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It was all about the wrestling team when it came to the 2011-12 athletic year at Penn State. The Nittany Lions won their second consecutive national crown in dominating fashion, beating Big Ten rival and runner-up Minnesota by 25.5 points. What’s more, a trio of Penn State stars won the national title in his respective weight class — Frank Molinaro (149), David Taylor (165) and Ed Ruth (174). Taylor, a sophomore, also claimed the Dan Hodge Trophy, awarded to the National Wrestler of the Year.
Eight years. Seven national championships. It’s been an incredible, historic — you name the adjective — run for the Northwestern women’s lacrosse program, which claimed national crown No. 7 in May to highlight the 2011-12 Northwestern athletic year. The seven championships rank second all-time behind perennial power Maryland’s 10, won from 1986-2010. Even more impressive, the one year during the streak that Northwestern didn’t win it all, it lost in the 2010 title game to Maryland.
How good was Nebraska’s first volleyball season as a Big Ten member? Put it this way: The Huskers won the Big Ten crown, with a 17-3 conference record, snapping four-time reigning national champ Penn State’s remarkable eight-year reign atop the loaded Big Ten. Yeah, it was pretty good — so good, in fact, Nebraska’s historic volleyball season highlights the school’s 2011-12 athletic year. Not even an unexpected second-round exit from the NCAA tourney can change that.
As BTN’s Rick Pizzo says, “Hockey! Hockey! Hockey!” For Minnesota, during the 2011-12 athletic year, it was all about the school’s success on the ice. The women’s team won the national title, its first since 2005, with a victory over rival Wisconsin in the championship game, while the men advanced to the Frozen Four, also its first since 2005, losing to eventual national champ Boston College in the semifinals. The two teams combined to go 62-19-3, with the women carding an impressive 34-5-2 ledger.
So much for the Michigan football program’s struggles. After suffering through the worst three-year period in program history (15-22), the Wolverines came out of nowhere to card an 11-2 record, including their first BCS win since 2000, in Year 1 of the Brady Hoke regime. Naysayers will argue the schedule played out perfectly for Michigan in 2011, but 11-2 is 11-2 no matter how you slice it. And the Wolverines did beat ranked foes, drilling Nebraska and nipping Virginia Tech, both of which were ranked No. 17, in addition to finally topping Ohio State.
That’s more like what Iowa fans were thinking when the men’s basketball team hired Fran McCaffery to replace Todd Lickliter. After a disappointing 11-20 first season under the former Siena coach, Iowa surprised many with its 18-17 encore — a season highlighted by upset victories over ranked Wisconsin, twice, then-No. 13 Michigan and then-No. 18 Indiana on its way to capturing an NIT berth. It might not sound like much, but this is a program that went 38-58 since 2007-08 and hadn’t sniffed the postseason. And now, it’s thinking bigger things. Like the NCAA tourney.
Any talk about Indiana’s 2011-12 athletic year begins and ends with the turnaround of the men’s basketball program. On the heels of a forgettable three-year run that yielded a 28-66 record, the Hoosiers returned to relevancy with a 27-9 season, highlighted by a Sweet 16 berth and upset wins over eventual national champ Kentucky and then-No. 2 Ohio State. The difference between the previous three seasons: Freshman sensation Cody Zeller, the Coaches’ choice for Big Ten Freshman of the Year and an All-Big Ten second-team honoree.
When it comes to the 2011-12 athletic year for Illinois, many people will remember it for all of the transition. Football coach Ron Zook, men’s basketball coach Bruce Weber and women’s basketball coach Jolette Law all coached their last games and gave way to Tim Beckman, John Groce and Matt Bollant, respectively. But it also was a successful year, one highlighted by the men’s gymnastics team’s 10th NCAA title and first since 1989. The coach of the team, Justin Spring, 29, became the youngest gymanstics coach to win the national crown.