A year tough to match

It’s easy to get caught up in the moment as you follow a team, but when you step back and put a year into perspective, it can be shocking to put together the big picture.

That’s the way the 2008-2009 year was for St. Thomas sports.

No time was wasted at the beginning of the school year as the fall sports quickly got after winning seasons. First-year football coach Glenn Caruso inherited a 2-8 squad and transformed them, seemingly overnight, into a team with a winning attitude. That attitude carried the Tommies to a 7-3 finish, the third biggest turnaround in college football.

Second-year women’s soccer coach Sheila McGill took her team into the season projected for a sixth-place finish in the MIAC. With a win on Nov. 1 against St. Olaf, the Tommies finished an amazing regular season run of undefeated play against conference opponents to win the MIAC.

Not to be outdone, the Tommie men’s soccer team ran the table at home for a perfect 10-0 record on the South Campus pitch.

Moving into the winter months, the St. Thomas men’s basketball team headlined a long list of indoor accomplishments. The Tommie men rode a perfect season deep into the NCAA tournament, winning its conference championship and becoming the first Minnesota program to receive a No. 1 ranking along the way. The team’s unbeaten run brought the local and national media spotlight to campus for the final season at historic Schoenecker Arena.

The Tommie volleyball team swept both its regular season conference schedule and the MIAC tournament to qualify for the national tournament.

In the pool, the men and women’s swimming team broke 21 school records and took third place at the MIAC tournament, the highest finish in more than 15 years. They also qualified four swimmers, Peter Mullee, Erik Huls, Jena Root and Becca Ney, for the national tournament, which was highlighted by Mullee’s second place finish in the 200 backstroke.

MIAC Player of the Year and All-American Jackie Carrol led the women’s hockey team all the way to the MIAC playoff finals. But the women fell to then No. 1 nationally-ranked Gustavus.

Despite everything that preceded it, spring refused to be a let down. Women’s track and field sent 11 athletes to the NCAA Nationals, including 4×100 and 4×400 relay teams. Katie Theisen led the Tommie women in her senior season. Theisen remains one of 10 semifinalists for the Division-III NCAA Woman of the Year Award.

Men’s track and field took nationals by storm, placing third and missing second by only one point — the best team finish since 1993. On top of that, the 4×100 and 4×400 relays won national championships, becoming the first ever men’s relay team from Minnesota to do so.

The St. Thomas year in sports got an added highlight from the club lacrosse team. On May 16, the men beat the University of Dayton for the Division-II national championship. The Tommies set a tournament record for most goals scored in the three victories needed to secure the championship.

Finally, the St. Thomas baseball team gave Tommie fans something to cheer about even after final exams had finished. On May 26, St. Thomas beat Wooster 3-2 to win the Division-III national championship. Coach Dennis Denning was even named the Division-III National Coach of the Year. The national title was the first for St. Thomas since softball won back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2005.

St. Thomas sports information director Gene McGivern described the year well.

“There were five years worth of highlights in nine months,” McGivern said. “It’s easy to take for granted what some of these teams did… you want to put it into perspective.”

With such a long list of standouts from last year, which included nine conference championships, six Academic All-Americans, two post-graduate scholars, two team national championships and two relay national championships, it’s not too much of a stretch to put the year into perspective.

With construction on the new Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex beginning last year, decades from now, the 2008-2009 season might just be pointed to as one of the best years in St. Thomas athletics. Ever.

Jordan Osterman can be reached at jrosterman@stthomas.edu

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