As I head to the end of my senior year and graduation looms, I look back on Miami University sports through the last four years.
My freshman year, I was full of excitement. I can still remember that first football game. It was a whiteout and the freshmen received free tee shirts from Cintas. Two weeks before Miami had upset a Nate Davis led Ball State University team in Muncie, Ind. Brandon Murphy, the senior tailback scored with 17.7 seconds left to lift the RedHawks to the thrilling 14-13 victory. Then, just a week before Miami went to triple overtime against the University of Minnesota losing a heart breaker 41-35. With those games fresh in our minds, Yager Stadium was a sea of white and youthful optimism for the Battle of the Victory Bell. Unfortunately, that was the year Brian Kelly had taken over the University of Cincinnati Bearcats and turned their offense into one of the best in the country. Cincinnati won the game 47-10. Even still, it was a good year for the Red and White and they made it all the way to the Mid-American Conference (MAC) championship game with a 6-6 record. Unfortunately, a loss in that game meant no bowl with a losing record overall at 6-7. Even still, Clayton Mullins was named MAC defensive player of the year and the future looked bright.
My first hockey game was with a huge group of other freshman. I still had my high school goofiness about me and I had fun sneaking into and ruining pictures of the girls I was with. I remember being mesmerized by the experience. Upperclassmen taught us to turn around when the opposing team was announced and to boo the refs. I learned the intricacies of the sieve chant and the Scalp Song was still allowed.
Ryan Jones was a Hobey Baker finalist, as he led the RedHawks all season with his famed flowing locks that he cut off and donated to Locks of Love at the end of the season. He was more dominant than any player I had ever seen at Cincinnati Mighty Ducks games. He actually played in 81 games this past NHL season with the Edmonton Oilers, netting 18 goals and 17 assists.
The Pollitz brothers, big man Tyler Dierkers, junior college transfer Kenny Hayes and three-point sharp shooter Michael Bramos led the ‘Hawk basketball team. Expectations were high because the team had made the NCAA tourney the year before and nearly defeated the University of Oregon in the first round. Early in the season they hung with another Pac-10 power at that time almost upsetting the University of California Los Angeles before falling 57-53. In November, the RedHawks signed star recruit Julian Mavunga. They had a good year advancing all the way to the MAC tourney semifinals.
My sophomore year the football team had three linebackers on the preseason Butkus award watch list: Clayton Mullins, Joey Hudson and Caleb Bostic. Sadly, the season was a disappointment and the team only mustered two victories before head coach Shane Montgomery resigned at season’s end.
The hockey season was an absolute magical one. Sophomore stars like Andy Miele, Pat Cannone and Carter Camper began to emerge that year. It was supposed to be a rebuilding season with team leaders Ryan Jones and Nate Davis having graduated. Miami hockey proved that they were a “next guy in” program that season. Tommy Wingels, Jared Palmer and Brian Kaufman provided leadership for the talented youngsters. The mix of solid veterans and super sophomores took the Red and White all the way to the NCAA Championship game. Sure, disaster struck as Boston University scored two goals in the final minute to force overtime and then won it in the extra frame, but still watching the RedHawks play in the championship game was a thrill.
With Tim Pollitz graduated, Michael Bramos and Tyler Dierkers became the main men on the basketball court. Kenny Hayes suffered a devastating injury and was only able to play in eight games. Sophomores Nick Winbush and Antonio Ballard and freshman Julian Mavunga showed flashes of things to come. The RedHawks fell in the MAC quarterfinals.
The start of the 2009 football season was met with a feeling of refreshing excitement as former University of Notre Dame Offensive Coordinator Mike Haywood was set to take over as the new headman on the gridiron for Miami. The team struggled all season as the roster’s personnel struggled in Haywood’s pro-style schemes. The team only captured one win that season, a surprising road victory at Bowling Green State University.
Hockey was once again a thrill. The team advanced all the way back to the Frozen Four before falling to Boston College. Palmer, Wingels, Miele, Campe, and Cannone once again led the team. Cody Reichard was arguably the best goalie in college hockey, he led the nation with a 1.64 goals against average.
Kenny Hayes came back from injury and was impressive in his final season for the basketball team averaging just over 14 points a game. Julian Mavunga took a step forward in his development averaging over 10 points a game. Unfortunately, the team would suffer its first of two straight losing seasons. The most memorable part of the year was a near upset of the University of Kentucky. Nick Winbush had 26 points in the game, and the team had an 18-point lead in the first half. John Wall hit a buzzer beater and the Wildcats won the game by two, and RedHawk nation’s heart broke as we watched John Wall “Do the Dougie.”
My senior year has arguably been my best as a Miami sports fan. I finally had something to root for in football. This past season can be described as nothing short of destiny. The team won six games by one score or less. They became the first team in Division I history to go from double digit losses to double digit wins. Not to brag or anything, but I think I reported the possibility first in late October or early November on my WMSR radio program, The Couch Coach. Zac Dysert led the team and when he got hurt, Austin Boucher didn’t miss a beat. He led the team to a huge magical win in the MAC Championship game over the heavily favored Northern Illinois University. If you needed anymore proof that this year was a season of destiny, look no farther than that fourth and 20 catch by Chris Given off a defender’s helmet in that game. Miami went to and won their first bowl game since 2003 against Middle Tennessee State University in the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Austin Boucher stole a kiss from Danica Patrick in the post-game ceremonies.
The basketball season was up and down. Sadly, Ballard was hurt mid-season, leaving Winbush and Mavunga as the veteran team leaders. Young players like Quinten Rollins, Orlando Williams, Josh Sewell, Jon Harris and Allen Roberts showed that the future should be bright. The team played the hardest schedule, largely contributing to their second straight losing season. Ohio State University, the University of Kansas, San Diego State University and Duke University were all on the schedule. Three of those teams were ranked number one in the nation at different times this year and San Diego State climbed all the way to number two.
The hockey season was a good one. Sure, the team fell short of expectations after being bounced in the first round of the NCAA tourney. I however like to focus on the positives. The team captured the school’s first ever Mason Cup winning the CCHA tournament. There were two Hobey Baker finalists in super seniors Camper and Miele. Miele led the NCAA with 71 points and easily became Miami’s first ever Hobey Baker winner.
Props to the women’s tennis team too. Over the last three years, the girls have won three straight MAC titles, and three straight undefeated MAC regular seasons.
It’s been a fun four years to say the least.