With the announcement of the 2011 NCAA Softball Tournament yesterday, one that lacked Purdue, we can start wrapping up the sports year for our beloved Boilermakers. Women's Golf will try to defend its National Championship this week. Baseball wraps up its regular season, but losing a home series to Illinois squandered a golden chance to win the Big Ten when IU did us a solid by sweeping Michigan State. Those are the two sports left with major competitions, while everyone else is virtually done.
That means it is time to wrap things up before the long summer of football previews takes over. This is the first time I have taken a comprehensive look at the athletic programs at the end of the year, but this place has long been one that honors all things Purdue, not just football and men's basketball. So let's take a look at all 18 varsity sports and how they did this year.
This will be a three part series, with this one consisting of the fall sports. I went with Fading Strong as a theme because it seems like every Purdue sport peaked too early. Football was 4-2 before finishing 0-6. Basketball was solidly in the top 10 before forgetting to play March. Baseball has lost 5 of its last 6 in big Ten play after leading the conference. One of these days we won't fall apart late, and it will feel that much more special when it finally happens.
Both the men's and women's teams earned USTFCCCA All-Academic Team honors for performance in the classroom, with Stephen Schultz earning individual all-Academic honors. That was about as good as it got. The men's team won the IPFW Invitational on September 11th, but they finished 10th at the Big Ten meet and 8th at the NCAA regional.
The women's team somehow did worse, finishing dead last at the Big Ten meet and 13th at the NCAA Regionals. Both the women's and men's team lost the Crimson & Gold Series points easily to IU, as the Hoosiers took the trophy again this year with a 12-8 advantage.
The random grudge match between Mrs. T-Mill and myself happened in women's soccer this past year, as Purdue hosted the Miami Hurricanes in a 1-1 draw on August 27th. It was one of the high points of a bad season for the ladies, as a very young team finished 6-12-2. One of the few victories was a 2-1 win over Indiana to maintain possession of the golden boot, but that was the lone highlight of a 1-7 finishing kick.
The program has fallen quite a bit since it entered the 2007 NCAA Tournament as a top 5 team before losing to Indiana in the second round on penalty kicks. There is some excitement headed into 2011, as the program will now be able to host night games with lights being installed at the Northwest Athletic Complex.
Ah, what might have been if not for injuries. What qualifies possibly as the best season in our program's history could have been even better if Jaclyn Hart and Anna Drewry had not been lost to injury late. Hart's injury was especially devastating, as Purdue was up a set over Texas in the Elite Eight when the senior setter was forced to leave. Purdue could not recover from losing such a key piece, and fell in each of the next three sets to miss out on the Final Four.
It could have been even more than that, as Purdue beat both Penn State (who later won a fourth straight NCAA championship) and #1 overall seed Florida this year. The 24-11 finish led to a #11 final ranking, but topping Florida, who came in at 29-1, was incredibly impressive. The Gators were unstoppable for most of the year, but Purdue swept them right out of the tournament in straight sets.
There is plenty of reason for excitement too. Purdue loses only Hart and MB Kristen Arthurs to graduation. The ladies were undefeated in their spring season, and they could be considered a top 10 team nationally when the season begins in August. The Big Ten will once again allow for plenty of competition. Adding Nebraska (who visits West Lafayette on November 12th) will only improve the conference. Nebraska was the last team other than Penn State to win a national title.
It all started the day after the Notre Dame game, when I was trail running at Indiana Dunes State Park and I planted wrong, tearing ligaments in my ankle. That injury is still giving me trouble at times, but it was merely the first of many injuries during the 2010 Football season. When even the resident blogger is hobbled by injury you know your team is cursed. Ralph Bolden was already out from the spring, but Robert Marve, Keith Smith, Justin Siller, and several others were lost to various injuries for either part or all of the season. At one point Sean Robinson, who figured to be redshirting at fourth on the QB depth chart as a true freshman, was starting. It looked alright for awhile. We started 4-2 despite a loss to freakin' Toledo at home, but an 0-6 finish and handing the Bucket over to IU at Ross-Ade Stadium was abysmal.
Only the All-American level performance of Ryan Kerrigan was a major highlight. I cannot say enough positive things about Kerrigan. Just remember, he was double- and triple-teamed on nearly every play and still was a unanimous All-American. At Notre Dame he was held on virtually every play and still made it a miserable day for Dayne Crist. He was the one player in the country that handled Denard Robinson, sacking him four times when Michigan had given up four sacks total coming into the game. Just imagine what he would have done if offenses had not been keying on him every play.
It is hoped that consistency and depth earned from having to play so many guys will help in 2011. Rob Henry emerged as the likely started ahead of 5th year Robert Marve at quarterback, but I am kind of pulling for Marve as I would like to see the kid's hard work pay off after turning things around on and off the field once he got to West Lafayette. Bolden will be back, which is a major plus. The defense, despite losing Kerrigan, has a lot of promising player. All we need to do is start moving the ball and scoring points, something that is a drastic departure from the Purdue football we're used to.
We have to get back to a bowl game, and it should happen this year. Middle Tennessee State, SE Missouri State, and Rice should be wins because honestly, we don't deserve a bowl if we lose those games. We need to beat Minnesota at home and we have to get our Bucket back at Indiana. That's five wins there, and I think pulling off a win over Illinois or Iowa at home is not a far stretch. Sure, it may be the Little Caesar's/Eminem 8 Mile Bowl in Detroit, but it is a Bowl. It wouldn't be right if we didn't play a MAC team, anyway, as this is the first year since 1998 that a MAC team is not on the schedule.