UWGB has had plenty of heroic triumphs in five decades of intercollegiate athletics but — considering the stakes, the context, the national TV audience and the high-flying, NBA-prospect-laden opposition — no greater day than March 17, 1994. The Phoenix shocked the nation and NCAA Tournament predictors everywhere by slaying the California Golden Bears, 61-57, in a first-round game in Provo, Utah. With future lottery picks Jason Kidd and Lamond Murray, streaking fifth-seeded Cal had been a darkhorse pick to make the Final Four. Defensive specialists Gary Grzesk and Eric LeDuc forced the two stars into awful, turnover-filled shooting games, Jeff Nordgaard supplied the points, and point guard John Martinez calmly handled the pressure all day. Dick Bennett, already respected by his peers, became a national name; the Pep Band charmed with its enthusiasm; Phoenix Phever caught on statewide; and UW-Green Bay became the darling of the tournament’s opening weekend, eventually pushing a stacked Syracuse team to the limit before falling in the final minute in the next round. Making it all more enjoyable for Green Bay fans: the anguish of the vanquished. “Something called Wisconsin Green Bay stunned the West’s fifth-seeded team in the opening round,” the LA Times offered in its game recap, and then summed up the Phoenix like this: “The boys from the land that vowels forgot, or distributed unevenly, had UWGB on their uniforms and names such as Grzesk and Nordgaard. Their pep band wore cheese heads… The only way a Phoenix player–Wisconsin Green Bay’s nickname is the Phoenix–is ever going to get into a lottery is to go to a store and buy a ticket.”
A cherished campus tradition (for some) for more than three decades following the opening of the Phoenix Sports Center in 1976, mid-day and Saturday morning games of pickup basketball flourished before tapering off in recent years. (A core group of players posed for this snapshot after what was billed as “the final noonball gathering” a few years ago.) The always-competitive games attracted a mix of current faculty and staff, community members, students and even former Phoenix players. We asked former Athletics Director Dan Spielmann — who with an office at the PSC didn’t miss many games and with a highly reliable 15-foot range didn’t miss many shots, arguably making him the all-time Noon Ball leading scorer — to list some of his most memorable teammates and opponents over the years. He did, and while he admits it’s by no means comprehensive, it’s enough to start the discussion:
- Michael Conner, former Phoenix player — Great player, probably too good to have been playing with us, we dragged him down
- Tom Brown — Ditto
- Phil Clampitt — All World, but only in his world
- Phil Thompson — “On me if he misses”
- Joe Urcavich — Enjoyed playing with him, but a “basket hanger”
- Sue Bodilly — Phoenix Hall of Fame
- Kathy Mertz — Ditto
- Russ McElrone — Great athlete who would scatter some passes
- Tim McKeough — Great shooter
- Wayne Junio — Ditto, and most even tempered
- Scott McFarlane — Great three-point shooter and never saw a shot he didn’t like, a prolific scorer
- Wayne Walker — See Conner and Brown
- ‘Feeco Bill’ — All-around good player
- Kelly Franz — Only one move
- Tom Maki — Best staff three-point shooter
- Pat Sorelle — Survived noon ball
In 1982, Phoenix men’s basketball was only few years away from a remarkable ascent that would regularly pack the Brown County Arena and make the program a national name in Division I, but not many could have foreseen it at the time. Attendance was slim, the move up to NCAA D-I had been met with a fair degree of skepticism, and critics pulled few punches in questioning the University’s ambitions. Administrators had high hopes, then, that the introductory press conference on April 9, 1982, for new coach Dick Lien, a successful veteran assistant, would signal the start of a bright new era. As it turned out, what happened next would make sports pages and broadcasts far and wide… and would have broken the internet if had occurred a few decades later. The new coach collapsed to the floor not once but twice during his acceptance remarks, mid-sentence. Lien was unhurt and treated the episode with good humor later that day once he had been given a clean bill of health. A distance runner, he had fainted from the day’s excitement after forgetting to re-hydrate from his morning workout.
The amazing UW-Green Bay women’s basketball program had its two greatest seasons earlier this decade. In March 2011, the Phoenix drove all the way to the Sweet 16. (That’s star forward Julie Wojta, above, driving against 6-8 Brittney Griner, the national player of the year. The Phoenix stayed close for a half before falling to No. 3 Baylor on the Bears’ home floor.) The following season, the Green Bay women finished 31-2 and ranked No. 10 in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll. As a senior, Wojta earned second-team All-America honors, placing her among the nation’s 10 best college players.
Congratulations to the UWGB Men’s Tennis team! As Horizon League winners for the second year in a row, they are headed to the NCAA tournament on May 8th to face University of Illinois. Way to represent Green Bay Phoenix!
The Men’s tennis team started on campus with the 1969-1970 school year. We have very few photos in the Archives for the tennis squad over the years. We would love it if UWGB Alums had some to share with us.
In the meantime, enjoy these retro photos. And, it would be great if you could help identify the tennis players!