Ten years ago, a college student with a dream decided to make history.
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What exactly happens when seven freshmen and a junior transfer join a basketball team losing just three players to graduation?
Sure, the Penn women's basketball team raced through the Ivy League unblemished last year, trouncing every one of its Ancient Eight opponents en route to the program's first-ever conference title.
So there I was, sitting in Shea Stadium on a brisk Wednesday afternoon last week, enjoying my overpriced hot dog and watered-down Coke, when I realized something -- the Philadelphia Phillies are for real.
Sanela Kunovac was hurting.
David Klatsky has never been to Israel. Neither has Dan Solomito. In just over two months, though, that will change. On July 7, the point guard and small forward on the Penn men's basketball team will make the long trip overseas to the Jewish homeland. Both Klatsky and Solomito will represent the United States in the 2001 World Maccabiah Games from July 7-July 27. The Maccabiah Games, which are held every four years, bring together Jewish athletes from across the world. "It's a great honor," Solomito said. "The pool is only Jewish Americans, but believe it or not, the competition was pretty stiff." Klatsky and Solomito, who both describe themselves as not very religious, are excited for their first trip to Israel. "We both realize our heritage, we both realize the religion and the history," Solomito said. "We're both excited to see what Israel is like." And they will both get that chance this summer. For a time though, neither was sure if they would be making the trip together. Klatsky was selected right after the first tryout, but it took a little longer for Solomito to get the nod. "We both kind of told each other, 'We both better make this,'" Solomito recalled. "After the first tryout, [Klatsky] was selected and he kind of yapped in my ear about it. It's a good opportunity for us to play together." And even though they'll be playing thousands of miles away, it will feel a lot like home. Of the 12 players selected for the Unites States team, half are from the Ivy League. Andrew Gellert of Harvard, and Paul Vitelli, Justin Simon and Matt Minoff of Yale will join the Quakers duo. Columbia's Marc Simon will also be one of the squad's four alternates. Klatsky and Solomito are not surprised by the influx of Ivy Leaguers on the squad. "If you're Jewish and play basketball, you'll probably go to the Ivy League," Klatsky said. "So it really doesn't surprise me." Team USA will also have some big-name players on the roster, including Doug Gottlieb, a former standout point guard on Oklahoma St., and David Blutenthal, a USC forward who was a key member of the Trojans' Elite Eight run last season. Tamir Goodman, an Orthodox Jew once tabbed the "Jewish Jordan," will be an alternate on the team. Originally recruited by Maryland, this roster snub marks the continual downfall of the Towson guard, who often finds himself choosing between basketball and his strong devotion to Judaism. "He's a 6'2" pale-skin red-head and he can do some wild things with the ball," Solomito said of Goodman. "But he couldn't make the second tryout and there wasn't a lot of understanding." Clemson head man Larry Shyatt will coach the team, which will practice at Clemson for a week before departing New York for Israel on July 7. Games are scheduled from July 16-26.
Last March, the Penn women's basketball team became the first squad in school history to compete in the NCAA Tournament. As one of the elite 64 teams in the nation. Today, Penn star forward Diana Caramanico hopes to be the first player in school history to be selected in the WNBA draft. As one of the elite 64 players in the nation. Starting at 11:30 this morning, 64 of the best amateur women's basketball players in the world will get their chance to suit up for the WNBA, the prestigious women's professional basketball league. Ruth Riley of NCAA champion Notre Dame, Jackie Stiles, the all-time leading scorer in NCAA history, and Lauren Jackson, the 6'5" center for Australia's silver medal-winning basketball team will almost-assuredly be among those selected in today's four-round draft, televised on ESPN2. Caramanico will also be tuning into the deuce today. The star Quakers' forward has a chance to be one of the the select few to continue her basketball career on the professional level. Two weeks ago, Caramanico attended a pre-draft camp in Chicago to display her skills to WNBA coaches and scouts. "I held my own out there," Caramanico said. "All coaches look for something different. I just played my hardest." Caramanico, however, is not quite sure if a WNBA career is in her future. "There are 64 draft picks, and I'm not very confident I will be one of those," the Blue Bell, Pa., native said. If Caramanico is passed over by the 16 WNBA squads, she said she would like to continue playing basketball somewhere, whether it be overseas or in a different league. But the Red and Blue superstar would relish the chance to play in the WNBA more than anything. "I would play anywhere [in the WNBA]," Caramanico said. "If anyone wanted me, I'm there. I wouldn't hesitate for a second." While Caramanico's basketball future is still in doubt, her place in Quakers' history will always be remembered. On Tuesday, the 6'2" forward put the finishing touches on what has been the greatest career in Penn women's basketball history, as she was awarded with the Big 5 Player of the Year honors. Caramanico has now been named the Ivy League and Big 5 Player of the Year for the past three seasons. The Quakers senior became the all-time Big 5 leading scorer in a loss to Texas Tech in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. She became the top scorer in Ivy League history in a game at Harvard, where the Quakers clinched their first-ever Ivy League title. Caramanico will also leave school as Penn's all-time scoring, rebounding and steals leader. The collegiate mantlepiece is certainly filled. Perhaps more will follow.
