|by Brent Harris • December 31, 2010|
"But now the days grow short
I'm in the autumn of the year
And now I think of my life as vintage wine
from fine old kegs
from the brim to the dregs
And it poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year"
Frank Sinatra coud have sung those lyrics about the 2010 calendar year for the Wabash College athletics program. From a trio of track and field All-Americans to a 12-0 start for the basketball to close out the season, Little Giant athletes have provided their fans with one of the best years in history.
The track and field team set the bar for the rest of programs with three of its athletes qualifying for the NCAA Division III Indoor National Championship meet. Two days after Head Coach Clyde Morgan and Jake Waterman were honored by the US Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association as the top coach and runner in their region, Waterman, Kevin McCarthy, and Emmanuel Aouad. Aouad finish third in the final 55-meter indoor hurdles race of his career. Waterman and McCarthy both competed in the 800-meter run. Waterman took sixth place as a freshman in the finals, while McCarthy, a sophomore, added a seventh-place finish.
The Wabash wrestling and swimming teams joined the national championship parade for the Little Giants. Four Wabash swimmers — juniors David Birrer, Evan Rhinesmith, Adam Current, and Eric Vaughn — posted provisional qualifying times for the national championship meet. Birrer and Rhinesmith would eventually earn berths at the nationals in Minneapolis. Both swimmers just missed earning All-America honors with fantastic preliminary times, including a 17th-place finish by Rhinesmith in the 100 breaststroke that came within 12/100ths of a second of sending him to the finals.
Jake Strausbaugh had already enjoyed one of the best freshman seasons of any Wabash wrestler, including a 37-9 record to go with the Most Oustanding Wrestler award at the Indiana Little State Wrestling Invitational. His best moment was saved for the NCAA Midwest Regional with a dominating performance in the 141-pound weight class. Strausbaugh posted huge wins in his first two matches, then defeated top-seeded Vince Tucker from Olivet — who had only lost two matches all year heading into the bout. Strausbaugh's 9-4 victory to give Tucker his first loss at the hands of a Division III opponent for the season, earning the Wabash rookie the Most Oustanding Wrestler Award for the Regional and a berth at nationals. Joining Strausbaugh was senior Michael Burke, who overcame injuries to receive a wild card berth at nationals after finishing second at 197 pounds. Strausbaugh finished the year with a 41-11, including a close loss to eventual two-time national-champion Myanganbayar Batsukh from St. John's at the NCAA Championship meet.
While the Wabash basketball team did not earn a place in the NCAA Men's Division III Tournament after suffering a one-point loss to Wittenberg in the semifinal round of the North Coast Athletic Conference basketball tourney, the Little Giants showed a sense what was to come at the start of the 2010-11 season. Mac Petty's squad finished the 2010 portion of its 2009-10 year with a record of 12-3, including the first victory by a Wabash team at Wittenberg in a 72-69 contest in Springfield. Wabash would end the season with a record of 18-8 overall and a 12-4 conference mark to finish second in the final regular season standings. Seniors Aaron Brock and Chase Haltom would be recognized for their efforts with all-conference honors, while junior Wes Smith earned D3hoops.com All-Region honors along with a place on the All-NCAC First Team for the second straight season. He finished the season as the conference leader in scoring, averaging 18.2 points per contest. and was among the leaders in the league in steals, blocked shots, rebounding, and field goal shooting percentage. Smith also set the Wabash all-time steals record, finishing his third season with a total of 174. Smith also scored his 1,000th career point, moving to 11th place on the Wabash all-time scoring list with 1,233 points.
Petty's efforts were also recognized by his peers in the conference as well as national. He received his first-ever Conference Coach of the Year despite being among the all-time leaders among active Division III coaches in total victories to go with two conference titles in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference in the 1990s. His 37-year coaching career had been devoted to excellence in teaching the game to his players, earning him one of the National Association of Basketball Coaches' highest honors — the NABC Guardians of the Game Award for Advocacy.
The spring sports teams showed no signs of decreasing the level of excellence achieved by the winter teams. Wabash senior golfer Sam Russell overcame life-threatening injuries suffered while mountain climbing in Wyoming to earn All-NCAC honors over the course of four conference championship events — his second All-NCAC team honor in as many years. The Wabash tennis team set a new school record for victories, finishing with a mark of 17-11 in 2010 while taking third place at the NCAC Tournament for the second straight year. Head Coach Jason Hutchison was named the conference's Men's Tennis Coach of the Year for the second time in his career, which has seen Wabash post an overall record of 68-89 in six seasons.
The Wabash baseball team earned its second straight berth in the NCAC Tournament thanks to a tie for second in the western division standings with a 9-7 league record. The Little Giants won the tiebreaker with Ohio Wesleyan and Wittenberg by winning three of the four series games against both schools. Wabash closed out 50 years of baseball at historic Mud Hollow Field with a split against Wittenberg in April, including a 3-0 shutout victory by starter Andrew Swart. The Little Giants will open the 2011 season in a brand-new ballpark. Sophomore slugger John Holm re-wrote the Wabash baseball record book, setting a new single-season mark for home runs with 15. His 51 RBI and 112 total bases also set new Little Giant single-season records, earning Holm Second Team All-Region honors from the American Baseball Coaches Association.
