AZUSA, Calif. – Was it Emma Delira’s 26.2-mile marathon run to garner a single point at the NAIA Outdoor Track & Field Championships? Or was it Reggie Owens’ game-winning lay-up with 1.3 seconds left in the opening round of the NAIA Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament? How about cramp-stricken Janosch Apelt limping his way to a third-set and match-clinching victory in the quarterfinals of the NAIA Men’s Tennis Championship Tournament. Maybe it was freshman Michelle Wieland’s deflection save to preserve a victory in the first round of the NAIA Women’s Soccer Championship Tournament.
It could have been any one of those plays, or perhaps a dozen others like them, that can be singled out as the difference in the closest Directors’ Cup race in the 17-year history of the prestigious award.
By a mere 3 points Azusa Pacific has garnered its record-setting sixth consecutive Directors’ Cup, recognizing the Cougar intercollegiate athletics program as the best in the NAIA for 2009-10. Director of Athletics Bill Odell was presented with this year’s crystal cup during a luncheon ceremony today at the annual National Association of Collegiate Directors’ of Athletics (NACDA) Convention in Anaheim, Calif.
The presentation ended nearly 3 weeks of speculation as to whether or not reigning champion Azusa Pacific had held on for yet another cup. The Cougars finished with 820 points, edging second-place Simon Fraser University (B.C.), which tallied 817 points, and Golden State Athletic Conference rival Fresno Pacific University (Calif.) which was third with 801 points, to complete the tightest competition ever for the cup.
“This is a testimony to our coaches and student-athletes,” said Odell. “The character they displayed throughout the year was remarkable. The Cup has become a collective and unifying goal for every athlete and coach in our program. They knew early on that the race was going to be tight this year and that every performance was going to be key.”
With the 2010 Cup in hand, Azusa Pacific becomes the first school in NAIA history to win 6 consecutive Directors’ Cups, breaking the former standard first set by Simon Fraser from 1997 to 2001.
“There is no doubt that we felt some self-applied pressure about getting a sixth straight cup,” said Azusa Pacific men’s track & field head coach Kevin Reid, whose team won the NAIA indoor track & field championship in March and then endured a bevy of injuries to scratch and claw a 28th finish at the outdoor meet, assuring just enough points for Azusa Pacific to keep Simon Fraser at bay in the final Cup standings. “The Cup is one of those common bonds we have with one another on our coaching staff. We don’t want to let each other down, and we want to come through for the team, the entire athletics program.”
The Cougar women carried Azusa Pacific to this year’s title, scoring 501 points among its top 6 programs, led by outdoor track & field’s national championship that produced 100 cup points. Women’s basketball advanced to its first-ever national championship game and finished as the national runner-up to tack on another 90 points. Women’s soccer was third at its NAIA championship tournament, good for 83 points. On the indoor circuit, track & field finished fourth for 80 points, while cross country was fifth for 75 points. Volleyball rounded out the top 6 with its best showing at the NAIA Tournament in nearly 20 years, finishing fifth for 73 more points. Two other women’s teams, swimming & diving with 72 points and tennis with its 70 points, could not be counted, since they exceeded the 6-team limit.
Along with the aforementioned national championship in indoor track & field, the Cougar men recorded 90 points with a runner-up finish in men’s basketball, 83 for a third-place finish in tennis and 46 points after a 28th-place showing in outdoor track & field.
Azusa Pacific scored 432 points during the winter season, the most ever registered in a single season by the Cougars and the second-best season total by an NAIA school in Directors’ Cup history.
The difference between winning this year’s Cup and finishing second can be found in any number of individual performances throughout the 2009-10 season. Azusa Pacific won the NAIA women’s outdoor track & field championship by 1 point, beating Oklahoma Baptist, 61-60. Had Delira not held off a charging competitor over the final mile of the marathon, she would not have scored a point for the Cougars in the marathon, dropping them into a tie for the national championship, a 5-point swing in the Directors’ Cup standings that would have given the Cup to Simon Fraser.
Had Owens not made a lay-up off an inbounds pass, the Cougar men may never have gotten out of the first round of the NAIA Tournament in Kansas City, a difference of about 40 cup points, sending the Cougars down to third in the final standings.
Had Apelt, who had to serve underhand in the deciding set, defaulted his singles contest, Azusa Pacific would have lost in the NAIA quarterfinals, a difference of 13 points in the final Cup standings and a third-place showing in the final list.
If Wieland doesn’t make the save, the NAIA Soccer Tournament game goes to penalty kicks, and perhaps Azusa Pacific doesn’t get out of the first round and misses out on 35 cup points.
And there are other close calls throughout the 2009-10 season. With Azusa Pacific up by 2 points with less than a minute to play in the semifinals of the NAIA Women’s Basketball Championship Tournament, Alex Moore-Porter stole the ball to send the Cougars into its first-ever national championship game. It was a steal of 7 points in the Cup race.
All-American Anthony Logan, who missed nearly the entire outdoor track season with a pulled hamstring muscle, came back with enough strength to run a trio of 400-meter races in 3 days, the last coming in the finals of the NAIA Championship Meet, picking up what seemed like a meaningless 3 points but what proved to be another potential difference maker between first- and second-place in the final Directors’ Cup standings.
“Giving your very best to the very end proved to be very important indeed for Azusa Pacific this year,” added Odell. “As hard as each athlete competed at the beginning of the season is the same type of effort they gave at the end of the season.”
Led by Azusa Pacific and supported by several other schools, the Golden State Athletic Conference again proved to be the strongest conference in the NAIA with a landslide performance. The GSAC placed 3 schools in the top 4 of the Directors’ Cup (Azusa Pacific, Fresno Pacific and Concordia), 4 in the top 7 (California Baptist), 5 in the top 12 (Biola), 6 in the top 16 (Point Loma Nazarene), and 7 in the top 18 (Vanguard). The closest any other conference came to the GSAC’s domination was the Sooner Athletic Conference which had 2 schools in the top 9 and 3 in the top 13.
Click here to see the complete 2009-10 Directors’ Cup standings for the NAIA.
Stanford won the Directors’ Cup for NCAA Division I schools while Grand Valley State (Mich.) and Williams (Mass.) took the Division II and III Directors’ Cups, respectively.