Catching Up with Middlebury Men’s Basketball Coach Jeff Brown

Jeff Brown was kind enough to sit down with one of our contributors, Peter Lindholm, and give us his take on some major news in the NESCAC as well as an update on how the summer is going for his Panthers team.

Peter Lindholm: Obviously, the major news in the NESCAC lately is Mike Maker’s departure from Williams for Marist? What made Coach Maker so successful at Williams?

Jeff Brown: Well, he sort of has a unique offensive scheme and he does a very good job of adjusting and tweaking to the talent base that he has. His time at Williams has been truly very special and so successful in so many ways, and that speaks to both the talent level that he had at Williams and his ability to organize them and really play some great basketball.

PL: What does his departure mean for Middlebury, and the NESCAC power dynamic in general?

JB: You know, I don’t think it changes a great deal. Williams has had an unbelievable history in NESCAC basketball, I’ve been in the league 20 years and I don’t believe they’ve had a sub-.500 season in the last 20 years, and they’ve had tremendous coaching with Coaches Sheehy, Paulson and Maker. I’m sure they’re going to have a great hire, and continue to be a team that challenges for NESCAC titles and titles on the national stage

PL: As another very successful NESCAC coach, you must have had D1 offers at schools like Marist. What made you choose to remain in NESCAC?

JB: It really starts with being at Middlebury, a great institution. I think a subtle difference between Coach Maker and myself is that he spent the bulk of his time within Division 1, whereas I’ve been a NESCAC coach for 20 years. I’ve just really settled in, I’m very comfortable working with the student athletes on this campus, and in this level. Coach Maker spent six years at Williams, but before that had a good 15-18 years on the D1 level. So we probably just have different goals, in terms of him trying to climb the Division 1 ladder.

PL: In keeping with this D1-NESCAC theme, what are your thoughts on the Amherst transfers? Does Middlebury ever battle for former D1 players?

JB: I really don’t know that much about the two players attending Amherst next year, but transfers have crept into the NESCAC in the past. I know that we even fielded several calls from candidates looking to come down from D1. Unfortunately for us, they came at a period where transfer applications were closed here, so we weren’t able to explore those opportunities. But it’s really at an epidemic level in terms of Division 1. Every year it seems, more and more d1 players are looking to transfer within D1, or transfer down to D2 or D3.

PL: Shifting gears now, how is the summer progressing for you and the Panthers?

JB: It’s going well. We’re sort of at the early stage of the recruiting, it really picks up at the end of this month and throughout July. [Assistant] Coach [Kyle] Dudley has been out at several different events, and I’ve covered a couple of events. We tend to target some of the academic based opportunities, such as camps at Ivy League schools and AAU tournaments, and some camps are really targeted for academic-minded students.

PL: How is the freshman class shaping up? Are Jack Daly and Nick Tarantino still the standouts?

JB: Well, we have a class of four, and along with Tarantino and Daly, we have Adisa Majors from NYC, and Jack Gale from San Francisco. We like the class. I’m really guarded with making projections, just because I like our returning cast so much, and think very highly of them as players. So I don’t know how much the newcomers will fit initially into our program, but they definitely give us some pieces to build on for the future.

PL: Well, that’s what I got, thanks again and good luck.

JB: No problem, and thank you.


Mike Maker Moves On to Marist

Editors Note: This article was co-written by editors Joe MacDonald and Adam Lamont

The news that Williams coach Mike Maker had formally accepted the head coaching position at Division 1 Marist came as little surprise to those familiar with Maker’s background and coaching ability. Maker spent years in the Division 1 coaching ranks as an assistant at places like Creighton and West Virginia before becoming a first-time head coach at Williams over six years ago. When Williams hired him they most likely understood that Maker did not view Williams as his final coaching job. Maker said as much when in his introductory news conference he described how the Marist job was the fulfillment of a longtime dream of his to be a head coach at the Division 1 level. Maker did not have the deep rooted connections of someone like Amherst’s David Hixon, who graduated from Amherst in 1978, to keep him from moving onto a greater professional opportunity. That does not mean, however, that his decision to leave was an easy one. Talking about saying goodbye to his Williams players, Maker visibly breaks down in a very touching and genuine moment starting at the 2:05 mark.