Last weekend, Penn gymnast Anna Wilson jumped, flipped and twisted her way to a 10th place finish at the NCAA Northeast Regionals. It was her final meet of the season. It was also the final meet of her Penn career. The Quakers' star freshman told the Daily Pennsylvanian yesterday that she will be leaving Penn next year to transfer to North Carolina. The Newland, N.C. native said the decision had not been a quick one. "Throughout the year, I've been unhappy," Wilson said. "It's been a gradual process." Wilson cited many reasons for her departure, the most pertinent being simply that Philadelphia is a long way from North Carolina. "The main reason [for transferring] is that [UNC is] closer to home," Wilson said. "I won't be so far away and I won't be so homesick all the time." Wilson also said that UNC will offer her a full gymnastics scholarship, easing some of her financial burdens. Freshman teammate and good friend Cristy Green knew from the start of the season that Wilson wouldn't stay with the Quakers. "She told me right away that she was probably going to leave," Green said. "She wants to be closer to home and the school [UNC] is better for gymnastics. "She never really wanted to come here in the first place." Regardless of where she wanted to be, Wilson will certainly go down in the Penn record books, perhaps as the greatest gymnast in the history of the Quakers' program. In her first year donning red and blue, Wilson shattered practically every Penn gymnastics record. The frosh set school scoring records in the vault, uneven bars, floor exercise and all-around this season and became the all-time single season scoring leader for the Quakers. The only Penn record that Wilson does not own is on the balance beam. Despite all the achievements, however, the freshman has remained modest throughout. "I'm glad about the records, but eventually they're going to be broken, too," Wilson said. "For the time being, you have to always strive to be better." Wilson continued to dominate into the post season. At this year's Ivy League Championships, Wilson took first in the vault before winning the all-around, the bars and the floor at the ECAC Championships. The culmination of the 2001 season came at the NCAA regionals last weekend. Wilson went into the tournament as the top-seeded all-around gymnast. But the Penn star took a spill during the floor exercise, contributing to a disappointing 10th-place finish -- a finish that was not good enough to advance to nationals. Thus, Wilson's performance at NCAAs was a disheartening ending to an otherwise near-flawless season. Despite the individual accolades she brought to the Penn team, some of Wilson's teammates did not feel that the freshman demonstrated a good team-first attitude throughout her campaign with the Red and Blue. "She was a very individualistic person," Penn senior captain Kelly Haberer said. "Because she knew she was transferring, she didn't care how the team did, just how she did individually." "She was a very good gymnast, a great athlete, and she will be missed as far as that's concerned," Haberer continued. "As far as the individualism, that won't be missed. Once you get to college, it's a team sport and she didn't seem to care." Wilson still maintained the decision to transfer was a tough one to make, and she said she will remember her days at Penn. "I'll miss the team and the coach and all the fans around me," Wilson said. "It's hard to leave, but it's also hard to stay."
With only one Ivy League win under its belt in the past three seasons, the Penn men's soccer team has recruited a little coaching help. Penn announced yesterday the hiring of Robert Butehorn as the Quakers' new assistant coach. Butehorn comes to the Ivy League from the Atlantic 10, where he was the head coach of St. Bonaventure from 1995-1999. During his tenure, Butehorn rebuilt a struggling program to both a regional and national ranking. Four of his players went on to play professionally. Prior to his five-year stint with the Bonnies, Butehorn served as the assistant coach at Maryland, his alma mater. Butehorn is a member of both the National Soccer Coaches Association of America and the United States Soccer Federation. Butehorn assumed his position for the Red and Blue last Sunday and is already working with head coach Rudy Fuller and the Quakers in their spring training sessions.
The Penn softball team has played 16 games thus far in its 2000-2001 campaign. And all 16 have been on the road. Today at 3 p.m., the Quakers (6-10) will make their long-awaited return home when they host Temple (11-17) in a doubleheader at Warren Field. And the Red and Blue are certainly looking forward to finally playing on familiar turf in front of some familiar faces. "We feel more confident playing at home," junior left fielder Clarisa Apostol said. "You want to play better when you're on your own territory." Adding to the excitement of today's contest are the City Series implications. After performing well in a City Six tournament this fall, the Quakers are anxious to square off against some Philly foes in their spring season. And they'll get their wish -- in spades. After today's games against Temple, the Red and Blue will head north to La Salle before welcoming neighbor Drexel on April 11. Penn hopes to get off on the right foot with a clean sweep over the Owls today. Despite Temple's rather poor record, the Quakers will not look past their city rival. "Their program [commands] a lot of respect," Apostol said. "We are not taking them lightly." Taking the mound for the Red and Blue will be sophomore Becky Ranta and freshman Nicole Borgstadt. Both have identical 3-5 records in 10 appearances. Borgstadt has impressed so far with a sturdy 3.80 ERA, while Ranta, the Quakers' MVP last season, has struggled a bit, sporting an ERA of 5.92. Penn will look to outfielder Deb Kowalchuk to carry the load on the offensive end. The sophomore currently leads the team in batting average, slugging percentage and runs scored. Star third baseman Jen Moore, who also packs a punch at the plate, will return to the lineup today after missing last week's double header against Lafayette. Temple will look to their pitching to carry them to victory today. While the Owls have a measly .193 team batting average -- more than 40 points below the Quakers -- their ERA is 3.61, a full run better than that of the Red and Blue. Penn and Temple are both going into today's matchup on a hot streak. After starting slow, both teams have reeled off four wins in their last five games. Temple picked up two victories over Pittsburgh and Fordham last week, while the Quakers are coming off a double header sweep over Lafayette, perhaps their best wins of the season. Penn's 3-2 and 4-0 victories over the Leopards last week featured a balance of hitting, pitching and defense, a balance that the Quakers' have struggled to find in the early portion of the season. "When we started off, we weren't relaxed," sophomore shortstop Crista Farrell said. "But we're starting to come together as a team and play up to our potential." Apostol, the team's co-captain, believes Penn's early-season woes were simply due to a lack of concentration. "A lot of it was mental -- we were making basic mistakes," Apostol said. "Each person had to concentrate on playing better themselves and then we would play better as a team. "And once you start winning, it carries into the next game with you." Apostol also noted that many players on the team, including herself, have worked hard to overcome some early-season problems. Apostol, for instance, spent a good portion of her spring break in Florida having difficulty making the short throw from left field. But with time and practice, the junior has gotten over her mental block and regained her confidence. "I didn't want to be Chuck Knoblauch anymore," Apostol joked. And with problems like that overcome, the Quakers are moving forward and progressing as they head into the heart of their schedule. "We're getting closer with each game," Apostol said. "As long as we maintain the desire to play better each game... I don't mind that we're still making progress. "When the Ivy season comes, it will all come into place." And with Chuck Knoblauch's defense left down in Florida, the Penn softball team can only expect better things for the future.
