With 2016 coming to a close, we’ll take this time to look back and celebrate the top moments of the year in Villanova Athletics.
While Wildcat alumni Kyle Lowry and Matt Szczur each received championship fanfare, they are not included within this list. Lowry, who was a point guard for Team USA basketball, won a gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Rio. Szczur, a two-sport star in football and baseball at Villanova, was a member of the Chicago Cubs team that won their first World Series title in 108 years.
They certainly added to a string of Villanova-related championships this year, but this list will focus more on the current athletes and coaches within Villanova. (Exception to one very recent graduate, you’ll see.)
First, here are some noteworthy honorable mentions:
Best Class Ever– With a win over DePaul back in February, the Class of 2016–which included Ryan Arcidiacono, Daniel Ochefu, Patrick Farrell, Henry Lowe, and Kevin Rafferty, officially became the winningest class in Villanova men’s basketball history. They have set the record at 117 career victories, eclipsing the previous mark left by the Class of 2009.
A Pitcher’s Career Ends on Top of Villanova’s Record Books- Villanova softball’s Kate Poppe achieved a lot over her four years at Villanova. She is the program’s all-time leader in strikeouts, with 977, and is the only Villanova softball pitcher to record at least 800 career K’s. She threw a pair of no-hitters in her senior season, adding to her total of five career no-hit outings, which ties a program-best. She also sits atop the leaderboard in complete games, throwing 79 of them.
A New School Record in 100m Fly- In early December, Jake Hoin was one of eight swimmers sent to the AT&T Winter Nationals in Atlanta that represented Villanova. While he was down there, the junior swimmer set a new school record in the 100m fly, beating his old time of 48.76 seconds with a new mark of 48.29 seconds.
Now, on to the top 10 list:
10. December 3: Josh Hart Records a Triple-Double
Triple-doubles aren’t easy to come by.
They are a great indicator of a well-played, well-rounded game and are worthy of celebration.
With all of the talented players that have donned the blue and white over the last three decades, none of them were able to achieve a triple-double, at least, not until Josh Hart did so. To make matters even sweeter, he was able to get one against rival St. Joe’s in the most recent rendition of the ‘Holy War.’
He scored 16 points off of a 6-of-10 shooting performance, grabbed 12 rebounds, and dished out 11 assists in a lopsided 88-57 victory over the Hawks.
It was Hart’s first ever triple-double in his career and also the first time a Wildcat had achieved one since Harold Pressley did so back in 1986 in a game against Providence.
While Villanova was pounding its rival, about 600 miles away from the Pavilion, another game was taking place. Then No. 1-ranked Kentucky fell to UCLA, and with the Wildcats beating the Hawks, Hart’s performance helped solidify Villanova’s return to the top spot on the polls.
It was just the cherry on top for a terrific performance against a longtime rival.
9. October 21: Daniel Ochefu Makes the Washington Wizards’ Roster
Sixty names were called on Draft Day and not a single one of them belonged to Daniel Ochefu. However, it didn’t take him long to find a new home at the next level.
Shortly after the draft ended, the Washington Wizards reached out to the 6-foot-11 center and offered to sign him as an undrafted free agent. By the following morning, it was clear that the nation’s capital was going to be the next stop in his basketball journey.
From then on, the road wasn’t going to be easy.
Every step forward was simply an audition, all part of a competition against others to obtain a coveted roster spot. He played his way through the NBA Summer League, training camp, and the preseason.
He grinded his way through and at the end of preseason, his play was rewarded with a spot on the Wizards.
It was a nice treat for Ochefu, who enjoyed a solid four-year career on the Main Line. Ochefu racked up 1,015 points and 929 rebounds as a Wildcat. Initially known for his role as a rim protector coming in as a freshman, he gradually improved on the offensive end with each passing year and developed into a well-rounded threat in the paint.
8. November 26: Andy Talley Coaches the Football Team to Victory at Villanova Stadium for the Final Time
When Andy Talley announced that he was going to step down as the football team’s head coach at the end of the 2016-17 season, his players wanted to give him one last parting gift: a trip to the FCS Playoffs.
The Wildcats finished the regular season at 8-3, topping it off with a 41-10 win over rival Delaware in the ‘Battle of the Blue’ regular season finale.
They received an at-large bid and were able to host a first round playoff game in Talley’s 12th playoff run. Villanova took on St. Francis in the opening round. It was an opportunity for Talley to earn a win in his was officially his final game at Villanova Stadium. There would be no more home games for the season, and after the Wildcats lost to James Madison at home a couple weeks before, this was a chance at redemption.
Behind the play of Zach Bednarczyk, the Wildcats took a commanding 31-7 lead at halftime. He threw for 254 yards and three touchdowns to lead the offensive effort. Defensively, the Wildcats did not let St. Francis quarterback Zach Drayer to settle in. Drayer was sacked six times and was pressured hard and often. The Red Flash would get a couple of touchdowns towards the end of the game to make it close, but ultimately Villanova held on for a 31-21 win.
