From the AD's Desk
July 13, 2012
Greetings Bison Fans!
I hope this letter finds you well and enjoying summertime. Despite the recent heat wave, it has been a busy and productive summer so far here in Lewisburg. The motto that "there is no offseason" has never been more applicable to Bison Athletics than right now, as we are well underway with a number of exciting projects. Also in recent weeks, we have introduced two new head coaches, welcomed back a familiar face in our men's basketball program, added a new member to the Patriot League, and embarked on the early stages of an exciting renovation and improvement project at Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium.
Before I go into a bit more detail on these initiatives, let me start with a huge "Thank You" to everyone who has supported Bucknell Athletics through your contributions to the Bison Club over the last year. With the 2011-12 fiscal year officially coming to a close at the end of June, I am proud to announce that we have once again set a new record for Bison Club contributions. And for the first time ever, we surpassed the $2 million plateau this past year, a truly inspiring figure given the economic times in which we currently live.
Your donations directly impact Bison student-athletes. Our annual departmental budget is only partially funded by the university, meaning the remainder must come from fundraised dollars. Each of our 27 varsity programs - comprised of around 800 Bucknell student-athletes - directly benefit from your support.
It is never too early to be thinking about 2012-13. While we should all celebrate hitting that $2 million mark, we expect to push our fundraising goals even higher next year. If you have contributed to the Bison Club in the past, I sincerely thank you and hope you will continue your support next year. If you have not had the opportunity to join the Bison Club, I am confident that you will find it a worthwhile endeavor. In this increasingly competitive Patriot League landscape, our student-athletes will definitely feel your support.
Earlier I mentioned some new additions to our coaching staff. Actually, the first new addition of 2012 came back in April, when Aaron Roussell was introduced as our new head women's basketball coach. We are very excited to have Aaron and his family join us after a very successful eight-year tenure at the University of Chicago. Aaron is already hard at work on the recruiting trail and planning for next season.
In April we celebrated the career of coach Gene Depew, who retired at the end of this season. Gene coached at his alma mater for more than 40 years, including the last 31 as head baseball coach. Gene was honored on the field - appropriately named Depew Field -- during the Lehigh series, and again at a wonderful and emotional tribute dinner in the Terrace Room that weekend.
While we will certainly miss Gene and all that he has meant to Bucknell and Bison Athletics over the last four decades, the Bucknell baseball program remains in very good hands. Scott Heather, our pitching coach and Gene's top assistant for the last eight years, has been promoted to head coach. Scott has played a prominent role in producing championship teams at Bucknell, and we are confident that he will make a seamless transition into the head-coaching position.
Our most recent hire is Bonnie Skrenta, who takes over as head softball coach after 10 years in charge of a very successful program at DePauw University in Indiana. Despite a tough campaign this spring, the Bison softball program is only two years removed from a Patriot League championship, and we feel that Bonnie is the right individual to get them back to the top of the standings.
Another exciting recent addition to our coaching family is the return of Charles Lee to the men's basketball program. Charles is obviously a familiar name to Bison fans, as he was the 2005-06 Patriot League Player of the Year, and he co-captained the 04-05 and 05-06 teams that both captured league titles and won games in the NCAA Tournament. After graduating in 2006, Charles spent four years playing competitively overseas before taking a job as a trader on Wall Street last year. He could not escape his passion for basketball, however, and we are thrilled that he will be making his coaching debut with Dave Paulsen and the Bison this year.
It would not be summertime without some facilities projects, and this year is no exception. Perhaps the most prominent is the replacement of the FieldTurf and track surfaces inside Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium. We were one of the first schools in the country to install FieldTurf back in 2001, and we got 11 great seasons out of that initial surface. Here are some photos of the new field, which features a slightly different color scheme as well as the Bison logo at midfield.
One of the most attractive features of the Holmes Stadium venue is the scoreboard on the Emmitt Field side of the facility. Now we are pleased to have a matching scoreboard on the Graham Field side. That project is nearly complete, and the scoreboard will get its first use during the field hockey season this fall.
There are also currently "Pardon Our Dust" signs in Gerhard Fieldhouse, where four brand new squash courts are being installed. The sport of squash has seen a resurgence in recent years, and the Bucknell men's and women's club teams have been quite successful. Made possible through some generous private donations, the new courts will meet international squash specifications and provide spectator viewing.
Fundraising continues on the final phase of the baseball and softball facility improvement project. New playing surfaces, dugouts, fencing and scoreboards have all been added at both venues in the last two years, and now we are looking to complete both facilities with new grandstands and press boxes.
