Trying to Break the Spell

BY ANDREW BLOM // MARCH 7, 2012 //

“I thought this was the year,” said A.J. Stephens. “I had something to finish and I’m mad about not finishing it…again.”

Stephens is a 6-foot-5, 255-pound basketball player nicknamed “The Beast” because of his aggressive style on the hardwood. At age 24, the junior communication major was named The Commonwealth Coast Conference Player of the Week on Feb. 6 and was having a stellar season for the Colonels. But that season came to a premature end this month, and The Beast is once again wondering if he’ll ever enjoy a happily ever after.

A.J. Stephens didn't play in many games this season due to poor grades, but when he did play he shined for the Colonels. However, Stephens failed to finish out the year with the team after walking away from his coach and teammates. // PHOTO COURTESY OF CURRY ATHLETICS

On Feb. 8, Curry traveled to Springfield, Mass., to take on conference rival Western New England University. The Colonels would go on to lose the game, 71-70, but Stephens wasn’t on the court or even on the bench when the final buzzer sounded. Receiving just nine minutes of playing time, he left the game and his teammates early and sulked his way into the locker room.

“I was not happy with the situation,” he says, alluding to his limited playing time while coming off the bench in a non-starter role. In earning Player of the Week honors just days earlier, Stephens averaged 18 points and nearly 12 rebounds over a three-game span. “Two games in I thought I proved myself. I could have contributed more.”

After the game, Curry head coach Malcolm Wynn asked for Stephens’s jersey, essentially kicking him off the team. Stephens says he reluctantly handed it over without a fight.  “Maybe if I said something I’d still be playing,” says the Stamford, Conn., native. “I have times where I struggle, and I’m not being mature enough.” Wynn declined to comment for this story.

Basketball has long provided Stephens with opportunities to succeed in life. But something always seems to get in the way, and it’s often Stephens himself. After graduating from high school—an All-State player his senior season, he averaged nearly 30 points and 16.5 rebounds per game—Stephens says he received scholarship offers from such places as Seton Hall University and Hofstra University, but he was unable to accept due to poor grades and test scores. He would attend Barton County Community College in Kansas in September 2006, but lasted just two weeks because the head basketball coach was upset by Stephens’s poor work ethic.

“Every coach seems to have that problem with me not being in shape,” he says.

Stephens moved on to South Plains College in Texas, where he stayed for two years. He played basketball his first year at the school, but was unable to continue because of poor grades, he says.

Stephens took the 2008-09 academic year off and moved to Daytona Beach, Fla., explaining that he needed “a change of scenery.” When he returned to Connecticut in May 2009, he says he thought about the campus tour of Curry he took in 2004 and decided to call Coach Wynn. Soon, Stephens was enrolled in a summer class at the college and was accepted shortly thereafter.

In his first season at Curry, Stephens started seven games and averaged 17.7 points and 10.2 rebounds. Months later, he became a father. Stephens opted to leave college once again, this time taking a year off to be with his new son, Jay’sir Stephens, in Connecticut.

Stephens says it was his own mother who ultimately convinced him to return to Curry this academic year to resume his education and passion. “Basketball means a whole lot to him,” says Queenie Stephens, by phone from Ohio where she now lives. “He proved a lot by keeping his grades up this year, and I know in his heart he wants to play now.”

But with the season now over—Curry finished the year 11-15, 9-9 in conference play, led by junior Sedale Jones’s 21 points per game—Stephens can only hope for yet another opportunity to realize his potential. Stephens was academically ineligible to start the season and only played his first game  on Jan. 28, the team’s 18th contest. He played in only five games thereafter. Still, he was the Colonels’ second-leading scorer with 14.2 points per game.

“This kid is pretty damn good,” says Adam Kaplan, a freshman communication major and a member of the men’s basketball team. “Type of guy you love to play with, who just made a mistake. He’ll learn from it.”

Stephens says that he hopes to work things out at Curry and plans to meet with Wynn to discuss his future with the men’s basketball team. Without basketball, he says it’s unclear whether he’ll even return to the college.

