February 23, 2007


Last hurrah for the Panther Pit

Court at TC3 was one of a kind


TC3’s Jillina Wallace gets double-teamed and fouled on a shot in the second half, guarded by SUNY Canton’s Alicia Abbey and Lauren Ploof. Wallace had 19 points in 87-45 TC3 loss at the Panther Pit.

Sports Editor

DRYDEN — For those of you who have not stumbled upon this, umm, unique basketball haven affectionately known as The Panther Pit, the tour begins at the main door at Tompkins Cortland Community College.
As you enter this building of higher learning, a staircase on the right rises up to the second floor. On the left are tables available for the socializing or studying needs of the student. Stroll a few more strides down the hallway and suddenly everything opens up and this atypical gymnasium emerges like a sunken living room of a grand scale.
On display there is a mustard yellow synthetic floor outlined in green befitting the school colors, with a second floor balcony surrounding the entire area. The team benches are on one side, while carpeted rows of steps on the adjacent side pass for bleachers that provide plenty of space for the long-legged to stretch out. One wall is painted a burnt orange, the other a lighter yellow. The ceiling seems so high the claustrophobic need not worry.
There is often traffic in the hallways on both sides. If a game is in progress, some watch for a while before going on to their destination. And during practice in the afternoon…
“During practice it’s very hectic,” says Kristy Mott, a freshman on the women’s basketball team who came to TC3 after graduating from McGraw High School. “Kids will sit out there and be loud and it interferes with the practice. Sometimes you will be practicing at one end and people will just walk right across the floor at the other end, talking, of course.”
In other words, this is not your usual basketball facility.
Well, the Panthers bid either a fond farewell or a good-riddance (take your pick) to the place Thursday night. TC3 men enjoyed a not-as-close-as-the-final-score-sounds 70-56 season-ending victory over SUNY Canton in the final game.
The day after graduation ceremonies conclude this spring, the place will be transformed into an educational area to be called the Learning Commons. As part of an ambitious upgrading of facilities at the two-year junior college — that includes new softball and baseball fields, a new field house and a new turf surface for the soccer field — a 1,500-seat basketball facility is scheduled to be open by June if not sooner. An enrollment that has reached some 3,500 students created the funds to make these improvements possible.
That will mean the end of a place that hosted its first game in 1974, that housed teams that suffered seasons after seasons of losses, that had trouble convincing top talent that this hillside in Dryden was the place to display your skills, that even took some seasons off from playing basketball until someone would come forward and offer to take a stab at coaching and building a program.
“Everyone had new, beautiful athletic complexes and it was tough getting kids in there,” said current Cortland High coach Mick Lowie, who had some success directing Panther teams for three seasons from 1986-89. At that time, new facilities at places like Broome CC in Binghamton, Cayuga CC in Auburn and Finger Lakes CC in Canandaigua were a lot more enticing for teenagers.
Basketball was hardly a priority. Or as TC3 president Carl Haynes, who was on the scene at the school when the gymnasium opened 33 years ago, says: “When the college was founded there wasn’t a strong emphasis on athletics. In retrospect, that was a mistake.”
THE PANTHER PIT has its charms.
“I guess it was a home court advantage,” said Lowie. “There certainly wasn’t anything else like that, with the tartan floor, the atmosphere, the hallway, the steps for bleachers. You’d be having a game and classes would let out or something and the hallways would suddenly be filled with students watching the game.”
“It’s our home court and you have to take advantage of your home court no matter what it looks like,” said TC3 women’s head coach Bob Rice, whose team concluded a 2-20 season with an 87-45 loss to SUNY Canton to begin last night’s doubleheader.
“For a game, it’s a great place to be. Even visiting teams don‘t mind coming in here because it‘s so different,” says athletic director and women’s soccer coach Mick McDaniel. That’s a trait he expects the upgraded facility also possess.
“The new place, we put a lot of personality into it. It‘s not just going to be a box,” he says.
From a player’s perspective, Mott likes the soft rims, the backboards suspended from beneath the balcony. She also says: “It’s nicer to fall on the rubber. You have a little more cushion on a rubber floor than you would have on a wooden floor.”
The surface, which was replaced once during the history of the court, is unforgiving, too. “If you make a small mistake with the basketball it shows up more on this floor,” says Mott.
EVERYTHING SHOULD be smoother at the new facility and the traditional wooden floor. There will be ample space in the new place, with six baskets available instead of the two now in use so a coach can conduct a normal practice away from the student body. TC3 is one of the few places left that does not have separate facilities for their sports teams, and this gym has to be shared by all teams as well as recreational activities.
“We’ve caught up with our opponents,” president Haynes stated, feeling a balance between academics and athletics is important in any collegiate setting. “Our athletic facilities have caught up with the level of our education.”
And the hope is, build it and they (as in recruits) will come.
“You still have to bring them in,” said TC3 men’s basketball coach Dave Stevenson on getting players into the program. His current squad has Josh Gillen as the lone sophomore off a team that was more competitive that its 6-19 record may indicate. “Have the facilities hindered us? Yes. But we feel we work harder than the others.”
Of course, that leads to higher expectations, too. Or as women’s coach and SUNY Cortland graduate Rice chuckled, with job security on his mind: “With a new gym, that raises the coaching standards, too.”
Of course, it’s not all wins and losses either. As Stevenson says: “I’d rather bank my reputation on graduating players than wins and losses, and we are making great strides in that direction.”


