NCAA athletes get scholarships and compete for all-American status; intramural champions get T-shirts out of a storage closet at RecPlex.
At the Prestigious Posse Post-season Potluck, Pooch’s Posse, which has more than its share of championship T-shirts, sat on the front porch of 455 Kiefaber eating hot dogs and drinking Kool-Aid and iced tea. Most had on their Posse T-shirts: navy blue with the team in either white or pink script across the front. Home and away jerseys, they explained. Others wore the pink “Posse love” T-shirts they made when a teammate was diagnosed with leukemia. “Fighting to Win Since 2003,” the back read.
As they sat on the porch at the potluck, they had ahead of them two more days of classes, then finals week, then graduation. About the time they brought out cupcakes and peach cobbler, they started trying to tally their intramural championships.
Freshman year, there was floor hockey, flag football and wallyball (volleyball played on a racquetball court).
Sophomore year, flag football, wallyball, and indoor and outdoor soccer.
Junior year, outdoor soccer and both seasons of flag football.
Senior year, outdoor soccer, flag football, softball and ultimate Frisbee.
Fourteen championships in four years. Fourteen sets of intramural championship T-shirts.
Now, there’s something you should know before you spend too much more time reading this article. Pooch, the team captain, is baffled by the whole idea of an article about Pooch’s Posse.
As she put it one morning in the basement of the library, “I don’t get it. It’s just intramurals.”
And in a narrow sense, she’s right. Even as she went through her last season, Emily Puchala, aka Pooch, aka Capitan, was also finishing classes, studying for finals, wrapping up work at UD’s Business Research Group and going through three rounds of job interviews with a Columbus, Ohio-based corporation.
“We’re just a women’s intramural team,” she said. “We sign up for all the Quarterlysports. There’s not much to tell. We’re simple. That’s all we look for — cotton glory.”
Here’s what cotton glory looks like: Katie Kurtz, aka The Real K. Kurtz, who had never played soccer in her life, scoring off her knee to seal the win in the intramurals game of the week. Betsy Rombach, aka Bizzle, tearing her ACL in the outdoor soccer championships and being carried off the field by her team. Larah Sadar, aka Sadar, letting Pooch finally convince her to play basketball, only to foul out in the first half of a game.
Or, as Mark Hoying, who runs UD’s intramural program, put it, “They have become a dynasty in their four years at UD. I thought it may be of interest to you and the alumni around the country.”
UD students play intramurals at very high rates, even when compared with much larger institutions. The University of Kentucky might have had more recent success in intercollegiate basketball, but its 26,000+ students fielded only 170 intramural basketball teams in fall 2006, according to statistics compiled by Hoying’s office. Students at Notre Dame, which has 4,000 more undergraduates than UD, had barely more than 100 fall teams. In the same period, UD students fielded 233 intramural basketball teams. Students also fielded hundreds of teams in men’s, women’s and co-ed recreational and competitive leagues in other sports.
Hoying clearly remembers the first time he met Pooch. It was fall 2003, and he was a senior working in the PAC when Pooch, a freshman, walked through the door.
“She was very much in charge. She had questions, and she wanted answers,” he said.
What she wanted was permission to be captain of two different women’s volleyball teams. At the time, UD had trouble attracting more than two or three teams, and forfeits were common.
Why weren’t there more women’s teams, Pooch wanted to know. Why didn’t Hoying call people and get more teams?
He didn’t like her at all.
“She was basically telling us what we should be doing,” he said. “The irony is that they were Pooch’s Posse then, and they’re Pooch’s Posse now.”
After graduation, Hoying took a position in campus recreation as a graduate assistant and then was hired on as assistant director for intramurals and club sports. Pooch has been with him the whole time.
At an appreciation night he hosted for the Posse in January, he told three stories. One was about his first meeting with Pooch. Another was about Kurtz’s goal during the game of the week. The third was that “Pooch” had transcended Puchala and become a general-purpose noun in his office, as in, “Do you know so-and-so? He’s captain of four teams and always gets his players to games so there’s no forfeits.”
“Oh, he’s their Pooch.”
There would be no Pooch without the Posse, which is 30 strong. They have majors throughout the University: civil engineering, Spanish, finance, biology, marketing, women’s studies, geology, English and others. To be a Posse member, you don’t have to be athletically gifted, but you do have to want to play. The team stopped taking new players early in its junior year. All are seniors. Many play just one sport for Posse, but a core group of almost a dozen tries to play every sport offered.
