REFLECTIONS ON THE YEAR OF “THE RETRIEVER BELIEVERS”

This is the one of many (at least monthly) columns to be written by UMBC Director of Athletics Dr. Charles Brown. Dr. Brown is believed to be the longest-tenured AD in the state, with 20 years at the helm of the Retrievers. He has been an athletic director since 1981 and has served two terms as president of the Maryland Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and one term on the NCAA Division I Championships/Competition Cabinet.

Oh my, what a year! Now that summer has really arrived with our usual Baltimore steamy weather, I finally have time to reflect on a season that may be looked upon as a breakthrough year for Retriever Athletics. We’ve had success in the past with more than 40 conference titles since turning to Division I twenty years ago. But, never have we had such a feel-good year as we have just experienced.

Men’s basketball and men’s lacrosse, our two most visible sports, were at the core of our most current success. Many of us close to the program knew that the men’s basketball program was building toward a banner year, but no one could have predicted the outpouring of sheer excitement, spirit, and pride that our championship season brought to our campus, the Baltimore community, and to our alumni.

We came out strong in non-conference play by beating three Atlantic Ten foes, defeating the Patriot League Champs, American University, and taking Ohio State to the brink in Columbus. League play started in January, and we rode the top of the league standings from start to finish. With each victory, came more attention, larger crowds and, of course, the chance to host the America East Conference championship final on our home court—THE RAC ARENA! The last three regular season games were sellouts, previously unheard of on our campus. The championship game against Hartford was amazing—a day never to be forgotten in UMBC annals. A wall-to-wall sellout posted on the Monday before the big day—Saturday, March 15 at high noon. We could have sold out the Baltimore Arena!

The students started lining up at 7:30 a.m. to get the best seats in the student section. By game time, the RAC was a sea of black & gold. Faculty, staff, administration (the Chancellor), politicians (U.S. Senator Cardin), community leaders, the spirit groups (the best band in the America East Conference) were all primed for our first national TV game.

The game, which we won in STUNNING fashion, is still a blur to me. The post- game celebrations were amazing. We all made a quick turnaround, and headed to Raleigh to play the Georgetown Hoyas in the NCAA’s. More than a thousand strong—mostly students, alumni, and faculty/staff made the trip down Tobacco Road. The results on the court were not what we wanted, but we made a big statement—we truly belong in Division I—we had arrived!

Lacrosse was a “horse of a different color.” The word on all the blogs was that this was a rebuilding year for the Dogz. After a slow start, most of the lacrosse community gave us little or no attention. Only our coaching staff, parents, and players hung tough with our squad. A close loss to legendary Hopkins and a victory over a top 20 University of Denver team caught the eyes of our true believers. The team started to gel with wins over Ohio State, Towson, UMCP and the rest of the schedule. Could we run the “table” and win the America East tournament title game against defending champs University of Albany?

In one of the most amazing games I have ever witnessed, UMBC came back from an 11-2 deficit to win 14-13. Sheer pandemonium broke out at the Stadium as the student section once again invaded the field to celebrate with our team. The shirtless men’s swim team led the way. Many who have watched the black & gold since its inception more than 40 years ago were calling the game our greatest comeback victory ever.

With little time to celebrate, we were paired in the tournament with #2 Virginia, a seemingly illogical paring to our faithful fans. But, our team and coaches approached the game with confidence and played masterfully at Klockner Field on the UVA campus. We nearly pulled the upset falling 10-9 to the Cavaliers. Our final ranking was #7 nationally—our best ranking ever in Division I.

Two great squads; two nationally televised games; two conference coaches of the year; lots of accolades for our players—all played into our new found visibility. However, our success did not start and stop with lacrosse and basketball. Here are some of our OTHER impressive results this year:

  • UMBC took third place in the America East Conference Commissioner’s Cup-the highest ranking since joining league five years ago. We finished four points from second place—four conference titles, one runner-up finish and several third-place finishes. The Commissioner’s Cup is the representation of the best all-around program of nine conference schools. Boston University finished first, Albany second, UMBC third and Binghamton fourth.
  • The men’s and women’s swimming & diving teams swam to their second consecutive sweep of their championships with record-breaking performances.
  • The baseball team had the biggest turnaround of a UMBC team and placed third in the Conference—one game behind second-place Stony Brook.
  • Men’s tennis lost a heartbreaking three-set match to Binghamton University and just missed their second consecutive conference title and NCAA appearance while the women had a record 12 consecutive wins in matches during the regular season.
  • Academic highlights for our program include an 85% Graduation Success Rate (above national norms) and all 19 teams met national standards for the APR—Academic Progress Rate. Tennis standout Cornelia Carapcea, a Financial Economics major, was selected as an Academic All-American and our women’s tennis team once again had our highest team GPA with nearly a 3.5 average GPA.
  • Junior Tina Cantwell, the America East swimming & diving scholar-athlete of 2007-08, competed in the United States Olympic trials in Omaha, Neb in late June. Tina went undefeated in dual meet competition all of last season.
  • Several of our men’s soccer players were drafted by professional leagues: Bryan Moffa by the Baltimore Blast in the first round and Philippe Bissohong by the New Jersey Ironmen.
  • Four players were chosen as All-Americans by the USILA: juniors Jeremy BlevinsBobby Atwell, and Ryan Smith plus Second Team All-American midfielder Terry Kimener. Kimener was also selected in the first round of the Major League Lacrosse Draft by the Chicago Machine.
  • Senior Ashley Fauntleroy of the women’s track & field squad won her second consecutive MVP of the league while sweeping titles in the shot put, discus, and hammer throw—she also qualified for and competed in the NCAA championships.
  • Jessica Young of the women’s soccer squad was the national runner-up for the prestigious Arthur Ashe Scholar Athlete Award. Last year Isaac Mathews of the track & field team won the award—he is now studying at MIT.
  • Cavell Johnson, senior center of the men’s basketball team, was chosen as the America East Conference Sportsmanship winner for 2008. This is the second consecutive year that a UMBC student-athlete won this award. Kristin Drabyn (Women’s Basketball) won for the 2007 season.

These are but a few of the many highlights for the 2007-2008 year. We’ve made great strides. We’ve caught the eye of the media. Our students and the local community embraced our programs. We’ve done all this in concert with strong academic results, appropriately-behaved student-athletes, and coaches who abide by the rules of fair play and the NCAA.

The goal now is to keep the big “MO” going. We can’t let up. The future looks bright.

GO RETRIEVERS!