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February holds exciting future for three Baruch sports teams

Denis Gostev | Baruch Athletics

A look ahead to the end of February signifies different things for different sports in the world of Baruch Athletics. Men’s volleyball will be in the midst of their regular season while the baseball and softball season will begin sooner than expected. For basketball, the regular season will come to an end for both the men and the women. However, back in the present, the Bearcats have regrouped and stared down another busy week with resilience and tenacity after a first week of February marred by defeat. Their aggressiveness on the volleyball court and the basketball hardwood have translated to positive results and victories. 

On the volleyball court, the Bearcats swept the Bard Tri-Match, defeating the Bard College Raptors and the Regis College Pride in straight sets. 

Although both matches showcased dominant performance by Baruch, the first game against Bard saw nine errors committed by the team, compared to Bard’s 8.

However, that is the only negative that can be drawn from this match, as virtually every player had a solid game. 

Middle hitter Meni Musheyev had six kills and two blocks, while team captain Stallone Shankar had a game-high 13 assists and 4 aces. 

In their second match, the Bearcats were utterly sensational, as the team only committed three errors, compared to Regis’ 24. Also, the Bearcats helped limit the hitting percentage of the Pride to triple zeroes. Shankar had 28 assists as a setter, while Steven Lopez and Artem Zinkin combined for 19 kills. 

The Bearcats bumped their record above .500 with the two-match sweep and will ride this wave of momentum into their next match against their toughest opponent in their young season, the defending Division III National Champs, the SUNY New Paltz Hawks. 

Shifting to the hardwood, the Bearcats had two games each in quick succession. Baruch traveled to Queens to take on the York College Cardinals, and while the women were defeated, the men snapped their three-game losing streak. 

The Bearcats started the away game slow, falling behind by eight late into the first quarter. Although the Bearcats were slow offensively, the ladies were aggressive and played tight defense throughout the first half, forcing 14 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes.

The defense was the focal point of the game plan, as assistant coach Olivia Colbert attested to after the game, “We’ve been trying to get them to be more aggressive, we preach that defense wins games, and I think in the last few games they have showing a lot more effort on the defensive end, being able to force a lot of turnovers.” 

Baruch headed into halftime with a slim one-point lead that evaporated in the second half. 

A barrage of plays in the paint designed to use York’s size were on full display and the ladies going cold from the field spelt doom for the Bearcats, losing 61-47. 

Nia Dawson led the team with 12 points while collecting six steals and Daniela Zirpolo scored 11 points and snatched five rebounds off the bench in a losing effort. 

The men saw better fortunes against York, but started the game slower than they would have liked, down eight early in the first half. However, with about seven minutes left in the opening half, everything clicked for the Bearcats.

Shots were falling, the play was more free-flowing and Baruch went into halftime up 9. Speaking about the first half of the game, Coach John Alesi commented on the resilience and play of his team, “York came out really strong and I was pleased with how our guys handled the initial wave.  

We went into the game looking for better offensive execution and less putting the ball on the floor and I thought we did a good job with it.” 

The second half was blue all the way through as the Bearcats shot with greater efficiency, connecting on more high-percentage shots, and generating turnovers.

The Bearcats walked away 82-71 victors, with Adnan Bajrami scoring 28 points while collecting five rebounds. Captain George Smyth Jr. and big man Nathaniel Ormond combined for 12 rebounds in the Bearcat win. 

The men’s good fortune continued into their game against the Brooklyn College Bulldogs. From virtually the first tip, the Bearcats took the bull by the horns and never relinquished control of the game. 

It seemed as if the entire team was shooting flames, with Baruch shooting close to 60% from the field in the game.

One negative was the three-point percentage in the first half, as the Bearcats only made three shots from downtown. However, the second half saw more success from the beyond the arc, as Baruch made six shots out of nine. 

The Bearcats took control of the paint, outscoring the Bulldogs 40-22 and outrebounding them 34-25. 

The final whistle saw Baruch enjoy another win, defeating Brooklyn College 86-73. Ryan Graziano had a career-high 18 points off the bench in the win, and Michael Richards led the squad with 20 points while contributing three assists. 

On the victory, Coach Alesi praised the Bearcats’ play on the inside throughout the game, stating, “Brooklyn, for as good as they are, are a little undersize, so we wanted to make sure we had a presence on the inside and have some scoring at the rim, draw some fouls at the rim.”

Controlling the pace of play throughout shot selection was also key for the Bearcats, remarked Alesi, getting to the rim with off-ball movement and cutting rather than relying on lapses in Brooklyn’s defense. 

Alesi also talked about the impact of his bench not only this game, but throughout the season, saying, “That’s been the strength of our team all year. We are the type of team where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. We’ve been getting great bench contributions all year.”

“When you look at our advantage over other teams in the conference, it is the quality of players 1-15, I think we have good players across the board,” Alesi remarked about his squad.  

The Bearcats improved to 14-9 and will celebrate Senior Day against the Lightning of Lehman College before closing out the regular season against the Dolphins of the College of Staten Island. 

Although the postseason is fast approaching, Coach Alesi says that his squad does not feel any pressure being the defending conference tournament champions. 

“I think we are a completely different team. We haven’t spend any time talking about last year’s team because we are not last year’s team,” Alesi said.

The focus for Coach Alesi remains on taking every game as they come, putting the best possible product on the floor. 

“Through good play or bad play, it has always been about trying to get us playing our best right now, which I think we are on track to do,” preached Alesi. 

While the men had good fortune this week, the ladies were not as fortunate, as they faced first-placed Brooklyn, undefeated in conference play. 

The ladies played a good game, attempting to take away the size of the Bulldogs through speed and athleticism, as well as great defense. 

Throughout the game, the Bearcats let Brooklyn shoot from downtown at a high rate, as the Bulldogs finished with 32 attempts. 

Giving up low percentage shots was preferable to losing the battle in the post and the paint in order to keep Baruch in the game.

Through the first three quarters, the game plan worked to perfection, keeping Brooklyn within striking distance. 

Spahiu and Dawson generated many scoring opportunities, with the latter putting in a tour de force, finishing with a double-double of 22 points and 11 rebounds. 

The shorthanded Bearcats fought like lions throughout the match but were unable to contend with the size and shot of the James’ sisters for Brooklyn, losing 83-68. 

Spahiu finished with 12 points and 8 rebounds, senior Sameera Ahmed had a solid game, finishing with 16 points while missing only three shots, and Frances Snyder added 10  points in the losing effort. 

The Bearcats fell to 13-9 and will finish the season against Lehman for Senior Day at home and away at Staten Island against CSI.

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