Closing the Book on UVM Basketball

 

The seconds on the clock continued to tick away and waves of searing disappointment washed over me as they did. Three seconds. The realization of opportunity lost. Two seconds. Awareness of my finite life as an undergraduate student. One second. The realization that this would be the last time. Zero.

As the University of Albany fans stormed the floor in our very own Patrick Gym, I was hunched over with my hands on my knees, eyes staring at the worn wooden bleacher below me. To think that it would end like this; in this building, on this court, in front of this crowd.

For a few hours after I left the gym, I was angry at what had transpired on the court. UVM played uninspired — and at times lazy — basketball in a game where a victory would secure a bid in the NCAA tournament. It is tempting to vent about the lack of offensive adjustments, the inexcusable and consistent lack of defensive rotation, which led to several Albany weak-side baskets, the careless turnovers and the 54 percent effort from the free-throw line.

But after stepping back from the situation, my disappointment in witnessing my last UVM basketball game as a student gave way to reflective appreciation. The shirts that were given out prior to the game detailing the “decade of dominance” achieved by the men’s basketball team are telling.

While UVM has achieved unparalleled success within their conference in the last decade, the four years I have been a student — 2009-2013 — have been concentrated with even more on-court accomplishments.

The program’s resume since I was a freshman includes a 93-42 overall record, a 49-16 record in America East Conference play, two conference championships and an NCAA tournament victory in 2012.

While a victory over Albany last Saturday would have dramatically enhanced that resume, the body of work is undeniably incredible. While the men’s hockey team has consistently disappointed since 2009 — after reaching the Frozen Four in 2008 — the men’s basketball program has filled the void wonderfully.

In 2009, then-senior Marqus Blakely led Vermont to a 25-10 record and a birth in the NCAA tournament after defeating Boston University in the America East Title game. In that nationally televised game, Blakely threw down one of the most thundering tomahawk dunks I have ever seen. UVM has never had a player as athletic and exciting as Marqus Blakely and I feel fortunate to have seen him play wearing a Vermont uniform.

While Blakely wowed the UVM community with his explosive athleticism and highlight real dunks, the leader of the next two Catamount teams was a player of the opposite mold. Unassuming, tall and lanky, forward Evan Fjeld stepped into the leadership position beginning in 2010 and led the Catamounts to a 23-10 record that season.

After failing to reach the conference championship game in 2010, Fjeld led Vermont to a 24-12 record in 2011. That year, Vermont navigated its way to the conference championship game held at Stony Brook University. I was at the game as a fan that day and was treated to the greatest sports memory of my life, as the UVM fans in attendance stormed the court and celebrated with the team after they upset top-ranked Stony Brook.

Fjeld led Vermont to a rare victory in the NCAA tournament game a few days later — albeit a play-in game — before losing to top-seeded North Carolina in the next round. I will remember Fjeld fondly for his gritty-inside play, basketball IQ, phenomenal moustache — of course — and his perseverance. That perseverance which was so beautifully evidenced in 2009 when Fjeld delivered a stellar performance in the America East Championship game just days after the passing of his mother Susan.

Entering my senior year, I expected much from this year’s team. And despite the disappointing ending, the Catamounts achieved yet another 20 win season and hosted an America East Championship game in Patrick Gym. I have never heard that building so loud and there were times when the thunderous chants of “UVM, UVM” made the hair on the back of my neck stand.

I am sad that I will never again stumble out of bed on a Saturday morning and go watch a UVM basketball game. These are the things you lament when the mortality of your undergraduate life becomes clearer on the horizon.

But I do know that the future for this team — next year and beyond — is a bright one. John Becker is leading this program in the right direction and hopefully the administration will invest in its future as well with a new arena.

Last Saturday I was angry that my four years as a student watching this team couldn’t be capped with a conference championship and a third birth to March Madness in the last four years. But I have since grown nostalgic and appreciative of all that I have witnessed. Without question, it has been a pretty damn good run.12