The Triceratops Are Back!
The Triceratops will return to the track, field, hardwood, and diamond during the 2022 – 2023 academic school year after sports suspension in 2020 due to the pandemic. To prepare for the return, Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) vice president of access and completion, Angela Johson, led the development and operations of the new Collegewide Athletics program by hiring Anthony Cipollone as executive director, Athletics, Wellness and Recreation.
According to www.tri-c.edu, Johnson is “delighted to have Tony onboard to strengthen and rebuild our athletics and wellness program across the College because he has tremendous experience in all facets of collegiate athletics,” said Johnson..
“I am honored to join Tri-C as athletics director,” Cipollone said. “My vision is to develop championship-caliber teams by focusing on excellence in academics as well as sports. I look forward to rebuilding Tri-C’s teams and filling our students, faculty, staff, and the entire Cleveland community with Triceratops pride.”
Cipollone immediately hired new coaches and met with returning coaches to begin the recruiting process. Coaches then used all of the technology available to review stats and videos for student-athletes who will be instrumental in securing new bragging rights for faculty, staff, students, alumni, and fans.
The pandemic was the third major change Tri-C sports tackled in just five years. In September 2018, Triceratops was chosen as the school mascot in an online poll that attracted nearly 4,000 votes. The 2014 – 2015 academic year saw an increase in athletic scholarships from $89,000 to $362,000 spearheaded by Eastern Campus president, J. Michael Thomson and trustee Bruce Murphy. Their efforts led to the first increase for student athletes in thirteen years.
Thomas recognized that obtaining a degree from a four-year public college or university was slipping further and further away from the median salary of the average Ohioan. The move was seen as a student success College-wide since student-athletes are typically enrolled full-time, year-over-year which increases the likelihood of a timely graduation.
Tri-C also used this time to create a cohesive sports program that consists of seven teams with the same team color. At one point, there was a men’s basketball team at Metro and one at Western who played against each other. The Metro team was called the Cougars and their colors were teal, black, and white. The West team was called the Chargers and their colors were gold and blue.
Currently, the sports program includes women’s volleyball and women’s basketball which both play on the Triceratops manicured hardcourt at the Eastern campus; men’s basketball and women’s cross country and track compete at the Metro Campus; and men’s baseball, men’s soccer, and women’s softball are played at the Western Campus.
The teams compete in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). Women’s track and cross country are Division I and the other sports are Division II. Cipollone and the coaches have championship expectations which are consistent with the success of the sports program prior to the suspension caused by the pandemic.
As the new Director, Cipollone immediately began to strengthen and rebuild Tri-C’s athletes and wellness program. He hired new coaches and retained other coaches who shared his championship and academic expectations.
Prior to becoming a Triceratops leader, Cipollone was the athletic director at Westlake City Schools for 11 years which had more than 1,200 varsity and 600 middle school student athletes. As the associate director of athletics and recreational services at Allegheny College in Meadville, PA, Cipollone supervised 21 intercollegiate sports and 20 club sports which included intramurals and fitness and recreation-related activities.
Cipollone also began working with Chris Faciana, Program Director Sports and Exercise Studies to establish a line of communication with each of the coaches. “We have state of the art equipment and devices within the exercise science program that we can use to test athletes and measure performance on the court.” say Faciana.
Faciana and his staff have introduced the coaches to Bridge Athletic which is a strength and conditioning software that delivers an exercise program to athletes through an app.
“Our athletes have access to world-class strength and conditioning software that is used by the two teams that competed in the NBA Championship,” says Faciana. The app has videos that show athletes how to do different exercises and there is a communication feature that allows us to check-in on athletes to see if they are getting enough sleep.
“We are taking it to another level with the app,” says Faciana. “It is a win-win for the athletes, students, and coaches because by providing strength and conditioning, it takes something off of the coaches plate.”
Cipollone’s expectations and Faciana’s technology recommendations will be put to the test as soon as the semester starts in August when the long distance runners, sprinters, jumpers and throwers on the cross country and track team begin their season. The team is led by Daniel Graber who is fully aware of the 19 of the last 20 regional titles Don Cox achieved during his 30 years as head coach.
In 2020, one athlete (Dayvione Briggs) won four individual titles, anchored a first-place relay team to its fifth consecutive indoor regional championship, took top honors in the long jump and triple jump, and won the 60-meter hurdles and 400-meter dash. Other Triceratops placed in the weight throw and shot put and 60-meter, 200-meter, 800-meter, 3,000-meter and 5,000-meter runs. In addition to athletic achievements, eight members of the indoor track team earned Academic All-American honors from the NJCAA Track and Field Coaches Association.
Given the cross country and track teams’ history of success, Graber’s expectations are based on action, not hopes and dreams.
With less than five months to prepare, he began recruiting by emailing every cross country and track high school coach in the state. Graber wanted athletes with impressive individual and team accolades who wanted to major in an academic program offered at Tri C. After identifying athletes, he arranged campus visits to sell the Tri-C story, which wasn’t hard.
