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NBA MVP Race Is Tight

in Columns/Sports by

As the NBA’s season inches to a close, the MVP discussion has begun to heat up. This year’s MVP race is strikingly different from past years’ as there is still no clear favorite 69 games into an 82 game season. Just one season ago, Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors was unanimously named unanimous the MVP for the first time in NBA history. This year, however, four players are all equally qualified to be crowned MVP.

The best way to demonstrate how difficult it’s going to be for MVP voters to determine a winner is to look at season statistics. First, there is Russell Westbrook, the dynamic point/shooting guard hybrid for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Last year, Westbrook averaged about 24 points, eight rebounds, and 10 assists per games, all star numbers by all means. This year, with the departure of Kevin Durant, Westbrook has Oklahoma City’s fate into his own hands, and is averaging an astounding 31.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10.3 assists per game. To put this feat into perspective, the last and only NBA player to average a triple-double was Oscar Robertson in the 1961-1962 season with 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists per game. What seems to be hurting Westbrook, however, is the Thunder’s regular season record, as they sit at sixth place in the West at 40-29.

Next, we have James Harden. Harden currently plays for the Houston Rockets. Like Westbrook, he is a point/shooting guard hybrid. This season, Harden is averaging an impressive 29.2 points, 11.2 assists, and 8.1 rebounds per game, 1.9 rebounds/game away from also averaging a triple double. While Harden may not average as many points as Westbrook, his team is doing better, strengthening his case for MVP, as they sit comfortably as the third seed in the West behind the Warriors and the Spurs. This is where the debate becomes tricky as some believe that the overall team record should be taken into consideration while others do not.

Another contender for MVP is Kawhi Leonard. After an impressive performance in the 2014 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat, in which Leonard was named Finals MVP, NBA reporters and players alike were primed for Leonard to emerge as a superstar. With the departure of Tim Duncan, Leonard has more than filled his void, averaging an impressive 26.1 points, 3.4 assists, and 5.9 rebounds per game. However, what is most captivating about Kawhi’s game is not the number of times he can put the ball in the basket, but rather his ability to prevent other players from doing just that. His defensive abilities have certainly not gone unnoticed, as he has won the Defensive Player of the Year award for two consecutive years. Leonard’s defense coupled with the fact that the Spurs sit a mere two games back from first place in the West provide more than a compelling argument for Leonard to be MVP.

Last, but not least, we have LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Last year, James had a legendary postseason performance, as he led every player on either team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks, while helping the Cavaliers erase a 3-1 deficit in the finals (both firsts in all of NBA history). With this in mind, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that LeBron is relevant in this discussion. James is currently averaging 26.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game as the Cavs sit untouched atop the Eastern Conference standings. Also, only strengthening the argument for LeBron is the fact that according to Las Vegas, his team is considered most likely to take home the NBA title this year.

As of right now, the NBA MVP race is quite contentious and the trophy is very much still up for grabs. The best we can do for now is sit back and watch all four players make their case until the last games of the season in April.

PASKO’S TAKE: I think that Lebron James deserves to be MVP this season. His stat line is about equal with all other contenders and his team is predicted to take home another championship. Furthermore, his leadership qualities, while unquantifiable, are far superior to any other player mentioned.

Tennis serves it up in sunny SoCal

in Columns/Sports by

While most of campus enjoyed a break off from school, the nationally ranked Swarthmore Men’s Tennis team hit the road, stopping in Virginia and then flying to California to compete against some of the top Division III tennis teams in the country.

Last year, the Garnet spent most of their spring break in the Pacific Northwest at the Whitman Invitational, largely taking on schools from California, Washington, and Oregon. The trip was for the most part a success. Wins over California Lutheran University and Lewis and Clark College prepared the Garnet for a season that included a 15-6 record and a Centennial Conference Tournament Finals appearance. Mostly, the spring break trip was used as an opportunity for the Garnet to challenge themselves against unfamiliar opposition in an entirely different part of the country.

The team graduated two seniors last year, and recruited three freshman, Max Gruber ’20 of Iowa City, Iowa, William Teoh ’20 of Duluth, Georgia, and Kevin Xu ’20 of Princeton, New Jersey.

