Despite early failures, men’s basketball looks to rebound

Vassar’s men’s basketball team officially kicked off their season on Nov. 18, playing their opener against New Paltz in Vassar’s own Athletic and Fitness Center. Starting off on the right foot, the Brewers got their first win by a margin of 70-61, lighting up the stands full of enthusiastic fans.

Since the opener, the team has struggled to keep up its momentum, picking up three losses since that night. The first loss came in a match-up against Drew University in Madison, N.J., where the men took a tough 60-80 defeat on Nov. 22. They saw their next loss on Nov. 25 in Danbury, Conn., dropping a game to Western Connecticut State by an even bigger spread, this time 51-92. Their third loss of the season was closer this time, 44-52 against Trinity College, at home on Nov. 30.

In light of past success, the Brewers are hoping to get out of this slump. In the 2013 season, VC men’s basketball almost took the Liberty League Championship, and senior forward Luka Ladan expressed his enthusiasm for the coming season, “I am excited to try and repeat the success we had last year, and build upon them with the group of guys we have on the team this year.” With a final score of 75-74, the Brewers lost last season’s championship game.

Under Coach BJ Dunne, the program has seen enormous growth, growth that was expected to be continued into this season. Senior guard Jonathan Safir spoke of the expectations that come with the team’s recent success, “In comparison to last year, no one saw our success coming but us. We believed in each other and came within 1 point of achieving our goal (losing in the conference championship game). This year, we are the team that everyone in our league has marked on their schedule. Being voted preseason #1 in the league comes with a lot of expectations, and we are working very hard every day to meet, and exceed, those expectations.”

“Our only goal is to win the Liberty League, which will hopefully come through hard work and dedication,” said Ladan. This goal does not seem too far-fetched. In a coaches’ poll released in mid-November by the conference offices, the Brewers were picked to take the whole tournament. The men were the recipients of seven first place votes, giving them an overall score of 63. Skidmore was slated second, with one first place vote and 57 total points.

Vassar will face off against Skidmore on Jan. 3 and 30, first away in Saratoga Springs, then at home. RIT was picked for third place, collecting the last first place vote and totaling 44 points. The Brewers will match up with RIT first on Jan. 17 and then Feb. 13, also first away in Rochester and then home. Safir agreed with his teammate, saying “Our goal for this year is to win the Liberty League. We want to be the first men’s basketball team in school history to win the conference and hang a banner.” In fact, this mentality is uniform across the board, as senior captain and forward, Alex Snyder agreed, “Our goal this year is to win the Liberty League and play in the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.”

The team knows that the Liberty League is a tough arena this season, and their dreams of winning the title will be earned on the court, point by point, each game. Snyder explained the team’s outlook on their schedule, “Some of our biggest competitors will be Skidmore, Trinity, Springfield College and RIT. Overall, our entire schedule is solid and our league is very tough.” Safir weighed in to add his views on the upcoming season, “We have already faced some extremely tough competition to help prepare us for league play, including a top-25 team and a couple of NCAA tournament teams. Come league play, I believe that 1-9 all teams in the league will be very tough and competitive. However, Skidmore, Union and Hobart will be very tough.”

Many agree that #2 seed Skidmore will be one of the closest competitions in season play. Safir is no exception, and he agreed with this sentiment, “The league in general will be really tough. There’s a lot of parity, but Skidmore College really stands out because their rotation is both talented and experienced. Competing in the league will be a tough test all season.”

Ladan expressed his views concerning how the Brewers will be successful this season, “If we stay committed to the process and work harder than ever, then we can really make a run. It comes down to working together and staying unselfish, which we did all of last season. We just have to build on our previous success and get better every day.” The Brewers are thoroughly experienced, as five of their players will be suiting up for their senior seasons, so they will have maturity on their side this season.

Along with veteran experience, Snyder explained that the Brewers have a good sense of who they are as a team, on their personnel, “Our team is very balanced. We have a good presence inside as well as some of the best shooters in the league. We all play very hard defensively and work as a unit.” Senior captain, guard and junior forward Andrew Adkins will continue strong this season, after he played in 27 games and totaling 2.4 points 2.2 rebounds last season. His fellow captain, Snyder will hope to continue his strong stat line after averaging 10.8 points and 9.0 rebounds in the 2013 season and being named Honorable Mention All-Liberty League.

Senior Curtis Smith will offer up his talents after averaging 9.4 points and .667 free throw percentage last year. Safir will provide depth in the guard position this season, as well as sophomore Ryan Huegel. Ladan helped make the Brewer’s defense one of the strongest nationally, and will continue to contribute in his final season in burgundy and gray. Safir said of the Brewer defense, “Our greatest strength this year is our post-play down low. The “Bash Brothers” Luka Ladan and Alex Snyder, are two of the best bigs in the league. They can cause matchup nightmares for the opposition.”

But like any team, the 2014 Brewers are still working to fill the holes left by alumnae/i of the program and integrate younger players as quickly as possible. Ladan commented, “We have a very experienced group of players, so we know what it takes to be successful at this level. Our upperclassmen have done a great job of guiding the younger guys along and leading by example, so it just has to stay that way all year. From the top down, the commitment to improving as a group is already there. Losing [junior] Johnny [Mrlik] is tough because he was so crucial to our success last season, so we’ll have to learn how to play without him. It’s a process, but just improving daily is key.” Another personnel concern beyond graduating starters is losing one to injury. Mrlik, as mentioned above, is unable to play due to injury. Ladan expressed the difficulties that injuries can produce, “The biggest obstacle will be playing without Johnny because he can do so much on the floor. Just getting used to new rotations and playing styles can be tough, so we really have to buckle down and improve. And we can’t get down on ourselves if things don’t go well at first.”

Snyder sees success being bred from the top down. It starts with the coaching staff, he said, “We plan to achieve this goal through hard work and preparation. Our coaches do a great job of getting us ready for games, and we plan to step up and use these game plans in order to get some wins against some very good teams.” The coaching staff, according to Snyder, can do the team the greatest service by keeping motivation high. “Complacency will be our biggest issue,” he said, “After the success we had last year we need to stay hungry in order to do even better then we have ever in the past.”

With a strong tradition of success at their back, and experienced leadership moving them forward, the Brewers are set to have outstanding performances on the court. However, when speaking of what is most exciting looking into the season, it is not the physical aspect that players mention.

Ladan elaborated, “I’m most excited about growing as a group and getting even closer to the guys on the team. In the end, it’s all about team chemistry, so just working on that every day will be really fun. We love playing together, which makes basketball that much more enjoyable.” Team chemistry is ultimately what the Brewers will enjoy, and what will carry them through a potentially remarkable season. “What I am most excited about for this season is the opportunity to have one last chance at making history here at Vassar,” said Safir, “and creating memories that will last a lifetime with my best friends.”

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