Turn back the clock
UW-Eau Claire reminisces on its 2008 championship season
As we approach the end of the 2013 season, one school will be crowned national champions and a group of seniors will reach the pinnacle of their career on their final day in uniform.
Neither Cortland nor Tufts have won a national championship, but one team will triumphantly leave Eau Claire this week achieving the highest team accolade.
Host school, UW-Eau Claire is five years removed from their national championship season. In 2008, the Blugolds won in dramatic fashion with Jill Janke providing a walk-off home run in the ninth inning to defeat WIAC-rival Whitewater 4-3.
The home run was exactly five years ago Sunday and a few members of the championship team and Eau Claire head coach Leslie Huntington were back in town this week for the 2013 national finals.
“The game speaks for itself,” said Huntington, “Especially the way it ended.”
The Blugolds finished third in the WIAC in 2008 and were not sure they would make the NCAA tournament before receiving an at-large bid. They went on to win eight games in a row to claim the ultimate prize.
“You got to have skill, you got to have will, and you have to have a little bit of luck,” Huntington stated on the Blugolds magical run.
In the top of the ninth in a 3-3 tie, the Blugolds ended the inning with second baseman Casey Leisgang making an over-the-shoulder grab on the run in foul territory.
“[After Leisgang’s catch] I had this crazy calm that I knew we were going to win,” 2008 graduate Jill Janke said.
Leisgang agreed, “We came in and were getting excited and we knew we were going to win this.”
Janke ended her playing career the way every kid dreams about, hitting a long ball out of James Moyer Complex in Salem, Va., crowning the Blugolds as national champions.
“It was just the craziest feeling in the world,” Janke stated. “When I touched second base I looked back and saw all my teammates at the plate. When I saw them there, I thought ‘I got to get home to get to my teammates.’”
“I’m standing in the door of the dugout and everyone knew it was gone,” Leisgang commented. “I immediately started crying hysterically. I’ve never cried that hard in my life about anything. She rounds third and comes home and it’s mass chaos at the plate.”
As she crossed the plate the celebration began and the Blugolds were officially the best team in the land. Both Leisgang and Janke got to experience the greatest moment an athlete will ever feel, knowing you are the best team in the nation. Both were back in Eau Claire and reflected back on their shining moment.
“It was pure pandemonium,” Janke spoke of the celebration. “We were just jumping up and down and it was this huge bear hug of our entire team. You are on just such a natural high knowing you are the best team in the country.”
Since graduation, Janke is now the head coach at UW-Stevens Point and Leisgang an assistant coach at St. Norbert.
“It’s the biggest compliment you can have as a coach,” Huntington continued. “I’m so proud of our alums. I was proud of them as players but even prouder of them as people.”
Leisgang served as the official moderator for the NCAA Division III national finals both times the event returned to Eau Claire. She was also serving as color commentator as Cortland made their incredible come-from-behind victory against Salisbury and connected with their emotional celebration.
“When you see the excitement and euphoria that they had of getting an opportunity to play for a national title,” Lesigang continued, “You definitely get goosebumps and feel good for those kids.”
The 2013 national champions will be crowned at Gelein Field at Carson Park, the home of the Blugolds. However, Eau Claire was unable to play on their home field in 2013 due to the abnormally long winter that extended into early May.
“Gelein Field is a special place,” Huntington said. “It’s a beautiful park. It’s a beautiful place to play. It’s a great place to win a national championship.”