Winter sports outlook includes special Rowan-La Salle matchup commemorating 1996 national title

Winter sports outlook includes special Rowan-La Salle matchup commemorating 1996 national title

Rowan University Men's Basketball 1996 Championship

With the winter sports season just around the corner, Rowan athletes are gearing up and working hard to take on new challenges in the 2015-16 season.

An exciting new challenge will come on Saturday, Nov. 28, as the men’s basketball team hosts the La Salle Explorers for a special game commemorating Rowan’s 1996 national championship team.

The game, which pits the Division III Profs against the Division I Explorers, begins at 3 p.m. in Esby Gym.

John Giannini, La Salle’s award-winning coach, will return home to Rowan for the contest. Giannini and Rowan coach Joe Cassidy were both on the sidelines for the 1996 championship--as head coach and assistant respectively. Now, nearly 20 years later, Cassidy will go head-to-head with his former colleague for this unique celebration on Rowan’s home court.

“It actually was John Giannini’s idea,” Cassidy said about the La Salle game. “For a Division I team to go to a Division III team’s home court really is unheard of.  It’s a class move on his part.”

Giannini led the Profs to the final four in 1993 and 1995 and then to the championship in 1996. The championship team, which defeated Hope College to win the national title, averaged a record 100 points per game in the tournament.

Before joining La Salle, Giannini coached seven seasons (1989-96) at the University, compiling a 168-38 record. 

The Profs are relishing the challenge of playing a Division I squad, Cassidy says.

“It will be special to honor the 1996 national championship team while playing against John's team,” he says.

Cassidy’s squad is led by senior guards Kris O’Connor and Darryl Robinson, center Dan Brogan and forward Chris Gross.  O’Connor averaged 10.4 points per game (ppg) and totaled 89 assists last season.  He received NJAC All-Conference honorable mention. Gross and Brogan contributed with 7.4 and 6.0 points per game respectively.

The team will count on these key seniors to lead the Profs back to the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Championship Tournament.  Last year, Rowan had a 16-10 record with a 10-8 conference mark.

The men’s season starts on Friday, Nov. 13, against Salisbury University at Widener University’s “Tip-Off for Autism Awareness” Tournament.

Here’s look at Profs’ sports as the winter season kicks off.  For the full schedules and complete coverage, visit

Women’s basketball

The women’s team begins its season when it travels to Messiah College for the Hampton Inn Tip-Off Classic on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 13 and 14.  The squad plays Lehman College at 5:30 p.m. on Friday.

The Profs have eight returning players, including their leading scorer and top rebounder.  Guard Anyssa Sanchez scored 11.5 ppg in her sophomore season.  Center Kate Matthews was first on the boards with an 8.3 average.  She was also second in scoring with 9.3 ppg.  Sanchez was named to the NJAC All-Conference second team and Matthews earned All-Conference honorable mention.  Guard/forward Kaitlin Schulstrom chipped in with 9.0 ppg.  

The team is coming off a 17-9 season.  Rowan finished with a 12-6 conference record and advanced to the conference championship tournament.

"We have high expectations for the upcoming season," says head coach Gabby Lisella.  "We will build upon last year's turnaround that saw the team ranked eighth regionally with a return to the NJAC playoffs."

Men’s swimming and diving

Coming off their Nov. 3 victory over William Paterson, men’s swimming and diving head coach Brad Bowser says simply, “The goal is win the whole thing. It all started with Jesse (Novak) last year.”

Last season, Rowan was 10-1 overall and 3-1 in the NJAC.

Novak, a junior, won the 50 and 100 freestyles at the 2015 NCAA Division III Swimming & Diving Championships for All-America honors.  He broke the school records in both events.  

Junior John Morris also earned All-America honorable mention with a 12th place finish in the one-meter diving.  He was the Diver of the Meet at the Metropolitan Championships and the conference’s Diver of the Year.

Novak and Morris both were members of the NJAC All-Conference first team.  The NJAC second team consisted of John Shellem, Tyler Coe, Mike Simunek and Connor Buck.  Paul Long and Steven Buzby received All-Conference honorable mention.

After last year’s accomplishments, the men are looking for another successful season, Bowser states.

"We want to put Rowan in the national spotlight within Division III,” he says.

Women’s swimming and diving

The women’s swim team also captured a win over William Paterson on Nov. 3. And while this year’s team is small in numbers, the swimmers have set high goals, according to Bowser.

Olivia Wojtowicz is the team’s top breaststroker.  In 2015, she earned NJAC All-Conference first team in the 200 individual medley and All-Conference honorable mention in the 200 breaststroke.  The Profs’ top distance swimmer is Julia DelNero, who received NJAC honorable mention in the 500 freestyle.

Rowan received NJAC All-Conference second team honors in the 200 and 400 medley relays.  The 200, 400 and 800 freestyle relays were All-Conference honorable mention.

Last year, Rowan was 8-4 overall and 1-3 in the conference.

Men’s indoor track and field

The Profs look to defend their NJAC Championship starting Saturday, Dec. 5, at the Metro Holiday Season Opener, under the direction of head coach Dustin Dimit.

Back again to help the team this year is sophomore Jeffrey Tucker. Tucker was the NJAC champion in the high jump and he was named the conference’s Rookie of the Year.  He finished eighth at the NCAA Division III Championships for All-America honors.  

Junior Justyce Pollitt was an All-American in the long jump with a sixth place finish.  Dave Benjamin was a member of the All-Conference second team in the 60-meter hurdles.  

The indoor season starts on Saturday, Dec. 5, at the Metro Holiday Season Opener.  The meet will be held at the Ocean Breeze Track Center in Staten Island, N.Y. at 12:30 p.m.

Women’s indoor track and field

Also kicking off its season on Saturday, Dec. 5, is the women’s indoor track and field team.

“This is the most focused and motivated team I've ever coached and they have been working hard during the preseason,” says head coach Derick “Ringo” Adamson.

“I think we could make a good run at finishing in the top five teams at the NCAA Indoor National Championships.”

Senior Shailah Williams is the defending national champion in the 60-meter dash.  She was also a member of the All-Conference first team on the winning 4x200 and 4x400 meter relays.  Williams earned NJAC second team honors in the 200 meters.  She was selected the NJAC Outstanding Track Athlete.  Catherine Dougherty won the conference title in the 3000 meters.  

The Profs will attempt to win their fourth straight NJAC Indoor Championship.