This past year was undeniably one of the best for Villanovans, past and present. Terry Toohey of the Deleware County Time did a wonderful job putting it all into perspective with his article "Villanova’s Sports Year -- One for the Books." It would be an injustice to Mr. Toohey to try to reduce his writings to a few highlights, so I provide it here in its its entirety.
"Little did anyone realize that when Scottie Reynolds hit that layup against Pittsburgh last March to put Villanova in the Final Four, it was only the beginning of what has turned out to be a spectacular 2009 for the Wildcats. As the year draws to a close, Villanova has two national championships to its credit, had five teams reach the NCAA Tournament, one coach win national Coach of the Year honors, three coaches recognized as the best in their respective conference, a top 10 men’s basketball team for the second straight year and at least 10 athletes receive All-America honors. Not bad.
“It’s been a little overwhelming,” said the Rev. Peter Donohue, Villanova’s president. Team Wildcats capped an incredible cumulative year Friday night in the FCS championship game at Finley Stadium against Montana, less than one month after the women’s cross country team brought home its eighth NCAA title and first since 1998.
The success, though, was not limited to the football and women’s cross country programs.
The men’s and women’s basketball teams qualified for the NCAA Tournament in the same year for the first time since 1998 with the men’s team reaching the Final Four for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century and the fourth time in program history. The men’s basketball team is 9-1 and ranked eighth going into today’s game against Fordham at the Izod Center.
Meanwhile, the men’s lacrosse team captured its first CAA title last spring and qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.
As summer turned to fall, the women’s soccer team was nationally ranked and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. It was Villanova’s sixth trip to the big dance in soccer. While the women’s cross country team brought home the NCAA title, the men’s squad finished 11th at the national championships.
During the fall season, the Wildcats had a combined winning percentage over .600 in football, soccer (men’s and women’s) and field hockey.
Individually, the honors have been equally impressive.
Jay Wright won his second Big East Coach of the Year award. Harry Perretta was the co-Coach of the Year in the Big East. It was the first time since 1983 that coaches from the same school won the award. Andy Talley is the CAA and AFCA Region I Coach of the Year. Gina Procaccio (Sun Valley All-Delco) won the women’s Division I Cross County Coach of the Year award.
Junior Amanda Marino earned All-America honors in track and cross country. Frances Koons (women’s track), Sean Tully and Matthew Gibney (men’s track), Bogdana Mimic, Allison Smith and Nicole Schappert (women’s cross country), Mathew Mildenhall (men’s cross country) and Matt Szczur and Ben Ijalana (football) also earned All-America recognition.
Dante Cunningham was the Most Improved Player in the Big East. Laura Kurz shared the same honor on the women’s side. Heidi Sabatura was the Big East Rookie of the Year in women’s soccer.
“It’s a credit to our coaches and our athletes,” athletic director Vince Nicastro said. “They set audacious goals and to achieve those goals is extremely gratifying.”
The success is not limited to the playing field.
Villanova’s Academy Progress Rate (APR) of 986 ranks in the top 10 percent and the school has a Graduation Success Rate (GSR) of 95 percent.
The overall grade-point-average in the athletic department last spring was better than 3.0, which marked the 12th consecutive semester with a GPA higher than 3.0.
“The thing that I’m most proud of is that our athletic teams have been able to succeed on the field on the field without losing sight of our academic mission,” said Fr. Donahue. “They’re good athletes and they get good grades, too.”
That’s the way it is supposed to be on the college level. Succeed on the field and in the classroom. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Bobby Knight would be happy.
“It’s a really difficult balancing act,” Nicastro said. “You want to win and you want to win championships and there is a lot of temptation to cut corners and there has never been a case where the institution has said, ‘Let’s cut a corner. Let’s let something slide academically.’ The university won’t stand for that and I tell the president all the time that we’re trying to hold up our end of the bargain.
“To be able to compete and do the work in the classroom proves that you can do it both ways.”
Villanova is doing it. The Wildcats are winning on the field and in the classroom. For how long, no one knows, but the Wildcats are going to ride the wave as long as possible.