Crimson & Gold touch propels Denver to national powerhouse status

Photo Courtesy University of Denver Magazine

LetsGoDU friend CD Dunks reminds us that there is no need to use the term ‘mid-major’. And the same goes for ‘secondary sport’ – i.e. any sport that is not called football or Power-Five conference basketball. The big question is: Has Peg Bradley-Doppes simply built one of the finest athletic department in the land? 

The Capital One Cup, which recognizes the best Division I athletic programs in the nation has the DU men ranked #4 among ALL athletic departments in the country.

Just a few months ago, DU held the top spot in two sports – hockey and lacrosse. How many times in DU’s history, or any school for that matter, have two team sports ranked first in the nation at the same time? And, of course, DU skiing is always on the verge of another title with a strong returning squad in the Nordic and Alpine disciplines.

Hockey was the obvious highlight of 2016-2017 with a thrilling 3-2 victory over Minnesota-Duluth to clinch the program’s 8th national championship, tied for second all-time. Under the guidance of Jim Mongomery, this year’s team was on a mission to reestablish its flagship status at Chicago’s Frozen Four – and did they ever!

Men’s lacrosse (#3, 13-4, 5-0) won the Big EAST regular season title and made it to the final four for the fifth time in seven years and were ranked #1 for much of the season. They lost to Maryland in the semifinals in Boston 9-8 but put up a great fight against the eventual national champion. Of course, the Pios will miss the outstanding leadership of Connor Cannizzaro who just graduated this weekend, but super-freshman Ethan Walker and a host of returning players show why fans should be optimistic that the Pioneers will be playing during Memorial Day weekend again next season.

Men’s and women’s soccer won their conference regular season titles this year. The men won the Summit League tournament and advanced to the NCAA Final Four in Houston for the first time ever and completed the season ranked 3rd nationally. The men even had two players, Regan Dunk & Sam Hamilton, drafted in the first round of the Major League Soccer draft

Denver Skiing went into the final day of the NCAA Championships in a solid first place by a margin of 34.5 points, but they had a tough women’s classical race finale and lost the NCAA title. Still, they delivered a whopping six All-American performances during the meet. Expect this year’s disappointing finish to be the fuel that gets the Pioneers back on the top step of the podium next season.

How about women’s gymnastics? Big 12 head coach of the year Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart just keeps getting the job done. Currently ranked 5th nationally, the Pioneers were led by an emerging freshman star Maddie Karr and senior Julia Ross were All-Big XII and propelled the team to the Super Six at nationals where the Pioneers finished 5th. Wait until next year when they just keep adding talent to an already deep squad.

Inside Lacrosse has DU women’s lacrosse at #18. They finished 14-3 and 7-2 in their first season in the Big EAST. The Pioneers placed four players on the All-BIG East team as  Layne Voorhees and Kendra Lanuza were unanimous First Team All-BIG EAST selections. While they lose a great goalie in Maddie Stevenson. They are returning 7 of their 8 leading scorers and a host of outstanding recruits. Count on them being even better next season.

And next, there is DU swimming and diving coached by ace Ryan Schrader. The Pioneers swept all 34 swimming events at the Summit League Championships and the Pioneers have a slew of swimmers with times that rank them among the best in the nation in their respective disciplines. Denver swimming is ranked #1 by College Swimming Mid-Major rankings (sorry Dunker).

Tennis and golf are always staples for the Pioneers with a home course at the Highlands Ranch Golf Course and plans for a new tennis center at South High School that should keep these programs winning conference championships and providing NCAA medalists and contenders perennially. The Denver women’s doubles team of Maureen Slattery/Julia O’Loughlin became All-Americans when they advanced to the NCAA semifinals to carve their names into DU athletics history.

What about emerging sports?

DU’s volleyball team won yet another Summit League title before being eliminated in a relatively tight match in the NCAA Tournament by eventual national champion Stanford in the first round. With a few tweaks to the schedule and a couple more strong recruiting classes, head Coach Tom Hogan could be making Denver Volleyball into the next big thing on campus.

Give men’s basketball head coach Rodney Billups a few years to implement his offensive and defensive schemes and recruit players to the program and expect noise there, too.

Oh, and women’s basketball just hired a promising new coach in Jim Turgeon out of CSU-Pueblo. This move gives reason to believe that women’s basketball will soon be on the rise as well.

This success is astounding.

LetsGoDU asked head men’s basketball coach Rodney Billups how he works with Peg Bradley Doppes. He said she gives her coaches freedom and frequently asks, “How can I help?” or “what do you need?”  Her skill in identifying exceptional coaches and teachers has proven to be the very best in the country. And her ability to develop and promote assistant coaches keeps the talent pipeline full with solid potential successors in each sport.

Anyone who knows Peg can tell you, she’s very competitive and expects her teams to win while maintaining and promoting the University’s reputation. In a Denver Magazine  article, she says this about herself, “My passion and my competitiveness – well, they’re out of control.”

While she is laser focused on winning, she gives her coaches freedom and support to run their programs autonomously. She creates an environment that keeps great coaches on campus – even when there may be more lucrative opportunities other places. This ‘balancing act’ is done with limited resources but lots of administrative and trustee support as well.

The University of Denver athletics department a national powerhouse. In an article last year, LetsGoDU blogger Puck Swami called this time ‘the golden era of DU sports’ – and he’s right. This is the greatest era in DU Athletics history, and it’s only the beginning.