During the fall of 2014, Centre College experienced arguably the most successful single athletic season in its history, having claimed five of the Southern Athletic Association’s (SAA) seven fall championships while sending three teams and three individuals to their respective NCAA postseasons.
In fact, the teams that reached their NCAA Tournaments did more than just qualify, they had program-defining seasons along the way. The women’s soccer team advanced two rounds deeper than it ever had in the tournament before falling in overtime in a national quarterfinal, just minutes from reaching the program’s first Final Four. The Centre field hockey team equaled its deepest NCAA run, advancing to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the second straight year, and though the football team fell in the first round of NCAA play, it completed its first undefeated regular season since 1955 and tied a school record for wins in a season.
“It’s hard to put into words just how special this fall semester was for Centre Athletics,” said Director of Athletics and Recreation Brad Fields. “To win five of seven fall conference championships, and advance to NCAA postseason play, and then have two teams reach historic depths in the NCAA Tournament, it was one for the record books. It was truly a privilege to watch it unfold.
“And while I celebrate with our student-athletes and coaches for all they accomplished on the field, it is what their programs stand for and the positive impact they have on the lives of so many that makes me most proud. Our teams are great ambassadors for this College we love so dearly.”
Centre’s cross country teams continued to be dominant as well, with both winning SAA championships and Victor Pataky, Ashley El-Rady and Serena Gale-Butto qualifying for the NCAA Division III Championship Meet. The women’s team has now won four straight conference championships with the men winning their last three. In three years of the teams competing in the SAA, Centre has swept all six championships, with head coach Lisa Owens (photo right, top) winning all six Coach of the Year awards.
“I am so proud of my teams and how they represented our program and the College this fall,” said Owens of her teams’ success. “I feel so very blessed to coach such a wonderful group of young men and women.”
Though the women’s soccer season concluded with the team’s best postseason run, the road to a fourth straight NCAA appearance began in a much different fashion than when the Colonels rolled to the previous two SAA regular season crowns. Centre opened conference play at an uncharacteristic 1-3 before storming to seven straight wins in which it outscored opponents by a combined 27-3. Despite coming into the SAA Tournament as a No. 4 seed, the Colonels rode that winning streak through the tournament and a 4-0 NCAA win over Wisconsin-Whitewater. Centre went on to survive two dramatic victories in penalty kicks to advance to the Elite Eight, where Illinois Wesleyan came up with a tying goal in the final minutes before winning in overtime.
“These players are a special group,” said head coach Jay Hoffman (photo right, second). “I’m honored to be their coach, and they’ve made it very enjoyable. Even with the lull that we had where we lost a few games in a row and were wondering if we were ever going to climb out, we certainly put a great last three or four weeks of soccer together and went nine in a row without a loss, which is pretty impressive.”
After making its deepest postseason run a year ago, the Centre field hockey team came back for more in 2014. The Colonels fell in a heartbreaking SAA Tournament loss to Rhodes before making their NCAA run last year, but turned the tables this time around, taking the SAA regular season and tournament championships after a 4-3 win against the Lynx in the championship game. In the NCAA Tournament, Centre traveled back to Lynchburg for a second straight season and again won to move on to the Sweet 16, this time with a dramatic 2-1 overtime victory. Though Centre eventually fell to No. 1-ranked Salisbury, along the way the Colonels tied a record for most wins in a season with a 16-8 record, and head coach Jenelle Anthony (photo right, third) won SAA Coach of the Year honors.
“This year is one that many of us will not forget,” Anthony said. “Last year was a season we thought could not be touched again, but we did just that and some more in 2014 because of the hard work and effort put forth by our incredibly young and resilient team. This only shows you that big things are to come for this young program and we hope to continue the tradition of success by making Centre College field hockey a household name on the Division III national stage.”
The football team finished the regular season unbeaten for the first time since 1955, and though a slow start resulted in a first round loss at No. 6 John Carroll, Centre’s 2014 season will go down as one of the program’s best. With a 10-1 record, the Colonels tied the national championship team of 1921 for the school record for most wins in a season, claimed their first SAA championship, and reached the NCAA Tournament for the second time. Head coach Andy Frye (photo right, bottom) passed Joe McDaniel for Centre’s all-time wins mark and finished the season by also receiving the SAA’s Coach of the Year honor.
“Our team had a blast playing in practice and in games,” Frye said of his team’s demeanor over the season. “They took one practice and one game at a time, always seemed focused on the next play. There always seemed to be joy in their play.”
Centre also put forth solid performances in those sports that did not come away with championships in the fall season. The men’s soccer team posted an 8-4-6 overall record, put together a nine-game unbeaten streak, finished third in the SAA standings at 4-1-2, and reached the SAA Tournament semifinals. The volleyball team finished with a 14-17 overall record, a 7-7 SAA record, and also reached the SAA Tournament semifinals.
Not surprisingly, the success across the board has again propelled Centre to the top of the SAA Presidents Trophy standings, which reward the conference school that most excels across all sports. After winning the trophy each of the first two years of SAA competition, Centre is again out to a significant lead after the first leg of the 2014-15 season. Though other conference teams also made postseason runs, helping display the strength of the league as a whole, Centre holds a 317.5-272.5 lead over Rhodes for the top spot. Full standings can be seen here.
“It is exciting to see Centre at the top of the SAA Presidents’ Trophy standings after the conclusion of the fall,” Fields added. “We have a great deal of respect and admiration for our fellow members of the SAA—a league I believe continues to turn more and more heads with each passing season. This fall was not just a good one for Centre, but with NCAA runs by Hendrix volleyball and Berry men’s soccer, it was a good one for the SAA.
“One of the reasons I take great pride in the SAA Presidents’ Trophy is its measure of broad success. Our mission is to pursue excellence in all that we do, and this trophy gives us one of the best gauges on how we are doing.”
by Matt Montavon, Sports Information Director