“When kids visit Tri-C they are impressed with the facilities even though they may have their own ideas of what facilities at a community college looks like,” says Graber. “Kids are also impressed with how affordable the school is and what they can get out of it down the road like jobs.”
A couple of the new recruits are Malaysia Matthews and Amiyah Sturdivant from Sandusky who were Division I state qualifiers. Matthews was a state qualifier in high school in the 100 and 300 meter hurdles during the 2022 outdoor season. Sturdivant is expected to blossom because she has a lot of talent and can train at a higher, more consistent level while in college.
Another new recruit is Jamie Turney who was a 300-meter hurdler at Brunswick High School. “I can see her qualifying at the NJCAA Nationals in Spring 2023,” says Graber.
Graber is not relying solely on athletes’ high school glory to continue the team’s championship domination, he is doing his part. He gave each athlete a detailed training schedule and monitors how they are doing so “we know them as runners and are able to coach them effectively as track athletes when we start in the fall,” Graber said.
Triceratops soccer begins in August and the team is led by Devan Anderson who has been the coach since 1996. Anderson recruits kids from North Olmsted, Holy Name and Valley Forge, overseas tournaments, Trinidad, and his hometown Jamaica.
“Kids have gone on to play at Cleveland State University, Baldwin Wallace College, and Wright State,” says Anderson. “We also have kids go to really good schools even though they don’t continue to play soccer.”
Anderson selects kids who demonstrate good soccer skills, then improves their techniques so they can play faster. He also works on weight training and breaks the game down into small components so players get better individually then help the team.
Of the 17 players who have committed, Mohammed Khansar will play the center midfielder position since he is good with the ball and has great vision. Xavier Colon will play the midfielder position which sets up the forward who normally scores the ball. Aldair Cardenas will be the attacking midfielder which means he is on the offense and trying to score goals. Steven Simpson will be the forward who is a goal scorer while Andrew Kozy and Patrick Halaburda will be defenders who stop the other team from scoring.
“The goal for the season is to win the conference,” says Anderson. “This requires that three to four players be nominated to the all-conference team. Usually second year players set the tone but without having them, the young kids will have to work their butts off because the game is much faster at the junior college level.”
The women’s volleyball team, led by coach Tionne El-Amin will also begin their season in August. Although El-Amin graduated from Tri-C in the Spring of 2018 and is a first year college head coach, she expects the team to win a regional championship.
Although players reached out to El-Amin directly to join the Triceratops, no one made the team without an interview or try out and review of game film. “I wanted to learn what a team meant to them and see what their mindset and IQ was,” says El-Amin. From there, she selected players to fill each of the positions.
The only setter is Olivia Meany who will set up players to “kill” the ball and score points. Mallory Rice and Ceniza Rivera are defenders who will deny opponents points by protecting the back row. Jynx Brett and Cameron Kondrach are multi-skilled players who will perform in any position that they are put in. Other players are expected to contribute to the success of the team by competing hard every time they step on the court.
El-Amin knows what it takes to have championship caliber skill, having been put into a different position because of her height when she became a Triceratops in 2017. “Initially it was challenging, but it elevated me so that by my second year, I was skilled at two positions which led to me never coming off the court,” says El-Amin.
It also earned her all-conference honors from the Ohio Community College Athletic Conference (OCCAC) for ranking among conference leaders in kills, attacks, and points in 2018.
To win the conference championship players will have to average 25 “kills” a game, 16-25 “digs”, and 5-10 service points.
“I think we can win the conference championship because I recruited some really scrappy, dedicated, athletic players,” says El-Amin. “They already have the skills needed and with my molding their skills and positive energy, I think we can go all the way.”
The men’s baseball team, led by coach Kyle Stahlberg will play 14 scrimmage games September 17 through October 13 and begin the regular season in February. The team last won a championship in 2016 after winning four championships during the 1990s.
In 2020, four former players were named to the 2010s All-decades Team by OCCAC.
Stahlberg’s goal is to build a program that wins and competes for conference championships and national titles. Although social media, apps, and platforms are used to recruit players nowadays, Stahlberg recruited the old fashion way, by establishing relationships. He used the information provided by contacts to build a versatile roster of 30 players who will all have to compete for a starting position.
With multiple players, who can play multiple positions, earning a starting spot will not be easy. Stahlberg has recruited four power hitters Matt Sinder, Jake Downey, Kyle Koehler, and Irving Ramos from Puerto Rico. Hits to infielders Austyn Kazmiertzak, Conner Bozak, or Mason Koons will be an automatic out, just as runners trying to steal base with Irving Ramos or Colyn Russ at bat catcher. Carter Blakeman is offensively well rounded and can play every position on the field.
Championships in baseball are rarely won without pitching, so Stahlberg has recruited 15 pitchers who will serve up strikeouts as an ace, starter, reliever, and closer.
Triceratops fans can see the men’s baseball team play at Ron Mottl Field located near the Western Campus in Parma. The field features artificial turf on the infield, natural grass in the outfield, batting tunnels, an eight-tower lighting system for night games, and an enclosed press box.
