Top sports stories of the past year

Contact Reporterkholtzman@vagazette.com

The top-five local sports stories of the year:

Queen of Kingsmill

Aussie rookie Minjee Lee, then 18, became the youngest winner of the annual LPGA event at Kingsmill.

Lee had planned on playing in a U.S. Open qualifier in Richmond. With the Kingsmill win, shooting a 15-under 269 to best So Yeon Ryu by two strokes, Lee was able to bypass the Richmond stop with an automatic U.S. Open qualification.

Lee surged up the leader board on Sunday as rain forced the tournament to wrap early Monday morning.

Adding local intrigue, Lee and her mother spent the tourney in the home of Williamsburg host Mark Osborne, the chief volunteer on the course's signature leader board that had been featured in the Gazette before the event began.

All-time best

William and Mary's Marcus Thornton left Williamsburg the school's all-time leading men's basketball scorer with 2,178 career points. That's also good enough for seventh-best in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Thornton made history Feb. 25 against Towson, toppling Tribe great Chet Giermak's mark that had stood since 1950.

With Giermak's son Bill looking on, Thornton sank the second of two free throws to reach the magic number. The Tribe called for time before the public address announcer recognized the achievement with the William and Mary faithful buzzing.

Less than a month later, Chet Giermak died at 87.

Homecoming

The U.S. national team's 5-2 win over Japan in July's FIFA Women's World Cup final was the most-watched soccer match in American history, attracting an average of 25.4 million viewers.

One of the stars of the show that gave the Stars and Stripes its first women's world title since 1999 was U.S. head coach Jill Ellis, a 1988 William and Mary graduate and former Tribe soccer standout.

When Ellis returned to Williamsburg this fall, she was greeted by a packed Martin Family Stadium crowd as she was honored at halftime of a women's soccer game, a day before recognition at a Tribe football game.

"It's not very often, but certainly when I come back, it's an amazing feeling," Ellis said, donning a Green and Gold sweatshirt. "Driving around it's like, 'Oh there's Confusion Corner.' It comes back to you right like that, so it's been fun."

Facelift

Facility upgrades, already underway at William and Mary, include Zable Stadium expansion and a new indoor baseball practice facility.

The school's Committee on Competitive Excellence released an ambitious report in April outlining the athletic department's success as well as announcing goals that included an additional $8.1 million in annual fundraising above present levels, and up to $125 million in "transformative investments" in facilities.

It called for increases in coaches' salaries, available scholarships and operating budgets, as well as a more streamlined process for identifying and admitting athletes.

Facility investments include a multi-sport indoor practice building near William and Mary Hall that would be used by men's and women's basketball and volleyball.

The department is also weighing whether it would be best to replace William and Mary Hall with new construction or renovate it.

A swimming facility for the Tribe's CAA championship team is also in the report.

"What we're saying is as we envision moving forward," athletic director Terry Driscoll said, "these are the things that we think we would need, and if we could ever get to all of the things there, we believe that we would have a really good chance to be able to say to any one of our student-athletes that we're recruiting: You come to William and Mary, world-class education, plus the opportunity to compete for a championship during the time that you'll be here."

Team titles

Teams that won state titles in 2015 included Jamestown girls swimming, Jamestown boys soccer, Lafayette indoor boys track, Lafayette outdoor girls track, Lafayette baseball, Warhill volleyball, and Walsingham Academy girls outdoor track.

Each of these titles involved snapping or extending a significant streak. The Jamestown girls swimming team repeated as champs, as did Warhill in volleyball. The Lafayette and Walsingham girls outdoor track teams each claimed their first titles as did the Rams' baseball team. And Lafayette's boys indoor track team won a state team title for the first time in a decade.

The most memorable moments belong to Lafayette baseball. Luc Lipcius hit a go-ahead solo home run in the top of the seventh inning to help lift the Rams to a 5-4 win over Loudoun Valley. And then the Lafayette seniors, who missed their graduation in Williamsburg, were given a commencement ceremony on the diamond at Liberty University; caps, gowns and all.

"They would rather be in state than graduation," coach Rick Schenk said. "They're going to get their diplomas. It's not all the time you get a state championship."

Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.

Copyright © 2018, The Virginia Gazette
75°