During his six seasons at Williams, Maker was known as much for his great basketball mind as his kind and generous nature, and led the perennially successful Ephs program to perhaps its greatest stretch of basketball in history. In the 2006-2007, the season before Maker became head coach, Williams went 4-5 in the NESCAC, 17-8 overall, and lost by 37 points to Middlebury in the NESCAC tournament quarterfinals. In just his second year Maker lead the Ephs to a 9-0 regular season NESCAC record, 30-2 overall record, a NESCAC tournament championship, and a national championship game appearance. Since that 2008-2009 season, Williams has barely wavered in being a threat to win the NESCAC and national title every year. Over six years Maker went 147-32 for an .821 winning percentage, the highest of any Williams head coach. Of course Williams returned again to the national championship this year losing in heart-breaking fashion to Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Even Maker himself has a hard time believing the level that Williams reached during his tenure. “What we achieved was beyond my wildest imagination,” Maker said.

Winning a national championship was really the only thing Maker had to prove as head coach at the Division 3 level, and considering how close he got, even that would not have changed the perception of his abilities very much

Maker’s teams played an uptempo, aesthetically-pleasing style of basketball that saw them routinely approach 100 points a game. The ultimate testimony to how devastating Williams could be when running Maker’s offense to perfection came in the national semifinals this year when Williams ran Amherst off the floor in a 98-69 victory. The Ephs shot 63 percent, had 24 assists on 38 field goals, and scored 51 of their 98 points in the paint. That loss put Williams back on top of the rivalry after Amherst had an eight-game winning streak against Williams entering that game.

The win was another validation of both the style of play and type of basketball player that Maker brought to Williamstown. Guys like Michael Mayer ’14 from North Carolina and James Wang ’12 from Australia were stars for Maker that might not have come to Williams if not for Maker’s ability to cast such a wide net in recruiting. In fact, the 2013-2014 Williams team had only two players who hailed from the same state; Massachusetts is the home of Ryan Kilcullen ’15 and Greg Payton ’14. That is an incredible achievement given how Williams is in a small remote town and is not a college familiar to most basketball communities around the country. Maker leaves Williams with the basketball program in a great place given the quality of students he has had play for him.

So what now for Williams? Unlike in Division 1, a head coaching change does not automatically lead to a mass exodus of the players as is often the case at top-flight programs. But that doesn’t mean the danger isn’t there. Duncan Robinson ’17, reigning National Rookie of the Year, would certainly have some suitors if he was interested in moving, and Maker recruited a talented, guard-heavy 2018 class (note that this is entirely speculation, there has been no indication that any current or future members of the Williams team is considering leaving Williamstown). Of course, the Ephs are losing a great deal of production with this year’s class of departing seniors, but if all of the underclassmen return, as expected, Williams will still have the potential to compete for and win a NESCAC title.

The search for Williams’ next men’s head basketball coach has likely already begun. There are a handful of Williams’ graduates in the coaching ranks. Mike Crotty ’04 currently runs the very successful Middlesex Magic AAU program. Kevin Snyder ’09 just finished his first year as the manager of basketball operations for the Bucknell Bison under former Williams’ head coach Dave Paulsen, one of the only other coaches to make the D-III-to-D-I jump in recent years. Harlan Dodson ’11 is currently an assistant football/basketball coach at the New Hampton School, a New England prep school power house.

However, it’s unlikely that any of these Eph alums have the track record at this point to warrant the head coaching job. Lisa Melendy became the full-time athletic director at Williams in April, 2011. She hasn’t had to make many head coach hirings yet, so Ephs’ fans and players don’t know what to expect in terms of what she will require from candidates.

But Williams has to be one of the most desirable locations in Division 3 basketball, not least because of the deep roster that the next head coach will inherit. Maker said as much last week; “It’s an attractive job because of the players — who they are, how they play, the incredible things they accomplish during their time at Williams and after.”

Of course, the academic requirements of Williams and the rest of the NESCAC shrink the prospective recruiting pool somewhat, but that plays both ways, as a first class academic reputation is often the difference for players choosing where to play college basketball.