I am also excited to announce that a firm has been hired to complete a feasibility study for a major renovation of Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium. The university has contracted with McMillan-Pazdan-Smith/BCWH Architects for the project. I know most of our alumni would agree that we have a historic gem of a stadium at Bucknell, but it is clearly in need of a substantial facelift. There is significant work to be done in the fundraising department, but this feasibility study is an exciting first step in what we hope will become a terrific final product. The potential is there to once again make Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium one of the finest outdoor venues in the Patriot League and beyond.
Competitively, Bison teams provided many outstanding performances in 2011-12. Men's basketball repeated as Patriot League regular-season champions, and after falling to Lehigh in a thrilling, down-to-the-wire championship game, Dave Paulsen's squad went on to knock off top-seeded Arizona in the first round of the NIT. That's back-to-back 25-win seasons for the Bison, who return a tremendous senior class and figure to be back in the title hunt again next year.
The Bison track and field programs continued their recent dominance in 2011-12. The men's team swept the indoor and outdoor Patriot League Championships, giving it three straight outdoor titles. The women's squad won its 14th Patriot League indoor championship this winter, but the team's three-year outdoor streak ended with a close second-place finish behind Navy.
It was another magnificent season for the Bison women's rowing team. Stephen Kish's squad won its seventh straight Patriot League title in convincing fashion back in April on the Cooper River in New Jersey. Later in the spring, Bucknell captured the team points trophy at the famed Dad Vail Regatta in Philadelphia for the first time in program history and then earned a medal at the Eastern Sprints for the first time. The lightweight eight took gold at the Dad Vail, and then a few weeks later took second at the IRA National Championship, finishing just two seconds behind Stanford for the national title.
The Bison rowers capped off their historic season at the world-renowned Henley Regatta on the River Thames in England. The varsity eight defeated Vesta Rowing Club, where it advanced to face the England U-23 national team in the Elite Eight division. The victory over Vesta was Bucknell's first-ever over a foreign boat.
Some other notable accomplishments from this spring include NCAA Championship appearances for hammer thrower Leonard Joseph and the tennis doubles tandem of Evan Zimmer and Gregg Cohenca. The latter pair made history by becoming the first tennis players in Bucknell and Patriot League history to compete in the NCAA individual tournament.
Erik Heinemann, Mike Nicholson, Emily Norton and Matthew Segar represented the Bucknell swimming program at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha. While they did not advance to the Olympics in London later this summer, it was a terrific experience for each of those four Bison, who got to compete alongside Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and all of the stars of American swimming.
The men's lacrosse team produced another All-American when Billy Eisenreich earned Third Team honors after a terrific senior season. This is the fifth straight year a Bucknell lacrosse player has earned All-America honors. Billy is now playing professionally with the Ohio Machine of Major League Lacrosse.
Off the field, once again this year Bison Athletics produced outstanding results in the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate study. Seventeen of our programs received Public Recognition Awards for compiling APR scores in the top 10 percent within their respective sport, the fourth-highest total in the nation. All 27 programs easily met the minimum 925 cutoff (programs with scores under 925 could face sanctions such as loss of scholarships and ineligibility for postseason play). All 27 programs scored above the national average, and 15 had perfect scores of 1,000.
Despite these outstanding accomplishments, you may have seen that our Presidents' Cup streak came to an end this year. We had won six Cups in a row, 13 of the last 14, and 17 of the first 21 in league history. When you step back and think about it, what an incredible run! Bucknell is not finished winning Presidents' Cups, but we are going to be challenged like never before.
I congratulate Navy on winning its very first Presidents' Cup. Navy's victory is indicative of the increased commitment to athletics across the league. We have never taken any of our 17 Cups for granted, but everyone on our staff is keenly aware of the challenges that lie ahead in order to hang more of those red, white and blue Presidents' Cup banners from the Sojka Pavilion rafters.
Making the landscape of the Patriot League even more competitive is the probability of expansion. In June the Patriot League announced its first league-wide expansion in more than a decade with the addition of Boston University in 2013-14. The Terriers have won seven consecutive Commissioner's Cups in the America East Conference, and they have won 40 league titles in 14 different sports over that span.
These are ever-changing times in college athletics, and we are working hard this summer on future strategic planning in order to position ourselves to stay ahead of the curve in the Patriot League. While our landscape may be changing, our core values and strategic priorities will never waver. At Bucknell, we are first and foremost a student-centered athletics program. Every decision we make is focused on the best interests of our student-athletes, and how we can help them compete successfully at the highest level of collegiate athletics in a fiscally responsible and NCAA compliant manner, while affording them the opportunity to receive an outstanding Bucknell education.
As always, thank you so much for your continued support of Bison Athletics. Enjoy summertime, and I hope to see you at one of our contests this fall. Go BISON!
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