It's the fourth quarter for my fellow Collegian seniors and me. I'm sure Papa Spear and the rest of the journalism department had a collective cringe with my lede, which began with probably the most cliche saying in sports, but it's true. This is our last issue together, and seniors throughout the campus are wrapping up their theses, projects and more as we prepare for what lies ahead.
Throughout my nearly four years at the University of Richmond, I have witnessed some of the most prolific teams in school history. And the school's successes in athletics are not limited to the (modest) money-making sports such as football and men's basketball.
Yes, so far my favorite Spider sports memory was the FCS National Championship Game during December 2008 in Chattanooga, Tenn. I was fortunate enough to go and observe sports history in the making. I rushed the field. I wore more red and blue than any normal person should wear (I'm not sure whether red and blue were part of the winter collection in the most recent issue of "Vogue").
The Spiders scored first and in fashion against a University of Montana team that had won the national championship before. Senior fullback John Crone took a pitch from junior quarterback Eric Ward and threw a bomb back to Ward, who caught it around the 15-yard-line. Ward had no problem reaching the end zone. That play was the perfect way to start scoring on the national stage.
The best picture I took was not even in sharp focus, clearly a wasted shot in photojournalism, right? Wrong. With my little point-and-shoot Canon camera, I captured one of my favorite snapshots of the tournament: a blurry scoreboard with fireworks in the background - Richmond 24, Montana 7.
Then of course, there is the men's basketball team. I'll be the first to admit, I thought this day would never come. A day in which we have two, if not more than two, NBA-draft prospects, a tough-as-nails coach who will not accept anything less than the best, one of the smartest, trickiest offenses in the country and a trip to the Sweet 16. How sweet it is indeed.
I have followed Richmond sports my whole life because my parents are alums. I don't want to say too much for fear of jinxing the team (yes, I am THAT superstitious fan), but consider this: the last time the Kansas University Jayhawks tipped off against the Spiders, the Spiders prevailed on a last-second shot by senior guard Tony Dobbins. That was in 2004, under former head coach Jerry Wainwright, who ran a completely different style of basketball. Who is to say that Richmond is only allowed one win over Kansas? Not I.
I am immensely proud of the progress the men's team has made. The difference between that 8-22 team in the 2006-2007 season and the current team is inexplicable. Certainly, the current senior class has a lot to do with it. I won't say any more for fear of bad juju, but regardless, this team is one of the best in school history, plain and simple.
The women's basketball team, led by superstar senior Brittani Shells, is also a team that has shined during the past four years, despite not having made the NCAA tournament. Any true basketball aficionado knows that the selection committee can be a bit biased against smaller schools (case in point: The city of Richmond has the same number of schools playing in the men's Sweet 16 as the whole Big East conference ... big fail). But for the women's selection committee to deny the Spiders four times with Shells having scored more than 2,000 career points and having more than 300 career steals is a robbery. They overcame much adversity while playing some of the best teams in the country, as well as adjusting to having to play when a slew of injuries hampered the team's options.
As a former basketball player, I know what it is like to play your best and not reap the rewards. Yet, people should appreciate this team for reaching post-season play in the Women's National Invitational Tournament for three straight years. Not many teams in the country, men's or women's, can say that they have seen post-season play three times in a row. I am sure that the graduating class led by Shells will go on to do great things, basketball-related or not.
The baseball team has had its fair share of struggles on and off the field. As the team put the off-the-field issues to rest, it had to adjust to a new season, which started off with a few losses before churning out a win. I don't know or understand why they play so many games, but I'm sure as the season progresses, people will forget about the mishaps with breaking the law and people will remember breaking bats and records.
The women's swim and dive team often swims below the surface (pun intended). Yet this is a team that has captured more Atlantic 10 conference championships in a row than any other sport at Richmond, men's or women's. The team is dedicated to excellence, and its nine conference championships out of the past ten years show everyone its unheralded success.
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Another sport that has been prolific within the past four years (but is often run over by albeit more exciting/interesting sports) is the cross country and track and field programs. Senior cross country runners Andrew Benford, Matt Llano and Tim Quinn propelled the men's team to the NCAA championships, competing against the top schools in the nation. The women's team, led by seniors Nicol Traynor and Amy Van Alstine, also stayed ahead of the pack as the women's team captured the A-10 conference championship.
The field hockey team holds a special place in my heart among the senior class. Since living on a hall in LoRo with two members and rooming with one player sophomore year (hi Mich!), I was so happy and proud to hear of the team's success when it was crowned A-10 conference champs while I was abroad in fall 2009. They work relentlessly year-round, and in the end, it paid off.
The same is true for the women's lacrosse team. I don't know how they do it, but if I lost several of the season's first games, even to the top teams in the country, it would be devastating. But the Spiders use those tough games to their advantage and end up winning in the end of the season.
The soccer programs are looking to regain some footing as the men's team adjusts to a new coach and the women's team builds upon its late-season success for the 2011 season. Though it may be trite, these student-athletes, as well as all student-athletes at Richmond, work round-the-clock to perfect a sport that they love.
Both tennis teams and golf teams have had their highs and lows, but it seems as if both programs are on an upward trend, similar to a strong drive or powerful forehand.
I think that covers every sport. While I will be the first to admit that I am not necessarily a fan of every sport at Richmond, I will always be the first to respect our amazing student-athletes. I'm in awe everyday when I see players hustle from class to class and then off to practice or lift and yet they still have homework and more studying to do. My schedule is jam-packed with extracurricular activities, but it takes a special dedication to be a student-athlete at Richmond. It also takes a special athlete. I have seen some of the best moments in Richmond sports history during my time here as a student and as sports editor of The Collegian (even while I was abroad in Galway, Ireland).
We may not be in a BCS league, but that only makes our hunger and desire for excellence stronger. I love nothing more than beating not one, but many bigger schools in various sports just to keep them humble. Case in point? March Madness. That's all I got to say about that, to quote Forrest Gump. But now, I must bid adieu to the sports desk in the basement of North Court and say hello to Cellar Wednesdays. Continue in your excellence, Richmond Spiders.
Contact staff writer Amelia Vogler at firstname.lastname@example.org
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