Regardless of who takes over for the 2014-15 season, Williams will be dangerous. Congratulations to Coach Maker on his move to Division 1. He certainly left the Williams program in a better place than he found it.

NESCAC Summer Star Watch: Where Is Your Favorite Player this Summer?

Thankfully, baseball doesn’t end when the kids leave campus in May. The majority of NESCAC ballplayers continue to lace up the cleats through the sweltering heat of June and July and, if they’re lucky enough to be on a championship contender, into the dog days of August. A handful of NESCAC stars are taking the field in some of New England’s premier intercollegiate summer baseball leagues. To save you the trouble of pouring over rosters to find out who’s playing where, we’ve done that deed for you, and combed through the rosters of every team in the Cape Cod League, New England Collegiate Baseball League and Futures Collegiate Baseball League.

Cape Cod Report:

Donnie Cimino ’15, Wesleyan, Chatham A’s

Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics
Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics

After two years atop the NESCAC batting average leaderboard in 2012 and 2013 when Cimino, a two-sport stud at Wesleyan, batted .400 and .399, earning him a profile in the New England Baseball Journal before this season began, the righty slugger slumped to a measly .329 this season, good for 15th in the league (read the sarcasm here). Cimino didn’t hit for as much power as in years past, slugging .376, but still posted an impressive 16:15 K:BB ratio and swiped 15 bags in 44 games and his team made a deep postseason run after claiming a NESCAC title. Cimino landed a temporary contract with the Chatham A’s for the summer, and has played in three of the team’s first four games, but gone hitless in six at bats.
Hopefully, Cimino can start hitting enough that they’ll decide to keep him around in Chatham, but even if he’s only there for a brief stint the experience against some of the country’s elite amateur talent will help him next season.

Guy Davidson ’16, Wesleyan, Harwich Mariners

Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics
Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics

Cimino’s teammate, shortstop Guy Davidson, is also playing in the Cape League this summer, but for Chatham opponent Harwich. Davidson is from South Harwich himself, so the chance to play for the Mariners must be a thrill. Davidson was a .273/.359/.364 hitter this year for Wesleyan, his on base percentage bolstered by 17 walks.
The Mariners are 4-0 and have the best hitting team in the Cape League to-date. Davidson has only seen one plate appearance so far, in which he struck out. 


NECBL Report:

Tim Superko ’17, Tufts, New Bedford Bay Sox

Courtesy of Tufts Athletics
Courtesy of Tufts Athletics

Superko was dominant in his first year in the league, registering a 2.64 ERA in 58.0 innings while striking out 51 hitters.
The hurler has already taken the mound in two starts for the New Bedford Bay Sox, but neither start has gone as expected. Superko surrendered eight runs (five earned) to the Valley Blue Sox on Saturday, walking four, striking out four and allowing seven hits. That outing was better than his first back on June 6, when Plymouth roughed up the lefty for six runs (four earned) in 3.1 innings. Hopefully Superko can return to the level of dominance he displayed during NESCAC play.

Futures Report:

Rob DiFranco ’16, Bates, North Shore Navigators

Courtesy of Bates Athletics
Courtesy of Bates Athletics

DiFranco was a valuable reliever for a surprising Bates squad in 2014, leading the team in appearances (15) and K/9 (12.15). DiFranco has already gotten a good deal of work for the 3-8 North Shore Navigators. The 6’1″ righty is 1-0 over 7.0 IP in four games with a 1.28 ERA and eight K’s to go along with zero walks. DiFranco’s improved control is a good sign and an improvement over his school season when he walked 10 hitters in 20.0 innings.



Soren Hanson ’16, Colby, Martha’s Vineyard Sharks

Courtesy of Colby Athletics
Courtesy of Colby Athletics

Hanson is one of three NESCAC players on the roster for the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks. Hanson was part of a talented Colby rotation this year that will be returning in full for 2015. He, Scott Goldberg ’15 and Greg Ladd ’15 all had ERAs under 3.00 for the Mules. Hanson has only pitched in relief so far for the Sharks, and has garnered a 7.71 ERA in 4.2 innings over three appearances, although his 8:1 K:BB ratio inspires hope for a turnaround soon.



