Hail to the Champions!

The 2012-13 season started with an NCAA Division III champion, as the University of St. Thomas captured the MIAC's first-ever volleyball national championship. So it's only fitting that last week, the MIAC ended its season with another national title, as Hamline star thrower Becky Culp claimed the Division III crown in the javelin.

D-III discus champ Becky Culp.
(Photo courtesy of Hamline Sports Info)
Culp's title culminated an amazing career, and a record-setting senior year. She also added a top-five finish in the shot put at the 2013 NCAA Division III Women's Outdoor Track and Field Championships, which were held just outside MIAC country, at UW-La Crosse. The Piper star set MIAC meet records - both indoor and outdoor - in the shot put during a season full of individual accolades and All-Conference and All-American honors.

Though her title isn't the league's first-ever in her sport as it was for the Tommie volleyball team, it's still deserving of plenty of recognition and the two combine as a perfect way to bookend a tremendous 2012-13 season in the MIAC. The two will likely be included this summer as the MIAC Media Blog takes a look back at the Top 10 moments of 2012-13. If you have a suggestion for the top 10, feel free to send me an email.

In addition to the one team and one individual national champions, the year also included countless conference records - including Alex Kolquist of Gustavus shattering  the men's golf championship scoring record - and some unforgettable games and moments. The final weekend of the MIAC men's hockey season determined the champion and all five seeds. Both soccer title games went deep into a shootout after 110 minutes couldn't decide a winner. And the spring was condensed to what felt like a few weeks by Mother Nature, though the league persevered and still delivered a season that won't be forgotten for years to come.

We'll have more time to reflect on 2012-13 over the coming months, so for now we'll just say congratulations to Becky one more time. The MIAC's most recent Profile of Excellence subject has represented her school and her conference in tremendous fashion, and we're happy she could close her career atop the podium.

Quick Hits
-Culp wasn't the only senior star to shine at the NCAA OT&F meet. St. Thomas' Taylor Berg finished second in both the 1,500- and 5,000-meter runs to close about the best year a distance runner can have in the MIAC. She won the cross country title, Outstanding Track Athlete honors both for indoor and outdoor, and ended with two more All-American honors. Congrats on a great career with a riveting final chapter, Taylor!

-A St. Thomas men's athlete also closed a great career as Eyo Ekpo had a pair of top-seven national finishes in the jumping events at nationals. Ekpo was named MIAC Outstanding Field Athlete five times, including all four indoor honors during his career.

-The season also hit its end for the MIAC in the meeting rooms with the annual spring meeting of the MIAC Presidents' Council Wednesday on the Concordia-St. Paul campus. The MIAC Presidents are the very top of the governance pyramid, and now all legislation to impact future bylaws are set in stone after being discussed and voted on all the way up the ladder. Stay tuned to the MIAC web site this summer, as we'll be issuing a series of press releases to promote some of the bigger changes - there are some exciting new twists coming your way in 2013-14! 

-Up next for the MIAC? Executive Director Dan McKane and myself are headed to NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis on Monday for four fun-filled days. Monday and Tuesday will be spent with the Division III Commissioners' Association (of which McKane is currently the vice chair) and I'll be presenting on a pair of topics including the MIAC Media venture, which includes the blog you're reading right now. Then NCAA Regional Rules will take place Wednesday, followed by a seminar thanks to NADIIIA Thursday, which is the National Association of Division III Athletic Administrators. It should be a great week with plenty of learning, and we're excited to see our colleagues and continue learning new things to improve going forward. I joined Host Mike Gallagher on today's MIAC Weekly podcast to talk further about our upcoming trip to the city Peyton Manning used to call home.

-If you have any blog ideas or questions for me about anything under the MIAC sun, don't hesitate to send me an email! We'd love to get more fan interaction on all our MIAC Media platforms, so let us know what you think, what you'd like to read/hear about or any ideas.

Thanks for reading, and hope your summer is getting off to a great start!

