Tribune’s top 10 sports stories of 2009-’10

# 1  Fourth time’s the charm

What was more memorable than Lazar Hayward’s deep 3-pointer to give Marquette the 73-70 lead over Villanova with 1:51 left in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals? Maybe Hayward’s clutch free throws in the final few seconds to hold the Wildcats at bay?

What does it matter? We’re giving this top spot to the entire game. From Darius Johnson-Odom’s career-high 24-point outburst — including 5-of-7 from range — to, well, Johnson-Odom’s 3-point dagger with 4:54 to go, giving Marquette an eight-point lead, its largest since early in the first half.

Let us not forget that Villanova beat Marquette by a grand total of five points in their previous three matchups, or that it was only the team’s second trip to the conference semifinals.

The whole experience was so exciting, we should all just forget what happened in the Golden Eagles’ next two games.

# 2  300 club

The women’s tennis team’s 6-1 victory over Illinois-Chicago may have been just another win en route to another successful season for the players. But for coach Jody Bronson, it was a milestone. It was history.

With the win, Bronson hit the 300-win mark for her career, a feat no coach in any sport in Marquette history can claim. No, not even the late great Al McGuire. Bronson was her usual humble self, passing the credit on to her players. But that didn’t stop those players from speaking the truth.

“You could tell it really meant a lot to her, and it was a huge accomplishment,” senior Maggie Wilson said.

Some say such an achievement is simply the result of longevity. But ask yourself this: If Bronson wasn’t cranking out quality teams, would she have lasted 25 years as Marquette’s coach? The answer is no.

# 3  We are the Champions

It’s hard to remember the last time the Marquette women’s soccer team was this good. Oh, wait. Last season. And the season before. And the season before that.

Coach Markus Roeders has assembled a steady stream of fleet-footed soccer talent and quality seasons since the team joined the Big East. But even with all of that success, the Golden Eagles had never claimed a Big East American Division Title. Until now.

Marquette’s defeat of St. John’s on Oct. 25 knocked Division Title off Roeders’ bucket list and clinched a first-round bye in the Big East Championships, where the Golden Eagles advanced to the finals but once again fell just short against Notre Dame. Disappointing, yes, but not nearly as much as the draw against the nationally-ranked Dayton Flyers in the NCAA Tournament.

# 4  Track-ing history

We heard about Jerel McNeal and Krystal Ellis breaking the basketball scoring records last season. Everyone was tracking Hayward’s journey up the record books, too. There are some school records, however, that were broken this semester that many do not even know about.

The Marquette track and field team boasts a talented roster with a group of record-holders, too.

Sarah Verdoliva, a senior 800-meter runner, broke her own record on the last weekend of the team’s indoor season, recording an 800-meter time of 2:11.52 at the Alex Wilson Invitational in Notre Dame, Ind.  Senior Erynn James, quite possibly the most athletic person on campus (sorry DJO), recorded a university record height of 5 feet, 10 3/4 inches in the high jump at the Long Beach Invitational.

# 5  Working overtime

You know Marquette had a solid season in sports when this stretch of games is No. 5 on our list.

First it was Hayward’s deep three to force overtime against Cincinnati. Then it was Butler’s second game-winner of the season against St. John’s. Finally, it was sharpshooter Jeremy Hazell’s last-second prayer rimming out in extra time against Seton Hall. All of Marquette breathed a sigh of relief after coming away from these three games unscathed.

The players were tired of it, Buzz could only laugh about it and most fans had no fingernails by the time the Golden Eagles returned home from the road trip.

Although none of the three teams were ranked, any win on the road in the Big East was important, and that three-game stretch was crucial for Marquette to capture an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

# 6  Setting the record straight

For number No. 6, how about the men’s tennis season as a whole?

The Golden Eagles opened the season with seven straight victories and, before it was over, went on another five-win run. They earned their first ever national ranking. Senior star Dusan Medan earned his first ever ITA national ranking and also recorded six straight victories at the 2009 D’Novo/ITA All-American Championships to advance all the way to the main draw. Senior Niko Boulieris broke the school record for career singles victories, and a week later, teammate Mark Rutherford broke the school record for career doubles victories.

True, Marquette faltered down the stretch, losing back-to-back matches to DePaul and falling out in the first round of the conference tournament. But that only seems a disappointment in comparison with the rest of its season.

# 7  Heroics against the Huskies

Had the women’s basketball team knocked off Geno Auriemma’s machine of a basketball team, that game in itself would have been the No. 1 game on every list in the country.

Unfortunately, that did not happen, but two other teams provided some dramatic finishes against the Huskies from Connecticut.

First, on Oct. 9, the women’s soccer team overcame an early 2-0 deficit to a top-25 Huskies squad. The Golden Eagles equalized the game with two goals of their own in the first half, and Rachael Sloan scored the golden goal in double overtime for the victory.

Months later on the basketball court, junior forward Jimmy Butler hit the biggest shot of his collegiate career at the XL Center against the Jim Calhoun-less Huskies. Butler swished a fade-away jumper with 2.4 seconds left, which sealed an improbable 70-68 victory for the undersized, undermanned Golden Eagles.

# 8  Forming a good Bond

No one really knew what to expect when former coach Pati Rolf resigned at the helm of the women’s volleyball team after a disastrous 11-18 season. Not too long after, the university welcomed a new coach — one with a rather catchy name — to rebuild the program.

Bond … Bond Shymansky immediately made an impact, signing two standout transfers in Ashley Beyer and Nikki Klingsporn and bringing in the No. 45 recruiting class in the country.

By season’s end, Beyer and Klingsporn were named to the All-Big East Second Team. Shymansky’s revamped roster went on to win 18 games after the Golden Eagles lost 18 in 2008 under Rolf.

The high point of the season came on Oct. 16 in front of a record crowd of 4,000, as Marquette swept Georgetown 3-0.

# 9  Bennett’s squad on the rise

Three conference wins isn’t anything to brag about, but for the men’s soccer team, it was a milestone worth mentioning.

For the first time since they joined the Big East, coach Louis Bennett led the Golden Eagles to the Big East Men’s Soccer Tournament. Overall, it was Marquette’s first glimpse of postseason play since 2002.

One of the highlights of the year came in the first game of the season when sophomore midfielder Calum Mallace drilled a free kick in the 85th minute to knock off crosstown rival Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 1-0.

The Golden Eagles’ three Big East victories came against Cincinnati (1-0), Georgetown (1-0) and a 5-0 domination of Pittsburgh in the team’s last home game.

Aside from the graduation of stud goalkeeper Matt Pyzdrowski, Marquette will return many key components for a team determined to get back to postseason play.

# 10  Ring out the Hoyas

In a season so forgettable, it was hard to pick a standout moment. But the Marquette women’s basketball team does deserve some praise for its 52-45 victory over the No. 17-ranked Georgetown Hoyas.

Golden Eagles star point guard Angel Robinson registered as many turnovers (12) as she did points in the first 38 minutes and 53 seconds. But with her team down two, she casually dropped eight points in the remaining 1:07, leading Marquette on a 10-2 run and finishing off the Hoyas. It’s as if she suddenly remembered the player she was supposed to be.

In their next game, however, the Golden Eagles too, remembered who they were, falling 73-63 to DePaul. But as Humphrey Bogart said, they’ll always have Paris — er — Georgetown.