The last poll at the end of the student senate elections last weekend asked students to nominate a varsity athletic team of the year. In a down year for Canisius sports across the board, I can understand why some people thought this was a joke, but it actually is a real award.
The synchronized swimming team was announced as the winner on Tuesday. Before I let you in on how The Griffin voted, let’s clear up one thing that caught my attention. Canisius fields 17 Division I athletic teams. Why there were only 15 options on the poll is beyond me. Whoever entered the data apparently doesn’t think very highly of cross country or swimming and diving, otherwise he or she would have specified between men’s and women’s for both sports, because they are two separate teams.
Athletes are athletes regardless of their sport’s audience appeal. They all put in the time and they all have unique stories just like the rest of us, and they deserve to have their own school recognize them as being equally important as everyone else. When The Griffin groups them together in articles, it’s because they attend the same events and it wouldn’t make sense to write two articles about the same meet. We’re always careful to differentiate between the teams.
It’s one thing when we joke “rowers have feelings too” because of the way other athletes discriminate against them for being the new sport on campus, but you kind of expect that from the jocks. When your own school puts down lower-profile teams, something isn’t right about that. Those four teams were the only Canisius sides to beat Niagara until February. That’s not exactly how I learned to say thank you.
The only excuse I can think of would be that the computer program only allowed for 15 entries into a poll, in which case I might let them off the hook. But man, that’s a harsh way to show where the school’s interests lie.
Anyway, coming up with a short list of teams to pick from for this award didn’t take long. Going chronologically:
Men’s soccer: A 4-14-1 record doesn’t get you any awards. I’m expecting good things from this group next year, but Dermot McGrane’s first season as head coach was less than stellar. MLS draftee Carl Haworth had 12 goals this year up at Niagara, McGrane’s old school. His Griffs only managed 15 all season.
Women’s soccer: The women were hoping for a MAAC title this year after falling one win short last season. But a 3-3-3 conference record wasn’t good enough to get them into the tournament. We’d like to say some players will need to return to form next year to cover the loss of Kelly Reinwald, but we know how they respond to criticism.
Men’s cross country: Chad Maloy had a stellar freshman season, but finishing fifth out of ten schools at the conference meet isn’t enough.
Women’s cross country: The senior trio of Christine Mulvihill, Jill Shea and Julie Dahlkemper will be difficult to replace, but again, fifth at the conference meet isn’t team-of-the-year material.
Golf: Sorry, guys. I know you haven’t had the MAAC Championship yet, but this wasn’t your year.
Volleyball: Aha! Our first contender. An eight-game losing streak early in the year was an ugly start, but the Griffs surged late, winning their final six outings without losing a set to sneak into the conference tournament. Coming up big in the clutch counts extra in this contest.
Hockey: I actually considered voting for hockey just on the awesomeness of Cory Conacher. But I decided only in-season, team activity counts. Dan Morrison and Scott Moser will be missed, but the search continues.
Synchronized swimming: I wanted to give points here for Jess Grogan, Missy Andrews and Jess Mancini doing so well at USA Olympic tryouts, but after debating on Conacher, I couldn’t count that. It was huge for the team to tie Ohio State at a meet this year and the Griffs took care of business most of the year, but a fifth-place finish at the national championship was a disappointing result. Although they won the popularity contest online, synchro doesn’t advance here.
Men’s swimming and diving: The men did some work this year, swimming well in most meets and taking second at the conference championship. The team loses senior Steve Pochatko (who broke seven school records at the conference meet) but gets to keep Shawn Parkhurst for one more year. Add the men to the short list.
Women’s swimming and diving: I get tweets from GoGriffs sent to my phone. Every time I looked down, I had another message saying Marissa Oakey just broke a school record. A fifth-place overall finish won’t qualify women’s swimming and diving, but look out for the Oakey the next three years.
Men’s basketball: I don’t need to explain this one, right? Right.
Women’s basketball: This year’s team seemed to play a better brand of basketball from the year before, and Ashley Durham made big steps in developing chemistry with her teammates that a winning point guard needs to have. The team closed the season on a five-game losing streak amid a wild illness that hit several teams, but the Griffs never recovered. They slipped to the eight-seed and lost in the play-in round at the conference tournament. The good news is the team doesn’t graduate any seniors and everyone will be back next year.
Baseball: No points here for John Axford, but baseball is having a good season nonetheless. A 22-21 record may not look like much, but considering who they’ve played and the relative state of Northeast baseball, that’s really not bad. An 8-4 conference record has the team in second place right now, but with so much left to be determined (playoffs aren’t until May 24), I couldn’t give baseball the nod. Sorry guys, it’s not your fault.
Softball: It’s been a tough season for softball, which currently has a record of 14-27. A MAAC record of 6-4 is a bright spot, but a team with only one player owning an on-base percentage above .400 and no pitchers with a winning record isn’t enough to advance.
Rowing: I was at Canisius’ regatta last weekend to see the Griffs handle D’Youville in front of home fans for the first time, but we need to see the rowers handle some D-I opponents before they become team of the year. Not bad for a first season though.
Men’s lacrosse: Simon Giourmetakis is having a good year offensively and freshman Tim Edwards looks like the real deal, but a 3-7 record to this point doesn’t cut it.
Women’s lacrosse: I was expecting big things from women’s lacrosse this year after capturing the MAAC crown and competing in the NCAA Tournament last season. Something was up this year during the team’s five-game losing streak, but whatever it was, Scott Teeter’s bunch shook it off and regrouped to close out the year. The duo of Megan Oosting and Carly Quinn put women’s lacrosse into the two-seed for this weekend’s conference tournament at the Demske Sports Complex and into the final round of this decision.
My final list is composed of volleyball, men’s swimming and diving and women’s lacrosse.
If you’re wondering where Canisius’ big sports were, they were down in the cellar this year. True, the higher-profile the sport, the more money it takes to win, but there were other factors that contributed to the lack of success this year. Canisius’ three biggest sports – men’s basketball, hockey and women’s basketball – had three seniors between them. That’s just a quirk that happened to come about this year, but that’s not a way to win in college sports. If you’re an optimist, maybe that means there are good things to come.
I ultimately gave my vote to volleyball over women’s lacrosse. If lacrosse runs the table and doesn’t have that slump to start the year, they probably get the vote regardless of what happens at the conference tournament this weekend. I agree that the school’s timing for this poll wasn’t ideal, but going on the constraints I had, I couldn’t give the vote to lacrosse without knowing how the season ended up.
Volleyball’s end to the season was impressive. The women won 18 sets of Division I volleyball in a row to close out the season, with the last two matches coming on the road. Falling short of a championship is much easier to accept when it comes at the hands of a team that is just better than you, as was the case with volleyball in the conference tournament.
Nobody was going to touch Niagara this year. People want to see teams working hard and playing to the best of their ability. When they start gelling and getting on a roll, that’s what it’s all about. Volleyball coach Cathy Hummel is a funny person to watch during a game, but I guess the ends justified the means in this case.
Congratulations to the volleyball team, The Griffin’s 2011-12 Team of the Year. I do feel bad for women’s lacrosse, because it’s a tough break for them, but hey, I didn’t make the poll. I’m just here to tell you what it means. Make me eat my words this weekend.