Yesterday I talked about the fall sports, which were quite disappointing aside from the run by the women's volleyball team. The winter season was a lot better. It featured a pair of National Championships (but not the one we really, really wanted) and the feeling of being unfulfilled. We learned that David Boudia is pretty much unmatched when it comes to NCAA diving, and he will be sorely missed next season as he seeks British gold.
Obviously the focus of the winter sports season is always men's basketball, and after all the hope for this season it netted less than the 2009-10 season netted. We were rated higher or much of the season and some of the regular season highlights were great, but I think it is safe to assess we fell short of expectations. We'll get to that in a moment, but here are the other winter sports:
With wrestling programs being cut across the NCAA landscape you would think we would be pretty good. Unfortunately, we're never going to make a lot of headway being in the same conference as Iowa, Minnesota, and Penn State. Purdue won seven dual meets this season, including the Crimson & Gold Cup point against Indiana. Against regular Big Ten and National power Iowa we were crushed 37-3.
Purdue wrestlers scored a total of nine points at the NCAA Championships in Philadelphia. Senior Luke Manuel left Purdue with 118 career victories, fourth all-time as he finished in the round of 12 at the NCAA Championships at 174 pounds. Colton Salazar and Logan Brown also each won matches at the NCAA Championships, while A.J. Kissell and Camden Eppert were NCAA qualifiers.
Swimming & Diving
Really, it was the David Boudia show. All season long it was bigger news when he lost, as he dominated Big Ten competition like no other. For the third straight season he was the Diver of the Year in the Big Ten and he won two more National Championships at the NCAA meet, giving him a total of six. He was second on the platform, preventing him from becoming the first diver to ever win all three boards in one NCAA meet. He was NCAA Diver of the year for the third straight season as well. He has since turned pro in preparation for the 2012 London Summer Olympics.
Danny Cox and J.P. Perez helped Purdue as well, each earning All-America honors at the NCAA meet on the platform with Boudia. Women's diver Erin Mertz was a third place finisher on the 3-meter to earn All-America honors, proving that we may have the best all-around diving program in the country. Mertz finished in the top 16 in all three diving events at the NCAAs.
The women's team also received points at the NCAA meet by having the 800 meter relay team of Ariel Martin, Lisa Butler, Emily Fogle, and Lauren Gustafson place 16th. Caitlin Hamilton broke the school record in the mile swim by finishing 11th at the NCAA meet to earn six more team points.
Considering that our starting point guard got injured in the first game of the season and another starter nearly died from a frightening bacterial infection around Thanksgiving, I think you can consider the season a success. Purdue finished 21-12 and was able to return to the NCAA Tournament after a one year hiatus. Once there, we hung around for a bit by beating Kansas State before losing to UConn.
The story of the season was Drey Mingo, however. After scoring 21 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in the WNIT championship game win over DePaul Mingo came down with Meningitis. She ended up in the hospital and nearly died if not for prompt treatment. A trip to Mexico for a tournament with Montana and Florida Gulf Coast was cancelled as the entire team received treatment as a precaution. Mingo was in critical condition for awhile before recovering. She returned to the court a few weeks later and finished the season, which is quite amazing.
Purdue lost its next three after Mingo's illness and finished 9-7 in Big Ten play. Expectations are high for next season as no seniors graduated, leaving Purdue with an intact roster that might have some depth next year if we can finally avoid injuries. KK Houser, who tore her ACL (surprise!) in the season opener should return as well. Brittany Rayburn, Mingo, and Courtney Moses all averaged in double figures.
JaJuan Johnson was an All-American, our first in 17 years. E`Twaun Moore was all-Big Ten and an honorable mention All-American. Purdue finished 26-8 after a lot of people wrote them off when Robbie Hummel re-tore his ACL. Among those wins were a home ass-kicking of #1 overall seed Ohio State, a stomping at Michigan State, and games at Minnesota, West Virginia, Iowa, and Wisconsin could have been victories by changing a play or two.
So why did the season feel so disappointing?
On February 20th anything felt possible as E`Twaun dropped 38 on Ohio State in possibly the best game I have ever been to at Mackey Arena. Even without Robbie we were firing on all cylinders and were in the Big Ten race. A #1 seed to the NCAA Tournament was possible, and it really carried over to the next week when we went into East Lansing and handed the Spartans their ass thanks to Lewis Jackson.
Who knew that 21 days after that game in East Lansing we would be a ghost of the team we had been in February. Once the calendar turned to March everything fell apart, with the following results:
- A lackluster start at home on senior night against Illinois, but we recovered to win
- A shocking loss at Iowa
- An ugly, disjointed loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament
- An NCAA win over a St. Peter's team that even IU could beat.
- Completely failing at defense against VCU in a second round loss.
Those last four games were especially bad, mostly because the one victory came against one of the worst teams in the NCAA Tournament. I don't know if it was the Kelsey Barlow suspension, John Hart's injury, peaking too early, or simply running out of gas, but the season felt unfulfilling because the team we saw in March was not the one we saw in the previous 29 games. I think it was even worse when you look at the Final Four and especially the national title game itself and see that we could have beaten any one of those teams.
The loss to VCU really stings because we pride ourselves on defense, yet the Rams took us apart like no other team I have ever seen. Even OSU in Columbus this year didn't do that. The Buckeyes won mostly because they couldn't miss. VCU simply ran over us as we looked completely lost.
The story will always be: "How would it have been different without Hummel?" it is hard to say because I think we win 3-4 more games (at Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and West Virginia), thus giving us the Big Ten crown and a #1 seed). In a way, everyone underachieved though since no #1 or #2 seeds made it to Houston, so there are no guarantees. Maybe Hummel helps keep Barlow in line, avoiding the issues at the worst possible team that probably played a large role in our derailment.
All I know is that I always billed 2011 as the year we finally won a National title, and seeing UConn have slightly fewer bricks than Butler in the National title game in order to win the title was very frustrating. I will never understand how we could look so good against Ohio State, the #1 overall seed, and look so bad agaisnt VCU, the consensus "Last Team In". We were a victim of playing our worst basketball at the worst time.
I do think there is a lot of hope for 2011-12 though. Those predictiing a huge falloff to outside of the NCAA Tournament will be sorely disappointed. There is enough talent (and thankfully Painter returned) to expect another NCAA bid. If things break right we can even contend for the Big Ten again. Expectations won't be as high, but it seems like we do better when that is the case.