As the curtains begin to fall on 2015, the Oracle sports staff has selected the most impactful moments that defined the year in USF athletics.
From the football team’s incredible midseason turnaround to men’s golf reaching its first national championship tournament and baseball’s unprecedented rise, it was one to remember. Here are 10 things that stood out above all else.
1. Football makes incredible turnaround
In early October, it was a program seemingly headed in the wrong direction. Two months later, the Bulls are heading to a bowl game for the first time in five seasons. From 1-3 to 8-4, the job Willie Taggart and Co. did to turn around a spiraling season was unlike any other.
Not only did it likely save the program from making its third coaching change in four years, it also breathed life into a team that looked otherwise lethargic for three-plus seasons. With most questions answered, it seems more likely now that this success can be sustained moving forward.
2. Baseball breaks postseason drought
When coach Mark Kingston was hired from Illinois State to replace outgoing Lelo Prado before the season, the expectation was that USF was going to improve steadily over time and eventually make its way back into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002. After all, Kingston needed time to mold a respectable offense that had struggled mightily.
Well, that time period shrank to just four months as the Bulls ripped their way through non-conference play before earning an at-large bid to the tournament. Though USF fell in the second round to Florida, the successful campaign helped it garner a top-10 recruiting class for 2016.
3. Women’s basketball earns its redemption
After being snubbed out of the Big Dance in 2013-14 and settling for the WNIT, the Bulls returned to the court with a chip on their shoulder and redemption on their minds. It paid off as USF finished with a program-record 27 victories, making its way back to the NCAA Tournament as the runner-up to Connecticut in the AAC. The Bulls received an at-large bit, where they defeated LSU before falling to Louisville in the second round at the Sun Dome.
4. Watson’s death rocks USF community
Hours after a decisive season-opening victory over Florida A&M, the USF football team was stunned with the news that former player Elkino Watson had been tragically murdered outside an Ybor City nightclub. In the early morning hours of Sept. 6, the former defensive lineman was stabbed after an altercation at The Orpheum and transported to Tampa General Hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries.
Watson’s death sparked a controversial situation within the athletic department after Taggart banned all USF players from entering Ybor City only to have the ban overturned by athletic director Mark Harlan through a public statement hours later. Taggart later apologized, saying he spoke out of emotion in his initial comments.
5. Men’s golf makes title run
In his first season as coach of the USF men’s golf team, Steven Bradley did the unthinkable in leading the squad to a national title bid for the first time in school history. USF was dominant in the spring, winning four of seven tournaments advancing to match play and finishing sixth out of 30 teams. Claudio Correa was the driving force behind the Bulls success, notching an individual win and six top-10 finishes.
6. Women’s soccer rises to occassion
For 10 months, a loss to Connecticut in last November’s AAC final was pinned in the forefront of USF’s minds. After a holding their own through regulation and overtime, the Bulls fell in penalty kicks 3-2. The next season, USF’s September match against the Huskies was the only game that mattered.
With the game scoreless heading into the waning minutes of the second half, senior Jackie Simpson netted the equalizer in the 79th minute, avenging their tough loss the year before. The Bulls notched 15 wins for the third time under coach Denise Schilte-Brown, but fell in the first round of the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year. Nevertheless, it still ranked as one of the best seasons in program history.
7. Jenkins reaches 1,000 boards
Already among the best women’s basketball players to ever come through USF, senior forward Alisia Jenkins etched her name into the record books once more, joining Wanda Guyton as the only other Bulls to reach 1,000 career rebounds. Jenkins, who has been touted as a potential WNBA draft pick, became USF’s single-season rebounding leader last year after recording 397 rebounds. She also posted 23 double-doubles over the course of the season, marking the fifth-most in the NCAA.
8. Men’s soccer makes triumphant return to NCAAs
After having its seven-year postseason streak snapped in 2014, the Bulls returned to the pitch eager to get back. They did just that, upsetting No. 3 Georgetown at home and climbing as high as 11th in the national poll to return to the tournament. The berth was short lived, however, as USF fell to Boston College in the second round after earning a first-round bye.
9. Flowers smashes single-game rushing record
In one of the most memorable performances of the season, sophomore quarterback Quinton Flowers racked up 215 yards rushing on 23 carries against Southern Methodist on Oct. 24. With the performance, he surpassed Matt Grothe for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game by a USF quarterback. Flowers is currently 117 yards shy of a 1,000-yard season with 10 rushing touchdowns heading in to USF’s bowl game.
10. Antigua reunites with former boss
Orlando Antigua served as an assistant to John Calipari for five seasons at Memphis and Kentucky before departing to take over the USF men’s basketball team in 2014. On Nov. 28, the two met for the first time as collegiate coaches with their respective teams at the HoopHall Miami Invitational — an 84-63 win for the No. 1 Wildcats. This wasn’t their first meeting, however. The duo met in the Bahamas prior to last season when Antigua’s Dominican Republic national team prevailed over Kentucky in a summer exhibition contest.