No one ever forgets a memorable first in life, whether it is a first kiss or a first car or the first time you hear the roar of the crowd at a professional sporting event. Firsts are never forgotten.
That’s why I love championship season — because teams and coaches and student-athletes are making first-time memories everywhere you look. Football, field hockey, cross country, soccer — it does not matter which sport or division we are talking about, there are incredible first-time feats happening all around.
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In a week chock full of championship matches, games, meets and selections, there were programs who earned their first NCAA berths, first NCAA wins or first national titles, not to mention student-athletes who ran record-setting races.
Last week, there were even a couple of unique firsts. An international team advanced to the semifinals of an NCAA tournament for the first time, and a coaching couple’s first child was born a day after their team pulled off a great upset.
So, take a moment and reflect on your favorite NCAA first, and then read my handful of favorites from the past week – for those student-athletes, coaches and fans who experienced them, they are unforgettable.
• The FCS football bracket was released on Sunday and while the majority of the field is familiar, one school stood out in the bracket. Wagner, which claimed its first Northeast Conference football title with a 23-17 victory against Duquesne last Saturday, is the lone team in the field making its first FCS playoff appearance. The Seahawks will host Colgate, champions of the Patriot League, on Nov. 24.
After opening the season 0-3, Wagner reeled off eight consecutive victories to secure their first NCAA playoff appearance since competing in the Division III playoffs in 1988. And, although there has been a postseason hiatus for the Seahawks, the program does have a tradition of playoff success. Wagner won the 1987 Division III championship with a 19-3 victory against Dayton.
• The Denver women’s soccer program had quite a memorable weekend. Not only did the Pioneers advance to the NCAA Division I Round of 16 for the first time in program history with a 3-2 victory against Maryland on Friday, but head coach Jeff Hooker and assistant coach Katie Hooker gave birth to their first child – Aubrey Kathleen – on Saturday.
Katie, who has not traveled with the team since September, was joined by her husband on Saturday afternoon after he took a morning flight back to Denver to be present for the birth of their daughter. On Sunday morning, the whirlwind weekend continued as Jeff hopped back on a plane to Stanford for his team’s game. The Pioneers ended their season with a 3-0 loss versus the No. 1 Cardinal on Sunday afternoon.
• Indianapolis knocked off Midwestern State 31-14 on Saturday for the Greyhounds’ first NCAA Division II playoff victory. The Greyhounds ended MSU’s nine-game winning streak, while extending their winning stretch to 10 games. UIndy also advanced to the second round of the playoffs, and will travel to top-ranked Colorado State-Pueblo on Nov. 24. The Greyhounds held MSU to just 280 yards of total offense, almost 200 yards below its season average.
• In the Division III football playoffs, Elmhurst notched its first postseason victory with a 27-24 win against Coe. Joe Furco’s fourth-quarter TD pass to Corey Thonn on fourth-and-goal was the game-winning score as the Bluejays advanced to the second round of the championship. Elmhurst will now travel to No. 3 St. Thomas (Minn.) on Saturday.
• Texas Tech’s Kennedy Kithuka captured the 2012 NCAA Men’s Cross Country individual championship in dominant fashion, becoming the program’s first male to accomplish the feat. Kithuka, who entered the race unbeaten on the season, not only won the 10,000-meter race, but finished with a course record time of 28:31.3 at E.P. Tom Sawyer Park in Louisville, Ky.
While the national title is the first at the Division I level for Kithuka, it was not the first championship for the junior from Thinka, Kenya. He attended Wayland Baptist for the previous two years, winning 10 track & field and cross country titles at the NAIA level before transferring to Texas Tech.
• As the top-ranked team of the West Region in the Division II Men’s Soccer Championship, Simon Fraser was already the first international school to compete in an NCAA championship. But the Clan was not satisfied with just participating. They won their first three matches in the tournament, including a 1-0 defeat of Incarnate Word in the NCAA quarterfinals on Saturday, advancing to the national semifinals to play Saginaw Valley State on Nov. 29. The Canadian university located in Burnaby, British Columbia, became an official – and first non-American — NCAA member on Sept. 1.
