The Flat Hat Sports Desk’s annual awards recognize the top players, coaches, and games of the year. Editor Nick Cipolla ’17 explains the choices of this year’s winners and talks about the defining moments of 2015-16.
Coach of the Year
Director of swimming Matt Crispino ’02. Crispino epitomizes what it means to be a championship-level coach. After the men’s team won the Colonial Athletic Association last season for the first time ever, this year became the first time in program history where the Tribe swept the CAA, not just winning the meet but dominating the competition. The men’s team took the title for the second consecutive season with 969.5 points, setting conference meet records for most points and largest margin of victory, 397.5 points ahead of second place Drexel. The women’s team earned the title for the first time since 2007, breaking the program record for points scored at 731.5, 50 ahead of the runner-up.
The CAA also recognized Crispino for his efforts this year, awarding him the Coach of the Year distinction for both the men’s and women’s awards. This is the first time he has earned the women’s coach of the year award and the third year in a row for the men’s team award. In a year of several top CAA performances, he sets himself apart by not just having a dominant team but one that improves each year.
Female Rookie of the Year
Freshman guard Bianca Boggs. Boggs was a welcome addition to the women’s basketball roster this year. Coming to the College from Waldorf, Md., she played in all 30 games and played an average of 26.7 minutes per contest. Although she wasn’t the team’s highest scorer, she averaged 7.4 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. She became an integral part of the squad, starting in 24 games as a freshman. Boggs largely fills the gap made by the departure of Jazmen Boone ’15 at the guard slot. Additionally, her 68.6 percent shooting rate from the charity stripe is middling for the team until looking at the stat sheet, where she took 102 attempts from the line, making 70, the second most on the team besides junior guard Marlena Tremba (90 for 112). Several of those free throws defined games, such as the game-winning foul shot in the Nov. 23 game against Loyola-Maryland. Boggs led the Tribe in steals this season with 56, an average of 1.9 per game. Her breakout performance this season was Jan. 26 against Delaware when the rookie put up 18 points for her career-high followed by the next game, Jan. 29 against Charleston when she posted her first career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Boggs was especially useful in the later half of the season when sophomore center Abby Rendle (our 2014-15 Female Rookie of the Year) was out with injury and head coach Ed Swanson was forced into using more of a small-ball lineup. She should be on the rise next season and is expected to remain part of the starting five this November.
Male Rookie of the Year
Freshman forward Ryder Bell / Freshman golfer David Hicks. Bell and Hicks both deserve recognition for outstanding performances in their rookie seasons, both coming in clutch in their respective sports. On the men’s soccer team, Bell is part of a young squad still in the process of rebuilding from the success of a few years ago and packing the stat sheet while doing so. On the golf team, Hicks has been the definitive player, consistently finishing near or at the top of the Tribe leaderboard throughout the fall and spring.
With veterans around him in front like the two Eskay brothers, Bell often rounds out the top three in several categories with them. He finished the season with 17 points, seven goals, three assists, 40 shots (18 on frame) and a pair of game-winning goals. His points and shots-on-goal rank as third-best on the team while the goals and game-winners rank at no. 2 for the College. In addition to his stats, on the pitch he appeared to have strong awareness of player setups as well as seeing those slim opportunities for striking at the net. His game-winners came in the Sept. 1 game against Liberty, a 4-2 win, and the Oct. 20 game against North Carolina-Asheville, also a 4-2 decision. One of the defining moments of his rookie season was opening the scoring against No. 4 North Carolina in the 44th minute, the only Tribe goal in what would eventually be a 1-1 draw against one of the highest-ranked squads the College played in 2015.
Bell’s points and shots-on-goal rank as third-best on the team while the goals and game-winners rank at no. 2 for the College.
Newcomer Hicks blasted onto the Tribe golf scene in the fall, tying the program record with seven rounds at or below par during the first semester of his collegiate career. In all 29 rounds the team played this year, he led with 13 total rounds at or below par through the whole year, hit a team-low 2105 strokes and had the only two top-five finishes in a tournament. His top finishes were at the Georgetown Intercollegiate in late October where he took third and the Wyoming Cowboy Classic earlier this month where he tied for fifth place. Additionally, he finished in the top 10 three times and had the highest win percentage, beating out 77.9 percent of the competition he faced. Hicks shows promise for the Tribe golf program in the coming seasons.
