Argos For The Win: UWF Athletics Top 10 Moments Of The Decade

January 9, 2020

The lobby of the UWF Field House was remodeled early in 2019 to enhance presentation for the Argos growing treasure chest of athletics awards.

Looking back, the timing was perfect.

With the football team’s national title trophy now the latest, gleaming part of the display, UWF rings in a new year and new decade Wednesday on heels of its greatest past decade of athletics in school history.

From 2011 through 2019, the Argos won five NCAA national championships in four sports, along with four teams finishing national runners-up in various other years.

The Argos surpassed the century mark for Gulf South Conference championships across all sports. They had athletes win national awards for player/athlete of year and had coaches reach rare milestones for career wins.

This is truly the best of times in Argos’ athletics. The UWF brand has furthered its national profile in the NCAA, but most importantly, the Argos have made a major impact in the Pensacola area with awareness and support.

What better way to honor success than a Top 10 list of greatest achievements in the past 10 years? It was not an easy selection. And there are many others worthy of mention.

But here goes.

10. Volleyball twice hosted NCAA D-2 Championships – In addition to winning seven GSC volleyball titles during this decade, including the latest in 2019, plus reaching the NCAA tournament all 10 seasons, the UWF volleyball program under Melissa Wolter hosted the NCAA Championship tournament in 2012 and 2017.

It gave the Argos a chance to twice showcase the sport’s national stage in the Pensacola community. This season was Wolter’s 17th at UWF and 20th overall. She has been part of the coaching staff for USA Volleyball, the NCAA D-2 Women’s Volleyball National Committee and has taken the Argos to the NCAA Tournament in 14 consecutive seasons

9.  Women’s Swimming Program Launched, Champions Crowned – In 2013, UWF added its eighth women’s sport when the swimming and diving team began its inaugural season. It didn’t take long to make an impact.

The Argos finished No. 23 nationally in their first season, climbing to a pair of sixth-place NCAA finishes in 2016 and 2017.  During the program’s first six seasons, the Argos have honored a national swimmer of the year, Theresa Michalak (2017), who won five D-2 individual event titles in her career and two-time, national diver of the year, Monica Amaral (2016, 17), who swept the 1-meter and 3-meter diving titles.

8. Men’s Golf Has NCAA Champion – Chandler Blanchet created his special legacy in UWF golf program history by rallying from a three-shot deficit on the final three holes to win the 2017 NCAA Division II individual championship. He has gone on to build a solid start to his professional career, playing on the PGA Tours in Canada and Latin America the last two seasons while earning conditional status for the 2020 Korn Ferry Tour.

He joined former UWF player Orjan Larsen (the 1998 D-2 NCAA champion) in winning the Jack Nicklaus National Player of the Year Award and the Arnold Palmer Award as medalist in the national championship tournament. Both players were mentored by long-time UWF coach Steve Fell, who has led UWF to a pair of D-2 national team championships and won national coach of the year three times in his 23 seasons.

The following season, UWF finished as 2018 NCAA D-2 national runner-up. In 2017, 2019 the team finished tied for third in the national tournament.

7. Men’s Basketball Has Historic Season – In his third season as UWF coach, Jeff Burkhamer led the Argos to their greatest heights. They reached the 2018 NCAA D-2 Tournament for the first time in school history, following a school-record 28-4 season.

The Argos cracked the national top 10 in the coaches poll for the first time in school history en route to winning their first GSC Tournament title. Though falling against Barry University in the first round NCAA South Regional, the breakthrough season brought large crowds to the UWF Field House and increased awareness in the community.

6. Softball’s Special Year – Under first-year coach Ashliegh McLean in 2019, the Argos produced their second-most wins as an NCAA-member program and second trip in three seasons to the Women’s College World Series. The Argos were ranked No. 1 nationally during four weeks of the regular-season and finished No. 5 in the final coaches poll.

The team’s 54-11 record was surpassed only by a 2005 team that won 60 games. The Argos won the GSC regular-season title, the GSC Tournament title and two NCAA regional titles enroute to reaching the national stage in Denver, Colo.

5. Women’s Basketball Reaches Elite Eight – In 2017, the Argos produced their greatest season in school history with a 28-7 record, including 18-4 in conference play and first-ever GSC regular-season title, plus the first-ever trip to the national quarterfinals.

In D-2, the final eight teams reach the national tournament stage and UWF battled No. 2 ranked California Baptist all the way, before losing 77-69. The game in Columbus, Ohio occurred during the height of March Madness and was shown by Pensacola area sports-theme restaurants.

4. UWF Men’s Tennis Gets Third National Title – After winning back-to-back championships in 2004 and 2005, the Argos produced the trifecta in 2014 with a 29-0 record and 5-3 win against Hawaii-Pacific in the national title match. They added a fourth three years later with a 32-1 slate in 2017.

In his 21 seasons, coach Derrick Racine has taken the Argos to the final four an astonishing 11 times. His teams have included four NCAA champions in singles, including Bruno Savi in 2013 and two doubles teams winning national titles, including Alex Peyrot-Pedro Dumont in 2016.

3. UWF Women’s Soccer Back-To-Back Title Appearances – In 2012, UWF capped an undefeated season (22-0-1) with a 1-0 victory against University of California-San Diego in the NCAA Division II national championship game.

Chelsea Palmer, the most decorated women’s soccer player in UWF history, scored the goal in the 76th minute. Palmer also scored the game-winner in the national semifinal. She was named the national player of the year and this year was inducted into the UWF Athletics Hall of Fame.

In 2013, UWF advanced to the national title game again, finishing runner up after a 2-0 loss to Grand Valley State. During the 2019 season, UWF’s long-time coach Joe Bartlinski attained his 500th career win. It’s been quite a decade for this program.

2. Baseball Team Wins 2011 D-2 College World Series – Three years after beloved coach Jim Spooner passed away after battling leukemia, his coaching prodigy, Mike Jeffcoat, took the Argos to the mountaintop.

They won their first NCAA region championship in dramatic fashion at Jim Spooner Field, then rolled through the CWS bracket in their first-ever appearance to win the national title. The Argos won a school-record 52 games that season, shattering the previous best of 43, which also happened under Jeffcoat’s guidance in 2007.

Beyond baseball, however, the win elevated UWF’s entire athletic profile in the Pensacola community and set the stage for what followed in succeeding years.

1. Football Team Wins Historic National Title – An easy choice. This was historic in NCAA football history across all divisions. The riveting, edge-of-seat, 48-40 triumph Dec. 21 against Minnesota State in the Division II title game in McKinney, Texas completed an improbable, dizzying odyssey in just four seasons of existence.

UWF went from a start-up program in 2016 — born a year earlier from practices on a well-used intramural field — to twice playing on ESPN broadcast for a national championship. It’s never happened before in college football history.

The 2017 breakthrough run and title game loss was topped in 2019 by playoff wins over unbeaten, No. 1, No. 2, No. 4 and No. 6 ranked teams, all on the road. Incredible barely describes what this football program has attained in four years.

HONORABLE MENTION
* UWF women’s golfer Paloma Vaccaro finished second in the 2018 NCAA D-2 Women’s Golf Championship tournament, the highest finish in school history.
* The UWF women’s tennis team produced a program-best 31-4 record in 2018 and reached the national championship match before losing to No. 1 ranked Barry University in the final.

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