A spring break in Florida for the Penn men's tennis team began with a heartbreaking one-point loss and ended with a feel-good, one-point victory. Sandwiched in between was a 5-1 defeat at the hands of East Tennessee in a match that was shortened by rain. On the first Sunday of the break, the Quakers (5-5) lost a tough 5-4 contest to Florida Gulf Coast. In the deciding match, No. 5 singles player Rob Pringle dropped the third-set tiebreaker, 7-6, as the Eagles squeaked out the win. "We very easily could have won that first match," said sophomore Ryan Harwood, who topped Evan Pinther 4-6, 7-6, 6-4 at the No. 2 spot. No. 1 singles Fanda Stejskal also cruised to a 6-0, 6-2 victory over Kevin Gill, but it was not enough to propel the Quakers to victory. Harwood cited the suffocating heat, combined with lengthy matches as a possible reason for Penn's downfall. It was also the first time the Quakers had played on the outdoor courts in a while. Two days later, Penn dropped a 5-1 decision to a tough East Tennessee team, with the only Quakers victory coming from Harwood. Doubles action had to be canceled due to inclement weather. The next day, however, the Quakers bounced back to hold off Florida Southern, 5-4. On another rainy day, Penn's Nos. 1-3 singles set the tone, sweeping their Moccassins' counterparts. Other Quakers victories came from senior co-captain Eric Sobotka at No. 5 singles and the Bryan Barki/Rob Pringle team at No. 2 doubles. "It was a tough day to play, but we sustained a high level of intensity throughout the distractions," Harwood said. "We really pulled together as a team. It was definitely good to leave on that note."
LUBBOCK, Texas -- The score was 99-53 in Texas Tech's favor. But that didn't matter. Not for Diana Caramanico. The star forward of the Penn women's basketball team exited Friday night's game with 1:44 remaining. Penn, at the time, was trailing by a staggering 46 points, as the Lady Raiders were well on their way to a 100-57 whitewashing of the Quakers. But in those final two minutes of what was the program's first ever NCAA game, Caramanico was up on her feet, cheering her teammates' every move. She was the only one standing on the bench, perhaps even the entire arena. Everyone knew the game was over. But Caramanico didn't want it to end. "I just wanted to keep playing, I just wanted to give everyone that was on the court a little extra support," an emotional Caramanico said in the post-game press conference, fighting back tears with every word. "I just didn't want my career to be over." In an age of selfishness and me-first attitudes, watching Penn's senior captain at the end of the game was a refreshing sight. And what transpired over those final two minutes -- the final two minutes of her collegiate career -- epitomized exactly what Caramanico was for the Red and Blue -- a modest superstar. In Friday night's game, the senior added two more records to her memorable career. With three takeaways, Caramanico became the all-time steals leader at Penn with 210. The 6'2'' forward now is the career leader for points, rebounds and steals at Penn, and is second all-time in blocks. Not too shabby. And with a 15-point performance in Friday night's contest, Caramanico became the Big 5's all-time scoring leader with 2,415 career points. Penn's leading scorer, the Ivy League's leading scorer, the Big 5's leading scorer. Jeez, all that's missing is the nation. But in the final 1:44 of her final collegiate game, Caramanico wasn't thinking about the records, she wasn't thinking about being the best player in the history of the Penn women's basketball program. All that was running through her mind was that her playing days at Penn were slowly dwindling to a close. The love affair between Caramanico and the Quakers was all but over. Friday night's loss was, quite simply, a bad one. The Quakers were overmatched and outplayed by a superior Texas Tech squad. Penn put a fight in the early part of the game, but everyone in United Spirit Arena knew that the Lady Raiders, the No. 2 seed in the Mideast Region, the 12th-ranked team in the entire nation, were ready to explode. The big run was inevitable. And it came. Penn played its heart out, but the final score tells the story -- Texas Tech was simply a better team. But when Caramanico and her four senior classmates look back on their season, their final season at Penn, they should try to look past their final game. The more important thing was that they got to the game. They got to play in front of 11,000 screaming, hostile, redneck fans. They got to play in perhaps the biggest game of their lives. Out of 316 Division-I schools, only 64 made the NCAA tournament. The Penn Quakers were one of them. They will be the first group of Penn seniors to leave school with an Ivy women's basketball title under their belt. And that is what should be remembered. "We set goals, we met them and then we set new ones," senior Claire Cavanaugh said. "Once we clinched the title, then we set another goal that we would go undefeated. "Then coming down here, the goal was to try and win this game, and that really was the first goal all season that we didn't meet." After the game, Caramanico and fellow senior captain Erin Ladley walked into the press room. Both looked miserable, both were on the verge of tears. They went through the motions, answered a few questions and then slowly trudged out of the room. What hardly anyone noticed, however, was what they were wearing. Not their uniforms or their warm-up jackets. Not a ragged, old sweatsuit. They both proudly donned their 2000-2001 Ivy League Champions T-shirts. Because that, more than anything, epitomized the careers of these two captains. Not the records they set or the final loss they had to endure. They helped bring an Ivy championship to Penn. They were the captains of the first-ever Quakers team that can call themselves Ancient Eight champs. And that is how they should be remembered. "We're not going to look back [just] at this game," Ladley said. "We won the Ivy League." The T-shirt says it all: 2000-2001 Ivy Champs. It has a nice ring to it.
