University of Denver Athletics’ Decade in Review: Top 10 Moments of the Decade

Top Moment of the Decade: DU’s 2015 NCAA Lacrosse Championship transcended DU – it was a watershed moment in the history of lacrosse in America as this victory moved it from an eastern game to a national game.

In 2010, when the decade began, the University of Denver was known primarily as a hockey school, supplemented by many NCAA ski titles.

By decade’s end though, DU has since become a national power in hockey, men’s lacrosse, skiing, and has also grown perennial NCAA tournament level programs in gymnastics, men’s soccer, women’s soccer, women’s lacrosse, and women’s volleyball.  Also, men and women’s swimming, tennis and golf are becoming dominant conference performers and are often nationally-ranked programs. In all, DU has proven to be the best non-football D-I athletics program in the country, winning the Learfield Sports Division I-AAA Directors’ Cup for the seventh-straight year and the 11th time in the last 12 years. Denver has finished in the top-55 in the overall Directors’ Cup in seven-consecutive athletic seasons. Prior to Denver’s first Directors’ Cup in 2008, Denver had finished in the top-60 just once.

Basketball, for both men and women, remain the only two DU sports programs where sporadic conference level achievements have been offset by long periods of irrelevance over the decade.

Here at LetsGoDU, we polled our brain trust of writers for their top 10 greatest DU moments of the decade. Our criteria was simple —  how hard the moments were to achieve, as well as how much of an impact they made…And when you see a hyperlink in the story, clicking it will bring you to a video of that event.

Here we go…

10. DU Won Four NCAA Ski Titles in the Decade – 2010, 2014, 2016 and 2018

While it’s not a single moment, per se, DU did win NCAA team ski titles in 2010, 2014, 2016 and 2018, all of them in the Western host sites (even years). While we celebrate these achievements routinely at Denver (24 NCAA ski titles in all), there is a reason that we don’t rank them higher on our list. The reality is that only 23 schools compete in NCAA skiing and many of these 23 teams do not qualify enough athletes to be serious NCAA team title threats in a given year. With DU competing against less than 15 serious competitive teams each year for the NCAA team title, the other DU sports achievements on our list are simply harder to achieve. That said, we DU fans are always proud of our ski teams and the cachet of their long history of excellence that they bring to our school.

Linn Ericksen led DU to 2016 NCAA Skiing title, one of four DU titles in the decade. Photo: NCAA 

9. 2014: DU Volleyball makes it to its first-ever NCAA tournament at CSU

While DU has gone NCAA dancing in volleyball every year since 2014, the Pioneers have never won a set once there. Until they someday do win a match or even a set in NCAA play, the first NCAA appearance against CSU becomes DU’s most memorable NCAA volleyball moment. DU’s first dance saw it fall to the nation’s No. 15 overall seed, Colorado State, 3-0 (25-21, 25-17, 25-22) in the 2014 NCAA Tournament First Round at Moby Arena in Fort Collins, Colo. The Pioneers finished the 2014 campaign with a 27-7 mark; the best in its DI history, while also tying for the program’s all-time wins record (1991). The Pioneers pushed the Rams hard in sets 1 and 3, but could not quite get over the top for a set or match win.

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2014 was DU’s first-ever NCAA Division I Tournament appearance. Photo: Summit League

8. 2012: DU women’s soccer upsets 4th-seeded Maryland 3-2 in overtime, powered by Nicolette DiGiacomo’s late hat trick to place the Pioneers into the NCAA Sweet 16

This 2012 moment was the magic high watermark for DU women’s soccer, which upset a very good Maryland team and made it to the Sweet 16 of a sport with 338 teams that play – a very high-level achievement. Maryland had taken a 2-0 second-half lead and was cruising before 2,000 fans at Stanford’s Cagan Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif.  But the Pioneers refused to die. Golden, Colo. native Nicolette DiGiacomo put the Pioneers on her shoulders, scoring in the 67th minute on a flick header to cut the Terps’ margin to 2-1. Then, DiGiacomo scored again on a penalty kick with only 40 seconds left in the game to tie the game at 2-2 and send it to overtime.  At 3:19 of the extra frame, DU’s Kristin Hamilton (today in pro soccer) slid a back pass to DiGiacomo, who fired a laser-beam shot to the upper left corner – a sudden-death Golden Goal to seal the comeback victory for Denver over the Terps in the program’s finest moment in history, and etched DiGiacomo’s name into Pioneer legend.  DU wasn’t able to advance in the Sweet 16 against top-seeded Stanford on the Cardinal’s home field, but DiGiacomo’s hat trick remains special.

