For the second consecutive weekend, I had no original intention of cheering on the University of Vermont Catamounts in person. The championship game of the America East Conference was simply scheduled too inconveniently for somebody who lives in the Green Mountain State. The trip to Stony Brook University in Long Island is nearly seven hours by car, and the 11:00 a.m. start time effectively precluded a road trip unless you were willing to spend at least one night on the road. After having just spent a weekend in Hartford for the opening rounds of the tournament, the trip was simply not inviting, despite what was at stake. My mind was made up.
One phone call changed all that. I've filled various volunteer roles as an alumnus of UVM, and am recognized as a very loyal fan of the Catamounts. As a result, when a seat opened up on a charter flight being taken by certain UVM emissaries to the game, I was very humbled to be invited to fill it. Understand that I have no idea whether I was the first or 431st person contacted to occupy the seat, I'm just grateful that when my turn was up, the seat was still empty. And I pounced.
Accordingly, this particular game experience was like no other I have ever enjoyed. Being able to arrive at the airport merely minutes before the flight was to depart; a quick, smooth jaunt to Islip; convenient ground service from the airstrip to the rapidly renovated but still somewhat underprepared Stony Brook Arena; VIP parking; and, finally, seats three rows behind the team bench. The experience would have been outstanding regardless of the outcome of the game. Then, it got better.
The host Seawolves pride themselves on playing outstanding defense, ranking among the best nationally in fewest points allowed per game. And that defense showed up for the title game, holding the Catamounts to 51 points, 17 below there season average. Usually, when you hold your opponent to 51 points, on your home court, you win. Usually.
Vermont's defensive unit was simply better this morning/afternoon. The Stony Brook shooting percentage will reflect that they were collectively cold, but a Catamount could be found attached to the hip of every Seawolf, making it all the easier to put a hand in the face of the shooter. Further, Vermont didn't allow Stony Brook to go on any runs until late in the second half (a nauseating spurt that would cut a 17-point deficit to four), thus minimizing the impact the raucous and anxious crowd would have.
No doubt, it was a collective effort, playing outstanding team defense. But the star of the show was sophomore Brian Voelkel, whose hands seem to generate a magnetic force with the basketball, to the tune of 15 rebounds. Then, when he does manage to let the ball go, it's often for the purpose of setting up his teammates for a bucket; seven assists in all. For his personal effort, Voelkel was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
The Catamounts didn't score much, but they made timely shots. If Stony Brook made a mini-run and hit a couple of baskets in a row, Vermont would inevitably answer with a #superhoop, often from frosh Four McGlynn. In the end, it doesn't take many points when you only give up 43.
A few notes on the venue: the Stony Brook Arena is not the regular home facility for the Seawolves, who typically play in a 1,700-seat gym which offers a substantial home court advantage. Thus, even though the floor was not neutral, neither team had a real advantage when it came to familiarity. It's hard to imagine that Stony Brook would shoot as poorly as it did in its regular gym. The Arena was quickly made game-ready this week when it became official that Stony Brook would host (as the highest remaining seed in the tournament). Game-ready does not necessarily equate to 2012 ready, as the venue offered one of the most grating sounds systems on the planet. It sounded as though the speakers were installed in 1983, and hadn't been used since 1984.
Finally, this was the fourth time I had personally witnessed Vermont winning the conference championship (missing only the inaugural victory in 2003), but the first time I stormed the court following the final buzzer. Well, it was more of a light shower than a storm, but it did make me regret having not done it in years past. For that, and the overall experience of a championship Saturday, I am overwhelmingly grateful to the UVM administration.
The title of this piece is a nod to one of my favorite all-time @midmajority articles, The Taylor Coppenrath Experience, Season 1, Game 26.
VERMONT 51, at STONY BROOK 43 03/10/2012
VERMONT 23-11 (13-3) -- B. Voelkel 1-1 2-2 5; S. Carissimo 3-10 1-3 8; F. McGlynn 5-11 0-0 14; M. Glass 3-10 0-0 7; B. Bald 1-4 1-2 3; L. Apfeld 1-2 0-0 2; C. Rugg 3-3 0-1 6; P. Bergmann 0-0 0-0 0; B. Crenca 1-2 3-3 5; J. Elbaum 0-0 1-2 1; C. Santo 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-43 8-13 51. STONY BROOK 22-9 (14-2) -- D. Joyner 2-2 0-0 4; D. Coley 4-16 1-1 10; T. Brenton 1-5 2-2 4; B. Dougher 2-12 2-3 8; A. Rapier 5-10 0-0 10; M. Rouse 2-6 0-0 5; A. Jackson 0-1 0-0 0; L. Hayes 0-2 0-0 0; D. Carter 0-0 0-0 0; R. Bracey 1-4 0-0 2; E. McAlister 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-58 5-6 43.
Three-point goals: UVM 7-15 (M. Glass 1-5; S. Carissimo 1-2; B. Voelkel 1-1; F. McGlynn 4-7), SB 4-19 (B. Dougher 2-8; M. Rouse 1-2; L. Hayes 0-2; A. Jackson 0-1; D. Coley 1-5; R. Bracey 0-1); Rebounds: UVM 31 (B. Voelkel 15), SB 32 (T. Brenton 7); Assists: UVM 13 (B. Voelkel 7), SB 6 (T. Brenton 4); Total Fouls -- UVM 11, SB 14; Fouled Out: UVM-None; SB-B. Dougher.