With a 5-0 win over No. 3 Mercyhurst in the national championship game last Sunday, the University of Wisconsin women’s hockey team captured its third national title in four years. During that four-year stretch, which also included 2007-08’s second place finish, the Badgers have been a model of consistency. Led by head coach Mark Johnson, whose service to Badger hockey is arguably unprecedented, Wisconsin has proved itself peerless.After a successful regular season that saw the Badgers dropped no lower than No. 2 in the nation, Wisconsin silenced all doubters in postseason play as they went 4-0 against top-five opponents Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth and Mercyhurst down the stretch to win the national title in Boston.The Badgers finished the season 33-2-5, and on the heels of a crucial 12 game unbeaten streak. After winning the WCHA playoffs in Minneapolis on March 8th, Wisconsin came to Boston riding a wave of confidence. After dismantling Dartmouth 7-0 in the first round, the Badgers had a date with archrivals Minnesota-Duluth for the sixth time this year in the semifinals.After a grueling 3-1 win over the Bulldogs, Wisconsin was expecting a border-battle showdown with their other archrival from the “Land of Ten Thousand Lakes” — the Gophers. However, No. 3 Mercyhurst had other plans as they shocked Minnesota to earn a spot in the national championship against Johnson and the Badgers. However, the Cinderella slipper didn’t quite fit for hometown Mercyhurst as goaltender Jessie Vetter’s 37 saves and goals from five different Badgers guided Wisconsin to a 5-0 win over the hometown team, and a fitting culmination to a great season.Using a calculated offensive attack, with scoring potential on each line, the Badgers used their incredible depth to wear down opponents, and in the rare case a game came down to the wire, Wisconsin fans could rest assured that Vetter, the national player of the year, would help the Badgers emerge victorious.2009-10 will present a unique challenge to the women’s hockey team, as they will be without their head coach, Johnson, their backbone Vetter, and their emotional leader, senior forward Erika Lawler. Also departing are versatile forward Angie Keseley, power-play whiz Alycia Matthews and role players Kayla Hagen and Rachel Bible.Johnson will head to Blaine, MN, to prepare for his upcoming stint as the head coach for Team USA for the 2010 Olympics. Vetter and Lawler will likely follow Johnson to Minnesota, as both have had storied international careers and are considered locks to don the red, white and blue next winter in Vancouver.An encore to this year’s success will undoubtedly be a challenge for Wisconsin, but despite the colossal losses of Johnson, Vetter and Lawler, the Badgers bring back a nucleus that is flush with ability and experience.Leading the way will be forwards Hilary Knight, Meghan Duggan and Brooke Ammerman. Duggan, a highly skilled and passionate junior will likely fill the leadership void left by Lawler while Knight and Ammerman simply need to continue the steady offensive production they exhibited this year. Badger enthusiasts can expect an ample offensive spillover with these three gunners.Add in the solid two-way play of returners Jasmine Giles, Mallory DeLuce and Kyla Sanders and the top-two lines appear ready for another productive season. Sophomore Kelly Nash is another player to watch, as her skill-set and playmaking ability appear a good fit to replace Lawler as a puck-distributing pivot.Wisconsin’s defensive core returns a talented top pairing of freshman Brittany Haverstock, a swift Canadian, and junior Malee Windmeier, whose unwavering play not only helped barricade Vetter, but also earned the Minnesota native a spot on the NCAA-All-Tournament Team. Also returning are veteran sophomores Olivia Jakiel and Anne Dronen.Vetter’s departure marks a new era in Wisconsin women’s hockey, and brings about an aura of uncertainty between the pipes that Badger fans haven’t experienced since Vetter’s strong play during their march to the national championship her freshman year. Junior stopper Alannah McCready and freshman Nikki Kaasa will be in the spotlight from the get-go as hockey fans watch to see if Vetter’s departure spells doom for Wisconsin’s hopes of a second straight national championship.Wisconsin’s returning players will be aided by one of the nation’s top recruiting classes. The 2010 Wisconsin women’s hockey recruiting class is headlined by goaltender Becca Reugsegger who should challenge McCready and Kaasa for the starting goaltender position.With all the changes the Badger’s are to endure, the 2010 team will surely have a new identity, and with their recent championship only intensifying the pressure to succeed, expectations will be curtailed to a certain extent, but a serious regression is highly unlikely. Many will expect the losses of Johnson, Lawler and Vetter to cripple the Badgers, but even with those losses, the Badgers will have, at the very least, a senior class with the invaluable experience of playing in four national championships.