By the Numbers

One positive result from the awful "Spring" weather we had in Minnesota, was the expanded MIAC Baseball and Softball Playoffs. Instead of the typical eight teams, this year a total of 18 teams were able to enjoy a postseason experience in one-year-only experiments to try and end a challenging season on a high note.

In short, the experiment was a success, and the increased number of teams starts a MIAC Media Blog look at some of the most impressive numbers from a couple of crazy weekends on the diamonds of North Mankato and Minnetonka.

MIAC Playoffs - By the Numbers

18 - The total number of MIAC softball and baseball teams to participate in the 2013 Playoffs. All 12 softball teams were involved, and six baseball teams made the field as well.

23 - The number of games played in the two tournaments. Amazingly, Gustavus (with some help from Hamline and Carleton) provided live stats for all 18 softball games, with live video for the final six. All five baseball games had live video courtesy of the MIAC and Webcast America (with MIAC Media's Mike Gallagher as part of the broadcast team) and live stats as well courtesy of host school Hamline.

2 - Two team champions resulted from a combined six days and 23 games. Both the St. Thomas baseball and softball teams supplemented their regular-season championships with postseason titles.

6 - The total number of walk-off wins in the MIAC postseason. The Augsburg baseball team walked off Saint Mary's in the 11th inning of a quarterfinal game, only be walked off on a bottom-of-the-ninth home run by Concordia's Devin Johnson a day later as the Cobbers reached their first title game. The softball playoffs had four games end with a winning run crossing the plate - two via home runs. St. Catherine capped a 13-12 slugfest with Macalester on an Alyssa McKee walk-off double. St. Olaf and Bethel both advanced to the double-elimination portion of the tournament with walk-off wins in their final game of pool play. The Oles got a bases-loaded, walk-off sacrifice fly to beat Hamline in a thriller. Meanwhile, Bethel emerged from pool play on a game-winning, two-out, three-run home run by Megan Matson. St. Thomas advanced to the title game thanks to a walk-off home run Saturday by Emily Gregory in the bottom of the eighth inning.

0 - Postseason wins in the history of the Bethel baseball program before the Royals scored a historic 4-2 victory over Saint John's in the quarterfinals of the baseball playoffs.

3 - Home runs in two games by Carleton softball star Jenny Ramey. Her offensive output nearly led the Knights to the four-team, double-elimination tournament. The No. 9 seeded Knights beat No. 4 Saint Mary's, 11-2, then suffered a heart-breaking 7-6 loss to Gustavus to end their remarkable postseason appearance.

7 - Consecutive strikeouts by St. Thomas starting pitcher Colin Wendinger in the MIAC Baseball Playoff championship game. In fact, Wendinger's run only ended because he was removed as the Tommies approached the title game by committee. The UST sophomore struck out eight batters in four brilliant no-hit innings, allowing just a pair of first-inning walks. Wendinger's breaking ball was tremendous, often fooling the aggressive Cobber lineup. Another fun number regarding the UST starter - he's only lost once since his sophomore year of high school.

262 - Total pitches thrown - combined - by Bethel starter Matt Rowley and Saint John's starter Connor Cline in a MIAC Baseball Playoff quarterfinal. Both went the distance, with Rowley (129 pitches) narrowly outdueling Cline (133 pitches) in a marvelous duel.

.667 - Jenna Hoffman's batting average, which was just one of her remarkable numbers in the tournament. The Tommie shortstop had four home runs, three doubles, eight runs scored and seven RBI in five MIAC Playoff games to earn All-Tournament and MVP honors.

15 - Comeback wins for the Augsburg baseball team this season, with No. 15 coming in their 5-4, 11-inning win over Saint Mary's in the MIAC Baseball Playoff quarterfinals. The Auggies were down 4-0, which meant the victory was also their fifth comeback win from a deficit of three runs or more. In that comeback win, there were also an astounding eight batters hit by pitch - five by Saint Mary's pitchers and three by Augsburg

0 - Games that went the regulation 7 innings during Saturday of the MIAC Softball Playoffs. One of the games went to extra innings and was decided in the eighth, while the other three had the eight-run mercy rule invoked in the sixth inning.

