Eight Vassar basketball seniors played their final regular season games in the AFC this past weekend. For the men’s team seniors, games on Friday and Saturday would be the last two games of their careers, while the women’s team, despite dropping both their games, have earned a spot in the Liberty League postseason.
Both Brewers teams celebrated their seniors, honoring the leaders who have put in countless hours of work and dedication to their respective programs over the past four years. On the women’s team, three seniors—Julia Roellke, Maddie Leong and Maeve Sussman—were honored before their game against Ithaca. The men’s squad celebrated their five seniors—Steve Palecki, Paul Grinde, Mason Dyslin, Chris Gallivan and Alex Seff—before the final game of their collegiate careers.
The women’s team has performed stellarly all season, much of which is owed to the dedication of its seniors. Senior Maddie Leong, who leads the team in assists, reflected over email on her time wearing the burgundy and grey: “Playing basketball at Vassar has taught me so much. It has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life, but so worth it,” Leong said. “I have never been closer to one group of people than my teammates here.”
Leong explained that her Vassar basketball career was so much more than just playing in games or practices. “Some of my favorite memories are getting ice cream on Sundays after we sweep the weekend, our 16-game winning streak, and 7 a.m, lifts.”
For Leong and her senior teammates, however, the season isn’t over yet. Coach Candace Signor-Brown’s team is still in contention for the Liberty League title after beating Skidmore on Tuesday, Feb. 19 in the first round of the conference tournament. The Brewers had bested Skidmore in both previous matchups this season, and Leong was confident in the team. “[We’re just] focusing on ourselves and doing all the little things we can control to get the dub.” It is clear that Leong is not ready to hang up her Brewers uniform just yet, and she is planning on leaving it all on the court with the rest of her teammates.
Another senior, Sussman—a consistent performer for the Brewers who appeared in every game last year—suffered a season-ending injury earlier in the season. Although Sussman was unable to compete in her final season, she still found ways to contribute to the success of the group. “Staying an active member of the team with my injury has been a really difficult task. I’ve had to adjust the way I see myself and lead,” Sussman admitted. To remain involved, Sussman has been tracking statistics in practices, using that information to figure out areas in which the team needs to improve. The senior also works with other members of the team on a more personal level, giving them feedback and encouraging them. “As hard as it’s been, I’m still so invested in my team’s success, and it’s great to see it from a new perspective,” Sussman commented.
The men’s team, led by first-year Head Coach Ryan Mee, got off to an exciting start to the weekend, winning an exciting and high-scoring double overtime win against Hobart. The Brewers put up 104 points in the victory and displayed enough resilience to secure the back-and-forth game. In an email, senior Paul Grinde, who joined the coveted 1,000-point club during the Hobart game, cited the win as one of his favorite memories from his four years with the Brewer program. “Beating Hobart made [reaching 1,000 points] that much better because they’re a very good team with another really good senior class. We’ve been competing with those guys since freshman year, and it was good to get two wins this year against them,” Grinde said.
Fellow senior Steve Palecki explained in an email why his experience as a student-athlete at Vassar has been incredible. “Playing basketball at Vassar has meant everything to me. It has taught me so many life values that I will carry with me for the rest of my life,” Palecki noted. “The bonds I have formed with my teammates by going through shared experiences on and off the court is the best thing that could have happened to me. I have formed lifelong friends through Vassar basketball and owe it to the journey we have been on these past four years.”
Grinde reiterated this sentiment.“I’ve made memories that will last me a lifetime. There have been some serious ups and downs in my basketball career here, but I couldn’t have done it without the support of my teammates and coaches over my four years,” Grinde noted. “I couldn’t have asked for a better class to be a part of than the class of 2019. Those guys are my brothers and will be friends for life.”
Both Palecki and Grinde cited team trips (to Puerto Rico, Memphis and Barcelona) that the team embarked upon as some of their favorite memories from their time as Brewers. However, it is not just these unforgettable trips that will stick. Palecki explained that some of the images he’ll remember most are less remarkable and more quotidian, such as spending time with the team in the locker room before practice or going to the Deece together. “It is in these little moments where you realize just how much you appreciate the people around you and have the ability to grow closer together,” Palecki stated.
The forward continued to explain that it was the people who made his experience so memorable. “The four other seniors have allowed me to grow more as a person—[they] maybe annoy me a little sometimes, but [they’ve] been there with me as I have developed into a person I am happy to be,” Palecki said. “At the end of my basketball career with them, I know they have cared for me when I needed it just as I have for them. That is what’s important to me. I wouldn’t change a thing about my past four years.”
The life of a student-athlete can be a difficult one, but for these eight members of the class of 2019, all the late-night practices, early morning lifts and hours upon hours of extra time put in were completely worth it. Listening to the seniors, it is clear that they have made memories that will last them a lifetime and that they have gained lifelong friendships along the way.