DIVISION I-AA FOOTBALL James Madison
asked to pinpoint how his team beat Montana 31--21 in the title game last Friday in Chattanooga, James Madison coach Mickey Matthews answered simply, "We could run it, and they couldn't." The Dukes gained 314 yards on the ground and got two rushing touchdowns from each of two sophomores, quarterback Justin Rascati and tailback Maurice Fenner. Held to 44 yards on 23 carries, the Grizzlies moved the ball on the strength of Colorado transfer Craig Ochs's passing and took a 21--17 lead with 7:29 left in the third quarter. But four minutes later Fenner capped a 72-yard drive (all on the ground) with a one-yard scoring run to put James Madison ahead for good. It was the fifth title-game appearance for Montana, which won the IAA crown in 1995 and 2001, but the first for James Madison, which got there thanks to three road playoff wins.
DIVISION II FOOTBALL Valdosta State
on paper the championship game on Dec. 11 in Florence, Ala., looked to be a mismatch: Top-ranked and undefeated Pittsburg State of Kansas had averaged 57.6 points per game, scored 112 touchdowns and rushed for 5,157 yards--and the team's nickname is the Gorillas. But third-ranked Valdosta (Ga.) State didn't read the paper. After trailing by 14 points in the first quarter, the Blazers rallied to defeat Pittsburg State 36--31. Valdosta forced four turnovers and held the Gorillas to 371 yards of total offense, 244 yards below their average for the season. Blazers senior quarterback Fabian Walker, who started in the 2003 Sugar Bowl for Florida State, completed 19 of 27 passes for 165 yards and ran for 55 yards on 11 carries. Said Walker of his tortuous career--several seasons as a backup for the Seminoles, surgery to repair a painful bone spur in his throwing shoulder and finally a transfer to Valdosta State last January after he realized he wouldn't win the Florida State starting job--"It's all ending on a good note."
DIVISION III FOOTBALL Linfield
utah had perhaps the most exciting attack in Division I-A in 2004, but it was a Utes transfer, quarterback Brett Elliott, who ran another of college football's most prolific offenses. With Elliott calling signals, Linfield College, located outside Portland, was averaging nearly 52 points a game entering last Saturday's Division III final in Salem, Va. Against Mary Hardin-Baylor of Belton, Texas, Elliott threw two touchdown passes in a 28--21 victory, extending his NCAA all-division single-season record to 61 TD throws. His biggest came on what appeared to be an overthrown swing pass, which Wildcats running back Riley Jenkins turned into a 10-yard touchdown play with 5:51 remaining, the game's final points. "I thought it was incomplete and was thinking about the next play," said Elliott. "Then he sticks out his left arm and makes an unbelievable catch. That's been the story of our season."
WATER POLO UCLA
a reserve attacker was an unlikely hero when UCLA won its eighth national championship on Dec. 5, defeating Stanford 10--9 at the Cardinal's pool. "We had three players [foul out], and I was the next guy in line to play," said sophomore Logan Powell. "I was in the right place at the right time." In front of 3,044 screaming fans, Powell scored on a rebound shot with 13 seconds left in double overtime. Senior attacker Brett Ormsby, the tournament MVP who led the Bruins in goals (70) this fall, scored twice against Stanford, including the goal with 3:14 left in regulation that put UCLA up 7--5. But the Cardinal battled back behind three-time national player of the year Tony Azevedo, who tied the game with 21 seconds left. In the second overtime, however, he was not so fortunate: Bruins goalkeeper Joseph Axelrad made what may have been the biggest of his 374 career saves, blocking Azevedo's shot with five seconds left to secure the victory.
before facing UC Santa Barbara in the College Cup at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., on Dec. 12, the Hoosiers listened intently as coach Mike Freitag read aloud The Indiana University Soccer Player, the speech given by his predecessor and the winningest men's college soccer coach, Jerry Yeagley, upon his retirement last season. "It's about doing everything the right way, expecting to win when you take the field," says Freitag. The Hoosiers took the message to heart, defeating the Gauchos 3--2 in a penalty-kick shootout after the game had ended 1--1 in regulation plus two overtime periods. It was Indiana's seventh national title and the third time the school has won back-to-back championships. Senior goalkeeper Jay Nolly, defensive MVP of the tournament, fought off six corner kicks in the second half and saved two PKs in the shootout.
