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MIT will be hosting an Athletics Weekend this weekend to emphasize Tech’s winter sports. Headlining the event will be the men’s and women’s basketball teams. The MIT basketball programs have been able to raise the school spirit and unite the student body, creating some much needed athletic buzz across campus.

Men’s basketball has been able to carry last year’s momentum into the 2009–2010 season. Last year’s team saw unprecedented success under Head Coach Larry Anderson and now-graduated captain James M. “Jimmy” Bartolotta ’09, receiving their first bid to the NCAA Division III tournament in the program’s history. The Cardinal and Grey captured their first win in NCAA tournament play in school history by upsetting Rhode Island College as well. The Engineers fell in the next round, but the team had created new expectations and raised the bar for MIT basketball.

This year, MIT brings in a very strong recruiting class of seven freshmen to help the seven returning upperclassmen. These freshmen have been contributing right out of the gate. William Tashman ’13 and Mitchell H. Kates ’13 highlight a freshman class, as the duo provides excitement and points to an already strong starting lineup. Noel Hollingsworth ’12 joins the two alongside captains Willard “Billy” J. Johnson ’09 and Eric S. Zuk ’11 to round out a starting five that has begun its season 5-0 and 1-0 in NEWMAC conference play.

Johnson attributes the initial success to the offseason work put in after the unprecedented NCAA run. “It began literally a week after the season was over last year. We knew that our success for the ’09–’10 season was riding on our new players. It was imperative that these eight newcomers got up to speed with our system as quickly as possible, so that by the time the season started they weren’t playing as newcomers, but as veterans. With almost the whole team here over the summer, we trained six days a week with a conditioning/lifting schedule made specifically for us and played in summer league games twice a week against great competition. It is really paying off now.”

And with MIT’s first NCAA birth in the program’s history, how far does the expectations raise? Where does the team look to next? “Plain and simple,” according to Johnson: “win the national championship.”

The women’s basketball team has also been able to benefit from an increased emphasis on basketball from the student body. The female Engineers got off to a bit of a slow start with three straight loses, but have been able to bounce back with two decisive victories over Lasell and Albertus Magnus. The Cardinal and Grey is now 2-3 before starting conference play.

But second-year coach Sonia Raman has the team coming together, and just in time to start conference play. Captains Sally W. Simpson ’10 and Kristen E. Whaley ’11 provide a steady balance of 15 points and 12 rebounds a game combined and veteran leadership for a starting lineup that sports three freshmen. Aparna A. Sud ’13 leads the team in scoring, alongside Anna L. Merrifield ’13, a strong presence in the paint, and Lauren S. Burton ’13, the leader in assists and steals, to round out a youthful starting five that should pave the way for a bright future.

The men’s and women’s teams will play this season’s first double header at the Rockwell Cages on Saturday. The women will begin the day at 1:00 p.m. against Springfield College, and the men will follow at 3:00 p.m. against Gordon College.