The Garnet, who are ranked 29th nationally by the NCAA, started their eventful 2017 spring break in Lexington, Virginia against Washington and Lee University, who are ranked 38th nationwide. The Garnet dropped the match by a 3-6 score, but notched wins at first doubles, third singles, and sixth singles. Highlights of the match included Kevin Xu’ 20’s win at sixth singles. They continued their trip in a neutral site match against another nationally ranked opponent, Sewanee: The University of the South, another team ranked in the top 30. Swarthmore’s doubles teams won on the day, but the team was swept in the singles lineup.

The team then headed to Southern California, in hopes for a final spring tuneup in warm weather before a return to Conference play. The Garnet fell to the 18th ranked University of Redlands, and then, in a split squad match, fell to Cerritos College, and the 6th ranked co-op team of the Claremont Colleges (Claremont McKenna and Harvey Mudd). On Friday, March 10, the Garnet picked up their first win of the year, beating Glendale College 6-3. Subsequently, the team concluded their California road trip with losses to top 10 nationally ranked opponents, Pomona-Pitzer, and Carnegie Mellon in Claremont, California.

Teoh reflected on his experiences on the spring break trip.

“The experience was unique because it really gave us a chance to bond off the court and outside of the classroom as well, particularly as a new freshman. I definitely became closer with the guys, and Coach Mullan too. Along with tennis, we also visited Manhattan Beach where Evan Han’s family hosted us.”

Teoh also commented on his takeaways from the difficult results from the trip.

“Some of the major takeaways from this trip from a team perspective is that things won’t always go our way and we will make mistakes. Instead of worrying about results on a trip like this, we should worry about what we can control. A lot of the matches didn’t end the way we wanted, but we definitely learned that results on the court should not affect our lives off the court. We still enjoyed the trip regardless of the results.”

Finally, Teoh addressed the difficult schedule the Garnet faced over their break.

“Playing 4 teams in the top 15 in the country was very difficult, but our guys feel very prepared for conference matches now. We now know what level we want to play at. At this point, we will only get better and we are still motivated to make NCAA’s and win as many matches as possible.”

Teoh and the other Garnet tennis players are looking to replicate their success from last season. The spring break trip to Virginia and California challenged the team against some of the best teams in the nation, while giving them a nice break from being on campus. They open Centennial Conference play with an away match against Gettysburg on Saturday, March 25 at 1pm.

After slow start, baseball bounces back strong

in Columns/Sports by

After a slow start losing two doubleheaders to open up the season, the Baseball team bounced back over spring break in Fort Myers, Florida. The team flew south for their annual trip the first Saturday of spring break to escape the cold. After seven days of sunshine, the team returned with an overall record of 6-8, going 6-4 in Florida. Over 100 Division III baseball and softball teams from across the United States headed to Fort Myers to compete in the annual Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic. The tournament is a memorial for Cusic, a former Lee County Parks and Rec athletics manager and baseball fan. Established 26 years ago, the classic has expanded tremendously, originally having just 11 teams. Other Conference teams to attend this tournament included Gettysburg and Haverford.

The Garnet baseball team faced a packed schedule with 10 games in just six days. The trip began on an incredible high note with a walk-off win in extra innings in their first game on Sunday. Jared Gillen ’20 drove in the game winning run for the Garnet to defeat Rivier College in extra innings. The team lost a doubleheader on Monday to Defiance College and rallied to finish 4-2 in their next 6 games, defeating Hiram College, Rockford University, Baruch College and the United States Coast Guard Academy. One of the team’s losses was to Alvernia University who is currently ranked 23rd in the nation in Division III.

Other notable performances came from Conor Elliott ’19 and Cole Beeker ’20 at the plate, as well as Ryan Warm ’20 on the mound who, despite the loss, had a strong pitching performance against Alvernia. Elliot and Beeker lead the team with batting averages of .383 and .367 respectively.

Despite the busy schedule, the team was able to get some rest and relaxation during their spring break. Fort Myers is the spring training home of both the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins, offering a great opportunity to see some Major League Baseball. The team saw the Minnesota Twins defeat the Toronto Blue Jays before returning to Swarthmore on Friday to conclude their spring break trip.

