Xavier basketball tickets are in hot demand. So hot, in fact, that seven students pitched tents outside of the Cintas Center ticket office and braved near-zero temperatures for two and a half days in January to get tickets to the game against Temple University. In an effort to make the best of their minimal accommodations, though, the students got creative: They plugged an extension cord into a nearby electrical outlet and set up space heaters, an Xbox and a DVD player.
The University gave its soccer programs a boost this winter when it hired two full-time head coaches. Alvin Alexander took over the women’s team after spending the past two years as the top assistant at the University of Notre Dame, helping guide the Fighting Irish to the 2004 national championship. He is the first African-American head coach in Xavier history. Former coach Ron Quinn stepped down after 12 years to concentrate on his role as director of the University’s sports studies program.
The University also hired alumnus Dave Schureck to lead the men’s team. Schureck, a 1995 graduate, replaces Jack Hermans, who resigned after 14 years. Schureck was a four-year starter in goal for Hermans. He spent the last eight years at the University of Dayton, the last five as its head coach where he won nearly 70 percent of his Atlantic 10 games and led the team into the conference tournament four times.
Despite being one of the most successful sports at the University, the rifle program was discontinued due to budget cuts. Xavier was one of just 18 schools nationally with a men’s and women’s varsity rifle program. Under head coach Alan Joseph’s guidance, the program produced 51 All-Americans and two Olympians. It qualified for the NCAA Rifle Championship every year since 1990 and was one of only two teams to finish in the top five in that event each of the last five years.
Former President James E. Hoff, S.J., joined an elite group when the University retired a jersey in his honor prior to the game against a fellow Jesuit institution, Creighton University, where Hoff was previously a senior administrator. Hoff is the only non-player to have a jersey retired, joining Jo Ann Osterkamp Henderson, David West, Tyrone Hill and Byron Larkin. During his 10-year tenure as president, Hoff created the vision and raised the funds for the Cintas Center and oversaw growth in the athletic programs.
In the interim just before daybreak—the neutral ground between night owls and early birds—members of the Xavier crew team stagger out of warm beds, rubbing sleep from their eyes as they trek across the silent campus toward Bellarmine Chapel. At 5:00 a.m. they pile into vans for a 45-minute ride to East Fork Lake, where the blue light of dawn begins to glitter on the water’s surface.
A troop of eight gently lifts one of the long, thin sculls from its blocks, hoisting the fiberglass shell onto their shoulders. In a carefully choreographed routine, a coxswain guides them down a shadowy path to the lake’s edge where they step precariously into the water until they’re hip-deep in the murky waves.
The rowers heave themselves into the boat and slowly pull away from shore, the coxswain barking orders from the stern. Blades rip through the water, propelling them forward. Power travels though each part of the body—feet and thighs, stomach and back, arms and shoulders—as they perform drills and scrimmage against each other’s boats. Meanwhile, the sun peaks over the horizon, illuminating the cool mist rising from the water.
They eventually row back to land, their bodies dripping with sweat and backsplash. After tucking away the boats, they fight rush hour traffic on their return. By 7:45 a.m. they’ve slipped back onto campus, unnoticed as usual.
“A lot of people don’t even know about the crew team,” says former president Kevin Gravett, a 2004 graduate.
Despite its anonymity, last year’s team included 32 men and women and received the most funding of the 17 active clubs under the University’s club sports program. Seasonal budget requests have come close to $40,000—rugby, the second most expensive club sport, only receives between $10,000 and $12,000 a year. New boats, which cost $20,000 each, van rentals, equipment, travel, regatta fees and coaching salaries add to the growing budget numbers, offset by the team’s fund-raising efforts.
However, apparel sales, dues and working concessions at sporting events defray only part of the cost: “Crew fund raises far more than any other club sport,” Gravett says. “But the team does it because they are so dedicated to the sport and their team. Crew takes so much time, but everyone works so hard to make it all come together.”
And team members have been tested often since crew’s founding in 1983 when two graduate students formed the club with little money and even less experience in managing a team. Graham Coles, an English import who rowed in college, and fellow student Steve Santen first advertised the crew team at Club Day on the Mall.
“We had maybe 10 committed guys and 10 committed gals,” says Matt Brodbeck, a 1986 graduate and one of the team’s first captains. With a shoestring budget, the team purchased two used boats—one from a high school in New Jersey and another raced in the 1976 Olympics—which Brodbeck estimates cost a total of $1,000.
“We were so focused on saving money that when we went to the regatta site, we would make a bunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” he says. The team practices five days a week year round, alternating between land and water on East Fork Lake or the Ohio River. This year they began practicing in the evenings.
“Convincing everyone to meet at 5:00 a.m. and drive down to the river for a workout is tough—especially when it’s so cold,” says Brodbeck. “It’s not a fun, casual sport. You have to be very, very committed to it to achieve any level of success. You have to be fairly dedicated to it just to become competent.”
Crew attracts a decidedly mixed group of athletes—most of whom have never rowed before. High school football players, cross country runners, volleyball players and those who have never belonged to a school sport begin on an even playing field. They don’t receive regular accolades because regattas usually take the team out of town as far as Boston and New Jersey to compete against varsity teams.
“How this team survived 22 years is really a testament to the students because it’s just nothing but dedication that keeps these kids going,” Brodbeck says. “I’d really like to see one of my sons become the first legacy oarsman.”
