A look back: The top 10 Wash. U. sports moments of 2017
It was an eventful 2017 for the Washington University Bears. The Danforth Campus saw personnel changes: meeting a new athletic director and saying goodbye to the women’s basketball coach of 31 years. There were league titles, stellar senior seasons and a couple of national titles to boot. Looking back, here are Student Life’s top sports moments from this past year. Some of them were important, some were historic and some were just great storylines.
Azama introduced as new athletic director: Perhaps not as exciting as some of the actual games on this list, but nonetheless important enough round out the top 10, Wash. U. introduced just its third permanent athletic director of the past 40 years this March. It is too early to gauge how Anthony Azama has done in his tenure so far, but it was a big moment for the department to have a permanent director for the first time since Josh Whitman left in February 2016.
Cross-country finishes fifth, third at nationals: Very quietly, the cross-country team has been one of the most consistent Wash. U. programs over the past five years or so. They underscored that just last month, when both the men’s and women’s teams finished in the national top five for the second straight year. All the more impressive, considering they did it all in 30-degree weather, at a time when most Wash. U. students were probably still in bed.
Volleyball’s thrilling rematch against Calvin: In 2016, Calvin College blitzed the volleyball team in the NCAA final, running away with a 3-0 victory. It looked like the same thing would happen this year, as the Knights once again jumped ahead 2-0, but this time the Bears fought back, and forced a decisive fifth set. And though the fifth set would end in heartbreak, as Calvin won 16-14, the Bears’ fightback was one of the most exciting performances from any Wash. U. team this year.
Wash. U. second in Learfield Cup: This is almost not news, considering Wash. U. has finished in the top five of the Learfield Cup—which is awarded to the school with the best overall finishes across NCAA championships in all sports—for the past 10 years. That being said, finishing a narrow second in the Learfield Cup behind a Williams College program that has won every single year save for two is still a remarkable accomplishment.
Jake Mintz goes from blogger to shutdown reliever: The feel-good story of the year! Jake Mintz came into college baseball, switched from a position player to a pitcher, and struggled mightily, posting a 27.00 ERA in his freshman season. Throughout his first three years of college he was mostly known for running the popular MLB blog “Cespedes Family BBQ” rather than anything he accomplished on the field. Then, in his senior season Mintz became one of the most dominant right-handed relievers in Division III, and his single-season ERA of 0.89 was only 0.20 off the all-time Wash. U. best of 0.69. Not bad for a blogger.
Cunningham and DeConinck turn it around against Chicago: The University of Chicago had probably the best women’s soccer team in Division III this season. They did not concede a goal for the entire month of October, and they only conceded once in the NCAA playoffs – the winning goal in the championship game against Williams College. So the situation seemed dire for Wash. U. when they went down 1-0 against the Maroons on the last day of the season with a UAA title on the line. That was until junior midfielder Darcy Cunningham fired a left-footed rocket from 30 yards out that flew into the net. Just 41 seconds later, freshman forward Ellie DeConinck found herself behind the Chicago defense and put the Bears up 2-1, a scoreline that held until full time. The Bears scored two goals against Chicago in 41 seconds—something no other team did in 90 minutes—and won a split of the UAA title in the process.
Orr’s runner wins the UAA title at the buzzer: This might be the most exciting individual play on this list. In what was effectively the UAA women’s basketball title game, Wash. U. made a dramatic comeback late on against the University of Chicago thanks to good 3-point shooting and some free throw misses by the Maroons. With the score knotted at 75 and only six seconds left to play, then-junior Natalie Orr drove into the lane and threw up a 10-foot floater that fell through the hoop as time expired, clinching the game—and conference championship—for the Bears.
Rebecca Ho sets all-time wins record: Mintz was not the only senior to leave a mark in their final year. Last spring, Rebecca Ho set the courts of Division III tennis ablaze with a remarkable farewell tour, in which she posted a remarkable 33-4 record in singles, with one of those losses coming in the individual national championship match. She spent the entire season at the number one spot in singles, meaning every single one of her 33 wins came against the opposing team’s best player. Her 57 overall wins in 2017 brought her final career tally to 191, breaking the record of 183 Debbie Mickelson had held since 1992.
Lizzy Crist named NCAA woman of the year: It feels like we have been talking about Lizzy Crist forever, but then again maybe we should. She was the backbone of the 2016 women’s soccer team that took home the national championship, a year in which she was the NSCAA National Player of the Year, D3Soccer.com Goalkeeper of the Year and the NCAA Championship Most Outstanding Defensive Player. Oh, and she did all that while graduating with a 3.9 GPA in biomedical engineering. As a final recognition for her Wash. U. career, Crist was named NCAA Woman of the Year on Oct. 23, becoming only the fifth Division III player to win that honor in its 27 years.
Women’s track goes back-to-back: Until the women’s soccer team’s national title in the fall 2016, Wash. U. had not won an NCAA championship since 2011. Coming into 2017, Wash. U. had won 20 team national championships, in 100 or so years of trying. In other words, it’s rare that a Wash. U. team gets to hoist the national championship trophy at the end of the season. That did not stop women’s track and field, however. In fact, nothing stopped women’s track and field, as they took home not one but two national championships in 2017, winning both the indoor and outdoor titles. The Bears were also victims of scheduling: they won their outdoor title after most students left for the summer, denying them their moment in the spotlight. The 2017 women’s track and field team accounts for 9 percent of all of Wash. U.’s national championships, and that is more than enough for them to top our list.