Top 15 Syracuse sports storylines of 2015
This past year was one full of triumph, heartbreak and controversy for Syracuse sports. Both the men’s cross-country team and women’s field hockey team captured NCAA titles and the men’s soccer team reached its first final four in program history. A Director of Athletics in his first year at the position fired a football coach and hired another, while men’s basketball head coach Jim Boeheim is still serving a nine-game suspension handed down after the NCAA’s eight-year look into the school’s athletic department.
The Daily Orange Sports staff determined the top 15 Syracuse sports storylines of the calendar year. Here they are, in chronological order, as 2015 comes to a close.
Ensley Athletic Center’s first full year
After seven months of construction, the Ensley Athletic Center opened in December 2014 and provided Syracuse teams with an alternative indoor practice facility aside from the Carrier Dome and always-crowded Manley Field House. The football team could practice on a full-sized, 100-yard field, allowing both the defensive and offensive units to run drills simultaneously. SU men’s lacrosse enjoyed the benefits of a larger facility by practicing clearing situations more frequently, finishing the 2015 season with an impressive 90.5-percent clearing rate.
NCAA investigation into Syracuse athletic department
On Feb. 4, Syracuse self-imposed a one-year postseason ban for the 2014-15 men’s basketball season as part of its case that was then pending before the NCAA Committee on Infractions. Just over a month later, the NCAA handed down sanctions as the result of an eight-year investigation into the school. The brunt of the punishment was felt by the men’s basketball team, which lost scholarships, was put on probation and saw Boeheim suspended. The NCAA found that Syracuse violated its own drug policy, committed academic violations and exhibited a lack of institutional control.
Boeheim skipped the postgame press conference after Syracuse’s season finale against North Carolina State but later addressed the media in an hour-plus-long press conference, addressing topics such as his planned retirement. SU appealed several punishments and eventually won a scholarship back for each of the next four years, despite not getting back any of Boeheim’s vacated wins. Boeheim is currently six games through his nine-game suspension, which was originally scheduled to begin Wednesday night at Pittsburgh.
Daryl Gross steps down as Director of Athletics
Twelve days after the NCAA released its report on Syracuse, Gross officially stepped down from the position he held since 2004. Gross called for a meeting in 2012 with academic and athletic officials to try and keep men’s basketball player Fab Melo eligible, according to the NCAA report. After stepping down, Gross immediately became a vice president and special assistant to the chancellor while also becoming an adjunct professor in the David B. Falk College.
Women’s basketball continues success in NCAA tournament
Breakout seasons from sophomore point guard Alexis Peterson (all-conference second team) and sophomore center Briana Day helped Syracuse overcome the loss of two key players, Diamond Henderson and Brittney Sykes, to finish 22-10 (11-5 Atlantic Coast) and earn a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament. After slipping past Nebraska in the first round, the Orange had a rematch with No. 1 South Carolina, which the Orange had lost to by just four earlier in the season. South Carolina set a single-game NCAA tournament record for points in its 97-68 win over SU, ousting the Orange in the second round for the second consecutive year. Head coach Quentin Hillsman received a contract extension.
Men’s and women’s lacrosse win first ACC titles minutes apart
The men’s lacrosse team sealed its first ACC title, a 15-14 win against Duke, and the women’s team sealed its first ACC title in a 9-8 overtime win over North Carolina, within minutes of each other. Kevin Rice and Randy Staats led the way for the men’s team, tallying 12 combined points and making up for a poor day at the faceoff X for Ben Williams. Kayla Treanor scored her second sudden-death overtime goal in three games while goalkeeper Kelsey Richardson’s late-game stops helped preserve the victory.
The uncertain status of Syracuse’s famed No. 44
Interim athletic director Pete Sala announced in May that “the No. 44 is back” after a nearly 10-year retirement. Sala announced a committee of four or five people would decide who could don the number, and former Syracuse 4-star commit Robert Washington initially had connections to resurrecting the number.
Former Syracuse quarterback Donovan McNabb immediately tweeted his displeasure about the situation, and former Syracuse great Jim Brown said he “didn’t exactly endorse” No. 44’s return. The day after Sala’s announcement, SU’s senior vice president for public affairs Kevin Quinn sent a statement to The Daily Orange saying the status of No. 44 hadn’t changed and that “special players would be permitted to wear 44 in the future.”
