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Palestra alive as M. Hoops beats Big Red, Lions

(02/21/00 10:00am)

The Penn student section provided the Quakers with a colorful boost in Friday's win and Saturday's blowout. It is not difficult to see why the Penn men's basketball team is playing so well at home this year. With the Red and Blue finally gelling as a unit, Penn is playing its best basketball of the season. But as the Quakers improved their home record to 7-2 with this past weekend's wins over Cornell and Columbia, it is clear that Penn is receiving contributions from more than just the five players on the Palestra floor. Penn drew 4,194 fans for Friday's contest against Cornell, while 4,214 attended Saturday's Columbia game. Although the the Palestra was less than half-full, the cheering more than made up for the empty seats. With their tremendous fan support, the Quakers have added a "sixth man," giving them an obvious advantage, especially against Ivy League teams that lack experience playing in front of a raucous, hostile crowd. The effort coming from Penn students, faculty, alumni and supporters has caused opposing teams to cringe. The Penn faithful sheds its prim-and-proper Ivy League image as soon as the game clock starts ticking. Over the weekend, fans could be heard chanting "Airball" at any opposing player who failed to hit the rim or the backboard on a shot. A special target of the fans Friday night was Cornell forward Ray Mercedes. Penn fans began to taunt the Big Red junior from the get-go, and Mercedes heard the crowd erupt in laughter after he missed an easy layup. The noise had a definite effect on Mercedes, who despite scoring a game-high 24 points, seemed caught up with trying to retaliate against the fans' remarks. The raucous bunch wearing their Red and Blue Crew T-shirts also gave one of Mercedes' teammates, point guard Wallace Prather, a difficult time as he starting knocking down a few shots late in the game. Quakers fans started chanting "Gary Coleman" when Prather, whose afro and diminutiveness give him a likeness to the former sitcom star, dribbled down the court. Prather finished with 13 points, making less than one-third of his attempts from the floor. The crowd was also heard telling Columbia coach Armond Hill to "Sit down and shut up," as he argued with the refs over a call. Cornell coach Scott Thompson did not fare much better with Quakers fans, hearing a barrage of boos as his team continued to commit fouls when it seemed the game was out of reach. "The fans are allowed to do and say what they want to say," Hill said. "They are reacting to everything, which is fine. It's part of basketball. Penn has a big following, but when you are winning you get that." "They have shown us a lot of support," Penn freshman forward Ugonna Onyekwe added. "I am not used to having home crowd support like this. They help get us up during the game, and they do a good job of taking the opposing teams out of the game. They give us a good home court advantage." Fans gave Penn co-captain Michael Jordan a standing ovation on Saturday night after hearing the announcement that the four-year starter and the favorite for Ivy League Player of the Year had become the sixth player in Penn history to score 1,500 career points. "Michael Jordan is a pretty special basketball player here at Penn," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. "To have that kind of recognition from the crowd is nice to see." The crowd was deafening when fourth-year junior varsity player Chris Ward entered the game for Penn against Columbia with 1:51 remaining in the game. The student section stood as if the game had turned into a nail-biter. They perked up even more as Ward hit his second free throw and recorded a steal. "It was like a dream come true," Ward said. "The crowd was great. People I didn't even know were chanting my name. It was awesome." Such behavior from the crowd has not been commonplace at non-Princeton Ivy League games over the past few seasons. In previous years, the number of students attending a lackluster Ivy weekend series could fit into College Hall 200. However, students came out in droves to see the Quakers take on Cornell and Columbia this past weekend. "In years past, there would hardly be anyone here at these games," Ward said. "Normally the two sidelines are full, but the end courts were also full. It was impressive for a Saturday night against Columbia when you know Penn was going to blow them out."

A decade of Dunphy: Penn's coach has left his mark on the Ivies

(11/17/99 10:00am)

A former la Salle star with close to 30 years' coaching experience, Fran Dunphy has found a perfect fit at Penn. Since taking over the head coaching duties at Penn 10 years ago, Fran Dunphy has rejuvenated a century-old college basketball program and brought it back into the national picture. After winning eight Ivy League titles in the '70s and going to the Final Four in 1979, Penn had a relative slump in the '80s. But Dunphy has led the Quakers back to the top of the Ivies, and they are on track this season to bring home their sixth title in the past eight years. Nonetheless, the past decade has been full of ups and downs for Dunphy and the Quakers. Taking over a program in 1989 that had not had a winning season in four years, Dunphy did not have much pressure to immediately succeed. After Penn went 12-14 and 9-17 in Dunphy's first two years, the new Quakers head man realized that the transition from assistant coach to head coach was harder than it seemed. "I had some insecurities myself as to how to go about this thing," said Dunphy, who took over after just one year as a Penn assistant. "As an assistant coach, you think you have all of the answers. Then you are given the top spot and you quickly find out that the experience factor is critical in this." Showing support, then-Penn Athletic Director and current Big 5 Director Paul Rubincam re-signed the Quakers head coach to another three-year contract with one year still remaining on his old one. "We had a good recruiting year coming up and Rubincam liked the direction of the program," Dunphy said. "They gave me a new three-year contract, which in today's world, that doesn't always happen. I was grateful for the University and Paul Rubincam for doing that for me." While Rubincam was expecting some improvement, the result was beyond his wildest dreams. Dunphy's ability to coach and attract talent became evident as he lured recruit Jerome Allen, transfers Matt Maloney and Ira Bowman and several other Ivy future stars who wound up lighting up the basketball courts and rewriting Penn's record books. "Like anything else, the better the player, the better the coach," Dunphy said. "We had a group of good kids coming in. The more talent you have the more chance you have to be a good basketball program." From 1993 to '95, the Quakers had a combined record of 69-14, including 42-0 in the Ivy League -- a streak that would last six Ivy games into 1995-96 and become the longest conference winning streak by any program in Ivy history. "Dunph was really good in keeping us focused from game to game," said Scott Kegler, a member of the Class of 1995 and second on Penn's all-time three-point percentage list. "We prepared for every team as if it was Kentucky. He worked us that hard and paid that much attention to detail each game. That is what allowed us to be so successful." In the '93-94 season, the Quakers received their first national ranking in 15 years -- No. 25 in the USA Today/CNN Coaches' Poll -- and won their first postseason game since 1980, defeating Nebraska in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. With the graduation of Allen and Maloney in '95 and Bowman in '96, the program lost its core talent. Instead of looking at other programs for help, Dunphy brought in his best overall recruiting classes ever, luring current seniors Michael Jordan, Matt Langel and Geoff Owens (who has one year of eligibility remaining). "We knew we were not as experienced as we needed to be," Dunphy said. "When you have a tremendous recruiting class, people will look at the reason that these three came was that they saw their opportunity to play right away." The initial drop in talent resulted in a 12-14 record in '96-97, Penn's first losing season in six years and its worst Ivy League finish (fourth) since '87-88, but the Quakers quickly rebounded to a 17-12 season the next year. Graduating only one starter in '98 and returning Owens to the line-up after he was diagnosed with a medical condition, Penn regained its status last season as Ivy League champion with a 13-1 record in the Ivies and a 21-6 record overall. "A couple of different factors led to our success -- another year of maturing, understanding and growing and Geoff Owens, blocking shots and influencing shots," Dunphy said. While the Quakers graduated several key players this past May, Dunphy again has attracted a high level of talent to fill the void. The Quakers coach will rely on his strong senior class to help the highly touted class of 2003 -- a deep, six-player group that might replace this year's seniors as Dunphy's best recruiting class. Whatever the ultimate success of this year's squad, the wins will add to Dunphy's current total of 173 victories as Quakers coach, ranking him third all-time -- 13 behind Edward McNichol (1920-1930) and 54 behind Lon Jourdet (1914-1920 and 1930-1943). Dunphy's win total places him ahead of Penn coaching legends Dick Harter (88 wins) and Chuck Daly (125 wins). All of this success at Penn, for a former guard who once captained Penn's Big 5 rival La Salle, is a little ironic. After averaging 18.6 points and leading the Explorers in assists as a senior in '69-70, Dunphy held coaching positions at the United States Military Academy, Malvern Prep, American University and La Salle before landing the assistant coaching position at Penn under former coach Tom Schneider. While his resume fills several pages, his coaching style definitely brings results. "He is an in-your-face kind of coach," Penn senior guard Michael Jordan said. "That is what you need. If you don't have that kind of discipline then you won't win games. He treats everybody fairly, but he treats everybody differently. He knows he can get into my face, but there are other guys that don't respond to that well." "He expects you to prepare and do your best," Penn assistant coach Gil Jackson said. "He wants you to be motivated. He is very self-driven. He delegates by responsibility and expects you to get it done." While the emphasis might be on winning, it is Dunphy's relationship with his players that allows the team to succeed. "When you come in as a freshman, he works you real hard," Kegler said. "He is not doing a lot to be your friend, but he is trying to make you a better basketball player. As you come through the system, develop, mature and your game gets better, friendship with Dunph will grow too. When you graduate, it is really hard to walk away." Dunphy also has the respect of his Big 5 peers. "He is more of a player's type coach," La Salle coach Speedy Morris said. "He can relate to them and is a very good teacher. During games he does not go nuts. He is not about embarrassing his players. He is about teaching them. Most coaches, if not all, have a lot of respect for Fran." Another piece to the puzzle has been Dunphy's ability to recruit players. Instead of blaming the Ivy League's no-athletic scholarships policy and tough admissions processes, the Quakers head coach uses the advantages of the Ivy League's academic reputation, Penn's proud basketball tradition, a top national non-conference schedule and the lure of playing college basketball in Philadelphia to bring in top talent each season. "We have a terrific product to sell," Dunphy said. "We have a great university that you can get educated in any field you would like at a high level, a basketball program rich in history and tradition, the finest college basketball facility in America, the finest college basketball town in America and the opportunity to grow and learn a lot more about yourself." Not all of the credit for the Quakers' coaching success can fall in Dunphy's lap. He has had several quality assistants over the years, including current Penn assistant coaches Jackson, Steve Donahue and Dave Duke. "They really helped me make that transition from somebody who didn't have a lot of experience into somebody who could learn a little bit and take some direction from a lot of different areas," Dunphy said. Jackson and Donahue -- who have 19 years of service under Dunphy combined -- have stayed at Penn as a tribute to Dunphy. "He lets coach Jackson and myself do a ton of on-court stuff," Donahue said. "People come to our practices and are amazed by how much input I have on the offense. It makes it fun to coach." The fans have also shared in the success of the team through Dunphy's tenure, and he is quick to show his appreciation for their support. While some Penn sports have trouble attracting crowds, sellouts are not uncommon at the Palestra. "I think the students have been outstanding," Dunphy. "Over my 10 years here they have been tremendously supportive." Like Cinderella and her glass slipper, Dunphy has been a perfect match for the Quakers. As Dunphy's first decade at Penn has come to a close, one can only hope the next will be equally exciting.

