Top 10 sports moments of 2010-’11

No. 1 Oh how sweet it was:

It had been eight years since Marquette last reached the Sweet 16, and at that time there was this guy named Dwyane Wade on the team.

But after a gritty, tough-as-nails performance against Syracuse and the timeliest 3-pointer of junior guard Darius Johnson-Odom’s career, the Golden Eagles returned to the Promised Land to face North Carolina. The game itself was completely forgettable, but the great thing is the game doesn’t matter one bit. It was the journey that got them there.

The underdog squad, led by the passion of coach Buzz Williams and fueled by the tireless efforts of senior forward Jimmy Butler, shell-shocked ranked opponents like Notre Dame and Connecticut all year long. After many seasons of disappointment and underachieving from the heralded Big Three, it was a team that nobody thought twice about that made a glorious tournament run, reaching the Sweet 16 and reminded everyone why Marquette basketball is so very special.

And it just so happens to be our top moment of the year. It doesn’t get any sweeter than that.

2. Going pro

Every athlete dreams of making it to the professional ranks. That’s the reason they take up the game. For four Marquette athletes, that dream will become a reality.

Senior middle hitter Rabbecka Gonyo and setter Nikki Klingsporn, from the women’s volleyball team, each currently reside overseas on club teams.  Klingsporn is with VC Wiesbaden in Germany and Gonyo’s with Voley Murcia in Spain. Both players finished their Marquette careers with their names scattered across Marquette’s all-time best lists.

Senior forward Ashley Bares, from the women’s soccer team, signed with UMF Starjan of the top-division Urvalsdedild in Gardabaer, Iceland. Bares finished her Marquette tenure eighth in career goals with 19.

Senior guard Angel Robinson of the women’s basketball team was drafted into the WNBA on April 11. She was the 22nd overall pick by the New York Liberty and was then traded to the Minnesota Lynx. Robinson finished in the top 12 of eight different statistical categories for the women’s basketball team, including points (sixth with 1,699), games played (first with 134), and assists (third with 570).

Marquette may not be done, as senior forward Jimmy Butler of the men’s basketball team could make it into the NBA come June.

No. 3 Women’s soccer goes back-to-back American Division Champions and Sweet 16 appearances

One was nice. Two is better. And the women’s soccer team agreed.

The star-laden team stomped through its Big East schedule with ease, going undefeated in regular season play and earning its second straight American Division Championship.

Eventually, the Golden Eagles’ rampage was slowed in the Big East Championship tournament semifinals by South Florida, and then stopped for good in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 by No. 11/15 Florida State, but the damage had already been done.

This women’s squad dominated, perhaps, like no other Marquette team in history, and was likewise rewarded with heaps of conference awards.

Junior Natalie Kulla was named Big East Goalkeeper of the Year and junior defender Kerry McBride was the conference’s top defender, as a total of four players made the All-Big East First Team. It was a year where more was better, and Marquette proved it had the most.

No. 4 Women’s basketball team makes tournament

For the last couple of seasons, this women’s team was supposed to be a national powerhouse. Much was made — and still is — about the WNIT Championship it won back in 2008 and the success that was supposed to follow. This year, it seemed everyone had basically given up hope on the lady Golden Eagles. Nobody believed anymore.

Well, except for coach Terri Mitchell, who promised this team was “on a mission.” In retrospect, that mission seemed to be making all the doubters eat their words, as the team, led by the rock-steady play of senior guard Angel Robinson, finished the year ranked No. 25/23 in the country and earned a NCAA Tournament berth.

After a surprisingly stellar season, and a 68-65 first round victory over ninth-seeded Texas, the team ultimately fell 79-70 to Tennessee in the second round. But not before making people believe all over again.

5. Men’s soccer downs SJU

To say the Marquette men’s soccer program has had a rough go of things since coach Louis Bennett took over in 2005 is an understatement. The team turned things around last year by reaching the Big East Championship tournament in 2009 and again in 2010.