Up next for the Garnet is a home doubleheader against Penn State Berks on March 18th after their game scheduled for March 14 against Eastern was canceled due to weather. Centennial Conference play will begin April 1 against Johns Hopkins University, who was picked to finish first in the conference coaches poll. The Garnet, who were picked to finish 10th in the same coaches poll, must make a strong conference play campaign to reach the Centennial Conference playoffs.

Athlete of the Week: Hannah Thompson ’19

in Athlete of the Week/Sports by

Thompson, the team’s centerfielder, has started off the year on fire. Through the team’s first 11 games, the Washington D.C. native is hitting .436 with a team high of 17 hits and 8 runs. Thompson also leads the Centennial Conference with 7 stolen bases.

MAX KASSAN: What is your prospective major and what influenced you to pursue it?

HANNAH THOMPSON: I’m a prospective engineering and computer science double major. I think there are a lot of really cool and interesting applications for those fields and that they are both really influential in our world right now.

MK: What do you like most about being a student athlete?

HT:I really enjoy the community that comes with being on a team, and even being an athlete. I feel like athletes support one another in and out of the classroom and that’s really special.

MK: What is your favorite Swarthmore athletics memory?

HT: My favorite memory is when my teammate Emily Bowman ’18 hit a grand slam last year in Florida. That doesn’t happen very often and it was super exciting!!

MK: What was your favorite part about your trip to Florida?

HT: Florida was a lot of fun! We got to play a bunch of games and they were competitive. We also had a bit of free time where we got to go to the beach and go to a Twins spring training game.

MK: After going 6-2 in Florida, what are your expectations heading into Conference season?

HT: Heading into conference season, I think the team is looking really strong! I think spring training showed that we are really adaptable. That will be great for us in Conference because the game is unpredictable and it’s really good to be able to adjust effectively. People may underestimate us but I am confident that we will be competitive this year.

Men’s Golf Kicks Off Spring Season Along Georgia Coast

in Columns/Sports by

This past week the Men’s Golf team spent their break enjoying the picturesque Georgia coast and competing in an important out of conference Tri-Match.  

The team flew down to Georgia on March 11th, and stayed for the duration of the week. They competed in the Coastal Georgia Tri-Match held in St. Simons Island against both The College of Coastal Georgia and Villanova University.

With the match at St. Simons Island as their top priority, the team played four other area courses to prepare. Aside from the Sea Island Golf Club Retreat course that the match would be played on, they also played notable courses including the Plantation Course at the Sea Island Resort, Frederica Golf Club, Ocean Forest Golf Club, and the Seaside Course at the Sea Island Resort.

The Tri-Match would bring some tough opposition. Villanova and Coastal Georgia both have players that have performed well in their respective conferences. Lucas Trim of Villanova, a NCAA Division I institution, finished last season in the Top 15 of the Head-to-Head Big East Conference Player Standings with an average round score of 74.79. Coastal Georgia, an NAIA powerhouse, was preseason ranked 7th in the NAIA and fielded Eamon Owen in the Top 40 of the Head-to-Head NAIA Player Standings last year.

Albeit the field was daunting, the Men’s Golf team rose to the challenge. The team was led by Michael Chen ’17, Adam Agustin ’20, and Dan Altieri ’19. Chen fought as the top scorer for the Garnet with a 79, good for 7 over par. Behind Chen were Agustin with an 80 and Altieri with an 81.

Despite an average showing at the Tri-Match, Chen believes the team has many areas where they can improve their game. The team finished 35 strokes behind the second place team (Villanova), but they had to overcome a rough start. Early in the week the team had to shake off the rust from a long off-period between the Fall and Spring seasons. As the week went on the team’s performance progressively got better and the players hit their stride. The break also allowed the team to strengthen an already strong sense of team chemistry. Chen and other members of the team are optimistic about the upcoming Spring season and are eager to showcase their accrued prowess in their first major tournament.