WR Wendler provides veteran consistency

(11/06/99 10:00am)

Without scoring an offensive touchdown until the third week in the season, it seemed all was lost for this year's Princeton football team. While things seemed grim, the Tigers remained confident, and behind the consistent play of senior wide receiver Phil Wendler rebounded to win three out of their last five games. Wendler, who has already surpassed his numbers of 30 receptions for 503 yards from last season, currently ranks second in the Ivies with 52 receptions and third with 555 yards. In each of Princeton's seven games this season, Wendler has caught at least six passes. While Princeton has the fortune of having Wendler on the receiving end, the Tigers have had a tough time getting him the ball. Of the returning quarterbacks, only one -- junior Jon Blevins -- had ever attempted a pass in college prior to this season. After weeks of tinkering, Princeton coach Steve Tosches decided to go with sophomore Tommy Crenshaw. With Wendler's support, Crenshaw has improved his game faster than expected. After combining for three points in its first two games, Princeton -- boasting a rejuvenated passing attack -- has averaged 26 points in its last five games. "Phil showed confidence in me," Crenshaw said. "The biggest thing for me to learn to overcome as a sophomore was to have confidence in myself. He would stay with me after practice and run routes and talk to me and say, 'We trust you.'" Currently the Tigers' main target, Wendler, a native of Kent, Wash., never imagined playing football at the collegiate level, especially on the East Coast, but is thankful he had his chance. "It just kind of worked out for me somehow," Wendler said. "I was not a big time recruit. The coaches took a chance on me." Ironically, the quarterback of Wendler's high school team, Stephen Campbell, is now the Ivy League's leading receiver, having caught 60 passes from Brown's James Perry for 821 yards and 10 touchdowns. Campbell also leads Division I-AA with 8.71 receptions per game. When the two played on the same field for the last time four weeks ago in Princeton's 53-30 loss to Brown, Wendler had his biggest game of the season, catching 11 passes for 124 yards and one touchdown. "We had a lot of family out for that game," Campbell said. "He played great. They threw to him when they were down and started to move the ball. He made big plays happen." Last season as a junior, Wendler became the first Tiger to rack up three 100-yard receiving games in a season in five years. Against Lehigh, Wendler's 161 receiving yards earned him Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week honors and became the first Princeton receiver this decade to record 10 catches in one game. With the Tigers changing from a running offense to a West Coast style offense this season, the 6'3" senior has finally been able to make a name for himself. "They throw the ball 40 to 50 times a game," Campbell said. "The more opportunities he has, the more plays he can make. He is reaping a lot of the benefits from the change." With the opposition honed in on Wendler, several of his teammates have benefited from the lopsided coverage. "Teams have been focusing on Phil," Crenshaw said. "Teams try to stop him and don't pay quite as much attention to the other receivers. It has helped us become more well-rounded as an offense." Besides opening up the field for his teammates, Wendler has shown remarkable leadership this season. "When Phil drops a pass in practice, he gets down immediately and does 20 push-ups," Crenshaw said. "When his teammates see one of the top receivers in the Ivy League doing push-ups when he drops a pass, it rubs off on them. They see what it takes." As a receiver, Wendler knows he cannot single-handedly control the result of a game, but his teammates rely on him to make every play that comes his way. "It's a tough situation, because you have to depend on the other 10 guys doing the job to get you the ball," Wendler said. "You have limited opportunities, and you have to take advantage of every one you get." An unpolished receiver out of high school, Wendler credits most of his achievement to Princeton wide receivers coach Kirk Ciarrocca. "He's done a lot for me," Wendler said. "He is a big student of the game. He has put a lot of confidence in me. When I was younger, he had the feeling that I could be a player." While Wendler's football career will come to a close at the end of the season, he will never forget his time in a Princeton uniform. After graduation, Wendler hopes to work for a consulting company and travel around the globe. "I have taken a lot of pride being a Princeton football player," Wendler said. "It has been a big influence on my life and helped me with my work ethic."

Analysis: Football unable to estabish offense

(10/26/99 9:00am)

Brown's explosive offense forced the Quakers o play catchup on Saturday. In Saturday's football game against Brown, the Quakers offense realized that the only thing more difficult to overcome than an excellent defense is a dominating offense. The Bears' top-ranked Ivy League offensive squad, which is also ranked No. 8 in Division I-AA, never gave the Quakers a chance to establish their own rhythm and forced Penn to play catchup for 60 minutes. "We were never able to establish a lead," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. "They were able to execute their offense. They kept us off-stride enough that we were never able to get totally back into the picture." Although they boasted the Ivy League's leading rusher in Kris Ryan, the Quakers were forced to put their standout sophomore on the bench and the ball up in the air in the second half. Penn ran the ball 28 percent less and gained 155 fewer yards against Brown than it had averaged against its opposition so far this season. "Running game would have made sense if we were able to get out in front," Bagnoli said. "We got behind and when you get behind it takes a little bit out of what you are able to do." Strangely, limiting the Quakers to their passing game might have seemed in Penn's favor after quarterback Gavin Hoffman threw for a school-record 399 yards against Columbia last weekend. Saturday afternoon was a different tale. Down by at least two scores for 60 percent of the game, including most of the final 18 minutes, the Quakers had little choice but to revert to the passing game, something the Bears, unlike the Lions, were in position to defend. "We made some adjustments at halftime," Brown linebacker Brad Grulke said. "We made some plays when we needed to. We switched up a few things." Throwing into constant coverage frustrated Hoffman, as he threw an interception on Brown's five-yard line that could have cut into the Bears' 21-point margin. Grulke's pick started the procession of the Parents Weekend fans leaving the stadium. "We knew they were going to put up points," Hoffman said. "We were not establishing a passing game or running game. We were down by more than 20 points, and I was just trying to force the ball in there and make something happen." The root of this evil for Penn was a fine-tuned offensive machine, one that was averaging 472 yards per game. Even after graduating wide receiver Sean Morey and tight end Zachary Burns, both first-team All-Ivy selections, Brown executed its offensive game strategy without flaw. "I have got some special kids right now," Brown coach Phil Estes said. "We have got a great chemistry going. I think that is the thing that does it. They look to each other to make the big plays." Most noteworthy was the highly publicized trio of James Perry, Steve Campbell and Billy Rackley. While quarterback Perry might have seemed to have the touch of a trained marksman, Campbell's and Rackley's ability to break tackles and run for the hills left everyone in the dust. "We did a lot of crossing patterns," Campbell said. "We knew it would confuse the defensive backs, and it worked. James threw balls that I could catch and that was about it." In five of their 18 combined receptions, Campbell and Rackley tacked on 120 more yards after the catch, with four of the receptions resulting in touchdowns. "The receivers did an amazing job getting open and making plays after the catch," Estes said. "It's always important to us what you do after the catch. That's something that I thought they did an outstanding job of today." None of the receptions was more important than Campbell's 41-yard sprint to the end zone with three minutes left in the third quarter. The score answered a touchdown by Penn's Kris Ryan that had closed the gap to five. The strike from Perry to Campbell turned the pressure up on the Quakers, who were unable to answer until it was too late. However, it would not have been too late for Penn to come back if the Bears' passing game did not have a running game to complement it. Ensuring that even a miracle could not help Penn, Brown's running game earned its keep by running precious seconds off the clock in the second half. "My biggest concern was controlling the clock and keep Penn off the field as much as we could," Estes said. "We were moving the ball methodically down the field and getting the first downs." Carrying the ball 29 times for 128 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, Michael Malan kept the game clock moving and gave the Quakers' defense another obstacle to overcome. "If you try to take an angle on Mike and try to arm-tackle him, he will not go do down," Estes said. "He makes big play after big play. It is great for us to have the talent that we have the ability to decide if we want to go down the field and throw it, or if we want to run it, we feel that we can get first downs." Scoring 37 points and racking up 426 yards, Penn's offense showed it was better than Brown's defense. Scoring seven points less than Brown's offense, the Quakers know there is still room.

