A year to remember in Yale athletics

Last year was one to forget for Yale Athletics. After months of Rhodes-induced controversy, resignations and tragedy, it was time for a fresh start. And this year, a national championship and a host of promising new beginnings did exactly that.

In September, the new era of Yale football got underway with a bang — a 24–21 win over Georgetown highlighted by the longest touchdown pass in Yale history. The magic didn’t last long, and the team would sputter to a 2–8 finish under first year head coach Tony Reno, but the Elis were hampered by so many injuries that running backs and wide receivers who had never seen a college snap took the reins at quarterback at different points throughout the season. There were gleams of hope — 2012’s edition of The Game was the most entertaining (and closely contested) in years, and Coach Reno has proven himself to be a skilled recruiter with signings of a four-star linebacker and a quarterback transfer from Clemson. Canadian transfer Tyler Varga ’15 was perhaps the most unstoppable running back in Division I FCS football last season, and behind an improved team next year, the Bulldogs should be competitive very soon.

Other fall sports won big as well. The volleyball team battled to an undefeated Ivy League season and an NCAA tournament bid, winning its third consecutive Ancient Eight title. Kendall Polan ’14 was named the Ivy League Player of the Year for the second straight season, and with Kelly Johnson ’16 as Ivy Rookie of the Year, the volleyball team seems destined to hold onto its spot as the volleyball powerhouse of the Ivy League.

While Harvard men’s basketball was the Ivy basketball program that drew national attention for its upset over New Mexico in the NCAA Tournament, Yale looked promising as well, with a crop of exciting freshmen and developing sophomores that made every game competitive this year despite an extremely tough nonconference schedule. Look for Justin Sears ’16, Javier Duren ’15, Armani Cotton ’15 and the rest to pose a challenge to the Cantabs next year.

And before I get to the biggest wins of all, athletic culture here at Yale made progress outside of the win-loss column. The Whaling Crew flourished into a recognizable student organization dedicated to highlighting the achievements of athletes across all sports and their gear is now ubiquitous on campus. Athletes and Allies paved the way for LGBTQ peer support among college athletes, receiving signatures from more than 230 athletes during a pledge drive earlier this year. President-elect Peter Salovey could be seen in the stands and dancing with the YPMB during hockey and basketball games, demonstrating his commitment to athletics before his presidency begins in earnest this summer.

The greatest moment, of course, came from an unexpected source — but perhaps one that doesn’t seem so surprising in hindsight. This wasn’t “supposed” to be a championship year for the men’s hockey team — that chance had “supposedly” come and gone during the 2010-11 season when Yale held a No. 1 national ranking for much of the regular season. The Elis had missed the NCAA Tournament last year, and this year’s bid was looking precariously shaky after two bad losses in Atlantic City during the ECAC tournament. But once they got in, the Bulldogs didn’t take the opportunity lightly, riding their plucky underdog status to a first-ever national championship. You know the rest of the details.

But like I said earlier, maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised. This team — and head coach Keith Allain ’80 — always had the goal of winning championships, and no other major Yale squad has had as much sustained success as the hockey team over the last half-decade. As Coach Allain said before the Frozen Four, taking the Yale job in 2006 came with a belief that “at Yale you could have the best of both worlds: the best education in the world and compete in hockey at the highest levels in the country of Division I hockey.”

Allain has accomplished his goal, and Yale is now the proud owner of a national championship. As USA Today columnist Christine Brennan said at an on-campus lecture last week, college athletics are continually being reshaped by the turmoil of conference realignment and monetary incentives, but the 2012-13 Yale Bulldogs — in all sports —are the example that you can still do athletics right. Winning the right way is no longer just a lofty goal. It’s a reality. Let’s celebrate a historic year for Yale, and look forward to next fall — when we’ll do it all over again.

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