“We always look forward to playing at such a high level of competition. Going forward, we know what we need to do to improve and compete. Our first major tournament is in two weeks at The Bridges Golf Club in Gettysburg, PA. We look to continue to improve day-in/day-out and take home the conference title,” Nick DiMaio ’19 said.

With a large portion of the season ahead of them, the team has work to do. They’re keeping their eye on the prize and are putting in the time and effort needed for a championship run. The observed team camaraderie and resilience shows a deep commitment to performing better in the matches to come.

Spring Break Brings Success For Swat Softball

in Columns/Sports/Women by

Swarthmore’s Softball Team kicked their season off in full gear during their spring break trip to Fort Myers, Florida. The team started the trip on March 5 with an early double-header. Stellar pitching from Emily Bowman ’18 led the team to a dominating 8-0 victory over Albion College. Bowman had nine strikeouts in the outing and was backed with strong showings at the plate by Marisa Mancini ’20 and Kennedy Kings ’20.

After an early momentum boost, the team picked up right where it left off in the afternoon against Rockport University. Swarthmore once again put on a hitting display. Hannah Thompson ’19 went 4-for-5 at the plate while McKenzie Ward ’19 had a strong showing on the mound to help lead the team to an 8-2 win.

Day two started off strong for the team as well. They barely defeated the University of Pittsburgh Bradford by a score of 6-5. The team fell into a 1-5 hole early in the game, but continued to fight until the end. Late in the seventh inning, the young team showed its true colors. Kings, Mancini, Anna Jensen ’17, and Elizabeth Curcio ’19 all contributed and pushed Swat into the winner’s circle.
After this dramatic comeback, Thompson and Curcio were very optimistic about the team’s performance.

“We came back in the seventh inning of one of our games to score five runs and win! I think that shows that our team has a lot of maturity,” Thompson said.

Curcio believed that the team’s youth played a major role in their success over break and will continue to moving forward.  

“Having such a young team made the offseason really important. Our freshmen are all very good and most of them have learned to play new positions this year. Winning a game like that is just so much fun and showed all of us how good we can be,” Curcio said.
Swarthmore suffered a tough loss in the afternoon of day two, losing to Geneva by a score of 1-4.

Frankie Ponziani ’18 had a strong performance on the mound, striking out three opponents and only allowing one earned run. However, Geneva offense came on strong late in the game which propelled them to the victory.

Time spent off the field has helped add to the team’s camaraderie and companionship. In Florida, the team had a balance between games and free time. After a couple of long days of competition, the team had a break day to go to the beach and relax. Thompson said this added time together away from Swarthmore built even more team chemistry.

“We spent most of our time off together as a team. We went mini golfing, watched spring training games, and played countless hours of catchphrase and cards against humanity,” Curcio said. “On our full day off most of us went to the beach and then caught the end of Swarthmore’s baseball game that night. Just spending that much time together both on and off the field has created close friendships and these relationships help build good team chemistry.”

After some much needed time off the diamond, the team was ready to return to the field and play.
On day three, Bowman once again dominated the mound and led Swarthmore to a 3-1 victory over Eastern Nazarene College. Bowman struck out seven batters in a row and held her opponents to just three hits. Emilie Morse ’20 and Sara Planthaber ’17 had strong showings at the plate as well. The team continued their strong play in their second game of the day, played that afternoon. They defeated Clark University 4-1. Ward recorded her second win of the trip. Ward pitched seven innings in the outing and allowing no earned runs. Gabriella Natoli ’20 and Planthaber both shined at the plate, leading Swarthmore’s offensive attack.

Going into their final day of spring break competition, the team looked to end the trip on a high. In their first game of the day, Swarthmore defeated Bridgewater State by a score of 8-4. The win was highlighted by a five-run fourth inning and a three-run sixth. Morse, Kings, Mancini, and Curcio all contributed with strong at-bats in this impressive offensive stretch. On the mound, upperclassmen Ponziani and Bowman worked together to push the Garnet to the victory. In game two, Swarthmore recorded eleven hits, but ultimately came up short in a 1-2 loss to Rivier University. Mary Olesnavich ’18 kept the Garnet in the game with her strong pitching, recording a no-hitter through her first five innings. A tough stretch in the fifth inning was enough for Rivier to record two runs and slide past Swarthmore.