COLUMN: Football needs balance

(10/12/99 9:00am)

Not quite. While a glowing Quakers coach Al Bagnoli might have been expected at the press conference after witnessing sophomore tailback Kris Ryan's near-record-setting display, only a concerned Bagnoli showed up. "We are still not where we want to be," Bagnoli said. "We are still a little bit too erratic. Our offense is based on having balance." Running the ball for 293 yards and throwing it for 140 yards in their 35-18 win over the Rams (0-5), Penn's offense was anything but balanced Saturday. Remember the old adage: "First establish the run, then the pass." In Saturday's game, the run was established, but the pass went out the back door. Some might excuse the unevenness because of Penn running back Kris Ryan's stellar day (35 carries, 256 yards rushing) but the Quakers did not simply give the ball to Ryan and say, "Thank you very much." Penn still attempted 32 passes, completing 15. Averaging just over four yards a pass attempt (two-thirds less than last year's average) against a defense positioning eight men to guard against the run can often spell trouble. In Penn's case, it most certainly does. The Quakers have spent the past 10 months, including their four regular season games this year, trying to develop their passing game in the post-Matt Rader era. Unfortunately for Penn, the team has not been blessed with large amounts of luck. Besides graduating their second-team All-Ivy Quarterback from last season, the Quakers have dealt with a dwindling receiving corps. Penn, first trying to solve the quarterback problem, handed the reins over to a Division I-A transfer student. Trying to play the role of savior, Penn sophomore quarterback -- and former Northwestern starter -- Gavin Hoffman has not lived up to lofty expectations and has only thrown for 614 yards on 124 attempts. He has thrown five interceptions and three touchdowns and has been sacked 12 times. Although Hoffman has not come around yet, Bagnoli has kept everything the same as day one, hoping things would eventually click. Instead of turning into a well-oiled machine, Penn's offense has not left the shop. "We are not connecting right now," senior wide receiver Brandon Carson said. "As receivers, we might run the right route but we might not run a good route. The offense needs to work together and be more consistent." So with a superior running attack and a sub-standard passing attack, what can the Quakers do? A possible solution would be to keep going to the passing game, relying on it as a major part of the offense. Those who watched the Villanova game and Penn's first three quarters against Bucknell might not agree. In both situations, the Quakers tried a balance attack and were found buried deep in a hole. The Quakers no longer have the luxury of trying new things and using the best game plan to win football games. The only signs of progress in Penn's passing game came in the final five minutes against Bucknell, when Hoffman completed his final 13-of-18 passes for 155 yards. Hopefully for the Quakers in future games, it will not take a 16-point deficit to establish a passing attack. Another solution might be to simply hand the ball to Penn's running backs. Ryan has shown in these first four games that he is a force to be reckoned with. Averaging 6.8 yards per carry and 21.5 carries per game, Ryan has been handling most of the load. Sophomore Matt Thomas and junior Mike Verille add two more willing and able bodies to fill in when Ryan takes a breather. With Ryan receiving the attention from defenders, Hoffman and his receivers will have their opportunity to make connections without facing double or triple coverage, as in Saturday's game. "It's nice to have a kid back there you can give the ball to and make some plays," Bagnoli said. "He can take some pressure off of some positions right now that we are not as consistent as we would like to be." "He is the most consistent person right now," Carson said. "It will open up a passing game eventually." It is nothing new for the Quakers. Last season, Penn kept the ball on the ground 60 percent of the time. This resulted in one of the Quakers' best passing seasons ever, as they averaged 7.3 yards per pass attempt and had 17 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. While the Quakers did have Jim Finn, the Bushnell Cup winner, in the backfield, Kris Ryan could possibly be even better. "He is definitely up there," Fordham coach Dave Clawson said. "For what Penn does offensively, this guy is perfect. They run a lot of power plays. They get him behind two or three pulling offensive linemen. He does a great job feeling his way."

Despite lopsided result, fans enjoy first meeting since '80

(09/27/99 9:00am)

It was a success before the first whistle had been blown. Saturday evening's Penn-Villanova football game at Franklin Field gave fans from both teams something they have waited almost two decades to see. A good portion of the 18,722 people in attendance were not even cheering for a particular side; many of them were there simply to see the two local teams battle it out. While it might not have been the best matchup -- the Division I-AA 14th-ranked Wildcats in their fourth game of the season against a partially rebuilding Quakers team in their second game -- no one seemed to care. "I wanted to see a good college football game," said Ed Peters, a local fan who came with his friend Eric Hessinger. "Hopefully they get a lot of local kids from around the area to watch it. I wish they would play it every year." People like Ed Malley, a 1968 Villanova graduate, came from as far away as Darien, Conn., to watch the game. "This is a big game for both schools if you follow Philadelphia-area football," Malley said. Others such as Tom Beine, who has one daughter who is a sophomore at Villanova and another daughter who is a Penn graduate, brought his son -- a local high school football player -- to show him Franklin Field and what the game is like at the next level. The game was also a large attraction for the students. While many Penn students from bigger college towns may not find much excitement in the Quakers' weak Ivy League schedule, seeing Penn play a city rival that happens to be one of the best teams in Division I-AA gave many a reason to come. This event came up as a relative spur of the moment idea. While most schedules are finalized as far as 10 years in advance, four years ago Penn Athletic Director Steve Bilsky realized the Quakers had an open weekend and called over to Villanova to try to schedule the game. Unfortunately for the fans expecting to see how the teams will fare against each other in 2000, the next meeting will not take place for another three years. As local rivals, it is a shame that a game like this is not played annually. Why was this just the second meeting between the two teams in the past 88 years? The students, some of whom were not even born yet when Penn last played the Wildcats, showed their support. "If you compare the turnout to what this game has been -- a game against the Patriot League -- we probably have three or four times the crowd," Bilsky said. In two non-league home games last season, the Quakers drew a total of 16,118 fans. The players loved the game, too. It gives Villanova a chance to strut its stuff in a 60,000-seat stadium, compared to the 12,000-seat capacity of Villanova Stadium. The high-caliber matchup gives the Quakers a chance to measure themselves against the best in the division. A similar result against another superior Atlantic 10 team, Richmond, last year preceded Penn's run to an Ivy League championship. "I think the way the public relations guys were hyping this game up was good for the University," Penn running back Kris Ryan said. "It is also good for the program. Personally, I would like to see it because I would like to play them again and try to beat them." More than pitting the Quakers against a tougher non-league team than Penn's typical Patriot League opponents or bringing in another local team to play in historic Franklin Field, the game allowed two of Philadelphia's top college sports programs to display their ability in front of a combined group of their hometown fans. Similar to a Big 5 basketball game, a Big 5 football game brings in a different atmosphere than your average non-conference game. And a bigger crowd.

Bagnoli proven to be a winner

(09/17/99 9:00am)