It's hard to believe it all happened in one season. The Penn women's basketball team had never tallied more than 18 wins in a season. The Penn women's basketball team had never gone on a win streak longer than nine games. And the Penn women's basketball team had never achieved Ivy perfection. Until now. With a 78-69 victory over Princeton last night in their regular season finale, the Quakers capped their perfect Ivy season and put the finishing touches on what has truly been a year to remember. The Red and Blue's 2000-2001 campaign has been a year where records were shattered and history was made. And for the team's incredible accomplishments, everyone deserves proper recognition. Give credit to second-year coach Kelly Greenberg, who has done a phenomenal job turning the Penn tradition into a winning one in such a short period of time. Give credit to the "Chargers," the Penn reserves who give all they have during practice to prepare the starters for battle. Give credit to Tara Twomey, who has done a superb job filling Mandy West's large shoes and being the floor general that the Quakers need. Give credit to Julie Epton, Jennifer Jones and Jewel Clark for adding scoring, rebounding and athleticism to the Quakers' lineup. But most of all, give credit to the backbone of the team, the cornerstone of Penn's unprecedented success, the leaders, the captains, the seniors -- Diana Caramanico and Erin Ladley. Not enough can be said about what these two women have meant to this program. In the Quakers' Ivy-clinching win over Harvard the weekend before last, the two seniors fittingly both reached milestones. Ladley hit the career 1,000-point plateau, while Caramanico became the Ivy League's all-time leading scorer. More records to add to this record-breaking season. But putting numbers aside for a second, Penn's two captains have done so much for the Quakers. For the past four years, they've shown tremendous heart and desire in helping the Red and Blue transform into a winning program. They've left everything on the Palestra floor. "It's been a great four years," an emotional Caramanico said after her final game at the Palestra. "This building has been really good to me." But now it's time to look ahead. For the Quakers, the regular season is done, their miracle Ivy run is over, their 21-game winning streak has been put on hold. The question now is whether the Penn women's basketball team can keep it going. Despite the team's stellar record, the Quakers have a relatively low RPI (93), and the Ivy League is one of the bottom five conferences in the nation. Thus in all probability, Penn will be looking at a 13 or 14 seed come tournament time. And that means the Quakers will not only be pitted against one of the top teams in the nation but on their opponent's home court, too. One current projection has Penn as a 14 seed squared off against Louisiana Tech. Sure, I'll admit. The Lady Techsters are a good team. Sixth in the nation, a 28-14 overall record, Sun Belt champions. But it's March right now. That means the NCAA Tournament is here. And that means threes will be flying, athletes will be soaring and top seeds will be falling. Feel the madness. Of course, its tough for the bottom seeds to knock off the nation's top teams. But it happens every year. This year will be no different. And what team is better suited to pull off the upset, to be the Cinderella, than the Penn Quakers. Fresh off a 21-game winning streak, the Quakers haven't lost a game since mid-December. They will go into the tournament as hot as hot gets. And there's no telling what will happen from there. After the game last night, Ladley tried to put into words what she was feeling. "It's awesome, I can't even describe it," the senior guard said. "I couldn't ask for anything more. "Except to win the NCAA Tournament," she added with a smile. Hey, in a season like this, anything could happen.
Alright, Penn fans. Get your pencils sharpened and your notebooks ready. And pay attention, because we're only going to say this once. With just a week left in what has turned out to be a very competitive Ivy League men's basketball season, it will be more than just traditional powerhouses Penn and Princeton fighting for an Ivy title down the stretch. Sure, the Quakers and Tigers are in first place. But Brown and Yale are nipping at their heels. Every other Ancient Eight squad has been eliminated from title contention, but Penn, Princeton, Yale and Brown can all sniff that Ivy League championship. Coincidentally, these four teams will all play each other once for their final three regular season games. The Bears and Elis will be home against Penn and Princeton this weekend. On Tuesday, Penn will head to Jadwin to look for redemption and a possible trip to the NCAA Tournament. And the next day, Brown will host Yale in a game that could also conceivably decide the Ivy League title. There's the schedule for you. Now it's time for some possible scenarios. Penn and Princeton each sport an 8-3 league record, one game better than Brown and Yale. Thus, if either the Quakers or Tigers win out, they would be Ivy champions. The Elis or Bears can also claim the title outright. For that to happen, they would have to win their final three games -- including a Penn-Princeton sweep -- and hope for the Quakers and Tigers to both lose twice. Got it so far? Good. A tie for first place is also possible. There could be a two-team playoff or a four-team playoff, but there is no possibility for a three-way tie. A two-way tie for first place could be between any of the four teams except Brown and Yale. Now here comes the tricky part. For a four-way tie to occur, either Brown or Yale would have to sweep this weekend with the other team (who didn't sweep) winning once. The team that swept would then have to lose to the other at Brown on Wednesday, while the team that was swept (Penn or Princeton) would have to beat the other at Princeton on Tuesday. Yes, it's that simple. All four teams would then have a 9-5 Ivy record and the stage would be set for the first-ever four-way Ivy League tie. If this occurs, there would be a three-game playoff at a neutral site with each of these four teams getting a seed based on their head-to-head record against the other three. A doubleheader would then be played with the winners playing two days later for the Ivy title. Kind of like the Final Four. Except with Ivy League teams. So, there is a possibility -- bear with us on this one -- that the Quakers could play five games in seven days -- against Princeton on Tuesday, two Ancient Eight playoff games, the NCAA play-in game (which Penn will probably be in if they get the automatic berth) and then the NCAA first-round game the following Thursday. Yes, the stage is certainly set for some interesting -- not to mention unprecedented -- situations. But before we relieve you of your boredom, here's an interesting tidbit: The four teams in contention are a combined 20-2 at home in Ivy play this year. With that said, if the home team wins each of the three remaining games, the Brown Bears will be crowned Ivy champs. The same Brown Bears that have won one Ivy League title. Ever.