In their first three seasons, two-meter Matt Burton, goalie Joel Dennerley and driver Peter Kurzeka, all part of USC coach Jovan Vavic’s historic 2008 men’s water polo recruiting class, formed a “Big Three,” playing integral roles on three championship teams. With the unit intact and complemented by an array of talent entering in 2011, the trio hoped to cap the greatest achievement imaginable in any collegiate sport: claiming a championship in all four seasons of eligibility.USC won its unprecedented fourth consecutive NCAA title, but did so without its captain and All-American defensive stalwart, Burton.Still got it · Redshirt senior two-meter Matt Burton was third among USC scorers in 2010 with 33 goals, finding the back of the net in 21 games. – Daily Trojan file photoIn the second game of the season, a 14-3 win over Cal Baptist, Burton hyper-extended his elbow, tearing a ligament and, in the process, unceremoniously ending his bid for the fourth consecutive title with his fellow All-American captains.“You watch all of your best friends go through a whole season,” Burton said. “I was a captain of the team, yet I was always on the sidelines and sort of cheering from the stands, which was really tough, but extremely motivating.”Now a redshirt senior, Burton, who initially faced the possibility of undergoing Tommy John surgery, a common procedure for baseball pitchers that requires a year of recovery, admits that at first he doubted his will to rehabilitate his injury and return for another season.“Coming back from an injury is probably the hardest thing I’ve done in water polo,” Burton said. “It’s extremely frustrating, and you’re kind of out on an island by yourself.”As a 2008 recipient of the Elite 88 Award, given to the player with the highest GPA among all NCAA men’s water polo tournament players, Burton’s intellect provided him with options outside of water polo post-USC.Yet, the allure of winning a fifth title and trumping his former recruiting classmates proved too enticing. Burton subsequently earned admission to USC’s progressive master’s degree program in communication management, cementing his decision.“Last year, it was devastating for him,” Vavic said. “He really wanted to play. It was good, though, because he matured from it and learned how important water polo is for him.”After processing and negotiating the initial disappointment of the injury, Burton used his first stint as a sideline spectator since starting college to improve his understanding of the game.“I had a chance to sit out of the pool and get to watch from the stands and see how the game is played,” Burton said. “It helped with my water polo IQ, and now that I’m playing, I’m seeing things more and becoming a better passer.”There is no question in Vavic’s mind that Burton will reassume his customary leadership role quickly.“Having him back is huge for us,” Vavic said. “He’s one of the hardest workers we’ve ever had. He’s committed to winning, committed to being a champion.”And it’s not as if Burton is the lone remaining member of the 2008 squad. Drivers Andrew Reego and Michael Rosenthal and two-meter Brian Boswell, who all had a year of eligibility remaining after redshirting their freshmen years, will similarly return for their fifth seasons in the program.“Boswell and Rosenthal have each been around for five years, and each of them brings something different to the table,” Burton said. “I’m more of the guy that’s on people’s cases urging them to work harder. They’re the nice guys who are always cracking jokes. Losing [Dennerley] and [Kurzeka] is huge, but we’re extremely fortunate. If it happened to any other team, it would be devastating.”As a lockdown defensive specialist who also ranked as the 2010 team’s third leading scorer with 33 goals, Burton still acknowledges that USC’s young talent will vie for his and his redshirt senior classmates’ playing time.“I’ve started and I haven’t started,” Burton said. “I’m not too concerned about starting, because I’m pretty sure I’ll get the same amount of minutes that I’ve always gotten. [Junior utility] Mace Rapsey is a great defender, and he’s earned his playing time. If he starts over me or if I’m starting over him it doesn’t matter, because we both complement each other well.”As for his water polo aspirations after USC, Burton plans to play professionally in Australia, with the hope of earning an Olympic nod in the future. That said, he is uncertain whether a selection to the U.S. Olympic team is his ultimate objective.“I’ve played on international teams, but the injury has changed my mindset a bit,” Burton said. “To work for four years toward an Olympic sporting event to only possibly get injured before it would be devastating. I know a couple of guys that has happened to, and I don’t know if I’m ready to make that commitment yet.”Burton still has time to mull his future plans. For now, he is intent on reminding his teammates that the veteran can still play.“[Staying] kind of works in my favor,” Burton said. “I have the chance to get five rings, and a lot of my friends decided to stick around with me. And I get the John McKay Center. I guess getting injured was pretty lucky.”
