With 2016 drawing to a close, America and the world finally say goodbye to a year filled with contentious political debates, a small mountain of dead celebrities and all kinds of craziness in sports. Fan bases that hadn’t seen athletic success in decades saw themselves rise to the heights of glory, such as the Cleveland Cavaliers bringing a title to a city that hadn’t had a sports championship since 1964 and the Chicago Cubs who hadn’t won a World Series in a century before finally getting one this season.
The Cards were not immune to such insanity, seeing highs and lows throughout the year.
The Men’s Basketball Team started the 2015-2016 campaign out strong, heading into the New Year and ACC play with a 11-2 record and losing only two conference games going into February, including a win against #2 North Carolina on February 1.
But February changed all that.
February 5th saw a press conference featuring then-UofL president James Ramsey, AD Tom Jurich, Coach Rick Pitino and Chuck Smrt, a former NCAA Enforcement Director who was hired by the school to direct their internal investigation into allegations of hiring strippers for recruits and other recruiting accusations. At the press conference, they announced a self-imposed postseason ban for the 2015-2016 season, making the team ineligible for both the ACC, NCAA and any other postseason tournaments. In April, they would announce additional self-imposed sanctions on recruiting.
This news came as a tremendous shock to fans, players and coaches. Particularly Damion Lee and Trey Lewis, two graduate transfers who were playing their last season of collegiate basketball with no possibility of transferring. And since the press conference didn’t release any new information, everyone was left to speculate over what exactly had happened in Billy Minardi Hall and what the facts were.
While the team would continue to win and finish their season with a 23-8 record, it just wasn’t the same knowing that things were going to have a definite endpoint. And the way the Cards ended the season, with a 68-46 loss to Virginia, left a sour taste in fans’ mouths.
The Women’s basketball team had another successful season. Led by sophomore forward Myisha Hines-Allen, the Cards finished with a 26-8 record, finishing second in the conference. Allen, who averaged 17.6 points and 8.4 rebounds for the season, would be named ACC Player of the Year, named to the All-ACC first team along with teammate sophomore forward Mariya Moore and earn AP and WBCA All-America honorable mentions.
The Women’s basketball team finished one game away from their fourth straight Sweet 16 with a one-point loss to DePaul.
The Louisville Baseball Team saw another season of great success under head coach Dan McDonnell, finishing the regular season on top of the ACC’s Atlantic Division and being considered one of the top teams going into the NCAA tournament, hosting their own Super Regional. Unfortunately, they were ousted in two games by UC Santa Barbara.
This was a little over a week after McDonnell signed a new contract making him the highest paid college baseball coach in the country, earning a base salary of $1 million dollars a year.
The Cards had eight players drafted in the 2016 MLB draft, seven in the first four rounds, led by outfielder Corey Ray who was picked fifth overall by the Milwaukee Brewers.
Spring is also the time for Track and Field, and Louisville sent three athletes to the NCAA Championships in June.
Junior Edwin Kibichiy placed third in the 3000m Steeplechase, an event he had already won in the ACC Championships. Kibichiy would earn first team All-American honors, and would also place eighth in the NCAA Cross Country Championships in November.
Sophomore jumper Ben Williams placed 16th in the triple jump, which he had won in the ACC Championship meet, which netted him second team All-American honors. Joining him on the second team was junior thrower Emmonnie Henderson, who placed 13th in the shot put after she won the event in the ACC Championships and won ACC Field MVP.
The Cards had a member of the Women’s golf team in the NCAA Championships. Freshman Olivia Cason placed 45th at the event with 4-over 220 at Eugene Country Club in Eugene, Oregon. She missed the cut for the final round of play by two strokes.
Louisville Women’s Lacrosse also saw some success with senior midfielder Kay Morissette, a first team All-ACC selection and a IWLCA All-American, getting drafted by the Philadelphia Force of the United Women’s Lacrosse League. The Lacrosse team lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Northwestern in May.
Summertime is usually a slow time for college sports, what with school being out of session and all. But that doesn’t mean that the Cards weren’t playing and not in the news.
The 2016 Summer Olympics took place in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, and Louisville fans watched 12 current and former Cardinals represent their respective countries in the Olympics, primarily in the water.
These included swimmer Kelsi Worrell, already a multiple record holder, NCAA and Pan American Games champion and ACC Swimmer of the Year and former women’s basketball star Angel McCoughtry, who won her second gold medal at the Games.
