Vassar Today

Brewer Fever

By Emma Carmichael ’10

On Saturday, April 12, Vassar’s men’s volleyball team faced Springfield College in the Molten Division III Championship game. A week later, women’s rugby met Navy in the first round of the USA Rugby National Tournament. In the span of seven days, these student-athletes helped to establish Vassar as an institution capable of contending against some of the finest competition in the country.


Junior Steve Micucci's play helped lead Vassar to a NECVA Championship.
Junior Steve Micucci's play helped lead Vassar to a NECVA Championship.

For the men’s volleyball team, which began the year unranked in national polls, the season turning point may have come when they defeated No. 5 Stevens Institute of Technology 3-1 on February 13 to end Stevens’s 56-game conference winning streak. Or it could have been when the Brewers knocked off No. 1 Nazareth College in three straight games on February 22 in the Vassar College Invitational semifinals. Or perhaps it was when they swept by a second No. 1-ranked team, University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC), on April 11.

The year started out quietly for the team, its first as a member of the North East Collegiate Volleyball Association (NECVA), and ended with the raucous din of its first-ever Molten Championship match. After falling to UCSC 3-1 in the team’s first match-up on February 9, the Brewers found themselves with a 7-5 overall record and a slew of tough competitors ahead of them. The team responded by winning 13 straight games. As the No. 1 seed in the NECVA Championships, the Brewers rolled through four teams to take the crown and earn an automatic bid to the four-team Molten Invitational, dropping only a single game along the way.

Head Coach Jonathan Penn was named the NECVA Coach of the Year, and outside hitter and kill specialist Phil Tully ’10 was selected Player of the Year. Additionally, in the week preceding the Moltens, three Brewers were selected, for the first time ever, to the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) All-American squads. Tully and John Kessenich ’09 were named to the First Team, while co-captain and libero Kyle Giunta ’08 was chosen for the Second Team. Coach Penn was named 2008 AVCA Division III Men’s National Coach of the Year.

On April 12, the Brewers faced off against the host team at Blake Arena in Springfield, Massachusetts, to potentially take home a championship banner of their own. With the home crowd stomping, clapping, screaming, and nearly shaking the very foundation of the gym, Springfield College played what coach Penn called “the best game I have ever seen a Springfield team play” en route to winning the championship 3-0. Thus ended what was indisputably among the most successful seasons in Vassar athletics history.

Alex Milne '09 scores a try against Yale.
Alex Milne '09 scores a try against Yale.
A week later, the women’s rugby team flew to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for a championship game of their own, hosted by USA Rugby. The Brewers, led by dominant fly-half Elise Okusami ’08 with a team-high 15 tries this season, qualified for the Round of 16 as the No. 2-ranked team in the Northeast Rugby Union (NRU) and the No. 9-ranked team in the country. Since the fall’s overwhelming success, however (in which the team went 9-3 and outscored their opponents 303-159), seven starting players had been lost to injury and study-abroad opportunities.

Against Navy, Vassar head coach Tony Brown started 8 freshmen and sophomores out of his 15 players on the field, and the older opponents quieted the Brewer offense to earn a 21-5 victory. Vassar’s lone try came from Chrissy Lewis ’08, whose commitment to the field-hockey team had kept her from playing in her second sport’s fall season. The following day, April 20, Vassar played the University of California at Berkeley in the consolation bracket. The final score — a 58-12 rout for Vassar — suggested that with half of its current starters returning next fall, the Brewers will be wherever the national championship may take them.

Emma Carmichael ’10 is an Urban Studies major and a student assistant in the Sports Information Office.

Photos: Stockton Photo, Inc.