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Top sports moments of the decade
January 13, 2010
The 2000s had their share of ups and downs for U-M sports programs. Here is John U. Bacon's list of the decade's best. What do you think? What were the greatest, most memorable, most inspiring moments of the '00s? Share your thoughts below.
Field hockey wins U-M's first-ever women's national title: November 18, 2001
The Wolverines have won an enviable 52 NCAA team titles. But when the field hockey team won its title in 2001, it was not only Michigan's first title of the new decade, it marked Michigan's first women's title…ever.
The Wolverines had made it to the title game twice before, but the third time proved to be the charm. The seventh-ranked Wolverines made history thanks to a 2-0 shut-out in the title game by Ann Arbor native Maureen Tasch in goal, her record eighth shutout of the season.
"Men's program, women's programs, revs, non-revs, it doesn't matter," said Head Coach Marcia Pankratz. "I'm just happy to bring another one home for the Wolverines."
The softball team takes the NCAA title: June 8, 2005
After the NCAA started crowning champions for softball in 1982, not one team north of the Mason-Dixon line or east of the Mississippi had ever won the title—and with good reason: Northern teams don't have as deep a talent pool, they have a harder time recruiting the best players, and they can't even play a home game until midseason.
That's why Michigan head coach Carol Hutchins didn't know how good her 2005 squad was until six trips to play warm weather teams produced 32 wins against just two losses—including a 6-2 victory over top-ranked Arizona—before they played their home opener in April.
Relying on Dexter's own Jennie Ritter, who pitched all but one game down the stretch, the Wolverines kept rolling right to the NCAA finals. There they faced perennial juggernaut UCLA, which had won 11 of the first 23 NCAA titles.
The finalists split the first two games, then took the deciding third game to extra innings. With two on in the tenth, and the score tied 1-1, the tournament's most outstanding player, U-M's Samantha Findlay, stepped to the plate and delivered the shot heard 'round the softball world, a three run homer.
Immediately after the teams shook hands, UCLA's head coach Sue Enquist told ESPN that the Wolverines' win might be bad for UCLA, but it was good for softball. That's how big it was.
Kevin Porter wins the Hobey Baker Award: April 11, 2008
With a tiny four-man senior class, no one knew what to expect of the 2007-08 Wolverines. But two of those four—Chad Kolarik and Kevin Porter—would earn All-American status that year for leading the team to a number one ranking most of the season. The Wolverines won almost everything in front of them, including the Great Lakes Invitational, the CCHA regular season and tournament titles, and the NCAA regional crown—but saw their magical season end in the NCAA semi-final with a 5-4 loss to Notre Dame.
The next day, however, Captain Kevin Porter, who had played every shift, all season, like he was still trying to make the team, was awarded the Hobey Baker trophy—hockey's Heisman. That made him just the second Wolverine to claim the award since it was created in 1981. "Kevin was a complete player, a dominant player," said coach Red Berenson, "and just a great leader, on and off the ice. As a captain, he was as good as it gets."
Elise Ray leads gymnasts to within a whisker of NCAA title: April 20, 2001
Arguably no Michigan team had a better decade than women's gymnastics, which took the Big Ten title every year but one—and that season, they made up for it by winning the NCAA regional. In a run of great seasons, however, 2001 stands out. That year the Wolverines missed out on winning their first NCAA team title by a razor-thin 0.125. Freshman Elise Ray scorched through the individual events and tied for national all-around champion. Ray went on to become U-M's most decorated athlete ever, winning All-American status a whopping 14 times.
Lloyd Carr goes out on top: January 1, 2008
Just midway through the zeroes, it had already been a busy decade for Michigan football, with three Big Ten titles, and two ten-win seasons—but the roller coaster ride had just begun. The 2007 season, Lloyd Carr's last, started with a stunning upset at the hands of Appalachia State, followed by a 39-7 whitewashing at home by Oregon. Few would have predicted Carr's squad, hobbled by injuries to quarterback Chad Henne and tailback Michael Hart, would then rattle off eight straight victories to earn a bid to the Capital One Bowl.