Lamar Plummer and Geoff Owens certainly went out in style. In their last game at the Palestra, the two seniors carried the Penn men's basketball team to a resounding 70-47 thumping of Harvard (12-13, 5-8 Ivy League) in perhaps the Quakers' most convincing win of the season. Plummer and Owens, along with reserve center Josh Sanger and team manager Andy Pogach, were honored in an emotional ceremony before Saturday night's contest against the Crimson. Sanger, who rarely sees minutes, got the starting nod over sophomore Ugonna Onyekwe and contributed five rebounds in nine minutes. But it was the strong play of Plummer and Owens that kept the Quakers (11-15, 8-3) tied for first in the Ivy League standings and in control of their own destiny. After experiencing some recent shooting struggles, Plummer was on fire the entire weekend. He nailed 7-of-11 three pointers against Harvard, following a 7-of-14 performance the night before against Dartmouth. Plummer's 23 points against the Crimson tied his career high. "I think I always felt confident in my shot. I just think the shots just weren't going," Plummer said. "I just kept my confidence in my teammates, and they kept their confidence in me, and they're falling now." And while Plummer was sinking long-range bombs all night long, Owens was busy battling inside. The senior captain recorded a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, along with three blocked shots. On Saturday, the Quakers came out firing. Behind a raucous Palestra crowd, the Red and Blue opened the game on an 11-0 run and never looked back. With 6:53 left in the first half, Penn had a commanding 23-5 lead. This against a Harvard team that thoroughly outplayed the Quakers the first time around in Boston. "It was a combination of things," Harvard forward Dan Clemente said on his team's slow start. "Penn was playing really good 'D', but we weren't making our shots really." Harvard was ice cold the entire game, as they shot an anemic 21.7 percent from the field. For the game, only Clemente, the team's captain and only senior, finished with a respectable shooting percentage, as he converted on half of his 12 field goal attempts. The rest of the team was successful on just 8-of-46 attempts. In fact,with the exception of an Andrew Gellert three, Clemente was the only Harvard player to score in the first half. "It's pretty obvious that the [stat sheet] tells the story," Harvard coach Frank Sullivan said. "Beyond not being able to score, we weren't taking care of the basketball, and [Penn] got out early." A night earlier, the Quakers welcomed Dartmouth (7-18, 2-10) to the Palestra, but had nowhere near the same success early on. Against the bottom team in the Ancient Eight standings, the score seesawed as the lead changed hands several times in the first half. But four Plummer first-half three-pointers -- including one at the halftime buzzer--sent the Quakers into the locker room with a six-point lead. The Big Green chipped away at Penn's tenuous lead early in the second half, and a Flinder Boyd reverse layup gave Dartmouth a 31-30 advantage with 14:16 left in the game. But that lead would be short-lived, as the Quakers went on a 13-3 run to regain momentum and the lead. The Red and Blue went on to win, 54-46, in a sloppy game that featured weak shooting from both teams. I think it's one of those games where we didn't do some things that really cost us," Dartmouth coach Dave Faucher said. "They didn't shoot the ball particularly well. We didn't shoot the ball particularly well. I don't think Penn did anything to us and I don't think we did anything to Penn." But the Quakers did manage to pull out the victory, and after the weekend sweep, Penn remains tied with Princeton for first place. The Tigers were also able to claim two home victories against Harvard and Dartmouth. Yale (7-4 Ivy League), however, lost to Columbia on Friday, while Brown (7-4) won twice over the weekend. Thus, Penn and Princeton hold a one-game advantage over Brown and Yale. Going into the final three games of the season, each of these teams will square off against one another once. It will certainly be a race for the Ancient Eight crown. "I think every game is going to be a struggle," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. "It's just fighting for survival at this point."
