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Second Olympic bid for Dolph

(02/04/99 10:00am)

Penn assistant wrestling coach Brian Dolph probably should have gone to Atlanta in 1996. Now he's getting a second chance at the Olympics. Nobody mentioned Brian Dolph at the 1996 Olympic Games. His is not the feel-good story the networks like to showcase. Instead, he represents everything hopelessly frustrating, gut-wrenching and plainly unfair about Olympic dreams. Let's go back to 1996: Brian Dolph, then just getting his feet wet as an assistant with the Penn wrestling team, tore through the qualifying competition. He recorded wins over every one of the top contenders in the 149.5-lb. weight class, including a victory over Townsend Saunders, who eventually went on to take the silver medal at the Atlanta Games. But all of his hard work, all of his preparation, all of his dreams took a nose dive at the Olympic Trials in Spokane, Wash. In the first round of a competition in which he was one of the favorites to win, Brian Dolph suffered an injury and was forced to medical default from the event. Just like that, it was over. "That's how tenuous it is to make an Olympic team," Penn coach Roger Reina said. "Then you have to decide whether to commit four more years of your life to it. "The reality is for every athlete that finds their success at the Olympic Games there are thousands and thousands who commit major chunks of their lives to this and find themselves coming up short." Three years later and 18 pounds heavier, Dolph is making a second run at Olympic glory, hoping not to be one of those thousands again. Being at the top of his sport is nothing new to Dolph, however. Before he took some time off after the Olympic trials, Dolph was always in the highest echelon in his weight class. He was named an alternate for the 1991 and 1994 U.S. World Teams. At Indiana University, the 150-lb. Dolph was a three-time All-American, setting a school record for victories and winning the school's first NCAA Championship. "Brian, after a couple years out of college, was always in the finals of the world team trials," Reina said. "He lost very, very close matches in the finals of the trials often. They go two out of three matches in the finals, and in two different situations it went to the rubber match and that went to overtime." After a year off from wrestling, Dolph feels ready to give it another shot. Only this time, there's a twist. Moving up to the 167.5-pound division makes one of his competitors none other than 1998 Penn graduate Brandon Slay. Dolph remained undaunted at the prospect of taking on the man who he helped mold into a top-notch wrestler. "It's not that I look forward to [wrestling Slay]," Dolph said. "It's not that I dread it either. It'll be kind of weird, but I don't think it's going to make that much of a difference either way." As for his chances against the up-and-coming Slay, who now is training for the 2000 Olympics at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Spring, Colo., Dolph thought that the teacher might still have one up on his star pupil. "I would feel pretty confident going in [because] I've basically helped him get to where he is now," Dolph said. "I feel I would have a little edge over him." According to Slay, having Dolph as both a friend and competitor has its advantages and disadvantages. "I do know how he wrestles, I know the techniques he likes to use," Slay said. "But he's a great friend of mine, he's someone I care a lot about, and someone that's done so much for me. To compete against your mentor -- that could be tough mentally." But the potential of wrestling Slay is far from Dolph's mind. He is preoccupied with getting back into the swing of match competition. A win at the New York Athletic Club's Holiday Tournament helped. At the December tournament, Dolph won the outstanding wrestler award. En route to claiming the trophy, he also picked up a win over No. 1 Steve Marionetti, an assistant coach at the University of Illinois. To keep in wrestling shape, Dolph for the most part relies on the wrestlers at Penn. "I wrestle for the Dave Schultz Club and I've gone to some training camps here and there, but most of my training is done here at Penn," Dolph said. "I workout with these guys, and then work out with some of the Dave Schultz Club guys here." He also supplements his conditioning by lifting weights and rollerblading on his own time. But in the end, Dolph will not be crushed if he falls short of his Olympic goals. "I'm not as devout as Brandon is, I'm kind of just doing it for fun," Dolph said. "If it happens, it happens. "At this point in my life I'm involved in more important things." Like getting certified to teach at the high school level. While Dolph said that he'd like to stay on for a few more years at Penn, he eventually plans to move into the high school ranks, teaching and coaching wrestling. "A lot of people say that it's probably a mistake on my part because I'd be wasting a lot of my talents.? But I think I have a lot of talent to be able to develop high school wrestlers as well," Dolph said. "I could get these kids to develop a good style and good technique right off the bat, without having to come into college and break all their bad habits. "I think that environment would be a lot more stable for me, which I kind of need." Brian Dolph is thinking about the future, his Olympic dreams slowly turning into dreams of an office and a coach's whistle. But maybe, just maybe, on the wall of coach Brian Dolph's office will rest an Olympic medal. And then he can say that they told his story at Sydney.

Brandon Slay: Shooting for the ultimate goal

(01/28/99 10:00am)

Slay, a two-time NCAA finalist and '98 Penn grad, has his sights set on making the 2000 Olympics in freestyle wrestling. He's not your typical Wharton grad. No, Brandon Slay, of the Wharton class of 1998, is not grappling with risk management, leveraged buyouts or the perils of the investment banking world. Instead, Slay is grappling -- literally -- with some of the best athletes in the nation in order to gain a spot on the 2000 U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team. After graduating from Penn, the two-time NCAA finalist moved to Colorado Springs, Colo., to be a part of the Freestyle Residency Program at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. While his Wharton brethren are dealing with the demanding Wall Street grind, Slay has a different set of priorities. His coach at the USOTC, Olympic gold-medalist Kevin Jackson, said Slay's days are indeed full. "He trains twice a day, 8:30 in the morning till 10:00," Jackson said. "Sometimes it might be weight training or conditioning. Other times, it'll be wrestling or working on technique. "Then the afternoons we're definitely on the wrestling mat at 3, getting an hour and a half or two hours of actual competition or combat." It doesn't stop there either. "We also do some cross-training," Jackson said. "We swim on Wednesdays and we do some other cross-training on Saturdays and Sundays." Slay also manages to work part time for Charles Schwab in between practices. But Jackson said that despite his grueling routine, Slay never lets up. "Brandon's a horse," he said. "He trains like a champion daily. He comes into practice motivated and he does everything full-tilt." Doing everything full-tilt is nothing new for Slay, the most successful wrestler in Penn history. In fact, he had to go full-tilt in high school in Amarillo, Texas, just to be the most successful Brandon on his team. At one point coach Johnny Cobb's Tascosa High School wrestling team sported three wrestlers in back-to-back-to-back weight classes named Brandon. They were all state finalists. "It became known throughout the two or three states where we competed as 'The Killer B's,'" Cobb said. "And they were all just really studs." Such competition led folks in Amarillo to doubt whether Slay, who had success in junior leagues before high school, would even make it as a varsity wrestler. "He did well when he was in some of the heavier weights when he was a kid, then when he got to high school I know lots of comments were made, 'Well he's really going to find out what it's like to wrestle those really stud heavier guys,'" Cobb said. "As it turned out, he just kept winning and winning, proving everybody wrong." It didn't take Cobb long to realize what he had in Slay. After competing at the varsity level as a freshman, Slay advanced to the Texas state championship finals -- a feat almost unheard of by a lowly frosh. "I can assure you that no one at that time had any idea he was going to turn out to be the wrestler he became," Cobb said. After losing in the finals his first year, Slay rattled off three consecutive state titles. And that's when Slay's life took a major turn northeast. Courted by a number of prestigious wrestling programs across the Midwest, Slay could have easily gone to a school closer to home. Instead, Slay opted for Penn. Choosing the school both for the quality of its wrestling program and the quality of its academics, he landed himself in West Philadelphia -- a bit of a change of pace from Amarillo. "It was a tough deal for him to go that far away in the beginning, but he's a tough kid and was very focused on what his goals were," Cobb said. Penn wrestling coach Roger Reina said that while Slay came a long way from home, he did a lot of growing up at Penn. "Brandon grew in a lot of different ways, wrestling being a part of it," Reina said. "Brandon grew tremendously academically and intellectually here. Personally and socially this was a very different environment than what he was used to." Slay made steady progress as a Quaker, rising to become one of the nation's elite. In his freshman year at Penn, he qualified for the NCAA championships but did not win a match. His sophomore season yielded the same results. He finished off his Penn career with two straight appearances in the NCAA finals, coming up short in both. Last year, Slay lost a hard-fought, 7-5 decision to Iowa's Joe Williams. Slay knew the next step was to move back into freestyle wrestling -- used in international competition -- as opposed to the collegiate style he competed in at Penn. "He's always been more successful in the international style as opposed to the collegiate style," Reina said of Slay, who competed on three world age-group teams before even coming to Penn. "The reason for that is Texas high school wrestling is not very strong. He naturally had a lot of success there very easily, therefore his skills in that particular style weren't as challenged." In addition to feeling more comfortable in freestyle, Slay also welcomed the move back to the Midwest, which put him a lot closer to home than Philadelphia. In less than a year at Colorado Springs, Slay has already made significant progress. Last October, Slay placed third in the Sunkist International tournament, followed by another third-place finish at the Winter Classic at Colorado Springs in November. But Slay's most impressive feat came on December 7. Where? Sydney, Australia. Where else? In what Slay called "one of the best freestyle performances of my career," the 167.5-pounder pinned three of his four opponents en route to a resounding tournament victory. On the way to the top of the medals stand, Slay beat the 1996 Olympics bronze-medalist from Japan and in the finals pinned a wrestler from Poland who is currently ranked No. 6 in the world. For his efforts, Slay was voted outstanding wrester of the tournament. "[The win in Sydney] was definitely good for my visualization and good for my confidence," Slay said. In March, Slay will do more globe-trotting, as he is scheduled to appear in tournaments in Poland, Bulgaria and Italy. Slay said he didn't mind all the traveling, but welcomed the opportunity to see so many different parts of the world. "I'm 23," Slay said. "I don't mind living out of a bag." They are all preps for Slay's biggest test, however, which will come in April at the National Open Championships in Las Vegas. The results of that tourney determine the seedings for the World Team trials in June. The top three place-winners will represent the U.S. in international competition in 1999-2000 year. They will be considered national team members and receive a salary. In the spring of 2000, the National Open will set the seedings for the Olympic Team trials. The winners then travel to Sydney. "He has the proper work ethic, he has the physical and mental abilities to accomplish his goal [of making the national team]," Jackson said. "It's just a matter of myself and USA Wrestling giving him the ideal situation where he can work to improve his overall wrestling skills, his conditioning and his power base. "I definitely see a champion in him." Cobb also said Slay has a legitimate shot at making the National and Olympic teams. After all, he has seen people underestimate Slay before. Cobb said that Slay's style suits the freestyle brand of wrestling perfectly. "Brandon's style works real well for him in freestyle," Cobb said. "He's got a gut wrench in freestyle -- I don't know anybody he hasn't turned with it." Reina agreed that one of Slay's biggest advantages in competing for the Olympic team is his comfort zone in freestyle wrestling. "The scoring and the length of the match favors more explosive and powerful wrestlers [like Slay]," Reina said. "In collegiate style, the matches are a little bit longer and are about maintaining control as opposed to being explosive and powerful." Another edge for Slay is that the Olympic Team trials will be held in Dallas. Slay was thrilled to learn he would have the home-mat advantage in such a big tournament. "Now one of the most important events in my career is in my home state," Slay said. Slay may need any advantages he can find, because a likely opponent at the Olympic trials is none other than Williams, who has been training with the Hawkeye Wrestling Club. But for some reason, it seems the wrestler who had Slay's number throughout their college careers may have more than a crowd against him. Slay has already captured a win in Sydney and the trials are in his backyard.