In a league without scholarships, without significant national media exposure and with a diminishing fan base, constructing a winning program may seem like quite a difficult task. Unfortunately for the rest of the Ivy League, Al Bagnoli has not merely created a winning program at Penn. Rather, he has put together one of the most dominating programs the Ancient Eight has ever seen. In his seven seasons at Penn, Bagnoli has coached three Ivy League championship teams -- 1993, '94 and '98. His .793 career winning percentage in 174 games ranks him among the top 10 of all active coaches. "He is like most guys in his profession," former Penn defensive coordinator and current University of Connecticut defensive coordinator Mike Toop said. "He is extremely competitive. If you go play racquetball with him or go play golf with him, you better go play to win. There are a few trees on golf courses on the East Coast that have dents from his golf clubs. I will guarantee that. That is the type of person he is and it reflects into his coaching style. That is why he has the record he does." Unlike other coaches with high winning percentages, Bagnoli received little help from his predecessor. The year before the Bagnoli era began at Penn, the Quakers finished 2-8 under Gary Steele. In 1992, Bagnoli's first season at Penn, the Quakers improved to 7-3; on November 14 of that year they started what would become a 24-game winning streak. Bobby Sherr, who played with Bagnoli at Central Connecticut in the early '70s and then served as a fellow assistant with him at Albany State, witnessed Bagnoli's passion for football -- and for being No. 1 -- virtually from its beginning. "He has always been an intense individual," Sherr said. "When we used to room together, we would have contests to see who would be the first to get into the office in the morning. He was intent to be the first one. Occasionally we would try not to let him be the first one in the office by doing various things. We never achieved that goal." Bagnoli's intensity has stayed with him through the years. Coaches and athletes recognize Bagnoli's devotion to the game as he continually studies and analyzes it. "Al has a great football mind and is very disciplined in what he does," said current Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki, who also worked with Bagnoli at Albany State. "He has real good grasp on concepts of the game. He is a student of the game and an excellent teacher. I think it is a real asset in this league to be that type of a person." Bagnoli feels his success has come from experiencing the success of others. Spending time under head coaches at Central Connecticut, Albany State and Union before taking over the head position at Union in 1982 helped him shape his own game plan and outlook towards football. "I had the good fortune to be under a lot of different people," Bagnoli said. "While I haven't had a lot of different stops, I have had four or five distinct personalities that I worked for and I was able to take things from. As you move on and move on, you take a little bit out of each person and extract it into your own personality. That's how you run a program." After 17 years as a head coach, Bagnoli knows how to motivate and get the most out of his kids. "He is very demanding," Penn co-captain and linebacker Jim Hisgen said. "Even the days before a game he wants everything perfect so that you are ready to play for the game." While intense, Bagnoli does not suffocate his players and coaches. He does not give his athletes a list of rules they must follow and does not interfere with the work of his assistant coaches. Even in the middle of a game, Bagnoli seldom overrules a decision made by an assistant. "He understands the breakpoints of the kids," Penn offensive coordinator Chuck Priore said. "The best thing is that he doesn't have a lot of rules. He flows with the punches and takes each situation differently." "He is a coach's coach," Toop said. "He lets you coach. He manages the game very well. He would listen to your calls. He would step back and let us coach." Bagnoli acknowledges that he has been fortunate to keep the core of his coaching staff intact during his tenure at Penn. Having the same coaches promotes stability, a major factor in his success. "I have been blessed that for the first seven years I have been here I've had the core of my original staff," Bagnoli said. "That really made my job easier." This year, Bagnoli will feel the first major break in his ranks as Penn will be without Toop. In the midst of the championship celebration this past offseason, Toop left the Quakers to take the same position at UConn. Shocking many people, Bagnoli selected himself to replace Toop. "You make an assessment at a given point in time," Bagnoli said. "I just wanted to make sure that the transition went smoothly and everything was done the way that I wanted to do it. The long term plan is to make it through the staff and get it restaffed." The players have found it to be an effective solution. "I think coach Bagnoli is more of an aggressive defensive coach than Toop," Penn senior and 1998 second-team All-Ivy defensive lineman Mike Germino said. "The basic principle of the defense hasn't changed at all. Bagnoli is overseeing the practice and the other coaches are acting as the vocal leaders. It's better because you have more coaches to look it over." Along with Bagnoli's ability to coach, the Connecticut native has been able to build the Penn program through recruiting. In the four-year cycle of college athletics, perennial winners can only be formed by continuously bringing in talent. "Al is smart enough to realize that coaches don't win football games," Toop said. "Everybody in this profession is pretty competent as coaching goes. Very rarely on a Saturday do you go out and out-coach somebody. The more you coach on Saturday the worse you are, so you better get some players. That is how he is." This year will not be any different than the past. After seeing the likes of Jim Finn, Joe Piela and Matt Rader graduate, Bagnoli will be under pressure to secure those positions if Penn hopes to repeat. More than nine months removed from last year's celebration, Bagnoli, as a testament to his coaching style, has not even mentioned the word "repeat" in practice. "You enjoy the season to Thanksgiving, maybe to Christmas," Priore said. "Then comes the first. It's a new year, and everybody asks, 'What have you done for me lately?' That starts at the top. You don't want to dwell on last year, last week, yesterday. You are looking forward and making sure that your kids are ready for what lies ahead." Through the years, Bagnoli feels his involvement with the sport has added a few gray hairs and caused him to mellow a bit. But while a few things might have changed, others have not. As long as Bagnoli is still at the helm, when November comes around, expect the Quakers to be in the hunt.

Finn hopes to prove to Bears that he is not 'Mr. Irrelevant'

(06/01/99 9:00am)

James Whitcomb Riley High School '96 South Bend, Ind. As the last player chosen, Finn received the title of "Mr. Irrelevant." Although the label might seem amusing, it carries a fair amount of prestige. While other late-round picks went unheralded, Finn found himself bombarded with interview requests, along with the spoils that accompany his precarious position. "I was shocked," Finn said. "They are flying my out to California for a vacation for a week to do all of this promotional stuff. I even get a lifetime pass for free admission to Disney World." To grab the '98 Bushnell Cup winner, Chicago used its 13th pick overall, the 47th selection of the seventh round -- a compensatory selection bestowed on the expansion Cleveland Browns and later traded to the Bears. Although elated about his selection, Finn suffered the unfortunate reality of an Ivy League football player seeking respect. Entering the draft as the sixth-ranked fullback by Pro Football Weekly, the Fair Lawn, N.J., native had fallen to ninth among fullbacks when the final sheets were tallied. Things had seemed positive for Finn on the first day of the draft. San Diego selected Jermaine Fazande, a fullback from Oklahoma, with the 29th pick in the second round. Many scouts had Finn ranked right behind Fazande, giving the Penn senior hope of being drafted earlier than anticipated. "I thought there could be a shot that I could creep up to the fifth or sixth [round]," Finn said. The following day, Finn first witnessed the Philadelphia Eagles pass him up for Cecil Martin, a fullback from Wisconsin. Then Finn sat motionless as the Green Bay Packers passed over the 6'1", 249-lb. Quaker with their back-to-back seventh round selections. With the rising likelihood of Finn not being selected, several teams that had ignored him in the draft contacted him on his cellular phone. "As the draft wore down, I was talking to Philly, Tennessee and Indianapolis to sign as a free agent if I didn't get drafted," Finn said. "We were getting called back and forth. They were trying to sell their program to me." During his phone conversations, Brown wide receiver Sean Morey became the first Ivy League player selected in the 1999 draft, as New England grabbed Morey -- who won the Bushnell Cup as league MVP in '97 -- with the 35th selection in the seventh round (241st overall). Fortunately for Finn, he did not have to worry about signing on as a free agent. Minutes before it was publicly announced, Finn received a call telling him to pack his bags for the Windy City. While a contract won't be resolved until the middle of the summer, Finn has already flown to Chicago to meet the rest of the Bears and take part in a mini-camp. "Now I got a place to go," Finn said. "I am really excited. I am going to go out and prove that I can play ball." For Finn, the waiting is over. "Mr. Irrelevant" will get a chance to realize his dream with his first taste of the NFL.

Football looking to fill holes in lineup

(04/28/99 9:00am)

During spring practice, the Penn coaching staff sought to discover replacements for last year's stars. After its first Ivy League title in four years, the Penn football team is preparing to make sure the title stays in Philadelphia. However, Penn will step onto the field this fall without many of the familiar faces who helped bring the title to Franklin Field -- its future NFL running back, its two-time first team All-Ivy linebacker and its Golden Boy quarterback. With only 13 of 22 starters returning, the Quakers have their work cut out for them if they wish to repeat as champions in 1999. "We are going to go as far as our senior leadership," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. "We are going to go as far as a little bit of lady luck. We are going to go as far as we can develop mental stability because there are going to be some crisis points." During their 12 spring practices, the Quakers worked hard to find replacements for Jim Finn, Darren Macdonald and Matt Rader. Last season, Finn -- drafted 253rd by Chicago in this year's NFL Draft -- carried the ball 323 times for 1,450 yards; both figures shattered Penn single-season records. Trying to maintain their high-powered rushing attack without the services of the Bears' newest fullback, the Quakers have made several changes to the running game. A three-year starter at fullback, junior Brian Cosmello's impressive spring camp has caused the Quakers to script several fullback running plays. Sophomore Mike Verille, a transfer from Duke, and freshmen Kris Ryan and Matt Thomas will share time with Cosmello in the backfield. While Bagnoli will most likely rotate the tailbacks, Ryan's teammates feel he will be seeing the most time on the field. "Ryan played incredible during the spring," defensive tackle Mike Germino said. "I think down the road he is going to do a lot more than Finn did to the record books." Among other vacancies in contention, the Quakers find themselves in desperate need of a quarterback. Last season, Rader threw for 2,026 yards and compiled a 134.65 quarterback rating. Six players came in this spring attempting to take over where Rader left off, but only three stood out. "The quarterback situation remains unsettled," Bagnoli said. "No one came out of spring being the person. I think that is going to be the focal point of preseason." Although Bagnoli declined to comment on who the leading contenders were, sources close to the team feel that Ed Mebs, Reed Werner and Tom DiMenna will be competing for the quarterback position this fall. While Mebs is the only one to ever complete a pass for the Quakers, the coaches feel that any of the three could be an effective play-caller. As for the receivers and offensive line, senior leadership will be key. Seven are members of the Class of 2000, including co-captain and center Carmelo Rubano. "It's just a reverse of where we were last year," Bagnoli said. "We came in prior to the '98 season saying that we think we have a heck of a quarterback and we think that we have a heck of tailback and all of our strength experience is in those positions. This year we come in and our offensive line has 50 to 60 games between them." On defense, the Quakers received their first taste of life after Toop. Defensive coordinator Mike Toop left Penn during the offseason to take the same position at UConn, a soon-to-be Division I-A football program. While the Quakers tallied 35 sacks in '98, this year looks to be a more painful year for opposing quarterbacks. With four returning starters on the defensive line, Penn will not be hesitant to draw fire on opposing offenses. "Coach Bagnoli thought that in the last couple years we weren't playing as aggressive up front," Germino said. "We are going to capitalize on our strengths and really go after people more." With seven seniors returning, Penn's defense will have a touch of youth. After losing Macdonald and first team All-Ivy defensive back Joe Piela to graduation, the Quakers' success will be dependent on inexperienced players. While many have come forward, only a few have met the challenge. "There are kids there who can play," Germino said. "They all stepped up to fight for the position. Everyday in the spring you could see they were getting better and better." Although it might seem silly to be talking football in April, the Quakers and their fans have been thinking about the upcoming season since December. As practices have ceased until mid-August, the Quakers know they will have to stay in shape over the summer in order to pick up where they left off in the fall. "We need to work hard this summer, so we are ready when we come back," wide receiver Brandon Carson said. "That way we can get right to work so we can focus on the teams coming up instead of focusing on getting ourselves into condition."

