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RICHMOND, Va. – With the 2011-12 athletic calendar complete for VCU, we here at VCUathletics.com thought we would try to recap what was a year full of thrills, excitement and another year of growth for the movement known as Ram Nation.
After a long debate, some wrestling matches and name-calling, our crew came up with the top-25 stories from VCU Athletics in 2011-12.
Today, we look at the top story of the 2011-12 athletic year at VCU on our countdown.
If you have any thoughts or comments, our Twitter handle is @VCUAthletics, we’d love to hear from you.
#1 – VCU ushers in "new era" with move to Atlantic 10
After 17 great years in the Colonial Athletic Association, President Rao ushered VCU and its athletic department into a new era, when he announced that the Black & Gold would move to the Atlantic 10 Conference beginning in 2012-13 at a press conference on Tuesday, May 15.
"We believe the A-10 represents the best opportunity to meet our long-term aspirations for national academic and athletic achievement," said Rao. "As a Division I, nationally competitive athletics program, it is critical that VCU seizes the opportunity to further elevate its athletics as it raises its overall academic profile as a national research university."
With the national brand of the university and the athletic department at an all-time high, the move to an exciting, new conference brings the potential for even more growth for the Black & Gold.
VCU was not alone in the immediate move as Butler, the 2011 Final Four nemesis of the Rams, also jumped to the A-10. With the two new additions, the Atlantic 10 will be at 16 schools for what should be an memorable 2012-13 athletic calendar.
#2 – Upset-minded Rams nearly reach Sweet 16 for
second straight year
Everyone knew the story of the 2011 VCU Rams and their magical NCAA Tournament run that captured the attention of the entire nation. Surely, the Rams of 2012, with only one starter back from the 2011 squad, couldn't do anything similar, right? Not so fast America.
Led by the NCAA Iron Man Bradford Burgess, the Black & Gold once again pulled off a first-round upset, this time taking town fifth-seeded Wichita State, 62-59, thanks to the heroics of Burgess and junior point guard Darius Theus, who both made huge shots with less than a minute to play to seal the win.
VCU wasn't done as they had their eyes on another trip to the Sweet 16.
With less than 30 teams remaining in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, the Rams were matched up against one of the most potent offenses in the entire country, the fourth-seeded Hoosiers of Indiana.
The Rams showed grit and determination all night long, holding Indiana to just 63 points on the night, nearly 15 points below their season average. Unfortunately for the Black & Gold, that was two more points than they could put on the scoreboard as the 12th-seeded Rams fell 63-61 to the fourth-seeded Hoosiers.
"I'm incredibly proud of our guys. They really battled and played hard all night," Head Coach Shaka Smart said after that game. "I really believe that not so much relative to what we thought, but relative to everyone else's expectations, this team had an unbelievable year, and really overachieved in a lot of ways."
#3 - Men's Tennis Duo Upsets its way to All-American status
The sophomore duo of Antoine Baroz and Alexis Heugas didn't want to just show up for the NCAA Doubles Tournament. They wanted to make their presence known.
Well that's exactly what the tandem did, upsetting back-to-back top-15 opponents to reach the Elite of the Doubles Tournament and earn themselves All-American status. The NCAA Quarterfinals equals the furthest that any VCU doubles tandem ever reached, equaling the feat of Florian Marquardt and Frank Moser in 2001.
Heugas and Baroz became the seventh and eighth All-Americans in the history of the VCU men's tennis program, the first since Arnaud Le Clorec in 2005.
The paired opened the tournament as the 63rd-ranked duo in the country and dropped the first 7-5 to the 14th-ranked tandem from Florida. However, the resilient sophomores bounced right back and won the second set 7-5 and breezed to a 6-1 win in the third set to pull off the upset.
Against the fifth-ranked tandem of UVA's fifth-ranked duo of Jarmere Jenkins and Drew Courtney, Baroz and Heugas, pummeled them 6-2, 7-5 to reach the NCAA Quarterfinals, where they had to take on another top-20 opponent.
The sophomore tandem did just that battling all the way to a heartbreaking third-set tiebreaker and ultimately falling to the 17th-ranked brother duo of Chris and Marcus Thieman of the University of Mississippi, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6.
#4 – Two-time All-American Courtney Hurt shatters
VCU’s record book, drafted by WNBA
Senior forward Courtney Hurt, VCU’s all-time leading scorer with 2,092 points, turned in perhaps the greatest career in program history, finishing as the Rams’ all-time leader in scoring, rebounding (1,243), double-doubles (58), games played (131), field goals (770), free throws (503) and minutes played (3,694). Even more impressive, her career scoring, rebounding and double-double totals are the most by any VCU men's or women's player in school history.
In April, Hurt became the third VCU player in the last five seasons to be drafted by the WNBA. She also helped the Rams become one of just two non-BCS programs in the nation to have at least three draft picks since 2008.
After averaging a modest 9.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game during her first two seasons (just 20 starts in 66 outings), Hurt burst onto the national scene averaging 22.7 ppg and 12.8 rpg during her final two seasons at VCU. She led the NCAA in rebounding during both her junior and senior campaigns, while finishing second in the nation in scoring in 2010-11 (23.2 ppg) and ninth in 2011-12 (22.3 ppg). Hurt also led the country with 25 double-doubles as a junior before tallying 23 during her senior season, which was second-most in the NCAA. She was the only player in the nation to rank the top 10 in both scoring and rebounding in 2011-12.
#5 - Men's Hoops earns second straight NCAA Tourney bid with another conference title
At around the same time each year, around early March, the Richmond Coliseum was painted with Black & Gold. Ram Nation took over the Coliseum each year at the CAA Tournament and 2012 was no different thanks to an unprecedented following behind the Head Coach Shaka Smart and the VCU men’s basketball team.
With the ninth-youngest team in the country, many doubters said the Rams wouldn’t be able to keep up their recent trend of success. Those doubters were silenced on March 5, 2012 when Darius Theus, Bradford Burgess and Troy Daniels led their squad to another CAA conference title and their second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.
The conference title was the fourth since 2004 for the Black & Gold.
The 2012 CAA Tournament was a dominating performance for the Rams. In 120 minutes of play during the CAA Tournament, VCU trailed for a total of 1:44, thanks to a defense that forced their opponents into 60 turnovers.
"All year long, we've talked about how it's going to come down to defense and that's what got us to this point,” Burgess said. "It doesn't matter if we're making shots or not, if we're focused on the defensive end, we're going to have a chance to win every game."
Off the Rams went to Portland for the NCAA Tournament. How did they fare? You’ll have to stay tuned for the rest of the Top 25 stories of the 2011-12 VCU Athletics calendar year.