(Host) The University of Vermont basketball program is poised for a big weekend.
Both the men’s and women’s teams are playing for conference championships- and the opportunity to move on to the NCAA tournament.
The men are home Saturday afternoon against Boston University, while the women play the University of Hartford in Connecticut.
VPR’s Steve Zind has this preview.
(Zind) It’s spring break week and the UVM campus has been quiet – except for Patrick Gym where both teams have been practicing for their America East Conference championship games.
On paper, the women face the tougher challenge: playing the top seeded Hartford Hawks away from home Saturday night. But the Catamounts lead the nation in road wins this year – with 16 – and forward Alissa Sheftic says they’ve played so many times in Hartford that it doesn’t feel like the Hawks have much of a home court advantage.
(Sheftic) "Just the fact that we’ve played there the last three weekends – I’m going into feeling like its home, so I don’t think that’s so much an advantage for them, anymore."
(Zind) Sheftic is a former Essex High School star and one of four seniors on the team.
With a tough regular season schedule and a record of 25 and 6, there’s a reasonable chance the women could be invited to the NCAA tournament even if they don’t win the America East Championship game. But senior guard Courtnay Pilypaitis says winning the conference is still important.
(Pilypaitis) "I think if we got to the NCAA tournament without having the championship it would still be kind of a sour note. We’d still enjoy it, but this is the ultimate goal."
(Zind) The women’s roster is heavy with Canadian talent like Pilypaitis, who’s from Ottawa.
In her four years wearing the UVM green, she’s peppered the record books. Just this year she set four new all time records for the program including three pointers, assists and minutes played.
The UVM women’s program has been going strong since the 1990s when players like Sherri Turnbull, Libby Smith, Carrie LaPine and Jen Neibling captured the hearts of fans.
But this season, for the first time in 17 years, the Lady Cats were briefly ranked in the national top 25. Coach Sharon Dawley says this team’s seniors present a rare opportunity she doesn’t want to squander.
(Dawley) "You might never have a class like that again, so don’t let it slip by, don’t waste the moment."
(Zind) The Lady Cats are looking to repeat this year as America East champions. The men, on the other hand, are looking for redemption after a 4 year conference title drought.
Seniors like star forward Marqus Blakely have yet to climb the ladder and cut down the net for a championship title.
(Blakely) "Four years has gone by pretty quick and now its starting to hit home that this is our last chance if we want to get to NCAA."
(Zind) The high point in the history of the UVM men’s program came in the first round of the 2005 NCAA tournament when the Catamounts – led by Taylor Coppenrath and T.J. Sorrentine, knocked off 4th seeded Syracuse.
That was under then head coach Tom Brennan. Since then Mike Lonergan has led the team and they’ve been averaging an impressive 21 wins a season. But not winning a conference championship and a trip to the NCAA tournament is on Lonergan’s mind.
(Lonergan) "To prove that our team belongs in the same breath as those teams of Coppenrath and Sorrentine, we need a win on Saturday. We’ve done everything here, but the one thing we haven’t won, is we haven’t cut down the nets."
(Zind) If the regular season is any indication the UVM men have a good chance of cutting down the nets. They beat Boston University twice during the regular season and a packed Patrick Gym will be cheering them on.
For VPR news, I’m Steve Zind.