Big Five to return to full round robin

(04/23/99 9:00am)

For the first time since 1990-91 each of the schools will play the other four. After an eight-year hiatus, the Big Five is back to its old format. The athletic directors from Penn, St. Joseph's, Villanova, La Salle and Temple announced yesterday that the Philadelphia Big Five City Series will return to the traditional four-team round robin format beginning with the 1999-2000 season. Officially signed into existence on November 23, 1954, in a meeting between the presidents of the five Philadelphia schools held in Houston Hall, the Big Five thrived as a Philadelphia institution from 1955 to 1986 with the Palestra serving as the exclusive home to the Big Five doubleheaders. On June 25, 1986, the five presidents signed a 10-year pact to continue the round-robin format but with games being played at the schools' respective home courts or at the Spectrum instead of exclusively at Penn's Palestra. However, with the expansion of the Big East, Villanova successfully petitioned for the Big Five in May of 1991 to change to a two-team round robin format, starting with the 1991-92 season. From 1991-92 to this past season, each Big Five school played just two official City Series games. However, a desire to keep tradition alive has led most of the member schools, with the exception of Villanova, to play as many Big 5 opponents each year as possible. This past season, Penn officially finished 1-1 while going 3-1 overall against Big 5 schools. The Quakers defeated La Salle 62-58, beat Temple in overtime 73-70 and downed St. Joseph's 66-58 but lost 74-63 at Villanova. In 1990-91, the last year in which the Big Five played 10 official City Series games in a full round-robin, then-second-year coach Fran Dunphy's Penn squad finished fourth with an 0-4 record. Prior to this season, the Quakers' last 3-1 Big Five campaign came in 1978-79, when they tied Temple for the lead. Recent changes to Big East and NCAA policy have added three non-conference games to the Wildcats' schedule, causing them to reverse their demand from the beginning of the decade. This past week the Big East reduced the number of league games form 18 to 16 and the NCAA allowed teams to add a 28th game to their regular season schedules, freeing up room in Villanova's schedule to accommodate a return to the traditional Big Five format.

Last but not least for Finn in NFL draft

(04/19/99 9:00am)

Penn running back Jim Finn was taken by the Chicago Bears with the final pick of the NFL draft yesterday. As Wharton senior Jim Finn's name was announced at the 1999 National Football League Draft, the fans still in attendance in Madison Square Garden erupted with cheers and gave the Quaker a standing ovation. With the 253rd and final selection of the draft, the Chicago Bears selected the former Penn standout. As the last player chosen, Finn received the title of "Mr. Irrelevant." Although the label might seem amusing, it carries a fair amount of prestige. While other late-round picks went unheralded, Finn found himself bombarded with interview requests, along with the spoils that accompany his precarious position. "I was shocked," Finn said. "They are flying my out to California for a vacation for a week to do all of this promotional stuff. I even get a lifetime pass for free admission to Disney World." To grab the '98 Bushnell Cup winner, Chicago used its 13th pick overall, the 47th selection of the seventh round -- a compensatory selection bestowed on the expansion Cleveland Browns and later traded to the Bears. Although elated about his selection, Finn suffered the unfortunate reality of an Ivy League football player seeking respect. Entering the draft as the sixth-ranked fullback by Pro Football Weekly, the Fair Lawn, N.J., native had fallen to ninth among fullbacks when the final sheets were tallied. Things had seemed positive for Finn on Saturday. San Diego selected Jermaine Fazande, a fullback from Oklahoma, with the 29th pick in the second round. Many scouts had Finn ranked right behind Fazande, giving the Penn senior hope of being drafted earlier than anticipated. "I thought there could be a shot that I could creep up to the fifth or sixth [round]," Finn said. Yesterday, Finn first witnessed the Philadelphia Eagles pass him up for Cecil Martin, a fullback from Wisconsin. Then Finn sat motionless as the Green Bay Packers passed over the 6'1", 249-lb. Quaker with their back-to-back seventh round selections. With the rising likelihood of Finn not being selected, several teams that had ignored him in the draft contacted him on his cellular phone. "As the draft wore down, I was talking to Philly, Tennessee and Indianapolis to sign as a free agent if I didn't get drafted," Finn said. "We were getting called back and forth. They were trying to sell their program to me." During his phone conversations, Brown wide receiver Sean Morey became the first Ivy League player selected in the 1999 draft, as New England grabbed Morey -- who won the Bushnell Cup as league MVP in '97 -- with the 35th selection in the seventh round (241st overall). Fortunately for Finn, he did not have to worry about signing on as a free agent. Minutes before it was publicly announced, Finn received a call telling him to pack his bags for the Windy City. While a contract won't be resolved until the middle of the summer, Finn will fly to Chicago on Thursday to meet the rest of the Bears and take part in a mini-camp. "Now I got a place to go," Finn said. "I am really excited. I am going to go out and prove that I can play ball." For Finn, the waiting is over. In less than a week, "Mr. Irrelevant" will get a chance to realize his dream with his first taste of the NFL.

Finn hopes to hear name called in draft

(04/15/99 9:00am)

Penn running back and 1998 Bushnell Cup winner Jim Finn hopes to be an NFL fullback. In a few days, what once was a childhood dream could become reality for Wharton senior Jim Finn. Four years ago, Finn joined the University of Pennsylvania football team, making the jump from the high school to the collegiate level. Now in his final weeks at Penn, Finn awaits his chance to make it to the next level -- the NFL. "I always kidded around with my close friends that I wanted to play fullback in the NFL," Finn said. "Nobody believed me. They all thought I was crazy." In a year highlighted with record breaking rushes and an Ivy League Championship, Finn received the Bushnell Cup as the best player in the Ivy League. With one quest still unfulfilled, Finn will travel to New York this weekend with the hope of being selected in the 1999 NFL Draft. A few years ago, this would have seemed like an unlikely situation. Third on the depth charts at running back, Finn opted to move to the other side of the ball so he could receive some playing time. After a stellar sophomore year at cornerback, Finn had found his place on the team. A few games and a couple injuries into the 1997 season, however, the Quakers were in desperate need of a running back. Then a junior, Finn stole the show and finished the season with 155 rushes for 801 yards and 11 touchdowns, earning first-team All-Ivy honors. This past season, the senior running back led the Ivies with 323 carries for 1,450 yards and 17 touchdowns, breaking Penn's record for carries and yards in a season. "He was an intricate part of the offense," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. "We put the ball in his hands 35 to 45 times a game. His success and the team's success went hand and hand." Along with the awards and records has come the attention -- from media, fans and, most importantly, from the scouts. "A while back, I was just praying to get noticed," Finn said. "Now when you see these people actually coming, you're saying, 'My name must be going around.'" Unfortunately for Finn, coming from the Ivy League could hurt his outcome on Draft Day. "People in the NFL will downgrade his achievements," said Alan Herman, Finn's agent. "They normally look to downgrade a player's ability from the Ivy League because of the level of competition." In support of Finn's chances, several Ivy League players in recent years -- Marcellus Wiley of Columbia and the Buffalo Bills and Zach Waltz of Dartmouth and the Arizona Cardinals are just two of nine Ivy alumni on NFL rosters -- have shown that once given the chance, members of the Ancient Eight can succeed in the NFL. Chad Levitt, a running back from Cornell who came into the league in 1997 with the Raiders and was recently acquired by the Rams, has given Finn a lot of encouragement. "I think guys that have been in there have made a positive influence and have shown that we can play," Finn said. "No one is going to take for granted that an Ivy Leaguer can play. You are going to have to prove it every day." Another hurdle for Finn has been to prove to scouts that he can play the fullback position in the NFL. As the featured back for the Quakers, Finn was Penn's main ball handler. In the NFL, Finn would move from tailback to fullback, a position that relies more on the player's ability to receive and block. "He will have to learn a new position in the NFL," Herman said. "They have some question on how good of a blocker is he. Teams in the NFL like to see it on game film. Jim does not have the opportunity to show them." While Finn has been able to showcase his receiving skills during his tryouts, the scouts will have to use instinct in deciding if the 6'1", 249-lb. fullback-to-be can block. "I feel most comfortable catching the ball," Finn said. "It wasn't a major concern. I am not going to be doing any blocking until I get into camp, so I was just staying in shape and working out, trying to impress them with my combine numbers." As the draft has drawn closer, Finn's chances of being drafted have increased. The Penn running back's participation in four offseason tryouts in front of 16 teams has turned the heads of many scouts. Finn's performance has included running the 40 yard dash in 4.53 and benching 225 lbs. 25 times. "I definitely made a positive influence on these people when I worked out for them," Finn said. "I have raised a few eyebrows." As for Finn's competition, Syracuse's Rob Konrad, projected as a first-round pick, is the head of the fullback class. After Konrad, the field is wide open. Shawn Bryson from Tennessee and Jeff Pauk from Arizona State will most likely be selected before Finn. After that, it is anyone's guess. While not trying to speculate when Finn might be selected, Herman feels the Penn running back has a high probability of being drafted. "It will come down to the wire with Jim as to whether he is drafted," Herman said. "If he is not drafted in the sixth or seventh round, then he will be a highly sought-after free agent. He will be in an NFL camp. There is no doubt about it."