• Princeton claimed the school’s first NCAA field hockey title with a 3-2 victory against No. 1 North Carolina in Norfolk, Va., on Sunday. The Tigers had advanced to the national championship two previous times – 1996 and 1998 – but the win against the Tar Heels was their first in a title game. Senior Kathleen Sharkey, the nation’s leading scorer, netted three goals during the weekend, to finish the season with 38. It is Princeton’s first NCAA championship since the rowing team won the 2010 title.
• The St. Thomas (Minn.) women’s volleyball team rallied from a 2-0 deficit to claim a five-set victory against Calvin in the NCAA Division III Women’s Volleyball Championship match on Saturday night. With the win, the Tommies captured the program’s first national title and stretched their winning streak to 35 matches. St. Thomas also became the first team from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference to win the national title, doing it in front of an NCAA-record championship match crowd of 3,517 fans.
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||The No. 1 Minnesota women’s ice hockey team posted a dominating 9-1 victory against Minnesota State on Saturday as the Gophers extended their winning streak to an NCAA-record 22 games. The Gophers’ streak dates back to last year’s national championship season. The previous mark of 21 consecutive wins was held by Harvard in 2008.|
|24-0||The top-ranked USC men’s water polo team capped off its third undefeated regular season finish in program history with a 10-9 win against crosstown rival No. 2 UCLA on Saturday. The Trojans (24-0) will enter this week’s Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament as the No. 1 seed.|
|42||After 42 consecutive victories, Brittney Griner and the No. 1 Baylor Bears were finally stopped with a 71-69 loss to No. 4 Stanford in the Rainbow Wahine Classic on Friday. Baylor went 40-0 en route to winning the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball title last year, and started the year 2-0. Stanford also ended Connecticut’s NCAA-record 90-game winning streak in 2010.|
|78||Wisconsin running back Montee Ball tied the NCAA Division I for career touchdowns with a seven-yard TD run in the second quarter of a loss to Ohio State on Saturday. Ball is tied with Travis Prentice of Miami (Ohio), who set the mark between 1996-99. Ball will have ample opportunity to break the mark with three games left on the schedule, including the Badgers’ contest at Penn State next weekend.|
|444||Louisiana Tech quarterback Colby Cameron’s NCAA-record of consecutive pass attempts without an interception was snapped at 444 in the Bulldogs’ 48-41 overtime loss to Utah State on Saturday. Cameron’s two picks against the Aggies were his first of the season.|
|448||Florida State senior kicker Dustin Hopkins became the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer among kickers with a 26-yard field goal in second quarter of the Seminoles’ 41-14 win against Maryland on Saturday. Hopkins finished the game with 448 career points, and still has three contests remaining as FSU hosts Florida next Saturday, competes in the ACC championship on Dec. 1 and is a lock for a bowl bid.|
• The Misericordia women’s soccer team snagged its first trip to the NCAA Division III semifinals with a 2-0 defeat of Brandeis on Sunday. MU picked up its 15th shutout of the season, and fifth in six postseason games. The Cougars will now meet defending NCAA champion Messiah in the semifinals on Nov. 30 in San Antonio.
• The second-ranked Southwest Minnesota State women’s volleyball squad knocked off No. 1 Concordia-St. Paul in five sets on Sunday as the Mustangs earned their first Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Tournament championship. With the win, SMSU also receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II championship – their ninth consecutive appearance and 10th in school history. CU had defeated SMSU twice during the regular season.
• Tufts freshman Hannah Park netted two goals to lead the Jumbos in a 2-1 win against Montclair State as they captured the NCAA Division III Field Hockey title on Sunday. Park, the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, also contributed an assist in the semifinal victory against DePauw en route to the first NCAA women’s team championship in Tufts history.
• The Johns Hopkins women’s cross country team took home the NCAA Division III Championship, scoring 153 points as the Blue Jays notched their first women’s national title in any sport in school history. It is also JHU’s first Division III title since winning the men’s swimming championship in 1979. Freshman Hannah Oneda led the way with a 10th-place finish as JHU posted a 63-point margin of victory in the meet – the largest in a championship race since 2002.
Follow Amy Farnum on Twitter: @NCAA_Amy