by Sally McCay
Title, Another Dance
The last thing three broken wrists in three years should produce is three
America East Championships. Yet somehow, thats what the mens
basketball team managed to endure and accomplish on March 13 when they
defeated Maine, 72-53, for a second-straight America East title, following
the regular season championship in 2002.
The prize, of course, was another trip to the NCAA Tournament, where the
Cats drew a first round game against powerhouse UConn. The second-seeded
Huskies came into the game favored by many to win the national championship;
oddsmakers placed Vermont as a 20-point underdog in the first round alone.
But UVM came out strong running out to a 7-0 lead, keeping pace
with UConn at 24-24 with 8 minutes left in the first half, and trailing
by just ten at halftime. Though Connecticut began to wear UVM down in
the second half, the Cats, lifted by T.J. Sorrentines 19-point performance,
drew to within ten with 11:22 left. Ultimately, the Huskies pulled away
to a 70-53 victory, bringing to a close one of the most exciting weeks
in the history of UVM athletics.
The American East Championship game in Burlington was the most anticipated
in school and state history. In the quest for tickets, hundreds of fans
camped out overnight in the Patrick Gymnasium lobby, dubbed Brennanville
in honor of the Catamounts exuberant head coach, Tom Brennan, who
broadcast his morning radio show live on-site. Fans who couldnt
come up with a ticket found consolation in the warm glow of ESPN; the
sports networks broadcast was the first nationally televised basketball
game in Vermont history.
When game day finally arrived, fans were greeted by a carnival-like atmosphere
outside Patrick complete with a rock band, food vendors, and UVMs
new mascot, Rally, saddled-up on the giant black rooster that once topped
King Streets Chickenbone Café. The days of predominantly
empty bleachers seemed long gone as people held up signs in hopes of scoring
tickets, now being scalped for perhaps the first time. University Police
issued a notice the day before the game warning of counterfeits in circulation.
Inside the gym, there was a taste of Vermont-style celebrity. Phish, suited
up in UVM basketball jerseys, harmonized a cappella on the national anthem.
That guy in the wire-rimmed glasses was, indeed, former governor and presidential
hopeful Howard Dean. And the ESPN announcers at courtside sampled cups
of a special Ben and Jerrys concoction called Slam Chunk.
The likelihood of this day seemed all but non-existent one month earlier
when 2004 America East Player of the Year Taylor Coppenrath, fourth in
the nation in scoring at the time, was told that his season was over due
to a broken scaphoid bone in his wrist. UVMs fourth all-time leading
scorer broke the news to his roommate and star point guard T.J. Sorrentine
by waking him from an early morning slumber with the words, Im
Sorrentine, the 2002 America East Player of the Year, was all too familiar
with the term scaphoid; hed broken the same bone in each of his
wrists the season before, as well as in high school. In his absence, Coppenrath
and his teammates picked up the slack and took the Catamounts to the 2003
NCAA tournament for the first time in 102 years. Intent on returning the
favor, Sorrentine elevated his game for the first two rounds of this years
America East tourney and propelled the Catamounts to wins over New Hampshire
The team held strong without Coppenrath, but news that he might be able
to return for the conference championship game turned Vermonts basketball
fever up a notch. After the removal of his cast a few days before the
final, Coppenrath, who had been evaluated by the Boston Celtics team physician
a week earlier, was given the thumbs up to practice by team doctors. The
decision to play, however, wasnt made until the morning of the game.
The now-famous 43-point performance he turned in set an America East Tournament
record and led the Catamounts to a school record 22nd win. I never
know how good a game Im going to have until the end...I thought
Id play limited minutes, Coppenrath said after the game. Brennan
chipped in, We need to communicate better, son. I knew Tuesday he
was going to play. I don't know when he knew he was going to play. Hes
so stoic. There is nobody in this state that is more loved, maybe John
The superlatives were flying post-game, and even Maines coach John
Giannini got in on it, saying he expects to take his kids to see
this as a Disney movie someday. Coppenraths second America
East Player of the Year honor puts him in elite company, as he is only
the third athlete in conference history to win the award in back-to-back
seasons. He joins Drexels Malik Rose, the late Reggie Lewis of Northeastern,
amd Hofstras Speedy Claxton.
And Coppenrath will be back, along with many other familiar names
Sorrentine, Hehn, Njila, Klimes, Jensen, Hanson when the Catamounts
begin their quest for another championship next season. Hopes are sure
to be high and tickets may be scarce. Better bring a sleeping bag.
As VQ went to press, UVMs Athletics Department announced
a strategic plan and realignment that will result in reinstatement of
mens indoor and outdoor track and field, and the elimination of
mens and womens tennis, mens golf, and mens swimming.
Look for more details at uvmathletics.com or the summer issue of Vermont
Hockey alumnus Martin St. Louis 97 of the NHLs Tampa Bay Lightning
is in the midst of a career season. His outstanding play as one of the
leagues leading scorers earned St. Louis a place on the NHL All-Star
team and national media attention including a March feature in Sports
Womens basketball posted a 14-13 record. Highlights of the year
included putting together a five-game win streak at the end of the regular
season and pulling a major upset by breaking rival Maines 31-game
home winning streak with a February victory in Orono.
It had to end sometime. The ski team finished second in the Eastern Intercollegiate
Ski Association Championships, ending 28 straight years of winning the
event, the longest conference championship streak in college sports. UVM
battled an outstanding Middlebury squad all season long. The Catamounts
caught up to the Panthers at the NCAA Championships in California, where
UVMs fifth place finish made them the top team from the East. Strong
performances at the NCAAs earned All-America status for five Vermont student-athletes:
Lowell Bailey and Ethan Foster in both mens Nordic races; womens
alpine standouts Hilary McCloy and Jamie Kingsbury in both the slalom
and GS; and senior Matt Knittle in the slalom. UVM will host the 2005
NCAA Ski Championship at Stowe.
The mens hockey team endured a rough start to put together an impressive
five-game win streak late in the year. Goalie Travis Russells play
earned him Inside College Hockeys National Player of the
Week award during the season. Coach Sneddons squad ended the year
at 9-22-4. Next season will be the Hockey Cats final ECAC campaign.
Both the mens and womens teams will join Hockey East, the
nations premier college hockey conference, starting with the 2005-2006
season. Mens Hockey East, founded in 1984, has earned 18 of 44 spots
in the last 11 NCAA Frozen Fours and produced four national champions:
Maine in 1993 and 1999, Boston University in 1995, and Boston College
in 2001. Womens Hockey East is a newer conference, founded in 2001.
Dziczkaniec, an assistant coach at the University of Maryland for the
last five years, has been selected as the new head coach for UVM womens
soccer. She brings 11 years coaching experience in the Atlantic Coast
Conference, with assistant roles at Florida State and the University of
Virginia preceding her Maryland years.
Jesse Cormier 95, one of the top players in the history of the UVM
soccer program, will return to Burlington to lead the mens team
as head coach. Cormier has been on the staff at Oregon State University
for the past three years, most recently as associate head coach. He helped
coach the Beavers to their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance in 2002.
Prior to joining OSU, Cormier coached at Bradley University and West Virginia
Catamount fans found a place in their hearts for a new cat this season
with the debut of Rally (pictured above), the latest incarnation of a
decades-old tradition. Mascot Rally bears a closer resemblance to UVM
Athletics V-Cat logo, is nimbler, and has a bit more of an edge
than its predecessors. Rally is also pretty buff, as big stuffed animals
go. If you miss Charlie and Kitty, dont despair. The couple will
enjoy their retirement years in the UVM Athletic Hall of Fame.
For details on these stories and more: www.uvmathletics.com