Maybe Yale does have a basketball team after all. It appears that I jumped the gun with my Yale has a basketball team? column a few weeks ago, bashing anything and everything about Yale basketball. So what if Yale alum Chris Dudley is the worst foul shooter in the history of the NBA or if New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy left Yale to attend Division III powerhouse Nazareth? The fact of the matter is that Yale does have a good basketball team this year (at least by Ivy League standards, perhaps the worst conference in Division I) and the Elis are now in the driver's seat in the race for the Ivy title. It's true that Yale got swept by Penn and Princeton the weekend after my column. But that was on the road. And that was without their best player, center Neil Yanke. Now Yanke is back, and since his return the Elis have won three of their last four and currently find themselves sitting atop the Ancient Eight standings, along with perennial leaders Penn and Princeton. And in this three-way tie, Yale and Princeton both hold the advantage over our very own Quakers. Yale will get a second crack at Penn and Princeton when the schools travel to New Haven, Conn., the weekend after next. And after demolishing the Quakers last week at the Palestra, the Tigers will look to repeat that performance at Jadwin Gym in the final game of the season. For its last five games, Penn will have what is arguably the toughest road to the Ancient Eight title. The Quakers will host Harvard and Dartmouth before playing their final three games on the road against Brown -- which is just one game behind the tri-leaders -- Yale and Princeton. The Quakers could easily lose four of their last five contests, with the only easy win coming against Dartmouth. And that's not even a shoo-in. You see, the Ivy League has become a befuddling mess this season. It's truly a mystery. I won't lie to you. I have no idea what's going to happen down the stretch. And that's because anything can happen. Who would have expected Columbia to sweep Penn and Princeton last weekend? Or cellar-dweller Cornell to nearly accomplish the same feat? The parity in Ivy League basketball this year is unreal. Any team can beat any other team on any given night. Call it a sports cliche -- but in this 2000-2001 edition of the Ivy League, it's true. And this is precisely why Penn will not add another piece of drapery to its collection of banners hanging from the Palestra rafters. In years past, it's always been Penn and Princeton. And it's always been Penn and Princeton in dominating fashion. But this season, these two teams have faltered and no team stands above the rest. Yale, Brown, Columbia and Harvard will all go into the final two weeks of the Ivy season with legitimate NCAA hopes. For Yale, it would be their first championship since 1962, for Brown, 1986, for Columbia, 1968, and for Harvard, well, it would be Harvard's first-ever league title. These teams can smell the upset, they can smell a trip to the Big Dance, but more than anything, they can smell history. Penn's been there before. Maybe that's why the team's been playing with no heart. Maybe that's why the team always seems to get out-hustled and flat-out out-played. Or maybe it's just because the Quakers are just not a very good basketball team. I mean, when was the last time Penn actually played a good game? What makes you think Penn will turn the corner and actually start playing some good basketball? Just because history says that Penn has to win the Ivy League? Well, that doesn't mean anything right now. There's no question that the Quakers have the talent to prevail and three-peat as Ivy champs. But the bottom line is that the Quakers have been playing very poorly, and there's no reason to think that they will get their act together in the near future. A run through the team's starting lineup succinctly displays Penn's flaws. The three-point shooting of Lamar Plummer has cooled sufficiently after a blistering start. The senior guard has converted on less than 25 percent of his long-range attempts in Ivy play. Ugonna Onyekwe led the team in scoring in Penn's last two contests, but the sophomore forward is nowhere near the level he was at last year. Geoff Owens has truly shown heart and a desire to win in his fifth year donning red and blue. But a senior captain needs to put more than 10 points on the board. And that's not to mention his hideous display from the free throw line. Sophomores David Klatsky and Koko Archibong have shown the talent and the emotion. But they're young and they still make too many mistakes. And Penn has struggled to find consistent play off the bench. The Quakers look lost on the offensive end and Penn coach Fran Dunphy is struggling to make the necessary adjustments. This is not the same team as last year's undefeated champs. It's not even close. But then again, it's not the same Ivy League.
Erin Ladley made just one three-pointer for the Penn women's basketball team last weekend. It just so happened that her lone three was a miracle shot that sealed the Quakers' (17-5, 9-0 Ivy League) weekend sweep over Cornell and Columbia, a weekend sweep Penn's program-record win streak to 16. After Columbia (7-15, 5-5 Ivy League) cut the Red and Blue's lead -- which was once as big as 14 -- to single digits with 4:32 left in Saturday's contest, Penn's senior guard took center stage. After a near-steal by Lions' guard Patricia Kern, Penn point guard Tara Twomey recovered the ball near halfcourt and fed it to Ladley. And as the shot clock was expiring, the senior co-captain heaved a desperation shot just inside the mid-court line. Nothing but net. Ladley's basket -- which was the only three she made out of 11 weekend attempts -- ended Columbia's momentum and, for all intents and purposes, gave the Quakers the victory. "As soon as she hit it, I knew we had won the game," Penn guard Jennifer Jones said. The Quakers went up by as much as 17 late in the game before finishing up with a 64-53 victory. In the first half of Saturday night's contest, however, things were not quite as peachy for the Red and Blue. For the first time all season, Penn went into the locker room without a halftime lead. The visiting Lions matched the Quakers' first-half point total of 24 in what was statistically a very even half. However, there was one thing on the scorecard that was a bit off. Senior forward Diana Caramanico, who averages 21.7 points per game, had zero points in the first 20 minutes of play. "I let them [Columbia] get into my head and I let it bother me," Caramanico said. "In the second half, I thought to myself that I wasn't going to let them do it to me again." Eight seconds into the second half, Penn's senior star ended her scoring drought. And just six minutes into the half, she already had nine points. Caramanico finished with a team-high 18 points, second on the night to Columbia guard Megan O'Neill. O'Neill, who made up for her lack of speed and athleticism with aggression and desire, buried 5-of-8 from three-point range to pace the Lions with 19 points. But O'Neill's strong showing would not be enough. And neither was the play of Cornell star guard Do Stevens the night before. Coming into the Palestra fresh off a weekend sweep over Yale and Brown, Stevens and the Big Red (11-11, 5-5) fell victim to the Quakers right from the start. Penn came roaring out of the gate and thoroughly dominated the first half. A 37-19 advantage in rebounding helped the Quakers go into the locker room with a comfortable 31-16 lead. Penn, however, had a bit of trouble sealing the deal, as it allowed the Big Red to claw their way back into the ball game. With 11:31 left, a Jennifer Linker layup capped a 9-0 Cornell run to give the Big Red their first lead of the game, 39-38. A seesaw battle the rest of the way, the Quakers pulled ahead late and made their free throws down the stretch to preserve the 59-54 victory. "We have to learn how to sustain a lead and go for the jugular," Penn coach Kelly Greenberg said following Friday night's win. Penn's second-half breakdown against Cornell was the opposite of its strong second-half performance against Columbia the next night. But in both games, the Quakers found ways to get the job done and the team is now two wins closer to an Ivy title. Penn's wins, coupled with a Harvard loss to Yale on Saturday, put the Quakers three games ahead of the Crimson with just five games remaining. A New England sweep against Harvard and Dartmouth next weekend would clinch Penn's first-ever Ivy League championship. And an Ivy League championship means a trip to the NCAAs. "The Columbia coach said to me, 'Best of luck in the NCAA tournament,'" Greenberg said. "And that was the first time it basically sunk in."
