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Vulcans men looking to rebound

| Sunday, March 6, 2005

While California University of Pennsylvania's women's basketball team begins to defend its NCAA Division II national championship, beginning this weekend at the NCAA East Regional, the off-season of discontent begins for the Vulcans men's basketball team.

A season that began with the Vulcans being predicted by the preseason coaches poll to win a fourth straight Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Western Division title came to a desultory end last Saturday in a meaningless home game against Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania.

California University's 55-51 overtime victory over the Bald Eagles barely gave the Vulcans their 19th consecutive winning season. California's last losing season was a 7-19 showing in 1985-86. That year the Vulcans lost their first 12 games but finished 5-5 in the PSAC-West.

Overall, the 2004-2005 Vulcans finished with a 14-13 overall record and 4-8 PSAC-West mark. The last time the Vulcans had a below-.500 season in divisional play was 1982-83 when California went 4-6 in the PSAC-West and 12-13 overall. The last time the Vulcans lost eight divisional games before this season was 1980-81.

The Vulcans missed the PSAC playoffs for the second time in the last 15 years. California still leads all PSAC-West schools with seven conference championships and 13 state championship game appearances. The team's last PSAC championship came in 1999, though the Vulcans were conference finalists in both 2002 and 2003.

One misfortune came this season when much-heralded senior guard Drew Schifino was ruled ineligible because of an individual workout with an assistant coach at Middle Tennessee State before enrolling at California.

Schifino was an All-Big East performer at West Virginia, but left the team in the middle of the 2003-04 season. He enrolled at Middle Tennessee State for the 2004-05 academic year, but withdrew from the university before the beginning of classes.

Prior to informing the coaching staff at MTSU that he was withdrawing, Schifino participated in an individual workout with an assistant coach. Although it happened more than a month before the official beginning of practice in mid-October, NCAA rules consider the workout a sport-related activity and made him ineligible to participate at any school other than MTSU this year.

Before Schifino enrolled at California and joined the Vulcans, the school's coaching staff and administration worked with the PSAC and NCAA offices to compile all available information on the player's academic and athletic standing. All parties agreed that with the information available, Schifino was eligible to play for the Vulcans.

Schifino played in California's first 11 games this year, helping the Vulcans to eight victories. He led the team and was among the PSAC leaders with a 19.3 scoring average. He also ranked third on the team in rebounding (5.0) and contributed 23 assists, 18 steals and two blocked shots.

Despite this distraction, the Vulcans owned an 11-4 overall record and were 3-3 in the PSAC-West at the halfway point of divisional play.

Another personnel loss came in between semesters when senior team captain Sherman Brittingham was declared academically ineligible. A year ago, Brittingham scored 19 points in four different games and emerged as a team leader.

Nagging injuries to post-players London Houston and Damar Ruffin and the unexpected departure of guard Brian Kortovich all helped make a potential banner season a disappointment.

"Dealing with adversity is all part of it, and sometimes, things just don't go your way; and we certainly did not play good basketball over the final stretch of this season," said ninth-year head coach Bill Brown. "But every team gets injuries, and we will not make excuses. I was proud of my players' effort all season. This program has a long tradition of success, and I know we will move on from this and again be a formidable team next year. That's a while off, though, and we will have to work and live with that during the off-season."

Brown and his staff will obviously need to bring in some new players but can build upon the excellent season turned in by Boris Mesnager, the 6-7 post-player from France. Mesnager averaged nearly 16 points and eight rebounds a game while shooting 64 percent from the floor.

The Vulcans will return other solid players such as Coppin State transfer Kelvin Green, who was declared eligible in early February. Several other returning players include Houston, Ruffin, Travis Eisentrout, Mike Smelkinson and Sammy Rahman. Troy Yonkers from Ringgold High School was a redshirt this season. Yonkers, along with Geibel Catholic High School's Rob Ramsey, will give the 2005-2006 Vulcans a local look.

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