Big Ten Fall Season in Review: Part 3
June 5, 2008
by Jeff Smith
In our final of three installments looking back at the Big Ten's Fall Season, BigTen.org today focuses on the NCAA Championship and All-America success each sport had last fall. Of the seven Big Ten fall sports, the conference recorded a national championship, three runner-up finishes, two top-five results and two Round of 16 appearances.
Michigan and Penn State squared off against one another in the regional semifinal, with the Nittany Lions capturing a 3-0 sweep over the Wolverines. Michigan State dropped a 3-2 heartbreaker to defending NCAA champion Nebraska in the semifinals to close out its season. Top-ranked Penn State then made quick work of No. 15 BYU with a 3-0 win to advance to the school's sixth national semifinal appearance and first since 1999 when it captured its first NCAA title.
History boded well for the Nittany Lions as the team swept No. 6 Cal in the national semifinals in Sacramento, Calif. Freshman middle hitter Arielle Wilson excelled in the semis with 10 kills and a .909 hitting percentage. The Nittany Lions had captured 25 straight wins with their last loss coming in a five-game thriller against Stanford. The 2007 National Championship final proved to be a rematch between the two teams.
After claiming the first two games, Penn State gave up the next two to the Cardinal before clinching its second national title with a 30-25, 30-26, 23-20, 19-30, 15-8 win. The Nittany Lions, who were playing in their fifth national final, finished the season 34-2 overall. Oddly enough, PSU topped Stanford for its first NCAA crown in 1999.
PSU sophomore outside hitter Megan Hodge was named the Most Outstanding Player of the National Championship after recording a season-high 26 kills against Stanford. As a team, the Nittany Lions shattered the NCAA Tournament record for team hitting percentage with a .424 clip, besting the previous mark of .369 set in 1995 by Long Beach State.
The Big Ten placed 11 student-athletes on the AVCA's All-America teams, including first-team selections Nicole Fawcett, Big Ten Player of the Year Christa Harmotto and Megan Hodge of Penn State. Nittany Lion setter Alisha Glass and Wisconsin sophomore Brittney Dolgner were named to the second team, while Badger senior Taylor Reineke and Michigan State's Ashley Schatzle earned spots on the third team. Michigan's Katie Bruzdzinski and Lexi Zimmerman, Purdue's Stephanie Lynch and Wisconsin's Jackie Simpson earned honorable mention recognition. Additionally, Penn State's Russ Rose was named the AVCA National Coach of the Year.
The Big Ten was victorious in two other bowl games as Penn State defeated Texas A&M, 24-17, in the Valero Alamo Bowl and Purdue topped Central Michigan, 51-48, in the Motor City Bowl. In the Alamo Bowl, Penn State's Joe Paterno extended his NCAA records of bowl wins (23) and appearances (34), while senior Rodney Kinlaw (143 yards, 21 carries) and junior Sean Lee (14 tackles) were named Offensive and Defensive MVP, respectively. In the Motor City Bowl, Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter threw for a school-record 546 yards and three touchdowns, while Chris Summers kicked the game-winning 40-yard field goal as time expired.
In other bowl action, No. 13 Illinois fell in the Rose Bowl to No. 7 USC, 49-17, and No. 18 Wisconsin dropped a 21-17 decision in the Outback Bowl to No. 16 Tennessee. In the Champs Sports Bowl, No. 14 Boston College defeated Michigan State, 24-21, while Oklahoma State bested Indiana in the Insight Bowl, 49-33.
Five Big Ten representatives were honored nationally at the end of the season. Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year James Laurinaitis of Ohio State became the eighth conference standout to win the Butkus Award and Penn State linebacker Dan Connor earned the Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player. Illinois head coach Ron Zook was tabbed as the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year, Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr was named the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year and Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock was honored with the Frank Broyles Award, given to the nation's top assistant coach. In addition, the Big Ten topped all conferences with 18 players named to the All-America first or second teams.
In first round action, No. 6 Michigan posted a 1-0 overtime victory over Ohio, while No. 9 Penn State captured a 3-2 thriller over Virginia. Iowa was knocked out of the tournament by Boston University, following a double-overtime 1-0 loss, and second-ranked Wake Forest defeated Michigan State, 3-2. The Demon Deacons then proceeded to knock out Michigan, 3-2, in quarterfinal action, leaving Penn State as the lone conference team remaining.
The Nittany Lions stunned two-time defending national champion Maryland, 1-0, and earned their seventh NCAA national semifinal trip in school history. PSU denied Wake Forest a third-straight victory over a Big Ten team as the Nittany Lions took a 2-0 win to the national championship. In that national final against North Carolina, Penn State could not withstand the Tarheels and suffered a 3-0 setback. The runner-up Nittany Lions finished the season 16-8, with all eight losses coming to nationally-ranked teams. PSU was the first conference team to reach the national semifinals since 2004.
