What A Year: Recapping The Highlights From 2003-04

Four League titles. Three NCAA Championship Tournament berths. Two national television appearances. One amazing season for Colgate athletics. Oh, and this year will mark the first season that athletic scholarship athletes take the field for the Raiders. Is it even possible to top last season’s successes? If so, the rest of the Patriot League will certainly be in for a long season.In looking back at the 2003-2004 season, the main focus is obviously placed upon the Raider football team, and rightly so. The team swept through the regular season with a 12-0 record, its first undefeated regular season since the legendary Raider squad of 1932. That team was led by Andy Kerr, after whom the team’s stadium is named. Nobody knows if any building will be named after current Head Coach Dick Biddle, but the coach was named the 1-AA Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association.But the most visible accolade was bestowed upon star tailback Jamaal Branch. After not starting the first game of the season, the then-junior rushed for 2,326 yards and 29 touchdowns, both Colgate single-season records. When all the stats were accumulated, Branch walked away from Chattanooga, TN with the Walter Payton Award, meaning that he was the best player in Division 1-AA. The good news for Raider fans is that Branch returns for his senior season this year, looking to become the first person to win the Payton Award twice.The Raiders put on a show every time they stepped on the field, outscoring their opponents by over 11 points per game and possessing one of the best run defenses in the nation. The team allowed less than 100 rushing yards rushing per contest, ranking it in the top-five in the country.Good things were expected from the Raider football team, which has begun to take control of the Patriot League as of late. The same could not be said of the Raider women’s basketball team before the 2003-2004 season. The women went 9-18 the previous season had not seen a winning season in 16 years. Surely, not much was expected from this group.All the team did was win the largest number of basketball games in the history of the school for men or women. The team won its first Patriot League regular season title, won the League Tournament on Cotterell Court in front of a frenzied home crowd and advanced to the NCAA Tournament, where it played Tennessee.Colgate? Playing Tennessee? Sounds like a dream season to me. The dream was tempered somewhat when Head Coach Beth Combs left Hamilton for a job at Northwestern, but that matters not to the players. With almost every key player returning from last season, the women have a chance to repeat the dream this season. And after the improbable run of a year ago, nothing will be unexpected from this group.Another Raider team that had been away from the top for a long time was the men’s hockey team. The squad had not won an ECAC title since 1990 and in the last three seasons alone was a combined 18 games under .500. But once again, a Raider team rose to beat all expectations.The Raiders preformed best when the pressure was on, losing only three of their final 16 conference games to secure the top seed in the conference tournament. The most memorable weekend of the year was surely the team’s home-and-home series with archrival Cornell, with Colgate beating the then-nationally-ranked Big Red on successive nights to vault itself near the top of the conference. Although the team fell in the semifinals to Clarkson, the team put together a very strong season, marked by the emergence of star left wing Jon Smyth. The then-sophomore potted 21 goals and added 21 assists in being named the nation’s co-Most Improved Player by U.S. College Hockey Online. With Smyth, along with senior Adam Mitchell and junior Kyle Wilson also returning, watch out for the men in maroon in 2004-2005.The athletic season was already considered a huge success before the women’s lacrosse team topped off the year with another breakthrough campaign. The women sliced through the Patriot League regular season without a loss, going 6-0, and hosted the league tournament for the first time in school history. In front of the home crowd, the team put on a show, beating Lafayette in the semifinals before taking an epic, double-overtime victory against American in the final. The junior duo of Katie McVeigh and Kelly Winning carried the team during the year, combining for a ridiculous 93 goals and 35 assists. This team lost only one senior to graduation, and so this team may be even better come next season. That’s a scary thought for Patriot League opponents.It also doesn’t take a league title for a season to be considered a success. A good example of this is the women’s hockey team, which compiled a record of 16-7-3, which does not seem like a very good mark. But upon closer inspection, this record came against a conference that included three of the top four teams and five of the top 15 teams in the country. With that said, the best season in Raider women’s hockey history should definitely be considered a success. The team defeated a nationally-ranked opponent for the first time ever while playing a schedule that was, for the first time, made up entirely of Division I opponents.Other successes also dotted the athletics landscape in 2003-2004. Xavier de Boissezon ’04 became only the second Colgate runner to qualify for the NCAA Cross Country Championships, in which he finished ahead of 146 runners. Senior Reed Hagmann also registered national attention by taking down top-seeded Andreas Laulund (ranked 57th in the nation) at the Omni Regionals event to advance to the quarterfinals. The 2003-2004 season was certainly one of the greatest in the history of the University. The wins by the football and women’s basketball teams gave Colgate national attention that had been sorely lacking since the days of Adonal Foyle ’98. But if you are a fan of the Raiders, this year has the potential to be even better than the last. With scholarship athletes entering the fray to up the intensity and skill of Colgate’s sports landscape, the sky is the limit for Colgate in the coming years.How could you possibly top last season? Just watch ’em try.