Lions in search of winter wonderland

As the College’s men’s and women’s basketball teams and the wrestling squads get ready to make their annual runs at championship gold this winter, The Signal gives you a first look at what’s in store.

Women’s Basketball

It was a tough way to go out.

Last year, the Lions fell in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) to the Kean University Cougars before losing in the NCAA Tournament. However, if you ask the team members now, that disappointment has faded as they look to build off their newfound experience in the 2008-2009 season.

“The losses in the NJAC finals and in the NCAA tournament are the fuel to this season, but in a positive way,” junior forward/center Alex Gregorek said. “We are not going to dwell on it, but we are going to use it to drive us forward and to try and accomplish even more this year.”

The team has even higher hopes for this season, as most of the team is returning to action, with the notable exception of graduated guard/forward Sara Best.

“Sara is, of course, a great loss (for) our team,” Gregorek said. “But we do have a lot of returning players with experience, as well as new players that bring a new dimension to our team.”

The Lions went 22-7 overall with an 11-2 conference record last year. They will continue to look to senior center and captain Hillary Klimowicz as a team leader. Klimowicz led the Lions in points, rebounds and blocks per game last season.

The question remains, however: Can the Lions get the job done in the NJAC this year?

“We do have a great chance of taking the conference, but nothing is guaranteed and we need to work hard to get it,” Gregorek said. “Nothing is going to be handed to us.”

– Michael O’Donnell, Opinions Editor

Men’s Basketball

Twenty years ago, red-shirt freshman Kelly Williams sat on the sidelines as the Lions raced into the finals of the 1990 NCAA Division III tournament. In 2008-2009, the rookie skipper will look to stir up some of that magic as the new head coach of a Lions’ squad on the rebound.

“To be able to come back home and coach in the same place that I played is just an exciting feeling, and I’m very excited about that opportunity,” he said.

Williams inherits a team depleted by graduation. Offensive catalyst Mark Aziz, big man Jeff Warner and speedy point guard Corey Gilmore are all gone, leaving the first-time coach’s team in the hands of his co-captain guards, sophomore Jay Frank and senior Jeff Molinelli.

“Obviously losing that senior group and the points they produced last year (was) one of the areas that was a concern for me going in,” Williams said. “I’ve seen a lot of promise in Jeff Molinelli. He’s going to have to add to his successful junior year. We’re also going to lean on Jay Frank.”

Molinelli is a complete package. The shooting guard is a three-point threat, capable rebounder and solid all-around scorer who ranks among the NJAC’s top offensive threats. Frank, a precise shooter who went 42 percent from the field as a sophomore, will also come to the forefront of a new-look offense that Kelly continually describes as “aggressive.” That style of play will be helped by some of Williams’ former charges from Mercer County Community College.

Senior guard Eric Hayes will adopt Gilmore’s role at point guard. While he is not necessarily a major scoring threat, Hayes’ passing ability will be key for a team that hopes to run the floor and attack opposing defenses. Transfer center Alat-Eldin Ahmed, another ex-Mercer competitor, will add some muscle to the Lions’ speedy attack. Standing at 6-foot-9 and weighing 255 pounds., the big man could bring some powerful post play back to the College.

– James Queally, Sports Editor

Wrestling

Expectations are high for the wrestling team. With the return of its two All-Americans – senior Greg Osgoodby (174 pounds) and sophomore Justin Bonitatis (165 pounds) – as well as the team’s two other co-captains – juniors Dan DiColo (149 pounds) and Tyler Branham (141 pounds) – the odds are in favor of the Lions repeating the success they had on the mats last season.

The National Wrestling Coaches Association has already showed similar confidence in the College, ranking the Lions 14th among Division III colleges across the nation.

Thanks to Bonitatis and sophomore John Barnett (149 pounds), the Lions will not have to rely solely on the performances of their more experienced wrestlers. They can also expect a strong showing from their younger stars.

The team opens up its winter warpath tonight in Packer Hall against the Ducks of Stevens Institute of Technology.

– Steve Cohen, Staff Writer