conference. "Drexel played a tough schedule early and they're doing better now -- they beat Delaware twice this weekend," Seddon said. "They have a couple of good hitters in [Jose] Jiminez and their catcher [Matt Neiber]." A squad that features 18 freshman and sophomores, Drexel looks to seniors Neiber, Jiminez and first baseman Lou Marchetti for leadership. Jiminez hit .347 as a junior and went 3-for-6 with three doubles in the Monday twinbill with Delaware. Neiber leads the Dragons with 29 hits but as a whole the team is hitting a meager .240 -- 43 points lower than the Penn average. Marchetti is leading Drexel in two categories, hitting .324 with four home runs. A patient hitter, Marchetti's 22 walks contribute to his impressive on-base-percentage of .495. Using past play as the sole indicator, it looks as though Penn should not necessarily fear these three -- the Drexel seniors went 1-for-12 at the plate against the Quakers in '98. But past results offer no guarantee for success today. Ambrosius has played with both Jiminez and Neiber in summer baseball leagues and knows some things to expect from the crosstown foes. "We always see a good hitting team from them," the senior captain said. "Drexel is by no means a team you walk on the field and automatically pick up a win." If Penn is to pick up a win, however, it will have to put good pitching, fielding and hitting together into one tidy display of baseball. To achieve these ends, Seddon has been changing up his lineup constantly, with the latest switch being a start for freshman Matt Homme at third base today. "At this point, anything is worth a try," Ambrosius said. "We could use a win going into the weekend."

Baseball faces pivotal weekend of Ivy games

(04/09/99 9:00am)

The Penn men's baseball is looking to end a nine-game losing streak when it heads north to face Yale and Brown. The Penn baseball team takes to the road this weekend for four games that will likely determine the course of the rest of its season. Traveling to Yale for a doubleheader at noon tomorrow and then on to Brown for a twinbill Sunday at noon, the Quakers (5-19, 2-6 Ivy League) are trying to snap out of a nine-game losing streak. "We've got 12 games [left] in the league. This team has got to right itself and the only way they're going to right themselves is by winning," Penn pitching coach Bill Wagner said. "They've got a challenge going up to New England this weekend, and they've got to put it together." In their previous two '99 Ivy weekends, the Quakers have been competitive but they have had trouble winning close games. Of Penn's six Ivy losses, five have come by three runs or less, including two by a single run. "We're just coming so close," Penn senior first baseman Russ Farscht said. "We've got to learn to win. At this point, we have a young team and they just haven't learned to win yet." A year ago, the Quakers dropped all four contests to these two teams on Bower Field in a slew of high-scoring contests. The average score of those games was 10-8 in favor of the two New England teams. This year, however, Penn's pitching is looking to bring that average down. "Our pitching has been good lately," Quakers coach Bob Seddon said. "The pitching staff is much improved over last year." Tomorrow, two pitchers who were not around in '98 -- freshmen Mike Mattern (4-1, 2.84 ERA) and Mark Lacerenza (0-3, 5.40) -- will get the starting nods at Yale Field. The pair have looked strong recently but must find a way to hold in check a Yale (9-17, 2-2) offense that hits .306 as a team. Elis junior Ben Johnstone, a returning second team All-Ivy selection, could pose a problem for the pair. The outfielder is currently hitting .443 with 47 hits and has stolen a league-high 21 bases -- as many as the entire Penn team put together. On Sunday, sophomore Matt Hepler (0-3, 4.82) and junior Sean McDonald (1-4, 27 strikeouts) will start on the hill for the Quakers against the Bears (8-9, 3-1). Brown is also led by a speedster -- junior second baseman Jeff Lawler is riding a 10 game hitting streak and brings a .353 average and 12 stolen bases to the table. The Bears have won six of their last seven. One positive note for the Quakers is that for the first time all season, the entire Penn contingent should be healthy. Quakers sophomore infielder Shawn Spiezio, who missed 21 games after separating his shoulder in the '99 opener, has hit .333 in his two games back. Tomorrow should mark the return of senior shortstop Glen Ambrosius, who missed Wednesday's game after being hit by a pitch on his right hand late in Tuesday's loss. Also due back is junior second baseman Anthony Napolitano, a .341 hitter who was knocked out of Wednesday's game after nearly being tackled by an Explorers player who was trying to break up a double play.

