Finals are here and classes are over. The temperature is up and the motivation to work is down. As students get ready to turn in their books for swimming suits, student-athletes at Missouri are finishing the last few games on their spring schedules. Although his job does not allow for a summer break, Athletics Director Mike Alden can reflect back on the 2008-2009 year with a smile on his face. It was the greatest year in Missouri sports history.
The football team won its second Big 12 North Championship in the past two years. Add that to another double-digit win season and a victory over Northwestern in the Alamo Bowl, and Gary Pinkel's squad put together a nice little resume. Sure, it didn't end up winning the national title. But if that is the standard for success, then this country is chock-full of failures.
Both the wrestling and gymnastics teams had outstanding campaigns. The Beauties and the Beasts both consistently ranked inside the top 15 in the country throughout their respective seasons. The Beasts finished seventh at the NCAA Championships. The Beauties were led by two of the top gymnasts in the nation, junior Sarah Shire and senior Adrianne Perry. Congratulations to both programs on their success.
Women's soccer coach Bryan Blitz led his players to a breakout year. The Tigers won the first Big 12 Tournament in the history of the school in any sport. Its final record stood at 18-6-1 after bowing out in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to the University of Illinois before Thanksgiving. The team's game against the Illini was one of the best competitions I've ever attended. The Tigers made me proud to be a fan of sport.
But, as well as the other programs performed, this year was dominated by one team. If this column were the Oscars and the year were 1998, the men's basketball program would be "Titanic." It swept Columbia off of its mid-Missouri feet, making people fall in love everywhere it went.
The Oscar for Best Director goes to coach Mike Anderson. There were those who doubted he was the right man to lead the Tigers back into national prominence. The critics are awfully quiet now. Silence is golden.
If there were an Oscar for Comeback Actor of the Year, it would also go to the basketball team. One season removed from a .500 record and scoring more arrests than victories during Big 12 play, Missouri finished with a record of 31-7, 15 more wins than the previous season.
The award for Best Actor/Actress in a Supporting Role would actually go to a team whose accolades are still being collected. The softball team stands at 42-9, after an energized charge to the NCAA Super Regional in 2008. It will be exciting to see where they finish.
But the Big Kahuna goes to the boys bouncing the ball. The 2008-2009 Team of the Year, without any doubt, is the men's basketball team. A Big 12 tourney title (the second in school history). An Elite 8 appearance. Charisma. Fans rushed the court, screamed their black and gold tails off and witnessed a team they won't forget.
I've been unbelievably lucky to cover Missouri sports these past months. Thank you to anybody who's read and everyone who has enjoyed MU's success as much as I have. Hopefully there will be even better things in store for next year.