ONE COURT TWO CHAMPS
watching a basketball game isnt in Libby Smiths nature. The
senior guard is usually in the thick of things on the court for the UVM
womens basketball team. So, when she and her teammates took the
front row of bleachers for a UVM mens game this season, Smith wasnt
going to take being a fan sitting down.
Gym too quiet for her liking, Smith stood and called out a U-V-M cheer.
She got a playful jab from teammate Morgan Hall for her effort, and UVM
fans got a glimpse of the supportive spirit between the mens and
womens basketball teams.
matter which squad was at home this winter, Catamount fans got their moneys
worth. The UVM teams both took regular season America East championships,
notched a combined record of 42 wins and 16 losses (20-3 at home), the
mens 12-game winning streak is the longest in UVM history, and the
women strung together thirteen straight of their own late in the season.
as notable as the winning ways is the mutual respect of these two programs,
exemplified by Libby Smith and friends. The men, by the way, returned
the favor at a tough road game in Albany. Sitting behind the womens
bench, their raucous support was something womens coach Keith Cieplicki
will always remember. And mens coach Tom Brennan says he was truly
shocked to see his guys set their cool aside for the moment and make some
so much of what happens with a basketball team, the UVM programs
harmony starts with the tone set by the head coaches. The two go so far
back that Brennan will tell you Church Street was a hole in the
ground when he first visited Burlington to recruit a talented Rice
High School senior named Keith Cieplicki. Brennan, then an assistant coach
at William & Mary, made his case well and Cieplicki would make his
name at the college school hall of fame, jersey retired, picked
by the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA draft.
duo would work together again, Brennan as head coach and Cieplicki as
assistant, at both Yale and UVM. Then, different teams, same gym, when
Cieplicki signed on as an assistant with the UVM womens program
in 1991. Hes in his fifth season as a UVM head coach; Brennans
in his sixteenth.
regular season conference championships clinched and America East tournaments
looming ahead, Cieplicki and Brennan sit down in the latters office
to reflect on the memorable year. Brennans phone rings with well-wishers
approximately every three minutes.
team came to my emotional rescue, says Brennan. I was really
on the bubble in terms of whether I wanted to keep doing this. But they
worked so hard and gave so much effort, I thought, Man, this is
a wonderful group to be around. And then to have it end with a regular
season championship is just unbelievable.
speaks in similarly glowing terms about his team. Their unselfishness
and their desire to see each other succeed stands out. Theyve taken
the sense of ownership that you always hope they will. Once that kicks
in, then my job is pretty much done really. That doesnt happen too
coaches decline to speculate what might be, an NCAA tournament bid for
instance. (Both teams would suffer close losses in the semi-finals of
their conference tournaments. The womens team, though, competed
in the WNIT post-season tournament, losing a first-round game to Holy
before the onset of March Madness, the talk is all about the season that
was, the wins carved out through the winter. The phone rings again and
Brennan takes the call, laughing and talking in that booming voice, able
to carry across basketball courts or airwaves with equal punch. For a
few moments the rooms fills with two conversations on one topic.
tells a visitor that no matter what lies ahead, this has been a special
year: People forget that only one team wins the regular season championship.
If we fall off the face of the Earth tomorrow, were still the champs.
Brennan says to his friend at the other end of the line, What can
I tell you? Its wonderful, it just feels so good, its perfect,
For the latest on Catamount sports: www.uvmathletics.com.