We’ve all been there — coming to the end of another stressful semester, checking our what-if calculator to see exactly what we need to get on the final exam to pass a class. Without a doubt, finals are one of the most stressful things on a college student’s mind.
For student athletes, on the other hand, they have the added pressure of succeeding in their sport on top of their academics. I don’t know about you, but I think stepping to the free throw line in a tie game with the championship on the line is a heckuva lot more stressful than a biology final.
With finals week just around the corner, we decided to take a look at some of the best and most improbable championship performances in the history of UVU athletics.
It almost feels like cheating to pick a team from this year, but the 2021 men’s basketball team pulled off a championship run under second-year head coach Mark Madsen that most people outside of the program likely didn’t see coming. Following a dismal 2019-20 season that saw the Wolverines finish eighth in the conference, the team bounced back with an 11-11 season, including 9-4 in conference that saw UVU earn just their second WAC regular season championship.
It all came down to the final two games of the season, with the Wolverines travelling down to Phoenix to take on Grand Canyon, needing to win just one game to clinch a share of the WAC title. It was no easy task, as the Lopes consistently have one of the best home-court advantages in the country, boasting one of the rowdiest student sections even with COVID-19 limiting capacity.
After a back-and-forth first half, the Wolverines looked to be pulling away, leading by as many as 13 with 10 minutes to go in the game, but the Lopes bounced back with a 15-5 run to leave UVU with a 52-49 lead with three minutes to go. Blaze Nield drained three clutch free throws down the stretch to ice the game for the Wolverines. Evan Cole led all scorers with 20 points and Trey Woodbury added 16 more to help clinch the championship with a 59-55 victory.
Coming into the Great West Conference tournament, the 2009-10 women’s basketball team were far from the favorites to win the whole thing. The Wolverines came into the tournament with a 7-22 record, including victories in their final two regular season games over Houston Baptist and NJIT.
However, UVU was the host for the 2010 GWC tournament at the then-David O. McKay Events Center, and the home-court advantage likely helped propel the No. 6 seed Wolverines to a highly improbable tournament championship.
Following upset victories over Chicago State and UT-Pan American (now UT-Rio Grande Valley), the Wolverines were set to face off against top-seed North Dakota. The Wolverines seemed like they might have been out of gas, trailing UND by as many as 18 points, but were slowly able to chip away at the lead, cutting it to six with under two minutes to go.
Tournament MVP Asumi Nakayama hit a free-throw line jumper and Jenna Johnson drained back-to-back threes to give the Wolverines their first lead of the game, and the Wolverines managed to hold off UND in the final moments for the 70-62 victory. Nakayama held GWC Player of the Year Kayla Bagaason to eight points in the championship game, while adding 14 points to help the cause. She also scored a career-high 26 points in the quarterfinal victory over Chicago State.
The most recent conference championship for the Wolverine baseball team came in the 2016 season. The team posted a 37-23 record, earning the program’s first-ever NCAA regional berth. UVU won the WAC championship over the Seattle U Redhawks 4-0 behind 7 shutout innings from Kaden Schmitt. The Wolverines were selected as the No. 4 seed in the Baton Rouge Regional, where they lost to host LSU and Southeastern Louisiana.
While the 2021 women’s soccer team is the first to win the WAC regular season title, in addition to winning the program’s third WAC tournament championship, the 2011 team pulled off perhaps one of the most dramatic championship victories possible.
The Wolverines met Houston Baptist in the 2011 Great West Conference final, with UVU having won their only meeting earlier in the season, 3-1. The Huskies opened the scoring in the 10th minute on a header from Molly Missimer, but the Wolverines managed to answer in the 32nd minute when Lexi Dunn found Ashley Burdett for a header inside the six-yard box. The two teams would remain in a deadlock for nearly an hour, but Regan Benson managed to score the golden goal in the 101st minute in double-overtime to clinch the program’s first conference tournament title.
The UVU wrestling team has had two conference champions since moving to Division I. Their names? Demetrius Romero and Demetrius Romero. Romero won the Big 12 championship in the 174-lb weight class his junior and senior seasons — 2019 and 2021 — after sitting out the 2020 season due to an injury. Romero clinched his second Big 12 championship with a 6-2 decision over Jackson Hemauer of Northern Colorado.
For the past two years, Romero has headlined an up-and-coming team that has done nothing but improve since joining the Big 12 in 2015. Romero, along with Taylor LaMont, earned All-America honors in the 2021 season — the first time that has happened in Wolverine wrestling history. LaMont, who will be entering his senior season, finished runner-up in the Big 12 championships this past season in the 125-lb weight class and figures to be one of the favorites to win the title this upcoming season.
Again, it feels kind of cheap to pick a team from this year as one of the top championship runs in UVU history, but the 2021 women’s volleyball season was as historic as it was exciting. The Wolverines earned their first WAC tournament championship, as well as their first NCAA tournament berth. UVU had come close before, most recently in 2018 when they fell to New Mexico State 3-1 in the finals of that year’s tournament.
It was likely that much sweeter for upperclassmen such as Seren Jardine and Kazna Tanuvasa to defeat those same Aggies two seasons later to clinch their first-ever WAC championship. UVU dominated the Aggies in a 3-0 sweep of the regular season champions. Tanuvasa led the attack in the finals with 13 kills on a .394 hitting percentage, and Jardine anchored the defense with 19 digs in the victory.
We hope this look back at some legendary Wolverine finals performances has inspired you to do well on your finals!