by John D. Hubbard
Tommy Morelli, football|
It wasn't supposed to end this way, with a torn ACL, a winless season and all the accompanying pain.
Rather than graduate with his class, Tommy Morelli decided to change the ending. He took last spring off and returned to complete his final semester this fall and to play football again.
It wasn't an easy decision, but in the end Morelli realized (along with Derik Liberatore and Brian Gianci, who were also granted a fifth year for medical reasons) he wanted "to leave Colgate on a good note."
Morelli was captain of last year's team and he was on the sideline for every game. "It was tough to watch the guys I'd gone through so much with have such a hard time."
The decision to return was cemented when Colgate made a coaching change. Morelli wanted to play for Dick Biddle and the new staff and reported to training camp this August to begin the new ending.
The knee has healed now and despite the rough opening there is a new spirit among the football players. "Everyone believes in Coach Biddle," says Morelli, who has had to learn a new defense and become comfortable in a different system.
"It's good to be back. Colgate is a great place to be and I feel as if I really accomplished something. I wanted to prove to myself I could come back. I'm committed to Colgate and Coach Biddle.
"By the time you are done, you really see why Colgate is special." Happily for all concerned, Tommy Morelli isn't quite finished yet.
Jen Hughes, soccer|
Jen Hughes moves with an effortless grace; back on defense, to the goal, up, down, across the field. She seems to float about the pitch, drawn to the action, creating the action.
The captain of this year's women's soccer team, Hughes has had a remarkable career in an era when the Red Raiders have been dominant. She is Colgate's all-time assist leader and as October began she ranked fourth in career assists and goals. She set a single-game scoring record with four goals in a 5-4 win over Navy in September and has been an integral part of teams that have won two Patriot League titles and two ECAC championships.
Hughes's game has steadily improved as she has matured and grown more confident. The freshman who was reluctant to open her mouth on the field has become a leader who shouts encouragement to her teammates.
"It's amazing what a difference it makes if your teammates are supporting you when you go after a 50/50 ball," says Hughes.
Team success is Hughes' primary goal, and this season aim has been drawn directly on an NCAA bid. Colgate has just missed the field of 24 the last two years. This year 32 teams will qualify, and the Red Raiders are eager.
"I want to end the season on a good note," says Hughes. "I want to be satisfied with the season individually and collectively.
"It's great to be around a group of people who want to be successful, who want to work. It's amazing we can compete at this level. It goes along with the Colgate personality -- hard-working, never gives up. A certain type of person comes to Colgate, and that's reflected in our game."
Jen Hughes is leading the charge, effortlessly but full speed ahead.
Nathaniel Jackson, soccer|
"I think what you get out of a sport is sometimes abstract and often not substantial," says Nathaniel Jackson, a soccer tri-captain and four-year starter, "but what you put into it says something about yourself, your strengths. What I've put into it is interrelated with my faith. I see soccer as something God has gifted me to play. I will do as much as I can with that gift."
The blessings haven't always been apparent. Jackson was injured during his first training camp, then battled back to eventually start. However, the defending Patriot League champions, stocked with veteran players, lost in the first round of the conference tournament. It was an ending that would repeat itself two more times. "A pretty grand disappointment," says Jackson. Sophomore year stands out. Colgate broke into the top 25 nationally ("I was just happy to be on the field with such a talented team," says Jackson, who was playing a new position) but then slumped for two weeks before the acute frustration of the semifinal loss.
This young season has had its own share of frustrations, a mix of last-second losses and overtime defeats. It has also included a hard-fought victory over preseason favorite Navy. "I think the way we played against Hartwick and Cornell are highlights too," says Jackson. "We worked hard and gave ourselves opportunities to win. I'm not ashamed of those losses."
The backyard of the Jackson home in Syracuse was really the neighborhood soccer field. One of 12 children and influenced by his British father's feel for the game, Nathaniel grew up playing soccer. "My brother Nick (Class of '95) was such a competitor he forced me to be as good as I could. Jackson's game is as good as it is unselfish.
"In many ways I think God has allowed me to play for four years. If I hadn't, I would have gotten into things I don't want to or just been unhappy."
Nathaniel Jackson is happy playing soccer, being on the field, working as part of a whole. "If we can achieve as much as we can with what we have," he will be satisfied too.
Autumn McKenzie, volleyball|
"My mother loved Colgate," says Autumn McKenzie, who remembers being "terrified" as the family traveled to campus for the first time. "I was terrified driving up here through the woods. There's hills! There's cows! You always hate to say your parents were right but Colgate has been a good place for me, a good balance of academics and athletics."
McKenzie is balancing quite a load, too. She is a neuroscience major, one of Colgate's most demanding concentrations, especially for athletes who have to reconcile the laboratory/practice conflict. She is also a four-year starter on the volleyball team and Colgate's all-time leader in kills, solo blocks and block assists. Named Patriot League Rookie of the Year in 1993, McKenzie is a two-time all-league selection and holds the season kill record with 477, a mark she'll likely surpass this year.
Individual statistics aside, volleyball is the quintessential team sport, and what matters most to Autumn is team success. That is easily defined for this year's team, which has been playing with a sense of unfinished business.
Last season Colgate won the Patriot League and became the first women's team to host an NCAA play-in for the tournament.
The problem was that Siena, whom the Raiders had defeated in the regular season, won the match and advanced. "This year we won't take anything for granted," says McKenzie. "We want to get into the NCAAs."
Colgate knows the way. The team is on track and Autumn McKenzie is keeping her world in balance. There is a way to go but the path is clear and more than talk the talk, the team is ready to walk the walk.