“Hopefully, we can start this chapter again,” says Stephens. “I want to finish this, so I can have a story to tell my son.”

From Shadows to Spotlight

BY BRANDAN BLOM // MARCH 2, 2012 //

(UPDATE: After defeating Nichols College in the ECAC Northeast semifinal earlier this week, 7-2, the Colonels now take on Wentworth this Saturday, March 3, for the ECAC Northeast championship and a spot in the NCAA Division III Tournament. The game starts at 2 p.m. at Matthews Arena in Boston. Curry is providing free shuttle service to the game, with a 1 p.m. departure from the Student Center.)

As a defenseman on the Curry College hockey team, Ryan Barlock has often stood in the shadow of others.

Last season, he played alongside senior Ryan Warsofsky, who was among the nation’s top defensemen in all of Division II and III and has since taken his talents to a professional league in Europe. This season, Barlock has largely played in the shadow of classmate Payden Benning, a senior forward and two-time captain. Benning amassed a team-best 19 goals during the regular season, leading Curry to an 11-3-0 conference record.

Colonels defensman Ryan Barlock

But while goals often get most of the attention, someone is usually assisting in the offensive output. And that’s where Barlock shines.

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound native of Chicago tallied a team-high 27 assists this season, to go along with 11 goals, in leading the Colonels in points. Moreover, Barlock broke the career 100-point mark this season, a spectacular feat considering he plays from the blue line. He is just the 26th Curry player to score 100 points in his career; teammates Benning and senior forward John Williams also reached the milestone this season.

“It feels pretty good,” said Barlock, 24, who played two years of junior hockey before coming to Curry. “It’s an honor to be in that group, to be with the other players in that club. A lot of hard work was put into it.”

He also just topped another record, becoming the top scoring defenseman in Curry history. Barlock has 33 goals in his college career—he scored 8 goals in both his freshman and sophomore years, along with 6 last season and 11 so far this year. The previous record was 31.

An assistant captain, Barlock attributes his skills to long, hard practice sessions, and also to his teammates. “When players around me make plays, it makes it easier for me,” he said.

Head Coach Rob Davies said it’s often the other way around. “He has always brought that grit to every game,” said Davies, who earned his 200th career victory this season. “He always shows up and gives it his all. His physical play opens up the ice for the other players.

“He’s absolutely a leader,” the coach added. “He is a good player, a good student, and he works hard on and off the ice.”

A management major and two-time member of the ECAC All-Academic squad—“I think my competitive nature transitions well into the world of business,” he said—Barlock wants to continue playing hockey after graduating from Curry this spring. He said his preference would be to play in the United States but is open to playing in Europe. “I definitely will play somewhere,” he said.

For now, Barlock is focused on helping the Curry hockey team reach its goals. The team has struggled out of conference this season with a 2-7-2 record, and ended its regular season on a sour note. The Colonels lost two of its final four games, all in-conference affairs, but the team is working to earn yet another birth in the NCAA Division III tournament.

Curry won the ECAC Northeast title the past two seasons, earning a place in the national tournament, but has failed to win a single game on that stage.

Said Barlock, “We want to take it to the next level.”

Down and Out

BY TIM MCCARTHY // DEC. 5, 2011 //

“Get up, Shane. Get up!”

It’s what senior Shane Geib heard from a teammate after being hit from behind and into the boards during a hockey game last December against Nichols College. The hit left Geib with multiple bloody gashes on his forehead, requiring seven stitches, and the entire left side of his face swollen. But those injuries were the least of his worries.

Barely able to skate to the bench, Geib saw blurry lights and didn’t know where he was.  As he received medical attention from the trainer, he was having trouble concentrating, felt really tired and began to fall asleep on the bench. Two days later, he went to Milton Hospital with symptoms of blurred vision, headaches, dizziness and fatigue.

PHOTO COURTESY OF CURRY ATHLETICS

“I would sneeze and see stars,” said Geib, a forward from Stony Plain, Canada. Another time, he was looking at an empty paper towel dispenser and was at a loss for words. “I couldn’t text my roommate what it was that we needed,” he added.