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Nicolette DiGiacomo became a Pioneer legend with her 2012 come-from-behind hat trick over the final 37 minutes of DU’s 3-2 NCAA OT win over Maryland. Photo:DU

7. 2019: #14 DU Women’s Lax beats USC and upsets #8 Michigan to make the NCAA Elite 8 in Ann Arbor, Mich.

There are 116 teams that play NCAA women’s lacrosse, so for #14 Denver to finish in the top eight as the Pioneers did in the 2019 NCAA Tournament is an incredible achievement. Coach Liza Kelly’s squad went to Ann Arbor, Michigan and beat USC 11-10 behind Eliza Radochonski’s hat trick, which included the second goal of the game, the game-tying goal, and the game-winning goal against the Trojans. Against Michigan in the NCAA second round on Michigan’s home field, DU scored six second-half goals to avenge the Wolverine’s regular-season win over Denver and advanced to the NCAA final eight –the best finish in DU women’s lacrosse history. At one point in the Michigan game, DU’s top-ranked defense held the Wolverines to 44 minutes without allowing a goal. Although DU could not later advance past top-seeded (and eventual NCAA Champion) Maryland in the final eight in College Park, Md., 2019 was a DU season to remember.

DU women’s lacrosse’s greatest NCAA weekend in history saw DU beat USC and Michigan in 2019. Photo: DU

6. 2013: DU Men’s Basketball wins share of WAC regular-season title and then wins its first-ever post-season game in its NCAA D-I history, hosting an NIT game 

This was very significant week in March of 2013 because of the excitement of the DU basketball team actually cutting down the nets in Magness Arena. DU had won a share of the WAC title, then a few days later, hosted (and won) the only post-season home game in DU Division I history – a first-round NIT matchup, 61-57 over the Ohio University Bobcats. DU was led in that game by senior Cam Griffin’s first double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds). DU then pushed Maryland hard in the NIT second round in College Park, Md., but fell, 62-52 with a late run by the Terps in the second half. This certainly was the high-water mark for DU basketball for the decade, as DU was never able to survive the surprise transfer of all-WAC player Royce O’Neale to Baylor later that summer. O’Neale is now in the NBA with the Utah Jazz, and DU has since spiraled down quite a bit as a program from that historic week in March of 2013.

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Denver’s Chase Hallam (32) captained DU basketball to a 2013 WAC regular-season title and DU’s only D-I postseason win in the 2013 NIT. Photo: Denver Post 

5. 2016: DU Hockey wins Battle on Blake over CC, 4-1

While not a stunning athletic achievement per se, this event ranks so high because of the spectacle factor – it was the largest-ever gathering of DU fans in history. Played at the Coors Field baseball stadium, with some 35,000+ fans in attendance will be remembered by everyone who attended as an epic celebration of hockey in Colorado.  DU beating arch-rival Colorado College, 4-1, made the victory even sweeter.  Colorado-connected players had a hand in all four Denver goals in the win, which clinched home ice for the NCHC playoffs for Denver. The previous largest DU crowd ever was a 1949 football win over Wyoming before 31,000 fans at the now-demolished DU stadium.

Denver won the 2016 Battle on Blake over CC before 35,000+ at Coors Feld in Denver. Photo: Colorado Rubber Hockey Magazine

4. 2019: DU Women’s Gymnastics Makes the NCAA Final Four in Fort Worth, Texas

While not quite an NCAA title, for DU just getting to this high a level (highlights here) for the very first time was an astonishing achievement, finishing fourth behind Oklahoma, LSU and UCLA.  Given that the sport, played by 62 schools, is dominated by large, public football schools with big budgets, seeing DU in contention on the final day was magic. DU had qualified for many NCAA regionals and even a few NCAA National Tournaments over the last 20 years, but had never been to the final day of NCAA competition before. To make it to that final four day, Denver beat out Michigan, Oregon State, Utah, and Georgia in the final eight competition. Lynzee Brown tied for the NCAA Floor Exercise title as part of that final weekend.

