University of Bridgeport Director of Athletics Anthony Vitti has announced this year’s Athletic Hall of Fame Class, as well as the recipients for the Fran Bacon Award for Lifetime Achievement in Coaching and the Purple Knight Shield of Merit. Honorees will be awarded at a ceremony Oct. 7 at the Bridgeport Holiday Inn, 1070 Main St. The ceremony will be part of the UB’s Homecoming Weekend festivities.
The members of the 2017 Hall of Fame class are: Ivana Kovacevic-Jurasin (women’s volleyball, Class of 2009) and Monica Mesalles-Nassi (women’s gymnastics, Class of 2013) and the 1990-91 and 1991-92 men’s basketball teams that reached the NCAA Division II national championship game in both seasons under legendary coach Bruce Webster.
Jesse Braverman (Class of 1973) will receive the fifth Fran Bacon Award for Lifetime Achievement in Coaching and Howard (Class of 1959) and Maxine (Class of 1962) Abner will be honored with the Purple Knight Shield of Merit Award
A native of Serbia, Ivana Kovacevic-Jurasin helped take the University of Bridgeport women’s volleyball program to heights never seen before during her four years in Purple and White. A three-time All-Conference performer, Ivana helped lead the Purple Knights to a 20-win season and a berth in the ECAC Tournament in her first season in 2007. The following season, she helped Bridgeport to its first-ever NCAA Division II National Tournament appearance. During her third campaign at UB, the team won the East Coast Conference title and advanced to the NCAA East Regional Final posting a single-season school record 33 victories, and she wrapped up her career in the Park City by helping the Purple Knights post 25 wins and once again reach the NCAA East Region Finals in 2010. A dynamic player on both offense and defense, Kovsacevic-Jurasin totaled 1515 kills and 1388 digs in 498 career sets played. During her four seasons, Ivana averaged 3.04 kills and 2.80 digs per set and finished in the national Top-25 in service aces per set in both 2008 and 2009.
From representing her native country of Spain at the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics to competing for the University of Bridgeport from 2010 to 2013, the name Monica Mesalles has been synonymous with excellence in the sport of gymnastics. During her four years at UB, the Purple Knights captured the USA Gymnastics National Collegiate Team crown and the ECAC Division II title each season, and in 2013, Bridgeport become only the second Division II team in history to qualify for the NCAA National Championship which is a non-divisional format. Throughout her stellar career under head coach Byron Knox, Monica earned numerous ECAC and USAG accolades and was a four-time NCAA qualifier competing as an individual in the vault and floor exercise as a freshman and in the all-around as a sophomore and junior and then advancing with her team as a senior. In 2012, when the Purple Knights hosted the USAG National Championship Meet in Hubbell Gym and at the Webster Bank Arena, she wowed the crowds by winning the All-Around title, plus three of four individual event first places to go along with UB’s team national crown. In 2013, Monica earned the National Association of
Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches’ NCAA Division II Women’s Gymnast of the Year Award. Mesalles-Nassi continues to share her love and knowledge for the sport of gymnastics with others, as she is currently a member of the coaching staff at Rhode Island College.
The 1990-91 University of Bridgeport Men’s Basketball Team, under the direction of legendary head coach Bruce Webster opened the season with a tight 91-90 home victory over Stonehill. When the season ended in March in Springfield, Massachusetts with a tough 79-72 loss to the University of North Alabama in the program’s first-ever NCAA Division II Title Game appearance, the Purple Knights had posted 26-8 overall record and stamped the letters UB as a national force to be reckoned with. Led by junior Lambert Shell, who averaged nearly a double-double for the season at 23.8 points and 9.6 rebounds per game and who would be named the Most Outstanding Player at the NCAA Elite Eight, the Purple Knights won the NCAA New England title in Worcester, Massachusetts by defeating host Assumption College and Franklin Pierce to advance to the Elite Eight in Springfield. Joining Shell as an offensive force on the team was classmate Pat Morris, who averaged 18.2 points per game on the year and joined him on the All-Tournament Team at the Elite Eight. UB reached the National Championship Game in 1991 by topping Philadelphia Textile, 69-62, in the quarterfinals and notching a 73-66 overtime victory over Cal State Bakersfield in the semifinals. Starring along with Shell and Morris in ’90-91 were junior Steve Wills, who averaged 9.5 points and 7.7 boards per game, freshman Winston Jones, who averaged 8.5 points per outing and senior David Silverberg at 8.0 points per game. Junior guard Derrick Russell directed the Purple Knights’ offense to the tune of 6.2 assists per game, plus averaged 6.8 points per game. The team also received solid contributions from role players, seniors Glen Colello and Joel Teague plus freshman Rob Mercer, as they marched to the National Finals.
