Behind the construction of a Division II junior college powerhouse based in New Rochelle, is coach and mentor James Robinson Jr. of Peekskill.
Robinson, who recently guided the Monroe College women’s basketball team to a second straight National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCA) national championship, firmly believes and often repeats that “What don’t break you, makes you,” as noted on the Mustangs’ website.
Maintaining a two-year program, with its inherent turnover and with some youngsters still finding their way in life, is not as easy task, but the road to a repeat championship was not as easy task, either.
Monroe College entered tournament play as the No. 9 seed, but en route to beating Lake Michigan in the final, 78-73, the Mustangs knocked off the Nos. 8, 1, 4 and 7 seeds to cap a remarkable 31-6 season.
Having already lost a couple of players due to discipline reasons, the Mustangs’ starting point guard tore her ACL in the District tournament and was lost for the remainder of the playoffs.
That's when Robinson, who moved up to the head spot just as the season started after four years as an assistant, invoked his mantra about overcoming obstacles.
“I was going to ride the wave as far as it would take me,” Coach Robinson was quoted a few days after the championship game. “At Monroe we’ve had such success on the national stage that we actually use the regular season as preparation for the playoffs and with all we went through together, we were prepared for anything. So at the biggest moment, we were calm.”
Examining how his team could perform so well in the throes of national pressure, Robinson said, “I coach their minds first, then their bodies.”
Robinson, the father of three in a 17-year marriage, has been molding the minds and bodies of youngsters in Peekskill all his adult life. A one-time high school star at Peekskill, Robinson’s Red Devils won the Section 1 crown in 1981.
He has coached youngsters in the Peekskill Parks and Recreation leagues and some of his apprentices learned their lessons well, like NBA player Elton Brand, Mookie Jones of Syracuse, Hilton Armstrong of UCONN, and Allen Jenkins who starred at Monroe and Alderson Broaddus.
“I’ve always been about teaching young people to make the right decisions and be accountable for themselves,” Robinson said, “If you stay consistent to your values when you lead them, then they reap the rewards of making the right decisions. This national championship is as good an example of how that works as anything.”
Robinson is already pounding the hardwood looking for talent to round out next year’s squad as he attempts to take the Mustangs, who have played in nine straight national tournaments, to a three-peat.
“It's hard work. It's not easy,” he said. “But you know, what don’t break you, makes you.”
- The Dominican College baseball team (10-17) travels to Waterbury, CT, on Monday to meet Post University, and then returns home on Wednesday for a doubleheader against Philadelphia University at Provident Bank Park in Pomona at 3 p.m. Tony Blake of Windsor, CT, was selected as Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference player of the week. He batting .303, second on the team to Andrew Camardella of Pelham, who is rolling along at a .373 clip. Peter Martinez of White Plains is third with a .250 average.
- University of Albany junior Alex Petit-Frere of Nanuet ran the leadoff leg on the 4x400 medley relay team that placed fourth at the University of Central Florida Invitational in Orlando, FL. Petit-Frere also finished eighth in the 400, clocking 49.51. UAlbany returns to competition on April 14 at the UMass Invitational in Amherst, MA. Action is set to start at 11:30 a.m.
- Former two-time Harrison High team captain Robert Merritt is running sprints on the Southern Connecticut State University track and field team. Merritt, a freshman, finished 13th in both the 55-meter and 200-meter dashes at the Northeast 10 Championships in Boston, MA. The Owls split their squad today for the Roadrunner Invitational in Mahwah, NJ, and the Sam Howell Invitational in Princeton, NJ, which concludes on Saturday.
- Jamela Joseph of Elmsford, Christi Marraccini of Harrison and Arame Mbodi of New Rochelle are members of the women’s track and field team at Manhattanville College, which competes on Saturday at the Elmer Swanson Invitational at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. Action starts at 10 a.m. Josh Marrero of Elmsford is a member of the men’s team.
- The seventh-ranked Concordia College Clippers men’s tennis team, coming off a dominating 9-0 Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference victory over Caldwell (NJ) College, hosts Philadelphia University, another CACC rival, at the Meyers Tennis Center in Bronxville at 12 p.m. on Saturday. The Clippers are 11-6, 5-0 in the CACC.
- Dominican College junior Tony Blake of Windsor, CT, has been selected as the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC) Baseball Player of the Week. Blake is hitting .303, second on the team to Andrew Camardella of Pelham, who is rolling along at a .373 clip. Dominican (10-7)
- The Manhattan College men’s lacrosse team, which routed Wagner College, 20-5, behind a 58-shot barrage, wraps up a three-game home-stand on Saturday against Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference foe VMI at 1 p.m. at Gaelic Park in Riverdale. The win over Wagner was the Jaspers’ fourth in five and lifted them back to .500 at 5-5 (1-1 in MAAC). Junior Tyler Jarvis of O’Fallon, MO, had three of his game-high five goals in the first quarter including two in a row on assists from Brendan Rogers of East Northport and Paul Moreau of Pearl River. At halftime on Saturday, Manhattan will honor the 10th anniversary of the 2002 MAAC Championship team that went 9-0 in conference play.
- Dominican College softball coach Joseph Burbridge, and senior Deidre Jeppson of Sylma, CA, reached career milestones as the Chargers swept a Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC) doubleheader from host Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, PA. Jeppson collected her 200th career hit in the opener. The second-game victory gave Burbridge his 200th career coaching victory, with his career record at Dominican now a very-impressive 161-84. Dominican (18-10, 14-0 CACC) will be in Wilmington, DE, on Monday and Tuesday. The Chargers meet Goldey-Beacom for a twin-bill on Monday at 3 p.m., and visit Wilmington University on Tuesday for a doubleheader at 2:30 p.m.
- St. Thomas Aquinas College junior Frank Salerno of New City was named the East Coast Conference player of the week after guiding the Spartans to a 3-1 stretch. Salerno, a graduate of Clarkstown South, continued his outstanding season, batting .412 while scoring five runs and driving in seven. He leads all regular starters with a .367 batting average, and has stolen 19 bases in 27 games The Spartans (19-9, 6-1 ECC) visit C.W. Post on Monday at 3 p.m., and then return to Provident Bank Park in Pomona on Tuesday to host Queens College at 3:30 p.m.