Like the hordes of students on spring break, the members of multiple sports teams escaped the gray days of Rochester by migrating south this week, where Florida’s abundant blue skies awaited.
Yet, unlike the general masses, the trip these athletes went on was anything but a break. Taking to the fields and courses of the Orange State for their first tournaments of the spring, their sights were set on starting the season right. Here’s a look at what each team has been up to, and what they hope to do in 2011.
Baseball It’s been a bit of a rocky start for the ‘Jackets, who, after a 4-1 opening (including a 19-5 blowout over Husson College in the season opener), have dropped five in a row at the University Athletic Association Championships, the most recent of which was a demoralizing 15-4 decision that was called early per the mercy rule. This is not to say the yellow and blue has been entirely outmatched in league play. The home team has been on the losing end of four one-point games in the week long tournament, which concluded Sunday.
This year’s UR lineup is a resilient group. Late-game offensive rallies have become common for a team that just won’t say die. Seniors Matt Francis and Steve Just lead a potent and experienced offense that returns the bulk of last year’s hitters, including junior Rob Barnard and sophomore Jon Menke. On the pitching end, seniors Dan Ludwig and Charles Chanatry headline the starting rotation. Sophomore Corey King is a late-game reliever capable of shutting down opposing offenses, as he’s done twice this season.
The Yellowjackets open their home season on Wednesday, March 23, when they host St. John Fisher College in the first of a five-game home stand. The season will get especially interesting in mid-May, when UR attends the three-day Liberty League Conference Tournament.
Softball Like their male counterparts, the women cruised through game after game early this season before running into trouble at the UAA Championships. The women outscored the opposition 48-5 through the first four games of the season before falling to Brandeis University 9-5 in the Championships’ first game. After following the lackluster performance with miserable play on Day Two of the tournament — during which UR was blanked by both No. 10 Emory University (by an 11-0 score) and annual national contender Washington University in St. Louis (6-0), the 2011 campaign already appeared to be somewhat lost.
Not to be deterred, the Yellowjackets have returned to form with two wins over Case Western Reserve University — the second of which was a 17-5 trouncing of the Spartans — and an 8-2 grudge victory over Brandeis. Junior Katie McLean (four RBIs, three runs scored in the UAA wins) and star freshman Nina Korn (10 RBIs, including one grand slam in the Case blowout) bring the big bats to a relatively young club, while sophomore Madeline Skellie and junior Sara Hutchinson anchor the pitching staff.
New York state boasts some of the nation’s elite squads, including No. 8 Ithaca College and No. 13 Cortland State College, making UR’s path to the four-day NCAA Championships a hostile one. However, with clutch play late in the season — at the Liberty League Tournament and NCAA Regionals — it’s not out of the question that the nation’s best could be coming to Rochester turf to take on the Yellowjackets.
Men’s Tennis After a 3-0 start to begin the 2011 campaign, the men’s tennis program has cooled off a bit since the weather grew nicer and they began to play outdoors. Recent losses to Wheaton College in Illinois (9-0), The College of New Jersey (9-0) and Coe College (8-1) leave the ‘Jackets at an even mark of 3-3 — solid, but with room for improvement.
Freshman Boris Borovcanin, the only UR player to make it past the first round in the prestigious Intercollegiate Tennis Association Open in the fall, holds up the No. 1 position for the yellow and blue. Sophomore Joel Allen, junior Brian Rice and seniors Dan Barbash and Jeff Zink complete the lineup.
The ‘Jackets have their work cut out for them this season. No. 4 Emory University, No. 6 Washington University in St. Louis, No. 8 Carnegie Mellon University and No. 17 University of Chicago all stand in the home team’s way for an NCAA berth.
Women’s Tennis The good news: The ‘Jackets are flying high, sporting a 3-1 record and toting the nation’s No. 20-seed entering a three-game streak of away competitions.
The bad news: Two of those games are against even higher-seeded teams — No. 12 Middlebury College and No. 19 Skidmore College.
