After a year that saw the University of Denver athletic department experience a few exciting firsts…and an astounding, much-needed eighth, the Pioneers, DU’s men’s sports specifically, were properly recognized for a strong showing over the course of the year. As Florida topped LSU in the Men’s College World Series earlier this week, the 2016-17 NCAA Division I calendar came to an end. After the dust settled and the points were tallied, the DU men finished in the top five, number four to be exact, of the men’s Capital One Cup standings for the first time ever.
The Capital One Cup recognizes athletic excellence across college sports and the top programs in each of the men’s and women’s divisions receive a combined $400,000 in athletic scholarships. The winners in each division also receive the Capital One Cup (pictured). The winners in each division will be officially crowned during the ESPY Awards, hosted by ESPN on July 12.
Denver’s top five finish is a fitting bookend to what was an unprecedented year of success. It’s not exactly a secret that DU has the top athletic program along the Front Range, especially in recent years, but 2016-17 took it to a whole new level, a level so high that perennial Power Five juggernauts like Clemson, Oklahoma, USC, Notre Dame are looking up at the Pioneers. In fact, all but three of them (Ohio State, North Carolina, and Stanford) finished below Denver.
— brandon macneill (@bkmacneill) June 28, 2017
Just to recap the highlights of the remarkable year (in no particular order):
The men’s soccer team made its first-ever appearance in the College Cup Semifinals in December. They lost to Wake Forest 2-1 in double overtime after their second straight unbeaten regular season and Summit League title.
The women’s golf team made it back to the NCAA Tournament where they finished 12th in their regional. Before their positive NCAA showing, they won the Summit League.
The gymnastics team built off an incredible 2015-16 campaign that saw senior Nina McGee win an individual national title on the floor and made it to the 2017 NCAA Semifinals, where they took 5th. That matched the program’s best semifinal finish. The program also ended the year at #9 in the national rankings which was the best finish in program history.
The men’s and women’s ski teams had a commanding lead after two days at the NCAA Championships, but a rough final day saw the Pioneers fall to third. Despite the final day disappointment, the 23-time national champions once again had a very strong showing on the sport’s biggest stage.
Despite not qualifying as a team, the swim team had three swimmers compete at the NCAA Championships in March. Anton Loncar, Kyle Robrock, and Colin Gilbert all swam in Indianapolis for the Crimson and Gold. Thanks to a program record and lifetime best time of 45.40 in the 100 back finals, Loncar earned All-American honors.
Women’s tennis doubles partners Maureen Slattery and Julia O’Loughlin made an incredible run to the national quarterfinals and were named the program’s first All-Americans along the way. They finished the season ranked 13th nationally among all NCAA Division I women’s doubles partners.
The men’s lacrosse team made its fifth trip to Championship Weekend in seven years where they fell to eventual national champion Maryland in the national semifinals. The refs made a controversial call to wave off a last-second game-tying goal by Conor Donahue. This year’s Championship Weekend appearance is just another moment in a long line of incredible success since Bill Tierney took over the program seven years ago.
Last, but certainly not least, the hockey team brought home its eighth national title after thoroughly dominating Notre Dame in the semifinals and topping Minnesota Duluth in one of the greatest national title games of all time at the Frozen Four in Chicago (I might be a tad biased). The championship ended the program’s 12-year national championship drought and put Denver firmly back on top of the college hockey world.
While only the men’s programs ended up finishing in the top five of the Capital One Cup standings, the athletic program’s greatest year ever wasn’t limited to just the men’s programs. This recognition and final standing is a testament to the work that the athletic program has put in to establish Denver as not just a hockey and lacrosse power, but as an athletics powerhouse.
The Pioneers don’t have the same budget or resources that the bigger programs, the Power Five programs have. Yet now that the chaos of another season has ended, all but three of those programs are looking up at Denver.
This success has been fun for the Pioneers, but when you look around campus, when you look around Ritchie Center and Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium, you can’t help but think one thing and one thing only: Denver has made it to where they want to be, but they’re not done. They’re not satisfied. They’re not done shocking the world. This is only the beginning.
DU may not be able to spend like the big boys, but you bet your ass Denver can beat ’em.