Not this time, Tigers!

(03/03/99 10:00am)

Penn's aggressive play from start to finish left Princeton in second. PRINCETON, N.J -- After their humbling 50-49 loss to Princeton three weeks ago at the Palestra, the Quakers counted down their days to redemption. Forfeiting a 29-3 lead that night, Penn was determined not to once again play the role of the victim when the teams met for the second time. "We looked at ourselves in the mirror," Penn forward Jed Ryan said. "We decided that either we do this or we give up. Giving up is not something that any of us have in our characters." True to their word, the Quakers' aggressive play was too much for the Tigers last night, as the Red and Blue drove back to Philly with a shiny new title -- Ivy champs. In the opening moments of the game, the Quakers found themselves engulfed in the Tigers' press, the trigger that caused Penn to cough up its 33-9 halftime lead three weeks ago. This time it was the Tigers who budged. Unlike last time, the Quakers moved the ball on cue. And they did not stop to catch their breath when they reached the frontcourt, instead exposing the Tigers for easy fast-break points. "They handled it well and they attacked it and scored off it," Princeton head coach Bill Carmody said. "I thought it was going to be OK if they scored once in a while but a streak of defensive steals never really materialized." Although Dunphy had thought about throwing out the tape of the February 9 game, the Quakers coach kept it around for motivation, making sure the mistakes did not reoccur. "I thought that we were very aggressive against pressure and taking the ball to the basket as much as we could," Dunphy said. "We talked about that through our preparation for the game." Center Geoff Owens stood as a testament to Penn's attitude last night. Unable to open his mouth after having his fractured jaw wired after hitting the hardwood floor 10 days ago at Dartmouth, the 6'11" Owens refused to quit, putting back five Penn misses for 10 points. In the second half, Owens had to leave the game after his face collided with a Gabe Lewullis elbow. Returning from the locker room with a bandage running the length of half the side of his face, Owens led the Quakers down the stretch, even hitting two key free throws. "Between the broken jaw and the lacerations it looks like he got in a fist fight with Mike Tyson," Ryan said. "I have gained more respect for him in the last two weeks than any person in my entire life." The first few minutes of the second half were crucial to Penn's run. During the same timespan that allowed the Tigers back in the game three weeks ago, the Quakers opened the second half on a 15-2 run to seize control of the tempo and the game. Watching for a reaction to their sudden start in the second half, the Quakers were determined not to allow Princeton back in the game. Hitting two three-pointers, Princeton closed the gap to 10 with 11:41 remaining. But during the Quakers' next possession, Penn forward Frank Brown -- who sat on the bench during most of Penn's first game against Princeton -- drained a three-point shot to stop the Tigers in their tracks. "We knew that they were going to make a run tonight in the second half," Penn forward Paul Romanczuk said. "We focused in on just stopping that run." With no hesitation on offense, the Quakers became stifling on defense. After limiting Princeton to 39 percent shooting in the first half, Penn held the Tigers to less than 30 percent from the field in the second half. Lewullis, whose season will end without a trip to the NCAAs for the first time in his career, felt this year's Tigers squad lacked the aggressiveness that Penn had attained. "Sometimes I feel like there is a lack of heart," Lewullis said. "Down at Penn, each player was inspired by other players. I was used to that the past four years here. This year it didn't happen that much." With its first NCAA berth in four years, Penn is moving into uncharted territory. If the Quakers can utilize the same focus in the NCAA Tournament that they harnessed for last night's game, then they just might find themselves highlighting Dick Vitale's "Upset City."

Fans dismayed by Princeton tix sales problems

(03/01/99 10:00am)

Some groups of multiple students were limited to only one game ticket. and Ben Geldon Hundreds of fans expecting to receive tickets to tomorrow night's Penn-Princeton basketball game at Princeton were left ticketless last week when problems arose over the the sale and distribution of the roughly 200 to 300 seats reserved for Penn fans. The tickets went on sale Wednesday for students who participated in the overnight season ticket line in October. Athletic Department officials had announced that those students would get first priority, followed on Friday by other season-ticket holders who had placed their names on a request list. Any of the remaining 600 or so season-ticket holders who had not already obtained a ticket were to receive the remaining tickets today. Though Penn clinched at least a share of the Ivy League title with Saturday's victory over Cornell, it must win tomorrow's game -- a rematch of the February 9 Palestra heartbreaker when Penn blew a 27-point lead en route to a 50-49 loss -- to secure an NCAA Tournament berth. If Penn loses, the two archrivals would face off again in a playoff game Friday night at Lehigh University. Penn hasn't played in the tournament since 1995. The ticket problems began almost immediately. Many students who joined the line at the end of the October weekend were told by ticket officials on Wednesday that they did not camp out for long enough to qualify and would have to sign up on the request list for tickets being given out second. But when that second round of tickets went on sale Friday -- when tickets were set to go on sale to the groups of season-ticket holders who had signed up in advance -- only one student from each group was given a ticket. The snafus have left the Quaker faithful shocked and dismayed. "I waited three years on the line for season tickets," said Wharton junior Joseph Fernandez, who was one of those told that he did not camp out for long enough. "I feel cheated. I feel betrayed by the ticket office." "I was really excited for the Princeton game," College senior Daniel Avery said. "I have gotten so exasperated through this whole experience, through the whole run-around that I almost don't even care anymore. I care if Penn wins, but it has been very draining." Ticket Manager Ed Wasielewski acknowledged that the procedure was not perfect, but said that in order for the process to have ended up fair, changes would have to have been made half-way through. The problems have also led to increased supply in the scalping market, with many groups of students who received one ticket deciding to sell it instead of choosing among themselves which one should go. The tickets, which have a face value of $10, are being scalped for as much as $100. "All of those people who have single tickets at this point and have friends that don't have tickets are going to scalp them," Avery said. "There is no reason to hold onto them." All of the students involved complained that they had acted on false information. After following the directions of the workers in the ticket office and the instructions that the Athletic Department told The Daily Pennsylvanian last week, they did not understand why they did not receive a ticket. As of last night, a limited number of tickets still remained. An announcement was posted on the ticket office's World Wide Web page yesterday that the remaining seats would go on sale at the ticket office at 11 a.m. today.

Penn faces 'Nova with Owens out

(02/23/99 10:00am)

The Penn men's basketball team must take on Bit 5 rival Villanova without the injured Geoff Owens. After Yale and Harvard's overtime performances against Princeton the past two weekends, the Quakers now stand alone atop the Ivy League for the first time in three years. In the Big 5, Penn also find itself in a position it has not seen in quite a few years. The Quakers take on Villanova tonight at the DuPont Pavilion in an attempt to go 4-0 in the Big 5 for the first time since 1973-74. Unfortunately for the Quakers, their chances of sweeping the Big 5 took a major blow yesterday. After Sunday's initial HUP examination of Geoff Owens -- who split his chin open on the floor of Leede Arena against Dartmouth Saturday -- the 6'11" center was diagnosed with a bruised jaw and cleared to play. Yesterday, however, X-rays revealed that Owens jaw was fractured. Owens' jaw was wired and he will miss tonight's game. The junior has been cleared to move around lightly at Wednesday's practice and could return to action as early as this weekend's Ivy games. "Right now he is getting his jaw wired and is on day-to-day status," Penn center Josh Sanger said. The Quakers will have their hands full under the basket with Owens in street clothes. The Wildcats will try to utilize 6'10" forward Malik Allen -- who scored 25 points and grabbed 11 boards in 'Nova's 90-84 overtime loss to Providence on Saturday. But the Quakers should not be counted out just yet. Penn played all of last season without Owens, who sat out the entire season with a medical condition. "With Owens in there you have two inside scorers you can go to," forward Paul Romanczuk said. "We played without him last year, so we got use to it. It's nothing that we want to have to get used to again." "The whole make-up of our team changes," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. "He has blocked 48 shots for the year. Josh Sanger is going to have to step up. Jed Ryan will have to play a role that he played a lot last year." As the Quakers' biggest body last year, the 6'8" Sanger started 16 games, averaging 1.6 points and 2.4 rebounds. "It gives me a lot of confidence," Sanger said. "I played the same role last year. For me that means that I am going to have to get my head in the game early and play hard for the amount of minutes that I do get." The Quakers will also rely on sophomore Lamar Plummer, senior Frank Brown and junior Mike Sullivan in their attempt to avenge Penn's 89-62 loss to Villanova in the teams' last meeting, December 10, 1996 at the Palestra. Fortunately for the Quakers, the Wildcats have long since bid goodbye to Alvin Williams, Jason Lawson and Tim Thomas -- the stars of that '97 squad. "You look at that team now. Three? guys are in the NBA," Penn guard Matt Langel said. "We have learned a lot and grown up a lot since then." While the Wildcats do not have the same star power, they have not lost the athleticism or the offense, as they average 76.1 points per contest. "There are about four or five guys that can get big numbers if you allow them to get it," Dunphy said. With Lawson and Thomas gone, 'Nova has switched its offensive emphasis to the perimeter; the Wildcats attempt one-third of their field goals from beyond the arc. Villanova's well-distributed shooting attack boasts four players -- guards John Celestand, Howard Brown and Jermaine Medley and forward Brian Lynch -- who have each attempted 100 treys this season. "We're very similar in a lot of ways to Penn," 'Nova coach Steve Lappas said. "We are both very good three-point shooting teams. We both move the ball very well." For Villanova, this game has NCAA implications. The Wildcats could see their hopes of an at-large berth fade with a loss to Penn. "If we are going to have a chance to get into the NCAA tournament, we are going to have to do the best that we can in these next few games," Lappas said. While a win for the Quakers would give them some added national attention, the Quakers are trying to keep focus on their No. 1 goal -- the Ivy League championship.