Talley’s legendary coaching career comes to a close, tallying 257 wins, with 229 of those occurring during his time at Villanova. He restarted the football program and over his 32 years as the Wildcats’ head coach, he has coached three Walter Payton Award winners, earned two National Coach of the Year awards, coach over a dozen first team All-Americans, over 200 All-Conference players, save lives with his Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation, and win a National Championship in 2009.
7. February 21: Women’s Basketball Head Coach Harry Perretta Earns his 700th Career Win
Women’s basketball head coach Harry Perretta joined an exclusive club back in February, when he became just the 10th active coach and the 14th one overall to achieve his 700th win as a Division I women’s basketball coach.
He also became the third active Division I women’s basketball coach to achieve 700 wins with just one school, joining Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma and Montana’s Robin Selvig.
Adding to the allure of the milestone, the achievement occurred against rival Georgetown.
Trailing the Hoyas by 12 with just over eight minutes to go in the game, the Wildcats began to heat up coming down the stretch. A Katherine Coyer layup topped off a 14-2 run to tie the game at 54 with just 1:58 remaining.
From there, the two teams began to trade the lead.
Eventually, Alex Louin would make all three of her free throws after being fouled while attempting a shot from beyond the arc, but the Hoyas would quickly regain the lead after a Dionna White basket to make it 58-57.
On the next possession, Louin would miss a three, but Villanova’s Samantha Wilkes was there for a putback layup to put Villanova ahead, 59-58.
The ‘Cats would not relinquish the lead and hung on for Perretta’s 700th. As of Dec. 30, he has 707 wins and counting.
6. April 2: Softball’s Maria DiBernardi Captures 800th Career Win as a Head Coach
After a clear and decisive 14-1 victory over St. John’s in the first game of a double header, the second game of the day was far from being one-sided. Villanova head coach Maria DiBernardi was one win away from 800 and was able to achieve the milestone in dramatic fashion.
The Wildcats and the visiting Red Storm traded runs in a back-and-forth game. Just when it seemed like one team tacked on a couple of runs to pull away, the other would quickly provide an answer when it was their turn to bat.
Going into the bottom of the fifth, Villanova was trailing 7-5 after St. John’s went on a three-run scoring splurge to begin the inning.
Brittany Husk stepped up to the plate to lead off the Wildcats and delivered a solo home run to left field to cut the Red Storm lead to just one.
Villanova wasn’t finished yet. After a flyout, Nikki Alden was able to go deep as well, launching a solo shot to centerfield to tie the game at seven runs apiece.
The sixth inning was the first ever scoreless inning in the game, as both teams were unable to break the tie. After taking care of St. John’s in the top of the seventh, it was up to the ‘Cats to finish the game or allow it to go into extra innings.
With one out and a runner on second, Chase Snell was able to connect with a single to move the game-winning run over to third. From there, Lauren Hanna delivered the finishing blow to bring the runner home and grant DiBernardi her 800th win as a head coach.
Through 33 seasons at Villanova, DiBernardi is the winningest coach in school history, compiling 818 wins over the years. That number will certainly continue to grow.
5. November 14: Men’s Soccer Goes to the NCAA Tournament for the First Time Ever
Prior to this year, not a single player on the men’s soccer team had played in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, no one in the program’s history had ever gone dancing in the postseason.
It all changed, as the team learned that its season wasn’t over just yet. For the first time in Villanova history, the men’s soccer team was among the field of 48 in the NCAA Tournament.
10 wins, a Big East Tournament semifinals appearance, and a handful of upset performances against Top 25-ranked teams like Delaware, Boston College, and Creighton, were all worthy highlights and accomplishments in the selection committee’s eyes–giving the Wildcats their first ever spot in the tournament.
Highlighted by the play of Miguel Polley, who had a team-high 20 points off of six goals and eight assists, and Lucas Hodges, who also had a team-high six goals, the Wildcats finished the regular season with a record of 10-7-3. It also helped having Will Steiner at goalkeeper, leading the Big East with 90 saves.
Overall, it was a resurgent year for the program and this may be the start of greater things to come.
4. February 27: Men’s Track Team Claims the Big East Indoor Track Title
The men’s track team found success once again at the Big East Indoor Championships, winning their third consecutive conference title, sixth in program history.
Similar to their Big East championship runs in the past, they set a new meet record, shattering last year’s mark with a combined 208 points–13 points in front of second place Marquette.
Patrick Tiernan was named Most Outstanding Track Performer after he won the 3,000m and 5,000m races, becoming the first ever runner to sweep those events in the same year at the Big East Championships.