M. Hoops slams the 'Gate, 68-50

(01/18/99 10:00am)

The Penn men's basketball team easily handled Colgate for its fifth straight win in a turnover-filled game at the Palestra. This one was about as fun to watch as an Orgo lecture. Either way, the Penn men's basketball team will take the result -- victory No. 8 on the season. In a game laden with sloppy shooting and an abundance of turnovers, Penn (8-3) handed visiting Colgate (9-8) a 68-50 defeat. At the beginning of the game, it looked like the Quakers were going to run away with it. Penn guard Matt Langel missed a jumper in the lane, but put back his own shot and drew a foul. His free throw gave the Quakers a commanding 22-7 lead with seven minutes to go in the first half. Penn established its inside game quickly, taking advantage of a rare size advantage. The Red Raiders' starting center, Ben Wandtke, measures only 6'6''. The first four Penn baskets came off lay-ups or short jumpers. But as the Quakers began to rely more on outside shooting, Colgate slowly eked its way back into the game. "In the early stages of the game, they really hurt us inside," Colgate coach Emmett Davis said. "I don't know whether it was just [that] our aggressiveness got better as the game progressed or whether they just stopped going inside as much." Never really getting back into the game but always staying close enough to be an annoyance, the Red Raiders kept Penn on its heels for the rest of the half. On the strength of six points off the bench from forward Pat Diamond, Colgate pulled to within 11 points of the Quakers, making the score 33-22 at the half. The second half began very much like the first -- with Penn taking control. The Quakers came out with a spring in their step, starting the half with a 12-0 run. After forward Jed Ryan opened the half with two outside shots, center Geoff Owens dunked off a Paul Romanczuk pass. Guard Michael Jordan put the Quakers up by 23 points with a three-pointer, making the score 45-22 at the 16-minute mark. Once again, however, Colgate refused to lay down and die. After a time-out, the Red Raiders made some adjustments and put together a 12-2 run of their own, inching up to within 13 points of Penn. "We played off a couple of the inside guys when they went high-low and clogged the middle a little bit," Davis said. "We tried to put more pressure on the basketball, get up in the offensive player's passing window so he couldn't see." But 13 points was the closest Colgate would get to the Quakers, who never put the game away but coasted into the finish line, ahead by 18 points. "In the second half we just had some stretches where we weren't playing defense," Romanczuk said. "We weren't running our offense as crisp as usual." Penn assistant coach Steve Donahue said that although the Quakers had success putting some fans to bed, they did not have quite the same success with the Red Raiders. "It's not a pretty game -- if you noticed it wasn't real exciting -- but it's a game where we had to take care of business," Donahue said. "Offensively I thought we got a little stagnant, and they beat us to the offensive boards." Despite the size difference, Colgate out-rebounded Penn 39-30, with a 16-5 edge on the offensive glass. "We can't give up 16 offensive boards to a team that's really not athletic," Donahue said. "It's the hard work that they did. St. Joe's averages 18 [offensive rebounds] a game. It's a real concern. If we don't take care of that part of our game, we're going to have trouble." Like the 1983 White Sox, Penn won ugly last Saturday. But despite the rebounding issues -- which Donahue said would be stressed in practice before St. Joseph's visit tonight -- the Quakers will take the wins any way they come.

M. Hoops looks to brush off Colgate

(01/15/99 10:00am)

The Quakers will entertain Colgate in a matinee at the Palestra tomorrow. Last night's dramatic four-point victory over Big 5 rival La Salle was just the beginning of a grueling stretch for the Penn men's basketball team. Tomorrow at 2 p.m. the Quakers (7-3) host Colgate (9-7), which currently sits atop the Patriot League standings. The game is the Red and Blue's second of four games to be played in a week's span. "Right now we've played 10 games, and most teams have played 15, 16 games, so we're ready for this stretch," junior power forward Paul Romanczuk said. Penn will have just one day to prepare for the Red Raiders, who come into tomorrow's contest riding a three-game winning streak after victories over league rivals Holy Cross, Army and Lehigh. If recent history is any indicator, Penn could have an opportunity to release some of its frustrations on the unfortunately named Colgate. The last time these two teams met, the Quakers rolled in a 93-58 win at Madison Square Garden, in the first round of the 1994 ECAC Holiday Festival. Also, shot-blocking machine Hassan Duncombe abused Colgate in 1990, putting up 37 points and netting a Penn-record 15 field goals. But Quakers fans should not be so quick to whet their cheesesteak appetites. This year's version of the Red Raiders has limited its opponents to 66 points a game. Speaking of shot-blocking machines, Penn center Geoff Owens will be an easy man to spot on the Palestra floor tomorrow afternoon. Colgate's tallest player, center Robert Akers, is listed at 6'9''. Owens should have an opportunity to improve on a subpar performance last night. He scored three points on a 1-for-2 shooting effort from the field against a tough La Salle interior defense. The Quakers pivotman excels against shorter competition. Matching up with Yale's 6'10'' center Neil Yanke, Owens had just two points in 20 minutes of play. The next night, Owens had 14 points in just 25 minutes against Brown, which starts 6'8'' Kamal Roundtree in the middle. Owens also lit up Lehigh for 18 points on December 3. The Engineers' tallest starter was 6'6''. Penn will have to deal with Colgate's freshman phenom Pat Campolieta. The 6'6'' forward leads the Red Raiders in scoring, averaging 14.4 points per games, and in rebounding, grabbing 4.8 boards per contest. Campolieta is also second on the team in assists, with 1.9 per game and leads the team in steals. Tomorrow's game marks the only matinee performance at the Palestra this season, throwing Romanczuk and the Quakers for a loop. "[It's] very different," Romanczuk said of the unusual afternoon tip-off time. "I'm confused. I don't know who's going to be there, if people even know it's two o'clock."

