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OTB Staff Round Table: Our Favorite Rutgers Sports Moments of 2016

NCAA Football: Iowa at Rutgers Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

A lot happened in 2016 with Rutgers Athletics, both on and off the field. Here are highlights that were personal favorites of our contributors from this past year!

Bob Cancro: Oh, good, I’m first! For me, it’s easy. I’m going with my favorite: wrestling. Topping Lehigh in the NWCA Nationals Dual. A Big Ten title for Anthony Ashnault. The fifth place Big Ten finish and the 15th place finish at the NCAA Championships at the Garden (yeah, I was there!) Sending ten (10!) wrestlers to the NCAA’s, one of only three schools to do that. And two All Americans. A top ten ranking to end the year. And then.....over 16,000 in attendance at the Battle at the Birthplace last November. Go ahead, top that!

RutgersNation86: For me its easy; the R Big Ten Build. While such an initiative has long been discussed, Pat Hobbs made it a reality when he announced the launch of the program which set out to raise $100 million to build new athletic facilities, as well as make some much needed upgrades. The vision was clear:

Phase I of the Big Ten Build, created in collaboration with the University Physical Master Plan, includes three projects: a Multisport Training Complex (RWJBarnabas Health Athletic Performance Center), adjacent to the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC), a Lacrosse and Soccer Training Complex, and an enhanced Football Training Complex, at the Hale Center. These pivotal projects will result in additional square feet of critical training space and will have a dramatic and wide-ranging impact on all 24 Rutgers athletic programs and on the 600 student-athletes who represent Rutgers on a national stage.

The Big Ten Build will provide state-of-the-art practice centers for men’s and women’s basketball, wrestling, and gymnastics, as well as key support areas for football, volleyball, men’s and women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s soccer and tennis.

In my opinion this is the best fundraising initiative set in motion at Rutgers thus far, and it took Pat Hobbs merely two months to get the ball rolling. Since then significant progress has been made including breaking ground for a new practice facility on November 1st, and then the outstanding news that Hobbs secured a partnership with RWJ for the naming rights of the facility which will net Rutgers $10 million

In Hobbs we trust!

Bill Tharp: I can't pick one, so I'm going with two. First, like Bob, was watching Anthony Ashanult win the first Big Ten title in the wrestling programs history. Rutgers wrestling has had some legendary New Jersey high school wrestlers come through the program, and not make the impact that they were supposed to, so seeing Ashanault, who went 170-0 with four state championships at South Plainfield, succeed and have the potential to be a four time All American is special. My second favorite moment was watching the men's lacrosse beat Johns Hopkins not once, but twice. Johns Hopkins is the gold standard in lacrosse and watching the Scarlet Knights beat them really put the program on the map.

Dave White: This may be a bit on the negative side, but the moment Eddie Jordan was fired. From the “I don’t teach rebounding”, to the multiple blowout losses, to arguing with fans who thought we should hold one more year because he was a loyal son, and even whether or not Rutgers had to the money to buy him out—it was tense for me down the stretch with a would he or won’t he. But once he was fired, I knew Hobbs didn’t just care about football and was going to try and make basketball a force to. This was the sign—to me—that he was going to get the Big Ten Build done, and put a workable product out on the court. So the moment Eddie Jordan was fired (as negative as a firing can be) was my best sports moment of 2016.

Mike Voza: The brightest moment for me is the hiring of Jerry Kill as the Offensive Coordinator. His 22 years of head coaching experience is more than the previous nine head coaches that Rutgers has hired combined. Only Terry Shea (2), Doug Graber (1) and Frank Burns (2) had previous head coaching experience prior to their arrival “On the Banks”. He brings maturity and stability to a young coaching staff. I see Kill staying here a long time as a teacher to the football players and a mentor to the coaching staff. I think the profile of Rutgers Football has risen since the announcement and there has been speculation the other programs are upset that they missed the opportunity to hire Coach Kill. Jerry Kill can be seen as the Lighthouse shining up and down The Old Raritan.

David Anderson: 2016, what a roller coaster in politics, celebrity circles, my company being acquired, and not to be outdone, Rutgers athletics. The Eddie Jordan firing was probably my least favorite (Grant’s injury a close second) because I truly wanted him to succeed. When he was hired, thought he was the only person who at that time could save the program, but he did not. In the same vain as the lacrosse success and wrestling team who I followed for the first time in my life, the top moment was Rutgers women’s soccer winning the B1G tournament opener at Penn State. Anytime you can beat PSU, win a B1G tournament game, and beat a ranked opponent it’s awesome. When you avenge a loss in the Final Four, it’s even sweeter, in a season where many felt the team did not reach expectations. Vindicated.

Aaron Breitman: The hiring of Steve Pikiell as men’s basketball coach was easily the highlight of 2016 for me. He is a proven program builder that obsesses over details, grinds it out on the recruiting trail, and can flat out coach, both in practice and in games. He is gracious, humble, driven, tenacious, and values developing his players in basketball and in life the right way, above all else. He wants to be the head coach at Rutgers for all the right reasons and has embraced the past history of the program, both the good and the bad. As a Rutgers lifer, I’ve never been more confident about a coach being destined to succeed at Rutgers more than Pikiell. I say bring on 2017, because better days are most certainly ahead with the men’s basketball program.

Matthew Pisani: I am going to have to agree with Aaron above on this one. The hiring of Coach Pikiell was a huge decision for Rutgers in 2016. Eddie Jordan was a nice sounding hire, but he really did not pan out the way anyone hoped or anticipated it to. Now, with Coach Pikiell, Rutgers Men’s Basketball has been transformed into something huge. As an undergraduate from 2010-2014, I went to maybe four basketball games; and I love basketball. The team was something students on Livingston attended or if we were playing a ranked opponent. Now Rutgers is playing really well in basketball despite the blowout loss to Wisconsin. Coach Pikiell has re-energized this basketball program that desperately needed re-energizing. Basketball has shifted the focus on a disappointing football season to a new hope; basketball to be competitive and fun at Rutgers again.

Jim Hoffman: Despite the soft schedule, my favorite Rutgers sports moment of 2016 was having the mens’ basketball team reach an 11-1 record. Like everyone, I know the non-con schedule isn’t the “real world,” which began on December 27 against Wisconsin. However, having a team that went 7-400 last season get through 12 games with only one loss feels pretty damned good. I am sure that we will be able to steal 3-4 games from the conference schedule. Having our men win 13-15 games this season is real growth, however you look at it. Kudos to Coach Pikiell and the entire squad, who are playing strong defense and playing as a team. It’s time to Pack the RAC!

Cara Sanfilippo: There were a few bright spots for me this year in Rutgers Athletics. While I don’t closely follow Women’s Soccer, the fact that we made it to the Big Ten Tournament Finals. Paired with Wrestling, we finally have some credibility in this conference. The other two moments: the hiring of Kill as OC and the first half of the Iowa game. Both of these moments rank because they show(ed) potential growth in the program. Ash hiring Kill shows maturity, and while I am still somewhat wary of his longevity and potential rustiness in play-calling, this shows that Ash realized his mistake in hiring such an inexperienced OC last year, and is remedying that decision with this hire. The Iowa game first half, what an electrifying performance mainly by Grant. For a minute, I thought we would compete this 2016 season. Oh, what might have been if he wouldn’t have been hurt. Woulda, coulda, shoulda, I suppose. On to 2017!

What were some of your favorite moments? Let us know in the comment section and our entire staff at On The Banks wishes you a happy and healthy New Year!