VB Coach

With the departure of volleyball coach Mike Johnson for the greener courts of Notre Dame, Athletic Director Greg Christopher announced that associate head coach Christy Pfeffenberger would take his place as the new head coach.

“It became clear during our search process that the best choice for a new leader for our volleyball program was already here,” Christopher says. Pfeffenberger has been with the team twice before already, first from 2008-2010 and most recently since March 2014 following a three-year stint as an assistant at—you guessed it—Notre Dame. All told, she has 10 years of Division I coaching experience including at University of Dayton and Youngstown State. She played at Dayton from 2000-2004 where she was Atlantic 10 Player of the Year in 2004. “I`m excited for my first head coaching opportunity to be here at Xavier,” she says. “I truly believe in the mission and values of the University.”

Sweet Victory

Men’s Soccer Scores Big with First-Ever NCAA Tournament Home Game

In the cold November evening, the fans are on their feet and, on this Thursday, Nov. 20, Matt Vasquenza is ready to make history.

After hundreds of hours of training and sweating and imagining what could be, he and his teammates know it often comes down to a matter of instant reactions to make longtime dreams come true.

The pivotal moment arrives in the second overtime of Xavier’s match against Monmouth. It’s already a history-maker—the first time the men’s soccer team has ever hosted an NCAA Tournament game at home. The Soccer Complex is dressed for the occasion, its hillside stands packed with blue-and-white clad fans and Xavier banners draped around the field.

The teams are tied at one goal each, but Xavier is dominating. Jalen Brown runs the left flank toward the goal, hunkering down to keep possession while his teammates catch up. He flicks a short pass to Vasquenza, just 15 yards from the left post. Vasquenza fires quickly, but the Monmouth goalie bats it back. Vasquenza extends his leg and pokes the ball with a toe toward a teammate, who shoots. The ball is blocked and returned again to Vasquenza.

The penalty box is now filled with seven defenders and the goalie, all dressed in white. It looks impossible, but Vasquenza taps it a couple of times before passing it with his left. The ball rolls slowly across the goal to an open Alex Ridsdale. He pounces, a blue streak in a mass of white. The ball sails over the Monmouth defenders’ heads into the net to score a golden goal.

“He just jumped on it,” says fifth-year Coach Andy Fleming, “and it went into the top of the netting.”

Ridsdale, normally right-footed, had shot with his left. “But I don’t think he could have hit it any better than he did. He smashed it into the goal, and that was it.”

Xavier fans go into a frenzy, jumping, screaming, flinging cups of ice in the air. Fleming falls to his knees and pumps his fists. Six Monmouth players and their goalie fall to the cold turf of their penalty box, and don’t move, their dreams of a tournament run ended. Xavier’s players rush, arms outstretched, to greet their celebrating fans. Some spill onto the field.

“It was unbelievable energy,” says former assistant coach Kris Bertsch.

It’s mostly as the team has imagined it would be. And they know even bigger things—including their first Sweet Sixteen game ever—are to follow. But for now, they want to savor the moment of their first win in their first NCAA Tournament home game.

“One vision I had was of people being up on that hill, and us coming out as the host of an NCAA Tournament game,” Fleming says. “It was definitely the best home-game moment we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

The victory was made even sweeter with memories of the snow that had kept his team off the practice field, and two losses early in the season.

“Since I was a freshman, we’ve always been pushing for a home NCAA game,” says senior Will Walker, who scored the game’s first goal. “I can’t explain the feeling. It’s unbelievable.”

Hoping the feeling continues, they enter the second round of the NCAA Tournament against the eight-time national champion Indiana Hoosiers in Bloomington, where storms puddle the muddy field. Xavier scores first and last in a 2-1 win, prevailing on Walker’s penalty kick.

Then comes the program’s first Sweet Sixteen match in Omaha against Creighton with a spirited crowd and cutting winds that freeze the cups of water on the bench. They play hard, but it does not go well for the Xavier men. Creighton wins 2-1.

Still, not bad for a supposed rebuilding year. NCAA Tournament prospects had looked shaky after Xavier allowed seven goals in the season’s first two games, both losses. After that, players refocused on defending, the hallmark of recent seasons. The team went 15-6-2, ending with a No. 13 ranking, and set a program record for fewest goals allowed per game. The seniors became the winningest class in program history, and a highly touted freshman class didn’t disappoint. Next season’s freshmen remind Fleming of this year’s seniors.

