With just a couple of days left in 2017, our staff took their seats for the last round table of the year. Every contributor was asked to write in any form about our favorite moments of the past calendar year. There were certainly more highlights across the athletic department in 2017 than in the previous year. Time to look back on the year that was in Rutgers sports.
Patrick Mella: I was very tempted to go with the home football win versus Maryland but to me the men's basketball exhibition win against St. John's set the tone for the season and proved this team belonged. It wasn't a huge crowd but it was loud. The casual fan saw the contest as one that Rutgers would probably play well in but ultimately succumb to a superior opponent in St. John's. Rutgers struggled but fought hard and got the game tied with just 19 seconds left. With a RAC crowd on its feet Corey Sanders missed a mid-range jumper, only to see Issa Thiam get the easy put back for the win. I remember being in the crowd and thinking this is what makes being a Rutgers fan so special. We're always counted out. We're always the underdog. But every now and again Rutgers surprises you. It was an awesome experience and my favorite moment of Rutgers athletics for 2017.
Jim Hoffman: Following Patrick’s theme above, I am not only tempted, but I am going with the football win over Maryland. The end of that game, where the defense stood strong and refused to bend, even when a bad call went against them, demonstrated their determination. I also loved how much the crowd got into it as well. Sitting there in the stands the noise of the crowd was a factor in rattling the Terps, and giving support to our defense. It was a great moment to be a Rutgers fan, and I’m glad I was right there to participate in it.
Dave White: There can be only one. The win over Seton Hall. Rutgers hadn’t won a game against a ranked team in almost 3 years and hadn’t beaten the Hall since the Mike Rice era. Plus, Steve Pikiell needed a signature win to continue the next steps in the building process. That win had it all—a sold out crowd, a rocking RAC and a fantastic game. The last 6 minutes, where Rutgers essentially turned off the Hall’s offense was one of the best moments I’ve had as a Rutgers hoops fan. The building was roaring. It really topped off a year where it is starting to looking Rutgers is on the way up, up, up—especially in hoops.
Bob Cancro: I love beating certain teams, so the wins over Seton Hall in hoops and Maryland in football stand out. But I’m a wrestling guy so we’re going to add the match against Illinois last January. The Illini came in at No. 12 and the Knights were No. 11. It was a back and forth match with each team winning five bouts. The key bout was at 157 where John Van Brill was down seven before he turned the tables, pinning his opponent. But it ultimately came down to heavyweight where Razohnn Gross got the victory with a 3-2 decision to give the Knights a 19-17 win.
Pete Winter: When I first thought about this, the answer was easy - Seton Hall. But after reflecting a little more, the hoops win over Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament last March is right up there. So I’ll put those two as 1A and 1B from 2017. Both games were perception-changers in my opinion, both within the Rutgers community and on a regional level. Against OSU, we earned our first conference tournament win, just a few days after beating Illinois at the RAC. It was a giant step in the right direction. Then, just a few weeks ago, we witnessed the Seton Hall game, which featured a raucous crowd, an intense rivalry, and an impressive comeback by the Scarlet Knights. It was the RAC at its absolute peak, and a landmark moment for this program under Steve Pikiell. We’ve taken a few blows recently, but to me, those two games represent building blocks that we can hang our hats on moving forward.
David Anderson: The endings to the Purdue and Maryland football games had me physically fist pumping. The baseball series win on TV against Iowa was awesome also. The recent basketball win over Seton Hall provided an emotional purge of sorts. I agree with Pete though that the biggest smile on my face came with the Big Ten basketball tournament win against OSU. Part of it was me having predicted preseason they would win a Big Ten tournament game, but more of came from seeing the celebration in the locker room with the team and Coach saying how so many guys contributed. IF the women’s soccer team could have beaten West Virginia in the NCAA tournament though, that would probably top this list. That game was so tense but the team fell just short in the epic shootout.
The RAC felt like the place to be in New Jersey that day. When Rutgers sealed that win, I thought the roof was literally going to collapse. Corey Sanders’ midrange jumper that essentially won the game is the iconic moment of the Steve Pikiell era as it stands — it marked a moment of prosperity for the program.
I know what you’re thinking; “But Brian, they lost to two America East teams at home in a row! The win is meaningless now!” I have three counterpoints. First of all, breathe. Relax. Calm down. Second of all, two massive slip-ups don’t take away the energy that was in the gym that Saturday afternoon. When Sanders lifted the trophy in front of the court stormers, it demonstrated a glimpse of what the Rutgers basketball program can be.
Finally, this is a list about our favorite moments, so allow me to get a little personal for a second. There were times over the past couple of years where I questioned whether being a sportswriter was a career I truly belonged in. Being in that gym that afternoon reminded me why I chose to pursue it in the first place and reaffirmed my desire to pursue this passion of mine. The atmosphere in the gym was unlike anything I’d ever seen. Those are the moments I live for and I would be kicking myself if I wasn’t there to take it in and document it.
Aaron Breitman: Rutgers had more success during the 2017 calendar year than the previous one, so it was step forward for the athletics department. There were enough highlights I’m worried I forgot about something, but let me take a stab with a rough outline of the past year in Rutgers sports. The men’s basketball team won its most conference games ever, including the Big Ten Tournament victory over Ohio State, an achievement that helped Steve Pikiell land the best recruiting class in years later that summer. Women’s lacrosse improved its win percentage from .333 to .500 this year versus last. Men’s lacrosse were ranked #1 for a time and beat Ohio State, the national runner-up. Baseball had a down year, but won back to back Big Ten series’ against Purdue and Iowa. Track & Field athlete Chris Mirabelli earned First Team All-American in the Javelin.
In the fall, women’s soccer made its sixth straight NCAA Tournament and had the lowest goals against average in the country behind 1st Team All-American Casey Murphy. The Field Hockey team was nationally ranked for the first time since 2008 and were as high as 18th. Football finished in fifth place in the Big Ten East after being an unanimous preseason last place pick, tying a program best three wins since joining the conference in 2014. As much as the Maryland victory was satisfying, the upset of Purdue was more unexpected against a better team, the only one to make a bowl game that Rutgers beat.
The year ended with wrestling starting another promising campaign, the women’s basketball team is in the middle of a huge turnaround from last season, and the men’s basketball team won the biggest game left in the calendar year in dramatic fashion, coming from behind by 9 points with just six minutes to play. Brian said it best, but that day goes down for me as an all-time instant classic at the RAC. Our experience sitting in the student section during the game and the entire atmosphere, as well as the way in which Rutgers beat Seton Hall in Pikiell’s first win over a ranked opponent makes it my favorite moment of 2017. Plus, Mike Williams will go down as a key figure in the Pikiell era and to see him bask in the glow of that victory was a glorious moment to witness. The two game losing streak since that day has taken some luster off it to relation to this season, but that win will age well over time and always be remembered. Let’s hope the entire athletic department as a whole takes another step forward in 2018!
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What Was Your Favorite Rutgers Sports Moment Of 2017?
This poll is closed
Men’s Lacrosse Win Over National Finalist Ohio State
Women’s Soccer Win Over Big Ten Champ Ohio State
Football Win Over Purdue
Football Win Over Maryland
Men’s Basketball Over Ohio State In B1G Tourney
Men’s Basketball Over #15 Seton Hall
Wrestling Win Over #12 Illinois
Chris Mirabelli Wins B1G Javelin Title & 1st Team All-American
Casey Murphy Win B1G Goalkeeper of the Year & 1st Team All-American
Anthony Ashnault Wins 2nd B1G Ten Title & Three-time 1st Team All-American