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Challenge with St. Bona helped Alfred University prepare for season


By John Anderson, 11/9/21

Enders, local talent help team to 1-0 start; Kaempffe talks about the AU family atmosphere

When Erich Kaempffe took the position as head coach at Alfred University five months ago, he inherited a 25-man roster and a schedule that was set in stone.

At the top of the schedule for the Division III Saxons, who compete in the Empire 8 conference, was an exhibition game against Division I St. Bonaventure. Not just any St. Bonaventure team, this year, they are the 23rd ranked team in the nation. 

“Playing at St. Bonaventure was a first for me and a first for 2/3 of our guys,” Kaempffe said. “I thought about it leading up to the game and doing scout, they are Division I, 23rd ranked, predicted to win the A10, two legitimate NBA draft picks. However, when we walked in the building, we were in our pre-game routine and it was a game for us and it was time to take care of business.”

Alfred not only took care of business but had an early lead. They lost to St. Bonaventure, 95-45, but as Kaempffe pointed out, “I was talking to our assistant coaches, we couldn’t have asked for anything more out of the gate. To be down three, 14 or 15 minutes into the game, I was very pleased. We played hard all the way down the bench and got out of there with our health.”

While St. Bonaventure had time to prepare for opening night of the real season on Tuesday, Alfred had to prepare immediately for Brockport State on Saturday. Brockport went to the NCAA Division III tournament and became the team to beat in New York.

On Saturday night, Kaempffee and AU pulled off the upset on paper with an 82-72 victory over Brockport.

Preparing for the season by playing St. Bonaventure has perks, but there are reasons. St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt, who has put together one of the best programs in the nation, has had three sons play for AU.

Mark and Anita Schmidt have sent Derek (state championship MVP with Olean High), Nick (3-time sectional champion at Olean) and now Mike (junior at AU) to Alfred University. Schmidt has used the game as a chance to warm his team up and see his kids play. AU sophomore Casey Curran attended Allegany-Limestone and won a sectional title. His father, Steve, is an assistant at St. Bonaventure. 

The scrimmage had some intense moments, but both teams played clean, solid basketball.

“I thought it was a good start. The exhibition game against Alfred, we play it for a number of reasons, one is my son, and that is important to us. We want to win, but we want to play everybody,” Schmidt said. “We are a Division I school and they are a Division III school, but give Alfred credit, they got off to a good start. They got us back on our heels a little bit but as the game went on we got a lot more comfortable. But it was a good exhibition game and now we have to get ready for Siena (Tuesday night).”

There was a slight scare in the game when St. Bonaventure’s Dominick Welch took a forearm or elbow to the face on a rebound. He was ok and Kaempffe had a sigh of relief.

“I had a brief moment when Welch caught a forearm or shoulder but he was fine. There is a lot of respect between the two programs,” Kaempffe said. “There are family ties there, I’ve been an admirer of coach Schmidt forever and Coach Curran has done a lot for me. Obviously, Mike and Casey know those guys from the off-season.”

Kaempffe said it was fun to see how excited his players were leading up to the game.

“I think they were super-excited. From my perspective, we were trying to get things right for our opener against Brockport. I can’t believe how Coach Schmidt felt, having to get ready and want to see his son play,” Kaempffe said. “Our guys were jacked up for three to four days before the game. Mike was dying to get out there and you could tell, he was very impressive the first six to eight minutes of the scrimmage. He sees the floor at a level not many guys at our level see. When we are in practice he sees things the same way I do and that’s really an advantage to have another coach on the floor.”

Now that AU is 1-0, Kaempffe can start looking ahead to the season and the Empire 8. He is no stranger to the region or Section V basketball players. A graduate of North Rose-Wolcott, he played at Wells College and played against Alfred all four years. He coached at Oswego State and Ithaca and was well-known as an assistant coach and top-tier recruiter as an assistant at RPI, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

The AU roster has players from the largest schools in the state to the smallest with Adam Enders of Belfast. Enders drained a 3-pointer against Bonaventure and played significant minutes.

“My favorite thing about Adam is, if we are ever disjointed in practice, he will take a shot. I love that about him,’ Kaempffe said. “In our scrimmage, Brewster Marshall (6-foot-8 from Horseheads), Casey Curran (6-foot-5) and Elliot Bowen (6-foot-6 from Salamanca) gave up about three inches and 30 pounds to players like Osun Osunniyi (6-foot-10). But that won’t happen a lot during the season.”

Kaempffe was also pleased to have each player see action at the historic Reilly Center.

“All of our players got in. Talking to the assistant coaches the night before the game, we said we had to get everyone in and make sure our rotation guys get enough time,” Kaempffe said. “And after the game, it was a great site to see. I was fortunate my family came, so I had time to talk to them on the court. I looked around and the players were all taking photos with their families.”

Kaempffe took over for long-time coach Russ Phillips who is still at the college and has helped get the team through the transition.

“I got here at the end of June and July, the roster is set, schedule is set. But Russ Phillips and I have a great relationship. Sometimes in coaching changes there is ill will. Not at Alfred. Russ and I are tight, the guys know we are tight and that’s helped with relationship building,” he said. “That has helped as there is no negativity. When we do film it’s happy, everyone is in a good mood in practice. We Have a ton of guys who love Alfred and want to come to Alfred so it makes coming to work fun.”

When Kaempffe was asked if St. Bonaventure and Alfred University are a lot a like with strong alumni connections and the family atmosphere, he agreed.

“There have been a lot of cool things in that regard and there is a ton of pride associated with being an AU grad,” Kaempffe said. “Bryan Hill (AU class of 1990) is the  deputy commissioner of Fairfax, Virginia (he oversees 12,000 employees, 1.3 million residents, and a $4.29 billion budget) was inducted into the Hall of Fame,” Kaempffe said. “He sat down and talked to our student-athletes and he told them what they need to do to be successful at the next step. He didn’t have to do that. But there’s something about an AU grad who wants to help students get to the next level and it’s like that with Bonaventure, too.”
And now he’s ready for the season.

“Everyone asks me what stands out with our kids, especially the local kids,” Kaempffe said. “To me, it’s their toughness. And it will ‘Everyone asks me, ‘What stands out with these kids’ To me, something stands out about their toughness. We have some tough kids and it will serve us well going forward. We need to compete each day and that will get us a little better and put us in a good spot at the end of the year.”

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