It’s hard to believe we’ve already reached February of 2022! Over the past few months, we’ve celebrated championships and graduates, seen some of NIU’s best realize their professional dreams, welcomed new Huskies to the pack, started a new semester and were honored by our peers with a history-making achievement. Whew!
We made history with the announcement that NIU Athletics was selected as the first two-time recipient of the MOAA/NCAA Diversity and Inclusion Award, presented by the Minority Opportunities Athletic Association and the NCAA at the NCAA Convention on January 21. This was a recognition of the continuing commitment by our department, and by the entire university and community, to bring Diversity and Inclusion to the forefront of our culture. I’m so proud that NIU was recognized for our ACTIONS in this area. While many organizations have a diversity, equity and inclusion plan, at NIU we have put that plan to WORK and today, we are held up as a model for departments across the country.
We are proud to put some of those DEI/Belonging efforts on display during Black History Month as we celebrate the contributions of African American athletes by our current student-athletes through social media posts and hold Diversity and Inclusion focused events and promotions.
February is literally the busiest month of the year when it comes to competition as these 28 days are action-packed with nine teams currently in action or about to open their 2022 seasons
Our winter and spring sports are hoping to follow the example set by the Huskie football and men’s soccer teams which both memorably won Mid-American Conference Championships this fall.
Playing in the MAC Championship Game in Detroit for an amazing eighth time in the last 12 seasons, the NIU football team defeated Kent State, 41-23, to claim its fifth win in the game and its sixth MAC title all-time. The Huskies continue to rank as the most successful team in Illinois and in the MAC. In fact, NIU is one of just 19 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams and one of five teams from a non-autonomous (Group of 5) league to win 100 or more games since 2010!
The 2021 Huskies made history as the first FBS team to win a conference championship game one season after going winless. With a young team that featured just seven seniors and newcomers playing significant roles throughout the line-up, the “cardiac canines” won seven games by one score or less. What a fantastic job by third-year head coach Thomas Hammock, who was named MAC Coach of the Year and a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award. With so many players returning in 2022, a stellar class of signees and the work the returnees are already putting in, make plans now to get your 2022 season tickets – information coming soon!
In football of another kind, the accolades did not stop after the final match for the NIU men’s soccer team and its top players. First, there was a 13-match unbeaten streak, leading to a No. 15 national ranking, the regular season MAC Championship and a chance to host the conference tournament for the first time since 2006. In the tournament final versus Georgia State, All-American and MAC Player of the Year Nick Markanich, who finished the year as the national leader in goals, scored the “golden goal” in overtime to give NIU its first MAC Tournament title since 2011.
The Huskies then defeated Oakland, 2-1, in the NCAA First Round on a cold day in DeKalb, before seeing their historic season end at No. 5 Pittsburgh.
Nick and his twin brother, Anthony, were not done providing program highlights though, as both were selected in the 2022 Major League Soccer SuperDraft with Anthony chosen in the first round, 26th overall, by the Colorado Rapids and Nick drafted just four picks later, 30th overall, by FC Cincinnati. The draft party for the brothers, held in the Nelson Suite in the Convocation Center, rivaled any NFL Draft party you’ve seen on TV with family, friends and their Huskie family gathered to celebrate two remarkable careers. Needless to say, a lot of Huskies became Rapids and FC Cincinnati fans that day!
MAC Coach of the Year Ryan Swan did a fantastic job with this team and congratulations are also in order for Enrique Banuelos, who garnered third team Academic All-America honors.
Did you know, NIU has had at least one student-athlete earn Academic All-America honors on the highly competitive College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) teams in seven of the last eight years, giving the Huskies a grand total of 71 Academic All-Americans all-time? There is no question, at NIU, the success of our student-athletes in the classroom is as important as their competitive outcomes. You can see it in our graduation success rate, our GPA and in our graduates. NIU posted the second highest GSR in school history this year with an 88 percent mark, while our student-athletes combined to record a cumulative GPA of 3.355 this fall, with 316 of NIU’s more than 400 student-athletes and 14 teams above the 3.0 mark. Add the 27 student-athletes who graduated with either their bachelor’s or master’s degrees in December and the proof of our commitment to academic excellence is evident!
Winter sports are now in full swing with the Huskie men’s and women’s basketball seasons in the final third of their seasons with both teams still in the hunt for a top eight finish and a spot in the MAC Tournament in Cleveland. Catch both teams in action on each of the next two Saturdays with doubleheaders on February 12 and February 19 beginning at 1 p.m. The 19th is the annual “Cram the Convo” doubleheader with $5 tickets, a “Huskie Pride” pennant giveaway and more. Click here to get your tickets today! See you there!
The day after Cram the Convo, you have another opportunity to see TWO Huskie teams in action on the same day when NIU Wrestling and Gymnastics get together for the “Beauty and the Beast” meet on Sunday, February 20 beginning at 4 p.m. This is always a fun meet with plenty of action and admission is free! Gymnastics has already broken the school record for best team score so watch out as this team works to build on that score, move up in the national rankings and bring home its second MAC title. As they approach the end of the season and the MAC Championships, NIU wrestling looks to solidify a line-up that – similar to women’s basketball – has been shorthanded due to injury.
The next team to chase a MAC title is indoor track & field as Connie Teaberry‘s young squad tries to repeat its championship-winning performance from a year ago. Meanwhile, while it’s not exactly spring weather in Illinois yet, Huskie spring sports are underway. Men’s and women’s tennis have started their dual match seasons with home matches being played in Chick Evans Field House on campus. Women’s golf and softball are in action in Florida this week and baseball’s first pitch is just nine days away. Spring is coming Huskie fans, I promise!
As always, thank you for your support of our student-athletes and programs.
Sean T. Frazier
Vice President/Director of Athletics and Recreation
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