Red Dragons happy being hosts to Final Four

The Utica Memorial Auditorium will not be missed, especially by the SUNY Cortland women’s basketball squad.
Instead of spending the weekend there for Final Four festivities to crown a SUNY Athletic Conference playoff champion, as has been the case in seasons past, the Red Dragons get to chase a title in more familiar surroundings to conclude this successful 2006-07 campaign.
Instead what playing on what amounted to the ‘frozen tundra’ of the Utica Memorial Auditorium — where sparse crowds attending semifinal and championship games, where the shooting backdrop in a cavernous setting was completely different than your average Division III gymnasium — the switch was made to reward the regular season champions and return the Final Four to a campus setting.
So after going 15-1 against conference foes this season, after beating Potsdam this past Tuesday night in the quarterfinal round, the first place finishing Red Dragons get to host the Final Four today and Saturday. And Corey Gymnasium is a good place to be if you are a Red Dragon, considering Cortland has captured 37 consecutive victories there.
Defending playoff champion and second seed Brockport (20-6) will face third seed Oswego (18-7) in the 6 p.m. opening semifinal game tonight. Cortland (23-2) follows facing No. 4 seed New Paltz (17-9) at 8 p.m.
The two survivors will play at 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon, with the winner earning an automatic berth into the NCAA Division III tournament.
Cortland made the NCAA field a year ago despite losing to Brockport 61-56 in last year’s playoff title game in Utica. The Red Dragons have been in the finals for seven of the past eight years, winning twice in 2000 and 2004. The school has six titles overall.
New Paltz, under first year head coach and former Union College assistant Jamie Seward, is making its first ever appearance in the Final Four. The Hawks are loaded with freshmen, the team coming to age with an 84-77 overtime victory over Geneseo on Tuesday in the quarterfinals.
No one scores in double figures for the Hawks, though eight players average five points per game or more.
Junior Amber Sohns had 23 points in the win over Geneseo and leads the team in scoring averaging 8.8 points per game average. Freshman Kristen Sitek chips in with 8.6 points per game, to go along with productive classmates Maggie Farrell (7.4) at guard and Carly Minehan (7.2) at forward.
Cortland is youthful, too. There is only one Red Dragon senior in its starting line-up, guard Kerry Costello. Freshman forward Jessica Laing leads the Red Dragons in scoring and rebounding, averaging 16.0 points and 10.9 rebounds per game.
Sara Cavanugh, a third year starter as a junior forward, averages 14.9 points per game and sophomore point guard Maggie Byrne averages 10.8 points and 4.3 assists per contest.
Cortland and New Paltz met once during the regular season, the Red Dragons winning 75-70 on the road back on Jan. 30.




Planck off to fast start in Florida races

Staff Writer

Dale Planck’s racing season is off to a good start.
The Cortland racecar driver took second place last week in the 36th Annual Florida DIRT Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park in Barbersville, Fla. for the Advance Auto Parts Super DIRT Big-Block Modified Series.
Planck finished second Feb. 14 in the first race of what was to be a four-race series and, after the next day’s race was rained out, took fourth in the third race last Friday. The 36-year-old Planck led the first 10 laps in Saturday’s 50-lap, $5,000-to-win feature before developing rear suspension problems that dropped him to a 10th-place finish.
His cumulative success earned him 144 points, good for second behind Danny Johnson’s 176. Brett Hearn was third with 133.
“We had good results,” Planck said of his Florida trip. “We had one of the fastest cars, if not the fastest, all week. To go all the way down there with a brand new car and finish second after taking fourth last year is a good way to start the season. I bettered my standing from last year by two places, and next year I hope to better it by one more.
“The Florida series isn’t an official part of the Super DIRT Series, which starts March 31 with a race at Hagerstown Speedway in Maryland and pays $100,000 to the winner. I ran the series last year and finished 11th overall,” he added, having suffered some problems with his car late in the season. “I learned a lot about chassis setups and engines.
“We’re one of the 12 contracted teams, called the Touring 12, in the season’s series. Last year I also finished fifth in the standings at my home track, Cayuga County fairgrounds Speedway in Weedsport, and was also fifth in the Empire TV Series, seven races that were televised,” he added, Time-Warner Sports doing that broadcasting.