Mark Coyle hired as new Director of Athletics
After Gross stepped down in March, it took Syracuse a little more than three months to find his replacement as director of athletics. That replacement was Coyle, who became the leader of the SU athletic department on June 19 after serving in the same position at Boise State. Coyle came to SU with a high football pedigree thanks to the Broncos’ success and with the reputation as a strong fundraiser, among other traits. Since Coyle’s hiring this summer, Syracuse has named Mike Hopkins the head coach-designate for the men’s basketball program, won two non-revenue NCAA championships and fired head football coach Scott Shafer before filing the void with Dino Babers.
Mike Hopkins named head coach in waiting
After taking over the reins as athletic director in July, Coyle took little time in announcing that Hopkins would be the SU coach in waiting after Boeheim’s planned retirement after the 2017-18 season. In December, Hopkins found that his head coaching debut would come against Georgetown with Boeheim’s nine-game suspension starting before the conference season, when it was originally scheduled. Hopkins and the Orange lost the game, 79-72, to the Hoyas, and Hopkins cried in the postgame press conference when talking about the emotions of the moment.
Quarterback Terrel Hunt tears Achilles in first quarter of season
This season was supposed to be Hunt’s big comeback. He missed the last seven games of the 2014 season with a broken fibula and the fifth-year senior entered 2015 with a new approach. He focused on leadership and transitioned from a scrambler to a pocket passer. But just seven minutes and 27 seconds into the first quarter of his first game, on a non-contact play while running out of the pocket, Hunt tore his Achilles. The second season-ending injury in as many years ended Hunt’s college career as the NCAA denied his waiver for a sixth year of eligibility.
Men’s cross-country wins first national title since 1951
The SU men’s cross-country team captured its first national title in 64 years, beating Colorado by nine points. Philo Germano, a walk-on who hadn’t even raced in the national championship last season, passed 14 runners in the last two kilometers to give Syracuse the edge over then-No. 1 Colorado. Germano went on to finish 39th with a time of (30:29.5). Justyn Knight finished in fourth place (29:46.1), Colin Bennie in eighth (29:55.9), Martin Hehir in ninth (29:59.5) and Joel Hubbard finished at No. 47 (30:31.5).
Field hockey wins first women’s national title in school history
Syracuse defeated North Carolina, 4-2, on Nov. 22 to capture SU’s first female national title. Led by goalkeeper Jess Jecko’s late stops, the Orange avenged an ACC title game loss to the Tar Heels to give head coach Ange Bradley a national title 25 years in the waiting for her. Emma Russell set a program points record in the win and Alyssa Manley later won the Honda Award, an honor given to the nation’s top player.
Volleyball improves record by 14 wins
Syracuse struggled in 2014, winning only nine games during an injury-plagued season. Things changed for the better in 2015 with outside hitter Nicolette Serratore returning from injury, Belle Sand solidifying the libero position and Silvi Uattara continuing to emerge as one of the best players in program history. The team ended with 23 wins, good for fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Despite the improvement, the Orange wasn’t selected for the NCAA tournament.
Scott Shafer carried off the field in last game as head coach
Shafer and his players already knew he would be fired at the end of the season after SU lost to North Carolina State in its 11th game. But players rallied around the coaching staff that was on its way out and beat Boston College, 20-17, on a last-second game-winning field goal. Shafer, who went 14-23 in his three seasons as SU’s head coach, was carried off the field after the dramatic and emotional finish with tears in his eyes.
Dino Babers hired as new football head coach
Babers wouldn’t discuss the prospect of coming to Syracuse until his Bowling Green team competed in the Mid-American Conference championship. But once the Falcons won their conference, Babers was named SU’s head coach within 24 hours. He was an assistant coach for 28 years before getting his first head coaching job at Eastern Illinois in 2011, and has since become a notable offensive mind with his air-it-out attack. The 54-year-old called Syracuse his ‘destination job’ and his introductory press conference, immediately captured fans and those within the program.
Men’s soccer reaches first final four in team history
Syracuse started an incredible 42-day, eight-game unbeaten streak in late October that led the Orange to unprecedented heights. SU won the ACC tournament as a No. 7 seed, defeating three of the nation’s Top 10 teams on the road in the process. It then won the first three games of the NCAA tournament at home, before finally losing to Clemson in penalty kicks in the final four. SU had never made it past the Sweet 16 before this season.
Published on December 30, 2015 at 4:29 pm