I must have missed something. Apparently, there's a new men's basketball team to beat in the Ivy League. That's right. Penn and Princeton, who have combined to win all but two of the past 32 Ancient Eight crowns, are out of the race. The 2-0 league records that the Quakers and Tigers sport are no match for the new top dog in the Ivy League -- Yale. Yale? Yes, Yale. You see, the Elis are already running away with the Ivy League title. Their 3-0 record puts them an entire half game ahead of Penn and Princeton with just 11 conference games remaining on their schedule. "I believe we can win the Ivy League championship," Yale coach James Jones said. "We're one of the teams that can do it right now." Yes, Coach, your team is in fairly good shape. But you still have to make the dreaded trip to Penn and Princeton this weekend, where in 44 years of Ivy League play, only three teams had succeeded in winning back-to-back games. Besides, it's only a couple of games into the season. Isn't it a bit premature to start crowning Yale champions? Well, ESPN.com doesn't think so. The "expert" sports prognosticators are already projecting Yale in the NCAA Tournament, and ESPN columnist Andy Katz is already declaring that Yale has the "stuff" to unseat Penn and Princeton. Are you kidding me? This is a team that last won the Ivy League during the Kennedy administration. Seeing Yale in the NCAA Tournament would be a like seeing the Cubs in the World Series. Don't get me wrong. Yale does have a great basketball tradition. For instance, the Elis boast standout backup center Chris Dudley, Yale alum and the worst foul shooter in the history of the NBA. But even Dudley wasn't able to bring the Ivy League title back to New Haven. I'm not saying it's impossible for a school that doesn't start with "P" to win the Ivy League. I'm just saying that it's highly unlikely. It's very easy to jump off the Red and Blue bandwagon right now. After all, Penn has struggled mightily in the early going. This year's Quakers are inconsistent and much more flawed than last year's version. But are the Quakers better than their 5-11 record might indicate? Yes. Are the Quakers better than their RPI of 230, which makes them just the fourth-strongest team in the Ivy League? Yes. Do I think the Quakers will threepeat as Ivy champs? Yes. ESPN.com is making a bold prediction. They're tired of seeing Penn in the NCAA Tournament. They want to stir up some mid-season talk, mix things up a little. They want to give Dick Vitale a chance to say, "It's upset-city, baby. The Yale Bulldogs -- who would've expected this? Wow! It's just incredible...." [Insert loud and obnoxious voice and wild hand gestures here.] But ESPN is forgetting one thing -- Penn is still the best team in the Ivy League. The inside presence of Geoff Owens and dynamic tandem of sophomore forwards Koko Archibong and Ugonna Onyekwe cannot be matched by any other team in the league. In Penn's backcourt, three-point shooter Lamar Plummer is the perfect complement to point guard David Klatsky's pass-first mentality. With Duane King's recent injury, it's true that Penn is a little light off the bench. But I have a feeling that the Quakers' freshman class will improve its play once the Ivy League season picks up. Despite losing sophomore Onaje Woodbine, Yale has a strong inside-out presence in senior center Neil Yanke and sophomore sharpshooter Chris Leanza. But are the boys from New Haven good enough to unseat Penn from its Ivy pedestal? Not a chance. True, this season's edition of the Ivy League race will be more competitive at the top than it has been in recent years. Harvard, Brown and Yale are all much improved and are vying for a trip to the Big Dance. And it seems no matter how many players Princeton loses, the Tigers will always be solid. But none of that means Penn will relinquish its Ancient Eight crown. I'm not guaranteeing anything. I was recently heard promising a Giants Super Bowl win, so I'll stay away from that area. But I'm still very confident that when Yale comes to town this weekend, the Quakers will prove that they're still the team to beat in the Ivy League. Upset city? Nah, not Philadelphia.