Jack Roberts ’17 and Jack Cloud ’17, Williams, Martha’s Vineyard Sharks

Jack Cloud Courtesy of Williams Athletics
Jack Cloud
Courtesy of Williams Athletics
Jack Roberts Courtesy of Williams Athletics
Jack Roberts
Courtesy of Williams Athletics

Roberts burst onto the scene this year, and was near the top of the league in hitting through the first couple weeks. The lefty ended the year with a .302 average, and along with his classmate Cloud, who ended the 2014 season with a league-best .402 average, is playing for the Sharks this summer, as well. Roberts has gotten more at bats in the early going and has taken advantage of the opportunity, going 8-24 with three extra-base hits. Meanwhile, Cloud is just 2-10, and with three starting outfielders currently hitting .350 or better for Martha’s Vineyard, he will need to hit in the at bats he’s given if he hopes to earn more playing time.

Andrew David ’16, Tufts, Brockton Rox

Courtesy of Tufts Athletics
Courtesy of Tufts Athletics

Tufts had such an incredible pitching staff this year that David almost always went overlooked, but the sophomore was pretty good, posting a 3.60 ERA in 10 games (four starts). He’ll be pitching for the Brockton Rox in the summer of 2014, and has dealt so far. After four shutout innings in his first relief appearance, David earned a start on June 12 in which he threw six innings of one run ball and got the win. David has 10 K’s in 10 IP and no walks.



Mekae Hyde ’15, Bates, Old Orchard Beach Raging Tide

Courtesy of Bates Athletics
Courtesy of Bates Athletics

The 5’10” catcher was a .312 hitter for Bates this spring, but has slumped to a 4-29 start for the Old Orchard Beach Raging Tide. Phenomenal name aside, Old Orchard has the league’s worst record so far, and the other two catchers on the roster are younger than Hyde and haven’t hit yet this summer either, so Hyde should get plenty of chances to get his bat going.



Sam Warren ’16, Bates, Torrington Titans

Courtesy of Bates Athletics
Courtesy of Bates Athletics

Hyde’s battery mate, Warren was a dominant reliever for the Bobcats this season with a 1.93 ERA in 18.2 innings. What’s more, Warren posted a .302/.388/.442 triple-slash line in 86 at bats while playing the outfield. Warren has hit just .226 so far for the Titans (with a worrisome 11 strikeouts in 31 at bats), but has been great as the Titans’ closer, allowing no hits and two walks while ringing up two batters and earning two saves.



Mike Odenwaelder ’15, Amherst, Torrington Titans

Courtesy of Amherst Athletics
Courtesy of Amherst Athletics

The NESCAC’s Player of the Year joins Warren with the Titans this summer. The Amherst slugger is off to a hot start. In 42 at bats over 11 games, the righty has 15 hits (.357 average), three doubles, one triple, one homer and six stolen bases. Don’t forget that Odenwaelder would likely be just as successful as Warren if Torrington decided to use him out of the pen. He had a 1.74 ERA in 20.2 innings for Amherst.



Kyle Slinger ’15, Tufts, Worcester Bravehearts

Courtesy of Tufts Athletics
Courtesy of Tufts Athletics

Slinger won the NESCAC Pitcher of the Year award after leading the conference in innings pitched (76.0) and ERA (1.18). Slinger’s dominance has continued with the Worcester Bravehearts, as he has a 1.68 ERA in two starts. Slinger started on Worcester’s opening day, tossing just four innings, but getting Odenwaelder to fly out and hit into a fielder’s choice in two at bats.



Nate Pajka ’15, Bates, Worcester Bravehearts

Courtesy of Bates Athletics
Courtesy of Bates Athletics

Pajka, the Bates outfielder, joins Slinger on the Bravehearts this summer. Pajka was a .261 hitter at school this spring, but has exploded for eights in 19 at bats so far for Worcester, tallying three doubles and two triples already.




That sums up our early season look-in to some of New England’s most competitive summer leagues. There are some other great leagues out there, of course, and plenty of NESCAC ballplayers are in leagues around the country. If we missed anyone in these leagues, or you want to let us know about a player we should keep an eye on elsewhere around the nation, please do so in the comments section.

Play ball!