“I thought it was our best team,” Fleming says. “We were consistently good and occasionally great.”

Double Dip

Head coach Brent MacDonald led men’s swimming to back-to-back victories as Big East Conference champions this year after clinching the title last year during Xavier’s first season in the new conference. The wins mark not just Big East firsts for Xavier but are also the swim program’s first conference title wins ever.
The benefits are huge. “When you win two years in a row, it begins to show sustained success to potential recruits,” he says.
MacDonald was also honored as Big East Coach of the Year this year, tying with Jamie Holder of Georgetown. This is another repeat for Xavier as MacDonald won not only the 2014 Big East Coach of the Year, but was similarly honored in the last year of the Atlantic 10 Conference.
MacDonald joined Xavier as assistant coach in 2006. He was named interim head coach in 2008 and head coach in 2009. His swimmers have won awards such as Rookie of the Year and Most Outstanding Performance, fostering expectations of a three-peat in the Big East next year.

In the Clubhouse

Sr. Rose Ann Fleming’s special—sometimes loud—bond with men’s basketball: An excerpt from her book, Out of Habit

Out of Habit, My Life as Xavier University’s Unlikely Point Guard, explores Fleming’s powerful role with the men’s basketball team and its extraordinary academic success, due to her work as an academic advisor and support for the Sr. Rose Ann Fleming Endowment for Student-Athlete Success. This excerpt details her relationship with 1990 graduate Tyrone Hill.

Tall and aggressive, Tyrone Hill could dominate a basketball court, even as a freshman at Xavier. He also had a chip on his shoulder the size of a Volkswagen and a glower that could blister paint. Of course, I liked him right away. He was about to flunk a class because he couldn’t—or wouldn’t—write a philosophy paper that was due. A disgusted assistant coach dumped Tyrone in my office, and I steered him to the library. The smoldering athlete cursed under his breath. A single hissing expletive, the same word, over and over, almost in time with our footsteps. Lacking a dignified response, I just kept walking briskly, hoping he would follow. He did.

The first really great player I would work with, Tyrone was recruited from Withrow High School in Cincinnati and came to Xavier in the summer of 1986. As is often the case, he thought basketball was the main event.

“I’m here to play basketball,” he huffed.

“You are here to play basketball and to get an education,” I huffed back.

We had resident tutors/counselors who were supposed to make sure Tyrone studied. The counselors were cowed by him, but not so fearful that they didn’t spill the beans to me when he didn’t show up at the study table. The next day, I would be in his face. Friendly, but firm, I would walk him through what was expected. It happened more than once. So when it came time for the confrontation over his philosophy paper, we knew each other. I already had a hunch that when I marched to the library he would follow.

He respected me. And I respected him right back.

Besides his curiosity and intelligence, I genuinely admired his athletic ability, and I made it clear that I valued sports. I had several photos on my walls of Xavier teams. “Look at you, Tyrone,” I said, “the tallest player on the team. I bet you make things happen at practice.” Naturally, I went to practice to see if I was right.

Sometimes important bonds are formed just by being there. I think living at Manor House on campus was a distinct advantage for me. My work included finding students who didn’t want to be found. And I could run like a deer.

When it was first announced that basketball players were going to move into some of the units in the Manor House, Tyrone called to warn me.

“You may want to move,” he said.

“Why would I want to move?” I answered. “I’ve been there a while.”

“Because it will be noisy.”

The team had regular drug and alcohol testing, and they were typically exhausted during the season. They were not going to be up all night partying. I assumed they thought I would complain about their music, which was sometimes earsplitting. I said if they promised not to crank up the volume on LL Cool J, I would try not to pray too loud.

In Tyrone’s junior year, he grappled with the choice presented to many top college players—should he play pro ball or should he stay in college another year and get his degree? The NBA offers big money, and the contract doesn’t come with a bookbag and a nag. He asked me what he should do. In my head, I was shrieking, “Don’t go. Don’t squander your hard work. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.” But we try to teach our students to make their own good choices.

So, I said calmly: “Tyrone, life is like strategy for a big game. If you maximize all the opportunities and minimize all the obstacles, you win.” He decided to stay and collect the degree he had earned.