Game of the Year
Football vs James Madison (Oct. 31, 2015). The 44-41 win over rival James Madison was GOTY material even when it was still happening. It was a matchup between two top 15 teams in the Football Championship Subdivision who would both compete for the CAA title and make the playoffs, a game with myriad implications for the rest of the season. On a chilly Halloween night, the home crowd at Zable Stadium and the intense competition on the field made it an instant classic. The College began in a 13-2 deficit due to an early Dukes touchdown as well as a pick-six, junior quarterback Steve Cluley’s first of the season. Without CAA Offensive Player of the Year Vad Lee at quarterback, the Dukes started second-string quarterback Bryan Schor, who still proved a threat. The Tribe was on the rise entering the game, while JMU had just lost to Richmond while hosting ESPN’s College Game Day a week before.
The crowd noise level appeared to be too loud to hear proper signals, Schor missing the snap and watching the ball fly past him and be scooped up by junior defensive end Peyton Gryder to seal the win.
Facing the No. 1 defense in the FCS, senior tailback Mikal Abdul-Saboor and junior tailback Kendell Anderson combined for six rushing touchdowns, including the final touchdown with 41 seconds left in the game. Not to be outdone, the defense and special teams shined as well. Senior defensive end Tyler Claytor tied the NCAA record for blocked PATs with two, one of which was scooped up for a defensive conversion by senior safety and CAA Defensive Player of the Year DeAndre Houston-Carson. Houston-Carson also made a crucial interception of Schor late in the game, allowing the Tribe to take a 37-34 lead in the last quarter. The final drive of the game really makes this worthy of best of the year, as the College held the slim 44-41 lead while Schor and the Dukes had the opportunity to get in field goal range. However, the crowd noise level appeared to be too loud to hear proper signals, Schor missing the snap and watching the ball fly past him and be scooped up by junior defensive end Peyton Gryder to seal the win. The crowd erupted as the upset of No. 9 JMU was completed by the No.16/15 Tribe, effectively punching a ticket into the NCAA playoffs at the end of the season. For players, students and others in attendance, it was an unforgettable experience.
With no Marcus Thornton ’15 to sweep this category as he did the last two years, senior goalkeeper Caroline Casey rose above as the top student-athlete at the College this year.
The final four was close, with senior safety DeAndre Houston-Carson, senior tennis player Elizaveta Nemchinov and senior pole vaulter Derek O’Connell making the semifinal on this year’s bracket.
Houston-Carson is one of the top-rated NFL prospects the Tribe has had in years, switching from corner to safety for his final collegiate season and dominating the defense with tackles, interceptions, defensive conversions and more. While a senior captain this season, the defense became a force to reckon with. One of his finest moments was the program-record 94-yard pick-six against No. 16/14 Villanova while the College was still unranked. He was also a consensus All-American this year.
Nemchinov was part of the CAA Championship-winning women’s tennis team over the weekend, her second in as many years. She also was player of the year for the CAA each of the last two years and was consistently ranked on national polls in both singles and doubles. She went 13-7 this year, all at the No. 1 spot. She finishes her career 86-39, a 68.8 percent win rate in singles. Nemchinov defeated the No. 68 and No. 43 players in the nation this year, definitely earning her a spot in the final four.
O’Connell is statistically the best pole vaulter in Tribe track and field history, earning All-American distinction at the NCAA Indoor meet earlier this semester. He has had the top four performances in the outdoor season so far, posting a high clearance of 5.20 meters. In the indoor season, he cleared as high as 5.42 meters while holding the top seven performances of the year. He consistently set program records and broke them as he improved throughout the year during his senior season. He isn’t done yet, as the CAA Outdoor Championships and NCAA Outdoor Championships are yet to come.
In October 2015, Casey posted four straight shutouts — six hours of gameplay with no goals.
Finally, we get to Caroline Casey, this year’s award winner. A member of the CAA regular season title holding team that made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament, she is one of the best keepers in Tribe history. No one else started for her during her tenure in the box, playing every game all four years. Her senior year in the fall of 2015 was one of the best, as she kept opponents scoreless in 11 out of 18 regular season games, then recorded two more shutouts in postseason play. In October 2015, she posted four straight shutouts — six hours of gameplay with no goals. Earning first-team All-CAA and Defender of the Year honors, the Tribe’s season could have looked much different without her contributions. She had 86 saves her senior year, adding to her total of 301 career saves, good for No. 2 all-time. She was also First-Team All-America in 2015. With her collegiate career complete, she was drafted by Sky Blue FC of the National Women’s Soccer League, where she made the roster after training camp and has already made a few starts as a professional.
