B-ball seniors raise parting glass

Family members, friends, professors and fans showed out to support their seniors on Saturday, Feb. 15 in the AFC. Courtesy of Vassar Athletics.

For the seniors on Vassar’s men’s and women’s basketball teams, the past four years have been anything but consistent. Both teams have experienced coaching changes, the departures of teammates and myriad frustrating injuries. Yet their bond with each other, their dedication to the sport and drive for success have been nothing if not consistent. Love of the game has propelled them through four long, grueling seasons and finally to their Senior Day, which took place this past Saturday.

On the women’s team, the close-knit friendship between Jackie Cenan, Sophie Nick and Isa Peczuh is immediately evident. When the triumvirate of captains aren’t leading the squad in both minutes and points, they live together and often spend leisure time with one another. Speaking about their connection, Cenan was definitive: “We are very complementary.” Nick added, “We have very different personalities, we play different positions. I think it’s easier to be a cohesive unit because we’re not competing a lot.” Peczuh concurred “We are living together this year, which makes it really nice just to talk all the time and get to know each other.”

This interconnectedness that the trio demonstrates—as if they are always on the same page—was on display throughout our time with the big three. Every one of our questions was followed by a spirited roundtable discussion, one Brewer building off the other, creating a nuanced yet cohesive reply. It was most obvious when each of the trio was asked to describe their program in three words. Instead of answering individually, they opted to build their list together, responding one after the other, compiling a list that would make any athlete want to join their team. Their answers of “supportive,” “dedicated” and “evolving” offered a glimpse into not only the care and tenderness they put into their craft, but into each other and their team.

On the men’s side, seniors Josh Brownridge and Kyle Kappes bonded over nagging injuries and becoming the last players remaining in the class of 2020. “Coming in, we weren’t the closest freshman year, but each year we both realized that we are the same kind of dude as far as how we play and how we carry ourselves,” explained Kappes. Brownridge further added, “We are both just unwilling to quit, and we really want to keep pushing ourselves. We’re quick to feed off each other.”

The two also bonded over having to start over with a new coach, as BJ Dunne departed for the apparently greener pastures of Gettysburg in the summer of 2018. Kappes described the feeling: “You don’t know who’s coming in, you don’t know if he’s going to like you. It’s tough to stay with it through that change, but I definitely appreciate what [Head Coach] Mee brings to the table.” Brownridge continued, “You gotta prove yourself to a whole new coach, and I think Kyle and I really try to do that because the two choices are you either quit or you just embrace it.”

After four long years playing for the Brewer name across their chests, the seniors were full of memories. Each player talked about their moments fondly and graciously, displaying with more than their words just how important their basketball careers have been in shaping their Vassar experience.

Kappes picked last year’s preseason trip to Barcelona as his favorite, while three of the four other seniors chose postseason moments. Peczuh reminisced on the team’s at-large bid last year to the NCAA tournament: “I have to go with a classic: Just making it to the NCAAs last year. When we finally got there, it was just exactly how I pictured it with signs everywhere and our jerseys were washed really specially, and they smelled really good. I just remember all the details, and being really happy the whole time.” Nick elaborated, “Every one of our postseason games has been special, we haven’t always had success, but the excitement of knowing you can win that game and keep winning, there’s nothing really stopping you.” Brownridge said of his first playoff game, against RIT [Rochester Institute of Technology]: “That was a big moment where you can see how much hard work pays off during the season with the team, but then it all comes down to one game, the intensity and everyone was so locked in.”

Cenan picked a more personal experience: coming back from an ACL tear to play in her last season healthy. She explained, “A part of me wants to say the winning streak from last year, but also this past weekend was big for me because I feel like I’m finally coming back from my ACL tear, and feeling really confident with the team’s chemistry this season and excited to see how this season will end.”

Senior Day marks the end of the regular season, and with it the hopes of competing in, and even winning, the Liberty League Tournament. This Friday and Saturday, the Brewers will take on Ithaca and RIT, respectively. The women have clinched their spot in the Liberty League playoffs thanks to their impressive 13-1 conference record. They hope to extract revenge on RIT, who took the Liberty League crown from them last season. This could be the year that they win an automatic bid to the NCAA Playoffs, instead of the at large bid that they earned last year. The men will also be traveling to Ithaca and Rochester Institute of Technology this weekend for their final two games of the regular season. The team currently sits at 6-10 and will need to return to Poughkeepsie with at least one win if they want to compete in this year’s Liberty League Tournament. The 2020 tournament would be the first for both head coaches at Vassar.

We eventually had to address the elephant in the room: We asked all of the seniors if they were ready to leave Vassar and their teams. Peczuh may have summed it up best, saying, “I think more so as a student than a player. As a freshman, I was like ‘Seniors, what do you mean you want to leave here?’ but now I’m, like, ok, I am ready to get a job and have a new rhythm of life, but then imagining all of that without basketball is the scary part.” Nick and Brownridge talked about the sacred bonds that teammates form—the part of Vassar they will miss most—while Kappes explained the bittersweetness of leaving. “Could you ever be ready? It’s a guarded community here, it’s an awesome place. The real world is very different,” he said. “I think we’re both happy to have figured out what we’re doing next year, but you love college and everybody talks about how much they miss college and you’re out of it.” However, this may not be the last time you see the Class of 2020 in burgundy and gray, because knowing this bunch, you will see them taking the court once again next year—this time as alum.

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