A one-two finish at nationals and a rarely achieved coaching milestone highlighted the 2014 calendar year for Western Washington University Athletics.
Off the field, the major events were the completion of an on-campus soccer facility and the transition to a new director of athletics.
The one constant was continued success for the Vikings.
Last spring, teammates and best friends Bethany Drake and Katie Reichert placed one-two in the women’s javelin at the NCAA Division II National Track & Field Championships.
Only an inch separated their best efforts. Drake had what proved to be the winning throw of 165-3 on her first attempt in the finals. Reichert reached 165-2 on her final throw of the competition to be runner-up.
Drake was named both the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Outdoor Field Scholar-Athlete of the Year and West Region Field Athlete of the Year.
On Dec. 19, WWU’s Carmen Dolfo won the 500th game of her 24-year career with a 71-50 victory over Southern Indiana. She became the first women’s basketball coach in the Pacific Northwest, which includes the states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho, to achieve that distinction at one four-year university.
Last winter, Dolfo’s Vikings finished the 2013-14 season 19-10 and won the Great Northwest Athletic Conference tournament for the second straight season to earn an automatic berth in the West Regional. It was their15th trip to nationals in 16 years as a NCAA member.
Robert S. Harrington Field opened in August, giving the Vikings their first on-campus soccer venue since 2000. The field was officially dedicated onSept. 27 with a men’s and women’s doubleheader drawing a school-record crowd of 1,179.
Steve Card was hired as the WWU director of athletics on March 25 after serving as interim AD for nine months. Previously, he was the Vikings’ Associate AD for business and financial affairs for 23 years. Card replaced Lynda Goodrich, who retired in 2013 after 26 years as AD.
WWU’s Katelyn Steen finished fifth at the women’s cross country nationals on Dec. 6, the second-best performance in school history, and placed fourth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at nationals last spring with a school-record time of 10:20.66, earning USTFCCCA All-America honors for the efforts. She captured both the GNAC and NCAA II West Regional individual titles in cross country and was named USTFCCCA National Cross Country DII Women’s Athlete of the Week.
Steen’s cross country effort at nationals helped the Viking women place 12th, bettering their national ranking by six spots. The men were 13th, an improvement of 10 places.
WWU women’s soccer defender Brianna Jones was named to three All-American teams. She led a defense that allowed just seven goals for a 0.32 goals against average that ranked third nationally. The Vikings were second nationally in save percentage (.913) and fifth in shutout percentage (.667) with 14 whitewashes.
Jones and midfielder Kim Cooper, who was named the 2014 GNAC Defensive Player of the Year, led the Vikings to a 16-1-4 record and a GNAC regular-season title. They were 8-1-1 at home, the only loss being to eventual West Region champion Cal State Stanislaus, 1-0, in the second round of the national playoffs.
Libero Samantha Hutchinson was named an American Volleyball Coaches Association All-American and GNAC Defensive Player of the Year, both for the third straight season. She was the national leader in digs per set at 7.17 after being No.2 in 2013 and No.5 in 2012. This season’s average was nearly a full dig per set better than her closest rival.
Hutchinson finished with four-year career total of 2,438 digs, second in both school and GNAC history. She and middle blocker Kayla Erickson an honorable mention Daktronics All-American, helped the Vikings finish 21-7 and reach nationals for the third straight year and sixth time in nine seasons, all under Diane Flick who passed the 300 win plateau early in the campaign.
WWU came close to winning its eighth DII national title in women’s rowing, with a photo finish being needed to determine the champion. Just two points separated the top three teams, the tightest finish in the sport’s history.
The Vikings won the varsity four race at nationals and were second with 200 meters to go in the varsity eight run, needing a runner-up finish to take the overall title. But they were edged out by .06 of a second on the final stroke.
Named a Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association Pocock All-American was WWU’s Emily Little.
At track nationals last spring, the WWU women placed 11th and the men 15th. Besides the performances of Drake, Reichert and Steen; Frank Catelli was third in the men’s shot put (60-10 1/2), and Alex Donigian fifth in the 100 meters (10.61) with Slater Hirst fourth in the men’s javelin (216-7) and teammate John Haskin eighth (204-11).
The WWU men won GNAC outdoor track title for third straight year and the indoor crown for the second consecutive season. Catelli was named the indoor USTFCCCA West Region Field Athlete of the Year and Donigian the indoor GNAC Outstanding Male Performer.
The Vikings, who finished 20-8, just missed out on third straight trip to nationals in men’s basketball as two upsets at two West Region conference tournaments followed a 65-62 loss to Seattle Pacific in the final of the GNAC Tournament that would gotten them an automatic berth at regionals. They won the national title in 2012 and reached the national semifinals in 2013.
Center Austin Bragg and Richard Woodworth both received DII Bulletin All-America honorable mention, with Bragg competing in the National Association of Basketball Coaches DII All-Star game.
The men’s soccer team was 9-8-1 and only a loss at Simon Fraser in its season finale kept WWU from making the school’s first NCAA post-season appearance in that sport.
The Vikings were 30-14 in softball with GNAC Player of the Year honors going to Alexie Levin, who hit .424 with 10 home runs and 47 runs batted in.
WWU won a fourth straight GNAC title in women’s golf with Kristen Hansen being named GNAC Player of the Year and competing at regionals.
WWU student-athletes had this success while maintaining a NCAA II Academic Success Rate of 86 percent, 15 percentage points higher than the national average.
WWU placed 20th nationally among 300 NCAA II schools in the final 2013-14 Learfield Sports Directors' Cup standings announced in June. It was the Vikings' seventh straight Top 20 finish. And WWU won a sixth straight and 11th overall GNAC all-sports championship in the 13-year history of the league.
Pee Wee Halsell was named both the GNAC men’s indoor and outdoor track Coach of the Year as well as USTFCCCA West Region indoor Coach of the Year. Travis Connell was the co-GNAC Women’s Soccer Coach of the Year and Bo Stephan the GNAC Women’s Golf Coach of the Year.
2014 also was a year of standout accomplishments by former Viking athletes. Sarah (Porter) Crouch placed seventh in the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 12. In November, Alex Harrison and Michelle Howe, were selected to represent the U.S. Bobsled Team on the 2014-15 World Cup and Intercontinental Cup tours; and Tyler Amaya participated in an October exhibition basketball tour of China with NBA players.
Orlondo Steinauer was defensive coordinator for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats team that reached the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup, and punter Michael Koenen and long snapper Matt Overton had solid seasons in continuing their NFL careers.