It appears Case Western Reserve University is in the middle of a sports renaissance, yet no one on campus seems to notice.
In the last calendar year, four Spartan teams made the NCAA Division III playoffs. During my time here on campus, another team made the playoffs and at least four of the best individual athletes in school history have competed on the national stage.
At a school known for its engineering and medical prowess, that’s quite a lot of on-field success.
Let’s start with the men’s soccer team. The team has advanced all the way to the sectional round of the national tournament after winning two matches this past weekend. The Spartans received one of the top seeds in the tournament, earning the right to host games before the national semifinals. It is just the team’s third appearance in the tournament and their first since 2011. So far, the Spartans have compiled 16 wins this season, the most since 2006, with just three losses and one tie.
During those two playoff matches, the combined attendance was 506. When the Spartans upset then-top-ranked University of Chicago on Oct. 14, the team’s “Senior Day,” only an estimated 157 people sat in the stands. Compare that to the Maroons matchup with then-No. 4 University of Rochester at the end of September, one of the top Division III matches of the season. An estimated 285 people watched those titans clash, nearly two times as many as were at DiSanto Field two weeks later.
The team will be hosting the sectional round of the playoffs on Friday and Saturday night. Their first match is on Friday night at 5 p.m. at DiSanto Field.
Sticking with teams that play on DiSanto Field, the football team just concluded its most successful three-year run since it won 38 straight regular season contests from 2006-2010 and earned trips to the playoffs from 2007-2009. Over the past three seasons, the Spartans have won 28 of their 32 games, including one win in the 2017 playoffs. That was a 28-0 victory over Illinois Wesleyan University in a snowstorm.
I was at that game in Illinois and the following playoff game at the University of Mount Union. There weren’t many CWRU students at either contest.
This past spring, the softball team also made the playoffs and finished the season with a school record 38 wins. For the program, it was just the second berth ever. More impressively, the Spartans advanced all the way to the Division III Championships in Oklahoma City as one of the final six teams across the country. While the team never built sustained success in past seasons, just four of the members graduated after the 2018 campaign, setting up a season with potential for another deep run in the playoffs.
Of course, most of the softball team’s playoff run occurred after the academic year ended. You would be hard-pressed to find many members of the campus community, particularly students, who know about their success. I was even talking to a softball player who complained about how many students didn’t know about their success. Even when the team was on campus, only 115 people attended the team’s “Senior Day” doubleheader matchup against Washington University in St. Louis.
To turn back the clock a bit, during my first year on campus the volleyball team was one of the best in the country. They earned a berth to the NCAA tournament for just the second time ever and won the school’s first-ever tournament game. The following season, the team notched over 20 wins for the second year in a row and almost reached that mark again this season.
During that historic 2015 season, an estimated 184 people attended the final home matchups. For the tournament matches, the athletics department held watch parties inside the Veale Athletic Center. Only two students attended.
Finally, the baseball team is consistently one of the top teams in Division III. Last year, the team won the University Athletic Association and were just one win short of 30 for the season. They were ranked as high as No. 10 last season. During the 2016 season, my first on campus, the Spartans earned a berth to the national tournament and almost won their regional in 2011, 2013 and 2014.
Just 175 people attended the season ending doubleheader against the University of Chicago.
I don’t picture CWRU becoming sports obsessed. Classes are much too hard for that. But at least now students should be paying attention to what their classmates are doing on the field. This time there’s a much better chance you’ll go home happy if you do. Go support your classmates, both off and on the field.