UChicago scholar-athletes make history with NCAA titles, record school ranking
The University of Chicago’s varsity student-athletes achieved historic successes in 2013-14, including two national championships in individual competitions and a school-record ranking of 16th in the Learfield Sports Directors Cup, which honors excellence in Division III sports over the course of the academic year.
A total of six teams and 37 individuals reached the NCAA postseason, while 29 individuals earned All-American status. Men’s track and field athlete Michael Bennett and women’s swimmer Abby Erdmann topped the list of accomplishments by winning a pair of Division III national championships. Bennett earned his title in the indoor pole vault, and Erdmann raced to the top of the podium in the 200-yard butterfly.
The duo joined elite company in UChicago’s athletic history. The Maroons have won 15 individual national titles, all of which have come since 1989. It also marked the school’s fourth instance of multiple national championships in the same academic year.
“There were many triumphant and inspirational team and individual performances this year,” said UChicago Athletic Director Erin McDermott. “Two national champions highlight an exciting year with a first-time UAA championship, top ten national team finishes and placing 16th in the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup. I congratulate our scholar-athletes and coaches on their achievements.”
Bennett entered his sophomore season coming off a stellar collegiate debut the previous year. The Dublin, Ohio native broke school records for both the indoor and outdoor pole vaults, won a pair of University Athletic Association championships and qualified for the NCAA national meet.
That momentum rolled over to the 2014 competitive season. Bennett was undefeated in the pole vault in all seven of indoor meets that he participated in and was among the top seeds at the national championships. In the finals, the sophomore cleared his opening four heights of the day on the first try—4.60, 4.75, 4.85 and 4.90 meters. No competitors were able to clear 4.95 meters, which meant Bennett was tied with two other vaulters at 4.90. However, Bennett was the only athlete who was able to reach that height without any misses, which gave him the national championship.
“The big key was he vaulted cleanly and didn’t miss leading up to the final height,” head coach Chris Hall said. “Michael staying clean may have added pressure on everyone else. He had a good experience at outdoor nationals last year and felt comfortable vaulting. It was a surprise and just a wonderful performance.”
Just two months later, Bennett almost added another title at the outdoor national meet. He cleared 5.00 meters for the first time in his career and ended up tied with another competitor at 5.10 meters. Although Bennett came in second in a jump-off for the title, his final height of 5.10 meters broke his own school record.
Erdmann made her first year at the University memorable. Hailing from Deephaven, Minn., Erdmann was a key point scorer for the UChicago swimming and diving team throughout the season. She specialized in the butterfly stroke and also contributed to the freestyle and medley relays. The Maroons were consistently ranked in several top 25 national polls all year, thanks in large part to its stable of young talent.
The Maroons sent nine women to the NCAA nationals at the end of the year, with Erdmann qualifying in six different events. The freshman entered the finals of the 200-yard butterfly with the third-fastest time in the event prelims. Erdmann got out to a blazing fast start in the finals and maintained her pace to post a winning time of 2:01.35. She topped the runner-up by 0.81 seconds and set a school record in the process.
“Abby’s swim was unexpected, exciting and an awesome experience for her and the team,” said head coach Jason Weber. “After she touched that wall and looked at her time and place in disbelief, I couldn't have been more happy for her and proud of what she had accomplished.”
The UChicago men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams both finished 10th in the final team standings at the national meet—their highest finishes ever. Erdmann claimed All-American status in three events and honorable mention All-American accolades in three more races. She also set school records in the 100- (55.50) and 200-yard butterfly (2:01.35).
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