Baseball has no defense for pair of losses to LaSalle

(04/08/99 9:00am)

LaSalle came from behind and capitalized on 10 Quakers errors in a 14-5 victory after beating Penn 4-3 on Tuesday. Frustration has set in. The Penn baseball team dropped a pair of games to La Salle over the past two days, falling 4-3 on Tuesday before falling 14-5 to the Explorers yesterday. The Quakers (5-19) have now lost nine in a row -- with five of those defeats coming by two runs or less. In both games, Penn excelled in one area of play only to have a terrible showing in another equally important aspect of their game. Case in point: Tuesday afternoon, Penn junior Sean McDonald pitched seven strong innings, giving up no earned runs and striking out six. The righthander's bid for his second win of '99 was denied, however, by three Quakers errors and a Penn offense that stranded 12 runners on base. "That's the bottom line -- the last three games, we've left a lot of runners on [base]. We're just not hitting in the clutch," Quakers coach Bob Seddon said on Tuesday. Case in point, episode two: yesterday afternoon, Penn jumped out to a 4-1 lead over the Explorers; the Quakers finished with 12 hits. The offense's bid to carry the team to victory was cut short, though, by an unprecedented 10 errors by the Penn infield. "The bottom line is the team can't play defense," Seddon offered up yesterday. "We out-hit that team 12-to-11 and we lost. You can have the greatest pitchers in the world, but if you can't field the ball?" In Tuesday's home game, the Quakers looked primed to go up early but a two-out force play left the bases loaded in the first. With Penn trailing 3-0 in the third, though, senior Russ Farscht was able to deliver, driving in Jim Mullen and Glen Ambrosius with a two-out single to right to make it 3-2. Aside from a sacrifice fly by Will Clark in the eighth, Farscht's hit stood as Penn's lone success with runners in scoring position. "We talked about that at the end of the game," said Farscht, who leads the team with 16 RBIs. "We just need to have a better approach with runners in scoring position and less than two outs. As a team we haven't produced in that type of situation." The game's key sequence, however, did not involve Penn's hitting but La Salle's baserunning. In the seventh, Explorers (11-14) catcher Kevin Wittmeyer stole second and third base on consecutive pitches. Minutes later, he capitalized on Penn's third error to score La Salle's fourth and final run. "When [Wittmeyer] reached second, the third basemen was real far back, and it was the pitch after the first stolen base, so I didn't think they were ready for us then," said La Salle coach Larry Conti, whose runners stole six bases in the two games. In the last of the ninth, down by one, the Quakers were the beneficiaries of a walk and two hit batsmen; suddenly Penn found itself needing just a single for a win. But a sharp ground ball to second by Jeremy McDowell, who had pinch ran and scored in the eighth, ended the comeback. From the outset yesterday, though, it looked good for the Quakers. Penn junior Jeff Gregorio hit a bomb -- his fifth of the year -- to left in the first and added an RBI triple in the second for good measure. Two pitches after his second hit, Gregorio was driven in by a Jim Mullen single. "Penn looked good early," Conti said. "My first pitcher was making himself some trouble but they were making him pay -- especially that big kid [Gregorio]. He got two hanging curveballs and he knew what to do with them." Unfortunately for the Quakers, their bats went to sleep at the same time the sky began falling for their defense. Errors in the second and fifth did not hurt Penn, as La Salle stranded 17 runners. Miscues in the third and sixth, though, gave the Explorers runs -- going into the seventh Penn was clinging to a 4-3 lead. And then, the proverbial "stuff" hit the fan. Without a hit or even a ball leaving the infield, the Explorers scored three times -- largely due to three Penn errors -- in the seventh to take a 6-4 lead. More Penn errors in the eighth and ninth helped La Salle bring eight additional men across the plate, putting the game our of reach. So, despite four hits by Mullen -- whom Conti said he "would gladly trade for" -- and two apiece from Gregorio, Ron Rolph and Shawn Spiezio, Penn fell 14-5. The culprit? Ten Quakers errors -- all made in the infield. Of La Salle's 14 runs, only three were earned. Strong outings by Penn hurlers Matt Hepler and Dan Fitzgerald were wasted in the midst of a flurry of miscues. Also lost in these defeats was the return of an injured Penn player. Spiezio, who separated his shoulder in the first game of '99, finally returned to the lineup Tuesday -- going 2-for-6 with two errors over two days. "It felt good for me to be back? but things just didn't go our way," Spiezio said. "We're playing hard but we need to work on some things and hopefully things will pick up this weekend." In addition, Ambrosius was hit by a pitch on the right hand in the ninth inning on Tuesday and sat out yesterday. The Quakers obviously missed their captain, but with the senior expected back for this weekend's Ivy doubleheaders, the team will hopefully find a way to refocus and recoup.