Athletic Dept. states Princeton tix policy

(02/22/99 10:00am)

Wait no longer. The decision is out. Shaun May, Penn's director of Sports Information, yesterday revealed the Penn Athletic Department's guidelines for issuing student tickets for the Penn-Princeton game on Tuesday, March 2, at Princeton. The Athletic Department will begin issuing tickets on Wednesday. The system will not be on a first-come, first-serve basis but instead will reward those die-hard fans who camped out for season tickets. The students that participated in the overnight season ticket line in October will be eligible to purchase one ticket each. Tickets must be picked up on Wednesday or Thursday, February 24 or 25, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the ticket office at Franklin Field. After that, season ticket holders who placed their name on the ticket office request list are eligible to pick up their tickets on Friday, February 26, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, February 27 and 28, from noon to 5 p.m. Any remaining tickets will be made available to those season-ticket holders who have not already obtained a ticket, on Monday, March 1 starting at 11 a.m., on a first-come, first-serve basis. The Athletic Department has emphasized that students will only be able to purchase one ticket each and must show a valid PennCard. Substitutions will not be permitted. Although May did not know the exact number of tickets available, he believed that all season-ticket holders hoping to purchase a ticket would have the opportunity. He did not think tickets would be available for students who did not purchase season tickets. While Penn and Princeton have closed their seasons playing each other since 1995, with the game site alternating each year, this will be the first game of the series at Jadwin Gymnasium with Ivy League championship and NCAA Tournament implications. Initial student reaction to the procedure has been positive. "It gives tickets to the devoted fans first," said College junior John Schmerin, a participant in the overnight ticket line. "Those who slept out for season tickets should be rewarded first over anybody else who is a fly-by night kind of character." Even those who did not camp out feel that the system respects Penn's most devoted fans. "It's fair," College senior and season-ticket holder Jordan Szekely said. "They're assuming that the [Princeton] tickets should go to the most loyal fans."

M. Hoops heads to New England in search of title

(02/19/99 10:00am)

The Quakers visit Harvard and Ivy upstart Dartmouth in their drive to the NCAAs. After spending the past week reflecting on this season's ups and downs, the Penn men's basketball team continues its road to the NCAA tournament this weekend with a stop in New England. The Quakers' weekend set against Harvard and Dartmouth kicks off a hectic stretch of the season -- six games in the next 12 days. For senior forwards Jed Ryan and Paul Romanczuk, this will be their last Ivy weekend road trip. Thanks to Ryan's hot shooting last weekend against Brown and Yale after a disappointing showing against Princeton 10 days ago, the Quakers find themselves in the heat of the Ivy League championship race. "People think that we have lost a sense of urgency, which isn't the truth," Ryan said. "When we lost to Princeton, we knew that we would have to win the rest of the games this season to stay alive. We are going to do everything in our power to win these next six games so that we can go to the NCAA Tournament." Against Brown and Yale this past weekend, Ryan took advantage of the new beginning, and gave the Quakers the needed offensive support they lacked in the second half against Princeton. In the second half against the Bears and the Elis Ryan came up big, finishing the weekend with 37 points on 11of 16 shooting from behind the arc. "In the first half of the Brown game we weren't making many shots," Romanczuk said. "Jed came in the second half and did really well and that carried over into the Yale game. When you have a guy like that in the zone, guys start looking for him." Ryan, with a higher shooting percentage from three-point range than inside the half oval, feels being able to take more shots from beyond the perimeter this season has helped the team and credits Penn's unselfish character that has enabled him to take so many shots. "It's nice to have guys on the team who find you when you are open and shooting the ball well," Ryan said. "Last year playing on the baseline with Paul, he would drive to the basket, and I would hit these 10 or 12-foot jump shots. Now I spread out and take myself behind the line, where I am more productive for the team." The Quakers (16-4, 8-1 Ivy League) first face the Crimson (10-12, 4-6), who are playing without starting senior center Paul Fisher. It will mark Harvard's fifth game with the 6'8" big man out of the lineup because of his season-ending bout with mononucleosis. With Fisher out of the line-up, the Quakers will try to feed the ball inside to Romanczuk and junior center Geoff Owens. Against Harvard on February 6, the duo teamed up for 28 points and 21 rebounds en route to an 81-56 victory at the Palestra. Penn's defense will have its eyes set on last season's second-team All-Ivy selection Tim Hill, who is averaging 15.5 points and leading the Ivy League with 6.3 assists per game. They will also have to contest with 1997-98 Ivy League Rookie of the Year Dan Clemente, who is averaging 13.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. Following their game at Harvard, the Quakers head to Hanover, N.H., to face Dartmouth, currently the third-place team in the Ivies. Like a fly that won't go away, the Big Green have shown their desire to take home their first Ivy League crown since 1959. A sweep this weekend would set Dartmouth alone in first place with Penn and Princeton one victory behind. "It's our last home weekend," Dartmouth coach Dave Faucher said. "I just told the kids that it is a great credit to them that we have a weekend that has such significance. The place is sold out. We are capable of picking it up a notch." For the Big Green to edge the Quakers, they will have to look to their bench. In Penn's 79-67 victory over Dartmouth on February 5, the Quakers allowed Dartmouth starters Shaun Gee, Ian McGinnis and Greg Buth to score their season averages but gave up only 15 points to the rest of the team. "We are going to do the same thing that we did at the Palestra," Romanczuk said. "I am probably going to match up with Shaun Gee. He will get his points. I am just going to try to limit the amount of touches he gets. We will just try to keep McGinnis off the boards." This past week, Gee -- Dartmouth's leading scorer at 18.3 points per game -- reaggravated his injured knee, while McGinnis -- the nation's leading rebounder at 12.3 per game -- is now sporting a few stitches on his head after a rough day of practice on Wednesday. For a team with four starters averaging more than 34 minutes per game, the Big Green will find themselves under the crunch in their do-or-die weekend. Using the "If it isn't broken, don't fix it" model, the Quakers will try to go back to what they used to win those games two weeks ago -- a balanced offense and an aggressive defense. It paid off then as each Penn starter averaged double digits in scoring and the Quakers out-rebounded the two teams 79-48 collectively. "Both games we have to focus on getting the ball inside," Romanczuk said. "That's usually our philosophy. Get it inside to Geoff and me. See what we can do with the ball inside and then open up our perimeter game. In the end that is where our strength is." While Penn waits for its true test on March 2 at Jadwin Gym against Princeton, the Quakers are trying to keep focused and take care of business one game at a time. Princeton's 60-58 double overtime loss to Yale last weekend shows that when one is not paying attention, anything can happen. The Quakers just hope that "anything" doesn't happen to them.

