Poly Club Inducts Six into WPI Athletics Hall of Fame; Vassallo Earns Harrington Award

Poly Club Inducts Six into WPI Athletics Hall of Fame;  Vassallo Earns Harrington Award

The WPI Athletic Department, Poly Club, and Hall of Fame Selection Committee is proud to announce its 37th Class, the Class of 2019. The six newest members were inducted on Friday, October 4th as part of Homecoming Weekend.

The inductees include: John Bibinski '84 (Football), Kristen (Garza) Reader '11 (Women's Soccer), Steve Graveline '87 (Wrestling), Don Maki '80 (Baseball), Larry Noble (Men's Rowing Coach) and Jason Steele (Women's Rowing Coach). To kick off the evening, Helen Vassallo was recognized as the Frank C. Harrington (1898) Award recipient.

Don Maki '80 - Baseball

The Ace. The Stopper. Mr. Dependable. So said student newspaper Newspeak reporter Fred Beaucoup, describing standout right-handed pitcher Don Maki.

Don's junior season was highlighted by throwing a complete game in one of the most historic games in New England college baseball history. He gave what head coach Charlie McNulty termed his "biggest thrill" when he went the distance in a 6-5 victory over Brandeis on May 7, 1979.

Staked to a 6-5 advantage in the bottom of the ninth, Don walked the bases loaded with two outs, but retired Ray DiCarlo on a flyout to defeat the 23-0 Judges and snap the longest single-season winning streak in New England college baseball history. He defeated a Brandeis offense that had a pair of future professional players in William Carpenter of the Boston Red Sox organization and Vincent Russomagno of the St. Louis Cardinals organization. The victory also handed McNulty his 200th coaching victory.

Don closed out his career in style in 1980, throwing complete games in four of his five starts, including three shutouts in 1980.

Among senior year highlights was his come-frombehind victory over Amherst that was ranked seventh nationally and first in New England, and a gem against Division II Hartford. That was one of the best-pitched games we've had in the past 10 years," said McNulty. "He was never really in trouble against a good division II team. He also twirled a clean sheet in a 3-0 victory over Coast Guard."

Don's final start was a 3-0 one-hitter against MIT. He finished the season with a 4-1 record and a 2.19 ERA—he notched 37 strikeouts and allowed just 24 hits in 37 innings of work.

"Don is the only pitcher in the over 100 years of WPI Baseball who defeated a Division I, Division II, and two nationally ranked Division III teams," says teammate Tom Villani. "I have been following WPI baseball for 40 years as a player and as a fan, and there's no doubt he's one of the top three pitchers to wear the Crimson and Gray."

Upon graduation from WPI with a degree in chemical engineering, Don played baseball with the New Brunswick (Canada) Senior League team for two seasons. He continued playing baseball until age 53—for a while playing alongside his two sons—and was inducted into the Tri-State Baseball League Hall of Fame. He coached baseball for 10 years and recently began coaching high school track & field—in particular, the throwing events. He recently returned from the US National Masters Track & Field meet with a silver medal in the javelin throw, his fourth medal at the national level.

Don is a native of Worcester and currently resides in Woodbury, Conn., with his wife, Janice. They have three children—Pete, Sara, and Alex. He retired from a career among a number of companies in the chemical industry two years ago and now enjoys traveling, in particular to visit their three grandchildren in North Carolina.

John Bibinski '84 - Football

Despite only arriving on Boynton Hill for his sophomore year, John Bibinski earned varsity letters—three in football, two in baseball— and made an impact on a pair of club programs during his three years at WPI.

A standout defensive back, John earned first team All-New England honors at safety. He was among the leaders of the undefeated 1983 team in defensive tackles and interceptions. It was the first Engineers football team since 1954 to finish with a perfect record (8-0) and ranked first in New England, third in the Lambert Poll in the east, and ninth in the nation. WPI allowed only 7 points per game and finished with two shutouts over UMass Lowell and Hamilton and rivalry victories over RPI and Coast Guard. The Crimson and Gray was ranked fifth nationally in Division III in rushing defense and was the only undefeated, untied team that season in New England.

"John was the heart and soul of the defense on that team, and was the spiritual leader in our clubhouse, on and off the field," commented 1983 tri-captain Ed Moffitt. "He also covered kicks, and was always the first one down on the kickoff team making it difficult for the opposition to return kicks".

As a junior, John had an interception, 25 tackles, including 12 first hits, and an interception. As a team the Engineers went 5-3, knocking off Fairleigh Dickinson, Coast Guard, Colby, Lowell, and Hamilton.