Waiting until he felt symptom free, Geib returned to the ice against New England College on Jan. 1, 2011. “I felt good when I first came back; I took a light hit and felt a little dizzy, but wanted to play so bad I kept playing.” After scoring a goal and earning an assist in his return, he continued to play symptom-free into late February. During a practice, Geib would again be hit from behind, this time by a teammate.

“I felt my neck and spine compress and immediately started having muscle spasms in my back,” he said.

All of his original concussion symptoms returned, and Geib was carried off the ice in a stretcher. “I was scared that I broke my back,” he said.

With Geib’s whole neck swollen along his spine, he would spend three days in a brace in the hospital. The doctors told him that he returned to hockey too soon after the initial concussion.

A study by the Mayo Clinic in late 2010 found that NCAA hockey players  suffered more concussions than all other collegiate sports athletes. In fact, 9 percent of all injuries in men’s college hockey are concussions, compared to 7 percent in football. A different study, in the journal Neurosurgical Focus, found in 2010 that incidents of head traumas in junior hockey were widely underreported and often untreated.

Shane Gieb has missed the start of the 2011-12 season after suffering lingering symptoms from repeated concussions. // PHOTOS COURTESY OF CURRY ATHLETICS

Geib’s struggles over the past year aren’t all that dissimilar from the NHL’s premier player, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Crosby missed 10 ½ months of hockey after suffering concussions in back-to-back games last season. He recently returned to the ice, on Nov. 21.

In addition to his injuries following his second concussion, Geib said he battled bouts of anxiety, sickness and acute memory loss. “I was on an emotional roller coaster; nothing was going good for me,” he said.

Returning to Curry this fall, Geib said he felt totally healed and ready to play. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think that it would happen again,” he said. But as is the case with concussion sufferers, it did.

Geib took a light hit during a practice and immediately saw stars again. On the bench, he felt nauseas and fatigued, and he would see shadows that weren’t there on blank walls.

Geib has yet to play this season for the Curry hockey team, which got off to a 6-1 start, because his concussion symptoms continue to linger. Nationally ranked at 15th in the Division III Preseason Poll, the team had won six games in a row as of press time, and scored 40 goals over its five games. The Colonels were 3-0 in ECAC Northeast conference play.

Geib said he would like to play hockey in Europe after graduation, but acknowledges that his athletic dreams are on thin ice. “I am worried about my hockey career, but my health is my No. 1 priority,” he said. “If I have one more [concussion], I might be done.”

Double Team

BY ALEXANDER SUMMERS // DEC. 5, 2011 //

All college students face the challenge of juggling different aspects of their lives. With classes, homework, family and social activities, days can sometimes seem overwhelming. For athletes, they can be downright dizzying.

Carolyn Houston, a junior from Melrose, N.Y., knows all about that. In addition to a demanding academic schedule as a nursing major, Houston is co-captain of the Curry women’s basketball team.

Carolyn Houston, like many of her teammates, must juggle the rigors of her nursing studies with basketball. // PHOTO COURTESY OF CURRY ATHLETICS

“Although it makes me a well-rounded person, it feels like there are not enough hours in the day,” Houston said. “Going to nursing, lunch, class, practice and then the library is my typical day.”

According to women’s basketball head coach Francis Elms, Houston is “the whole package.” She “has a high basketball IQ and she’s tenacious on defense.”

Her off-the-court IQ isn’t too shabby either. The junior said her nursing course work requires long hours of studying and a fair amount of stress. Houston gives credit to her mother, a nurse at the Albany (N.Y.) Medical Center, for getting her interested in nursing as well as finding enjoyment in assisting others. “I love medicine and I love being able to help others,” said Houston, noting that she hopes to work in a hospital for a year or so after graduation before pursuing a master’s degree to become a nurse practitioner. “Although it’s pretty stressful, it’s very rewarding to me, which makes it worth it.”

