Setting out to provide a ranking of anything — be it athletes at a particular position or your favorite ice cream parlor — is a notorious game of whimsy. So much in the eye of the beholder, so many variables that various individuals can deem more or less worthy than others.
It is even more difficult when comparing items that are not quite apples to apples, which is the task BadgerNation.com has set out to accomplish in the past several weeks, reviewing all the laurels received by University of Wisconsin varsity athletes and revisiting the seasons that were in the 2004-05 academic year.
What follows is the first article in a series of three, which lays out our rankings of the top five male and female teams on campus.
I do not expect readers to concur with BadgerNation.com’s analysis here or in the two stories that will be published Friday ranking the top 15 male and female athletes of 2004-05. The sheer volume of accomplishments among Badger athletes this year is enough to make one’s head spin and these articles are more the starting point for conversation than the final word.
In this story on UW’s top teams, for example, there are some very notable omissions, including the women’s tennis team, which ranked No. 34 in the nation and reached its second consecutive NCAA Tournament; and the wrestling team, which finished above .500 in the incredibly daunting Big Ten for the first time in 11 years. Other teams that were given consideration but ended up on the outside looking in were the softball team, the men’s swimming and diving team and the men’s and women’s openweight rowing teams, all of which competed in their sport’s national championship meets or NCAA Tournament.
In the end, we found the following to be a satisfactory rundown of the top five male and female Badger teams in 2004-05.
Men’s team of the year: cross country
The Badger harriers may have come up short in their quest for a national title but this is clearly the most successful program on campus — and it has stood upon that peak for the past several years.
For the third consecutive year, the UW men’s cross country team, directed by head coach Jerry Schumacher, placed second at the NCAA Cross Country Championship, this time finishing a mere four points behind national champion Colorado. The Badgers’ top runner, Simon Bairu, won the individual national title, while teammates Matt Tegenkamp and Chris Solinsky finished No. 11 and No. 16, respectively.
The team also won the Big Ten title for sixth straight year, recording the fourth-best point total in Big Ten history (23) and winning by the largest margin (81) of any team in the 90-year history of the conference meet. In addition, they won the Great Lakes Regional for the 20th time in school history. They were ranked No. 1 in the MONDO Men’s Division I Cross Country Poll throughout the season.
Women’s team of the year: lightweight crew
For the second consecutive year the UW women’s lightweight crew team won the Intercollegiate Rowing Association national championship.
The team competed in seven races this spring, winning six of them. The Badgers’ only loss came at the Knecht Cup, April 16-17, when they finished behind Princeton. But UW finished ahead of the Tigers to win the Easter Springs May 15 and again topped them at the IRA meet June 4.
UW’s national championship crew consisted of: seniors Eva Payne (Madison, Wis.), Lindsey Rongstad (Eau Claire, Wis.), Katie Sweet (Seattle) and Sarah Liefke (Madison, Wis.); juniors coxswain Erin Specht (Verona, Wis.), Andrea Ryan (Seattle), Anaya Drew (Seattle) and Mary Higgins (Alexandria, Va.); and sophomore Suzie Sagues (Orlando, Fla.). All but Liefke and Sagues also competed on the 2004 championship boat.
Best of the rest, men’s teams
No. 2 - Basketball: Despite replacing four starters and dealing with several key injuries, the Badger men’s basketball team finished 25-9 and reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament before losing to eventual national champion North Carolina in the Syracuse Regional Final.
UW placed third in the Big Ten regular season with an 11-5 mark, then reached the Big Ten Tournament title game. The Badgers matched a school record for wins in a season and set new school records for wins in a 2-year (50), 3-year (74) and 4-year span (93). Wisconsin also finished the year ranked No. 10 in final USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll, its highest ever finish. The team also set school records for points scored (2,290) and 3-pointers made (250) and attempted (640).
No. 3 – Track and field: Ed Nuttycombe’s squad placed third at the NCAA Indoor Championships with 43 points, the most ever scored by a UW team at a national meet (indoor or outdoor). The Badgers picked up 11 All-American honors at the indoor meet and finished the indoor season ranked second in the U.S. Track Coaches Association Team Power Rankings… Won fifth consecutive Big Ten indoor championship. Despite having just one individual champion, Badgers scored 144.5 points, well ahead of second-place Indiana’s 105.5… UW won conference outdoor championship for the fifth time in the past six years, setting a conference meet record with 174 points, compared to runner-up Indiana’s 111. Finished tied for 26th at NCAA Outdoors, but had four All-Americans… Won Big Ten triple crown (conference titles in cross country, indoor and outdoor track in the same academic year) for eighth time in 11 years.
No. 4 – Football: Opened the season 9-0 and climbed to No. 4 in the polls before losing last three games of the season… Badgers finished third in the Big Ten with a 6-2 conference mark and were invited to the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., the team’s first New Year’s Day bowl game since the 2000 Rose Bowl… After finishing 9-3 UW was ranked 17th in final Associated Press poll and 18th in the final coaches poll. The nine wins tied for the fourth-winningest mark in school history… UW’s defense ranked first in the Big Ten and ninth in the NCAA in yards allowed and second in the league and sixth in the nation in points allowed.
No. 5 – Hockey: Wisconsin climbed as high as No. 2 in the national polls before a treacherous month of February brought the team down to Earth. Still, the Badgers finished the year 23-14-4 and reached the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year, losing in the first round to Michigan… Ranked No. 13 in final USCHO.com poll… The Badgers finished in a third-place tie in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular season with 35 points (16-9-3), just five out of first place… UW placed fifth in the league tournament. The top four finishers in that tournament also reached the NCAA Frozen Four… Team set an NCAA attendance record with 274,979 in 23 home games… Badgers led WCHA in defense, allowing just 2.22 goals per game.
Best of the rest, women’s teams
No. 2 – Hockey: Playing in what is undeniably the toughest women’s hockey conference in the nation, UW was ranked in the top five nationally for the vast majority of the season and reached its first NCAA Tournament in school history… Established school record for wins with a 28-9-1 season… Finished third in WCHA regular season with a 20-7-1 mark and runner-up in WCHA Tournament, taking eventual national champion Minnesota to overtime… Finished regular season at No. 4 in Pairwise and No. 3 in USCHO.com final poll… Ranked No. 6 in USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine final poll, which was released after the postseason.
No. 3 – Volleyball: After flying under the national radar most of the season, Badgers reached Elite Eight of NCAA Tournament… Ranked 14th in final coaches poll and 13th in Rich Kern Percentage Index… Finished season 22-10 overall, 14-3 at home... fourth in Big Ten with 13-7 mark… Served Hawaii its first loss of the season in NCAA Regional semifinals, topping Rainbow Wahine 31-29, 30-23, 22-30, 28-30, 21-19. Hawaii finished 30-1… UW finished third in the nation in attendance.
No. 4 – Swimming: Third place at Big Ten meet, No. 11 at NCAA Championships… Finished 10-1 in dual meets overall, 5-0 in Big Ten duals… Ranked No. 8 in final College Swimming Coaches Association dual meet poll.
No. 5 – Soccer: Reached its 13th NCAA Tournament, topping Dayton in the first round before losing 1-0 to eventual national champion Notre Dame in the final minute of play… Finished season 16-6-1 overall and 5-4-1 in Big Ten play, tied for fifth place in the conference.