His first season playing defense saw the Engineers post a 6-2 record in 1981, including claiming the newly created Transit Trophy for the first time with a 27-14 home victory over RPI.

"The 1983 squad is one of the legendary teams, not only in the history of WPI football, but in all of WPI athletics," remarks current head football coach Chris Robertson. "John's ability and presence not only resulted in the 1983 undefeated season, but helped highlight a dominant period of Engineers football during his three years on Boynton Hill."

He was more than a football standout, earning two letters with the baseball team. He served as a starting pitcher and a first baseman, earning a pair of victories on the mound during his senior season in 1982.

He also enjoyed tremendous success for the club ice hockey program. As the starting goaltender, he led the 1982 WPI team to the New England Small College Club Conference Division championship with an undefeated/ untied (20-0-0) record. He also played club rugby for one season.

A native of Milton, Mass., he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering. His MQP optimized CAD/CAM to ensure the most efficient material usage in manufacturing Kevlar bulletproof vests for the U.S. Army by Norton Company.

John is a sales and service distribution manager with Hogan Brothers Coffee in Framingham. He resides in Marlborough with his wife, Kathryn, and their three daughters, Christina, Diana, and Melissa.

Larry Noble - Men's Rowing

Crew has a long and storied history at WPI. As the program transitioned into the athletic program 20 years ago, Larry Noble was charged with the task of leading the way and the Engineers have tasted success ever since.

Under the guidance of the 2017 Joy of Sculling Men's Division III Collegiate Coach of the Year, the varsity eight hoisted the Rusty Callow Trophy for the first time in 38 years when the crew handily defeated defending champion Bates at the New England Rowing Championship—the novice four also struck gold for the Crimson and Gray. A week later, Noble was feted as Coach of the Year for the second time in his career, and first since 2010, following a bronze medal performance by the varsity eight at the National Invitational Rowing Championship.

In addition to a collegiate four gold at the 2010 Head of the Charles and a title at the 2016 ECAC Championships, Noble's crews have made significant strides during his tenure with the Engineers. The program turned from a club sport to a varsity sport upon his arrival. Since the fall of 1999, WPI has jumped from five varsity athletes to a very solid program that now includes over 50 members. At the 2005 New England Championships, the Crimson and Gray captured the Varsity Four title. Two years later, all five boats made the finals for the first time in the program's history.

 "Coach Noble not only continues to build on the success that WPI Crew experienced with winning NERCs in 2005 and 2017, he continues to build an amazing alumni base that cares so much for the program," reflected former rower and current longtime assistant coach Bryan Pursell '05. "Over his twenty years of coaching at WPI he has changed so many lives and continues to do so just by being himself and listening, helping, and pushing his rowers and coxswains".

WPI has dominated the Baker Cup (Tufts) and fared well in the Class of 2013 Cup (Wesleyan, Colby, UMass) in the past decade. The Class of 2009 Cup belonged to the Engineers all four times it was contested versus RIT (2009–2012), while the McCarthy-McGee Challenge Cup (BC) remained in the DRC following the 2016 and 2017 regattas.

Noble's charges have also had success on the international stage. The Engineers won the intermediate eight at the Reading Town Regatta, the warm-up for the prestigious Royal Henley Regatta in 2009. Seven years later, the Crimson and Gray won the freshman four. Individually, a quartet of Boynton Hillers have represented Team USA on the international stage, including Hank Moore '11, Ben Johnson '11, Tobin McGee '10, and John Madura '11.

Larry came to WPI from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, where he was head crew coach from 1994-99. Before that coached novices at his alma mater's Columbia and Virginia. He lives in Storrs, Conn., with his wife, Melanie, they two children, Beth and Christopher.

Jason Steele - Women's Rowing

It's rare to see someone improve an already solid nomination after being selected for a hall of fame. Jason Steele did just that when he was named the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association (CRCA) Division III National Head Coach of the Year after the Engineers took second at the 2019 NCAA Division III Women's Rowing Championship in Indianapolis.

Arguably more impressive was the program's debut on the international stage as Kinsey McNamara '19 competed for Team USA as the only Division III representative at the Under 23 World Championships, where she helped the eight win a bronze at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota, Fla.

No stranger to national accolades, the 2018 Joy of Sculling Women's Collegiate Coach of the Year collected his third NEWMAC Coach of the Year honor in 2019, boasted 10 CRCA National Scholar Athletes, featuring the NCAA Division III Elite 90 award winner Sarah St. Pierre, and two CRCA All-Americans.