The women’s softball team will return to the diamond in September with expectations of returning to the national tournament. The team is led by Bryan Komlos who has been the head coach for 12 years. With less than five months to recruit, Komlos has built a roster of 17 players which includes returning pitchers Lyndsey Baglia and Hallie Mullett and 15 freshmen.
The softball team finished the 2019 season with a trip to the national tournament after finishing the season 37-13. A big part of the team’s successful season was Baglia. During the run to nationals, Baglia pitched 22 innings, allowed only 24 runs off 29 hits, and had 22 strikeouts.
“Lyndsey single handedly pitched us through districts on her own pretty much every game,” says Komlos. “Hallie started the season very strong for us, then COVID hit.”
Baglia will have plenty of offense from freshmen “clean up” players Kelsey Murphy, Maelly Mcgowen, Nicole Goode, Haily Hopkins, Riley Reynolds, Maddie Brockman, and Mackeena Miller. Power hitters Reece Johnson, Mckenna Miller, Maddie Brockman, Maelly Mcgowen, and Hallai Hopkins will be relied on to put runs on the scoreboard.
Johnson is a versatile player that can hit home runs, steal bases, and deny the opposing team runs on fly balls hit to center field. The most athletic player in the infield, Jenny Hujer will knock down and throw out balls hit between second and third base.
To prepare the young Triceratops, Komlos worked with Holly Clemens in the Sports and Exercise Studies program at the Western Campus. “Players come to us with talent and we just take them up a notch,” says Komlos. “We implemented weight lifting, speed and agility for the players,” says Komlos.
Komlos knows how to build a championship team and get the best out of players. He has won three OCCAC titles and two regional titles, and has coached 35 All-OCCAC Players, 10 All-District players, seven Academic All-Americans and seven Athletic All-Americans. So, he is confident 15 freshmen will return the team to the national tournament because he recruited players who have skill hitting the ball, know how to run the bases, have a solid glove, and are willing to learn.
“We have brought in a group of talented young players who will be relied on to return us to our goal of competing in the national tournament,” says Komlos. “They are a great group of student athletes and I expect nothing less than for us to return to where we left off, which is the national championship.”
The women’s basketball team will try to exceed the 10-1 record achieved in 2019 when the team occupied a spot in the NJCAA Division II national rankings. The season starts in November and first time college coach Omar Williams is focused on going undefeated and winning a championship.
Williams played high school basketball but quickly learned that there is a big difference between playing and coaching. “As a coach, it is harder to control the game from the sidelines than when you are in the game and have direct contact,” says Williams.
To accomplish the goal, Williams used recruiting sites, platforms, twitter, and zoom to recruit scorers, shooters, post players, rebounders, and shot blockers. The result includes: Ashley Little and Brianna Little from Glenville High School who will bring double trouble at the guard position.
Shiya Clayton from St. Joseph in Euclid will stretch the court with three point shots while multi-skilled players Briana Bunkley from Akron Kenmore High School and Jordan Pettigrew from Dayton will fill up the stat sheet. Kazhmere Smith at 6’3 from AfroCentric in Columbus, Lataijha Cherry at 6’1 from Kentucky, and Mary Bella Dunlap from Nordonia High School in Macedonia, and Jhordyn Brazziel will host block parties in the paint and command a double team in the post or punish teams that don’t.
Although Williams is a first time college coach, with a team of first time college players who are playing for the first time together he expects to win the conference and make a run for nationals.
“Honestly, I don’t think we will lose a conference game because of the talent, versatility, and coaching staff,” says Williams. “I am confident in our ability to put this together and put a good product on the floor.”
The men’s basketball team is the pre-pandemic team to beat having won the championship during the 2018-2019, 2017-2018, and 2016-2017 seasons. At the end of the 2019 – 2020 season, the team made its fifth consecutive trip to the district championship game after ending the regular season on a 10-game winning streak. One player received second runner-up honors for OCCAC Player of the Year while also being named to the OCCAC First Team with a teammate.
In 2020, two players earned spots on the 2010s All-Decade Team announced by the OCCAC.
Although Tri-C sports were suspended when the pandemic started, former Triceratops were recognized for great achievements. In September 2021, Ben Wallace was inducted in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA. Wallace played for the men’s basketball team from 1992 to 1994 before playing 16 seasons in the NBA where he was a member of the 2004 NBA Champion Detroit Pistons and was named defensive player of the year four times.
In February 2021, Sarah Kociuba, who was a member of Tri-C’s cross-country team that finished in 13th place at the national championship became the first female pilot to lead a Super Bowl flyover. Kociuba earned a 4.0 GPA while a student in Tri-C’s post-secondary enrollment options program during the 2008 – 2009 academic year. She is currently a U.S. Air Force Captain and one of only 10 female pilots in the country.
Tri-C faculty, staff, students, and community all earn bragging rights when the Triceratops win championships. So when sports return in the Fall, attend games, cheer, like and take selfies because we never know which Triceratops will be the next to be recognized worldwide for their achievements.