Posted by Isaac Baker
For a long time now, Skidmore has been highly competitive on the tennis court, the baseball field and, predominately, on horseback—hence the name. Throughout the past season there was a new arena where the Thoroughbreds made their name and rode to victory. The men's basketball team moved boldly out of obscurity and into the limelight with an overall record of 18-10 and a Liberty League championship title to boot.
Just three years ago, the team's overall record was 6-19, with just one win in league play. The team had never won a championship, and was consistently far off the mark. The year after that did not see much improvement; the 2008-09 overall record improved to just 8-17.
Last year, Skidmore really stepped up their game, finishing with a winning record of 16-10 and advancing to the Liberty League tournament where they lost a close game to Hobart in the first round. It became clear that Skidmore was starting to put together a promising team that would need to be reckoned with thereafter.
Following the steady arc of improvement, the team brought their game to a whole new level this winter with new blood and fresh administration.
Senior Jeff Altimar ‘11 summed up his four years playing for Skidmore when he said "after finishing in last place my freshmen year, the team has come a long way to finally win a Liberty League Championship for the first time in?school history."
This year was truly anomalous and is definitely a step in the right direction for the basketball team. Continuing his reflection on the season, Altimar said "We?received national recognition with our?NCAA record tying seven overtime game against?Southern?Vermont and?broke the previous school record for total wins."
In another interview, coach Joseph Burke commented on the same highly publicized game: "The amount of national attention [that] the players and the school received is beyond anything the school has ever seen before… From a team perspective I thought that particular game allowed us to grow and come together as a group. It was early and I was the new coach, I believe we learned to trust one another in that game and it allowed our relationship to grow quicker than I ever expected."?
The fateful game came very early in the season and set the tone for the rest of the season. After emerging victorious from the nationally covered event, Skidmore was almost ready to take their newfound confidence to every game that followed.
Coming back from winter break, Skidmore went out flat-footed in the game against Norwich, leading to a 81-72 loss. This did not seem representative of the work the team had put in prior to the break and Coach Burke encouraged them to find that stride that had been treating them so well before: "After that game, I challenged the guys and basically called them out. To be a championship team, you can't pick and choose when you want to play hard, it has to be consistent… from that game forward we were focused every time we took the court."
Skidmore advanced to the Liberty League tournament for the second year running, but this year, they improved on the year before, beating RPI and then Hamilton to win their first ever championship title.
Unfortunately, the team's momentum did not hold up in the final game of the season against Amherst College. This was the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament, a competition that has never before seen Skidmore in its bracket. Skidmore did not bring its A-game, and went down 79-39 in their biggest loss of the season.
Altimar was quick to assure me though that "this final game does not reflect the?kind of season this group had." The team simply did not show up with the same enthusiasm that carried them through the Liberty League tournament, shooting just 2 for 21 from beyond the arc, making many turnovers and struggling on both offensive and defensive boards. It's tough to end on a note like that, but it in no way belittles their incredible achievements this year as a team.
Going forward, Coach Burke is confident that Skidmore will field another competitive team. He elaborated by noting, "We obviously lose Jeff Altimar who was?very important to our success this year. However, we have everyone else coming back so I am excited because I believe we can be very good.? That being said, we are not sneaking up on anybody next year, we certainly will be the team everyone is shooting to beat.? It will be our responsibility to get better in the off-season and have a great pre-season so that we are ready to handle all the challenges that are ahead."
The implication is that Skidmore will have to work even harder in the coming year to defend its title, but Burke is confident that the team is up to the challenge.
Altimar, the only graduating senior on the team, joined the ranks of a select few Skidmore basketball players when he hit his 1,000-point mark this season. He was a strong contributor to the team, and scored the most points many games throughout the winter.
After the final game of the season, Altimar commented, "This was a special group with great team chemistry who I had a lot of fun with this year. I am definitely going to miss?being a part of the team, all of whom are coming back?next year."
Despite this loss, things look good for the basketball team in the future; all but one of this year's championship team will be returning next season. The Thoroughbreds have pushed their way into the NCAA Division III playoffs this year, and will look to make their presence known in that bracket by the time next season rolls around.