In honor of former Xavier University president and chancellor, James E. Hoff, S.J., all Xavier athletic teams are wearing a patch inscribed with Hoff’s initials, JEH. Hoff, who died of cancer in July, is widely credited with improving the quality of Xavier athletics.
“Jim raised the bar at Xavier and set a tone that pushed the University, and all of us associated with it, to dream big and strive to be better,” says University President Michael J. Graham, S.J. “He set the example, academically, spiritually, athletically, in every way, of how to do things right, and we will continue to follow his example.”
Members of the All For One club, a group of friends of the University’s athletic programs, recently found themselves in the ideal place for supporting Xavier sports—twice. On Aug. 30, the group was on the exclusive Kenwood Country Club golf course, slicing its way toward raising more than $40,000 as part of the Horan Associates Inc. All For One Golf Classic. More than 350 golfers participated.
Then, in October, some of the group’s members flew on to the Bahamas, where they basked in the sun, ate with the men’s basketball team in the Atlantis Hotel and watched the Musketeers win two exhibition games.
Three former Xavier athletes are being inducted into the University’s athletic hall of fame on Jan. 21 during a dinner sponsored by the All For One club. Former men’s basketball star Lenny Brown leads the way, joined by volleyball standout Sally Schulte and soccer star Terrence “Mac” Garrigan.
It was a minor marathon in Michigan, but, as it turned out, a major event in the life of Dawn Rogers. At the time, she was a functionary in the University of Akron athletic department. Her athletic director had just been fired. She was young, uncertain, worried. She was also leading the race after 25.5 miles.
“One of my friends,” says Rogers, “a guy who had finished, came back out to run with me. He was all excited because I had run what was, for me, a great race. I had a half mile to go, and I said to him, ‘I can’t finish.’ He started laughing. He said, ‘Dawn, you’re winning this race.’
“Well, I finished. I did win the race. And I learned something—that it’s not the totality of the race; it’s every mile. You have to take it one mile at a time. If you look at the totality of what’s in front of you, it can be overwhelming; but if you break it down to day-by-day or project-by-project, you can accomplish it. I really think that’s what has gotten me through the last few months.”
They were supposed to be shimmering, momentum-propelled months. In March, the Musketeers were the darlings of the NCAA basketball tournament. Mike Bobinski—the man who replaced the fired athletic director in Akron and later hired Rogers at Xavier—was thinking of moving on to another administrative position at the University. In June, with the basketball program at a station it had never before attained—the 1958 NIT championship notwithstanding—he figured there would be no better time. Knowing that the job he was vacating would deeply interest the 39-year-old mother of two who had been at his side for 10 years—six at Xavier—he figured there would be no better person.
What he didn’t figure was that, by July, before Rogers could even move into the corner office, men’s basketball coach Thad Matta would cut out on the contract designed to keep him at Xavier until 2013. Bobinski didn’t figure on leaving his protégé—Division I’s fifth female athletic director—with such a quick and colossal decision to make just three weeks into the job.
Under her long-time mentor, the Ithaca, N.Y., native routinely ran coaching searches, overseeing the hiring of women’s basketball coach Kevin McGuff. Important as they are, those decisions don’t define Xavier athletics and the University profile as much as men’s basketball. Within athletics, there is no more urgent, loaded decision than selecting the men’s basketball coach.
Rogers had it done in a day.
“I told her in the prelude leading up to hiring a coach,” says Bobinski, now the associate vice president for development, “your name will be forever linked with certain issues and decisions. But one of the things I always valued about Dawn is that, whenever a situation arose, I looked to her for a rational perspective.”
In this case, Rogers found perspective around the corner and down the hall. Every so often since Sean Miller was hired as an assistant basketball coach in 2001, she’d stopped by his office for casual conversation. They would swap stories about their kids or compare notes on running. And before she continued on with her rounds, Rogers, invariably, would drop a gentle reminder: “Sean, we don’t want you to go anyplace.”
When the time finally came, she swiftly saw to it that he didn’t. As a result, she says, “I think we will both kind of walk this walk together.”
The challenges didn’t stop there, though. The status of the year’s highest-rated men’s basketball recruit, Nigeria native Churchill Odia, was complicated by visa issues. Baseball coach John Morrey resigned and Rogers hired Dan Simonds in his stead. She approved two new track programs, the first new teams in a dozen years, and eliminated the rifle program. Calmly, she pressed through the fast-coming complications, understanding all the while that if she takes it a mile at a time, the long road could carry the program back to the heady heights it reached last year.
“That’s where we want to be every year,” she says. “Last year makes us see that it’s attainable, that going to the Final Four is a possibility and that we don’t just have basketball to have basketball.”
While tailgaters reveled in the parking lot of Paul Brown Stadium, Bob Stacey set up the football field, filled Gatorade coolers and taped ankles and wrists. The 2003 graduate interned as an athletic trainer with the Cincinnati Bengals during the 2002 season, earning not only class credit, but exposure to the professional sports world.
“When I first started, I thought the pro players would have big heads, but I realized they’re just like everyone else,” Stacey says.
Xavier’s athletic training program began setting up internships with the Reds and Bengals two years ago, sending a total of three students a year. They work with the head trainer, assist in player rehabilitation, inventory supplies and perform other daily tasks.
“They’ve been great ambassadors to the athletic training program because we’ve heard nothing but phenomenal things from the Reds,” says Mike Mulcahey, an assistant trainer at Xavier who initially helped set up the internships. “So that kind of helps the program perpetuate itself.”