Give WashU’s Division III sports a shot

and | Managing Sports Editor and Junior Sports Editor

Elle Su | Student Life

For many incoming college students across the country, the image of the quintessential college experience includes some element of a sports game-day culture. If you ended up at WashU, that element most likely wasn’t a key component in your college decision.

Tens of thousands of people will not be packing Francis Field every Saturday to watch a football game, and college basketball fans probably won’t be watching the WashU basketball teams on ESPN anytime soon. Washington University competes in NCAA Division III, which for many students, serves as an easy excuse to ignore the WashU athletic teams. We’re here to tell you why that’s wrong. 

While some students view competing in Division III as a weakness, it creates unique opportunities for student-athletes and Bears fans alike. Where else can you stand courtside as junior guard Yogi Oliff sinks a last-second free-throw to kick off a court-storming celebration and send Bears basketball to the Sweet 16, or stand next to the field as graduate-student Ally Hackett’s penalty kick sends the women’s soccer team to the Final Four? Or on almost any ordinary spring Saturday, where else can you walk to the track to watch runners shatter national records while competing for WashU’s National Champion women’s track and field team?

Yes, WashU and the Division III schools it competes against may not have the name appeal or professional-level talent of an SEC or Big Ten powerhouse. Still, its student-athletes are more than capable of regularly competing at the highest levels of their sports and creating all of the drama and intensity in pursuit of conference and national championships that you are used to watching on television.

While Division III, which is now entering its 51st year, can be considered the lowest of the NCAA’s three athletic divisions, it is full of academic and athletic powerhouses that attract some of the nation’s best talent. Division III athletes, including former WashU students, often make an impact in pro sports: recent WashU alumni Ryan Loutos, Caleb Durbin, Andrew Whitaker, and Jack Nolan have recently cracked rosters in the MLB, NFL, and NBA G-League.  

WashU competes in the University Athletic Association (UAA), affectionately known as the “Egghead Eight” due to the strong academic reputations of its eight member schools — WashU, Brandeis University, Carnegie Mellon University, Case Western Reserve University, Emory University, New York University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Rochester. These schools, however, are not just renowned for their academic prowess — they also feature some of the top sports teams in Division III in nearly every sport. Last year, out of the eight UAA teams, seven won games in the national women’s soccer tournament, four made the men’s March Madness bracket, and four schools had teams ranked in the Top 15 in both men’s and women’s tennis.

Year after year, WashU’s athletes compete with the best in Division III and have earned the University a reputation as one of the best all-around athletic programs in the division. Over the last 35 years, WashU teams have won 25 national championships, with the most recent being the women’s track and field team this May, and made 87 Final Four appearances. WashU’s football team regularly goes toe-to-toe with Top 10 teams in Division III, its soccer teams are among the best in the nation, its baseball and softball squads are NCAA tournament regulars, and its basketball teams are perennial contenders in March Madness.

And unlike large Division I schools where athletics can be all-consuming, there is not a stark divide between students who are athletes and those who are not. Student-athletes will be in your classes, on your floor, and in the clubs you are involved in. As WashU volleyball head coach Vanessa Walby wrote last fall, “Our athletes aren’t just athletes. They are students, they are singers, they are improv comedians, they are researchers, they have similar interests as everyone else, and they really want to connect with everyone.”

So just as you might attend a play or concert to support a friend or read your suitemate’s article in StudLife, go attend games to support the people you’ve become friends with that are on sports teams. Division III athletes, who do not receive scholarships or significant amounts of extra support to compete, play for their passion for the game. So go check out a game, cheer on your peers, and who knows, you might just end up coming back week after week.

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