The Case for the ‘Cac: Students-and-Athletes

A few weeks ago, the NESCAC released its list of 2014 Spring All-Academic selections. Not surprising a whole bunch of people made it (999 to be exact), and not just the guys who sit on the end of the bench. While in Division 1 having a star that is also a stellar student is unusual, in the NESCAC it is almost the norm. Of course, this is exactly how it should be, given the ethos and goals of all the NESCAC schools in placing more emphasis on academics than athletics. To show just how outstanding the caliber of talent is that made the All-Academic team, we compiled two “All-Star” teams, if you will, one with the academic qualifications to make the All-Academic squad and the other chosen from everyone else remaining. Freshmen are not eligible because they have not completed a whole academic year so players like Tim Superko ’17 are not included in this exercise.

All-Academic Lineup The Rest Lineup
1. Andrew Yin (Second Base) 1. Donnie Cimino (Center Field)
2. Taiki Kasuga (Shortstop) 2. Aaron Rosen (Second Base)
3. Alex Hero (Center Field) 3. Mike Odenwaelder (Right Field)
4. Chad Martin (Designated Hitter) 4. Jason Buco (Left Field)
5. Kevin Galvin (Third Base) 5. Griff Tewksbury (Designated Hitter)
6. Bryan Wolfe (First Base) 6. Sam Goodwin-Boyd (First Base)
7. Nick Cutsumpas (Catcher) 7. Guy Davidson (Shortstop)
8. Matt Moser (Right Field) 8. Kevin Davis (Third Base)
9. Luke Pierce (Left Field) 9. Mekae Hyde (Catcher)
All-Academic Rotation The Rest Rotation
John Cook Kyle Slinger
Brad Reynolds Nick Cooney
Dylan Driscoll Christian Sbily
Scott Goldberg Gavin Pittore

Both teams are obviously stacked, but have different strengths. The All-Academic team lacks the mashers in the middle of the lineup that The Rest has in Jason Buco ’15 and Mike Odenwaelder ’16. The pitching staff for the All-Academic team is stronger, however. The difference is minimal especially given the presence of Kyle Slinger ’15 on The Rest. Though I don’t go in depth with the pitchers, it should be noted that other very good pitchers like Tom Ryan ’15 made the All-Academic team as well. Another roster note is that Matt Moser ’16 plays shortstop and not right field, but there was a significant logjam in the middle infield and nobody in the outfield for the All-Academic team so I made the executive decision to keep him on the field in that way.

If these two teams were to meet I would have to give a slight edge to The Rest team, but my guess is that if the teams played ten times, the All-Academic team wins four games. Their pitching is good enough and the talent level throughout the lineup is only a smidgeon worse than the Rest. The purpose of this exercise is of course simply to show the amount of talent that made the All-Academic team and not to really compare the teams.

One last note is that many of the athletes who did not make the All-Academic team still work incredibly hard in the classroom. Keep in mind that the difficulty of achieving the requisite 3.35 GPA fluctuates between departments, majors and professors. This isn’t to disparage anyone who did make the All-Academic team because a 3.35 isn’t easy no matter what classes you take. I want to make clear that I’m not putting down The Rest roster for their performance in the classroom. A lot of factors besides a student’s intelligence and work ethic go into what a final GPA looks like. With that being said, a huge congratulations to all of the students for their great work both on the diamond and in the classroom this spring..

Q&A with Stephen Bissainthe and Henry Muter, Middlebury Football 2018

I had the pleasure of sitting down at lunch with Stephen Bissainthe from Arlington, Massachusetts and Henry Muter from Lexington, Massachusetts, two members of the Middlebury College football class of 2018, and both are eager to start their college football careers. Bissainthe is a 6’5″, 235 lbs. defensive end, while Muter could employ his 5’11”, 220 lbs. frame either at linebacker or on the defensive line.

Joe MacDonald: What was your high school football experience like?

Henry Muter: I went to Lexington High School. I guess football was not that big. I guess it was just a normal high school. We played in a pretty good league. Competed at a pretty high level.