As the first head coach of women's rowing after its inception as a varsity sport in 1999, WPI's rise to prominence began immediately upon his arrival. WPI has consistently ranked among the nation's top DIII Rowing teams. In 2004, WPI's varsity eight was ranked second in the nation, missing the country's top slot by less than one second.

"Jason Steele has at least 20 metaphors for every aspect of the rowing stroke," remarks Hall of Fame rower Jessica McAlear '04. "He says it's his job to convey the correct movement to the athletes, and if one metaphor doesn't work for one athlete, he'll use another, until everyone understands. The current generation may be too young for this pop culture reference, but a favorite example from my days was Jason describing the Laverne & Shirley intro opening sequence in the Miller Brewing Company, comparing the moving beer bottle line with the moving water along the boat."

The past two seasons have been banner years for the Crimson and Gray, having finished in the top three at the national regatta both times. In all, the varsity eight was 33-0 in the 2019 spring regular season, including an upset of eventual national champion Bates, and was ranked No. 1 for three weeks. The NEWMAC Champions and runner-up at the New England Rowing Championships were third at the Head of the Charles. The triumphs this past spring helped WPI sweep all three cups contested on Lake Quinsigamond, including the Barbara Grant Donahue Cup versus Williams, Connecticut College, and Simmons. It was only the second time the Engineers have earned the cup and the first time since 2004.

Jason has boasted a pair of CoSIDA Academic All- Americans, including Hall of Fame inductee Jessica McAlear, who headlined the Engineers lineup in the early years. At the conference level, the program has exceeded 100 Academic All-NEWMAC laurels.

A local product from Hudson, Mass., Jason rowed scholastically at St. John's and collegiately at Emory, helping start the program in Georgia. After graduation he stayed involved with the Eagles, serving as head coach from 1994 to 1999 and was instrumental in the planning and construction of Emory's boathouse, which is named in his honor on Stone Mountain Lake. Jason and his wife, Sara, live in Princeton with their 7-year old daughter, Elise.

Kristen (Garza) Reader '11 - Women's Soccer

In athletics, it's good to be consistent and it's good to be dominant. Kristen pulled off the rare feat of being consistently dominant as she became the first WPI Women's Soccer player to earn All-NEWMAC honors during all four seasons en route to being the program's all-time leading scorer.

She wasted no time bursting onto the collegiate soccer scene, picking up a NEWMAC Athlete of the Week award in her second week in 2007, and being named to the conference's first team after bagging a career-high 15 goals.

She proved she had a flair for the dramatics her sophomore campaign of 2008 as she registered an assist and tallied the game-winning goal late as the Engineers went on the road and defeated previously NEWMAC unbeaten Babson 2-1 to secure a conference tournament bid of the final day of league play.

Kristin posted her third straight season of doubledigit goal scoring in 2009 and returned to the conference's first team after delivering 13 goals and five assists during her junior season. During her senior year, she continued to grow as a playmaker, doling out a careerbest six assists on her way to 18 points and yet another first-team All-NEWMAC nod.

"I was lucky enough to play with Kristen for four years at WPI," says teammate Katie Partridge. "She was such a talented athlete and it was so exciting celebrating each of her records. We continue to play soccer together today, and I am so blessed to still call her one of my best friends on and off the field!"

She is still WPI's career leader in goals (44) and points (106), and she capped her career with by playing in the NEWISA Senior Bowl. Her success was not limited to the field as she also drew accolades for her work in the classroom. She was a two-time ESPN/CoSIDA All-District I selection and was named to the NEWMAC's All-Academic team for her last three years on Boynton Hill.

"Kristen was one of my favorite players and, better yet, one of my favorite people," quipped head coach Stephanie Carlson. "Her dedication to our program and the development of the younger player was unparalleled. Managing her academics, sorority responsibilities, and soccer commitment seemed effortless for her!"

A native of Kingston, Mass., she graduated with high distinction with a degree in management information systems and minors in computer science and international studies. She traveled to Melbourne, Australia, to complete her IQP while working with the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organization investigating the impact of the organization's educational programs. While on campus, she was an admissions intern, served on the executive board of Phi Sigma Sigma, and worked in the athletic training room in addition to her soccer team commitments.

She enjoys staying connected to the WPI community by serving as Housing Corporation president for Phi Sigma Sigma sorority and serving as an outreach chair for WPI's User Experience Consortium.

After kicking off her career at GE Healthcare, Kristin recently changed companies and is now a project manager at PatientKeeper, helping to implement EHR software at hospitals around the US. In 2017 she married her college sweetheart, Hal Reader '11—they reside in Worcester.