Puchala can’t be absolutely everywhere, so she sometimes appoints a Pooch-in-lieu to organize games and captain the team. Generally that’s Stephanie Sheavly, aka Malhechora, Pooch’s housemate on Kiefaber. When Steph is also tied up, they appoint a Pooch-in-lieu-in-lieu, usually Meredith Effler, also a housemate. Effler, aka Mere, was also appointed the Prestigious Posse Post-season Potluck Planner. Her job was to avoid a flood of desserts, a problem at the Prestigious Posse Pre-season Potluck.
Their fourth housemate is Tara Hentgen, aka Benchwarmer, a sprinter and jumper on the women’s track and field team. Team rules prohibit her from playing intramurals, so she helps manage the sidelines.
“The Posse is not just intramurals, it’s a lifestyle,” Steph said. She met Pooch in Spanish class freshman year. Pooch saw her soccer gear and bugged her into joining the Posse.
What’s the lifestyle?
“We all have high expectations of each other. We’re all good students, and we’re all involved in service. And we dominate,” said Mere, who lived up the hall from Steph freshman year in 3 South Marycrest. When she told Steph they should be friends, Steph asked her to write a “letter of acceptance,” and she did.
It’s not hard to find examples of Posse members active on campus. Accounting major Diana Hemkens, aka Hempkens, is president of Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Betsy is lead peer adviser for the School of Business Administration. Devee Sresthadatta, aka Hobbs, is an officer in campus ministry. Danielle Ermis, aka Ermis, is worksite coordinator for Habitat for Humanity. Steph and Mere are two-term co-presidents of the Dakota Center Club. Hentgen is one of 15 students at the Davis Center for Portfolio Management who manage more than $6 million of UD’s endowment. The examples go on and on.
“I look around campus, and Posse members are leaders everywhere,” said Pooch. “I’m proud to hang out with these people because they do so much. I go everywhere and I think, ‘Yeah, she’s Posse.’”
Other students on campus know about the Posse. Jill Gelhfuss, a junior, declined to join it. It was her freshman year, and she figured that being on three teams was enough for her. By the time she realized what she’d passed up, the Posse had stopped taking new members.
Three years later, Gehlfuss still regrets turning Pooch down.
“When I think of intramurals, I think of them,” she said. “It’s going to be different on the field next year. Maybe we’ll have a chance to win a championship.”
Pooch is quick to say she’s not the most gifted athlete. “What I’m good at is typing names into the ‘To:’ box in e-mail, getting people out to games,” she said. There’s also a Posse spirit of good sportsmanship and goofiness during games that most people mention when they talk about the Posse. They don’t forfeit, they don’t show up opponents and they don’t complain about referees’ calls. They cheer good plays on either side and shake hands after every game. Flag football opponents have been known to be intimidated by their halftime pep rallies.
Greg Raffio, a master’s student in mechanical engineering, has played with Posse members on a co-ed ultimate team called Manamanah. (It’s a Muppets reference; you can look up on Google video.) Pooch and the Posse, he said, “embody all those cliché UD catchwords: community, leadership, service. She’s the most wired Catholic university in the country.
“Pooch should have an award named after her. How many people on campus don’t know who she is?”
“I’m pretty sure between her and her roommates, they know every single person on campus,” said Grace Finn, who played in UD’s first-ever women’s dodgeball tournament. Pooch, Mere and Steph organized it as part of Women’s Week in March. The tournament drew more than 100 players and raised money for the Noble Circle Project, which supports women diagnosed with breast cancer.
“(Their house) is the picture-perfect look at community at UD. They are amazing friends, they motivate each other and have practically become sisters,” Finn said. “If Pooch is asking you to do something, you know it’s a good thing.”
Accolades are nice, but so are those championship T-shirts. As the calendar turned to April, the Posse headed into its last season and last playoffs, indoor soccer. They won their first game handily, beating the Pretty Pink Piranhas 6-1. After the game, they debriefed.
“We have to practice the give-n-go,” said Steph. “No one else except us understands it.”
After just a few minutes, they turned to planning the Prestigious Posse Post-season Potluck.
Three days later, about 10 Posse players were back at RecPlex for their last intramural games together: the women’s indoor soccer semifinals at 9:20 p.m. and, if they won, the finals at 10 p.m. Games were 3-on-3, plus goalies. Teams could substitute as much as they wanted.
Their first opponent was the Beckhams, a group of freshmen from 2 Adele in Stuart Hall. Pooch started in goal, Keely Midden, aka Keeeeeee, started on defense, and Steph and Lauren Locy, aka, Locy, were forwards. Posse had five subs available: Mere, Devee, Betsy, Carly Brink (aka Brink) and Chrissy Jennings (aka The Law). Ermis would arrive a half hour later.
Twenty seconds after the opening touch, Posse was already down by a goal. Steph evened it up at 1-1, but Beckham kept getting one-on-one chances on Pooch. By halftime, Posse were down 3-1.
