Catamount basketball makes its mark nationally

Following a season in which they amassed a 13-3 record within the America East conference and a 24-9 record overall, the men’s basketball squad has their eyes set on next season after they narrowly missed the NCAA tournament, a feat many expected the team to easily accomplish.

The second seeded Cats were ousted by seventh seeded Albany in the first round of the

America East tournament, losing 56-52 in overtime.

After seeing their NCAA dreams disappear and a somewhat unexpected snub by the NIT, the Cats watched their postseason hopes become resuscitated right before their eyes when the College Basketball Invitational came calling. 

The Catamounts defeated Wisconsin-Green Bay 76-72 in the first round to advance to the quarterfinals of the 16-team tournament, but their season finally came to a close at the hands of Oregon State with a 71-70 loss.  The season wasn’t without personal victories, though.

Junior Marqus Blakely again raked in numerous awards, becoming the first player in America East history to earn Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards in back to back seasons, along with being named an Honorable Mention All American for the second straight year.

Senior Mike Trimboli, who will surely be missed next season by the Cats, further etched his name into the Vermont record books by moving into first place all-time for career assists with 624, breaking Kenny White’s previous record of 565.

In addition to Trimboli and forward Colin McIntosh, the Catamounts will also lose seniors

Jordan Dean and Ryan Shields to graduation.

Freshmen Garvey Young and Jordan Clarke proved to be clutch contributors off the bench to start this season, however, and Young’s proficiency on defense allowed him to replace junior transfer Maurice Joseph in the starting lineup early on in the season.

Sophomore Evan Fjeld also proved he can be a vital part of the Catamounts’ rotation heading into next year with his non-stop hustle play.

Catamount fans can expect the national exposure the team received this season to help head coach Mike Lonergan bring in some skilled recruits, and with the continued dominance of Blakely in the post, his supporting cast of junior Nick Vier, Young, Fjeld, Clarke, sophomore Joey Accaoui, and Joseph provide the Cats a great chance to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005.

On the women’s side, the Catamounts made a strong step towards national prominence by defeating Boston University in the America East conference final to move on to the NCAA tournament.

The excitement that came with the bid was quickly quelled, though only slightly, when the NCAA selection committee revealed that the Lady Cats were not only a 16 seed, but a 16 seed facing the best team in the country — undefeated UConn.

Vermont fell 104-65 in that matchup, but with the loss came some much-earned national attention and a great step forward for the team and Catamount athletics as a whole. 

The women’s nod into the tournament paired Vermont with Notre Dame as the only two schools in the nation at the time with their men’s basketball, women’s basketball and men’s hockey teams competing at the same time in the postseason.

The team will suffer some losses heading into next season, as they will lose their third through sixth leading scorers to graduation — Amy Rosenkrantz, Kelli Poles, Sy Janousek and Andrea Cihal respectively.  Joining that group are guard Sarah Madey and forward Jill Rademacher.

With that amount of turnover, however, head coach Sharon Dawley has plenty of room to bring in proficient recruits, who will likely flourish under the tutelage of will-be seniors and 2008-09 leading scorers Courtnay Pilypaitis and May Kotsopoulos.

Joining that duo is will-be junior forward Tonya Young, who proved herself as a skilled post player this past season and will likely be a great compliment to the backcourt scoring combo that is Pilypaitis-Kotsopoulos.

Along with Young, the Catamounts will look for will-be senior guard Sofia Iwobi — a player whom Dawley once stated “has the best pull up jumper I have seen in a while” — to add to her offensive output from 2009 and help carry some of the backcourt scoring load.

Though they are certainly disappointed with an early exit in the NCAA tournament, the Lady Cats proved with their exciting play this season that they are a force to be reckoned with on the hardwood and will likely be for years to come.

While men’s hockey remains the pulse here at UVM, men’s and women’s basketball proved this season that they can certainly get the blood flowing.