When choosing which college to attend, her finalists were Curry and Utica College, located in upstate New York and about 100 miles from her home. Houston said she chose Curry because of its great nursing program, but she initially regretted her decision.

“When I was a freshman, I almost wished I had picked a school closer to home because I was terribly homesick,” she said. “The first three months of school were God awful for me.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF CURRY ATHLETICS

Hailey Rafferty, her fellow co-captain on the basketball team, is the main reason she’s still at Curry today. “She made my freshman year so much more enjoyable,” Houston said. “She stood by my side and let me cry on her shoulder. I don’t know what I would have done without Hailey.”

While nursing and basketball may seem different to the outside observer, the 5-foot-10 forward believes the two have a lot in common. “They both require discipline, hard work and lots of focus,” said Houston, who averaged 7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game last year. Through five games this season (a 1-4 team record), as of press time, she’s averaging 6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists. Elms said Houston frequently guards the opposing team’s best talent, and often matches up against players much bigger than she is.

Off the court, Houston said she likes to hang out with friends, go shopping, get her nails done and relax, something she rarely has time for due to her academic schedule.

There are several nursing majors on the basketball team—juniors Julia Scrubb and Rafferty, sophomore Katie King, and freshmen Lindsey Dionne, Jeanette Fallon, Katelynn Gaughan, Kylie Beltz and Jessica Kender—and Elms said he fully understands how difficult the balance can get.

“Nursing is a very demanding major, but regardless of what they’re doing, they have to work hard and learn that they’ll never be able to take shortcuts,” he said. “Student athletes need to be able to succeed in the classroom as well as on the court.”

Nelson Headlines Curry Athletic Hall Inductees

 

The college's Athetic Hall of Fame inducted its 2011 class. From left, former football coach and athletic director Steve Nelson, former softball star Lisa Bello, former tennis standout Erica Veenendaal, and national award-winning former hockey defenseman Brian Doherty. // PHOTO COURTESY OF CURRY ATHLETICS

BY COURTNEY DIBIASIO // DEC. 5, 2011 //

Three alumni were inducted into Curry’s Athletic Hall of Fame last month. But it was the fourth member of this year’s class, former New England Patriots linebacker Steve Nelson, who stood above all others—quite literally.

The 6-foot-2 Patriots Hall of Famer joined Curry in 1998 as the college’s head football coach, a position he held until 2006. In 1998, he led the Colonels to their first winning season in eight years with a record of 6-4. The football team would go on to compete in two ECAC tournaments and three NCAA tournaments; it also won three NEFC championships under Nelson. He earned NEFC Coach of the Year honors three times.

Nelson would also serve as the college’s athletic director. In addition to adding women’s lacrosse as a varsity sport, he worked to improve the appearance of the college’s outdoor athletic facilities.

“It was a great honor and I was very humbled by it,” Nelson said of his induction into Curry’s Hall of Fame. “The other three recipients were student-athletes of mine while I was athletic director, which made it a much more special night.”

The other inductees were:

Erica Veenendaal, a tennis star in the early 2000s, who was First Team All-Conference in 2003 and 2004

Brian Doherty, a three-time captain for the hockey team who won the Joe Cancannon Award his senior year, also in the early 2000s, as the best American-born defenseman in Division II/III. Doherty was named MVP of the Curry Classic tournament his first year on the team, in 2001-02, and would finish his career at the college with 82 goals (third on the school’s all-time list) and 113 assists.

Lisa Bello, a three-time captain of the softball team who hit .376 for her career at Curry and was a First Team All-Conference selection in 2004.

Softball coach Bruce Weckworth said Bello was the type of person anyone would want as a teammate. As a freshman, she won conference Rookie of the Year and All-Conference honorable mention. She scored 110 runs in 151 games played, and her .376 career batting average puts her in the top-five best hitters in Curry softball history.

Today a special education teacher and a singer/songwriter, Bello said she was pleasantly surprised when she learned that she would be inducted into the college’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

“Receiving the award was such a shock and an honor at the same time,” said Bello. “I worked extremely hard as a student-athlete at Curry, but I never imagined being inducted into school history.”