|Not all of the memorable moments for NYU at Coles Center are more than a decade old. And the Violets have a chance to bid Coles farewell in style this postseason.
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Every purple-and-white banner hanging above the sacred basketball court at the Jerome Coles Center weaves a wonderful story of the storied tradition of New York University athletics.
It seems like it’s been part of the NYU landscape forever. Too many memorable moments to count, lots of intense practices, and time spent relaxing on the main floor lounge that overlooks the court are what have all contributed to making the Coles Center the campus hotspot and one of the more unique venues in the nation.
Opened in 1981, the venerable facility is getting a Miss America-like makeover one final time with signage, bunting and more. And the Coles Center is going out in style by hosting NCAA Tournament games. New York University will welcome Virginia Wesleyan, Amherst and Eastern University to campus when the NCAA Division III women’s tournament commences Friday night.
The Coles Center holds a special place in the hearts of anybody associated with NYU. The facility will be redeveloped, a project expected to take a couple of years to complete. In the meantime, NYU’s men’s and women’s basketball teams will be displaced during that time. A temporary home location hasn’t been formally agreed upon yet.
No matter how nice or modern the new facility will be, it will never replicate the charm of this special building.
“There’s no other place like it in Division III,” NYU head coach Lauren Hall-Gregory said. “It’s an awesome environment to play in. It’s pretty warm in our gym. It’s funny, our opponents think we turn the heat up on purpose, but it’s like that when we practice as well. I wear sleeveless dresses all the time and it’s warm. It’s exciting to honor Coles and NYU in this way by hosting this weekend.”
NYU (21-4 overall) will meet Virginia Wesleyan (19-9) while Eastern (22-5) will clash with Amherst (22-3). The two winners will meet Saturday night for a spot in next weekend’s sectionals. For the Violets, this experience is special.
The Coles Center has hosted the following events: 1997 NCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship; NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships; NCAA Regional Wrestling Championships; NCAA Regional Fencing Championships; NCAA Women’s Volleyball Regional Championships; ECAC Regional Basketball Championships; Metropolitan Wrestling Championships; international wrestling events; international fencing events; University Athletic Association Championships in volleyball, wrestling, and fencing; and the National Collegiate Taekwondo Championships.
Miracle in Manhattan
Washington U. women's coach Nancy Fahey wasn't asked specifically about the February night at NYU in which Violets junior guard Dari Magyar struck a dagger into the heart of the Bears, but she may as well have been. On Hoopsville, she told Dave McHugh her thoughts about the Coles Center going away for a few years.
"There have been some battles there, haven't there? I'm excited for them. It's going to be quite a transition. There's some fond memories, but there's some memories I could also let go of, so that's OK."
One memory we're sure she'd be glad to let go of was the night of Feb. 2, 2001, on one of those Friday nights in the UAA when the house was packed. In front of a "national" streaming audio audience, still a novel concept then, NYU blew a 22-point lead, with Wash U having a chance to ice it with free throws. But the Bears hit just one of four down the stretch, and NYU had a chance to win the game.
That's where Magyar came in. Listen to how it ended, with Ray Martel and Gordon Mann on the call for D3hoops.com.
“Coles has a long history and it’s an honor to be a part of it,” NYU junior Megan Dawe said. “This is the last year anyone will play in it and we’re excited to send it off in this way. When you look up at all the banners on the court and see all the accomplishments that occurred here, it just adds something extra to be able to host this weekend.”
For senior Melissa Peng, being chosen as a host site was an unexpected treat for her. She thought she played her last game at Coles last weekend when the Violets defeated Brandeis 71-62 Sunday. It was memorable as she was feted for her career achievements on Senior Day. A San Diego native, Peng was used to the warmth of California, but it even took her a few practices to get used to the Coles’ heat.
“Coles is one of my favorite gyms to play in,” Peng said. “When you’re on the court and you realize all of the history that has pierced the building, it’s a big deal and special to be part of something amazing. This is definitely not an ordinary gym. Being three stories down in New York City, you want to keep it warm as possible. Honestly, it’s a sauna at times.”
NYU has progressed from 10 wins in 2013 to falling in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year to the University of New England to hosting this weekend.
“I remember our coaches’ speech after that New England game,” Dawe said. “She told us to ‘be happy with the season and don’t be satisfied.’ I remember bottling it and use it as motivation for this season. Everyone has remembered that and that has been our fire for the past five months. It’s an experience to compete in the NCAA Tournament and we got a little taste last year. We’re all ready for more this year. One of the biggest things we pride ourselves on is our team chemistry and it’s been one of the key factors this season. That’s what has made us so special. We all respect each other and we’re friends off the court and you can see that when we play.”
