This year, for the first time in its 26-year history, the Rensselaer womens basketball teamthe Red Hawkscompeted in the NCAA Division III Tournament.
The Red Hawks, 23-4, earned an automatic entry to the tournament by winning the UCAA (Upstate Collegiate Athletic Association) Tournament against St. Lawrence in February. The team headed into the NCAA tournament with a 12-game winning streak and eclipsed the school record for wins in a single season (21-4 in 1997-98).
Although the Rensselaer team lost a competitive game, 66-54, against Mount Saint Mary in the first round of the tournament, held in the Robison Gymnasium at Rensselaer, coach Kim Rybczyk believes this was a special season worth remembering.
This season was undoubtedly the most memorable experience I have ever had in my 13 years of coaching, she says. Its easy to say that when youre winning, but the most incredible part of it was the dynamics of my players. They exemplified the word teamwork. I had a group of young women who walked the walk when it came to commitment, unselfishness, and sacrifice.
Rybczyk, sixth-year mentor for the Red Hawks, was named UCAA Coach of the Year for 2001. She was also this years New York State Womens Collegiate Athletic Association Coach of the Year.
On the court, the Red Hawks were led by junior center Melissa Coppola, who tops the team in scoring (11.8 points per game), rebounding (9.7), blocks (20), and steals (39). Junior guard Holly Neiweem, who was named to the UCAA All-Tournament Team, was second on the team in scoring (10.1) and assists (57). She also was named to the All-UCAA Second Team. Both Coppola and Neiweem were named to the All-UCAA Second Team, marking the third straight year they have been recognized by the league.
In April, Rybczyk and the entire womens basketball team were invited to appear before the Rensselaer County Legislature, where they were honored with resolutions commending their outstanding championship season and first-ever Upstate Athletics Association Championship and NCAA Tournament Bid.
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