Column: A banner year

Each May GW students pack the Ellipse for Commencement activities. This year’s crop, however, is a bit different; they have experienced and seen a lot. They were mere freshmen on September 11. In the less-important arena of GW sports, they also sat through a 10-game men’s basketball losing streak – one which if it happened today would result in GWhoops.com, a popular basketball message board, calling for the termination of head coach Karl Hobbs, Athletic Director Jack Kvancz and Senior Vice President Robert Chernak.

But this class also has seen the rise of GW athletics to national prominence. Still sometimes, you just need to face the facts. While your friends talk about their Big Ten or ACC schools’ athletic prowess, GW’s athletic department has been like the goofy uncle that you don’t want to talk about. You’ve had to explain a great deal of times that we aren’t Georgetown. And yes, we are the school without the football team.

In the fall, when many big state schools nationwide are welcoming network television trucks for the big game, students in Foggy Bottom are relegated to their television screens in envy.

But in the past year, the GW athletic program has been the focal point of much national attention. ESPN’s several visits to the Smith Center for basketball put this urban school, the same one that is without a football team, in the spotlight.

What cameras missed and what goes unspoken during the telecasts are the successes that many GW programs have enjoyed in recent years.

In the 184 years of its existence, what seemed like insurmountable hurdles were in the way of the athletic program succeeding. With the construction of the Mount Vernon Athletic Complex, GW has established itself as a perennial conference and even national contender.

There was the 1997 Elite 8 trip that the women’s basketball team made under head coach Joe McKeown. Some may remember the baseball team’s last trip to the NCAA tournament in 2002.

But those banners are old. This year, the Colonials were able to add some new artwork to the rafters of its 22nd Street headquarters.

The 2004-2005 academic year brought Foggy Bottom its fair share of memorable moments. We traveled from cool and damp days of the fall on Mount Vernon cheering a men’s soccer team that refused to relent during its Atlantic 10 Tournament victory, to the loud nights in the Smith Center watching two basketball teams making strides toward success. Finally, and more recently, the spring showcased a fourth-year varsity squad that garnered national recognition for the first time in its history.

After posting a 7-8-3 season and six wins in the A-10, the men’s soccer team hosted the conference’s tournament on a cool weekend in November. The Colonials were able to catch fire in front of 800 fans at Mount Vernon to beat Temple 2-0. The championship was the team’s second title in three years.

“We knew it was there, this was the expectation that we hold ourselves at,” senior captain Trent Wilee said after the victory. “We are arrogant and kind of expect to win. That’s how confident we are, we’d be disappointed if we didn’t. I had nothing but faith.”

The Colonials were pit against a perennial national powerhouse in the University of North Carolina in the first round, but Chapel Hill proved to be as welcoming as the field on Fox Hall Road. GW pulled off a major upset and beat the Tar Heels on Tobacco Road in North Carolina, 1-0. The last time the Colonials were able to record a win in the NCAA Tournament was 1989. With the win, the squad’s winning streak was extended to 10 games.

The joyride ended in Richmond, Va., to local rival Virginia Commonwealth, as the Rams shut out GW 2-0.

The women’s cross country program was one of the fall’s most impressive squads, collecting five first-place finishes. The men’s team also showed improvement, with a win at the GW Invitational.

Fall was rough for the women’s volleyball team, which was coming off one of the best seasons in school history. The Colonials (7-23) hit a roadblock somewhere along the line, going on a seven-match losing streak to start the season, a 10-game skid mid-season, and a four-game winless streak to close out the campaign.

The women’s soccer squad, led by sophomore national standout Sarah Sample, impressed many on the road with a win against South Dakota State and a tie with Creighton University. In the Georgetown Invitational, the Colonials topped Quinnipiac University and tied perennial Ivy League powerhouse Dartmouth.

After kicking off the winter season at Colonial Invasion, the University’s basketball teams began one of the most successful years in school history. The men’s squad opened the season in the pre-season N.I.T. at Wake Forest University. After hanging tough with the Demon Deacs for most of the game, the Colonials eventually fell, 97-76.

Coach Hobbs’ squad provided nail-biters all season long, including the heartbreaking loss at home to UMass on Rashaun Freeman’s tip-in and sophomore Carl Elliott’s buzzer-beating three-pointer to beat Dayton in Ohio Feb. 26. The Colonials topped Fordham, Temple and Saint Joseph’s in Cincinnati to capture the school’s first A-10 title in its history, earning its first berth into the NCAA tournament since 1999. As most GW basketball fans will remember, Georgia Tech took advantage of a 4-16 performance from the charity stripe to knock the Colonials out in the first round.

Coach McKeown’s women’s basketball team held one of the nation’s longest home court winning streaks, without a loss in the Smith Center until the A-10 Tournament championship game to Temple, the eventual champion. The squad stayed strong until getting dropped by the Tar Heels on North Carolina’s home court.

Two of the more underappreciated stories of the year took place only weeks ago. The women’s lacrosse season, in its fourth year of existence, qualified for the A-10 tournament for the first time and, despite losing to Duquesne in the first round, played a very competitive game.

Scott Allen’s men’s golf squad team had their best season in more than 15 years, coming in second in the rain-shortened A-10 championship in Rhode Island. Led by junior Brian Carroll, the team has much to look forward to next year, including a trip to the NCAA tournament, a feat that has not been accomplished since 1947.

With the end of the year, it is also time to say goodbye. Men’s basketball captain and leader T.J. Thompson will be graduating. Thompson was here when playing for GW meant 1,000 fans and no TV cameras. Anna Montana?a, who is currently practicing with the Connecticut Sun, brought GW two A-10 championship banners and will go down as one of the best basketball players in school history.

So as the GW class of 2005 sits on the Ellipse – awaiting a diploma – think about those few moments. GW athletics have broken hearts, evoked a smile or just took wasted away time during cold winter nights. So again: no, we are not Georgetown, and certainly not University of Maryland, but we are GW and that has been good enough.

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