Overall, the players believe a strong offseason regimen has led to the team’s success thus far.

“We worked a lot with Chris and Erika at lifts and agilities. This helped our power at the plate a ton,” Thompson said.

With consistently strong performances at the plate game-in and game-out accompanying stellar pitching, the team looks to bring this high caliber play into conference games this spring.

“I feel like spring break was a really strong building block for us,” Ponziani said. “The freshmen in the lineup stepped up and got a lot of clutch hits, returners picked up where they left off, we have a completely healthy pitching staff this year that should do some great things, and everyone seems to be focused on winning. Going forward, I’m expecting a lot of positive things from this team, and I’m really excited.”

All signs point to a successful season for the Garnet this spring.

Swat’s Culture of Athletes Supporting Athletes

in Columns/Sports by

As the Men’s Basketball team completed their final seconds of the Centennial Conference Championship game, the crowd erupted and rushed the court to celebrate the win. This crowd was distinctly comprised of fellow athletes with almost every team having at least one representative in attendance for the victory. Here at Swarthmore, athletes support athletes. The pictures and videos from the Men’s Basketball and Women’s Soccer Championships make this fact visually apparent. This support comes from awareness of events, love of sports, and an understanding of other athletes.

        For some athletes, their awareness of games comes from their teammates, whereas for others it is simply conversations with friends to keep them updated. Events such as this weekend’s upcoming basketball games are well publicized, but sometimes it is easy to forget the regular season games for various teams and that’s when teammates can come in handy.

Women’s Softball pitcher, Emily Bowman ’18 said, “As a team, we keep each other posted on the games that are going on throughout the week, and we try to save seats for each other to get as many people from our team together at a game.”

Coaches often like to remind their teams when other events are as well, to both support their fellow coaches or to set an example for an atmosphere that they would love to have at their own games.

Volleyball setter Elise Cummings ’19 said, “Our coach makes a big point of having us go to other sports teams’ games because she thinks it’s always important that student athletes support each other.”

The genuine love of sports makes a general awareness and commitment to attend games possible. While all tend to love and excel at their own sport, they have either come in with a true love of other sports or have developed an interest based on their friends’ sports.

Runner Joaquin Delmar ’18 said, “I have grown to like new sports from my time here at Swarthmore and I love the fact that my friends are playing these sports.”

There certainly are some sports that get more support than other, as component of their style and performance.

“Men’s basketball, both soccer teams, and men’s lacrosse in my opinion get the bulk of our support. It has to do largely with how well these teams are doing and the nature of the sporting event,” Delmar said.

Hopefully this support will continue for the Garnet’s Men’s Basketball team into the NCAA tournament. During the playoffs, more fans typically attend the games. It is safe to say that the bedrock crowd finds its majority in fellow athletes. Within this program there is a strong sense of camaraderie as we are all athletes, classmates and friends.

Defensive lacrosse player Christina Labows ’18 said, “I believe Swarthmore athletics has a good culture. It is balanced in the sense that we celebrate each other’s accomplishments, but recognize that results are not the end-all-be-all of our time as a Swarthmore athlete.”

        This bond within the athletics department does not always carry over into non-athletic realms on campus.

Cummings said, “Within the athletic department there is a really positive culture, but from the outside looking in there is not the best view which is why it is so important to support each other.”

Often, athletes tend to understand each other well, but not all students are on the same page about the commitment to sports.

        “There is a definite disconnect between athletes and non-athletes on campus,” Bowman said.

However, other people who agreed with the initial disconnect also remarked on the efforts that the college has undertaken to make the athletics realm more appealing for certain non-athletes. Some non-athletes are unaware many athletes do get into Swarthmore completely on their own academic merit and it is important to break that misconception that they do not.

“Continued efforts to break the sporty boundary are definitely happening and I think our campus is reaching a point where non-athletes are much closer to athletes. In my three years, I have seen increasing appreciation for the commitment athletes have for their sports and the way they represent our school,” Delmar said.

