With barely any snow on the ground, the UR winter sports teams are already off to a tremendous starts. With a collective total of three championship titles in as many appearances thus far, the Yellowjackets have swept the opposition clean and established themselves as the teams to beat in their respective competitions. Here’s just a sample of what’s been done and what’s still left to do on each teams’ season:

Men’s Basketball: The men’s basketball team (4-1) came out fighting at this season’s start, with a lopsided 81-52 win over St. Lawrence University in the first round of the Chuck Resler Tournament, which UR hosted. After suffering their only loss thus far, a narrow 84-74 defeat to Babson College that eliminated UR from the tournament, UR rebounded to claim victory in the UR/Holiday Inn Airport Invitational with wins over the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford and Wittenberg College in front of a packed Alexander Palestra crowd.    Under brand new head coach Luke Flockerzi, Yellowjacket men’s basketball — one of this school’s proudest and most successful athletic departments — has a new look. Flockerzi spent 2007-10 at Skidmore College, bringing the Thoroughbreds to the semifinals of the Liberty League Championship in the last season. Flockerzi takes over a deeply talented lineup, headlined by former University Athletic Association Rookies-of-the-Year junior forward Nate Novosel (2009) and sophomore guard John DiBartolomeo (2010). Novosel has already emerged a team leader this season, leading the team in points per game (18.2), points (91) and field goal percentage (.745). Promising freshmen guards Nate Vernon and Greg Pennamon bring youth and a bright future to the Yellowjackets. Still, the ’Jackets have their work cut out for them this season. Washington University in St. Louis, No. 20 ranked in the nation, is slated to host UR in mid-February, while fellow UAA rivals Brandeis University and New York University sit on the cusp of cracking the top 25.

Women’s Basketball A 1-point loss to Messiah College in the first game of the season was not the way the women’s basketball team wanted to start this year, but perhaps it served as a wake-up call. The Yellowjackets have followed up with tremendously one-sided victories since the disappointing opener, upending Ithaca College, 92-50, to take the Chuck Resler Tournament title, and then defeating Elmira College four days later, 77-34.
The loss to Messiah was especially shocking given UR’s national reputation from last year. Deemed a talented but young and inexperienced team — even considered by many as unfit for play at the national level — the Yellowjackets defied their critics with a dramatic run through some of the nation’s best en route to the program’s third-ever Final Four appearance, only falling to Hope College in the semifinals. Now sitting in the No. 5 spot in most polls, there are great expectations for the Palestra’s own — expectations the Yellowjackets seem poised to live up to, given the big-game experience they garnered from last season. All-American senior wing Melissa Alwardt and Second Team All-UAA junior Jodie Luther lead a seasoned lineup that also includes rising star sophomore Amy Woods. Through four games this season, Luther and Woods co-lead the team in points-per-game (11.5) while Alwardt adds a team-leading 10 3-pointers.
UR isn’t the only national powerhouse in the University Athletic Association. Washington University in St. Louis — the 2010 national champion who defeated Hope in the finals last year and currently sits in seventh after losing numerous starters — will no doubt provide a challenge for the home team when the two meet in the Palestra in mid-February. Amherst College, which took down the Yellowjackets in the consolation game last year to nab third place in the tournament, has taken over the No. 1 seed in most polls. Amherst and others now prepare for the ’Jackets in the postseason, wondering what the youths-turned-titans have in store for 2011.