Wrestling says 'Aloha' to lesser opponents

(01/13/99 10:00am)

The Penn wrestling team finishes winter break by winning the Aloha Classic. The Penn wrestling team was fortunate to get out of Chicago when it did. If it had left the Midlands Championships at Northwestern University just one day later, it would have been buried under the worst blizzard in 20 years. Instead, the wrestlers were buried under sunshine in Hawaii, gearing up for the Aloha Classic January 2. And after two days of competition as intense as the weather outside Welsh-Ryan Arena, the Quakers were happy about the change of scenery and the result -- a 3-0 performance, earning a tie for the title with No. 16 Purdue. The strong performance was important for the Quakers after what Penn coach Roger Reina called a "bittersweet" outing at the Midlands. "We had our highest team finish there ever [sixth place]? but at the same time we had three seeded wrestlers who didn't place," Reina said. "Our group rebounded well, and stepped into the dual meet portion of the season." The Aloha Classic debuted with an unusual dual meet format. Each of the six teams at the meet was paired up against opponents for dual meets. Because both Penn and Purdue went undefeated through their duals, a co-championship was declared. "I think we competed well there, especially given the fact that coming off the Midlands -- which was a rugged two days -- we only had one day once we were down there to get ready to compete," Reina said. "Generally speaking I thought we competed well at almost every weight." First up for the Quakers was No. 24 Brigham Young University, which Penn dispatched 20-12 in its closest competition of the day. The BYU dual featured a highly anticipated bout at 165 pounds between Penn's Richard Springman, No. 8 in the country, and BYU's Rangi Smart, ranked No. 2. The match was close throughout. Up 3-2 in the third period, Smart was given a stalling warning. But the referee did not award the pressing Springman a point that would have sent the match into overtime. "Springman had a lot of pressure on [Smart] in the third period," Reina said. "It was very possible that the official could have awarded a stalling point for Springman in the match, but it didn't go up on the board. "It came down to a one-takedown match, very, very, very close." In BYU's matchup with Harvard, Smart also defeated No. 6 Joey Killar by a 3-2 score. Springman took out his aggression on his next opponents. He pinned Air Force's Terry Parham in 3:33 and beat Portland State's Jeremy Wilson 12-2. After BYU, Penn cruised, defeating Air Force 32-9 and Portland State 34-21. The victories earned them the championship, shared with Purdue, which beat Harvard, Air Force, Portland State and BYU. Yoshi Nakamura (157 lbs.) and Justin Bravo (125 lbs.) picked up right where they left off at the Midlands. The two fifth-place winners both went undefeated at the Aloha Classic. "I think Nakamura had a pretty exceptional trip," Reina said. "He wrestled 15 matches and he went 13-2." Reina said that the Midlands Championships and the Aloha Classic were a good tune-up for the impending dual meet season, which kicks off January 23 at No. 8 Central Michigan. "It definitely gets us a step closer," Reina said. But if Chicago is any indication, Penn cannot afford to cool down with the return to chilly Philadelphia. The Chippewas finished third at the Midlands, 19 points ahead of the Quakers. "We had seven wrestlers advance to the second day of competition at the Midlands, Central Michigan had eight," Reina said. "The difference was that in the morning round on the second day, Central Michigan went eight-for-eight with four pins, and we went three-for-seven."

Rodzianko takes first at Midlands tourney

(01/11/99 10:00am)

Penn's wrestling team took sixth place with strong showings from Justin Bravo and Yoski Nakamura. EVANSTON, Ill. -- Maybe the wrestling world forgot about Andrei Rodzianko last fall. Just in case, he reminded them in a big way at the Midlands Wrestling Championships, held December 29 and 30 at Northwestern University. After studying abroad in Russia for a semester, Rodzianko came back with a vengeance, winning the tournament in his first action since his return. "He's not in top condition," Penn coach Roger Reina said. "But he performed at a very good level and showed a lot of poise." The 197-lb. wrestler swept through his weight class in impressive fashion, picking up wins over three opponents ranked nationally in the top 10. After two 16-1 technical fall wins, the fourth-seeded Rodzianko edged fifth-seeded Nick Muzashvili of Michigan State 2-1 to move into a tough semifinal match with top-seeded Lee Fullhart of Iowa. Fullhart, the defending NCAA champion and No. 2-ranked wrestler in the country, had behind him a partisan crowd of Iowans who made the trek to Chicago. But Rodzianko controlled the match from the get-go. Rodzianko rolled to an 8-4 victory in impressive fashion. "This might be the single biggest win in Penn history," Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Sports Information Director John Harmon said of Rodzianko's win over Fullhart. Fullhart has a chance for revenge, however, as he and Rodzianko are scheduled to face off at the NWCA All-Star Classic, February 1 at Oklahoma State University. In the finals, Rodzianko faced sixth-seeded Zachery Thompson of Iowa State. Rodzianko outlasted Thompson, winning the the title match 3-2. The win marked Penn's first ever title at the Midlands. The closest the Quakers had come were Brandon Slay's two second-place finishes in 1996 and 1997. Sophomores Yoshi Nakamura (157 pounds) and Justin Bravo (125) also placed for Penn, both earning fifth-place finishes. For the unseeded Nakamura, it was a repeat performance of his fifth-place finish in 1997. He had to wrestle 10 matches in the tournament, going 8-2, with wins over seventh-seed Darryl Christian of Oregon and national No. 5 Chris Ayres of Lehigh. It was Ayres who put Nakamura in the consolation bracket with a 9-7 win, but Nakamura won the rematch 10-6. Nakamura took the fifth place match over former NCAA champion Jeff McGinness of the Hawkeye Wrestling Club by a medical default. It should come as no surprise that Bravo finished fifth, at least to Midlands tournament organizers, who seeded Bravo No. 5. Despite a first-round loss, Bravo battled back to finish the tournament with a 6-2 record. He wrestled a strong match in the fifth-place bout, defeating Eastern Illinois' Tom Combes, who is ranked No. 9 in the nation, by a 9-4 score. Bravo also recorded a "fabulous win," according to Reina, over Oregon's Kenny Cox. "Cox had beaten Bravo in the junior championships a year and a half ago," Reina said. "It shows very good progress in his development." Despite the successes of the second day, the tournament started out precariously for Penn. Of the 12 Penn wrestlers in the tournament, eight lost their first round matches, including No. 2 seed Brett Matter (149) and No. 6 seed Mark Piotrowsky (141). Three more were eliminated in the next round of bouts. The early round struggles for Penn left Reina befuddled. "I'm going to go scratch my head for about four hours," Reina said during the break between the morning and the evening sessions. The Quakers got back on track in the evening session, though. Strong showings in the wrestlebacks led to a fifth-place team standing after the first day of competition for Penn. "[We were] able to salvage a very strong tournament," Reina said. "[The slow start was caused by] a combination of things -- some technical, and some of them may have to do with tactics and the level of aggressiveness needed to compete at the higher levels." After his disappointing first-round loss to the eventual seventh-place finisher Greg Mayer of Central Michigan, Matter battled back to win four straight matches. He was eliminated by third-place finisher and national No. 3 Adam Tirapelle of Illinois, falling only one round short of placing. "Brett was having trouble getting his offense going, which led him to be frustrated," Reina said. "[There were] largely some technical things that he can correct. "[He has] to shake this tournament off and take the steps necessary to get ready for [the NCAA Championships in] March." Along with Matter, three other Penn wrestlers finished one round short of placing, vaulting Penn to a sixth-place finish overall. Penn, ranked No. 19 in the country, placed ahead of No. 8 Arizona State, No. 13 Northwestern and No. 15 Cal-State Bakersfield. After picking up their best finish ever at the Midlands, the Quakers left snowy Chicago for sunny Honolulu to compete in the Aloha Classic.

M. Hoops heads to New York

(12/15/98 10:00am)

Iona coach Jeff Ruland may be taking the ECAC Holiday Festival a little bit personally. In 1979, Ruland was a sophomore All-American center for the team he now coaches. But in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Jim Valvano-coached Gaels got dumped at the Big Dance by a Cinderella -- the Penn Quakers. So now, as coach, he hopes to exact his revenge when Iona (3-4) squares off against Penn (2-2) in the second game of the Holiday Festival, December 26 at 3 p.m. at Madison Square Garden. "It's a bit of a grudge match," Ruland said. "It was disappointing, but also rewarding knowing the team that beat us went to the Final Four." Ruland will spend his holiday season getting his struggling Gaels ready to play. After Iona opened the season with a win in Hawaii, the Gaels faltered, dropping four of their last six games. "It seems like since we got off the plane from Hawaii, we haven't made a shot," Ruland said. Iona needs big games out of returning MAAC player of the year Kashif Hameed, who is averaging 15.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, and forward Ivo Kresta, who is netting 14 points per game. Iona will have two opportunities to tune up, one tonight against St. Francis and the other on Sunday against Morgan State, but the Quakers will have had 14 days rest by the time they head to the Big Apple. That's a long time to think about the embarrassing 71-55 defeat at the hands of Penn State. "We've only played four games in a month," senior forward Jed Ryan said. "I think what happens in that 10 days before the game, you start to lose concentration and focus. By the time the game came, we just weren't ready to play. "We have 14 days until our next game, so we have to try harder this time." Penn will work on keeping its focus and avoiding a second-half letdown, which plagued the Quakers in their losses against Kansas and Penn State. "We need to work on not having any lapses," Ryan said. "We started off pretty well against Penn State, doing all right. But there's a five, six minute period there where all hell breaks loose and we just kind of lost it. "I think we have to be more mentally prepared." If the Quakers get by the Gaels, they will face the winner of the first game of the Festival -- Georgia Tech (6-1) versus Hofstra (4-4). If the heavily favored Yellow Jackets and the Quakers square off on the second day of competition, Penn center Geoff Owens may face yet another test from one of the nation's best big men. Having already faced Kansas' Eric Chenowith, Temple's Lamont Barnes and Penn State's Calvin Booth, Owens will have to match up with Tech's Jason Collier, who is averaging 22 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks per game. But Owens remains undaunted. "I've seen some of the best big guys in the country already," Owens said. "There's nothing that [anyone] is going to bring differently. I'm just going to go into the game knowing that I can play with him." After the Holiday Festival, Penn heads to Lafayette, which stands second in the Patriot League, posting a 6-2 record overall. The Quakers are careful not to look past Lafayette to the impending Ivy League season. "We know that's going to be a war," Owens said of Lafayette, who drubbed Princeton 63-47 earlier this year. To cap off a busy winter holiday, the Quakers host Yale and Brown on January 8 and 9, respectively, to open Ivy League play. Although the Ivy competition is not as elite as Temple or Kansas, Owens believes it is every bit as fierce. "It's going to be even more intense because we know they're coming after us," Owens said. "That's our ticket to the Tournament -- winning those games."

