April 13 has become the best day of the year for Yale University athletics. One year removed from the men’s hockey team’s 4–0 triumph over Quinnipiac at the Frozen Four, another Yale team made history with a national title.
The Yale men’s club basketball team defeated Cal Poly 60–48 on Sunday to win the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association National Basketball Championships, hosted by North Carolina State University April 11–13. Led by Club All-Americans Will Bartlett ’14 and Ezra Ritchin ’15, the Bulldogs demonstrated that the Ivy League has game, dominating a field that included teams from schools from traditional power conferences such as Ohio State and the University of North Carolina.
The Bulldogs’ tournament began with two relatively easy wins over the Miami Hurricanes and Ivy Tech in pool play, securing Yale a spot in the Sweet 16. It was there that Yale faced its most difficult game.
Ritchin, who made the most two-point field goals of any player over the course of the weekend, hit the shot of the tournament, a buzzer-beating three, to knock off the Dayton Flyers 53–50 and secure a spot in the quarterfinals. The entire play was drawn up by Hakeem Harrison ’15 in the timeout following a Dayton three to tie the game with just under four seconds left.
“Zack [Miles ’14] made a good pass on the inbound, and as I crossed half court the defense collapsed to me and Ezra was wide open,” Harrison said. “So I just hit him with the pass and he knocked down a big shot like he did all weekend.”
That shot did more than just win the game. It gave the team the confidence it needed to defeat teams from notable basketball schools Gonzaga and the University of Southern California on the final day in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively, according to Ritchin. Although the Elis went to Raleigh, N.C. without a coach, captain Kevin Kirk ’15 said they benefited from listening to everyone, rather than just one person.
“We all bounce the right ideas around and are constantly focusing on what things we can do to win,” Kirk said. “Everyone can score, but nobody is desperate to. We know how to play with each other.”
The confident, self-coached Bulldogs played team basketball all weekend. While most players were quick to praise Bartlett, the former varsity player, club team’s leading scorer and tournament MVP, he was unwilling to discuss his personal accolades.
“It’s great to be MVP,” Bartlett said. “But we were better than our opponents at all five positions, and that’s why we won. It’s amazing how much talent ended up on this team, and even more amazing how much chemistry we developed.”
Miles and Michael Wiacek ’16 were two of the less publicly recognized players on the Yale team, but both were crucial to Yale’s victory.
Wiacek tied for the tournament lead with 10 three-pointers, while Miles led the event with 41 rebounds. Both players were selfless, and their performances were critical to the team’s success.
“I can see that there are people on our team this year that do many things better than I do. I can do a little bit of everything, and when we need it, I like to think I can step up and make it happen,” Miles said. “The team needed me to really step it up on the boards, both offensively and defensively and that’s what my focus was in both the regional and national tournaments.”
Bartlett, Harrison, Kirk, Miles, Ritchin, and Wiacek seemed to do everything they needed to in the championship game to lead Yale to its first-ever national club basketball title. Bartlett’s spin move proved to be a problem for Cal Poly’s defenders, who could slow him only by fouling him, as he continued to go to the free-throw line far more than any other player in the event; he finished 36-for-41 from the line. Harrison was the floor general, spreading the defense to open things up for Wiacek and Ritchin, who seemed to be unable to miss. Kirk and Miles controlled the boards, preventing Cal Poly from getting second-chance opportunities.
The substitutes cannot be overlooked, either. While the aforementioned players dominated the minutes, every single player was vital to the team’s success, according to several members of the team. The starters unanimously agreed that the bench players were fully capable of coming in and leading the charge, if they were called upon.
“We had to win a lot of tough games to get where we did,” Ritchin said. “There weren’t any games where I felt we were overmatched as a team. All we had to do was play good team basketball, and that’s exactly what we did.”
As the players cut down the net, the team shouted Chadd Cosse’s ’17 motto for the team, “We are nice.” And after this weekend, that much is not up for debate.