2011 was a successful year for Bearcats Athletics.
Dec. 29, 2011
The year 2011 at the University of Cincinnati featured championships, All-Americans, thrilling victories and the hiring of a new Director of Athletics. Here is a look back at some of the top moments and storylines, presented in chronological order.
By Shawn Sell
Men's Hoops Rocks Fifth Third Arena With Trio of Big Wins (January-March)
Head Coach Mick Cronin's rebuilding project of the UC Men's Basketball team seemed nearly complete as Fifth Third Arena rocked for a trio of signature wins in early 2011. The run started just after the first of the year, as a raucous, sell-out crowd witnessed the Bearcats' 66-46 thumping of crosstown rival Xavier. Just over a month later, another boisterous crowd saw UC knock off another rival, Louisville. And down the stretch, perhaps the biggest win of them all. On the last day of the regular season, with Fifth Third Arena rocking like the days of old, the Bearcats trampled No. 17 Georgetown, 69-47. Average attendance for the three victories: 12,295.
Women's Hoops Stuns Ranked Marquette on Senior Night (February)
Seniors Shareese Ullis and Shelly Bellman couldn't have asked for a better going away gift. Entering the evening having dropped 13 straight contests, Ullis and Bellman willed their team to a stunning 65-62 win over 20th-ranked Marquette in the duo's last game at Fifth Third Arena. Bellman, playing with just one healthy shoulder, hit the go-ahead three-pointer with a 1:25 to play, then sealed the upset with two free throws in the waning seconds. Ullis tacked on 20 points in the win.
Men's Hoops Returns to NCAA's (March)
As if the three big home wins weren't enough validation, Mick Cronin and his Bearcats made a long-awaited return to the NCAA Tournament during March Madness. UC showed it belonged among the nation's elite, as the sixth-seeded Bearcats knocked off Missouri by a 78-63 count in its opener. Unfortunately, the Bearcats ran into a buzz saw in the round of 32 as eventual National Champion and BIG EAST foe Connecticut ended UC's season with a 69-58 victory.
Brian Cleary Becomes UC's Winningest Baseball Coach (May)
From the time he was hired in 1997, head baseball coach Brian Cleary has always admired and appreciated the accomplishments of the late Glenn Sample. Sample, a name synonymous with UC Athletics, led the baseball team to 391 wins during his illustrious career. On May 15th, with the Bearcats' 7-3 win over Seton Hall, Cleary eased past Sample for the most victories ever by a UC Baseball coach.
Babcock Named Director of Athletics (October)
When Mike Thomas announced in August his resignation to accept the Athletic Director position at Illinois, UC was left searching for its next leader. The man chosen as that leader and announced on Oct. 22nd was Whit Babcock, formerly Executive Associate Athletic Director at the University of Missouri.
Men's Soccer Upsets No. 18/11 St. John's on Senior Night (October)
Much like the women's basketball team did several months earlier; the men's soccer team sent its senior class out on a high-note with a 1-0 upset of nationally-ranked St. John's. But unlike the hoops upset that was keyed by seniors, a pair of freshmen led the Bearcats to the victory on the pitch. In the 23rd minute, freshman Ashani Walker took a pass from fellow frosh Cole DeNormandie and deposited it in the back of the net for his first career goal and the only tally of the match.
Finan: Two Sports, Two All-American Awards, One Calendar Year (Spring-Fall)
Eric Finan will go down in history as one of the top cross country and track and field performers in the UC history. In the Fall of 2010, Finan tasted victory at the NCAA Regional Cross Country meet, but went on to make 2011 even better. During outdoor track and field season, Finan finished 10th in the 5,000 meters at the national meet to secure All-American honors. When cross country season rolled around, Finan grabbed BIG EAST Championship glory before moving on to a 25th place finish at the NCAA Nationals and his second All-America accolade of the year.
Volleyball Wins BIG EAST, Narrowly Misses Sweet 16 (November-December)
Throughout the last decade, the UC Volleyball team has established a tradition of winning and excellence. In 2011, a new chapter in that tradition was written as the team won UC's first BIG EAST Tournament Championship in any sport. Armed with the league's automatic NCAA Tournament berth, the Bearcats ultimately advanced to the second round where they lost a heartbreaking decision to eventual Final Four participant Florida State. With the FSU match deadlocked at two sets apiece, the Bearcats and Seminoles battled to a 13-all tie in the deciding fifth set, with FSU ultimately scoring the final two points. Another successful campaign under longtime coach Reed Sunahara ended with a record of 27-10.
Football Dominates BIG EAST Awards (December)
During the 2011 football campaign, several UC players showed they were among the best in the BIG EAST. When the league's awards were announced following the last week of the season, UC dominated. Senior running back Isaiah Pead took top honors on the offensive side of the ball, while senior defensive lineman Derek Wolfe shared top billing amongst defenders. For leading from a 4-8 record in his first season to a share of the BIG EAST Championship just one season later, Butch Jones was recognized as the BIG EAST's Coach of the Year. In all, eight Bearcats were recognized with All-BIG EAST accolades.
Football Resurgence (Fall)
When Butch Jones arrived in Cincinnati for the 2010 season, he inherited a program fresh off back-to-back BIG EAST Championships and BCS bowl game appearances. What no one saw coming was a 4-8 record in his first season at the helm. That disappointing season is now nothing but a memory as the 2011 Bearcats roared to a 9-3 record, a share of the BIG EAST Championship and a berth in this weekend's Liberty Bowl. Along the way UC produced highlights such as thumping North Carolina State before a national ESPN audience, retaining the Keg of Nails and the Victory Bell, and bouncing back from an injury to star quarterback Zach Collaros to win their final two regular season contests.
Baseball Defends Joe Nuxhall Crown (April)
Trio of Bearcats Earn Track & Field All-America (June)
Justin Glass Named Baseball Freshman All-American (June)
Terrence Somerville, Stephanie Niemer Named Top UC Athletes (June)
Former Cats Make MLB Debuts (Summer)
Michelle Salmon Gets 100th Career Win (September)
Football Retains Keg of Nails, Victory Bell (Fall)
Volleyball Carries Nation's Best Home Court Winning Streak (Fall)
Women's Hoops Opens Season 5-0 (November-December)
Missy Harpenau, Jordanne Scott Named VB Honorable Mention All-Americans (December)