Individually, you won’t see them on many of the UVM men’s basketball team’s all-time top 10 lists, but if things go to plan the senior troika of Evan Fjeld, Joey Accaoui and Garrett Kissel will end up making history together as the winningest class in school history.
A win over Boston University in 1 p.m. regular-season finale Sunday at Patrick Gym (televised by CSNE and on the radio at 101.3-FM an 960-AM) will go long way toward meeting that goal and given the stakes - and the circumstances - it’s a good bet.
UVM, 22-6 and a league best 13-2 in America East, takes on a BU team that is 17-13 (11-4 in America East) at 1 p.m. in game that doesn’t mean anything in the standings, but has plenty of intrigue nonetheless.
The Catamounts, locked into the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament will celebrate the accomplishments of their three seniors before the game. Once the ball is tipped off, the focus will be on avoiding the first two-game losing streak of the season and heading into next weekend’s conference tournament on a high note. Their task might be a little easier thank to an injury to BU's top player John Holland, who sprained an ankle earlier this week and may not be ready to go Sunday.
A win over the Terriers would give UVM's senior class 88 wins, two short of the all-time record. The seniors from last season (Marqus Blakely, Nick Vier and Maurice Joseph) hold the all time mark of 90 wins by a class, followed by the 2005 seniors - including Taylor Coppenrath and T.J. Sorrentine - which won 89 contests.
“This group, in particular has really done a great job this year, especially exceeding all expectations,” said UVM coach Mike Lonergan in an interview Friday with the “Rob and Rich Show” on WCVP-FM 101.3. “I’m very happy for them; proud of them.
“It’s kind of gone quick. The older I get, the quicker these four years go with these guys. I can’t believe Joey, Garrett and Evan are seniors and are going to graduate this spring. I’m glad we have a day to honor them.
Lonergan, whose team has already locked up an automatic NIT bid and can make a second straight trip to the NCAA tournament with a conference tournament championship, spoke glowingly of his seniors in his radio appearance.
"(Garrett Kissel) is really having a good year and I’m happy for him,” said Lonergan, who gave his reserve post player credit for working hard to become more of an impact player in his senior season.
“He’s always been a tough kid,” said Lonergan. “He stuck with it. He’s really done a great job of taking advantage of the opportunity he was finally able to get. He’s had a great senior year and has definitely helped us win games this year.”
Joey Accoui, who will be featured Sunday in an article by Burlington Free Press UVM hoops beat writer John Fantino, was lauded by Lonergan as an everyman.
“Everybody can relate to him,” said Lonergan. “Truthfully, he’s 5-7. Not many guys 5-7 can play Division I basketball and be successful. He has just become a very good player, especially offensively. He’s a terrific scorer. He makes things happen out there. I love Joe; a great family and it’s nice to see a guy who a lot of people said was too small and too short have success.
“He’s definitely a shooting guard in a point guard’s body,” said Lonergan.
Finally, Lonergan spoke of Fjeld - one of the most popular players in UVM history - even before he grew a mustache this season to raise awareness for a disease that has impacted his life in a very personal way.
After two injury-riddled seasons to start his career, Fjeld came into his won in his junior season despite the fact his mother was dying with cancer.
“Evan is a special young man,” said Lonergan. “Great parents. Great family. He was a big-time recruit when we got him. He turned down William and Mary, North Carolina-Wilmington, and I think, Richmond; a lot of very good academic schools and a lot very good basketball schools that were in better conferences than ours.
“A lot of things held him back (early in his time at UVM), but he had a great, great junior year. Obviously, he was playing for his mother and we didn’t know that at the time. I was worried after she passed away that he didn’t have the motivation that he had to have such a special junior year and he came out this year was unbelievable.
“I think our fans really can relate to him and appreciate him. He’s kind of representative of the type of student athletes we get at UVM. Evan is a definitely a great person in addition to being a tremendous basketball player,” said Lonergan, who said a win over BU - the only America East team the Cats have not defeated in the regular season - could mean the difference between a 14th seed and the 15th seed in the NCAA tournament should Vermont win the conference tournament.
Given the low expecations for this year's team - which was picked to finish as low as sixth in the nine team conference - at the start of the season, the role seniors have played in helping the program reload as opposed to rebuild did not go unnoticed by Lonergan.
“We lost four starters and all these guys had to really step up their game,” he said. “I’m always happy for the seniors because they kind of leave their legacy behind. They definitely deserve a lot of credit for what we have done this season despite having seven of our 14 guys being in their first year playing for the Catamounts.”