Fans go home hungry after M. Hoops win

(12/04/98 10:00am)

Geoff Owens scored a career high 18 points, while Michael Jordan had 20 in Penn's win. Penn shooting guard Michael Jordan dropped in 20 points -- 18 coming in the first half -- while center Geoff Owens added a career high 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Quakers, as Penn spanked Lehigh, 73-56. Penn's defense rendered Lehigh guard Brett Eppehimer -- the nation's No. 5 leading scorer -- ineffective during the whole contest. Eppehimer, who was averaging over 25 points per game, shot an abysmal 4-for-15 from the floor for 11 points on the game. "I though we were very good defensively throughout," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. "We targeted the fact that Eppehimer was their leading scorer and we needed to really have a concerted effort to not let him go off." The defensive trio of Jordan and guards Matt Langel and Mike Sullivan frustrated Eppehimer, and the Penn defense as a whole held Lehigh to 44.6 percent shooting from the field. "When the proverbial substance hit the fan, instead of becoming more precise and more calm, we got less fundamental," Lehigh coach Sal Mentesana said of his team's reaction to the Penn defensive effort. After close games with top 10 opponents Kansas and Temple, this one turned out to be a breeze for the Quakers (2-1), who never trailed the Engineers (3-3) at any point in the game. The game started out nip-and-tuck, but Penn pulled away from the Boys from Bethlehem on the strength of a 10-2 run late in the first half. With the Quakers up 28-22, Owens took over, victimizing Lehigh center Sah-U-Ra Brown. In a series that spanned less than a minute, Owens first backed Brown in for a baby hook, then rejected Brown's shot down low at the other end. On the ensuing possession, Jordan found Owens, who missed a jump shot in the lane, grabbed his own offensive board and put it back, drawing a foul on Brown. Owens converted the free throw to put Penn ahead by 11 points (33-22) with three minutes remaining in the half. "[My offense] is still not where I want it to be," Owens said. "I think tonight was just one of those nights where I was getting really good looks at the basket." Penn extended the lead to 16 on Jordan's three-pointer with three seconds left in the half, giving Penn a 42-26 lead at the break. "The shot at the end of the half was critical, because it sent a message that the momentum was still with us," Dunphy said. Mentesana admitted the run to end the first half was a backbreaker for the Engineers. "You get down 16 [points] to those guys, and it's a tough battle to fight the rest of the way," Mentesana said. Lehigh tried to creep back into the game at the start of the second half, but Penn did not provide a repeat of its slow second-half starts against Kansas and Temple. Lehigh never got closer than 13. "We're always concerned about [a second-half letdown], but tonight we got off to a pretty decent start," Dunphy said. Penn put the game out of reach with an 11-2 run in just over three and a half minutes in the second half. Penn sixth-man Frank Brown started the run with a three-pointer, just after the Engineers had pulled to within 13 of the Quakers. A Paul Romanczuk lay-up and a Matt Langel running jumper in the paint put Penn up 57-39. After Owens put in the first of three tip-ins, Brown capped off the run he started with a jump shot from just inside the arc, giving Penn a commanding 61-39 lead and effectively killing any hopes of an Engineers comeback. With the game in hand, the only question left on Penn fans' minds was -- would they be dining for free? By scoring 100 points, local cheesesteak establishment Abner's would have exchanged each ticket stub for a free cheesesteak -- which they've had to do only once, on December 7, 1996 following Penn's 100-58 drubbing of Lehigh. Senior forward Jed Ryan -- who finished with eight points --Ekept the fans' cheesesteak hopes alive, hitting two threes in the second half, one with 5:18 left to put the Quakers up by a score of 72-44, the Quakers' biggest lead of the game at 28. But Abner's was spared as Dunphy cleared his bench, getting in reserves senior guard Brendan Cody and sophomore forward Jon Tross with just under four minutes left. Even freshman Dan Solomito saw his first minutes of collegiate ball.

No. 8 Kansas reloads with five All-Americans

(11/17/98 10:00am)

So your team loses a pair of first team All-Americans to the NBA draft lottery. You raise the white flag and rebuild, right? Not Kansas. Instead, Jayhawks coach Roy Williams can look down his bench and its five McDonalds high-school All-Americans, sub two guys in and still have his team ranked No. 8 in the nation. Ryan Robertson, a 6'5'' off guard, has taken the reins of this Jayhawks team, as he proved in last Friday's not so easy win over Gonzaga. The Jayhawks stumbled out of the blocks in their first game against Gonzaga, giving credence to all those who predicted this Kansas team to finish second in the Big 12, mainly due to inexperience. After Gonzaga took a 32-28 lead into the locker rooms at halftime, Robertson led a second-half charge, in which Kansas scored 52 points and pulled away from the overmatched Bulldogs. Robertson gave the Jayhawks their first lead of the second half when he hit a three-pointer, blocked Gonzaga's Matt Santangelo and fed teammate Kenny Gregory for a fast-break dunk. The Jayhawks never looked back, winning by a final of 80-66. With the victory, Kansas extended the nation's longest current home winning streak to 61. But the Jayhawks aren't in Kansas anymore. Speaking of home-cooking, the Quakers have had their own taste of the home court advantage. Since 1991-'92, Penn has compiled a 63-12 mark at the Palestra. That's not to say the Quakers won't have their hands full trying to contain a very deep and very athletic Kansas squad. Joining Robertson in the backcourt is 6'1'' freshman Jeff Boschee, one of Kansas' McDonalds All-Americans. He became the first Jayhawk freshman to start a season opener since Jacque Vaughn did it in 1993. Boschee led Kansas with 21 points -- including four three-pointers and six assists -- in its exhibition win over Australia's Geelong Supercats. At small forward, Williams will start the 6'5'' Gregory, who poured in 18 points and five assists in Kansas' win over Gonzaga. The sophomore was hampered by a bad back last year, but so far Gregory has shown no signs of slowing down. He exploded for 31 points and 13 rebounds in Kansas' first exhibition game against the California All-Stars. The other forward spot will be occupied by 6'6'' junior Nick Bradford, who recorded his first career double-double last Friday. The relatively small Bradford has been forced to step into the role of power forward due to the ankle injury suffered by regular starter T.J. Pugh. Penn should be pleased by the absence of Pugh, who scored 13 points in 28 minutes against the Quakers in Penn's 89-71 defeat at the hands of the Jayhawks last season. But while Bradford will be outsized by Penn power forward Paul Romanczuk (6'7'', 220 lbs.), the Jayhawks' lone southpaw could pose problems in Kansas' quick transition game. Last, but certainly not least, Kansas will throw seven-footer Eric Chenowith at Penn. Chenowith, at 7'0'' and 235 lbs., has a rather large task ahead of him -- to fill the void left by departing frontcourt All-Americans Paul Pierce and Raef LaFrentz. The job's made tougher by Pugh's injury, which could keep him sidelined for at least a couple more weeks. The Jayhawks' big man stands as a tough welcome back for Penn 6'11'' center Geoff Owens. But Owens' teammates are confident he can contain Chenowith. "The have a seven-footer and we can guard him with a 6'11'' [player] instead of 6'7''," Jordan said, referring to last season's Owens-less Quakers squad, which had to put up Romanczuk and 6'7'' forward Jed Ryan against Kansas' big men. With four returning starters to Kansas' one, and a raucous Palestra crowd behind them, Penn may have caught Kansas at a vulnerable moment. "[Penn] played us well last year in Washington D.C. [in the First Bank Classic]," Williams said. "Now I think it's a dumb team for us to be playing."

COLUMN:Grab a mask, run onto the field and tear down the goalposts

(11/11/98 10:00am)

That was 1994. The scene was a mobbed Franklin Field, after Penn clinched its second straight Ivy crown with a 33-0 drubbing of Harvard. Legions of Penn faithful spilled onto the field, ripped down the goalposts, made their way down Spruce Street and tossed the unfortunate uprights into the Schuylkill River. And as Atkins remembers, it was sweet. "The whole week [before the game] everyone was flying around," said Atkins, who was just a freshman offensive tackle and didn't even dress for the game. "When we won, it was the best feeling ever because the stadium was filled, everybody rushed the field, the goalposts were coming down and I was just soaking it all up. "It was the greatest feeling of my life." Yet there's a chance that if the Quakers clinch at least a tie for the Ivy championship with a victory over Harvard this weekend, it may feel a bit incomplete. Atkins, the other members of the football team and every Penn fan who shows up for Saturday's game may be cheated out of one of Penn's grandest traditions. According to Director of Public Safety Maureen Rush, no one -- not even football players' parents -- will be allowed onto the field after the game. "We're going to have videotaping of anybody who attempts to head onto the field," Rush said. "Anybody that tries to do anything with the goalposts will obviously be stopped and arrested, and/or detained, and/or sanctioned by the University." Flyers will be passed out as fans pass through the Franklin Field gates and sporadic P.A. announcements will make the message clear -- Public Safety and the Administration want this tradition to die. The question every Penn fan has to ask him or herself is -- do they want this tradition to die? Last week at Princeton, a glorious thing happened. A Quakers fan turnout that put the Tigers fans to shame spilled out onto brand new Princeton Stadium, making the game teem with the excitement that can only come in games that mean something. It's been a while since Penn has played a game that meant something. With attendance slipping each year the Quakers don't win a title, when half of the Penn student section leaves after the throwing of the toast, it stands to reason that when -- for the first time in 3 years -- Penn is playing for the title fans should be allowed to pour onto the field and show their support for their team. Atkins said that the end of the Princeton game echoed what he felt on the field after Harvard in '94. "It's that sort of thing but it's on grander scale," Atkins said. "It's just unbelievable. "All the students come out and when the goalposts come down that's just an incredible thing." Of course, Penn fans may wonder how the "increased security presence" could handle a rush of 5,000 people or more. "We are prepared to deal with that [eventuality] if it does [happen]," Rush warned. How exactly? "If I told you that then I'd have to kill you," Rush said. Death and arrest threats aside, Penn fans have to look themselves in the mirror and ask what price they are willing to pay to preserve a long-standing tradition. "One night in jail with 1,000 other Penn students would definitely be worth ripping down the goalposts," Wharton sophomore Brian Cornell said. So grab your ski masks, Quakers fans, the title is coming home.