Ronald Jones II started to run to the right.Then, seeing the mass of Colorado defenders in front of him, he paused — almost to a full stop — shifted directions to the left, eluded one would-be tackler and sprinted into the end zone.“They all went to the right, so I went left,” Jones said.Ronald Jones II makes a cut against Colorado – Ollie Jung | Daily TrojanWith that 22-yard touchdown run, USC went ahead by three scores midway through the fourth quarter, wrapping up the Pac-12 South division and clinching its spot in the Pac-12 Championship on Dec. 1.“November is crunch time,” redshirt junior cornerback Ajene Harris said. “We’ve got to get to the championship, so we’re going to do everything we can to get there.”The 11th-ranked football team followed a scoreless first quarter with a 20-point second quarter while shutting out Colorado in the first half en route to a 38-24 victory in Boulder.“We weren’t in this position last year,” head coach Clay Helton said, “and now we are.”Though, USC had to work in the second half to make good on the division clincher. The Trojans gifted the Buffaloes with 14 points early in the second half, first leaving Colorado receiver Juwann Winfree wide open on a 79-yard touchdown, and then allowing a punt in USC territory to be blocked and returned to the one-yard line.From there, Phillip Lindsay punched in the score to cut USC’s lead to 27-14.But redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold and USC’s offense put up enough points to stave off a Colorado offense that came alive too late, redshirt junior cornerback Ajene Harris recorded an interception with the Trojans in front 38-24 and redshirt sophomore linebacker John Houston Jr. sacked Colorado quarterback Steven Montez on fourth-and-1 with under two minutes to play to help conclude matters.On defense, USC pitched a shutout until midway through the third quarter, when blown coverage led to Winfree waltzing in for a 79-yard catch-and-run touchdown. The Trojans bent but did not break on several Colorado drives. They also blocked two field goals in addition to Harris’ pick-six, the first time USC has blocked two field goals in a game since 2011 against Colorado.“Defensively, our guys had an unbelievable first half,” Helton said, “and when plays needed to be made at the end, [Harris] did an unbelievable job. I told them [in the locker room] that it’s a player’s game and they won it.”The Trojans celebrate after Michael Pittman Jr. catches a touchdown – Ollie Jung | Daily TrojanThe Trojans grabbed the lead early in the second quarter when Darnold threw a jump ball for sophomore wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr., who hauled it in over the defender for his first career touchdown grab.Then, after a three-and-out by Colorado, Darnold marched the Trojans right back down the field, throwing consecutive back-shoulder fades to redshirt freshman wide receiver Tyler Vaughns that set up an 18-yard strike to junior wide receiver Deontay Burnett for the touchdown.Up 14-0, USC put a stranglehold on its lead before halftime when Harris telegraphed a pass on the right sideline, intercepting it and running it back for a 34-yard pick six.The Trojans took a 20-0 lead into halftime, and then tacked on right off the bat in the third quarter, when Darnold hit Burnett on a deep ball and then ran it in himself on a 24-yard scamper with a wide-open lane to the end zone.It was probably Darnold’s best game of the season. The quarterback completed 21-of-34 passes for 329 yards and two touchdowns. And, most importantly, it was his first game all season with no turnovers.“It means a lot,” Darnold said. “Whenever I can play a really clean game, it’s always nice. It was good to sustain some drives and not turn the ball over.”Sam Darnold runs for a gain against Colorado – Ollie Jung | Daily TrojanHe spread the ball out to a variety of receivers, with Burnett, freshman Tyler Vaughns, sophomore Michael Pittman and redshirt receiver Steven Mitchell Jr. all catching at least four passes.“I’m finally starting to get a good groove and a good rhythm with my receivers, and it’s really comforting,” Darnold said.It was also a testament to the receivers getting open and gaining confidence as the regular season reaches its final weeks.“They had the mentality that, ‘If I touch it, I catch it,’” Helton said.The coach added that he expected Colorado to zero in on the run, considering USC had racked up 300 yards on the grounds the past few weeks.“You’re going to get your one-on-one shots,” Helton said to the wide receivers during the game. “You’ve got to make the plays.”Regardless, USC still rushed for 193 yards on the ground, with Jones accounting for 146 of them. He carried the ball 25 times and passed Mike Garrett and Reggie Bush to step into sixth place on USC’s career rushing list.Jones was explosive, breaking off first down runs on nearly every drive, at times carrying defenders with him.“The game called for it,” Jones said on his performance. “Looking at how the game flowed, the offensive line establishing their dominance once again — that’s where we win games: in the trenches.”After the game, outside the locker room with rap music blaring, players remained optimistic that they still had a chance at sneaking into the College Football Playoff. They acknowledged that they would need a number of teams to lose. But, playing their best football of the season — and with a rivalry game against UCLA next week — the Trojans are, in Harris’ words, “hungry.”“We want it all,” he said. “We want the Pac-12 championship, the playoffs. We want the college football championship as well.”USC’s opponent in the Pac-12 Championship Game is still in the air, though it will face either Washington, Washington State or Stanford.