The seasons changed yet again. The air got colder, leaves changed color and fell from the trees, and the football team laced up for another season.
Sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson had emerged as the clear starter after leading the Cards to a comeback victory over their rival UK in the 2015 Governor’s Cup and putting on an MVP performance against Texas A&M in the Music City Bowl. And he did not disappoint in 2016, putting on an offensive performance the likes of which the Cards and the ACC had never seen. Whether through the air or on the ground, Jackson scored seemingly at will for most the season. His dynamite performance brought the crew of ESPN College Gameday on campus for their matchup against Florida State in week three. And the whole nation saw the #10 Cards beat down the #2 Seminoles 63-20 at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, with Jackson rushing for four touchdowns and throwing for another.
After coming within a few yards of beating Clemson on the road, Louisville won the next five games and went into mid-November ranked third in the country and was the topic of heated debate as elite teams jostled for position in the forthcoming College Football Playoff rankings.
However, two straight unranked losses to end the season, including losing the 2016 Governor’s Cup for the first time in six years, put an end to any of those hopes.
Jackson would finish the regular season with 51 total touchdowns, 3,390 passing yard and 1,538 rushing yards. In addition to winning a whole mess of postseason awards such as the Maxwell, the Walter Camp, and ACC Player of the Year, he was also named the Heisman Trophy winner in December. He was the first player from Louisville and the youngest person ever to receive the award.
The month of October also saw the NCAA give the University their Notice of Allegations surrounding the Katina Powell accusations after months of fans, players and coaches twisting in the wind. The NOA slapped four Level 1 violations on the program, on former player and assistant Andre McGee for the improper benefits and refusing to cooperate with the investigation, on another former assistant coach Brandon Williams for also refusing to cooperate with the investigation, and Rick Pitino for failing to monitor McGee.
The book won’t be closed on the scandal until late March 2017, which saves the 2016-2017 postseason. Fans are still waiting for that judgement, however, and how it might affect past seasons such as the 2013 national championship run.
Football isn’t the only sports that goes down in the autumnal season, as both the men’s and women’s soccer programs had another season in Louisville’s spiffy stadium. While the women finished 7-7-4, the men’s team returned to the NCAA tournament, losing in the quarterfinal round to eventual national champion Stanford.
They finished ranked #6 in the NSCAA with a 14-6-2 record behind second team All-American defender Tim Kubel and leading goal scorer forward Mohamed Thiaw, who joined Kubel on the All-ACC first team.
Field Hockey players also take the field, and the Cards looked good there too. They finished ranked #9 in the nation, losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament to the eventual national champion Delaware. Sophomore goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran was named to the Longstreth/NFHCA All-American First Team to go with a whole set of All-conference and All-American honors. Senior midfielder Erin McCrudden would earn second team All-American honors.
Also in the fall were the NCAA Cross Country Championships, where along with Kibichiy’s top-ten finish, the women’s team made their first ever appearance and placed 31st.
WINTER PART 2
Things came full circle as the weather got cold again and a new season of basketball tipped off.
The Men’s basketball team came into the New Year with a 12-2 record, including a win over UK for the first time since 2012 with the help of Quentin Snider’s 22 points. It wasn’t perfect (they lost to Virginia AGAIN), but they’re headed into conference place with a good chance to do some things in the ACC and play in the postseason after a year off.
The Women’s basketball team ended the year eighth in the nation having only lost only two games, and look poised to stir things up in the conference and the NCAA tournament.
The football season ended, Louisville was slated to play in the Citrus Bowl against LSU on New Year’s Eve, their third straight bowl game against an SEC opponent. Unable to perform against the fast, hard-hitting Tiger defense and with their own defense hobbled by injuries, the Cards failed to score a touchdown and lost to LSU 29-9.
This is only a small sample of everything that happened in Louisville athletics in 2016. There was a surprise volleyball coaching change as volleyball coach Ann Kordes resigned at the end of the season. There was a football cheating scandal that got a few days of national attention and its own nickname. There was even a rant against participation trophies by women’s basketball coach Jeff Walz for some reason.
As 2017 kicks off, it will bring a whole new year of ups, downs and absurdity in the world of Louisville sports. And The Cardinal Connect will be there every season to cover it for you.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!<