Football's first five minutes terrorize Tigers

(11/10/98 10:00am)

Penn secured its win and first place in the Ivies by scoring 21 points in the opening five minutes of Saturday's game. It seemed at the beginning of Saturday's game that the Princeton football team was still on fall break. Penn racked up 21 points in the first five minutes, taking a commanding lead they would never relinquish. The Quakers pounced on the toothless Tigers on the opening kickoff, when Michael Elko recovered a fumble by Princeton wide receiver Ray "Take the gun, leave the" Canole at the Princeton 27-yard-line. Five short plays and two minutes later, Penn quarterback Matt Rader found a wide open Brandon Carson for Penn's first score on a play that Penn coach Al Bagnoli described as "the weirdest play I've ever seen." Carson ran the play into the huddle, but when he lined up, not one Princeton defender took notice. Rader lofted what might have been the easiest touchdown pass of his career thirteen yards to a solitary Carson in the end zone. "Since I knew what the play was, as soon as I gave the play, I just ran out," Carson said. "And when I stood out there and I saw the [defensive] back's back to me, I knew that he wasn't going to come out and cover me, unless somebody said something to him. "I didn't want to start yelling and making myself visible, so I just sat out there and gave a little wave to Matt and hoped he saw me." The play silenced the few Princeton fans in attendance, but brought a large Penn following to its feet. Bagnoli said that the play was not designed to be a trick play, just a blown assignment by the Tigers secondary. "I don't know if they were trying to flip-flop corners," Bagnoli said. "I was just hoping that Matt saw him." After Princeton took the ensuing kickoff, Penn's defense shut the Tigers down, taking Princeton three and out. A 34-yard punt return from Joe Piela put the Quakers deep into Tigers territory once again, at the Princeton 28-yard-line. Bagnoli then turned to the No. 1 rated quarterback in Division I-AA football -- Penn running back Jim Finn. On the first play of the drive, Rader pitched to Finn, who then threw a strike between two Princeton defensive backs to tight end Brandon Clay for the second Quakers touchdown of the young game. Penn has gone to Finn for the halfback option three times now. Finn is three for three with two touchdowns, giving him the best pass efficiency rating the Ivy League. "It's a play we've been practicing," Bagnoli said. "It's one of those eight-man fronts that tries to get the defenders involved in the run, and consequently we were able to try and get a big play early." Having given up 14 points in two and a half minutes and managing six yards of offense, the beleaguered Tigers made matters even worse. On Princeton's next offensive play, Penn linebacker Jim Hisgen jarred the ball loose from Tigers running back Derek Theisen and pounced on it at the Princeton 18-yard-line. Rader and his offense wasted no time in capitalizing on the turnover. On the first play of the series, Rader threw to David Rogers for six. Rader credited both the field position and aggressive play-calling to the Quakers explosion. "We called the halfback pass; we called the pass to Rogers on first-down," Rader said. "I thought we were more aggressive in that way, and I think that helped us." Not only did the five minute outburst invigorate the Penn offense, which was effective the rest of the game save two missed field goals, but also it inspired the defense. "The defense got fired up," Piela said. "Our mentality going out there was pretty much, 'Let's keep them down, make some plays and get the ball back to the offense because at that point they were really hot.'" Down 21-0, their offense sputtering, their defense non-existent and their fans (as few as they numbered) silent, the Tigers were in a hole. "You could get mad, but there's no point. You just have to start over," Princeton receiver Phillip Wendler said. "Basically, you just have to look to start the game over and beat them by 21. It was a long game. "There's so much more time after that, so you have to keep your head up and keep banging away." To Princeton's credit, it did fight back, closing the gap to within 10 points, with an end result of 27-14. But the damage had been done. In five short minutes, the Quakers dismantled Princeton's hopes of an Ivy League title.

In search of elusive Germino

(10/31/98 10:00am)

Mike Germino is one of the biggest reasons for Penn's defensive success, but if he had it his way, no one would know. Germino does not like to give interviews. In fact, he's given only one all year. To me. For the better part of thirty seconds. I thought it was a bit puzzling when he did not stick around after practice earlier in the year when his name was requested for the post-practice reporter's feeding frenzy. Usually, players like to get their names in the papers, I thought. But that was where I first went wrong. Mike Germino is not the usual football player. Germino was widely recruited in high school not only for his ability to play one of any number of positions well, but also for his academic skills. Penn coach Al Bagnoli remembered his attempts to lure Germino to Philadelphia. "We tried to recruit him in high school," Bagnoli said. "I actually made a home visit, so we knew all about him. "He was a very talented kid, a kid who could play probably three or four different positions -- fullback, defensive end, linebacker, defensive tackle." But Bagnoli and Penn apparently did not have everything Germino was looking for. "We lost him to Boston University on a full scholarship," Bagnoli said. Germino joined a struggling Boston program, which went 2-20 in his first two years there. He played offense and defense for the Terriers, averaging 5.4 yards per carry at fullback and working his way up to starting defensive end. Then, on October 25, 1997, the team was informed that the Trustees of Boston University unilaterally voted to drop football. Without discussion, without warning, the Trustees erased a team only four years removed from an undefeated season. Betrayed and sold-out, Boston University football players either has to swallow the decision or look elsewhere. So rather than finish out his career at Boston without football, Germino chose to come to Penn. "When they dropped football, it was a pretty logical progression for us to try to follow up on him and get him here because of his academics," Bagnoli said. Unlike most of the varsity squad, Germino took a long, winding road to Franklin Field. And I thought it would make a good story. I kept calling Sports Information and was usually met with quite a chuckle when I kept asking for Germino, who had first started working out with the team last spring and ended up in the starting lineup in the fall. "I though he had a chance [to start] given the success he had at BU," Bagnoli said. "We knew he was a real good football player, it was just a question of how fast he could adapt to this system." But Germino did not just catch the eye of his coaches. Perhaps more importantly, his teammates took notice. "In spring ball, I kind of saw him as you'd see a freshman. He's coming in and he doesn't really know the system," junior defensive lineman Brent Stiles said. "I don't know about the coaching staff, but obviously [as] a first-year player, you're not going to expect them to come in and start making contributions right away. "But towards the end of spring ball it was obvious that he would be able to make some sort of contribution whether it be as an outside pass rusher on passing downs or whatever." His mere presence on the field lit a spark under every defensive lineman on the team. Defensive coordinator Mike Toop said a lot of the other linemen's performances were made possible by Germino's play. "I think the biggest thing that Mike has brought aside his ability [is his] tremendous competitive spirit," Toop said. "There's no question that he stepped up the competition level dramatically at that position." A junior transfer fights his way into the starting lineup. A football player comes to Penn from a folded program. A quick learner earns the respect of his teammates. There were a million ways to spin this story. And I just needed one. A few more stops to practice revealed a portrait of a bright, talented player -- one that I still hadn't interviewed. "What I like about him is the kid's motor is always going, his engine's always running 100 miles an hour," Bagnoli said. "And he brings a little bit of tenacity to that defensive line. That's what you need there. You need someone with a little bit of energy, you need someone to have a little competitiveness, you need someone who's going 100 miles [an hour] the whole time." Ed Carpenter, director of sports information at Boston University, recalled Germino in his two years there. "He was a really intense player, and very intelligent," Carpenter said. "He's a really smart kid." Coupling his brain with his brawn, it's no wonder Germino has made such a splash in so little time at Penn. "His reaction time off the ball is phenomenally fast," Stiles said. "So even if he doesn't know exactly what to do, he makes up for it with his athleticism." Penn co-captain and free safety Joe Piela said he felt Germino's impact as early as the team's first scrimmage against Millersville. "They got the ball and they started driving down the field a little bit," the senior said. "We got back in the huddle after they made a couple of plays, and he just went off. He started yelling and screaming at guys, 'What's going on, what are we doing? Let's step it up and make some plays.' "Right then and there I knew that his presence was going to be felt and he was going to make a difference on this team." After the Brown game and weeks of pestering, the Penn Sports Information director called me and told me that Germino -- the man who Piela said brought "attitude" to the Quakers defense -- would talk to me at practice. So this was it. I had finally gotten Germino to agree to an interview. Here was my chance. But oh, how little I had learned. He walked up to me after practice, still in his pads. As I introduced myself, he gave me a look and a grip that made me think how glad I was that I was just a little shit reporter and not lined up across from him. I asked him to talk about his career at Boston. "I'm at Penn, let's talk about Penn. I don't want to talk about that." A little taken back, I asked him why he chose Penn. He answered me with no hesitation and absolute conviction in a voice that registered nothing but absolute business. "I chose to come to Penn because it's a winning program. We have winning coaches and this team has a great attitude. I lost a lot of games at Boston University and I came here to win." I should have ended it there. I should have known that that statement summed up everything he was about and everything I could ever hope to glean from him in a 1,000 interviews. He came here to win. But I pressed, and he, visibly annoyed, said, "Can we talk about the game on Saturday? I don't want to do a personal history." So now I'm doing a personal history on Mike Germino. And in swallowing all of the hero worship and jingoistic banter that sports writing has become, I forgot the most important thing about the man. He's a football player. Let him play football.

FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Football regroups after shootout

(10/29/98 10:00am)

The Penn football team needs to focus on defense this week after allowing 58 points to Brown in Rhode Island. The Penn football team is catching its collective breath after a wild 58-51 shootout loss at Brown last Saturday. The two offenses combined for 58 points in the fourth quarter alone, making the game more reminiscent of a Wild Wild WAC Friday night air show between BYU and Fresno State than an old-fashioned Ivy League slugfest. Brown had three receivers -- Sean Morey, Stephen Campbell and Zachary Burns -- with more than 100 receiving yards, while Penn running back Jim Finn broke just about every conceivable Penn rushing record in his six-touchdown, 259-yard performance. But rather than dwell on a game whose equal Penn coach Al Bagnoli guessed will not be seen more than once in a generation, the Quakers are focusing on Yale and its balanced offensive attack -- a far cry from Brown's aerial assault. "We're looking for a more consistent effort," Bagnoli said. "We're facing a team that's been a little bit different than some of the other teams we've faced." Bagnoli also stressed the need to get "back to basics" on defense, after Brown's offense torched them for 528 total yards last weekend. "We're trying to get back to the tenacity that we showed in earlier contests," Bagnoli said of his defense, which was at one point in the season ranked No. 1 in Division I-AA. "[We are] trying to get a little bit of the pride and respect back defensively." · The Penn offense probably needs little to no tinkering this week, especially if Finn can do even half of what he did at Brown. "Offensively we're just trying to carry out and execute the way we've been doing," Bagnoli said. "We've got some minor bumps and bruises on some kids, and hopefully we'll get them back [today]." The Quakers offense will have to contend with a steadily improving Yale defense. The Elis surrendered 1,459 yards of total offense in the first three weeks of the season. But in the three weeks since Yale has given up only 546 yards. · Not counting the abnormal Brown game, as Jim Finn goes, so goes the Penn offense. Penn is now 9-0 when Finn rushes for between 77 and 258 yards. · Speaking of bumps and bruises, Penn may have to play through a few injuries this Saturday. Bagnoli is hopeful linebacker Jim Hisgen can play against Yale, and said if he can, he will get the start. The offensive line has been banged up all year, and tackle Matt Bane will sit out another week. But guard Mike Bertolino and tackle Jason Lebron will return to practice today. The receiving corps is also affected, as wideout Dave O'Neill will miss his second straight week due to an ankle injury. While wideout and special teams regular Kris Ryan will also watch Saturday's game from the sidelines, tight end Ben Zagorski is expected to return to practice today. · Penn football has gone 10-8 overall on Halloween. The first Halloween contest was not a memorable one for Quakers historians, as Penn lost 70-10 to Princeton. But over the next 57 years, the wins flowed as freely as Halloween candy, with Penn running up an impressive 9-1 mark, including a 72-0 demolition of Virginia in 1890 and a 1914 thrashing of Swarthmore, 40-6. Also included in the stretch was a 19-0 victory over the 1942 Army squad, which was most likely distracted by World War II. In his first year as the head man at Penn, Bagnoli and his 1992 Quakers squad ended a 39-year drought in which Penn lost six straight Halloween games by a total score of 163-74. And the team with which Bagnoli ended the streak on Oct. 31, 1992 -- Yale, 13-10.

Football looks to run through Brown defense

(10/23/98 9:00am)

The Quakers hope to keep the Bears' top-rated offense on the sidelines tomorrow. Strap on your seatbelts, Quakers fans, this could be a wild ride. At high noon tomorrow, the Penn football team (4-1, 2-0 Ivy League) takes on the Brown Bears (2-3, 0-2), who have the second best air attack in Division I-AA. Brown is averaging 339.4 yards passing per game, thanks in part to All-American wide receiver Sean Morey, the Ivy League's all-time leading pass catcher. Morey is tops in Division I-AA with 47 receptions for 584 yards in just five games this season and already has five touchdowns. Needless to say, the Penn secondary will have a keen interest in Morey's whereabouts tomorrow at Brown Stadium. "Obviously you have to keep an eye on where [Morey] is," Justin Gallagher, the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week, said. "He's going to get his catches, we just have to limit them not to 70 yards a catch." Last week, Morey and the Bears beat up on the Fordham Rams, with Brown running an uncharacteristically balanced offense, passing 46 times and rushing 46 times en route to a 38-27 victory. Brown's offense held the ball for almost two-thirds of the game, amassing 555 yards. The ball-control style offense is atypical to the Bears, who average only 108 yards rushing per game, 10 yards less than Penn running back Jim Finn. The Quakers defense, which shutout Columbia in last week's 20-0 drubbing, expects Brown quarterback James Perry to come out throwing tomorrow. But co-captain and safety Joe Piela was wary of Brown's running game, which put up 203 yards against Fordham and ate up lots of clock time. "If they're going to be able to run the ball, then we're really in trouble," Piela said. "[But] I think they're going to come out and try to throw the ball on us like they've been doing all year. "They put up a lot of points and throw for a lot of yards, so we're going to have our work cut out for us in the secondary." Piela and co. will have their hands full not only with the All-Everything Morey, but also with wideout Steve Campbell and tight end Zach Burns, who both rank in the top 20 in receptions per game in Division I-AA. "We're going to have to stop a couple of their players -- or at least contain them -- in order to be successful," Piela said. "They obviously have Morey, but [Burns] is not a bad receiver and Campbell is pretty decent too." The Penn defense will try to bother Perry and his receivers with lots of different looks on defense. "If we just play our regular zones, mix in a little man, change the coverages up more so than we would against a regular offense, that [might make] the quarterback pump the ball or something so we can get under it," Gallagher said. As good as the Brown offense has been, the Bears defense has been at least as poor. The Brown "D" is giving up over 406 yards per game, placing it near the bottom of Division I-AA, and almost let a 35-6 lead slip away last week against Fordham. But Penn quarterback Matt Rader said that the statistics can be deceiving. "A lot of that is because they are on the field so much," Rader said. "Their offense puts them in that situation, throwing the ball as many times as they do. "They don't run a lot of time off the clock, so their defense is on the field a whole lot. I think that's why, statistically, they are not as good as some of the people we've faced," he said. Finn expects to get a lot of carries, as the Quakers offense will try to run a ball-control game and keep the explosive Brown offense off the field. "Going into the game we want to keep our defense off the field," Finn said. "We want a ball-control offense, keep the ball for about 40 minutes -- that's what our game plan is." Against Columbia, who had not allowed a rushing touchdown before Finn's score last week, Finn rushed for only 77 yards on 27 carries. He should have a bit more success against the Bears, who are giving up 188 rushing yards a game. "[Columbia's] stress is to stop the run, so obviously I hope to run more than I did against Columbia," Finn said. "I don't think I'll be throwing anytime shortly," added Finn, who threw for a touchdown pass last week on a halfback option and has a quarterback rating of 441. Penn coach Al Bagnoli stressed the need for a complete game in three aspects -- a ball-control offense, a smart kicking game and a frustrating defense. "It's an emphasis on offense to try to keep possession of the ball, to try to run the clock down, to try to minimize the number of possessions we give them," Bagnoli said. "It's an emphasis in the kicking game to try to execute and lengthen the field up. "And it's an emphasis on defense to mix up enough coverages and enough blitz and do enough trying to confuse the quarterback [so that] he doesn't ever get into a rhythm." With field position a high priority for the Quakers, Bagnoli will give backup quarterback Reed Werner the start at punter in place of the freshman Ryan Lazzeri, although Bagnoli also hopes to get Lazzeri some kicks tomorrow.

FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Quakers 'D' riddled with injuries

(10/15/98 9:00am)

The Penn football team will be without defensive end Mike Germino and linebacker Jim Hisgen against Columbia. The injury bug took a great big bite out of the Penn football team. Quarterback Matt Rader was injured in the third quarter of the Fordham game. As he rolled out for a pass to running back Jim Finn, Rader was hit by two Rams defenders. After the play Rader noticed his upper throwing arm was cut, requiring over 25 stitches. "One guy ran into my arm with his face mask, and there must have been something sharp -- a buckle up there or something sharp on his face mask that just cut my arm up," Rader said. Although not even the game tapes demonstrate clearly how Rader was cut, most likely either a screw or a chin strap buckle was responsible. "I just went off the field as soon as I could," Rader said. "After that I was in shock." Rader will sit out practice for most of the week. He has been told not to move his stitched-up right arm, but is involved in the offense game plan during practices. If the stitches take, he may be cleared by doctors to play Saturday against Columbia. "If I'm going to play on Saturday, I'll probably get cleared by Friday," Rader said. "If not, I'm going to have to sit out a week." Backup quarterback Reed Werner took all but two snaps after Rader went down at Fordham and will most likely start if Rader is not cleared to play. Rader said the injury was frustrating, especially in light of the offenses renaissance last week. But he welcomes the rest. "I think it's going to be good for my body because I had a lot of aches and pains that I was nursing," he said. · Not all of the injury news is quite so promising, however. Starting linebacker Jim Hisgen will sit out this week's game with a knee injury. He is expected to be back in two weeks for the Brown game, though. The Quakers will also lose defensive lineman Mike Germino for next week's game. Because of neck and back injuries, Germino will miss at least the next four weeks and could possibly be out for the season. Germino, who is 6'1'' and 250 pounds, came out of the Fordham game after he collided with the pulling Rams offensive tackle Andrew Green, who is 6'4'' and 302 pounds. "Those two guys are big losses, definitely," safety Joe Piela said. "We have to make sure we overcome [the injuries] -- have some young guys step up and make some plays." · Offensive tackle Jason Lebron played for the first time this year last week at Fordham. But Penn coach Al Bagnoli said he will continue to start his regular five offensive linemen: Matt Bane and Aaron Atkins at the tackles, Mike Bertolino and Jesse Simonin at guards and Carmelo Rubano at center. "[Lebron] is healthy, [but] he's still not 100 percent," Bagnoli said. "He hasn't had a tremendous amount of practice, [and] hasn't had a lot of contact. "If we need him there, he's available." · The offense had its best showing in a long while against the Rams. "Offensively we're just about to turn it around," Rader said. "We scored 34 points in 2 1/2 quarters, so I think if we build on that we're going to be all right." But the offense will have its hands full against Columbia's defense, which is ranked 10th in Division I-AA. "They haven't let up a rushing touchdown this year," offensive coordinator Chuck Priore said. "We have to have a good combination attack of both run and pass." Priore said the game plan will remain the same whether or not Rader plays Saturday. "We're preparing to beat Columbia, and whatever quarterback will do what we prepare," Priore said. Bagnoli said running will be tough against Columbia's eight-man front. "It looks like on paper you should do nothing but throw," Bagnoli said. "But then obviously that gets you out of your game plan and you never use Jim Finn."

Roland anchors top Ivy defense for Lions

(10/15/98 9:00am)

Columbia football captain Paul Roland leads a strong linebacking core into Franklin Field to face the Quakers. Penn football historians may remember Paul Roland's name. That's because three years ago, a certain Columbia freshman had his coming out party against the Red and Blue at Baker Field. Roland had 11 tackles, eight unassisted tackles and one for a loss against Penn that day, leading the Lions to a 24-14 triumph over Penn. His freshman year was cut short by a shoulder injury, but he worked his way back into the lineup, becoming a starter last year. Roland, one of Columbia's four team captains, is one of three solid members of the Lions' linebacking crew. Roland and junior Kevin Wright play the outside spots, while co-captain Jeremy Taylor mans the middle. "They have a nice combination of size, speed and experience," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. "All those kids have been around a while and they really complement that [defensive] package very nicely." The three linebackers have driven the Columbia defensive unit to the top of the Ivy League and have not allowed a single rushing touchdown in four games this year. Bagnoli said their size makes running the football difficult. "They're all good," Bagnoli said. "All three of those kids all 6'2'', they're all 225 or bigger and they all run pretty well." Roland has made life miserable for his opponents all year. He leads the Lions in tackles for loss with six for 22 yards. He also has a sack and an interception to go along with 24 tackles on the year. And he is content to let his numbers do the talking. "I'm more of a leader by example," Roland said. "I make sure kids pay attention to little details and understand that come every Saturday, it's a big day and everyone has to play a lot better." Roland relies a lot on his two linebacking counterparts for help in guiding the young Lions defense. "Between Kevin Wright and Jeremy Taylor, we absolutely love going out on the field together," Roland said. "We love playing together. We communicate so very well because for the past two years, it's been the three of us. "Our relationship off the field helps us play well together." Roland has been through a lot at Columbia and has seen the program turn around. "I think it has been up and down. Two years ago, we had an incredible leading senior class," Roland said. "Last year was maybe a little bit of a letdown, but I think this year's team has a strong group of seniors and a good group of juniors that gets it done on the field." Coming into the year, Roland and his defense had the task of learning a brand new defensive scheme, but he and the Lions seemed to have a very short learning curve. Columbia is giving up only 52.5 rushing yards per game, third among Division I-AA, and only 121 passing yards per game. But the Lions will face what could be their toughest test this year -- a revitalized Penn offense, which put up 34 points in just over a half of football last Saturday. "They run the football well [and] they have a good quarterback," Roland said. "I think it's going to be one of those good old-fashioned football games when two teams are going to be fairly equal. "Both teams are going to have a good idea of what the other team is doing," he said. "We're just going to line up and see who can play a little bit harder than the other team."

GAME ANALYSIS: Offense finally in sync

(10/12/98 9:00am)

Penn's football team clicked offensively at Fordham on Saturday. NEW YORK -- The irony is thick. For 2 1/2 quarters, the Penn offense ran like a well-oiled machine. Quarterback Matt Rader was finally playing like the savior everyone expected him to be. Running back Jim Finn was making mincemeat of the Fordham defense. Even the Penn receivers were getting into the act. It almost seemed too good to be true. And it was. Midway through the third quarter, Rader came off the field holding his arm. He suffered a deep gash in his throwing arm and could not return to the game. His status is not certain for next week's game against Columbia. "I'm not sure how it happened," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. "It almost looked like someone took a saw [to his arm]. I don't know if he caught a facemask or what happened." Onlookers on the Penn sideline said Rader had a flap of skin hanging from his upper arm. But no one was quite sure how it had happened. The only thing certain was that Penn's offense was in trouble. Prior to the injury, the Quakers offense dominated every imaginable category. Finn, to no one's surprise, turned in another workmanlike performance, rushing 29 times for a personal best 198 yards. He even got to show a rare burst of speed, taking a pitch around the corner for a 69-yard touchdown run. "He showed his speed on the touchdowns, and obviously if we need one or two yards, we're going to try to put the ball in his hands," Bagnoli said. "In crunchtime we certainly need him to be effective at what he does." Perhaps a bit more surprising was the solid play of running back Jason McGee. In Penn's first three games, McGee had only 11 yards on 11 carries. But thanks in part to a better performance from his offensive line, McGee carried seven times for 43 yards. The most pleasing development, however, for the Quakers offense was the success of the passing game. Rader had pass protection all game, and sliced the Fordham secondary like a surgeon. He connected with nine different receivers for 256 yards and three touchdowns, including a 39-yard prayer to David O'Neill to end the first half. Penn's offense was brutal and efficient, scoring touchdowns on five of its first six possessions. The Quakers built a 34-14 lead with 9:30 left in the third quarter, and all was well in the Quakers' world. The offense, which could not get anything going against Richmond, the offense which was almost outscored by its defense against Bucknell, was finally living up to the tremendous expectations placed upon it. But after the injury to Rader, the offense did not do much except run the clock down and hope Fordham would not catch up. "They obviously had us on our heels," Bagnoli said. "We made the decision that we were going to run Jim, and the offensive line was blocking pretty good all game, and we were fortunate that we made a few first downs and killed the clock." At first, Bagnoli rotated sophomore North Carolina transfer Reed Werner and freshman Edward Mebs -- also a transfer from Miami -- in at quarterback. Bagnoli decided to stick with Werner, who ended up completing one of four pass attempts for nine yards. But with the number one QB down, Finn took the lion's share of the offensive calls, including every play on Penn's last drive. Fordham coach Ken O'Keefe said he expected Finn to become the center of attention, but that Werner also posed some new problems for the Rams. "We knew [they were] going to get Finn actively involved," O'Keefe said. "[But Werner] is more fleet of foot. We were concerned about what they might do with him." As it turned out, Bagnoli and offensive coordinator Chuck Priore did not do much with Werner except have him give the ball to Finn, but in the end Werner got his job done. "Reed came through," Bagnoli said. "He killed the clock when he had to kill it." An outstanding Penn offensive performance should have answered a lot of questions about this Quakers team. Instead, it raises more. Was this "a breakout game," as Bagnoli said, or just a flash in the pan? Only another solid outing next week can put them to rest.