2 - The number of games that separated second and ninth place in the MIAC standings. Two teams tied at 11-9, five tied at .500 (either 10-10 or 9-9) and another was 9-11. Parity? I think so.

2013 - The year that saw below-freezing temperatures in April and snow in May to radically alter the baseball and softball landscape, but also the year that saw the most MIAC softball and baseball teams engage in wildly entertaining postseason tournaments in history.

By the numbers, we're all hoping for higher temperatures in 2014 and a return to normalcy for MIAC baseball and softball. However, the teams, coaches and student-athletes showed incredible resiliency and fortitude this season, and the expanded Playoffs were an excellent celebration and reminder of the true spirit of MIAC athletics.

Come together

We've done a lot of complaining in the MIAC about the bad hand that Mother Nature has dealt us this spring. In fact, it's May 1 and I saw legitimate snowflakes falling outside the windows of the MIAC office this afternoon. May. Snow. Come on.

But the complaining stops here. Instead, I'm going to focus on a serious positive that has resulted from the winter ... and second winter ... and third winter ... of 2013. That positive is the revamped 2013 MIAC Softball Playoffs. What is usually a four-team, double-elimination tournament has now been super-sized into an all-comers celebration of softball in the league, and frankly, I think it's awesome.

On one of our many softball conference calls to deal with Snowmageddon 2013, Concordia Head Coach Mike Reese put it best when this 12-team idea was first floated out there. He said - and I'm paraphrasing - that after such a tough season where collectively all our teams faced the same challenges and issues, it would be really cool for everyone to come together at one site and for all the student-athletes to get that unique postseason experience. Now that we've pulled it off and everything is set for this weekend at Caswell Park in North Mankato, Mike's absolutely right ... it's really cool.

Some could call this 12-team tournament and its all-inclusive nature a consolation prize for our coaches and student-athletes who have had their typical season absolutely obliterated by blizzards and ridiculously low temperatures. But I wouldn't say there's anything "consolation" about the new tournament format for 2013. This provides a tremendous postseason experience for ALL of the MIAC's softball student-athletes, and it's extremely cool that it will all happen in one site with 12 games all going on at once tomorrow evening at Caswell. North Mankato will truly become the epicenter of MIAC softball, and everyone will be on-hand to witness and participate.

On top of that, most people (at least in my circle) will tell you their favorite annual sporting event is the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball tournament, and their reasons mirror a lot of the reasons why this weekend's MIAC Softball Playoffs will also be an incredible event. First of all, you have a ton of teams and a ton of games crammed into a very short window. In an era of short attention spans and multi-tasking as a necessity, it's a perfect format. Friday in Caswell, we'll cram 12 games, with each of the 12 teams playing twice, into roughly a six-hour window with games starting on four different fields at 3 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. I'm excited to just go stand in the middle of the complex and take it all in, as action is happening simultaneously all around.

The other aspect people love about the NCAA tourney and "March Madness" is the Cinderella aspect. This year, Florida Gulf Coast played the role to perfection, alley-ooping its way into the Sweet 16 as a No. 15 seed. Everyone remembers the George Mason and VCU teams that stunned the nation by reaching the Final Four in the past decade. Now, the MIAC Softball Playoffs truly will incorporate the possibility for a Cinderella story to emerge.

What is typically an exclusive showdown for the conference's top four teams will - for this season - include everyone and give each team a fair shot at claiming the MIAC's postseason title. Will all four top seeds hold serve and advance to their "rightful" place in the four-team double-elimination bracket? Will a lower seed emerge with a tremendous postseason performance and spice up the story line on Saturday and Sunday? Will there be any dramatic walk-off finishes or no-hit bids to add to the excitement of an already-exciting tournament?
With 12 teams, 12 games Friday and up to seven more Saturday and Sunday, it's safe to say there will be more than enough highlights to fill a "One Shining Moment" montage. However, we won't really know the answers until the first pitch is concurrently thrown on all four Caswell fields and the action gets under way in roughly 27 hours.
Frankly, I can't wait. Let's do something we haven't been able to do nearly often enough this spring ... play ball.