(Host) The University of Vermont men’s basketball team is on game away from making it to this year’s NCAA tournament. The Catamounts can go to the show with a win at home overt Albany tomorrow.
As VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb reports, a victory can also put this UVM team in the record books.
(Wertlieb) Catamount fever was rampant throughout Vermont two years ago when UVM pulled off a huge upset over Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Back then the team was in the spotlight for its popular and dynamic head coach Tom Brennan, who announced that 2005 would be his final year with the team and because of star players Taylor Coppenrath, a native Vermonter who along with point guard TJ Sorrentine, provided the lion’s share of the Cats’ scoring punch.
But even that celebrated 2005 squad couldn’t surpass what this year’s team can achieve with a win Saturday – not only making the nation’s premier college basketball tournament, but setting the UVM record for most wins in a season in the process.
But with Brennan, Coppenrath and Sorrentine out of the picture, you might ask – who are these guys and how are they getting it done?
(Coach Lonergan) “Well I think we’ve got a lot of depth. You know I always play a lot of guys. And last year I played a lot of guys but we didn’t have quite the quality and depth on our bench. But now to have 8, 11 men that can come in and get playing time, I think that’s really the key because all these games seem so close and then usually the last 5, 6 minutes we find a way to win and that’s because we’ve been able to play a lot of guys.”
(Wertlieb) That’s UVM coach Mike Lonergan. What Lonergan has accomplished with one of the youngest squads in Division 1 basketball – there are only 2 seniors on this year’s team is remarkable. He was named the America East Conference coach of the year in just his second year replacing Tom Brennan.
Junior Guard Kyle Cieplicki has played under both coaches and says they couldn’t be more different.
(Cieplicki) “Complete opposites. Coach Brennan was more of a motivator. He’d cheer you after a good play. Coach Lonergan is more serious. They both have different styles and have been very successful. So it’s been great playing for both of them.”
(Wertlieb) Guard Mike Trimboli says home court advantage will make a huge difference this year. It’s something the Cats didn’t have when they lost to Albany in the title game last year.
(Trimboli) “I’m really confident having the crowd behind us will be huge. You know they’ll be going crazy, and when you go on a little run it makes it that much more exciting.”
(Wertlieb) Perhaps on one on the team is more excited than Martin Klimes. Along with center Chris Holm, the other senior on the team, the native of the Czech Republic doesn’t hesitate when asked what tomorrow’s championship game means to him.
(Klimes) “Everything. You know you work your whole career for something like this. I’m just really proud of my teammates. And I think it’s gonna be a great game. The top two teams in the conference – and whoever comes out on top goes to the dance. And I hope it’s gonna be us.”
Note: The title game starts at noon Saturday at UVM’s Patrick Gymnasium. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN2.