Home of Champions: MCCC Inducts Class of 2022 Into Vikings' Athletics Hall of Fame

Nine Individuals and Three Championship Teams Saluted on June 11

6/23/22

West Windsor, N.J. - The atmosphere was electric at Cobblestone Creek Country Club in Lawrenceville on June 11, as the Mercer County Community College (MCCC) Foundation and Athletics Department hosted the college’s Second Annual Athletics Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Three national championship teams and nine individuals were honored. More than 250 people joined the celebration, including members of the inaugural Class of 2021, along with family members, friends, and MCCC staff.

Following a cocktail reception and music provided by the MCCC Student Jazz Quartet, the ballroom ceremony kicked off with a procession of the Class of 2021, led by legendary soccer coach Charlie Inverso. Returning event co-chairs Daniel Klim and Charles Plohn, Jr., presided over the festivities.

Klim, who serves as vice chair for the MCCC Foundation Board and will assume the role of chair on July 1, has a long history with Mercer athletics. “I was a student-athlete and a student-employee in the Athletics Department in the mid-90s and was fortunate enough to wear the green and gold on playing fields in New Jersey and all around the country,” he told the crowd.

Plohn recounted the extraordinary success of the Mercer sports program, which has included 14 national junior college championship teams (two in men’s basketball, eight in men’s soccer, and four in women’s tennis), approximately 250 All-Americans, hundreds of All-Region and All-Conference selections and, in the past decade alone, more than 50 Academic All-Americans. Just last month, the Vikings baseball team advanced to the NJCAA World Series semi-final in Enid, Oklahoma, and the men’s tennis team finished third in their national championship in Oxford, Georgia.

The Hall of Fame Class of 2022 includes three Vikings national championship teams: 1968 men’s soccer, 1974 men’s basketball, and 2000 women’s tennis. Nine outstanding individuals were also inducted: Dan Gakeler (baseball), Carole Gibilisco (athletics administrative assistant), Diane Rose Kelly (soccer and softball), David Leckie (soccer), Peter Lindauer (soccer), Jennifer Lopresti Such (softball), Robert Marchetti (track and field), Robert (“Bobby”) Sands (basketball), and Mary Smith-Jones (basketball). 

Inductees from both 2021 and 2022 proudly sported their new gold Hall of Fame jackets with the Mercer Athletics insignia. 

The crowd observed a moment of silence to remember Mickey Gilligan and Richard Prunetti, two members of the 1968 soccer team, along with others who have passed away.

Adding congratulatory remarks were MCCC Acting President Barbara Basel, Vice President of College Advancement Joe Claffey, and Foundation Board Chair Dr. Aamir Rehman. Basel observed that the athletics program has been a rich part of the Mercer story. “It has made us a star among community colleges. We are known on the national stage because of contributions like yours,” she said.

“We hope we have given you something precious in return – lessons about resilience, sportsmanship, time management, and teamwork,” Basel continued. “This is where you met favorite coaches and teammates, many of whom have become trusted friends and colleagues.” She also expressed her sincere appreciation to the MCCC Foundation Board and the Mercer Athletics Committee, which have been dedicated to establishing the College’s Athletics Hall of Fame.

Videotaped remarks from the inductees played throughout the evening. The event was also live streamed, with close to 130 viewers signing on. A video of the entire evening, including comments by all the inductees, can be viewed online here.

In his taped remarks, James Solarski, a member of the 1968 men’s soccer team, said, “We liked each other. We weren’t thinking about winning a national title. We just set out to win the first game and then the next one.” The crowd observed a moment of silence in memory of two members of the 1968 team who passed away recently, Mickey Gilligan and Richard Prunetti, and others who have died.

Dave Leckie, also of the ’68 championship soccer team and a 2022 individual inductee, shared how much he appreciated the great opportunities he had at Mercer, as both a player and a coach. As the 1986 men’s coach, he took the team to the NJCAA national finals and earned National Coach of the Year honors. In the 1990s, he was an assistant coach for women’s soccer for three seasons under Coach Bill Drake.