Aside from Tiernan’s pair of first place finishes, five other Wildcats were able to claim the top spot.
Jordy Williamsz won the Mile run and anchored the 4x800m team to victory. Ben Malone, Ishmael Muhammad, and Elliot Slade ran the first three legs of that relay. Slade was also the winner of the 1,000m race.
Sterling Pierce and Ville Lampinen won the 60m and 100m, respectively, as freshmen.
With the win, the Villanova men’s track team becomes the first team to win at least three straight indoor conference titles since the Georgetown four-peat from 1998-01.
3. February 27: Women’s Swimming & Diving Team Wins the Big East Championship
Less than 40 miles away from where the men’s track team won their indoor conference title, the women’s swimming and diving team captured their third consecutive Big East title.
They were able to do so in dominant fashion, taking the top spot behind a few record-setting performances.
Villanova scored 1,013 points as a team, finishing a whopping 329 points ahead of second place Georgetown.
Darby Goodwin was named the meet’s Most Outstanding Swimmer, raking in six gold medals as a freshman. Three of those victories came in individual races, as she won the 200m IM, 100m and 200m backstroke. In the 200m, she broke her own school record with a time of 1:56.55.
She also earned gold as a member of the 400 medley, 200 medley, and 400 freestyle relay–where she, Taylor Wilson, Kaisla Kollanus, and Alexa Fabbri shattered a school record, finishing the race at 3:18.76.
Kollanus won seven gold medals and broke the program record in the 100m freestyle with a time of 49.10 seconds.
The Wildcats swept the podium in the 100m freestyle and the 100m fly. All in all, there were first place finishes by a Villanovan in all but two events at the meet.
Head coach Rick Simpson was named the Big East Women’s Coach of the Year once again for the third straight season.
2. November 19 and December 8: Patrick Tiernan Wins NCAA Championship and Australian Crown
Patrick Tiernan found himself in a familiar situation.
Last year, at the NCAA Cross Country National Championship, he went toe-to-toe with Oregon’s Edward Cheserek. They were far from the rest of the field of runners, and it was apparent the race was between those two. Cheserek left Tiernan behind around the eight-kilometer mark to spur ahead to victory.
It was no surprise that Cheserek was the clear favorite to win it all again.
Not only was Cheserek the three-time defending national champion heading into the Nov. 19 race, but throughout his career he had participated in 17 National Championship races between the cross country, indoor, and outdoor track seasons. Of those 17 title races, he finished in first place 15 times.
This year, Cheserek and Tiernan met once again in front of the pack–along with Syracuse’s Justyn Knight.
At the eight-kilmoter mark, it was Cheserek who began to lag behind. Tiernan and Knight pulled ahead and left Cheserek in the dust. From there, Tiernan was able to get the separation he needed to cross the finish line in first place with a time of 29:22.0, finishing approximately five seconds ahead of Knight and 26 seconds faster than Cheserek.
It was the first time a male Villanova runner captured the cross country national title since Vic Zwolak won in 1963.
About three weeks after winning the NCAA title, he was in Australia, competing in the Zatopek10–the Australian national race.
Rocking a custom Villanova singlet, Tiernan blazed his way to another first-place finish with a time of 27:59.74–nearly 30 seconds in front of second place.
With the win, Tiernan now holds a pair of national championships, each from different countries.
1. April 4: ‘The Shot’ Launches Villanova Into History Books in 77-74 win over North Carolina in National Championship Game
It’s a shot that all young basketball players dream of growing up.
It’s an opportunity that every fledgling hooper emulates, as they run down the driveway screaming “3…2…1…” while heaving the ball into the air. The kind of shot that dreams are made of, almost too good for Hollywood screens to the point where it has become too cliched to watch at the end of sports movies. Despite this, it’s a moment that always continues to captivate us.
It’s a type of moment that’s perfect, a little too perfect to even occur in real life.
Except that it did happen. It happened with 4.7 seconds left in the National Championship game and became stitched into Villanova’s history until the end of time, with thousands of people packed into the NRG Stadium as witnesses, and millions more tuned in at home around the world.
Sure, North Carolina’s Marcus Paige made a beautiful double-clutch three to tie the game–and seemingly bring it into overtime–but Jenkins answered back with an even greater shot. One that’s been replayed millions of times and will continue to do so for years to come.
By now, everyone should know how it goes.
A boy struggles to handle a large mop, to which Daniel Ochefu steps in to take his place. The act of good will also had an ulterior motive, a tactical one. The Wildcats had tried to run a similar play before and failed to execute it cleanly due to a wet spot in the court offering some slippage. Ochefu made sure to not let that happen again.
Jenkins passes the ball in to Ryan Arcidiacono. Arcidiacono dribbles it in and takes it down the court, grabbing the attention of a couple Tar Heel defenders.
He flips the ball back to an open Jenkins, who rises up for the three….