DU’s Lynzee Brown co-won the 2019 NCAA Floor Exercise title and helped lead the Pioneers to a highest-ever fourth place Finish at the NCAA Championships in Fort Worth, Texas. Photo: DU

3. 2017: DU wins its 8th NCAA Hockey title in Chicago 3-2 over Minnesota-Duluth

This event was huge (highlights here), and ended a 12-year drought since DU’s prior NCAA hockey title in 2005. This event in Chicago’s United Center was a glamorous one in front of 19,000+ fans, and the drama was palpable with a hat trick by Jarid Lukosevicius in the second period as the greatest DU goal-scoring performance in an NCAA title hockey game, overcoming a fallen player (Tariq Hammond’s broken leg) and a furious UMD rally in the final minutes. It was also the largest-ever gathering of DU fans outside of Colorado (1,500-2,000 DU fans), and it was made better by Will Butcher winning the Hobey Baker Award the day before the title game, as well as DU’s pummeling of host Notre Dame in the NCAA semi-final. This was about as perfect a weekend as a DU fan could ever wish for.

NCAA Hockey: Frozen Four-Denver vs Minnesota-Duluth

2. 2016: DU men’s soccer upsets third-ranked Clemson 1-0 in Clemson, S.C. to earn a trip to the NCAA College Cup

This golden moment was hugely significant because 206 schools play mens D-I soccer – way more than hockey (60) or lacrosse (75). To get to the final four in such a popular sport is the most difficult achievement for any DU men’s team in the last decade. For Kortne Ford to score the game-winning header and stun over 4,000 Clemson fans in the 89th minute was as dramatic a moment as they come. Alex Underwood’s graceful chip found Ford’s noggin at just the right time for DU to sneak out of Clemson with a regional title and the school’s first ever appearance in the NCAA College Cup (final four). The College Cup appearance that followed in Houston was icing on the cake –  DU pushed Wake Forest to overtime before falling, 2-1, to end the year. DU had an undefeated season all the way until the NCAA College Cup that year, with the biggest home win in DU’s recent history coming in the NCAA tournament over the University of Washington the week before the Clemson quarterfinal upset.

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Kortne Ford (at right) just seconds after scoring the biggest goal in DU soccer history to advance the Pioneers to an upset NCAA win over Clemson and on to the 2016 NCAA College Cup. Photo: University of Denver

1. 2015: DU wins first NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship 10-5 over Maryland in Philadelphia

This one was easy —it was THE historic moment, not just for DU as a first time lacrosse champion and a new power sport at the University beyond hockey and skiing, but a historic moment for the entire sport of lacrosse —  as DU became the first non-eastern time zone school to win the title in NCAA history, in front of more than 24,000 fans in Philadelphia. This moment will be remembered in history as the time when men’s college lacrosse grew from an eastern sport to a national sport. It was also the largest media moment of the decade for DU sports nationally, as this story rated large in the national media and improved DU’s east coast visibility dramatically.  DU Senior all-American Wesley Berg had five of DU’s 10 goals to lead the way for the Pioneers. To get to that Championship game, DU beat rival Notre Dame in a dramatic overtime game 48 hours before in the NCAA semis before nearly 30,000 fans, 8-7, highlights here. DU had been to three NCAA lacrosse final fours in 2011, 2013 and 2014 but lost in the semis all three times leading-up to those dramatic 2015 wins in Philadelphia.

Wesley Berg (#14) scored five goals to lead Denver to its’ first ever NCAA lacrosse title in 2015, a 10-5 victory over Maryland at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Photo: Rick Schultz/AP

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Honorable Mentions by Year:

2010: DU completes the $6.3 million Pat Bowlen Training Center under the stands of Denver soccer stadium as a true varsity sports performance, strength and conditioning center

2010: DU hockey forward Jesse Martin miraculously survives a thrice-broken c-2 vertebrae (98% of people with this type of injury die) after being illegally hit in a game at North Dakota. He is a lawyer today (2019) in Canada.