In the past two nights, the Palestra has been the home of two offensive explosions. Just a night after its female counterparts tallied a season-high 91 in a victory over Drexel, the Penn men's basketball team did a little scoring of its own. The Quakers (5-10) poured in 87 against Lehigh (8-10). It was a season-high for the men, and enough to top the Engineers by 13 points. But for the Red and Blue, offense did not equal consistency. Penn had many lapses throughout the game, including a stretch in the second half in which it allowed the Engineers to crawl back into the game. The Quakers, who at one point built up a 14-point first-half lead, went into the half with a comfortable 37-27 advantage. But a revitalized Lehigh squad sprinted out of the locker room, using a pesky full-court press to get back into the game. In the first 3:32 of the second half, the Engineers churned out 14 unanswered points to take a 41-37 lead. It was not until Penn forward Ugonna Onyekwe hit a long jumper four minutes into the half that the Quakers got on the board. "I wish I knew why we came out in the second half so poorly," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. "We need to be a more consistent basketball team." But while consistency may be lacking, Penn still has enough talent to dominate for stretches. With 11:13 left in the game, Lehigh held a slight 49-45 lead. Less than five minutes later, the Quakers were up 13 and the game was all but over. "I was disappointed when they broke the game open," Lehigh coach Sal Mentessana said. "Every time we made a mistake, they capitalized on it." The game-breaking 23-9 Penn run was led by senior guard Lamar Plummer, who drilled three three-pointers, including two open ones on consecutive trips down the floor that capped the run and sent Mentessana into a frenzy. "When Plummer made those threes... it was like a dagger in the heart," Mentessana said. After the Lehigh coach burned a timeout and temporarily pulled sophomore guard Matt Logie -- who led the Engineers with 15 points on the night -- the Quakers cruised to the finish line. Plummer and fellow senior Geoff Owens scored all but four of Penn's final 27 points to lead the Quakers to their second consecutive victory. But while the seniors led the second-half charge, it was the younger Quakers who exhibited athleticism and made highlight-reel worthy plays usually unseen in the Ivy League. Penn once again got solid inside play from its sophomore frontcourt duo of Onyekwe and Koko Archibong, who scored 12 and 16 points, respectively. But it was the play of a reserve member of Penn's frontcourt that raised some eyebrows. Freshman forward Adam Chubb, who has seen his playing time steadily increase lately, contributed 12 points and nine rebounds -- five of them offensive -- in 24 minutes of action. "Adam's going to be a real good basketball player," Dunphy said. "He's doing the little things -- like making 8-of-9 from the free-throw line." To go along with his stellar free-throw shooting and his game-high nine rebounds, Chubb also displayed a lot of athletic ability, which included a monster one-handed slam off a Plummer miss just four minutes into the game. The young guns in Penn's backcourt also stepped up for the Red and Blue's first home game in 11 days. Despite committing a game-high six turnovers, sophomore point guard Dave Klatsky recorded a career-high in assists, with nine. And off the bench, fellow sophomore guard Duane King was just 3-of-10 from the field, but skyed for four offensive rebounds in just 16 minutes of play. The Quakers featured an all-around balanced offensive attack as five players scored in double figures. At times, Penn was explosive on the offensive end and, to an extent, somewhat dominant. But as the Quakers head into the bulk of their Ivy League schedule, last night's game showed they still have to work on becoming more consistent. "It's got to be 40 minutes," Owens said. "It's got to be every possession."
There's nothing big about Lafayette senior point guard Tim Bieg -- except the pronunciation of his last name. His 5'11", 185-pound frame does not strike fear into any of his opponents. His baby face and black curly hair give him an appearance that is far from that of the prototypical basketball player. But Bieg has been the starting point guard for the Leopards for four straight years and has led his team to the last two Patriot League championships. There's no denying the fact that he's a basketball player -- and a very good one at that. "Timmy moves the basketball very well and hits the open shot," said Lafayette coach Fran O'Hanlon, a former Penn assistant. "He's our floor general." A floor general is exactly what he is. Bieg never wanted to be Lafayette's go-to-guy and has flourished in his role of getting the ball into the hands of the team's top scorers. This season, he is fourth on the team in scoring, averaging 11.6 points per game, but has already dished out a team-high 52 assists. Bieg's pass-first mentality, coupled with his excellent ball handling skills and sweet stroke from downtown -- he is 27-for-73 on the season -- make him the perfect point guard and a perfect fit for the Lafayette team. "We had a need for a point guard, and Timmy stepped in and filled that need," O'Hanlon explained. With these credentials, one might think that Bieg could have run the point for quite a few colleges. In actuality, O'Hanlon was the only Division I coach to actively recruit Bieg. That's not to say Bieg wasn't a top commodity coming out of high school. It's just that he was recruited more for another sport he could play pretty well -- baseball. "I got a couple of letters from Penn, Princeton and Dartmouth for baseball," Bieg said, who batted .463 with six home runs as a junior for Camden Catholic High School. "I really wasn't sure what I wanted to do -- play baseball, basketball, maybe both. I knew going to Penn, it would be tough to play basketball, though." Coming to Penn might have been the ideal situation for Bieg. Born in Philadelphia and growing up in nearby Haddonfield, N.J., Bieg became a huge fan of Big 5 basketball and, like many, grew to love the Palestra. "I've played in some pretty big arenas, but the Palestra is the best place to play," he said. "It's just a great atmosphere." Penn, however, recruited Bieg more for baseball than basketball. When he missed his entire senior baseball season due to a broken hand, many of the Ivy League schools, including Penn, dropped out of the Tim Bieg sweepstakes. Now Bieg just has to settle for trying to defeat the Quakers. That's why on the Lafayette Web site, Bieg lists his ideal SportsCenter highlight to simply be "beating Penn." "Well, it's really not just Penn," Bieg explains. "It's any of the Big 5 schools, really. I grew up watching La Salle and Penn. Beating a Big 5 school is a dream of mine." Unfortunately, the Philly native has never been able to realize this goal. He's played in the Palestra twice, but has fallen victim to the Quakers both times. Last year, Bieg and his team tried to pull off a monster upset over No. 2 seeded Temple in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but the Owls were simply too much for the Patriot League champs. And this year, the Leopards fell to La Salle. Still, Bieg thoroughly enjoyed the national exposure that comes with March Madness. "It's really exciting -- the national attention that you get," Bieg said. "Being able to play in front of large crowds, nice arenas, it was very exciting for my team." Bieg will look to lead his team back to the NCAA Tournament this season, but with the loss of Brian Ehlers and Stefan Ciosci -- who combined to win the last three Patriot League Player of the Year honors -- to graduation, the task will not be easy. Lafayette has dropped its first three conference games thus far this season, and it looks as if they have fallen off their Patriot League pedestal. But the season is far from over, and the senior captain will look to turn things around before his tenure at Lafayette comes to a close. And with a big heart and a big game, Bieg might just have a little more magic left.