M. Hoops pounds Drexel as Romanczuk reaches 1,000

(01/22/99 10:00am)

The Quakers continued their pattern of playing well in the first half and coasting after the break. In a Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde performance, the Penn men's basketball team went from the playing level of the Philadelphia 76ers to that of the St. Ignatius 8th grade basketball team in a matter of minutes. After outscoring Drexel 47-32 in the first half, the Quakers held on for a 75-65 victory last night against their visiting neighbors. Shooting 67.9 percent in the first half, including 5-of-12 from three-point range, Penn could do no wrong. Working the whole court, the Quakers hit shots at the post, the foul line, behind the arc, single-teamed, double-teamed -- Penn made it look easy. "They are very tough to defend," Drexel coach Bill Herrion said. "If you double the post than you leave a shooter open. If you jam up on the shooters, then the post is open." Working the post, Penn's Paul Romanczuk scored on each of his five shooting attempts, the last for his 1000th career point. "We pounded it down to Paul a number of times, and he is hard to guard down there," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. "He made some really good plays for us in the first half." After the half, however, things changed for the Quakers. Starting 4-of-12 from the field, Penn saw its lead drop to 10. When the Quakers had the shot, they missed, finishing 36 percent from the field, including 1-of-8 from behind the arc and 9-of-19 from the charity stripe. Dunphy felt that the drop-off in the second half came from more than just lack of ball movement on Penn's part. "In the first half, I thought we made some very tough shots," Dunphy said. "Our execution would appear to be better." The actual credit belonged to Drexel's transition on defense. After watching Penn's two-sided scoring threat work its magic for an entire half, Herrion addressed the problem with his players in the locker room. "At halftime we were really concerned with the lack of aggressiveness of our post defense," Herrion said. "Their game plan was to pound it into Romanczuk, and we didn't handle that well. We defended him better inside in the second half." During the second half, the Dragons eliminated the Quakers' inside-outside game. Penn scored only 10 points from the paint in the second half. Out of the 10 points, four were scored by Penn's smallest man on the court, guard Michael Jordan. In stopping Penn's movement under the basket, Drexel went to the source of their problems in the first half, Romanczuk. In the second half, the Penn power forward was held to 1-of-4 from the field and made only 3-of-5 from the line. "Coach said that they were killing us inside," Drexel center Joe Linderman said. "He said to wrap it around harder and fight it in." With Romanczuk ineffective, Penn did not simply give up their inside game. Instead, the Quakers gave the ball to 6'11" Geoff Owens, who Drexel repeatedly sent to the foul line. For Penn, dumping the ball down low to Owens -- who shot 3-of-10 from the line on the night -- was like throwing fresh meat to a pack of wolves. But the Quakers, outscored 33-28 in the second half, were saved by the bell. With eight days of rest before their next game, Penn will have time for Mr. Hyde to switch back to Dr. Jekyll.

M. Hoops downs La Salle to stay unbeaten in Big 5

(01/15/99 10:00am)

Penn's men's basketball team remained perfect in the Big 5 with its win. As the Penn men's basketball team took the floor last night at La Salle's Tom Gola Arena, it was with an air of sadness. The Quakers were without the cheering of No. 1 fan Fran Dunphy Sr., father of Penn coach Fran Dunphy Jr., who passed away last Sunday morning. Playing in Dunphy's memory, the Quakers kept their composure and defeated La Salle 62-58 in a Big 5 victory which invoked memories of Knute Rockne and "Win one for the Gipper." "He is still in my memory -- two rows behind our bench," Penn forward Paul Romanczuk said. "He was a big part of our program. It was an emotional game for us." During a three-minute scoreless drought with less than five minutes remaining in the game, the Quakers hustle was the only thing that kept their hope of a victory alive. With a two-point lead and less than a minute remaining, a diving save by senior forward Jed Ryan gave the Quakers (7-3, 2-0 Big 5) an opportunity to put the Explorers (6-8, 0-2) away. On the ensuing play, the plan to get Romanczuk the ball in the post failed and the Quakers found themselves in a desperate situation. Again it was Ryan's heads-up play that saved Penn as he set a pick to free up Quakers guard Michael Jordan. The open look was all that Jordan -- Penn's leading scorer this year -- needed as he nailed a 15-foot baseline jump shot with only 18 seconds remaining, solidifying the win for the Quakers. "That was where the game was won," Romanczuk said. "Jed took down the scorers' table to get to the ball and got another offensive rebound off of my shot to beat the shot clock. We just outworked La Salle at the end. We beat them to loose balls." Averaging almost 13 shots a game, Jordan was limited to only two shots in the first half and finished the game with eight. Along with containing Jordan's explosiveness, the Explorers' defense held the Quakers to only four three-point baskets, less than half their season average. "We did what we wanted to do defensively," La Salle coach Bill "Speedy" Morris said. "If you would have told me that they would have four three-pointers, I would tell you that we would probably win the game." While the Penn outside game was quieted, power forward Romanczuk more than picked up the slack on the inside. Romanczuk finished the game with 24 points on 11-of-13 shooting and eight rebounds, almost triple his scoring average. Able to take his La Salle defender to the basket with ease, Romanczuk felt his stellar performance came from being in the right place at the right time. "When Mike is driving to the basket, you just want to find an opening," Romanczuk said. "He is a great passer. A couple of times, I just laid the ball in. It wasn't a tough night for me." As the Quakers jumped out to a 16-6 lead in the early going, it seemed that Penn would have little problem controlling the Explorers, who lost 82-64 last year to the Quakers at the Palestra. But a more balanced offense and the addition of high school All-American Rasual Butler kept La Salle in the game until the end. The freshman sensation's fifth three-pointer of the night gave the Explorers a 51-47 lead with 9:41 left in the game. "I have been listening to what people have been telling me -- to relax out there," Butler said. "I was coming off the screen and saw that my man wasn't getting through. I just took my time and shot the ball." Instead of relying solely on junior guard Donnie Carr, who ranked sixth in the nation in scoring his freshman year, La Salle spread the ball around. Senior K'Zell Wesson chipped in 19 points, while Butler led the way for the Explorers with 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting, including 5-of-10 from three-point range. "Getting the ball to K'Zell is always part of our game plan," Morris said. "Donnie has done a really good job of that. K'Zell is not as tall as most guys he plays against, but he is so strong that he can score inside." Although not effective against Butler, the Quakers' shifting defense on the perimeter limited Carr to only nine points, 12 less than his season average. "We jumped out and switched a lot," Penn guard Matt Langel said. "That style of defense threw them off a little bit. Rasual had a great night but Donnie did not have as good of a night. That was fortunate for us." The victory kept the Quakers undefeated in the Big 5 and extended their winning streak to four games. Penn finishes its Big 5 schedule playing at home against St. Joseph's January 18 and at Villanova on February 23. Penn has not won the Big 5 since 1981 and has not finished undefeated in the city series, while playing all four teams, since 1974.

The 5'11" Eppehimer is big man on campus

(12/03/98 10:00am)

Lehigh guard Brett Eppehimer, once told he was too short to play college basketball, is the nation's No. 6 scorer. Four years ago, Brett Eppehimer had only one option to play Division I basketball. Even though the offer came from Lehigh, a team that had finished 11-16 the year before, Eppehimer had no choice but to take it. Even with an average of 21 points and seven assists per game in high school, Eppehimer's 5'11" stature caused many Division I schools to look the other way. "I really didn't get recruited by anyone," Eppehimer said. "I guess people were scared off by my size." Lehigh, in the middle of a rebuilding process, took a gamble on Eppehimer. After combining for only five wins in Eppehimer's first two seasons, Lehigh made a giant leap in the quest to gain respect last season, finishing 10-17 -- increasing their win total ten-fold from the previous year. Eppehimer, a major factor in the Engineers' improvement, gained national recognition, finishing the season ranked No. 4 nationally in scoring at 24.7 points per game. "I think if you are going to look for a key to what made Brett the player he is, you would look at him," Lehigh coach Sal Mentesana said. "He put it in his mind that he was going to be a heck of a player, and he has not let anything stand in his way." A player of focus and determination, Eppehimer is a great motivator for the rest of his team. This past summer, Eppehimer spent at least six hours a day working out and playing basketball. "Brett has given us something to build around," Mentesana said. "He is a great role model for the younger players coming in to see how hard he works." The 1997-98 First Team All-Patriot League honoree's success, especially on the scoreboard, has come with its fair share of criticism. Eppehimer, a 39 percent field goal shooter, takes a large percentage of Lehigh's total shots, including more than one-third of the Engineers' opportunities through five games this season. "Most of their stuff is run for Eppehimer," Penn guard Michael Jordan said. "They run a lot of sets for him to shoot, and he shoots a lot." While Mentesana agrees that the Engineers' offense might seem easy to defend, he argues that the reality is quite different. "Brett is harder to stop than you might think," Mentesana said. "We have seen a couple of teams run a box-and-one on us, and that didn't work." Eppehimer feels a lot of his success comes from the environment that Mentesana creates for the team. "He gives you the freedom to go out and play," Eppehimer said. "It gives me confidence not having to look over my shoulder after every play." This season Eppehimer has continued his scoring frenzy, averaging 25.2 points per game -- fifth in the country. However, the senior guard's shooting percentages have dropped, including a dismal 27.5 percent from three-point range. "Brett has suffered from an inflamed heel," Mentesana said. "He has missed a lot of practices lately. We are waiting for exams so he can get seven or eight days of rest." Eppehimer, who has as good of a shot beyond the arc as inside it, has found many teams defending him well beyond the three-point line this season. Able to bench over 320 pounds with his 183-pound frame, the senior guard does not feel intimidated by any opposing teams' big men. He has simply brought his game closer to the basket. "They have been coming out with double and triple coverage on my three-point shot, so I have been going to the basket a little more." Eppehimer said. Lehigh's opponents have paid for Eppehimer's inside penetration. An 87 percent career free throw shooter, Eppehimer has already taken 57 shots from the line this season.