2010: DU women’s golf finishes with it’s highest National ranking of the decade (#11th), just three places below DU’s all-time highest National ranking of #8 in 2008.

2010: DU women’s basketball beats #23-ranked Vanderbilt, 71-65 in it’s first ever win over a nationally-ranked oppponent in DU’s Division I history.

2011: DU’s men’s lacrosse stuns traditional lacrosse power Johns Hopkins in the NCAA quarterfinals before 13,000 fans on Long Island announcing itself as a national contender, and punching the Pioneers’ ticket to its first-ever final four weekend, where DU lost to Virginia before 45,000+ fans in Baltimore, Md. in the NCAA semi-final.

2011-2013: DU helps form the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, today the nation’s best college hockey conference.

2012: 600+ DU students (part of a home crowd of over 6,000) storm the court after a DU men’s basketball home league win against Middle Tennessee State, the only home DU basketball game to ever be nationally televised live on ESPN (2).

2012: DU men’s lacrosse drew over 12,000 fans to Mile High Stadium for a regular season win over Duke. The large student tailgate at that game was one of the largest gatherings of DU students at a Denver sporting event in many years.

2013: DU Men’s Tennis Upsets #15 seed Florida in the NCAA tournament first round in Gainesville, Fla. for its best-ever NCAA finish at the D-I level.

2013: DU leaves the WAC for the Summit League as its primary sports conference

2013: DU Men’s Lacrosse joins Big East Conference, DU women’s lax follows in 2016.

2013: George Gwozdecky coaches his last hockey game for Denver, ending a 19-year career credited with a pair of NCAA titles, and the elevation of DU’s hockey program back to the top-tier of programs in the sport.

2013: DU men’s lacrosse makes a huge comeback from a 6-0 deficit against North Carolina to beat the Tar Heels 11-10 in the last 14 seconds of the game on Eric Law’s dramatic goal in the NCAA quarterfinals in Indianapolis. That win would send DU on to the final four in Philadelphia, only to lose a heartbreaker to Syracuse in Philadelphia in the NCAA semi-final.

2014: Denver men’s lacrosse makes it to the NCAA final four weekend in Baltimore, but loses to eventual champion Duke in the NCAA semi-final.

2015: DU Women’s Gymnastics joins Big 12 Conference

2015: Two-Time All-American swimmer Samantha Corea leads DU women to 28th place finish at NCAA Championships, the highest DU women’s swimming NCAA finish of the decade.

2015: DU men’s golf finishes #94 in the national rankings, its highest national ranking of the decade.  DU’s all time highest ranking in men’s golf was #38 under coach Eric Hoos back in 2003.

2015-2018: Trevor Baptiste was the dominant DU athlete of the decade in men’s lax – a four time all-American, Tewaaraton Award Finalist, this NCAA Champion revolutionized the face-off position as the dominant face-off player in the world, rewriting the NCAA record book.

2015: DU finishes #5 in overall men’s sports in the Capital One Cup, the highest ever national all sports finish and an amazing result for a non-football school.CI69KT7UwAAn-Ex

2016: DU’s Nina McGee won the NCAA women’s gymnastics Floor Exercise NCAA Title, the first DU gymnastics athlete to win an NCAA D-I Individual Championship.

2016: DU Hockey makes it to the 2016 Frozen Four in Tampa, Florida its first Frozen Four since winning it all in 2005.  DU would lose to eventual NCAA Champion North Dakota in the final minute of the NCAA semi-final, 3-2.

2017: #44 DU Women’s Tennis upsets #25 USC in the NCAA tournament first round in Lubbock, Texas. Best-ever NCAA finish for DU women’s tennis.

2017: DU’s men’s swimming team finishes 30th at the NCAAs, the highest men’s finish in the decade, and third-highest NCAA finish ever after 2009’s 27th place finish and 1961’s 13th place NCAA finish.

