The UW-Whitewater Warhawks accomplished something Monday never before seen in the history of collegiate sports.
With their 7-0 win over the Emory Eagles in the championship game of the NCAA Division III College World Series, the Warhawks completed a historic triple crown sweep in men’s sports, becoming the first school in NCAA history at any level to win the national championships in football, basketball, and baseball in the same academic year.
A three-sport national title sweep is an unprecedented accomplishment, even for a school with a powerhouse athletics program like Whitewater. There’s a chance that none of us will ever witness this feat accomplished again in our lifetime, so it’s important to take a moment and appreciate what the Warhawks were able to accomplish in a year for the ages.
You don’t have to closely follow Division III sports to know that UW-Whitewater is a football juggernaut. The Warhawks have played in the Stagg Bowl (the Division III championship game) in eight of the past nine years, each time facing off against fellow powerhouse, Ohio’s Mount Union.
It’s become something of a late December tradition for the Warhawks and Purple Raiders to go toe-to-toe for the national title, so it should come as no surprise that they did again this year. What was shocking was the 52-14 drubbing that quarterback Matt Behrendt and Whitewater posted against top-ranked Mount Union. Behrendt thoroughly outplayed his counterpart, Kevin Burke, who had just two nights earlier been awarded the Gagliardi Trophy as the most outstanding player in NCAA Division III football. Behrendt completed 20 of his 28 passes for 249 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions as the Warhawks routed their rivals to put the finishing touches on a perfect 15-0 season and win the fifth national title in school history.
The second piece of Whitewater’s rare trifecta came courtesy of its men’s basketball team, which defeated Williams College (Mass.) in an instant classic NCAA Division III national championship game. After leading the Ephs by as much as 15 points in the first half, the Warhawks allowed their lead to slip away, resulting in a back-and-forth affair down the stretch.
The Ephs appeared to be on their way to their second national title in school history when they took a 73-72 lead with 4.9 seconds remaining on a tip-in by Michael Mayer. However, Whitewater refused to be denied a second national championship in three years, grabbing victory from the jaws of defeat when Quardell Young hit a running layup with 0.9 seconds to go. The Ephs’ desperation heave was off the mark following Young’s free throw (who was fouled on the layup), securing the 75-73 win for the Warhawks, who finished the season at 29-4 and won their fourth national title in program history.
Last, but certainly not least, came Whitewater’s historic national championship sweep was its baseball team’s victory over Emory (Ga.). The Warhawks ended the season on a tear, winning their final 10 games overall, including all three in the double-elimination NCAA tournament, heading into their showdown with the Eagles.
Emory entered the day with its offense firing on all cylinders, having hit .355 as a team, while averaging just over nine runs in its five tournament games. However, the Eagles’ potent offense was no match for Whitewater ace Scott Plaza, who continually pitched out of jams to keep Emory off the board. Plaza hurled a complete game shutout and was named the Division III College World Series Most Outstanding Player after throwing 16 scoreless innings, striking out 14, allowing just 10 hits, and surrendering just four walks. The Warhawks, who ended the season on an 11-game winning streak and won 19 of their 20 games, finished the season with a 44-7 record and the second baseball national championship in school history.
Whether or not Whitewater and its tremendous athletics program (or any program for that matter) is able to pull of this incredible feat again remains to be seen. However, this much is clear, the Warhawks put together a run of this success that is simply unparalleled in NCAA history. And there’s no doubt that it was a year that Whitewater fans won’t forget for the rest of their lives.