Men’s and women’s swimming and diving The men’s and women’s swimming teams are already headlong into their winter seasons, as both have raced a tri-meet with UAA rivals New York University and Case Western Reserve University, completed a duel with Union College and most recently competed in a four-team meet with Carnegie Mellon University, Franklin and Marshall College and Washington & Lee University.
Early-season heroics on the male side have come from a variety of sources thus far into the 2010-11 campaign. Proven veteran senior Kevin Howard, has been a formidable force across the board. In a 147-147 tie with Union College, Howard claimed wins in the 100-yard backstroke, 200-yard backstroke and 200 IM, as well as helped his 200-yard medley relay team win. Howard was, later that week, named the Liberty League swimmer of the week, though he alone was not responsible for the Yellowjackets’ success. Howard’s teammates in that relay — freshman Sam Wilshire, freshman Alex King, sophomore Christian Vu and sophomore Adam Bossert — have all been vital contributors week after week to the Yellowjackets’ success. Wilshire, has played just as significant a role as Howard, having taken first in the 100 fly and 200 fly in the Union meet while being named the Liberty League rookie of the week.
For the Lady ‘Jackets, sophomore Stephanie Bolin has been a presence in the fly, having won both the 100 and 200-meters at the Union meet. Senior Cailee Caldwell was equally as dominating that day, claiming the 200 and 500-yard freestyle events. Fellow senior Val Atwood took the 100-yard backstroke that day.. Sophomore Megan Braun, winner of both the 1-meter and 3-meter board in the Union meet, was named the Liberty League diver of the week last week, and has been supported by classmate Sara Spielman and junior Rachel deLahunta.

Squash It’s been nothing but business since day one for the squash team this winter, as the home team remains undefeated and has lost no more than three matches against any opponent (a competition consisting of nine matches).
After opening the 2010-11 campaign with a convincing 8-1 victory over nationally ranked No. 8 Western Ontario University, the Yellowjackets travelled to Poughkeepsie, NY, home of this year’s Liberty League Championships. UR took the competition by storm, posting wins over St. Lawrence University (6-3) and Hobart College (7-2), and wrapped things up with a blanking of host Vassar College (9-0) in the finals.
Sophomore Andres Duany of Lima, Peru plays in the No. 1 position for a team largely represented by athletes of foreign descent. All-American junior Ben Fischer of Switzerland and classmate Joe Chapman — the top player of the Virgin Islands — round out UR’s incredibly accomplished top three.
Like women’s basketball, the squash team has a high stature in the collegiate athletic community and, has its sights set on fulfilling its tremendous potential. As there are no divisional separations in collegiate squash, nationally ranked No. 4 UR plans to take on such athletic powerhouses as normally DI Princeton University and Yale University, as well as 2009-10 national champion Trinity College, in hopes of a national championship.

Men’s and women’s indoor track While the men’s and women’s indoor track teams have yet to compete in a meet this season, signs are pointing toward another strong Yellowjacket showing.
On the men’s side, the distance crew is fresh off its finest cross-country season in 16 years — a trip to the NCAA Division III National Championships in Iowa, where they placed 17th. Led by All-American junior Jamie Vavra and a veteran unit comprised of seniors Craig Baumgartner, Frank Ramirez, Dan Lane, Jon Pinto and All-American steeplechase Brian Lang, the distance team has sights set on sending relay teams and individuals to nationals, as well as utilizing its deep lineup to rake in the points for UR this winter.
Junior Greg Hartnett headlines a strong mid-distance team that also includes seniors Jake Tutmaher and Brian Thomson and freshmen phenoms Yuji Wakimoto and Andrew Keene. Accomplished seniors Justin Lyttleton and A.J. Lee lead the way in the sprints, while junior Nick Chisholm and sophomore Bradley Ashcroft rise into crucial roles this year. Senior thrower Jake Gardner was a state-qualifier last year, while junior Will McMunigal will likely be UR’s top competitor in both the high jump and long jump.
The female representation also looks promising. Sophomore Antoinette Johnson and senior Yaneve Fonge, both ECAC-qualifiers in the shotput, return to the lineup. Fonge poses as a double threat in the weight throw, in which she tossed an NCAA-qualifying 15.81 meters last February. Junior polevaulter Kaily Abbott, also an ECAC-qualifier last year, will be back as well.
The sprints are a point of strength for this year’s women. Juniors Kenisha Smith and Niki Bourque, and seniors Casey Green and Jacqueline Cinella — the four members of the 4×400 meter relay team that finished third at ECACs last winter — are all returnees. Cinella can add a Nationals appearance to her resume after qualifying in the 800-meter run at the same meet.
After an injury-plagued cross-country season, the distance unit seeks to re-establish itself as a powerhouse on the backs of senior Megan O’Connor, juniors Hillary Snyder and Lauren Norton and sophomore Zarah Quinn. Snyder in particular will be looked to for top performances, as she qualified as an individual for this year’s NCAA Cross-Country Championships.

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