Tyrone Hill was chosen by the Golden State Warriors in the 1990 NBA draft and went on to play for Cleveland, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. He retired from basketball after coaching for the Atlanta Hawks, then he spent time in Cincinnati, rebuilding a playground in the Evanston area where he grew up. For a while, he owned a company called All Net Records, which released music by groups including OTR Clique, D’Meka and KompoZur. I am not familiar with these artists, but I assume they are loud.

(Donations are welcome to the Sr. Rose Ann Fleming Endowment for Student-Athlete Success fund which is part of Xavier’s All For One Fund. Out of Habit is available for purchase at
xavier.edu/alumni/book.)

Game Changer

The official announcement of the worst-kept secret in college sports happened March 20: Xavier is leaving the Atlantic 10 Conference and joining a newly restructured Big East. Talk of the change was a shadow story throughout much of the past year, and making the announcement official was not only a relief, it formally moved Xavier to the place it has been aiming at for the last 30 years—the national stage.

Xavier’s elevation into one of the most dominant basketball conferences in the country was met with a packed Cintas Center conference room and a great deal of pride among Musketeer alumni and fans. But what was lost in the announcement was the fact that the move into national prominence wasn’t an overnight event. Rather, it was the culmination of a well-planned, concerted effort that was decades in the making, starting back even before Xavier entered the Midwestern Collegiate Conference in 1979.Team 5 LIP 8-20-12 DC

There were little steps along the way—ditching the “Xavier of Ohio” tag, ignoring the “mid-major” label, teaching people that it’s not pronounced “Ex-avier.” There were big steps as well—moving from Schmidt Fieldhouse to the Cincinnati Gardens, joining the A-10, building the Cintas Center. But like walking up a flight of stairs, each step elevated the University until it has now reached what could arguably be considered the top flight.

The question remains, though: Now what? The new Big East is in some ways an experiment in athletic dynamics. It’s now the nation’s only non-football, basketball-centered power conference. It’s also made up of nine Catholic schools and one private school. What does all that mean in terms of national interest? In terms of television revenue? In terms of quality?

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[button link=”#” size=”medium” target=”self”]     Additional Content     [/button]
• New athletic director Greg Christopher shares his views on Xavier joining the Big East.
The competition: A listing of Big East schools and how Xavier compares.
A video of Xavier sports highlights from the past three decades.

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20121011_BASE_BlueWhite_Richard_5In some ways, the creation of the conference is a relief to the plethora of conference realignments driven by television exposure and revenue that have been taking place over the last five or six years. Its creation wasn’t spawned from a drive for more money and power, but from a protest against that.

The old Big East was crumbling from the inside out as its football and non-football schools (informally known as the Catholic Seven) engaged in an internal tug-of-war. By rejecting the idea that football comes first and breaking away on their own, the Catholic Seven not only found relief from the stress of financial inequality, but they found freedom as well—freedom to play for reasons other than commercialism.

“In a mercenary college athletics world drunk on dollars and disdainful of both common sense and the common fan,” Yahoo sports columnist Pat Forde wrote, “it’s nice to see one group declare that something else matters more. Identity matters more. Equality matters more.“083112_OleMiss_001

Arguably, so might mission. With all of the schools except Butler being Catholic, it offers the opportunity for subtle preaching of values and service through its on- and off-the-field actions. Before the first game has even been played, the new league can already boast about one record that most other conferences can’t—academic success. All of the new Big East schools have an NCAA graduation rate of at least 90 percent, with the exception of Butler, which is at 83 percent. Xavier’s 97 percent graduation rate is the best.

David Gibson, a writer with the Religious News Service, even posed the question, “Can a Catholic hoops conference save college sports?” By “the conference’s breaking away in protest,” he wrote, “the schools are offering a corrective example to the way big-money programs, especially in football, are driving (some would say warping) amateur sports.”

It’s a lot of added pressure—being able to compete at the highest level while not engaging in the kind of athletic and moral malfeasance that has dominated sports headlines of late. Still, it could set a benchmark other conferences may be challenged to meet.

Whatever ripple effects the league might have externally, joining the conference will certainly have a ripple effect internally for Xavier. Its effects will be felt in the admissions office and classrooms and bookstore as new audiences of potential students, fans and donors become exposed to Xavier and all it has to offer. What will that mean? Time will tell.

Time begins this fall.

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Old Man and the Pep Band

At first glance, Paul Denning’s close-cropped hair, well-proportioned physique and enthusiastic nature portray a man who lives a fairly typical life. But only if one considers it typical to return to college at 46, join the rowing team at age 48, become the rowing coach at 52 and survive a fifth bout of cancer—all while working full time and maintaining a schedule that would disable most people’s Daytimer.

