Spring Sports Season Has Many High Points, Increased Fan Attendance

Posted: May 13, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Christopher Anzalone

The George Mason athletic program finished the spring 2004 semester on a high note, with a host of teams earning slots in a slew of tournaments and others advancing even further to set new university records. “We are very proud of the accomplishments of our student-athletes on the field,” says Tom O’Connor, assistant vice president and director of athletics. “Most of our spring sports teams were in the top half of the CAA [Colonial Athletic Association] standings.”

Bolstered by aggressive marketing and promotional initiatives set out by the Athletic Department, attendance at many sporting events during the semester was up dramatically as well, marking a notable increase in the amount of interest in George Mason athletics among the student population.

“Mason athletics have come so far in so little time. The country is starting to take notice of our Patriots, and the student body has responded,” says B.J. Koubaroulis, the outgoing sports editor for Broadside, George Mason’s official student newspaper. “The performances from our student-athletes have been a true testament to the excellence of the athletic program. This year’s student-athletes represented their student body with class.”

The fruits of the department’s campaign were clearly apparent during the men’s basketball team’s two games in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), where they played the first game in front of a near-capacity crowd at the Patriot Center, defeating Austin Peay State University 66-60 to advance to the second round. The team finished with a record of 23-10, besting the previous record of 21 wins set during the 1983-84 season and passing the 20-win mark for the first time since the 1989-90 season. They also narrowly missed winning the CAA tournament, losing by a slim margin to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). To top off the team’s best season in university history, CollegeInsider.com ranked the Patriots 20th in its Mid-Major Top 25 Poll. In late March, Head Coach Jim Larranaga signed a two-year extension contract and will continue at the helm of the men’s team through the 2008-09 season. In late April, Virginia Sports Information Directors (VaSID) voted standout player Jai Lewis onto the All-Virginia Second Team.

The women’s basketball team, headed by Coach Debbie Taneyhill, who signed a three-year extension contract in early April, enjoyed similar success. The team finished with an overall record of 18-11 and a conference mark of 11-7. The team advanced all the way to the CAA championship game after defeating VCU, but was narrowly edged out by Old Dominion University in a thrilling game. Players Jen Derevjanik and Vernessa Neamo received recognition from the VaSID and were recently voted into the University Division Virginia All-State Women’s Basketball first and second teams. Derevjanik will also participate in the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun’s team training camp during the summer, after earning one of three slots ahead of 36 other participants in the Sun’s free agent camp in late April.

The baseball team, which currently is ranked eighth in the nation in scoring, is “expected to fare well in the [CAA] tournament in late May, with a possible National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) berth,” says O’Connor. This week, the team was also recognized in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association’s top 35 list, receiving votes for the second consecutive week. Players Nick Shimer, Stacen Gant, Jeff Palumbo, Chris Looze, and Adam Innerst are all nationally ranked in various performance and statistical categories.

The men’s soccer team finished the season with a 4-1-1 record, with players John O’Hara and Damian O’Rourke earning places on the University Division Men’s Soccer first team. Steve Alabi was voted onto the division’s second team. O’Rourke will also represent George Mason at the 2004 NCAA Leadership Conference, scheduled for May 30-June 3 in Buena Vista, Fla.

The women’s lacrosse team advanced to the CAA Tournament semifinals before losing to top-ranked James Madison University, and also placed 20th for two consecutive weeks in the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association weekly poll. Players Stacey Berger and Meg Dentler were named to the CAA’s Women’s Lacrosse first team, while Lisa Hagan, Kristy Manas, and Michele Brady received placements on the second team.

In mid-March, men’s track and field team member Richard Phillips placed fourth in the 60-meter hurdle finals at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships. Phillips also joined teammates Marc Kellman, Ricardo Melbourne, Ryan McCoy, and Quentin Matthews in qualifying for the NCAA East Regional meets, scheduled for late May in Florida.

The women’s track and field team placed second at the CAA Women’s Track and Field Championships, losing to the College of William and Mary by one point. Team members Sheena Davidson and Nicole Brown also qualified for the NCAA East Regional meets, as did the 4X400-meter relay team of Davidson, Paula Bailey, Alycia Williams, and Kim Morgan.

In late April, the women’s rowing team finished third in the first and second varsity eight races of the CAA Championships and placed second in the first novice eight race, narrowly edging out Drexel University.

The swimming and diving teams had several members receive honors, including Jamie Downing (CAA Diver of the Year), Colleen Flack (CAA Diving Rookie of the Year), and Tom Koucheravy (CAA Rookie of the Year-Swimming). In March, at the NCAA Zone A Diving Championships, men’s team member John Appleman placed 17th in men’s one-meter springboard and seventh in platform diving discipline. At the same event, women’s team member Downing placed eighth in three-meter springboard, with teammates Ashley Craw placing 11th and Flack placing17th.

The men’s tennis team entered the CAA Men’s Tennis Tournament in late April, but was knocked out in the first round, losing to Towson University and finishing the season with a 2-18 record. The women’s tennis team advanced to the quarterfinals in the CAA Women’s Tennis Tournament in late April, but lost to VCU and finished the season with a 7-14 record.

Men’s golf placed seventh in the CAA Tournament in mid-April, finishing the season by tying for sixth place with VCU in the Rutherford Intercollegiate.

The men’s volleyball team made it to the semifinals of the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association tournament after defeating Princeton University, but fell to Pennsylvania State University. Despite a rough season, players Felix Campos and Matt Steinfurth were named to the All-Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association’s second team.

The wrestling team had two members, Adrian Austin and Rob Becker, participate in the NCAA Wrestling Championships, March 18-20. Both performed well, but were eventually knocked out of the tournament. The team finished its season in 60th place nationally.

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