Fewer still would have bet the Wolverines had much of a chance against 12th ranked Florida Gators. The Gators were 10.5 point favorites, led by Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. They held a 35-31 lead with less than six minutes to play, but Henne hit Adrian Arrington for an 18-yard touchdown, followed by K.C. Lopata's 41-yard field goal to secure the 41-35 upset. Coach Lloyd Carr got a ride on his players' shoulders—the first Michigan coach to be carried off after his last game since Fritz Crisler, exactly 60 years earlier.
Tiffany Ofili runs to five NCAA titles
Women's track and field head coach James Henry's teams have won 14 Big Ten titles—indoor and outdoor—and his athletes have claimed 13 NCAA individual titles. The best of those, Tiffany Ofili, won five of them by herself. She outpaced all comers in the 60-meter indoor hurdles in 2007 and 2008, and in the 100-meter outdoor hurdles for three straight years—then entered Michigan's doctorate program in pharmacy.
Steve Luke becomes national champion: March 21, 2009
Big Ten wrestling has been so good for so long, that it's possible to finish third in the conference and second in the NCAA—as Michigan did in 2005. The Wolverines have won 11 Big Ten titles, and finished in the NCAA top ten 42 times—but have yet to win an NCAA title, thanks to Iowa's 22 titles over the past 35 years. But that has not stopped 39 of Joe McFarland's Wolverine wrestlers from earning All-American status in this decade alone. Chief among them: Steve Luke, who won three straight Big Ten titles, and added an NCAA title in 2009 to cap his 32-0 senior season. A three-time Academic All-American, Luke is now a classmate of Tiffany Ofili's in Michigan's doctorate program in pharmacy.
2000 Sydney Olympics: September, 2000
205 Wolverines have competed in the Olympics for 23 countries, earning 133 medals among them, 65 gold (79, if you count Michael Phelps, who studied at Michigan while training at Canham Natatorium). But Michigan's best Olympic performance this decade occurred in 2000, when the Wolverines sent 15 athletes to Sydney, eight of whom came home with medals.
Men's Basketball returns to the NCAA tournament: March 15, 2009
The decade had been worse than mediocre for the men's basketball team, and John Beilein's tenure didn't start any better, with a 10-22 record and a ninth-place finish in the Big Ten. But in his second season, 2008-09, his Wolverines upset UCLA and Duke—both fourth-ranked at the time—and 16th-ranked Purdue.
The team's highpoint, however, didn't occur during a game, but the NCAA tournament selection show on March 15, 2009. The players and coaches sat in reclining chairs on the Crisler floor, with a few thousand faithful sitting behind them, all watching—and being watched—on national TV. They waited until there were just three slots left when the announcers finally announced "Michigan!" Crisler erupted.
Baseball's back on top, 2006
Baseball is one of Michigan's oldest varsity sports, and also one of its most successful, with 39 Big Ten titles, 21 NCAA berths and two NCAA crowns. But the program fell on hard times after Bud Middaugh was fired for NCAA violations in 1989.
When Rich Maloney took over in 2003, however, he turned a cellar-dweller into a giant killer. In 2006, the underrated Wolverines won the Big Ten regular season, the Big Ten tournament and a berth in the NCAA tournament—and followed it up with an NCAA regional title the next year, and two more Big Ten titles. Michigan baseball was back.
Men's Lacrosse's two-year undefeated streak
A "varsity club" sport, men's lacrosse posted two consecutive 20-0 seasons in 2008 and 2009, winning the national title both years. Not surprisingly, head coach John Paul earned national Coach of the Year honors last spring.
The greatest comeback in Michigan Stadium history: Sept. 8, 2008
Losing 19-0 to the 9th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers, the Wolverines scored 27 unanswered points to pull off the greatest comeback in Big House history—all during the stadium's 500th game.