“Plus, I played the tuba in the pep band.”

Holding forth over hummus and pita chips in the Gallagher Student Center, Denning’s agenda for the moment is not only telling his story but also convincing two students they need to join the team. They’re more interested in demolishing their meatball and marinara footlongs, so Denning turns back to the tuba.

“The tuba is the ultimate fashion accessory,” he says. “And you get a great seat at the basketball game.”

Plus he adds, in his abundantly enthusiastic nature, for the last 30 years or so, he’s made it a point to learn an instrument a year. “I’ve worked through all the brass instruments, violins, keyboards, and am currently learning the bagpipe.”

Originally a music major at the University of Kansas, Denning was recruited by General Electric to work in its technology department, so he dropped out and moved to Cincinnati. Career advancement required he complete an undergraduate degree, so he began taking classes in the evening. While walking across campus one day, crew team members were staging an ergothon—a fundraising event using rowing machines. Though closer to the age of the students’ parents, Denning sat down for a friendly competition with one of the rowers.

“I was already doing marathons and triathlons,” he says, “so here I was, a 47-year-old guy rowing against an 18-year-old.”

It’s all true, says Jacob Smith, a junior, former crew member and one of the lunch bunch Denning is trying to bring back into the fold. “I thought, what are we going to do with this old guy? Is he really going to row a boat with us?” Smith says.

Row he did—12 competitions over two years. After graduating in 2009, Denning began coaching the team. He even credits the crew with helping him through chemotherapy as he battles recurring cancer.

“I need the team as much as they need me.”

And whether the task at hand is cajoling just one more student to join the crew or striving to produce a sound resembling music out of a bagpipe, Denning exudes the attitude that what he gives back is also what keeps him going—and rowing.

 

Student Success

In the fall, the NCAA listed the top Division I athletic programs based on its Graduation Success Rate. Xavier’s 97-percent rate placed it 11th in the nation, with 14 of the University’s 18 teams posting a rate of 100 percent.

Top NCAA GSR Rankings

1) Dartmouth College 100%

2) Brown University 99%

3) Bucknell University 99%

4) University of Notre Dame 99%

5) Colgate University 98%

6) College of Holy Cross

7) Columbia University- Barnard College 98%

8) Duke University 98%

9)Havard University 98%

10) Yale University 98%

11) XavierUniversity 97%

Gone Fishin’

When Tyler Styons and Ian Goddard came to Xavier three years ago, they couldn’t find a club sports team that fit their interests. Hockey? No. Lacrosse? Nah. Rowing? Pass. So they got together and created their own—the Xavier Bass Fishing Club.

Seriously.

And they are doing very well, thank you. They’ve recruited eight others to the team and fish in about a half dozen tournaments a year. In fact, the pair just returned from the National Guard FLW College Fishing Northern Conference Championship on Philpott Lake in Martinsville, Va.—a trip that, well, wasn’t their most successful on many fronts.

Goddard’s 2000 Saturn broke down on a mountain road somewhere in the middle of the 423-mile drive, and he had to sell it for a couple hundred bucks and rent a car just to make it to the tournament. They missed practice and finished last, hooking just three fish in two days.

“Plus we don’t have a lot of experience fishing deep clear lakes,” says Goddard.

It’s hard to practice on campus since the only place with water deep enough to drop a line is the fountain along the Academic Mall, and that’s only two feet deep. So they must head out to local parks to practice. But that’s all part of the fun, he says

Crosstown Cooperation

The intense and often-heated Crosstown Shootout, which has drawn the nation’s attention for its fierceness and upsets, has taken on a more sportsmanlike – albeit still intense – air.

The game has been rebranded as the Skyline Chili Crosstown Classic, relocated to the more neutral U.S. Bank Arena in downtown Cincinnati, refashioned to be a benefit for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and refreshed to include additional events with students from the two schools.

In October, a collaborative team of students from each school participated in the Bridges Walk for a Just Community, an annual 5K event celebrating the rich ethnic and cultural heritage of the Cincinnati region. That was followed in November by members of the basketball teams from both universities participating in a special day at the Freedom Center that included displays about community engagement, collaboration and service at each school. The event tripled the Freedom Center’s average attendance for the day.