This growing community throughout the college is key, and the inroads that teams, such as the soccer and basketball teams, are making by competing in playoffs are vital to increase support on campus. Swarthmore athletics have certainly had past disappointments with support, such as when the fan bus to the Men’s Basketball away playoff game got cancelled last year because not enough students signed up. While we need to work to add to the fan base so that we will never have to cancel a fan bus again, at least we always know that there will be fellow athletes at games.

“The athletes at our school are great! Everyone is very supportive. We’re such a small school that many athletes interact with each other in classrooms. We all know each other’s sports and I genuinely feel everyone is supportive of each other,” Delmar said.

Each year Swarthmore welcomes in new athletes, who then commit themselves to this same support system. Hopefully a continued excellence in sports will draw large crowds, but when in doubt, even on a team’s toughest day, they can have faith that their fellow athletes will be in the stands to cheer them on no matter what.

The Season of March Madness is Upon Us

in Sports by

March is always looked upon with great elation spring break, the beginning of beautiful weather, and the initial sights of budding flowers. However, if you are a college basketball fan, you know exactly what causes most of this unbearable anticipation — March Madness. Perhaps the most exhilarating, awe-inspiring athletics event of the year, March Madness is annually riddled with unbelievable stories, buzzer-beaters, and down to the wire action.

This year’s tournament should be no different. With 13 days left until selection Sunday, (in which the tournament bracket is announced) there is still a fair amount of speculation and surmising to be done over who is going to take the the championship title. While it is hard to predict who’s going to come away victorious, it isn’t hard to see who’s headed into the tournament as favorites. Currently, all four number one seeds seem to be locked into place (barring any upsets in their respective conference playoffs) with the Villanova Wildcats as the defending champs at the top of the East, the North Carolina Tar Heels at the top of the South, Gonzaga Bulldogs at the top of the West, and finally the Kansas Jayhawks at the top of the Midwest.

While these teams seem to be locked into their respective slots in the bracket, there are still numerous teams who are precariously “on the bubble”, or in other words, on the cusp of getting into the tournament. First, we have the Syracuse Orange, one of the more reputable programs in Division I college basketball history. With Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim commanding the helm coupled with the fact that just a year ago the Orange were steamrolling their way to a final four appearance, it seems unimaginable to picture this year’s tournament without them. Regular season conference wins over Duke, Virginia and Florida State surely help their case, but it might take two more wins, the first being against Georgia Tech to finish up their regular season and the second coming from their first round matchup in the ACC tournament, to solidify their spot in the tournament.

In addition to the Orange, the Seton Hall Pirates, last year’s Big East champions, are also on the bubble. While junior guard Khadeen Carrington, averaging just under 17.5 points per game, and junior forward Angel Delgado, averaging 15.5 points per game and 13 rebounds per game, have taken the torch from Isaiah Whitehead (last year’s star now playing in the NBA), their efforts might not be enough to stamp their ticket to the Madness. The Pirates still need to prove their worth. Luckily, they have a perfect opportunity to do so against conference foe Butler this coming Saturday.

Finally, we have the Wake Forest Demon Deacons who are hungry for an appearance in the Big Dance after missing out the last seven years. Lead by sophomore John Collins, a potential first round pick come this year’s NBA draft, the Demon Deacons have a perfect chance to earn their right for a spot against Louisville this weekend.

Analyzing teams, whether they’ve locked up their spot in the tournament or not, is undoubtedly fun. Perhaps what’s more fun, though, is looking at individual players. This year’s talent pool is just as interesting as any previous years, headlined by a talented group of freshmen including Markelle Fultz of Washington University, Lonzo Ball of UCLA, and Josh Jackson of Kentucky, the projected first, second, and third picks of this years NBA draft, respectively. Past these three exhilarating first years, there’s still sharpshooting sophomore Luke Kennard representing the Duke Blue Devils, junior forward Dillon Brooks of the Oregon Ducks, and junior guard Justin Jackson of the North Carolina Tar Heels.

While speculation and statistics are integral components for receiving the true March Madness experience, perhaps the most important component is simply just turning on the tv, kicking back, and watching some of the best amateur basketball players in the world fight tooth and nail for something they’ve worked and dreamt about since they were little kids. However, all we can for now is wait for the first game.

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