The Little Giant outdoor track and field team was back in the hunt for All-America honors at the NCAA National Championship meet. Six Wabash athletes qualified for nationals, with Aouad and McCarthy adding outdoor All-America honors to their resumes. Aouad grabbed seventh place in the 110-meter hurdles, while McCarthy ran to seventh place in the 1500-meter run. McCarthy nearly missed a chance to run at the outdoor nationals after suffering an injury early in the year, but battled through the pain to earn his second All-America award of the year.
The Wabash cross country team got the fall portion of the 2010 season started with two huge victories at the Wabash Hokum Karem and the Indiana Little State meet. Senior Seth Einterz took the individual Little State title, while the Red Pack's team victory was the first for Wabash since 1995. The team title was a precursor to one of the best cross country seasons in recent history for Wabash. Serving as hosts for the annual NCAC Men's and Women's Cross Country Championship meet, the Little Giants finished second behind Allegheny College — the seventh consecutive league title for the Gators. Two weeks later Wabash would finish second at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional, advancing to the NCAA Nationals for the first time as a team since 1998.
Cross Country Coach Roger Busch — named the USTFCCCA Regional Cross Country Coach of the Year — prepared his team all season long to reach for success at nationals. The Red Pack's hard work was rewarded when Wabash finished 13th in the nation, with Einterz claiming All-America honors. The Little Giants finished ahead of Allegheny in the final team standings thanks to a great team effort that saw four Wabash runners finish in the top-115 places among the 279-man field. Einterz became the first Little Giant All-American cross country runner since his coach earned honors along with teammates Scott Gall and Jeremy Wright in 1995. McCarthy just missed a place in the top-35 places, taking 38th place.
The season did not progress the way the Wabash soccer team hoped it might. After opening with three straight wins and five victories in their first eight matches, the Little Giants ran into a string of five one-goal losses in their final eight matches, including two overtime losses. Wabash rallied for a 2-0 win at Wittenberg — the first by a Wabash soccer team in Springfield since 2004 — and a dominating 4-1 victory in the season finale over Wooster. Senior defender Mark Babcock scored one of the four goals in his final game as a member of the Little Giant squad on the way to earning All-NCAC honors for the fourth straight season.
The Wabash football team was dealt a horrible blow to start the 2010 year. Little Giant player Josh Linthicum died during a surgical procedure. The sophomore offensive lineman had planned to attend law school after graduating from Wabash before his life was tragically cut short.
The Little Giants were looking for their sixth NCAC title and fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA football playoffs, opening play in a newly renovated Hollett Little Giant Stadium with new FieldTurf at Sewell Field along with a brand new scoreboard thanks to a gift by the Hawksworth family. However, early season-ending injuries to All-American seniors Kody LeMond and Wes Chamblee had Little Giant fans scratching their heads as to what lay ahead for sixth-winningest programming in NCAA Division III history. Two new players — sophomore Chase Belton and junior Tyler Burke — would replace two-time NCAC Offensive Player of the Year Matt Hudson at quarterback, and junior Jonathan Horn would be joined by freshman James Kraus and juniors Brady Young, Geoff Wright, Devin Kelley, and Holm to take over as receivers. Wabash tallied over 2,400 yards and 22 touchdowns in the passing game. Seniors Derrick Yoder and Tommy Mambourg, along with sophomores Vann Hunt and Derek Rowe, helped Wabash rush for more than 1,500 yards and 16 TDs.
Senior linebacker CJ Gum earned NCAC Defensive Player of the Year honors after leading a Little Giant defense that finished 24th in the nation in rush defense and 26th in scoring defense. The biggest numbers came from the Wabash special teams units. The Little Giants tied an NCAA Division III record with 11 blocked kicks, while sophomore Jonathon Koop earned First Team All-America honors by returning four blocked punts for touchdowns. Joining Koop on the D3football.com All-America team were Gum and offensive lineman Weston Kitley.
Wabash finished 8-2 overall for the season, suffering losses on the road at Washington-St. Louis and Wittenberg. The Little Giants battled for the NCAC title at Wittenberg before falling 34-17 to finish 5-1 in league play.
The Little Giants saved their best game for last. Wabash destroyed DePauw 47-0 in the 117th Monon Bell Classic, ending the Tigers' hopes for a perfect regular season. The victory tied for the biggest winning margin in the series history to take a 55-53-9 all-time lead over DePauw. The Little Giant rushing offense had its biggest game of the season, out-gaining the Tigers 292-11. Yoder had a career day with 164 yards on 24 carries. The Little Giants dominated the final overall statistics, outgaining DePauw in total yards 498-95. The Tigers managed just 84 passing yards against the Wabash defense, helping the Little Giants keep the 300-pound Bell in Crawfordsville for another year.
The winter season is now reaching its halfway point, with both the swimming and wrestling teams posting early success. The Little Giant basketball team put a cap on the 2010 season Wednesday night, improving to 12-0 with a win at Franklin. Wabash earned its first top-10 ranking by D3hoops.com thanks in part to a 60-45 victory by the Little Giants over then second-ranked Randolph-Macon College in the title game of the Pete Thorn Tournament. The 12-0 start for the basketball team is the best since the 1907-08 team finished with a perfect 24-0 record.
As the hours count down to the end of 2010, we can only wonder what 2011 holds for all of us. There are plenty of awards and wins ahead for all of the Wabash sports teams, but it will be hard to be any more memorable than the 2010 season was for Little Giant fans around the world.
Have a happy and safe end to the year, and may 2011 be your best ever. Happy New Year from everyone at Wabash College.