Football defense tops in I-AA

(10/08/98 9:00am)

Penn football's defense has allowed the least yards in Division I-AA. Penn's team defense is back on top of Division I-AA. After giving up 34 points to Richmond, the Quakers' "D" stifled the Bucknell Bison, almost winning the game by itself. The Quakers are giving up an average of 210 yards per game, putting them ahead of No. 2 South Florida (211.8 yards) and No. 3 South Carolina State (214 yards). "As far as we're concerned, we try to shut the team out," free safety and captain Joe Piela said. "If they can't score, they can't win." But Penn's offense has not always been holding up its end of the bargain. According to Piela, however, the defense is not concerned with the struggling offense. "If our offense can score three points, that should be enough for us to win," Piela said. "If we give the offense good field position, they are going to put things together and score some points." "It's nice and all that, but it's game three," Penn defensive coordinator Mike Toop said. "If you spend too much looking at where you're ranked as far as statistics go, the next week you're down at the bottom of the barrel." · Piela is one of the main reasons for the defensive success. Last week against Bucknell, in addition to picking off a pass late in the game, he returned a punt for a touchdown en route to earning Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week honors. "He's had a very solid year so far." Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. "We're starting to get a tremendous amount of confidence in his ability to return kicks and to defend." In addition to his standout defensive play, Piela is averaging 15.59 yards on punt returns, putting him 13th in Division I-AA. But he downplayed his accomplishments. "I got lucky on the punt return. I ran untouched," Piela said. "And I happened to be in the right place at the right time? to be able to make the interception." "He's doing the things that you expect him to do," Toop said. "The thing about seniors is that when [they] start marking off the games, the sense of urgency is always greater for those guys. It means a little bit more because they won't have another shot." · Saturday figures to be an interesting day for the Piela family. Fordham also has a safety named Piela who wears No. 19. Joe's brother Jon starts at strong safety for the Rams. "There's a little rivalry going on," Penn's Piela said. "There's been some talk going back and forth." Joe said his family would not play favorites in the battle for Piela bragging rights. "We'll be both on different sides of the ball, so I'm sure [my family] will be rooting for him when he's on defense and rooting for me when I'm on defense," he said. Here's hoping for a 0-0 tie. But the Piela brothers may get to spend a bit of quality time together Saturday on special teams if Jon plays on kick coverage. "We might be able to run into each other on punts, so I'll have my eye out for him when I'm back deep," Joe said. · The Quakers are spending time in practice this week trying to work the kinks out of its offense, especially "the red-zone attack and short yardage" situations, according to Bagnoli. "We're working on spreading the ball around to a lot of different receivers down the field [and] mixing up the run and the pass a little bit better than we had," quarterback Matt Rader said. "I think Fordham will give us a lot of opportunities to do that." · Offensive tackle Jason Lebron will play in his first game this season at Fordham. He will split time with current starters Aaron Atkins and Matt Bane. "It's his first week back off injury, so I don't know how much he's going to be playing," Rader said. Also back from injury is defensive tackle Ed Galan, who sat out the Bucknell game last week. · On the defensive side of the ball, the Quakers are gearing up for a big Fordham offensive line. The Rams line averages 6'3'' and 276 lbs., while the Penn defensive line averages 6'1'' and 244 lbs. But that does not worry Toop, although his defense had trouble with Richmond's average 284-lb. linemen. "You don't do anything to gear up for size. You can't worry about size because there's nothing you can do to combat it."

FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Football seeks balance vs. Bucknell

(10/01/98 9:00am)

The Penn football team hopes to use a balanced attack this weekend after a tough loss Saturday to Richmond. "There's not much I'm not worried about," Penn football coach Al Bagnoli said after practice yesterday. Bagnoli may be right to remember the Rolaids when Bucknell visits Franklin Field this Saturday, as recent history has been exciting for fans -- and heart-stopping for coaches. Last year, the Bison squeaked out a 20-16 victory. In 1996, the Quakers needed two overtimes to prevail 30-21. Penn clinched the win when a game-tying Bucknell field goal was blocked and run back for six. The year before, the Quakers won 20-19 on a Jeremiah Greathouse field goal with :30 left in the game. · Penn's offensive line will still be aching on Saturday. Starting tackle Jason Lebron will sit out his third consecutive week. "He's been working out, he's been taking his steps," said Bagnoli. "I'm guessing right now he'll be out for this week and hopefully we'll get him back for next." Center Carmelo Rubano and guard Jesse Simonin both went down with injuries for stretches last week against Richmond, but they are both expected to start against Bucknell. "The offensive line is playing pretty well, despite its inexperience," Penn quarterback Matt Rader said. "I'm getting a lot more confidence in them." · Rader has distributed the ball well. Over the last two games, Rader has used 12 different receivers. Even backup quarterback Jason Battung has a touchdown catch. "We have a core group of about five kids that we work through at the position," offensive coordinator Chuck Priore said. "That has to do with how much throwing we're doing, how many one-back sets and how many three and four receiver sets we're running." Bagnoli chalks up the pass distribution to Rader's style. "Matt is very good at coming back to his second and third receivers," Bagnoli said. "He has confidence in a lot of different kids." Doug O'Neill leads Penn receivers with 158 yards and 11 receptions. · The tight ends, Brandon Clay and Clint Burhorn, have been conspicuously absent from most of the passing game. Between them, they have only three catches in two games. But Rader says it is not by design. "The teams have been covering them pretty well," Rader said. "I'd like to get them the ball a little bit more, but we'll see how things go on Saturday." The tight ends have also been occupied with blocking responsibilities, especially at Dartmouth, where running back Jim Finn alone comprised more than 50 percent of the offense. · In last Saturday's game against Richmond, the Quakers ran the ball only twice in their first four offensive series. But they anticipate a more balanced attack against the Bucknell defense. "Physically, they're not a big team, so I think we match up well," Priore said. "I think you'll see the game won in the trenches." Rader expects to run the ball in the wake of the 46 yards on 22 carries produced by Penn against Richmond. "Obviously we didn't run the ball well [last Saturday]," Rader said. "I think we're going to have to reestablish the running game for Bucknell." · On the injury front, defensive tackle Edward Galan sustained a knee injury during the Richmond game. Bagnoli said he hopes to have him available for Bucknell, but Galan is listed as day-to-day. · Bagnoli is keeping an eye on the much-maligned special teams unit. "We have to do everything perfect," Bagnoli said. "We got a little bit sloppy against [Richmond] and they were athletic enough to exploit it." Freshman punter Ryan Lazzeri will continue to start, but Bagnoli says backup quarterback Reed Werner may get in some kicks.

GAME ANALYSIS: Special teams falters against Spiders for football

(09/28/98 9:00am)

The Quakers play was marred by poor special teams work against Richmond in a 34-18 loss. The Quakers' special teams are not turning out to be so special. Penn's special teams woes were blatantly obvious at the start of the second half against Richmond, as TyRonne Turner returned Kendall Hochman's kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown. Turner actually dropped the kick but picked it up and scampered past the Penn coverage. The score gave the Spiders a 21-0 lead and essentially removed any hope of a Quakers' comeback. Penn coach Al Bagnoli said that the Quakers had been trying to pooch the kickoffs to the upbacks in order to avoid the explosive Turner, but Hochman booted the ball to the 17 yard-line. Making matters worse for the Red and Blue, Richmond's athletic kick returners frustrated Penn special teamers all game long. "You have to make the plays when you have them," Bagnoli said. "You work too hard to give up those field positions and that hidden yardage. "It was a combination of the kick, the coverage and a pretty exciting kid." Richmond coach Jim Reid admitted that Turner's 93-yard run nailed Penn's coffin. The Quakers did well to kick away from Turner on kickoffs; the only one he ran back was the one he returned for a touchdown. However, the Spiders' punt returner, Winston October, ran roughshod over the Penn punt coverage. October returned six punts for 89 yards, averaging a hefty 14.8 yards per return. "It's not really me making anyone miss. I'm just the guy that runs the ball," October said. "The credit really has to go to [defensive coordinator Joe] Cullen and the other 10 guys on the field blocking." Penn's special teams problems, however, were not limited to coverage. Placekicker Jason Feinberg also continued to have problems last Saturday. Although he did convert a 41-yard field goal attempt, he missed an extra point try, which drew the ire of Bagnoli. "He was hot and cold," Bagnoli said. "I expect him to be perfect on extra points. There's no excuse for that." The punting unit, too, was in disarray for most of the game. With long snapper Clint Burhorn bothered by injury, Bagnoli had to use a freshman long snapper for most punts. Also, because of the high temperature on Franklin Field, Bagnoli had to rotate his sprinters, who were playing a lot of defense. Freshman punter Ryan Lazzeri assumed full-time kicking duties against Richmond after splitting time with quarterback Matt Rader at Dartmouth. "[The punting game] was kind of patchwork," Bagnoli said. "We had the domino effect on that end of it." Although the punting game does not deserve all the blame, Richmond started its drives, on average, at its 46 yard-line. Lazzeri punted seven times for an average of 36.3 yards per kick, with a long of 55 yards. More importantly, Lazzeri seemed to have conquered his snap catching problems. Rather than let the ball hit his chest, as he had been doing early on, Lazzeri handled all of the snaps cleanly, including a high and wide snap. "He did okay for his first start," Bagnoli said. "He can hit the ball better, he can drive it better, he can put a little bit more hangtime." Despite all its troubles, however, Penn did tally one highlight on special teams. In the fourth quarter, when Joe Piela blocked a Richmond extra point try, Joey Alofaituli picked up the ball and ran it back 75 yards for two points. Piela also continued to make solid contributions, returning three Richmond punts for 33 yards. Despite the moderate successes against Richmond, the Quakers' special teams inconsistencies continue to hurt. For the second consecutive week, special teams performed below expectations. Two missed field goals, a missed extra point, countless missed tackles and an inexperienced punting unit all added up to missed opportunities in the first two weeks of the season.