What a year.
With seven conference championships and three national titles, UW-Whitewater athletics has shown this year that it is one of the best in Division-III.
“The 2011-2012 academic year is really a culmination of several years of ongoing success in our athletic department,” UW-Whitewater Athletic Director Paul Plinske said. “It has put us essentially at the top of Division-III athletics. With over 450 schools competing, UW-Whitewater is one of the premiere schools, if not the most premiere.”
The football team continued its dominance under head coach Lance Leipold, winning its third national title in a row and its fourth in five years.
The Warhawks defeated Mount Union 13-10, the seventh straight time they have faced each other in the Stagg Bowl.
The ’Hawks went 15-0 and haven’t lost a game since 2008. They had D3Football.com’s player of the year in Levell Coppage, who topped off his remarkable career, rushing for 2,120 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Soon after the football team won, it was the men’s basketball team’s turn.
Headed into the season, Plinske wasn’t sure how the team would do.
“Coming into the year, we really had a lot of questions,” Plinske said. “As an athletic director I looked at a program that had tremendous potential, but you really never know about when a team is going to come together as a group of individuals playing, and the team really exhibited that.”
The regular season WIAC champs lost the WIAC Championship game to UW-River Falls, but built off that and made a run into the playoffs, eventually defeating Cabrini College in the national championship game.
This was the first time the ’Hawks made it to the Final Four since 1989, back when current head coach Pat Miller was the guard on the national championship team.
One of the key reasons the ’Hawks won the program its fourth national championship, was senior Chris Davis. Davis, who transferred from MATC two years ago, was named Division-III’s National Player of the Year. Davis is the first basketball player to ever win that award.
This also marked the first time in Division-III history that both the men’s basketball and football programs won the national championship. The University of Florida is the only other team in NCAA history to do it.
Plinske said one of the reasons the Warhawks have outstanding teams year after year, is because of the facilities, coaches and the winning tradition.
That is true for the gymnastics team, which captured its first ever national title last month in Brockport, New York.
Going back to 2007, where Plinske said the team had less than 10 members, the ’Hawks hosted the National Championship where they get to automatically compete. They finished fourth that year, but ever since then, they have finished third once and second twice.
“When we started to show that we can compete nationally, the recruits started to come in,” Plinske said. “The team stayed focused [in Brockport] and trusted themselves and pulled it out when they needed to. It’s a victory for the ages that will really help this program be a national caliber program for many years to come.”
So far this year, UW-Whitewater is fifth in the Directors Cup, which is a predetermined scoring system to measure the strength of an athletic program.
Last year UW-Whitewater finished sixth, so Plinske said they’re expected to finish the highest they ever have.