Stephen Bissainthe: I went to BB&N (Buckingham, Browne and Nichols). It’s a private school, and I think private school ball is a little different. You can recruit a lot of guys, so you get a lot of big guys in that league and a lot of Division-I guys. It’s a competitive league, but at my school in particular football is taken seriously. Our head coach is big on making sure we have a successful program.

JM: What’s your best high school football memory?

HM: My best high school memory is probably Thanksgiving. It’s a tradition in Massachusetts where all the public schools play Thanksgiving morning. So we crushed our rival on Thanksgiving, which was Burlington.

SB: We didn’t have Thanksgiving games in the ISL, but we do have a rival, Belmont Hill. We play them every year, it’s the opening game, and this past year we beat them in overtime. It was the first series in overtime, we were on defense, one of my boys got a pick six to win the game, so it was kind of crazy.

JM: Did you play other sports in high school?

SB: I did play basketball for a little bit. But I don’t anymore.

HM: I played rugby.

JM: What was your recruiting process like and how did you end up at Middlebury?

SB: My head coach has a lot of connections to coaches across the country. I mentioned that I wanted to play college ball but I wanted an academic experience as well. So I talked to a bunch of NESCAC schools, like Bowdoin and Amherst and stuff like that, and I came up to Midd about a year ago. I don’t know, it was just a little different. The coaches gave me more attention here. It was a little more intimate experience than some other schools. I like the campus, I like the state of Vermont.

JM: Was there a moment when you knew that Middlebury was the place you wanted to go?

HM: Yeah, I ended up doing a recruiting trip when it came down to, more or less, Middlebury and Trinity. One of the big moments, Trinity’s usually a dominant team in the NESCAC, but Middlebury came in and beat them at home, so that was a great moment when I was like, ‘Middlebury has both the academics and they’re beating them in football.’ So that was a cool moment.

JM: How do you guys feel about head coach Bob Ritter?

HM: He seems like a great guy. He saw me a lot in the recruiting process. He’s given me routine calls, asking how were holidays and how’s everything going. The program’s doing well, the players like him.

SB: From what it seems, I think he’s a genuine guy. He means very well. He’s really, I don’t know, he took the time to know me personally. A lot of the coaches I’ve talked to, I don’t know, they didn’t really go the extra step like Coach Ritter did. That’s part of the reason I decided to come here, I liked a coach that I could relate to.

JM: Have you gotten to know any of your future teammates?

SB: Not personally, but I’ve met some of the players through overnights and stuff like that. They seem like a really good group of guys.

JM: Do you know anybody who you will be playing against next year in the NESCAC?

HM: Yeah, one of our big rivalries was with Reading High School, and one of their star linebackers is going to be at Trinity. Honestly, the NESCAC has a lot of guys come from Massachusetts. So there’s a lot of guys who I’ve played against that are on the Middlebury football team now or who I’m going to play against in the future.

SB: Yeah, a lot of guys I played against come here, because it’s an [Independent School League] kind of feel. But a lot of my teammates are going to other NESCAC schools. We had a couple kids go to Bates, Amherst and a couple other schools in the NESCAC.

JM: How would you describe yourself as a player?

HM: Fast, tough, ferocious, smart. Kind of like, having to know that you can’t always just crash through. Understanding your skills and technique and playing tough.

SB: Tenacious, maybe? I don’t really know what that even means. I’m just an intense kind of guy. I’ve always liked the banging heads on lockers and things. But I don’t know if that’s going to translate to this level. But I can play with intensity.

JM: What do you think the biggest difference will be between high school and college competition?

HM: I think size. I think in high school you could kind of just use your athleticism to run down someone and knock them over, but you’ve got to understand that with these offensive linemen you’ve got some 300 pounders up there, you can’t just rush them over, you’ve got to be smart. They’re all big.

JM: Which of you two runs the faster 40?

HM: What did you run?

SB: I haven’t run an official 40, but like 4.7, 4.8.

HM: I ran like a 4.8, 4.85 on grass.

SB: So we’re the same.

HM: Yeah, we’re the same.

JM: Well, we’ll see what happens in the fall.


Thanks again to Henry and Stephen for taking the time to sit down with me.

Both Henry and Stephen were listed on this Boston Herald report of national letters of intent back in February.

Check out some of Henry’s big hits.