It is about the time again when the trees start to blossom, the flowers peek out of the dirt and the sun radiates consistently on a daily basis. But just as any other spring semester closing, the athletic teams dwindle down after yet another full year of competition.
The Pioneer athletic teams experienced a historic year throughout the 2013-2014 seasons for many reasons. After a two-year transition period to full NCAA Division II status, this year was the first season in which the Pioneers were post-season eligible, marking many “firsts” for the athletics teams.
For the first year as a member of the NCAA, the university showed itself to be extremely competitive in many sports. The year contained many highlights, all of which are twice as impressive because of the recent Division II transition.
Fall sport highlights
In the fall, the men’s and women’s cross country teams had excellent seasons. The men’s team finished second in the GLIAC Championship race, while the women finished third. Senior women’s cross country runner Tina Oprean qualified for the national championship race, where she placed 38th and became Malone’s first ever All-American in any sport.
“It wasn’t just my individual success that made it a good year,” Oprean said. “We worked to create unity on the team, which made it really successful.”
The men’s golf team became the first Pioneer team to take home a GLIAC tournament championship, dominating the competition all throughout the fall. They went on to win the NCAA Midwest Regional II after winning the GLIAC Championship.
The men have continued their excellent performance into the spring season, winning their own spring classic and breaking a school record by going 18 under par for the team. The team has been led by senior golfer Nathan Tarter, who shot 10 under par at the Spring Classic.
The volleyball team, though finishing with an overall record of 12-18, had some highlight wins throughout the season. They defeated Michigan Tech on the road in five games to stop a six-game losing streak midway through the season.
After losing to Walsh earlier in the season, the women got some revenge at home in a three-game win over the Cavaliers.
The men’s soccer team followed a similar pattern as the volleyball women, having some struggles throughout the year but notching some big victories along the way. They beat a competitive Lake Erie team twice and in their final game of the year, the men beat the University of Findlay 5-4 in overtime.
Winter and spring sport highlights
The winter was also a busy time for Pioneer Athletics. The women’s basketball team had an extremely successful year, finishing with a record of 21-10 and making it all the way to the GLIAC tournament championship.
They achieved several large victories along the way, beating the defending Division II national champions, Ashland University, twice on the road and beating a very talented Wayne State team in the GLIAC tournament semifinals. They went 11-3 at home and put together an impressive six game win streak in the middle of January.
“We are a family,” senior basketball player Sydnee Penn said. ”And in every family there is trust, petty drama that never lasts and laughs that sometimes only we could understand.”
The men’s basketball team also experienced significant success this season, finishing with a record of 15-13 and making it to the GLIAC tournament semifinals. For the first 14 games of the season, the men alternated between wins and losses every game, staying at 500.
At the end of the year, they pieced together a five-game winning streak which boosted them into the conference tournament. Along the way the men achieved significant victories over Northwood University and Hillsdale College at home. In the first round of the GLIAC tournament, the 8th seeded Pioneer men bumped off the number one seed, Lake Superior State, on the road.
Finally, the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams also experienced their share of highlights throughout the winter in only their 5th year as an official program.
The men’s team was nationally ranked for most of the year, elevating to 9th for all of NCAA Division II at one point in the season. Despite being undermanned and having less swimmers than most Division II schools, the men finished 4th at the GLIAC championships. Several of the male swimmers were right on the cusp of qualifying for the Division II national meet.
“Through lots of hard work, dedication and guidance from our new coach Devin, our guys achieved a top 10 national ranking, something none of us expected,” senior swimmer Zach Reuther said. “There are only two seniors leaving, so the possibilities for the program next year are boundless.”
Alongside the men, the women’s team, who are even more undermanned than the men, still managed to finish 8th in the GLIAC Championship meet.
Although the spring sports have not yet reached their conclusion, there are still highlights worthy of mentioning.
The baseball team has seen several key victories throughout the spring, including a dramatic 11-inning victory over Wayne State at home and two wins in a double header over Walsh on the road.
The track and field teams have both experienced success throughout the spring as well, breaking several school records as they prepare for the GLIAC outdoor championships.
Though the year has had its ups and downs for every team, the athletes have represented themselves and their university well in the 2013-2014 school year.
“We’re settling in,” athletic director Charlie Grimes said. “Out of all the highlights of the year, seeing seniors finish their career here is a delight and a joy.”
Cory Veldhuizen and Isaiah Smith are staff writers for The Aviso AVW.