“The records of our teams were much higher than the national average over the last 20 years for first-year Division I programs. Plus, our fan base at football and basketball games was fantastic. Alumni are coming back.”
UAlbany Interim Athletic Director
Senior Tovah Atwell, an All-American center midfielder who owns the single-season and career scoring records for the University at Albany’s field hockey program, enjoyed a remarkable run as a Division II athlete. After winning 30 of 44 games in her first three seasons, she assumed her team would be ready for the Division I transition and began last fall’s inaugural D-I campaign with boundless enthusiasm and overflowing confidence.
But then reality hit. The Great Danes lost their first three games to Syracuse, St. Joseph’s and Georgetown. All of a sudden, there were doubts. Atwell, a tri-captain, felt her confidence wane.
“Games were a lot quicker-paced then they were when we played at the Division II level,” Atwell recalled. “Our first game was with Syracuse, and we lost something like 4-1 or 5-1. It was a shock, at first, but then we started to play our game.”
Then the Danes regrouped to rattle off five straight victories en route to an outstanding 11-4 overall record in their first season at the NCAA’s top level.
“I was impressed with our opponents, but I was also impressed with the way we played in our first season,” said Atwell. “We found out that, even though we were a young team, with three juniors, 10 sophomores and four freshmen, we were ready. We were well prepared, and we did what we had to do.”
Although playing at the Division I level was different than Atwell expected, she enjoyed it. “We were more intense as Division I athletes,” she said. “We also received a lot more recognition. We were even nationally ranked, and that had never happened before.”
Atwell’s story was not unique. All across the board during the fall and winter sports seasons, the UAlbany athletes discovered that despite the added travel and scheduling challenges, and the lack of a conference affiliation for some of the programs, their teams belonged at the Division I level.
The Danes developed a Division I mentality and a willingness to swim in uncharted waters. Like the field hockey team, the University’s men’s and women’s basketball teams exceeded expectations.
The men’s basketball team, despite a schedule loaded with such national powers as Syracuse, Rutgers and Long Beach State, won 11 of its 28 games. At one point during the season, the Great Danes won six in a row for Head Coach Scott Hicks. Along the way, senior guards Todd Cetnar and Matt Haggarty drew raves from opposing coaches who said that the duo was as good as any Division I backcourt tandem they had faced. Both helped lift the team to a national ranking in three-point shooting.
“I’m extremely proud of my team,” said Hicks. “Winning at least 10 games was nice, and I’m sure it was more than many people thought we would win. We also could have won a few more along the way, but I would call it a successful season.”
“We proved we belonged,” said Cetnar, who hopes to continue his career professionally in Europe.
Mari Warner’s women’s basketball team fared even a little better than the men, winning seven of its last eight games to finish 12-15. But Warner wasn’t concerned about her team’s record in its initial Division I season.
“I’ve said all along that it wasn’t the wins and losses that we were concentrating on this season,” said the 18th-year coach. “I think the biggest issue with this team was to get the players to recognize their potential, and they did. This is an end of an era for some, and the beginning of an era for others.”
Warner loses five seniors, including leading scorer Megan Buchanan, from this year’s team, but she expects next year’s squad to be just as competitive.
UAlbany interim Athletic Director Gail Cummings-Danson was impressed with her athletic programs’ won-lost record, but she stressed that there were other surprises in the Great Danes’ first effort at Division I competition.
“Our first season at Division I has gone extremely well—just look at the record. It speaks for itself,” she said. “Our football team was in championship contention the entire season, and our field hockey team was outstanding. The records of our teams were much higher than the national average over the last 20 years for first-year Division I programs,” she said. “Plus, our fan base at our football and basketball games was fantastic. Alumni are coming back, and the students are more committed. I think the biggest change now is our students’ school spirit. I’m seeing faces and chests painted with purple and gold. I think we’ve come a long way.”
Football: Senior Mike Grever was chosen as the Football Gazette’s Division I-AA non-scholarship Linebacker of the Year. Grever had 88 tackles and three interceptions for the Great Danes, who finished 7-2 overall and second in the Northeast Conference. Greg Garrett, the school’s all-time rusher with 2,958 yards, led a group of eight players named to the All-NEC squad.
Women’s Tennis: Albany had a 7-5 dual-match record, including a victory over Connecticut. Samantha Kramer (second singles) and Illissa Strolovitz (fifth singles) each posted 8-4 fall records.
Women’s Cross Country: Nicole Herring led Albany to a fifth-place finish at the ECAC Division I championships. Herring, the Albany Invitational runner-up, was ninth at ECACs.
Men’s Cross Country: Sophomore Jamie Rodriguez was the No.1 runner in all seven events for the Great Danes, who took eighth in the IC4A team standings. Rodriguez won the Albany Invitational and was third at the IC4A meet.
Women’s Soccer: Joanna Tomasino, the first full-time coach in the program’s 20-year history, will be charged with turning around a team that was winless in 16 matches. Tomasino was the head coach at Indiana (Pa.) University the last three years.
Men’s Soccer: The Great Danes, who went 6-11-1 in their first Division I season, join the Atlantic Soccer Conference this fall. Johan Aarnio, who has coached for 20 years on the college and professional level, takes over as head coach. The position was recently elevated to full-time status.
Women’s Golf: Freshman Katie Wachtl averaged 92.9 strokes in nine rounds played during the fall. Her best finish was fifth at the Brockport Invitational.
Field Hockey: Albany ended the season with a six-game win streak en route to an 11-4 record. Tovah Atwell, a second-team All-Mid-Atlantic Region choice, led the team in scoring with 14 goals and six assists. Atwell is the school’s career scoring leader with 158 points (63 goals, 32 assists).
Women’s Volleyball: First-year Coach Curtis Strife guided the Great Danes to a 9-17 record. Julie Arbitman, a junior outside hitter, averaged 4.01 kills and 3.74 digs.
Women’s Basketball: The Great Danes won seven of their last eight games to finish 12-15 overall. Megan Buchanan led Albany in scoring at 15.0 points per game and became the fifth 1,000-point scorer in school history. Liz Tucker, who averaged 12.7 points, was the team’s leader in rebounding (7.4 pg) and assists (3.8 pg). Both players were named to the All-Independent all-star unit.
Men’s Basketball: Albany (11-17) reached the 11-win mark for the 45th consecutive year with a victory over Colgate in the season finale. Todd Cetnar, the team’s top scorer with a 16.1 average, became the second UA player to combine for 1,000 points, 350 assists and 150 steals in a career. Matthew Haggarty (13.7 ppg) set the school’s single-season and career records for three-point field goals made. Both Cetnar and Haggarty were named to the Division I All-Independent Team.
Women’s Indoor Track: The Great Danes were 11-5 during dual-meet competition. Andrea Viger went 10:10.52 at Manhattan’s Jasper Relays to establish the 3,000-meter standard. Viger also broke Tonya Dodge’s record in the 1,500 with a time of 4:43.05 in mid-February.
Men’s Indoor Track: Luis Soto was third in the long jump at the IC4A championships with a school-record mark of 23 feet, 11.75 inches. Ronald Edmundson, eighth at IC4As in the triple jump, broke his own UAlbany record for the third time this season with a leap of 49-04.50. (See Fall 1999 Albany magazine for more on Edmundson.) Albany had a 15-1 dual-meet record.