Throughout the year, there have been many strong storylines or even parts of sports that have been underrated through the year. These are the top events and trends that influenced 2015-16 sports at William and Mary.
Return to glory
William and Mary went to the NCAA FCS playoffs for the first time in five seasons, making it to the second round before falling to Richmond for the second time in the season. The regular season resulted in a slice of the CAA crown after the Capital Cup went to the Spiders, giving the Tribe rings for the first time in any current players’ careers. Dominating higher-ranked opponents like Villanova, New Hampshire and James Madison showed a strength and effort not seen in recent seasons that had looked worse in 2013 and 2014. Special teams shined, highlighted by sophomore kicker Nick Dorka’s almost perfect field-goal percentage including making a season-long and career-long 51-yarder during the regular season finale. The team had a six-game winning streak, impressive in the fierce Colonial Athletic Association. In this year’s game against an FBS team, the College nearly defeated Virginia at Scott Stadium, holding momentum for essentially the whole first half but falling short in the final minutes. With all the seniors leaving, the team could be rebuilding or it could remain dominant if some of the returners and newcomers step up to the challenge.
Seven is considered a lucky number in many cultures. In the world of the College, it marks the number of CAA Championships the school brought back to Williamsburg this year. Sweeping cross country and swimming while also taking football, the women’s soccer regular season and most recently the women’s tennis title, the Tribe now owns about one-third of the CAA trophies for the year.
Seven is considered a lucky number in many cultures. In the world of the College, it marks the number of CAA Championships the school brought back to Williamsburg this year.
Not only are the teams winning, but they are crushing competition with large score gaps in many of the championship matches, such as the record-setting performances of the swimming and cross country teams as well as the combo of defensive and offensive production in soccer and football. In tennis, the Tribe easily dispatched JMU 4-1 in the finals, not even close to losing the crown. The year is not done, as the baseball and track and field titles are still on the horizon for the year.
One of the most infamous things about the Tribe is the zero appearances by its men’s basketball in the NCAA Tournament. This year wouldn’t change that, as top seed Hofstra proved too much for the Tribe in the CAA Tournament semifinal. Reliving last year’s semis, when then-sophomore guard Daniel Dixon hit a game-winning three in double overtime, the Pride got away from the College in regulation this March. More CAA tournament drama played out in women’s soccer, as the Tribe blew a two-goal lead to fall to James Madison in the final. The College still received an at-large bid for the NCAA Women’s College Cup, where it fell in a blowout to Florida, ending the collegiate careers of eight seniors.
Despite the seven championship teams, there were several who were rebuilding this year, whether that was due to injuries during the season, needing fresh talent or just facing tough competition it couldn’t outmatch. Men’s soccer, women’s basketball, field hockey, volleyball and lacrosse appear to be in a transition period.
Men’s soccer went 7-8-2, only winning two of its eight CAA games. However, the team is only losing three seniors and the underclassmen provide a more experienced squad this fall. Additionally, the Tribe proved it can fight with the best of them by drawing with No. 4 UNC and defeating No. 10 Elon in 2015.
Women’s basketball hit .500 at 15-15 including the loss in the CAA quarterfinals to Elon. The season began with promise as the non-conference slate ended 9-3, including a win over Atlantic Coast Conference team Clemson. With the loss of Rendle, the Tribe lost rhythm during conference play. The team is still doing better than in the past few years, winning more of its close games. Only graduating one player, the team should be decent next year if it stays healthy.
Men’s soccer, women’s basketball, field hockey, volleyball and lacrosse appear to be in a transition period.
Field hockey went 7-12 overall and 1-5 in the CAA. The Tribe had no luck on the road at 1-7 away from Busch Field. Losing key figures such as keeper Meredith Savage and forward Pippin Saunders will take a further toll, making next season a period of rebuilding.
Volleyball improved greatly, but that doesn’t say much as its record was still 10-20, 4-12 CAA. This team barely scraped its way into the CAA tournament, where it quickly was sent home heart broken. However, this team shows great potential as the head coaching position is currently open after former coach Melissa Shelton ’91 and the College parted ways in February.
Finally, lacrosse is still going on, but the season is mostly over. After winning three straight to end the non-CAA games, the College is 0-5 in conference play with only one game to play. This team, like men’s soccer, is mainly underclassmen, as many seniors graduated in 2015, so it is still in an improvement phase.
Overall, the state of the Tribe at the end of the 2015-16 seasons has a wide gap, with about half the teams at championships caliber and the rest rebuilding or just striving to get to that level for the first time.