While the gym may give New York University a slight psychological edge over its opponents, the Violets team is the real cause for worry. NYU is enjoying a special season that has kept their fans hand-clapping and feet-stomping all year long. With more weapons than the Department of Defense, the Violets have 10 players averaging at least 10 minutes.
Peng is the engine that powers NYU’s machine. She leads the Violets in assists with 95. Many of her dimes have gone to a smorgasbord of scorers including Dawe, who leads the team in scoring at 12.2 points per game, and Kaitlyn Read, who averages 12 points per game. Amy Harioka leads NYU with 37 3-pointers and is third on the team with an 8.4 point per game average.
In addition to scoring 7.6 points per game, Emily Rowe leads the team in rebounding (7.3). The Violets enjoy sharing the ball as they have recorded assists on 65.5 percent of their 618 baskets this season. Adding to the NYU attack are spitfire guards Riley Wurtz and Maya Wasowicz along with lockdown defender Lindsey Oldshue, who Hall-Gregory says is one of the best defenders in Division III.
Crowning a champ
Back before Division III women's basketball Final Four was contested on a neutral floor, Coles Center hosted the 1997 national championship, which NYU won on a Marsha Harris layup with 1.5 seconds left. Harris, by the way, is now a colorectal surgeon.
“We also have two freshmen who play quality minutes,” Hall-Gregory said. “Drew Cabral’s best years are ahead of her. Mikaela Pyatt does the dirty work for us. Our success is because of everybody on this team even the ones who don’t get the playing time. They work phenomenally hard in practice and take a lot of pride in helping us being prepared for games. One through 16 really contributes for us.”
This current group of Violets has created their special moments at Coles. Two years ago, NYU rallied to defeat Washington U. to end a 12-game losing streak to the Bears. They have won 14 of 15 home contests this season. While they won’t win the national title at Coles like the 1997 team, the Violets can move two steps closer to that goal by being not so nice hosts this weekend.
“Coles has a mystique about it,” Hall-Gregory said. “Sometimes you feel like there is magic there. We take pride in defending here. We are very lucky in that the alums are close to the program. Many of them come to a lot of games and they sit on the sidelines. If these walls could talk, they would say ‘thank God you survived.’ They would describe the many conditioning sessions, the practices along with the blood, sweat and tears that the players have put into improving each day.”
Peng summed up what Coles means to her.
“Coles will always be home for me,” Peng said. “The court has always been my sanctuary. Anytime I needed to relieve stress, I always went to Coles. When I think Coles, I see an empty wooden court, chairs along the sidelines and picturing the silence. This is not just a building or a gym, it’s something special. Just recognizing it may not be there, hasn’t hit me yet.”
Women’s Fearless Predictions
National champion: FDU-Florham over Calvin. Don’t sleep on the reigning national champions. The Devils are experienced and tournament tested, not to mention super talented, motivated and relentless on defense. Plus I am a huge Kyra Dayon fan. Look for her to turn-up during the tournament.
Women’s Final Four: Calvin, NYU, FDU-Florham and Washington University
Elite Eight: George Fox, Montclair State, Tufts and St. Thomas
Sweet 16 Party Crasher: Stevenson
Sleepers: Eastern, Hope, Cabrini and Wisconsin-Oshkosh
Potential First Round Upsets: Castleton over Geneseo and Wisconsin Lutheran over Wheaton.
Best First Round Matchups: Cabrini-Muhlenberg (at Geneso State), Puget Sound/Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (at George Fox), Stockton-McDaniel (at Salisbury) and Transylvania-Wittenberg (at Washington University).
Men’s Fearless Predictions
National champion: Augustana over St. Thomas
Final Four: Augustana, Johns Hopkins, Randolph-Macon, and St. Thomas
Elite Eight: UW-Whitewater, Richard Stockton, Virginia Wesleyan and Illinois Wesleyan
Sweet 16 Party Crasher: Virginia Wesleyan
Sleepers: St. Olaf, Salisbury, Springfield and Dubuque
Potential First Round Upsets: WPI over St. John Fisher and Neumann over Mount Union
Best First Round Matchups: Wooster-Misericordia (at Marietta), Bates-St. Vincent (at Stockton), Alvernia at Catholic and Claremont Mudd-Scripps-Texas Lutheran (at Hendrix).
I have nothing against any of the teams in the Division III tournament. I wish everybody great games and success. I have been wrong before and I am sure all of these predictions won’t come true. Take it for what it’s worth as entertainment value to go people talking. If you use as it bulletin board material, make sure you give me a shout-out in the postgame interviews.
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow me on Twitter @knoxrob1