Ivy Madness: An appreciation

Constance Cotton and her son, Yale first-year guard Matthue Cotton, with Yale first-year forward Isaiah Kelly and his mother Beverly (from left), as they share a moment of familial celebration on the floor of the John J. Lee Amphitheater following the Bulldogs’ 97-85 championship victory over Harvard in Sunday’s Ivy League Tournament final. (Photo courtesy of Constance Cotton)

With the Yale men and the Princeton women winning their respective divisions on Sunday, another Ivy League Tournament is in the books.  Here are a few of my personal highlights that were not found on the television or the box scores:
Dedication

While the merits of moving the Ivy Tournament to the John J. Lee Amphitheater will continue to be debated, the staffs at the Ivy League office, Yale University and the Yale Police Department deserve a tip of the hat for their hard work this weekend. It takes a lot of time and effort to put together the Tournament, especially considering that it was being held in a venue less than a third of the size of the previous site.  Most of the fans and writers were there from two to 10 hours a day, but the various staffers were there way before we arrived and stayed well after we left. As a result of their dedication, everything went off without a hitch.

#2BidTannenwald

Penn and Harvard fans, as well as those who follow the entire conference, are lucky to have two great journalists covering their schools and the league.  Jonathan Tannenwald and David Tannenwald are masters at their craft and it is always impressive (and humbling) to see them doing their jobs up close.

Face to face

The writers here at IHO live in various locations around the northeast and rarely, if ever, find a way to get together. This weekend was one of those rare occasions when we could actually discuss Ivy hoops face-to-face. It was a special treat to be able to spend time with Richard Kent, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of college basketball and New Haven eateries, and George Clark, the Toothless Tiger himself, who bleeds Orange & Black but always respects talent no matter what school they represent.

Stellar student journalists

I watched the Penn-Harvard men’s semifinal sitting next to Amir Mamdani and Henry Zhu of the Harvard Crimson, two great student journalists who generate excellent analysis and thoughtful long-form articles throughout the year. While many schools have eliminated their sports coverage or have it in limited form, the Crimson, the Yale Daily News and the Daily Pennsylvanian continue to provide great basketball coverage year after year. The dedication from Amir and Henry is greatly appreciated and their gracious response to the Harvard victory made the Penn loss just a little easier to handle.  After another heartbreak on Sunday afternoon, they will continue covering the team as they look to finally break through for their first Ivy Tournament title on the hardwood of Lavietes Pavilion next March.

Big Red excitement

There were very few things as joyful as watching the excitement of the Cornell women’s team.  Picked eighth in this year’s media poll, few people outside of their locker room thought they would get to New Haven.  At the Friday press conference, the team and its coach were all smiles as they recounted their journey and looked to enjoy everything about their first appearance at the Ivy League Tournament. A lopsided loss to Princeton on Saturday certainly did not sit well with the Big Red, but it did not stop coach Dayna Smith and her captain Samantha Widmann from looking at the big picture as they aim to make a return appearance in 2020.

Crimson dejection

The Harvard women’s postgame press conference, meanwhile, was on the other end of the spectrum.  Heading into Saturday night’s game, the Crimson felt great about their chances. They had split two overtime games against Penn, crushed the Empire State Ivies in the season’s last weekend and had a great week of practice.  The last thing they or anyone else expected was for them to be run out of the arena by 29 points.  With their captains in the locker room, Katie Benzan and Jadyn Bush joined coach Kathy Delaney-Smith at the podium and all three were expressionless as they sat down. The athletes did an admirable job fielding questions from the press and giving honest answers at an incredibly painful time.  For Delaney-Smith, this was one of the most disappointing losses in a 37-year career and one that left the always quotable coach speechless.

Love for a brother

The most touching moment came after the Penn men were defeated by Harvard in Saturday’s first game.  Near the end of the athlete’s portion of the press conference, Mike Jensen of Philly.com asked AJ Brodeur to describe soon-to-be graduating senior Max Rothschild’s impact on him. As the always eloquent Brodeur spoke words of praise, it was hard to stay objective as everyone in the room could see and hear the All-Ivy forward holding back tears in discussing his appreciation and admiration of his teammate, captain and brother.

Real sacrifice

Perhaps the most surprising moment of the tournament came during the Princeton-Yale men’s semifinal. After finishing a writeup of the Penn-Harvard game, I ventured into the arena to catch the second half of the second game and found an empty seat in section 201 not far from the Yale bench. The person seated near me, clad in full Yale gear, introduced herself as the mother of #10 and we began to talk.  Following Ivy hoops, I was aware that she meant Matthue Cotton, a four-star recruit from South Jersey who chose the Elis over several other Ivies, as well as a number of mid and high-major programs.  After discussing the exciting game and the ups and downs of being a parent of a first-year college student-athlete, she told me that she was a veteran of Desert Storm.

Ms. Cotton served in the Army as a Sergeant First Class/E-7 (Platoon Sergeant), which is a senior Non-Commissioned Officer. In addition, first-year forward Isaiah Kelly’s mother Beverly was more recently stationed in Iraq as a Sergeant Major/E-9, which is the highest Non-Commissioned Officer rank.  Both women have used their experiences to advocate for female veterans in order to educate others about the unique challenges, as well as the physical and emotional hardships faced by women in and out of service.

Ms. Cotton has worked with the Jewish War Veterans and written a book, “On The Battlefield: Overcoming Challenges Associated with the Aftermath of Military Experiences”, in which she and other female veterans describe the trials and triumphs of women in the military.

Harvard coach Tommy Amaker has talked about the idea of sacrifice as a rallying cry for his team as it faced challenges throughout the 2018-19 season to become Ivy League regular season co-champions. But while that is an understandable rallying cry in the world of sports, it has a deeper meaning in the world of the military. For people like Constance, Matthue, Beverly and Isaiah, it is a daily struggle and commitment to keeping their family and their country safe. Thankfully, all four were together to share moments of triumph this weekend as the Bulldogs captured their first Ivy League Tournament title.

3 thoughts on “Ivy Madness: An appreciation”

  1. Happy to second the AQ’s observation. Yours was the first familiar face I saw when I arrived in the Lee nosebleed section. Your work this weekend was typically thorough and well written (although perhaps a bit too unbiased). Our readers may be surprised to learn that you are not a full time journalist by profession. Your “Appreciation” posting is far beyond what we usually find on IHO in depth and thoughtfulness. I hope every one of the subjects of the piece have the chance to read it, particularly the staff of The Ivy League who made us all welcome and comfortable, even after the Tiger Saturday comeback fell a little short. Great to see you again, Rob. (Aside to Mike Tony: Rob deserves a raise.)

    • Yes, Rob’s instinct for good stories and approach to getting them are certainly no different than any dedicated journalist has in their toolbox. I’m very grateful for Rob’s thoughtful writing, and in this case, for Ms. Cotton sharing her story with IHO.

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