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WHUS Sports: Voices of UConn sports

By Matt and Colin McDonough
On April 26, 2012

Pluck any great sports moment from your memory and these people could name the broadcaster that called the game just as quickly as the athletes who played in it.

They'd tell you that when Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks disposed of the favored Miami Heat in the NBA finals, Mike Breen told you the tale.

When Albert Pujols and the Cardinals won an epic seven game World Series, Joe Buck brought you the drama.

When Indiana topped No. 1 Kentucky on a buzzer-beater in this year's greatest college basketball game, Dan Shulman was the one shouting in bliss.

But for any extraordinary UConn sports moment, that storyteller could've been any one of this select group.

Who are these folks, exactly? They are members of the sports department at WHUS, the student radio station here on campus, aka the voices of UConn men's and women's soccer, football, men's and women's basketball, men's and women's ice hockey, baseball and softball.

Currently broadcasting through 91.7 FM to the southern New England area and an online stream to anyone worldwide, WHUS Sports covered the Huskies decades before they received commercial coverage and grew into renowned programs.

Yet, this year, WHUS went beyond covering all Husky home games and select road contests. Collectively, worked to grow into something truly special.

Captained by co-directors Andrew Callahan and Chris Jones, 20 students and three community members combined to broadcast better than 90 percent of all UConn soccer games, greater than 85 percent of all basketball contests, more than half the football and men's hockey seasons and all but two baseball games from coast-to-coast. The station had long been the sole full-time carrier of men's and women's soccer and this year committed to coverage of the baseball team.

"Without the help from past sports directors building the sports department to where it was, we wouldn't have been able to make the strides we did," Jones said at a department banquet last Tuesday.

Each broadcast consisted of two or three people that often served as both play-by-play announcers and color analysts over the course of a game. Preparation for each game involved learning player backgrounds, statistics, team trends, recent history, conducting interviews and on occasion, breaking down film of opposing teams. Time spent preparing for a game typically mirrored the estimated time the given game would last, meaning sometimes students would spend over three hours (and occasionally more) doing research.

"I simply could not be more proud of all of you," Callahan told his group. "What we do is cover teams and what you've done as a department is become one. We really appreciate all the hard work you've put in and even without a single one of you, this wouldn't have been possible to the leaps and bounds we made this year. You have been a part of something truly special."

Local media, opposing athletic communications staffs, opposing fans and even a national media critic at Sports Illustrated, have lauded certain broadcasts over the last year. Each on-air performance this year posed a trivia question to listeners and invited listener feedback, which was received consistently from as far as California.

Through a bevy of emails, phone calls, booked flights and hotels, road trips and a supportive athletic communications department, away game coverage had never been greater at WHUS. Trips this year included visits to every Big East school (with the exception of Marquette) and calls in the states of Texas, Oregon, Colorado, Oklahoma North Carolina, Illinois and others. Over the years, WHUS has called UConn games in nearly all the 50 states and broadcast in 19 this year alone.

Sean Gantwerker, a senior who completed his first full year of calling games this past semester, attested to the work done by the group at the end of the year banquet.

"This has honestly made for the best year of my college career and probably my entire life," Gantwerker said.

Each of the members was honored individually Tuesday for their contributions and will be shortly here:

Co-directors Callahan and Jones worked relentlessly to expand coverage this year and improve their lot of student broadcasters. Each are stellar play-by-play announcers in their own right and enjoyed the great fortune of calling the women's Final Four as sophomores. They look to make even greater improvements next year.

Adam Bacall is a 2nd-semester freshman soon to intern with the Trenton Thunder. He's possesses an incredible eye for the game of baseball.

Alex Giner is one of three community members in the department who can often be heard calling men's hockey games. Players on the team know of and can recite his goal calls.

Freshman Amber Kountz called her first hockey and softball games this spring and will be interning at ESPN this summer.

Andrew Gionfriddo is a graduating senior deemed as the "Most prepared." He'll soon be working as a high school English teacher for "Teach for America."

Known for his passionate play-by-play calling all UConn sports, Brian Libes graduates with an individualized major in sports promotion and media. He was the second-longest tenured student-broadcaster.

Junior Carson Dunn brings one of the most consistent and professional presences on-air. He returned home to his native Seattle on a trip to the west coast covering the baseball team this past spring break.

Senior Colin Hensel leaves the department after calling the women's basketball Big East tournament in his first full year of broadcasting. Colin's first inning of baseball play-by-play led off with a home run on the second pitch.

One of the premiere play-by-play men in the department, Dan Zoller failed to disappoint in any broadcast over his career. A passionate New York sports fan, Dan leaves UConn looking to build a career in sports media.

Genna Sperling was the longest tenured student-broadcaster this year. A Cherry Hill, NJ native, Genna will be sorely missed in the department for her remarkable passion and positivity over the years.

Nicknamed "The Natural", John Ponziani joined the department this spring and splits his time as captain of the club baseball team. He's already shown great promise as a broadcaster.

Storrs native John Tuite has called games at WHUS since 1982 and broadcast in 36 different states. He can be heard doing the public address for UConn football and basketball games. In his spare time, he is the lead voice for men's soccer.

A transfer from another sports talk show on WHUS, Joe Costa has gone above and beyond in his first semester of contributing to the department.

Freshman and Kansas City Royals fan Jon Scannell called only a handful games this year but quickly picked up the technical aspects of running the board and will be relied upon next year.

Referred to almost exclusively as "The Baron," Josh Baron grew leaps and bounds to become one of the lead broadcasters for next year. He has been described as "the absolute nicest guy" in the department.

Awarded "Most improved" at the banquet, JR Dowd worked his way towards becoming a solid play-by-play announcer. His first call came in the second half of a women's basketball game at Syracuse.

A compliment of "quick wit" would do injustice to department comedian Sean Gantwerker who kept everyone laughing and on his or her toes. His knowledge of the game of basketball is likely to land him job in an NBA front office.

Big-time New Jersey Devils fan Spencer Warshauer quickly asserted himself in an episode of Sports in your Kitchen, the station's weekly sports talk show. He's been able to call hockey, baseball and softball thus far.

Thrown immediately into the fray at the beginning of the year, senior Steve Zocco emerged as one of the strongest broadcasters this year. His easygoing and fun on-air style rubbed off on others and always produced a remarkably enjoyable broadcast.

Freshman phenom Will Moran has done incredible work covering the men's hockey team since late Fall as the leading hockey broadcaster. His knowledge and play-by-play skill shine through his every call.

Likewise to the college athletes they cover, the student-broadcasters almost all figure to go pro in something other than what they pre-occupy themselves with now. Even more similarly, they've come together over this past year to do something special being the making memories for others and sharing the magic of sports. Through their broadcasting, they have become married to those times we all cherish, just as Buck, Breen and Shulman were. And in sharing the magic of sports, they've created some of their own, which figures to carry on for a bright future.

Daily Campus senior staff writer and WHUS co-sports director, Andrew Callahan, contributed to this story. For further information, comments or questions, Andrew and Chris can be reached at sportsdirector@whus.org. 


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