On Oct. 15, as most students packed their bags for October break, the men’s basketball team took the court to start its 2016-2017 season. Throughout the week, the squad underwent tiresome days of practices, weight lifting, pool workouts and shooting sessions to prepare for the tough Liberty League competition ahead.
With 10 returners and five freshmen, the men’s team looks to have success with upperclassmen leadership and the additions the freshmen bring to the program. The freshmen include Josh Brownridge, Hunter Gettings, Kyle Kappes, Mattie Mrlik and Owen Murray. The first-year crew brings impressive basketball IQ , high energy and enthusiasm.
Head Coach BJ Dunne explained, “The freshmen are adjusting just fine. They have all great personalities that mesh well with the returners. They all possess a certain skillset that will positively affect our program on the court.”
Nevertheless, the freshmen have had to undergo the difficulties that accompany the transition from high school to collegiate basketball. Murray stated, “Being a freshman and adjusting to a new system is always challenging because every team and coach has a certain way of doing things. So learning the plays, culture and rules of the basketball team here was difficult at first but the older guys really go out of their way to help the freshmen adjust.”
To lead the way, the upperclassmen have set a competitive attitude and focused mindset for this season. Sophomore forward Stephen Palecki elaborated, “It feels great returning to the team this year. The rest of the returners and I came back to school this year hungry to win a Liberty League Championship after falling short in the semi-finals last year.”
The team shares Palecki’s sentiments and looks to improve upon last season’s finish of 12-14. Last year, with a conference record of 8-7, the Brewers qualified for the fourth seed of the Liberty League tournament. In the playoffs, the Brewers ended their season as they fell to the Skidmore College Thoroughbreds with a score of 71-82.
Ready for revenge, the men have been working endlessly to prepare for their Nov. 15 opener. For the past few weeks, the crew has participated in early morning workouts with varsity weight coach Cameron Williams. Every Wednesday and Friday, the men joined the women’s side for team lifts and conditioning.
As the season started on Oct. 15, the squad continued team lifts while supplementing their schedule with two practices per day and pool workouts.
“We wanted to take a new approach to take care of our bodies during the beginning of the season and senior Mickey Adams has implemented a great program for a warm up, cool down stretch and even a pool workout,” added Coach Dunne. “The pool workout not only is great for the body and mind but also is a fun team activity that can reinvigorate the players after a tough practice.”
Senior captain Mickey Adams, who serves as a personal trainer, also serves as a team resource in terms of with nutrition and lifting.
After several difficult practices, the team traveled to Clintondale, NY to have fun off campus. The Brewers were split until two groups and competed in nine paintball battles. This activity allowed the players to enjoy themselves and to continue developing friendships with each other.
Since training started, the Brewers have formed strong relationships and a healthy team dynamic on and off the court. One special relationship on the team is between Palecki and fellow sophomore Alex Seff.
“Coming into college, you always worry about finding friends and people that share your same interests, but being on the team really made that part easy for me,” described Murray. “We get along so well and do everything together, it creates a sense of family. So when I need to talk to someone or need help in a class, I have 15 guys who are always willing to go out of their way for me.”
Coach Dunne agreed, “Our greatest strength is our love for each other. There is a special bond and commitment amongst the team members that will generate great success on the court and beyond. First and foremost we are a family who believe we can overcome any obstacle or challenge that we face.”
Although optimistic, Adams and Coach Dunne agree that the team has room for improvement and that the squad will continue to work on specific assets of the game. Compared to other Liberty League teams, Vassar is a relatively young team and, surprisingly, lacks height. Adams elaborated, “We might be a bit undersized at times, but we have a ton of depth at a lot of positions and will be able to create mismatches with our speed and skill.”
In fact, the Vassar squad has overcome height discrepancies in past seasons and continually proves to be a talented contender in conference play. Last season, the Brewers defeated Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Hobart College, Clarkson University and Skidmore College once apiece, while triumphing over Rochester Institute of Technology and Bard College twice each. The men hope to continue the victories this season in both conference and non-conference play.
Adams said, “I think everyone is really looking forward to playing Skidmore again. They knocked us out of the playoffs last year on their way to winning the Liberty League, and we are all fired up for a chance to get them back.”
Meanwhile, Coach Dunne is equally excited to play each league match-up and shared that the men go into every game with the same intensity and mentality, regardless of the name on their opponent’s jersey.
Dunne explained, “We approach every team the same way and we look forward to taking it one game at a time but it would be hard for me not to note that I am excited to play against my college coach who is the head coach at Wesleyan University.”
Although they are eager for game-play, the Brewers will continue practicing until its season opener in November. For the time being, the men have been developing chemistry as a unit, in addition to working towards individual and team goals.
Palecki shared, “My individual goal for the season is to be a contributor to this team on and off the court, and a leader and mentor for the younger guys on the team. I am also hoping to contribute to the team’s goal of winning the Liberty League and progressing through the NCAA tournament until we are playing in Salem Virginia for the national title.”
To reach such success, the men will continue pushing each other and fine-tuning their play. Additionally, the squad will practice their team plays and different game scenarios during two scrimmages during preseason. For its first competition of the season, Vassar will face the Mount Saint Mary Knights this Saturday, Oct. 29 at home. The following weekend, the Brewers will travel to New York City to face off against the New York University Violets on Friday, Nov. 4.
The men will then start their regular season with a string of non-league battles, a few of which take place during Vassar’s winter break. These opponents include Maritime College, Elmira College, Williams College and Wesleyan University.
While a majority of the student body enjoys some rest and the snow, the men will continue working tirelessly. In fact, the crew is scheduled to return to campus on Dec. 26 and will play through the completion of break. This dedication and hard work are key components of Dunne’s crew.
“Collectively, we strive to be the hardest working team in Division III each and every day we step on the court,” Adams explained. “Obviously the end goal is to win the Liberty League championship, but Coach Dinne and Coach Fava have done a great job making sure we are locked in each day.”
After a long month of non-conference play, the Brewers will begin conference play against this season’s notorious rival Skidmore College on Friday, Dec. 30. Against Skidmore and beyond, the team will look to improve upon its fourth place finish during the 2015-2016 season. Liberty League matches will then continue through late February.
Until then, the Brewers will look to generate enthusiasm and camaraderie on Vassar’s campus. This Friday, the crew will host Brewer Madness, an event to join the team with fellow students and faculty for both basketball and non-basketball related events. The affair will be held in the Athletic Fitness Center at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 24.