Following Brown sports is like riding a Ferris wheel at a community fair: even when you're on your way to the top, you hang on tight in case a loss in power or a missing nut brings the ride to a midair halt. Similarly, the 1998-99 football Bears spun happily in preseason, poised to rise steadily upward. The machine chugged smoothly along, a highly talented offensive juggernaut that halfway through the season suddenly learned to play a stingy, run-choking defense and ran up six straight wins. But there must have been a bolt just a half-turn loose, because at the end of the season the team was in second place (7-3, 5-2 Ivy), and Bruno fans realized that a season-opening, two-point loss to Yale had been the glitch in those early championship hopes.
This imperfection should not be allowed to mar a fine year - and not only for football. Here is this summer's traditional BAM look at the highlights and lowlights of the past year in sports:
. To find the year's most significant accomplishment, look no further than women's crew. At the end of May the squad became the first in any Brown sport to win an NCAA team title. Squeezing out Virginia to capture the Women's Rowing Team Championship in Rancho Cordova, California, the women nailed down the latest chapter in the astonishing success story that Brown's women athletes are writing. Their timing couldn't have been better: the spring of 1999 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of women's rowing at the University and the fiftieth of the rebirth of the men's team. (Brown gave up rowing from 1887 to 1949.) At a recent commemoration held in Sayles Hall, speakers included Harlan Bartlett '51, a member of the 1949 crew that revived the sport; Ted Patton '88, a member of the world champion boat of 1987; and Ginger Dewing '98, a member of the 1996 national champion women's eight. In total, Brown crews have won six national championships.
Best Highlights. Under head coach Mike Noonan, men's soccer in recent years has been reeling off an extended highlight film of superb seasons. The 1998 campaign ended with the Bears showing a 12-3-2 record while notching their fourteenth Ivy title and seventeenth NCAA tournament appearance. By the end of the season, the squad was ranked ninth in the nation, with eight players on All-Ivy teams, including first-teamers Ryan Smith '00 at midfield, Cory Gibbs '01 at defense, and Matt Cross '01 in goal.
Worst Highlight. For the second year in a row, men's soccer found itself matched against powerful St. John's in the NCAA tournament pairings. This was followed by a kind of nightmare instant replay, as the Bears were handed another heartbreaking first-round loss. This year's had to be the most unlucky: the final score was 1-0, and the end came in double overtime, when a St. John's pass ricocheted off a Brown defender's leg and into the Bears' own net.
Best Sport. Although many Brown athletes make Ivy League and Eastern sports headlines, a Bear ranked number one or two in the nation is truly a rare event. It happened this past winter, though, when women's squash captain Devon Kennedy captured the Betty Richey Award, which is given annually to the country's outstanding senior squash player "who exemplifies the characteristics of sportsmanship, on-court demeanor, ability, and love of the game." Also a four-time first-team All-American, Kennedy, who is from Ardmore, Pennsylvania, finished second at the ISA National Individual Championship, where she lost in the finals to the nation's top-ranked player.
Unhappiest Exit. After enduring a 4-22 season, men's basketball coach Frank "Happy" Dobbs bowed out from Brown, noting that he had grown tired of losing. Dobbs's teams compiled a 67-141 record over eight seasons, including his best slate, in 1994-95, when the Bears finished at 13-13, just the twenty-first time in Brown history that the cagers cracked .500. Taking over for the Bears is former Connecticut College coach Glen Miller, who succeeded in transforming that school's program from a Division III doormat into a string of pearls.
. Track-and-field director Bob Rothenberg '65 was dubbed Regional Indoor Coach of the Year last winter as women's track and field raced to the Heptagonal title (over the Ivy schools plus Navy) for the first time since 1994. Counting both men and women, Rothenberg's Bears placed eighteen athletes on indoor track-and-field All-Ivy teams. Trinity Gray '00 and Brendan Prindiville '99 were two of the three male Ivy qualifiers for the 1999 national indoor championships, where Gray finished second in the 800-meter event; both Gray and Missouri's Derrick Peterson broke the collegiate indoor record. The performance also helped Gray capture his third All-American citation.
Worst Return Trip. Traveling back to campus from a season-ending loss on the road is one of the more discouraging journeys in the life of a college athlete, especially when the trip is a brooding, long-distance affair. After breezing through its Ivy championship season with a 7-0 league record, women's volleyball was ousted in the first round of the NCAAs by the nation's sixth-ranked team. Then, because the tournament happened to be in Honolulu, the women had to endure a 6,000-mile, two-stop air journey all the way back to Providence.
Best Chicago Bulls Imitation. Let's face it: women's swimming is the dyed-in-the-wool Brown sports dynasty of the late 1990s. The Bears captured their fourth straight league title this winter. Finishing just lengths ahead of Princeton, Brown splashed to the Ivy League crown for the second consecutive year. In 1995-96 and 1996-97, the Bears were also Eastern champions, lending credibility to the dynasty claim. Among the stars in the misty Smith Center firmament this year were Katie Cowan '00 (freestyle, backstroke) and Judy Koonstra '02 (butterfly).
Best Turnaround. Last year in the BAM's "Bests and Worsts," I wrote about a tough season for the baseball team and even compared the squad to Casey Stengel's 1962 New York Mets (who finished sixty games out of first). In keeping with the BAM's reverse jinx - which dictates that a negative description in these pages means great success the following year - the Bears ended their season in first place with an 11-3 Ivy record. Through much of the season Brown was paced by shortstop Dan Kantrovitz '01, who at one point was hitting a cool .453. Stengel, eat your heart out.
Worst New Spring Sport. Ah, April. The time of green grass, softening breezes and....indoor college sports? I have nothing against adding a varsity team (the school's thirty-sixth), and the University clearly needed a women's varsity to continue its march toward gender parity. But why are Brown and other Eastern colleges using women's water polo to fill a spring slot? The squads will be forced to slosh around in dank indoor pools; spectators will be hard to find; and last time I checked, water polo didn't seem to be a high-demand high-school sport. No one's asked me, but how about women's orienteering as a route to tough competition and fresh air?
Best Media Sensation. Since the Roaring Twenties, when star guard Orland Smith '26 was named to the Associated Press All-American third team, quite a few Brown gridiron greats have been honored by the football writers of the Associated Press. But last fall tight end Zach Burns '99 became the first player in Brown's 119-year football history to be named an AP first-team All-American. Also a first-team All-Ivy pick, Burns dominated opponents, hauling in fifty-eight catches, third best in the Ivies, for 703 yards and six touchdowns.
Sport's graduating class