Greetings from the 400 acres set apart!

I hope everyone was able to enjoy a restful and relaxing Thanksgiving weekend with friends and family. This is the time of year when I try to take a moment and reflect upon everything that we have to be thankful for in Bucknell Athletics. First and foremost, I am extremely grateful to be leading a department that is comprised of some of the hardest working coaches, staff and student-athletes in the country.

The accomplishments of our student-athletes – on and off the field – are staggering. Competing at the Division I level athletically is difficult, and our coaches demand nothing less than their best every single day. Yet, Bison student-athletes still find time to excel academically at a prestigious institution, and beyond the classroom they even squeeze in time for self-betterment activities such as community service and leadership development.

On the academic front, we are once again right near the top of the national rankings in student-athlete graduate rates. Bucknell’s four-class average of 91 percent for student-athletes enrolling between 2006-07 and 2009-10 is the second-highest in the nation, behind only Stanford’s 95 percent. Regular followers of Bison Athletics know that we have led the nation in student-athlete graduation rate a number of times, most recently in 2013. We have come in second behind Stanford in every year since.

Also this fall, we added two more national Academic All-Americans, as women’s soccer’s Kendall Ham and Alexis Gannon were named to the First and Third Team, respectively. Kendall is studying biology and carries a 3.84 grade-point average. Not only is she excelling academically, but she was also the Offensive Player of the Year in the Patriot League this fall, and just recently she became the first All-American in the history of the Bucknell women’s soccer program. Alexis is also an all-conference player, and she carries a 3.76 GPA in neuroscience.

Kendall and Alexis epitomize the Bucknell student-athlete experience. You can come to Bucknell, compete for and win championships at the Division I level, and follow whatever academic path that meets your interests and career goals, no matter how rigorous.

On the field, what an incredible year it was for coach Kelly Cook and the Bison women’s soccer team. As late as mid-October, we were one of only two unbeaten teams remaining in the entire country (the other was South Carolina, which lost in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament). The Bison finished 16-2-2 overall and 8-1 in the Patriot League, and then they defeated Lafayette and Boston University at beautiful Holmes Stadium to win the Patriot League Tournament. What a moment when senior Cora Climo scored in overtime to beat the Terriers in the championship game. Those are the memories that will last a lifetime, and that’s what makes working in college athletics so rewarding.

Women’s soccer was not the only team to raise a trophy this fall. Winning championships has become a regular exercise for coach Kevin Donner’s teams throughout the years, and his Bison women’s cross country squad not only claimed another Patriot League title, but they did so in record-setting fashion. Christine Bendzinski won the individual conference title, and she was immediately followed across the finish line by teammates Kate Scott, Sarah Chandler and Colleen Buckley. It was the first 1-2-3-4 finish in league history, and including 13th-place finisher Elizabeth Sheprow, Bucknell claimed five all-league citations.

The Bison men’s and women’s cross country teams both went on to finish sixth at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regionals, and Kate Scott became Bucknell’s fifth NCAA Championship qualifier.

It was also a record-setting year for coach John McBride’s men’s water polo squad. The Bison finished the year 23-5 and captured the Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference championship with three dominant performances in Kinney Natatorium last month. That sent the Bison into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1985, where they dropped a 13-12, sudden-death overtime heartbreaker at Harvard in a first-round game.

Rade Joksimovic, a first-year player from Serbia, posted incredible numbers this year. He finished with 154 goals, the second-most in school history behind only Hall-of-Famer Scott Schulte’s national-record 184 in 1980. Rade was named both Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year in the MAWPC this year.

While water polo does not compete in the Patriot League, the PL titles in women’s soccer and women’s cross country helped propel Bucknell to the early lead in the Patriot League Presidents’ Cup race. We also had a few other close calls.

Football finished in fourth place with a 3-3 PL record. We were embroiled in a close game with eventual-champion Lehigh late in the season, and if we could have pulled that one out, then we would have been playing Fordham for the league title on the last day of the season. Men’s cross country finished in fifth place, but only eight points out of second place. Field hockey and men’s soccer both lost heartbreakers on late goals in the Patriot League Tournament semifinals.