Hopes were high the following season for the 1991-92 UB Men’s Basketball Team, with many players back from the previous year’s national runners-up, but Coach Webster’s team begin the year with a 2-2 start before finding its stride and finishing with a 28-7 record, and the program’s second straight National Championship appearance, once again in Springfield. Leading a senior-laden squad, Lambert Shell would again finish the year averaging nearly a double-double at 22.3 points and 9.4 rebounds per contest. Pat Morris finished the season averaging 14.1 points per game, and Steve Wills added 11.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per outing; while Derrick Russell chipped in 8.0 points and 5.9 assist per game. In his second season, Winston Jones nearly doubled his scoring average to 16.8 points per game, as Bridgeport won its second straight New England regional title by defeating Merrimack and New Hampshire College to punch its ticket to the Elite Eight. The Purple Knights opened play in the Birthplace of Basketball by winning a game in the national quarterfinals that fans still talk about, as the Purple Knights stopped Central Oklahoma, 127-124, in overtime. With little time to rest, UB came right back to edge California (PA), 76-75, in the national semifinals. Unfortunately playing two tough games seemed to take a toll on the team, as Bridgeport fell in the National Championship Game for the second straight season, being defeated by Virginia Union, 100-75, in 1991. Winston Jones and Steve Wills were recognized for the outstanding play at the Elite Eight with selections to the All-Tournament team. In 1991-92, senior Sean Morgan, sophomores Keith Hanley, Rob Mauer, Amadi Penn and Chris Tate plus freshman Paul Coleman.
While the 1990-91 and 1991-92 UB men’s basketball teams fell just short of winning a national titles, their successes are what all Bridgeport basketball squads to come will be measured against.
This year’s recipient of the Fran Bacon Award for Lifetime Achievement in Coaching is Jesse Braverman. Originally from Queens, New York, Braverman, a legendary coach on the youth and high school levels, has spent a lifetime teaching the game of baseball in the Capital District of New York State. The term “Jesse Ball” has become synonymous with success on the diamond. A 2015 inductee in the New York State Baseball Hall of Fame, he taught and coached in the Bethlehem Central School District for 32 years, winning his first of several Class AA sectional titles during his stellar career as the varsity baseball coach at the high school. For the last 17 years, Braverman has coached at La Salle Institute in Troy, New York where he helped the Cadets become the only Big 10 team in the league’s history to win a Class AA title when his teams did it in 2005 and 2008. A tribute to his skill as teacher of the game, several of his former players have been drafted by Major League Baseball teams.
The Purple Knight Shield of Merit is given at the discretion of the University of Bridgeport Hall of Fame Selection committee to a person or persons who have shown exceptional passion and commitment to the Purple Knights’ athletics family. The recipient of this award may or may not be a graduate of the University of Bridgeport. The 2017 Purple Knight Shield of Merit is being awarded to long-time supporters of the University of Bridgeport as a whole, and its athletic programs plus UB graduates, Howard and Maxine Abner. The Abners made a transformative and impactful gift to the UB Athletics program that paved the way for the expansion and development of the Abner Fitness Center in Hubbell Gym. Since, then the Abner Fitness Center has been an integral part of the UB Athletics’ strength and conditioning program. It has provided the Purple Knights with a larger space, more equipment, and now more instruction as the University has recently hired our first full-time strength and condition coach. The Abners have helped pave the way for the Bridgeport athletic program to reach new heights, as the strength and performance of our student-athletes has been positively impacted by their generosity.
The UB Athletic Hall of Fame was formed in 1981, and this year marks the 11thh year of a revitalization that began in 2006 after 15 years without a class being inducted. This year’s inductees bring the total number of members to 89 individuals and five teams. For ticket information for the Oct. 7 awards dinner, contact 203-576-4151, or go online to register for the event at give.bridgeport.edu/UBAwards2017