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New Heights: IC Club Basketball Makes National Tournament


Key Points

  • Ithaca Men’s Club Basketball qualified for the National Club Basketball Association regional and national tournaments for the first time.
  • The Bombers defeated Syracuse in the North Atlantic Regional Final, 85-79.
  • Missing three key players, the team lost to #1 Michigan, 86-55, in the first round of the tournament at Indiana University.

When Alex Drescher, the vice president of Ithaca College’s men’s club basketball team, talked with Quadri Olanlege, the club’s president, about team goals back in August 2017, it was clear the Bombers were aiming for something new.

The club team had never qualified for the National Collegiate Club Basketball Association’s national tournament. In fact, the team had never even played enough games to be eligible or made the regional championship.

That all changed this season.

Culture Change

Drescher said that from the season’s beginning, he and Olanlege has their sight set on playing in the NCBBA.

“We brought a new culture to it,” Drescher said. “I thought setting a goal to work towards for the entire season gave us motivation to go try to win games for conference record.”

Drescher in action. (Courtesy: IC Men’s Club Basketball FB Page)

In order to qualify for the regional championships, they were required to play teams in the North Atlantic Region including Niagara University, the University of Rochester and Syracuse University, a school known for basketball dominance.

Ithaca faired well against its regional opponents, soaring to a top-2 spot in the region, neck and neck with Syracuse.

The Central New York rivals dueled each other three times just a week before the regional playoffs began.

Junior guard Sammy Meminger viewed the Syracuse matchup as a key in the club’s quest for a NCBBA championship berth.

“Each of our first few contests we would win two and drop the third game. Then a few weeks in a row we won all three so we were like, ‘We’re probably the best team in our region,” Meminger said. “We knew if we could beat Syracuse in our region, we could get to the national championship.”

With the 1 and 2 seeds in the region playing, the stakes were high, as the winner would host the regional tournament.

Syracuse won the first matchup, but when Ithaca stole the second, it all came down to a decisive third match. However, it was not the Bombers’ day.

“We ended up losing that game, but we didn’t forget that heading into regionals.”

Chasing ‘Cuse

The regional tournament moved to Flanagan Gymnasium at Syracuse University. In the semifinals, Ithaca drew West Virginia University, another school with an excellent basketball reputation.

The road to regional final was not an easy one for the Bombers. They found themselves trailing Mountaineers with just minutes to go.

“We were down 12 or 15 points with 6 minutes left,” Drescher said. “But we came back, played amazing defense, hit big shots. It was an amazing feeling to come out on top in that one.”

With a 77-66 comeback win from behind in their pocket, the Bombers moved on to face a familiar foe in the finals: Syracuse.

Drescher said there was no motivation needed to get the team ready to go for championship.

“In the last regular season game, we weren’t too happy about that, so coming into the championship we definitely wanted to beat them and beat them good.”

Despite being down early again, the Bombers fought back to win 85-79, and claimed their first ever NCBBA North Atlantic Regional Championship.

Team Post Championship.jpg
The Bombers celebrating their championship. (Courtesy: IC Men’s Club Basketball FB Page)

The win was redemption for Meminger.

“We had been battling them all year. We had almost gotten in a few scuffles because our teams really clashed,” Meminger said. “We were holding on the whole game, and when we beat them, seeing the look on their faces made it all worth it.”

As for Drescher, the senior center immediately found teammate Michael Hanley to begin the festivities.

The trophy. (Courtesy: IC Men’s Club Basketball FB Page)

“I went and gave Mike a hug. We’re two senior starters, he’s one of my good buddies. I was just really happy to get that win with him and everybody else. After that, the first thing I did was went and grabbed the trophy.”

Road Blocks

With a spot at nationals sealed, the club began preparing for the game against the #1 seed Michigan.

Drescher said there was an element of pride seeing Ithaca among top-tier basketball schools.

“We knew we were going to play teams like Michigan, Arizona State and Harvard, all these big Division I schools against Ithaca. I thought that was really cool to see Ithaca in the bracket.”

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The NCBBA Bracket. (Courtesy: NCBBA)

However, preparations did not go according to plan.

The two leading scorers Steven Stage and Michael Hanley were unable to attend the tournament due to prior commitments. In addition, key player Padraic Brady transferred out of the school.

Yet, Drescher remained confident in the team.

“We knew with our core group of guys we could make it. We certainly recognized that their absence would hurt, but it inspired us to work even harder. That was a big motivator because everyone needed to do their part and extra to win games.”

More Than A Game

The NCBBA National Championship was held at Indiana University, with Ithaca being named the eighth and final seed in the tournament.

For tournament newcomers, the trip was not all business, as the team stopped at a Cleveland Cavaliers game on their way to the tournament.

The team in Cleveland. (Courtesy: Alex Drescher)

“It’s awesome to have a brotherhood-like feel with a team. Everyone has one common interest: basketball,” Meminger said. “Having that team feel is so important mentally.”

Drescher echoed Meminger’s sentiment.

“Big thing is we’re all really close and great friends,” Drescher said. “Stopping at that Cavs game was perfect. We decided to have to fun along the trip.”

However, the fun came at an expense. The team didn’t arrive in Indiana till 7 a.m. Friday morning, just 12 hours before its game with Michigan.

“We ended up driving through the night, so physically we were not as ready as we should’ve been,” Meminger said. “We all felt jet lagged.”

From the South Hill to South Bend

Ithaca faced off against Michigan on Friday night. But with tired legs, the Bombers dropped the game 86-55 to the Wolverines.

Drescher said intimidation and offensive struggles were key factors in the loss.

“There was definitely a little intimidation against Michigan. They’re a very good basketball team,” Drescher said. “We were having a lot of trouble on the offensive side of the ball. Trying to stay in the game was tough and we were all tired.”

Michigan player shooting a 3-pointer against Ithaca. (Courtesy: NCBBA)

Meminger said the Bombers didn’t bring their A-game, while Michigan limited mishaps.

“We didn’t really have it all together, and weren’t on the same page,” Meminger said. “They [Michigan] didn’t make any mental mistakes, and their team play really outweighed ours.”

But even with the loss, Drescher was satisfied with the season as a whole.

“I’ll never forget this year of club. It was my favorite year. It got more organized and competitive. I’m hoping that they continue the culture that we started this year.”

Meminger will lead that charge next year when he takes over as club president.

“My goal is, from top to bottom, that everyone has respect for each other,” he said. “I want for everyone to feel like they can communicate with each other.”

Team huddle.jpg
The team huddles before a game. (Courtesy: IC Men’s Club Basketball FB Page)


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