Steve Graveline '86 - Wrestling

Many WPI wrestlers have tasted success on the mat but few have the combination of individual and team success that Steve Graveline enjoyed.

Graveline is one of only 17 wrestlers in the program's history to be a four-time all-regional grappler and one of just nine of that exclusive club to have won a New England title.

He accomplished all his feats at the 190-pound weight class. He began with a fifth-place showing at the 1984 championships and finished a spot better as a sophomore in 1985. After another fifth-place showing as a junior, he saved his best for his senior campaign in 1987 when he brought home the New England championship.

In dual meets Graveline posted a stellar career record of 31–11, for a winning percentage of .738. His final two seasons on Boynton Hill were his most impressive, going 9–2 as a junior in 1985–86 before finishing with a 10–1 dual meet mark as a senior during the 1986–87 season.

"Steve was one of the most team-oriented wrestlers, always working to pull everyone together for team unity and focus," says Hall of Fame coach Phil Grebinar. "Wrestling at 190, Steve was one of our closers, wrestling at the end of a meet to successfully ensure a team victory."

He helped the Engineers capture a pair of New England team championships during his career.  They took home the crown in 1985 and he was the captain on the dominate 1987 team that saw all 10 wrestlers place in winning the title. WPI also won dual meets at an amazing clip during his career. The Engineers posted a 70–7 for an eye-popping .909 winning percentage.   

After his days as a wrestler were over, Graveline stayed close to the sport, officiating the NCAA and high school levels, including several regional and national tournament and served as the Tournament Director when WPI hosted the 2018 NCAA Division III Northeast regional Championship.

Digger is the epitome of what it means to be a member of the WPI Wrestling family," comments Hall of Fame teammate Steve Hall. "Not only was he a four-year starter on arguably the best team in the history of WPI, he has been a very active alumni supporter of the wrestling program for over 30 years. He is an example of what membership in the family means to everyone—where multiple members are present in wedding party and christening photos."

WPI has been a family affair for the Gravelines—dad Stan '58, brothers Stan '89 and Jeff  '90; his daughter, Elizabeth '20, competes on the women's rowing team.

A native of Nashua, N.H., Graveline graduated with a BS in electrical engineering and earned his MS at the University of Massachusetts in 1990. He is currently director of the Advanced Microwave Products Center at BAE Systems in Nashua, where he has spent the majority of his career. He and Peg, his wife of 27 years, live in Litchfield; they have three children—Jonathan, Elizabeth, and Matthew.

Helen Vassallo '82 – Frank C. Harrington (1898) Award

Helen Vassallo '82 was the second woman to become a full professor at WPI— a professor whose far-ranging interests included performing in WPI theatre productions and flying helicopters, a sought-after public speaker renowned for her inspirational talks to organizations near and far. She concluded 36 years as a full-time faculty member in December 2018.

Her arrival at WPI was the demarcation point between two eras in her career. The first was rooted in the life sciences. With a BS in biology and an MS in pharmacology from Tufts University, she taught at Brandeis, Clark, Tufts, and WPI before joining Astra Pharmaceutical (now AstraZeneca), where she rose to become director of scientific and professional communication.

While at Astra she earned a PhD in physiology at Tufts and an MBA at WPI. The Institute was looking for a faculty member with street smarts for its Management Department, so they hired her (even though she told her recruiters that what she really had were "street dumbs"). She earned the Harry Stoddard Professorship and headed the department for five years. Active in faculty governance, she was the first woman elected Secretary of the Faculty and was a longtime parliamentarian at faculty meetings.

She chaired or served on three commissions on the state of women—two at WPI and one for the City of Worcester. She was the advisor to Phi Sigma Sigma sorority and to first-year women students, and is beloved by generations of alumnae. She was active in many community organizations, including the Girl Scouts. The city recognized her with its Woman of Consequence Award; WPI recognized her with its Board of Trustees' Award for Outstanding Teaching and its Goat's Head Lifetime Commitment Award.

These and so many other milestones were on the minds of the faculty when they surprised her with testimonials and a cake at her last faculty meeting—lauding her, in the words of one colleague, as "a model for what we all should aspire to."

—Mike Dorsey (excerpt from WPI JOURNAL, Summer 2019)

"Helen Vassallo was a great supporter and mentor to many student-athletes, as well as to all other students—she provided academic support, leadership, advising, and counseling. Students could approach her knowing she would present them with worldly advice and insight during their growth and maturity as college students."
—Phil Grebinar, Hall of Fame wrestling coach