Twelve conference standouts earned first, second and third-team Longstreth/NFHCA All-America distinctions at season's end. Those individuals include Iowa's Lauren Pfeiffer (2nd) and Meghan Beamesderfer (3rd), Michigan's Lucia Belassi (1st) and Paige Laytos (3rd), Michigan State's Jeamie Deacon (2nd) and Florentine Rijpma (3rd), Ohio State's Yesenia Luces (1st) and Linda Haussener (2nd), and Penn State's Jen Long (1st), Kiersten Wood (1st), Allie Scola (3rd) and Mallory Weisen (3rd).
Indiana, Michigan State, Northwestern and Ohio State were named to the 2007 NCAA Men's Soccer Championship bracket, with the latter advancing all the way to the national final. The Spartans fell to Oakland on their home field by a 2-1 score, while the Hoosiers, Wildcats and Buckeyes had first-round byes.
When those three teams took to the pitch, Ohio State was the lone conference team to advance past the second round. Northwestern fell to Illinois-Chicago, 2-0, while Indiana lost on its home turf to Bradley, being edged out 5-4 on penalty kicks after playing to a 1-1 tie. The Buckeyes defeated Louisville by a score of 1-0 to advance in the bracket.
OSU's next opponent in the Round of 16 was defending national champion UC Santa Barbara. After a 4-3 win over UCSB, Ohio State blanked Bradley, 4-0, to advance to its first-ever College Cup appearance. A 1-0 decision over Massachusetts in Cary, N.C., earned the Buckeyes a chance to play Wake Forest for the national title.
In the NCAA final, Roger Espinoza gave OSU an early 1-0 lead in the 12th minute, but the Demon Deacons scored twice in the final 45 minutes for the championship victory. The Buckeyes finished its most winningest season with a 17-4-5 record and rode a school record 15-game unbeaten streak (12-0-3) into the national final.
Ohio State was led by first-team All-Americans Xavier Balc and Eric Brunner, while Indiana's Brad Ring and Northwestern's David Roth were honored with second team All-America status.
Illinois (Louisville, 1-0), Indiana (Toledo, 3-2 - 2OT), Penn State (Monmouth, 4-0) and Purdue (Oakland, 4-0) advanced to the second round, while Ohio State fell 1-0 to Hofstra. After Penn State topped Hofstra in second-round overtime action, 2-1, and Illinois dropped a 2-0 heartbreaker to Notre Dame, Indiana and Purdue remained and the two teams were pitted against one another. Following 110 minutes of scoreless soccer, the Hoosiers advanced past the Boilermakers, 4-3 on penalty kicks, making the Round of 16 for the first time in school history. Penn State then fell 1-0 to West Virginia on its home pitch and Indiana dropped a 2-0 outcome to Duke to conclude the Big Ten season.
Four standouts earned All-America accolades as Penn State goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher and Purdue forward Parrissa Eyorokon garnered first team honors and Nittany Lion Katie Schoepfer and Boilermaker Kira Bilecky took home second and third team accolades, respectively.
MEN'S CROSS COUNTRY
Wisconsin led all Big Ten squads with 239 points for a fifth-place finish in the 10K race, while Minnesota (322) took eighth. Rounding out the team contingent, Michigan (490) finished 24th, Indiana (618) was 28th, and Ohio State (636) tied for 30th.
Individually, Illinois' Trent Hoerr (30:07.1) placed 16th overall, followed by Wisconsin's Matt Withrow (30:09.0) in 17th. Hoerr and Withrow, along with Minnesota's Chris Rombough (29th, 30:24.8) and Hassan Mead (43rd, 30:37.6), and Wisconsin's Stuart Eagon (40th, 30:36.8), earned All-America honors.
WOMEN'S CROSS COUNTRY
Michigan State led all conference teams with 321 points and a fifth-place finish in the 6K race, marking the first time since 1981 the Spartans paced the league at NCAAs. Illinois (331) finished sixth, Iowa (387) placed 10th, and Minnesota (393) was 12th to give the Big Ten four top-12 teams at nationals. Wisconsin (458) and Michigan (462) took 20th and 21st, respectively.
The conference saw Iowa's Diane Nukuri (20:07.0) lead the pack overall, placing fourth and just ahead of fifth-place finisher Nicole Bush (20:13.4) of Michigan State. In addition to Nukuri and Bush, Illinois' Angela Bizzarri (14th, 20:34.7), Iowa's Meghan Armstrong (16th, 20:36.3), Wisconsin's Hanna Grinaker (25th, 20:50.5), Minnesota's Jamie Cheever (33rd, 20:58.3) and Michigan's Erin Webster (34th, 20:59.1) earned All-America honors.