The Vassar men’s basketball team faced tough competition this weekend, falling to Union College and Skidmore College in Liberty League play. Both games were pivotal for the Brewers with the conference tournament right around the corner. Previously third in the league, the team fell to fifth overall, with Skidmore leading the pack.
In its previous encounter with Union, Vassar lost by only four points. Freshman Paul Grinde earned a double-double, while senior Erikson Wasyl, junior Mickey Adams and sophomore Jesse Browne all shot in the double-digits.
Coach B.J. Dunne had high hopes when going up against Union for the second time. “We are playing our best basketball right now and it is important to peak at the right time, which we are,” noted Dunne, “In Game one we played well on both ends, but Union just made a few more plays down the stretch.”
Unfortunately, the Brewers could not convert and fell to the Dutchmen 74-48 on Feb. 12. Vassar stayed close behind Union throughout the first half, trading off the lead. However, the Dutchmen took control in the second half, outscoring the Brewers 47-20. Despite the loss, Grinde and freshmen Alex Seff, continued to prove their abilities as they both scored in double-digits.
Coach Dunne recognizes how all five freshmen bring great energy to the team that helps create a familial atmosphere on and off the court. Seff and Grinde have not only contributed to this environment but have also played particularly influential roles during practice and games.
“Seff has had a great second semester and plays with great intensity and energy on both ends of the floor,” said Dunne. “Grinde is a match up problem for all the teams in our league and it is obvious that he is the focal point of their scouting reports. They both have given us much needed production for this year.”
Vassar’s first game against Skidmore on Jan. 15 ended in a 69-64 victory. The Thoroughbreds led the Brewers for most of the game, at one time by a nine-point margin. But that did not deplete Vassar, as the men capitalized on Skidmore’s 12 turnovers to take the win. Not only was the game a success for the Brewers, but Wasyl also made history, becoming the 14th player in Vassar College men’s basketball to score 1,000 career points. This season he averages 15.4 points per game, 5 rebounds and
2.3 assists. The senior attributes the team’s and his own personal accomplishments to Dunne, who is in his third season with the Brewers.
“Coach Dunne has always done a great job of reminding us how important it is to get in the gym outside of regular practice hours to improve,” Wasyl said, “He has a clear passion for the game of basketball and for winning, and that has trickled down to the team.” As well as Wasyl, Grinde played to the best of his abilities against Skidmore, scoring 18 points, the most of any of the Brewers during the game. He earned 12 points in the second half and went eight for eight in free-throws, ultimately propelling Vassar to the win.
Looking back on the first bout with Skidmore, Grinde notes, “They didn’t really have an answer for my post moves down low, so I will just have to continue to go at them on the block. The game plan will be the same, attack their bigs and go at them if the opportunity is there.” With Dunne’s confidence and the team’s clear abilities, the Brewers attempted to use the momentum of their first victory against Skidmore to challenge them a second time around on Feb. 13. Despite putting up a fight, the men could not close out the game, losing 71-69 in overtime.
Wasyl got his first double-double of the season in the tight game, scoring 19 points and achieving 12 rebounds. Browne and Grinde also had stand out performances, earning 22 and 20 points respectively. The lead alternated between the two teams throughout regulation, and Wasyl sunk a three with 22 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime.
The Brewers and the Thoroughbreds fought hard during the extra period. With only four seconds left in a tie game, Skidmore’s Edvinas Rupkus scored to earn the ultimate two-point edge over Vassar.
After these two loses, the Brewers have a 7-7 conference record and an 11-12 overall record. They face Bard College at home on Feb. 17 and will later travel to Troy, N.Y. to challenge Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on Feb. 21 for the final Liberty League contests.
With the Liberty League Championship coming up, the team continues to build off of their success. Coming off of a difficult 2014-2015 season stricken with injuries combined with the loss of five seniors, the Brewers have substantially grown as a team. Alex Snyder was the toughest loss the Brewers faced coming into this season. Snyder led the team in field goals, rebounds, assists and blocks. He was also the 13th Brewer to score 1,000 career points. Along with Snyder, Luka Ladan, Curtis Smith, Andrew Adkins and Jonathan Safir each played an influential role during their four years on the squad.
Senior Johnny Mrlik’s knee injury that has left him unable to compete was another crippling loss for the team. In his last competitive season Mrlik led Vassar in scoring with 507 points, a clear asset to the Brewers. Although not in the lineup this season, Mrlik remains invaluable for the team as an assistant coach. Despite these difficulties, the Brewers remain a strong, cohesive unit because each player stepped up to make the team what it currently is.
“Obviously last season was a disappointment. Guys have really made the extra effort to get better outside of practice hours and I think that it’s shown this season,” said Wasyl. “This year as a team, we have done a good job pushing each other at practice which has allowed us to enter games with confidence.” Of all the returning players, Adams and Browne have improved the most dramatically. Last season Adams only played eight games and averaged 2.4 points per game. Comparatively, Adams’s play has skyrocketed: he has started in all but two games and averages seven points.
Browne has seen similar growth. He played 14 games and averaged 8.3 points overall. This season, Browne has started every game, averages 15.3 points, is 70 percent from the line and has a 40.9 percent three-point percentage. He also achieved a personal record of 31 points against Hobart College.
“Jesse is a super talented basketball player and it has been fun to watch his development over these past two seasons,” said Dunne, “He has all the tools to be a player-of-the-year type in our conference and it was only a matter of when he would step up like he has.” The leadership of lone captain Wasyl and assistant coach Mrlik has added to the team’s success. With such a young team, these two players lend experience. Dunne agrees,
“Erikson and Johnny are two of the best, if not the best, leaders I have ever been around, playing or coaching,” Dunne expressed, “They lead by example daily and they pour everything they have into this program. They are the model of consistency and their hard work, competitive spirit and heart are the pillars of this program.”
Given the hardships of the previous season and the loss of top players, the Brewers were projected to fall last in the standings. The team has defied all odds and remained among the top five throughout the season. Despite their current losing record, the freshman class, improvements of key players, Dunne’s expert coaching and strong leadership capabilities have proven to be a recipe of success for the Brewers.
Although the season is not yet over, the prospects of next year are high. The team can only continue to flourish and build off of this year’s success to potentially win the league. Grinde shares in this sentiment and has high expectations for this young squad.
“We are losing a big time player in Erikson, and that’ll be hard to replace, but we are a young team with a lot of talent,” said Grinde, “We have an opportunity to do something big here, and so we will put in the work in the offseason and be ready once the first day of practice comes around. We have proven that we can hang with anyone in the league.”
The Liberty League Championships begin on Feb. 24 and the games have yet to be determined. Overall, the team hopes to achieve their ultimate goal of winning the league and advancing to the NCAA tournament. For now, the Brewers are taking the remaining season day by day and continuing to build on their achievements.