2017: DU’s Will Butcher wins the Hobey Baker Award as the Nation’s Top College Hockey player, the second DU player to win it, as Matt Carle won in 2006. Butcher  now plays in the NHL with the New Jersey Devils.

2018: Andre Shinyashiki was DU’s best soccer player in history. A MAC Hermann Finalist (2018) the 2018 Senior CLASS Award Winner and United Soccer Coaches’ First Team All-America in 2018. His 28 season goals led nation in scoring and a first-round MLS draft selection. He is now the reigning 2019 MLS Rookie of the Year.

2018: Then-current DU Hockey player Troy Terry was selected for the US Olympic Hockey Team in February, leading Team USA in assists with five in South Korea. Terry also became nationally prominent with his memorable appearance for Team USA in the 2017 World Junior Tournament, helping Team USA to a gold medal with his shootout heroics.

2018: DU Vice Chancellor for Athletics Peg Bradley-Doppes retires as the gloried architect of DU’s rise to a multi-sport power. She’d been at DU since 2005, and all of the achievements in this decade happened as result of her efforts to build the right team of coaches, athletes, support team, donors and fans.

2018: DU helps complete Denver Tennis Park as a indoor/outdoor new home for DU’s tennis teams teams at Denver’s South High School, across the highway from the DU campus.

2019: After DU Hockey lost a school record five non-seniors to NHL contracts in 2018, rookie coach David Carle takes DU all the way to the 2019 Frozen Four. This was an epic achievement with a young team, predicted to finish fifth in the league.

2019: DU completes Miller Hockey Complex, a $2+ million state-of-the-art hockey nerve center –locker rooms, player lounge, medical and equipment rooms at Magness Arena.

2019: Ron Grahame retires as Athletic Director, after spending 50 years as a true leader in the DU family — as an athlete, alumnus, coach and administrator.

2019:  DU women’s basketball beats New Mexico in Albuquerque in the first round of the Women’s NIT for the first post-season win in DU’s D-I history.

2019: DU coach and Lacrosse Hall of Famer Bill Tierney won his 400th game as a head coach, beating Georgetown, helping to cement his legend as the greatest coach of all time in the sport of lacrosse. His seven NCAA titles (six at Princeton, one at Denver) rank first all time.

DU Sports Alumni Moments of the Decade by Year:

2010: Paul Stastny (attd. 2004-2006) wins Olympic Silver Medal for Team USA in Hockey in Vancouver, Canada.

2011-2017 Phil Heath (BSBA ’12) a former DU basketball player from 1998-2002, won the Mr. Olympia Bodybuilding Championship for seven consecutive years.

2012 and 2016: Jessica Lopez (’09) participated in two Olympics in the decade, her second and third Olympic appearances for her native Venezuela (she also appeared in 2008 in Beijing).  She finished 7th in the all-around in Rio in 2016, and 6th in the uneven bars, her highest-ever Olympic finishes at age 30.

2014: Kevin Dineen (attd. 1981-1983) wins Olympic gold medal as coach of Team Canada Women’s Hockey. He also won a 2015 Stanley Cup as Chicago Blackhawks assistant coach.

2014: Gregg Popovich (MS ’78) wins NBA Championship as head coach of San Antonio Spurs.

2016: Beau Bennett (attd. 2010-2012) won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

2018: Leif Kristian Haugen (BSBA’12) wins Olympic Bronze Medal for his native Norway in skiing team event in Pyongchang, South Korea.

2019: Tyler Bozak (attd. 2007-2009), Chris Butler (attd. 2005-2008) and Bruce Affleck (attd. 1972-1974) all won the Stanley Cup as employees of St. Louis Blues (Bozak and Butler as players, Affleck as team executive).

2 thoughts on “University of Denver Athletics’ Decade in Review: Top 10 Moments of the Decade”

  1. I’d probably list Peg as #1, even though she started before the decade. She hired DU’s coaches who were the lifeblood. Aside from Dan Ritchie, no one did more for DU and DU Athletics.

  2. Pretty good (and impressive list). Can’t argue with most of the choices, But if the 4 skiing national titles are an entrant in this competition, they could be a couple slots higher. Awesome decade, DU!!!

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