Thirteen seconds into the second half, a goal by Betsy pulled Posse within 1. With 5:40 to go, a booming shot by Steph ricocheted off the goalie, and Keely put it away to tie the score.
Then Steph took over. Easily the best soccer player on the Posse, she was goalie on a club team that won a state championship. Recurring concussions kept her from playing in college.
“Her doctor told her another concussion could kill her,” said Pooch. “It adds a little bit of an edge to our games.”
With 4:43 to go, Steph dribbled through three Beckhams and put the Posse up 4-3. A minute later, she scored on a one-on-one against the goalie. Late goals by Devee, Mere and Locy put the Posse up by four goals with less than two minutes to go. They won by mercy rule.
Win or lose, the final would be the Posse’s last game together in college. They faced Striker, who had advanced through the semis on a forfeit. Striker had no subs, but they did have matching blue T-shirts. They were freshmen.
Fourteen seconds in, Devee put the Posse up by a goal, but Striker scored the next four goals on two different Posse goalies.
Down 4-2 at the start of the second half, Posse started Steph in goal, Ermis on defense and Betsy and Janelle Hayes, aka Yahnel, on offense but couldn’t get anything going.
Despite several great saves by Steph, Posse trailed 7-2 with eight minutes to go.
At 5:45, Posse caught a break it didn’t want. A referee called a rarely enforced safety regulation on one of the Strikers. She would have to sit out for five minutes for wearing a necklace during the game. With no subs, Striker was down a player. Posse would end the game on the equivalent of an NHL power play.
In the next three minutes, Devee scored two goals and Betsy one to pull the Posse to 7-5 with more than two minutes remaining.
That turned out to be the final score.
After the game, the Posse walked over to BW3s on Brown Street.
They talked only a little about the game.
“We didn’t want to win on a jewelry call,” Betsy said.
Mere talked about helping out at her family’s jewelry store at Christmas time. Pooch told a story about being in Spain on a study abroad trip and not knowing what the appliances in the kitchen were.
“It took me four days to realize I was putting dishes in the washing machine,” she joked.
Mostly, they talked about the future. Ermis, a civil engineering major, had gotten roped into helping teach the survey course in the first summer term. Janelle thought she might be going to France to teach Spanish. Devee planned to work as an au pair in Melbourne, Australia, for a year before starting a doctoral program in physical therapy in Chicago. Steph and Kurtz were headed to graduate social work programs at the University of Chicago and Case Western Reserve, respectively. Sadar, a biology major, would become a whitewater raft guide on the New and Gauley rivers in West Virginia. Betsy was off to New York City for a job as analyst with BlackRock. Hentgen, their benchwarmer, would finish up her undergraduate finance and MBA degrees. Pooch, a marketing and Spanish major, was still waiting to hear back from her job interviews. Mere wasn’t sure what was next for her.
Pooch’s Posse appeared on almost none of their résumés. When it was there, it was generally a short line under a heading along the lines of “Other activities.”
At the beginning of their last semester, a few Posse members had tallied up their intramural careers.
They counted more than 230 games in which Pooch’s Posse competed, a rate of nearly 2.4 a week for every week intramurals were offered. Most also played on different teams in co-ed leagues, on top of everything else they did on campus and off.
Graduation “is going to be weird,” said Steph. “I’m having a hard time imagining life without intramurals. I get excited about the next step. We talk about how Posse is going to go international. We’ll definitely have reunions. We might continue it through our kids.”
Then she added, “It feels weird to say that.”
A week before classes ended, Pooch was feeling overwhelmed.
“Everything has always been mapped out, and now it’s just wide open,” she said. “In a week’s time, I have to finish my college career, plus there’s all the Posse stuff. I have to pack my stuff and find a house. I don’t know if I have a job. Of course, I don’t really want to do any of it except hang out with my friends. I’m not fully accepting it’s going to be different.”
Her original plan for the Posse was to create a dynasty that would be passed from class to class.
“It just didn’t happen, but colleges always turn over. It’s just the nature of the institution. Posse isn’t the focus of any of our lives. It’s a side thing we do.”
She said one of her proudest Posse moments was freshman year. “We got every girl who played a championship T-shirt. They don’t hand out too many of those, the cotton glory.”
One morning on Kiefaber, Steph, Hentgen and Mere sat on the couch eating frozen waffles. They watched their pet hamster, Lady Leon Spinks, rolling around the living room in a plastic ball.
“We just wanted to be a legend that dominated,” Mere said.
“We played to have fun,” Hentgen added.
“And,” said Steph, “we just happened to kick ass while we did it.”