The women are anchored by All-American senior Lia Weiner. Weiner should be a significant threat late in the season, though for the team to move up the daunting totem pole that is the NCAA women’s tennis rankings, the seasoned supporting cast must step up and swing away. This means sophomore Frances Tseng and the junior trio of Alexandra Goodman, Jamie Bow and Danielle Shreck will need to be ready by the late season and, in particular, at the UAA Championships.
The UAAs, which kick off in mid-April and feature six of the nation’s top 30 teams, including No. 3 Emory University and No. 4 University of Chicago, will be the testing ground for the women’s team — an opportunity to make a statement about where they are as a club and where they can hope to be in the future on the national level.
Women’s Track and Field The sky’s the limit for the women’s track and field squad. Senior thrower Yaneve Fonge made an indellable footprint on division III track and field by heaving the 20-lb. weight a lifetime best of 19.24 meters at the NCAA Championships this indoor season. The throw was not only the second-best in the nation and a new school record, but also the fourth-best in Division III history. As if this weren’t enough, senior Jackie Cinella also had her go at college track and field’s grandest stage, running in the 800-meter and just missing the event’s final heat.
Cinella leads a talented mid-distance corps that sports a unique blend of veterans and newcomers. Sophomore Claire Crowther, who finished second in the 500-meters at ECACs, is joined by junior Hillary Snyder — the school record holder in the 1,000-meter run — and freshman Carrie Gulvin. Senior Megan O’Connor and junior Lauren Norton return to lead the distance crew.
Senior Casey Green, junior Sarah Hutchinson and freshman Abby Zabrodsky provide the punch in the sprints, while promising sophomore Carina Luck aims to break down barriers in the jumps.
The women sent two athletes to the NCAA Championships in the winter, and they’re hungry for more. Fonge and Cinella have made UR’s presence known in Division III.Now the rest of the lineup must follow their lead.
Men’s Track and Field Having excelled indoors this winter amid fierce competition in Boston, New York City and Ithaca, the men’s outdoor track and field squad is physically and mentally prepared for the short, sweet season that spring promises. Senior Frank Ramirez, hot off his second-place performance in the 800-meter run at the ECAC Championships (in 1:53.58, four one-hundredths off the school record) anchors a strong mid-distance crew that includes senior A.J. Lee, junior Greg Hartnett and freshman Yuji Wakimoto. The tandem finished third in the 4×800-meter relay at the same meet, breaking the school record.
Senior sprinters Justin Lyttleton and Nick Chisholm look to rack up points for the seasoned short-distance runners, while senior indoor ECAC-qualifiers Jacob Gardner and John Milks man the throws.
The team’s strong suit this season will be the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Headlined by All-American senior Brian Lang, who will seek the 30-year school record in the event, the crew also features fellow senior Dan Lane, sophomore Justin Roncaioli and freshman Thomas Hollowell. Cross-country All-American junior Jamie Vavra returns with the nationally-ranked distance team to cover everything 5,000-meters and up.
The men aim to cap a solid year for the track and field program by improving upon last year’s fourth-place finish at the New York State Collegiate Track Conference Championships and seventeenth at ECACs.
Golf Freshman Nick Pellegrino picked up right where he left off on Sunday, March 13 downing the best players the UAA had to offer by shooting a four-under par. Pellegrino, the reigning Liberty League Player and Rookie of the Year from this past fall, led the Yellowjackets to a second-place finish, ahead of national contender Carnegie Mellon University and New York University but behind Emory University.
Classmate Rafael Baez adds to the promising freshman class, tying for fifth at the UAA Championships, while seniors Ryan Williams and Chris Driscoll and junior Mike Chudacoff round out UR’s top five.
The ‘Jackets will find their greatest challenge in perennial powerhouse and rival No. 10 Skidmore College, the fall’s Liberty League champion. To be sure, the immediate goal is to finally topple the Thoroughbreds. With this win in hand, the underdog ‘Jackets can expect to see their school finally crack the nation’s top 15 — a bubble on which they’ve sat on the cusp of for quite some time.