We have a four-point lead over Lehigh in the Presidents’ Cup standings, but if recent years are any indication, the competition is going to come right down to the very end next spring. Fortunately, early season reviews look very promising for men’s and women’s basketball and men’s and women’s swimming and diving. The indoor track and field teams debut with a home meet this weekend.

Men’s basketball is off to a 6-3 start, while the women are 5-3. The men have a couple of notable wins over Vanderbilt and Richmond, in addition to winning their bracket of the Las Vegas Invitational. The women just had a decisive home victory over a Drexel team that had already beaten Penn State by 25 points and defending national runner-up and 11th-ranked Syracuse. Aaron Roussell’s team followed that up with an impressive road win over Akron in a rematch of last year’s WNIT first-round game, also won by the Bison.

The wrestling team dropped its first two duals of the season to No. 1 Oklahoma State and No. 12 Lehigh, both on the road. The Bison then claimed two individual champions at the Navy Classic, and this weekend they competed in Las Vegas at the Cliff Keen Invitational.

Coach Dan Wirnsberger’s squad is already benefitting from the beautiful Graham Wrestling Training Center located inside the Graham Building. The new building is located adjacent to Sojka Pavilion and also houses the student health center and counseling services on the first floor. The state-of-the art wrestling center allows for enhanced training space, including a closed-circuit video system that allows wrestlers to watch themselves in practice in real-time on each mat.

The Graham Building is one of several facility enhancements to the athletic complex. In Sojka Pavilion, we recently dedicated the new Charlie Woollum Lobby. It was wonderful sharing an evening with Coach Woollum and his family, and I know he was especially touched by how many of his former players returned to be with him for the ceremony. The remodeled entranceway, made possible by alumni and friends of the program, now showcases visual displays celebrating the history of Bison basketball, along with an eye-catching video wall that displays Bucknell basketball-related content on gamedays.

Sojka Pavilion also has a snazzy new high-definition video board this year. The donor-funded display replaces our original, outdated technology that had been in use since the arena opened in 2003. Another nice enhancement this year was a significant investment by the university to increase wi-fi bandwidth in Sojka Pavilion on the “Bucknell_Guests” frequency.  

If you have not yet seen the new video board or Charlie Woollum Lobby display, I encourage you to come on out to a game.

We owe so many thanks to our donors for their support of the facility projects, and especially to Bill Graham for all he has done for Bison Athletics through the years. His unprecedented financial support has impacted so many of our programs.

The most recent example of Mr. Graham’s support of Bison Athletics came on Nov. 14, when he hosted and sponsored an alumni networking event at his company’s headquarters in Philadelphia. The event, which was organized by the Bucknell Athletics Leadership Institute, was a tremendous success. Nearly two-dozen alumni, all of them former Bison student-athletes, interacted with more than 30 current student-athletes. It was great to see Hall-of-Famer and trustee emeritus Bill Dearstyne, who came with his wife, Tockey, all the way from their home in Austria to attend the event.

The feedback from the student-athletes was overwhelmingly positive, and plans are already underway for a similar experience in New York City in the spring.

Many of you are reading this on the newly refreshed BucknellBison.com website. We hope you are enjoying the new look and navigation features. We now have more ways than ever to follow our Bison teams home and away. If you have any questions regarding any of these areas, feel free to reach out to Jon Terry, associate director of athletic communications, at terry@bucknell.edu.

And finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t close with a few words of appreciation for Mark Keppler, who will be retiring at the end of the calendar year after 31 years as Bucknell’s head athletic trainer. Incredibly, Bucknell has had only two head athletic trainers since 1948 – Hall-of-Famer Hal Biggs and Mark Keppler. Mark truly cared for the hundreds of student-athletes whom he treated over the last three decades, and I want to wish him the very best in his retirement.  

It has certainly been an exciting start to the 2016-17 season, and we anticipate more to come in the winter and spring seasons. I hope to see you at one of our upcoming games either in Lewisburg or out on the road. In the meantime, please have a safe and enjoyable holiday season!

Sincerely,

John Hardt

Director of Athletics & Recreation

Bucknell University