With VCU’s decision to bolt the Colonial Athletic Association still fresh in our minds, maybe now is a good time to take stock of the 17 years the Rams spent in the league. It was a good run and frankly, the CAA’s Virginia-centric appeal was one of the things that made it fun for VCU fans. I can honestly say it’s one of the things I’ll miss, times change.
VCU has won 42 CAA championships since joining the league for the 1994-95 season. The Rams’ 36 titles in men’s sports are the most in league history. The VCU Baseball team will have a chance to add to that mark later this month. The Rams have won 13 championships in men’s tennis, eight in golf and five each in men’s basketball and baseball. Other sports were not as fortunate, but still enjoyed a great deal of success. Here, I’m going to look at the best team from each VCU program of the CAA era.
BASEBALL: 2003 (46-13, 17-3 CAA, CAA Champions, 1-2 NCAAs)
This was a legitimately hard decision. You could make compelling arguments for the 1998 and 2001 teams. This is one of the few picks that required some back-and-forth debate.
But for me, the 2003 squad was a shade better. Not only did they dominate the CAA regular season and sweep the conference tournament, but the Rams also led the country in ERA that season (2.54). Four pitchers, Cla Meredth (6th), Justin Orenduff (1st), Sean Marshall 6th) and Brian Marshall (5th), were selected in the first six rounds of the MLB Draft. Four other players were also eventually drafted. Sean Marshall and Cla Meredith played in the majors.
MEN’S BASKETBALL: 2010-11 (28-12, 12-6 CAA, NCAA Final Four)
While I’m picking a non-CAA champion here, I doubt I’ll get few arguments. VCU’s run to the Final Four in 2011 pretty much trumps everything. During the regular season the Rams were equally magnificent and maddening, but flipped a switch in March. VCU reached the CAA Championship Game, upsetting ranked and heavily-favored George Mason in the process. Despite losing to Old Dominion in the title bout, VCU received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, where the Rams toppled USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas on the way to history.
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: 2008-09 (26-7, 15-3 CAA, NCAA First Round)
The Rams didn’t win the CAA crown this season (Drexel did), but behind eventual WNBA first round pick Quanitra Hollingsworth, the Rams earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the first time via an at-large berth. The Rams met Rutgers in the first round and gave the Scarlet Knights a run for their money. In addition to Hollingsworth, future All-American and WNBA Draftee Courtney Hurt was a freshman on this squad.
MEN’S CROSS COUNTRY: 1999 (3rd, CAA Championships)
Admittedly, VCU hasn’t had much success on the cross country course, but did post back-to-back third place finishes in 1998 and 1999. The 1999 team, with CAA top 10 finishers Alberto Vicente and Joe Reid, gets the nod here.
WOMEN’S CROSS COUNTRY: 1998 (3rd CAA Championships)
While the women’s cross country team hasn’t been able to break through the William & Mary/James Madison blockade, VCU did place third in 1998 and 1999 behind two-time CAA champion and All-American Maria-Elena Calle. In 1998, Calle won her first title and Claire Kelley was ninth for the Rams.
FIELD HOCKEY: 2010 (13-7, 5-3 CAA)
The 2010 Rams’ Field Hockey Team reversed years of disappointment with their 13-win campaign. Despite a heartbreaking overtime loss to Drexel in the CAA Semifinals, this team, led by league Coach of the Year Kelly McQuade and sisters Marle, Flore and Rymme van Dessel, helped change the course of the program at VCU.
GOLF: 2002 (CAA Champions, 5th NCAA East Region, NCAA Golf Championship Qualifier)
I strongly considered the 1996 team, which included future All-Americans John Rollins and Donny Lee, but the 2002 group put themselves over the top with their run to the NCAA Golf Championship.
That season, VCU set a CAA scoring record by finishing 21-under at the conference championship at The Crossings, led by individual medalist Ted Brown’s record-setting 12-under performance. In addition to firing a hole-in-one, Brown shot an 8-under 64 in the second round alone. The Rams, led by Brown and Ryan Zylstra, placed fifth at the NCAA East Region Qualifier at Settindown Creek in Atlanta to reach the NCAA Championships in Columbus, Ohio.
MEN’S SOCCER: 2003 (17-5-0, 8-1-0 CAA, CAA Champions, NCAA Third Round; #11 Final Ranking)
Yes, VCU reached the Elite Eight in 2004, but the 2003 team was more dominant. Led by CAA Player of the Year Matthew Delicate, the Rams won the conference championship (which the 2004 team didn’t do) and managed to make it to the NCAA Third Round. VCU outscored its opponents 50-24 and was ranked as high as seventh nationally during the season.
WOMEN’S SOCCER: 2005 (13-5-5, 9-0-2 CAA, CAA Runner-up, NCAA Second Round)
VCU capped a remarkable three-year run with its first Women’s College Cup victory in 2005, a 3-1 decision over Clemson in the first round. While the Rams couldn’t repeat their CAA Championship win (VCU was upset by second-seeded Hofstra 1-0) in 2004, VCU’s landmark NCAA triumph over the Tigers eased that pain. Midfielder Sandra Anger completed her illustrious VCU career with an NSCAA Third Team All-America citation.
MEN’S TENNIS: 2000 (27-5, NCAA Runner-up, CAA Champions, #9 Final Ranking)
While Paul Kostin has led many great teams at VCU, the 2000 squad was his best. The 2000 men’s tennis team became the first VCU sport to play for a national title when the Rams blitzed through the NCAA Tournament – including wins over three of the nation’s top 13 teams – to meet Stanford in the Championship Final. For his efforts, Kostin was named National Coach of the Year by the USPTA. All-American Daniel Andersson captured league Player of the Year honors and also reached the second round of the NCAA Singles Tournament.
WOMEN’S TENNIS: 2006 (29-1, CAA Champions, NCAA Sweet 16, #12 Final Ranking
There were three ITA All-Americans (Marianna Yuferova, Olga Borisova and Tatsiana Uvarova) on this team, and it showed. The Rams won their first 29 matches to start the season before falling to No. 2 Southern Cal in the Sweet 16. Uvarova finished the year ranked 20th nationally and advanced to the final eight of the NCAA Singles Tournament.
MEN’S TRACK AND FIELD: 2006 (CAA Champions)
The 2006 championship team, VCU’s second, boasted dual Most Outstanding Performers in Davion Lambert and James Frierson. Frierson won the 100, 200, 400 and ran on the gold medal 4×100 relay, while Lambert captured long jump honors to push the Rams (181) past UNC Wilmington (172).
WOMEN’S TRACK AND FIELD: 2012 (CAA Runner-up)
EDIT: After thinking about it, I’ve decided to go with the 2012 CAA runner-up team over the 2005 runner-up team. Sophomore Jaleesa Williams was named Co-Field Performer of the Year after winning the shot put and discus, while placing third in the hammer throw. The Rams came as close as they ever have to winning a CAA Championship, 5.5 points shy of James Madison’s total of 132.
VOLLEYBALL: 2005 (22-12, 11-7 CAA, CAA Champions, NCAA First Round)
Led by first-year coach James Finley, the Rams made a staggering 16-win improvement to win their first CAA Championship and reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time. Led by Tournament MVP Ludmila Francescatto, VCU became the first No. 4 seed to win a CAA title with wins over No. 5 Georgia State, No. 1 Hofstra and No. 3 Towson. Finley was named State Coach of the Year, while Francescatto earned All-East Honorable Mention honors.