Baseball falls twice to both Harvard and Dartmouth

(04/05/99 9:00am)

Penn could not hold on after scoring 10 runs in one inning to take the lead from the Crimson. Where can the Penn baseball team go from here? The Quakers came close to victory several times this weekend at Bower Field but ended up dropping a pair of doubleheaders to Ivy foes Harvard, 18-16 and 6-0, and Dartmouth, 5-2 and 5-3. Penn (5-17, 2-6 Ivy League) is currently mired in a seven-game funk from which it cannot seem to emerge. "We don't know how to close," Penn coach Bob Seddon said after the Dartmouth twinbill. "We get right to the brink but right now we have to learn how to win. We have to be able to rise to the occasion when the game is on the line." Two innings into the first game of Friday's twinbill with Harvard (10-7, 4-0), it did not look as if Penn had to worry about its play when the game was on the line. The Quakers' third pitcher was already in the game, Harvard was up 12-0 and it looked like the home team was destined for a big loss to the defending Ivy Champs. But after scratching out runs in the third and fourth frames, and heading into the sixth down 13-6, Penn struck -- unbelievably hard. With the bases full, Quakers senior Russ Farscht hit his second home run of 1999 to cut the Crimson lead to 13-10. Five batters later, junior Kevin McCabe smacked the second grand slam of the inning to give Penn a 15-13 lead. McCabe's home run -- just his second career blast -- elicited resounding cheers from his father, his friends and numerous other Penn fans in attendance and forced more than one fan to pay up on bets and buy dinner for friends. For good measure, junior Jeff Gregorio followed with Penn's third home run of the inning to deep left-center. The team suddenly found itself up 16-13, just three outs from claiming a huge victory. Unfortunately, the Quakers could not hold this lead. Seddon attributed it to "inexperience," while Penn pitcher Matt Hepler pointed to the team "tensing up" in the late innings. Whatever it was, it hurt. Penn's sixth error of the day allowed Harvard to knot the score and send the game to extra innings. The Quakers' seventh error an inning later gave the Crimson two unearned runs and an 18-16 win. "That is about as disheartening as it gets," Gregorio said. "You come back from down 12-0 in the beginning of the game and you blow it open for 10 in the sixth and take the lead -- and then we lose the lead again. We caught some bad breaks." "We hit two grand slams in one inning and we don't win," said Seddon, in his 29th year as the Penn coach, incredulously. "I've never seen that and I don't think you ever will again." Clearly a turning point, the loss deflated the Quakers. In the second game, Penn could not get its offense on track, notching only four hits. Three more errors led to five unearned runs for Harvard, as Penn freshman Mike Mattern (4-1, 2.81 ERA) suffered his first collegiate loss in a 6-0 shutout. Saturday brought Dartmouth (5-11, 3-1) to Penn and the Quakers came out prepared to repeat their '98 sweep of the Big Green. But the visitors, behind the strong left arm of starter Jeffrey Dutremble, would not oblige. Penn was limited to just three hits as Dutremble fanned seven. Penn starter Hepler (0-3) was up to task, however, matching Dutremble out-for-out for most of the opener. "I felt pretty good about my performance," said Hepler, who is second on Penn with a 5.04 ERA. "I got behind in the count more than I would have liked to but my changeup was working well and I was able to keep them off-balance." But two unearned runs in the third and a late two-run double gave the Big Green all the offense they needed. Buoyed by Dutremble's retiring 11 Penn batters in a row in one stretch, Dartmouth picked up a 5-2 victory. "[Dutremble] pitched a good game," Gregorio agreed. "He kept it down, and we couldn't adjust to it." Gregorio, who was one of just three Quakers to record a hit, said he "definitely felt more comfortable at the plate." On the weekend, the catcher went 6-for-15 with two home runs, giving him the team lead with four. In Saturday's nightcap, a towering home run to left by Gregorio gave the Quakers an early 1-0 lead. With the way Penn starter Mark Lacerenza (0-3, 5.40 ERA) was pitching, it seemed this would be enough to carry the squad to victory. After that dinger, however, little went the Quakers' way. Putting the hit-and-run on with one out in both the third and fourth, Seddon could only shake his head in disbelief as his batters popped into double plays each time to end the rallies. And after four scoreless innings, Dartmouth got to Lacerenza for four singles in the fifth, taking a 3-1 lead. In the sixth, singles by Glen Ambrosius, Farscht and freshman Brian Fitzgerald brought home two runs to tie the game, but an opportunity to take the lead slipped away as Penn stranded two to end the inning. "That was a key point because it would have been easy for us not to respond," Big Green coach Bob Whalen said. "We tried to make adjustments -- all our hits were the other way -- and were fortunate that a couple of balls found the holes." In the Big Green's next at-bat, the visitors succeeded where Penn had failed. A two-out single by Dartmouth junior Yale Dieckmann -- who had popped out in a similar situation to end a 1998 game versus Penn -- put the Big Green on top to stay. The Quakers went in order in their last at-bat, and despite several strong pitching performances, again left Bower Field without a win. "You can take two approaches," Hepler said of how the team may respond to this weekend. "We can get upset about the losses and what we could have done, or we can look ahead because we know that we can compete with anyone in the league. "With our team, we're kind of streaky, so when we do get a win in a close game, hopefully we'll get on a roll." With 12 Ivy games left, the Quakers must find a way to recover, pick up the elusive 'W' and get back into contention.