This year the Golden Eagles continued to progress as they drew St. John’s in the first round of the Big East tournament. The match was played at St. John’s stadium, and the Red Storm historically were a tough team to beat on their home field.

But that’s exactly what Marquette did in its 2-1 victory, on the back of senior midfielder Calum Mallace’s game-winning goal in the 79th minute. It was Marquette’s fourth win of the Big East season, the most since Bennett took the reins.

6. Lauren Darnall:

There’s nothing better than a winning streak. You feel on top of the world, everything’s going right and everything comes naturally; nothing’s forced.  Winning streaks happen all the time in team sports. Teams win eight or nine games in a row, no problem.

But when there’s a winning streak in track and field, people take notice.

Junior Lauren Darnall posted a three-meet winning streak in the pole vault to kick off her junior season. She won the first three pole vault events of the season and posted the school’s all-time record jump of 12 feet 8 3/4 inches on Dec. 3.  The previous record was 12 feet 1 1/2 inches, which was set by 2010 graduate Carrie Schmid in 2008.

7. Women’s volleyball on the map

Just two years removed from former coach Patti Rolf’s departure from the team with four matches left in the 2008 season, this squad has more than picked itself up off the floor. Year two of the Bond Shymansky tenure can be proclaimed a big success, and he has proven himself the right man for this job.

Marquette posted record wins (23), Big East victories (11) and consecutive matches won (14). The team (23-9, 11-3 Big East) placed itself in a position to win a share of the regular season Big East title if it had beaten Cincinnati on Nov. 14. Instead, the Golden Eagles still finished in third place and made it to their second straight Big East Championship tournament semifinal.

The team had three players earn all-conference accolades: senior setter Nikki Klingsporn, senior middle hitter Rabbecka Gonyo and junior outside hitter Ashley Beyer.

8. Men’s soccer vs. UConn

When Connecticut came to Valley Fields on Oct. 1, no one expected what was about to occur.

The Huskies entered the match as the No. 3 team in the country and undefeated on the season at 7-0-1 and 1-0 in the Big East. Marquette entered the match 3-3-2 and 1-0 in Big East play. Connecticut had scored 25 goals in its first eight games of the season, while Marquette had only posted six.

The Golden Eagles, statistically speaking, should have been blown out of the water by one of the top teams in the country. But Ryan Robb made sure that didn’t happen.

Down 1-0, the sophomore midfielder came up huge with a shot from 20 yards out, drilling the ball in the back of the net in the 80th minute, unassisted, leading Marquette to a historic 1-1 tie. It was the highest-seeded team Marquette had ever recorded a point against.

No. 9 Notre Dame blowout:

It was a game that Marquette needed to win. Apparently, senior guard Dwight Buycks thought the Golden Eagles needed to do a little bit more than that.

The senior guard had a career game scoring 21 points on only nine shots, including 5-of-5 from beyond the arc. The rest of the team followed Buycks’ lead, shooting a precise 53.1 percent for the game, leading to a 22-point blowout of the then-No. 9/11 Fighting Irish.

Notre Dame had been the king of the long ball, but on this night at the Bradley Center, Marquette reigned supreme. It was a pivotal moment in the season, and a game that proved this Marquette squad could compete with anyone in the country.

No. 10 Women’s soccer goes undefeated against Wisconsin

The women’s soccer team beat a lot of teams this season. Maybe more importantly, however, is that it went undefeated against bitter rival Wisconsin-Madison.

The lady Golden Eagles kicked off their fall season with a 1-1 tie over the pesky Badgers, an anti-climactic draw that left state soccer supremacy up in the air.

The question of who was the best team would be answered three months later when Marquette, led by a goal from Big East Defensive Player of the Year Kerry McBride, tied Wisconsin once again in regulation 2-2. But Marquette edged the Badgers 5-4 in penalty kicks for the pivotal victory. The win sent the Golden Eagles to the third round of the NCAA Tournament, and shut those Badgers up for good. Or, at least until next year.