2013 a special year for WWU Athletics

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJanuary 1, 2014 

Western Washington University's Brianna Jones, left, lifts Kim Cooper as Kristin Maris, right, gets her a hand after WWU beat St. Edward's 2-0 in an NCAA Division II national quarterfinal game at Orca Field on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013 in Bellingham.

ANDY BRONSON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

Employees within the Western Washington University Athletics Department will return to work for the new year and toss out their 2013 calendars, but it'll be impossible for them to throw away the memories the last year bred.

And there were so many no student, alumni and fan of the university will soon forget.

The 365 days that made up 2013 were the most successful stretch WWU has put together in school history. Conference championships were won, national semifinals were reached and a leadership change was made after a Western legend decided to step down as director of athletics.

"All in all, you look at our programs from top to bottom and I expect they all are going to be super competitive," said interim director of athletics Steve Card during an interview back in September. "I'm not going to make any predictions, but I'm expecting we are going to have a target on our back everywhere we go, and that's fine. I value that target."

That target never seemed to hinder WWU's athletics programs. In fact, it helped increase the university's visibility and solidify its standing as one of the top Division II athletics programs in the nation.

So what programs helped make last year a success?

Four different teams reached national semifinals, including the men's basketball team coached by first-year coach Tony Dominguez, the women's basketball team coached by Carmen Dolfo, the men's golf team coached by Card and the women's soccer team coached by Travis Connell. Each of those clubs also won conference championships.

In men's basketball, Dominguez took over for long-time coaching great Brad Jackson, who took an assistant coaching position at the University of Washington, and led the defending national champions to a 31-3 record and a second straight Elite Eight appearance.

Dolfo guided the women's basketball team to a 29-4 record and its first Elite Eight appearance since 2000, and Connell helped the women's soccer team to a 20-2-1 record and its first West Regional title. The Vikings lost 2-1 in overtime to West Florida in the national semifinals.

In men's golf, the No. 8-seeded Vikings advanced to the national semifinals after beating No. 1 seed Florida Southern in the national quarterfinal round of match play. It was the highest team and individual finish in Western's 15 years as a member of the NCAA.

There was even more success outside of WWU's four national semifinal teams.

WWU rowing placed third at nationals and increased its string of top-three national finishes to 11 years, Western's volleyball team won a Great Northwest Athletic Conference title, earning a regional appearance and both the men's and women's cross country teams qualified for nationals.

Seven different coaches earned GNAC Coach of the Year selections. Pee Wee Halsell was a COY in both men's indoor and outdoor track, Card was selected in men's golf, Dolfo in women's basketball, Dominguez in men's basketball, Connell in women's soccer and Diane Flick in volleyball.

In addition, men's basketball player John Allen, volleyball's Kayla Erickson, soccer's Kristin Maris, men's golf athlete Jake Webb and women's golf athlete Claire Rachor each were selected Conference Player of the Year.

And the vast amount of success occurred while the university honored its commitment to classroom success.

Western enjoyed a NCAA Division II Academic Success Rate of 84 percent, which is 13 percent higher than the national average.

"My priorities are, and will always be, our student athletes and making sure we are going what we need to do to help our student athletes be both successful students and successful athletes," Card said.

While Western accomplishments happened in various athletic arenas, the retirement of long-tenured Director of Athletics Lynda Goodrich gave the Bellingham community reason to reflect and celebrate her tremendous accomplishments.

Goodrich listed adding scholarships, improving facilities and hiring outstanding coaches and staff as a few of her most noteworthy achievements during her 26 years as AD in a phone interview back in May.

Arguably her largest impact, though, was a societal one. Coaching pre-Title IX, she served as a pioneer for women in sports and athletic administrative jobs. She helped break barriers and opened doors for women to hold postions often reserved for men.

Furthermore, Western placed 12th nationally among 300 Division II schools in the 2012-13 Learfield Sports Directors' Cup standings, and WWU won a fifth straight, and ninth overall, GNAC all-sports championship.

WWU's future appears bright, but the past year proved to be the best in school history.

Reach Andrew Lang at andrew.lang@bellinghamherald.com or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County Sports updates.

Reach ANDREW LANG at andrew.lang@bellinghamherald.com or call ext. 862.

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