Summer 2016

A strong start to 2016 for Pioneers athletic teams

Senior Nina McGee brought home the Pioneers’ first-ever individual NCAA gymnastics title.

Senior Nina McGee brought home the Pioneers’ first-ever individual NCAA gymnastics title in April.

2016 is off to a great start for University of Denver athletics. In winter and spring alone, the Pioneers played in the Frozen Four for the first time in 11 years, captured their first-ever individual NCAA gymnastics title, won their NCAA-record 23rd national skiing championship and hired new men’s basketball coach Rodney Billups — a DU alumnus who made a name for himself as an assistant coach at CU-Boulder. And at press time, DU was on track to win its eighth Learfield Sports Division I AAA Directors’ Cup in nine years, recognized once again as the top non-football school in the country.


On the ice

After defeating Ferris State 6-3 in the March 27 quarterfinals, the men’s hockey team headed to the NCAA Frozen Four for the first time since 2005. Students gathered at campus-area watering holes and alumni arranged viewing parties around the country to watch the Pioneers take on the North Dakota Fighting Hawks in Tampa, Fla., on April 7. Despite a valiant effort, the team lost 4-2 in the NCAA semifinal.

“It was a great college hockey game,” head coach Jim Montgomery said after the season-ending defeat. “It’s what we expected. When North Dakota and Denver play, it’s great hockey. I think what you saw from the fight in us all year long and in this game shows what’s inside of us to be able to keep fighting and to keep believing, no matter what the score was or how we were playing.”

Prior to their Frozen Four appearance, the Pioneers clashed with longtime rival Colorado College on Feb. 20 at the “Battle on Blake,” the first-ever outdoor hockey game at Coors Field (home of the Colorado Rockies) in downtown Denver. The Pioneers defeated the Tigers 4-1 in front of a crowd of 35,144 — a new record for any DU sporting event.


On the floor

DU’s remarkable season continued April 15, when senior Nina McGee brought home the Pioneers’ first-ever individual NCAA gymnastics title.

McGee finished her DU career with a 9.950 on floor, the highest score on the event during the semifinals. McGee held the previous best finish at an NCAA national championship when she tied for second on floor in 2015.

“I just keep smiling,” McGee said after the meet. “I feel honored. My goal has always been to win floor or the all-around at nationals. I’m kind of at a loss for words.”

For the second straight year, she won the crowd over with her thrilling floor routine, earning a standing ovation from the audience and her fellow competitors. Her performance earned her three NCAA All-America honors: first-team in the all-around and on floor, and second-team on bars.

McGee qualified for her second consecutive NCAA National Championships after finishing second in the all-around at the April 2 NCAA Regionals in Minneapolis, where the team finished fourth overall. It was DU’s 18th consecutive NCAA Regionals appearance, and the 17th straight season that at least one DU gymnast advanced to the nationals.

McGee was named Big 12 co-Gymnast of the Year at the conference championship earlier in the season, sharing the honors with Oklahoma’s Chayse Capps. DU finished second overall in the meet, behind No. 1 Oklahoma and ahead of West Virginia and Iowa State. McGee also was the North Central Region co-Gymnast of the Year, along with Lindsay Mable from Minnesota.


On the court

The men’s basketball team traveled to South Dakota in early March to compete in the Summit League Tournament. The Pioneers defeated the Omaha Mavericks in the quarterfinals but lost to the South Dakota State Jackrabbits in the semifinals, finishing the season 16-15.

But the biggest basketball news at DU in the first half of 2016 was the appointment of former Pioneers point guard Rodney Billups — who previously served as an assistant coach at the University of Colorado — as new head coach of the DU men’s team. Billups replaces Joe Scott, who guided the Pioneers to 146 victories over his nine seasons at the helm, including a successful run to the NIT in 2013. The men’s basketball team completed its 2016 campaign 16-15 overall and 7-9 in Summit League play.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling returning to DU,” said Billups, a 2005 graduate of DU’s Daniels College of Business who helped guide the CU Buffaloes to four NCAA Tournament berths. “I truly believe that there is no one as proud of this university, this program, this city and this state as I am.”

A native Coloradan, Billups graduated from George Washington High School in 2001. From 2002–05 he served as DU’s starting point guard and in his senior season was named co-recipient of the Floyd M. Theard Jr. Memorial Award, presented each year to the DU men’s basketball player who best displays the qualities of leadership, scholarship and sportsmanship. Billups’ older brother Chauncey was an NBA star player from 1997 to 2014 for teams including the Denver Nuggets, Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks.

Chancellor Rebecca Chopp called Billups a perfect fit for DU: “As a man of character and integrity, he is a positive reflection of who we are, now and into the future.”


On the field

After winning the Big East regular season championship, the men’s lacrosse team shifted its focus to defending DU’s 2015 national title. The team entered the NCAA tournament as the second seed but fell to Towson 10-9 at home in the first round. The Pioneers finished the 2016 season with a 13-3 record, and the senior class led the country in wins at 60-13. Junior Connor Cannizzaro was named one of five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award, lacrosse’s equivalent to football’s Heisman Trophy.

“We don’t want to be a one-hit wonder,” coach Bill Tierney told the Denver Post after the loss to Towson. “That’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to sustain and excel in the classroom, in the community and on the field. We didn’t excel at the end here. But we were 12-1 on the (regular season) and won the Big East regular season championship. I’m really proud of these young men.”


On the slopes

Led by head Nordic coach Dave Stewart and alpine head coach Andy LeRoy, the University of Denver ski team won its NCAA-record 23rd national championship after competing at the association’s National Skiing Championships in Steamboat Springs, Colo., in March. Denver finished first overall in the team standings with 567.5 points, ahead of the University of Colorado (491.5) and the University of Utah (485).

“I have to mention that the championship coincided with winter quarter exam week at DU,” Stewart said after the victory. “Every member of our team took final exams in the days before the races and then went out and competed like champions. These guys are truly model student-athletes, and it is my pleasure to be able to coach them.”

Erik Read (men’s slalom), Kristine Haugen (women’s giant slalom) and Linn Eriksen (women’s classical) all won individual national championships, and Stewart was named Nordic National Coach of the Year. DU finished with a total of 15 All-Americans, the most of any team.


At the net

The men’s and women’s tennis teams both made it to the NCAA championships in May, though both were knocked out in the first round. Prior to the championships, both teams claimed their third consecutive Summit League titles — DU became the first school in league history to win three consecutive men’s and women’s tennis championships concurrently.

Junior Diogo Rocha was named the Summit League Men’s Tennis Player of the Year, while Henry Craig, David Fox, Alex Gasson, Yannik James and Rocha were all named to the 2016 Summit All-League team.

On the women’s side, sophomore Julia O’Loughlin was named the Summit League Women’s Tennis Player of the Year, while head coach Christian Thompson was named Summit League Women’s Tennis Coach of the Year and freshman Bianca Mok was named Summit League Women’s Tennis Newcomer of the Year. Four women were also named to the 2016 Summit All-League team, including Mok, O’Loughlin, Maureen Slattery and Evy Van Genechten.

“What a special group of girls I have had the pleasure of working with in the 2015–16 season,” Thompson said. “I am very proud of our culture that has slowly been built over the past few years — a culture of discipline, grittiness and trust in each other. We accomplished many goals as a team, and next year we will be back stronger and wiser.”

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