Men’s soccer inductee Pete Lindauer, who played for the Vikings in 1969 and 1970, recalled their “scrappy team from Trenton.” For him, the experience was about winning – and so much more. “I gained a lot of perspective at Mercer – what to prepare for, what my responsibilities were. I met my wife there. I met my friends there,” he said.

Assistant Coach Bob Pugh recalled the pressure faced by the 1974 men’s basketball team as returning champs to the national tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas. “There were boos from the crowd when we came out on the court. Once we started playing our game, we shut the crowd down. We played such a good game. They were such fine young men,” he said.

Women’s Tennis Coach Marc Vecchiolla also recalled the challenge of measuring up as returning national champs. The Vikings had lost all but two players, but the team’s chemistry proved unstoppable. “They fed off of each other’s energy and had a great dynamic. They supported each other. We were a big family,” he said.

Meredith Azarchi Sodie, a member of the team, noted how surprised she was to be honored for something she had done over 20 years ago. “It was the best shock, because it was the best time of my life being on the Mercer team,” she stated.

Women’s soccer and softball inductee Diane Rose Kelly recalled the powerful role of Coach Bill Drake. “He was an amazing coach and friend. He believed in me. I gave it my all,” she said.

Women’s basketball inductee Mary Smith-Jones had similar fond memories of Coach Charlie Ross. “He took me under his wing. He was my best coach throughout my career playing basketball. My successes in life were because of the foundation I got at Mercer.”

Inductee Carole Gibilisco, athletics administrative assistant from 1970 to 1996, came to the event from her home in Venice, Florida, and was the elder stateswoman for the group. “It wasn’t a job; it was my second home. I would get up every morning and go to Mercer – the home of champions.”

The 2022 baseball team concluded the videotaped remarks with a message of congratulations and thanks. “This event raises money for scholarships and facilities that are pivotal to our success on the field,” one player said, while another added, “One of reasons I came to Mercer is because of the legacy of the athletics program – athletes like you.”

The 2022 Hall of Fame event raised more than $20,000 for student-athlete scholarships and improvements to MCCC sports facilities. The Third Annual Athletics Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony is scheduled for June 2023, with nominations now being accepted. For more information about MCCC’s Hall of Fame, or to learn about sponsorship opportunities for 2023, email foundation@mccc.edu or call (609) 570-3607.

Many thanks to event sponsors: The Plohn Family (Viking Sponsor); Sim Family Community Foundation (Gold Sponsor); Aamir A. Rehman and Hina Z. Ghory Family Charitable Fund and Case’s Pork Roll Company, Inc. (Bronze Sponsor); and American Physical Therapy Association of New Jersey, Bobby and Carol Sands, Jaime Bowsz Mattioli, Old Hights Brewing Company, Riverton Risk Management, LLC, and Smires & Associates Real Estate (Friend of Mercer Sponsors).

 

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Members of the 1968 national championship men's soccer team. The Vikings have won the NJCAA national title eight times.

 

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Assistant Coach Bill Panella, far left with members of the 1974 men's basketball team, and Brenda Pugh, representing Assistant Coach Bob Pugh. As the returning 1973 champions, the Vikings faced down the pressure and earned the title for the second consecutive year.

 

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Coach Marc Vecchiolla, far left, with the 2000 women's tennis team, which repeated as national champs with only two returning players from the 1999 roster.

 

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Hall of Fame inductee Carole Gibilisco with then Athletics Director Al Leister, who hired her as athletics administrative assistant in 1970. Gibilisco spent the next 26 years at Mercer, "the home of champions." 

 

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Co-chairs Dan Klim, left, and Charles Plohn, Jr. Plohn steps down as co-chair after spearheading the Hall of Fame with Klim.

 

 

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Thanks to MCCC student volunteers who came out to assist at the event.