CROSS-COUNTRY Colorado (Team)/Simon Bairu, Wisconsin (Individual)
in wet and soggy conditions in Terre Haute, Ind., on Nov. 22, the Buffaloes upset No. 1--ranked and previously undefeated Wisconsin. The four-point win was the closest margin in the NCAA men's cross-country championships since 2001. The Badgers' Simon Bairu, a two-time Big Ten cross-country runner of the year, won the race to claim the individual crown, but Colorado got top five finishes from sophomore Brent Vaughn and junior Bret Schoolmeester. A junior from Regina, Saskatchewan, Bairu sprinted away from Arkansas's Josphat Boit on the last 800-meter straightaway and finished with a time of 30:38. It was the third individual cross-country championship for Wisconsin.
FIELD HOCKEY Wake Forest
the weather was unseasonably warm and the crowd of 2,170 boisterous at Wake Forest's Kentner Stadium for the women's field hockey final on Nov. 21. But the Demon Deacons hardly needed the help of the elements or the home fans in their 3--0 win over Duke. "The way this team played," said Wake Forest coach Jennifer Averill, "we could've been at the North Pole and won." Dutch freshman Tamar Meijer scored two goals and junior Kelly Wood added another to lead third-ranked Wake Forest to a third consecutive national championship, the first threepeat for any of the school's teams. The Deacons outshot the Blue Devils 16--8 and had seven penalty corners to Duke's three. The game was also the swan song for senior forward Kelly Dostal, who assisted on the game's final goal. The national player of the year, Dostal led the country in scoring (79 points) and set school records for career goals (84) and points (204).
CROSS-COUNTRY Colorado (Team)/Kimberly Smith, Providence College (Individual)
the colorado women's team started the school's sweep of the men's and women's team titles on Nov. 22 in Terre Haute, Ind., by placing four runners among the top 10 and its fifth in the top 30. Senior Renee Metivier, who entered the competition unbeaten, led the Buffaloes with a runner-up finish to Providence College's Kimberly Smith. It marked the fourth time that a school has swept the team titles. Smith started out fast--she led by 10 seconds after the first mile--and never let up. A native of Auckland, New Zealand, the senior added to a list of achievements that include NCAA indoor championships in the 3,000 and 5,000 meters and a trip to the Athens Olympics (she finished 11th in a first heat in the 10,000) last summer.
SOCCER Notre Dame
for the Fighting Irish it helped to have strong ties to our neighbor to the north. In the championship game against UCLA in Cary, N.C., on Dec. 5, junior forward Katie Thorlakson of Langley, B.C., one of three Canadian starters for Notre Dame, scored on a penalty kick in the 74th minute to tie the game 1--1. After two scoreless overtimes, the Irish won the PK shootout 4--3. The NCAA scoring leader (70 points on 23 goals and 24 assists) for 2004, Thorlakson added four goals and six assists in six tournament games to earn the Final Four's outstanding offensive player award. However, late heroics were provided by goalkeeper Erika Bohn, a junior who hadn't faced a penalty kick all season. She made three saves in the shootout to give Notre Dame the title. Irish coach Randy Waldrum couldn't bear to look. "We all have our quirks," Waldrum said after the game. "I turn my back to the goal, look at the crowd and never watch our kids take a penalty kick."
after back-to-back losses to Washington and California dropped Stanford to 15--6 in October, 2004 suddenly had the look of a down year for the perennial title contender. But the Cardinal came back strong, reeling off 15 consecutive wins, capped by a victory over Minnesota in the NCAA final last Saturday at Long Beach Arena. Led by senior outside hitter Ogonna Nnamani's 29 kills (she had a record 145 for the tournament), 11th-seeded Stanford swept past the fourth-seeded Gophers 30--23, 30--27, 30--21. Befitting the Cardinal's season, two of those three games were comeback wins. "Once in a while you get rewarded by being the last team standing," said Stanford coach John Dunning afterward. "We're lucky that it's us." The school's sixth championship capped a stellar career for Nnamani. The 2004 Olympian finished as a four-time All-Pac-10 selection, the conference's player of the year this season and the Pac-10's alltime kills leader (2,450). On the eve of the championship match, she and Ohio State's Stacey Gordon were named co--national players of the year.