We made it. The year of 2021 began with a bit of a different look in the spring. After we watched abbreviated tournament fields and the first DII spring football being played, the fall of 2021 returned with a sense of normalcy.
If there is such a thing as normalcy in the world of sports.
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Luckily for us, sports are anything but normal — a space where the unimaginable becomes reality. Let’s look back on the first half of this 2021-22 year in DII sports. While we would love to include every play that made national headlines and every team that excelled, here are just a few moments that stood out from the rest.
10 memorable moments from the fall of 2021
Welcome to DII football, Jared Bernhardt
Ferris State hadn’t played football in nearly two years. When the DII football semifinals’ staple opened the season, they had a new quarterback under center — former Division I Maryland lacrosse star and national player of the year Jared Bernhardt.
The “rookie” quarterback used his eligibility to chase his dreams of being a college football quarterback. In his debut against Findlay, he led the Bulldogs to a 54-14 victory. His numbers? Bernhardt threw for 218 yards, rushed for 120 more and totaled seven — SEVEN — touchdowns. A side note: That same Findlay team made the 2021 DII football championship tournament. This was no subpar team Bernhardt took advantage of and the rest, as they say, is history.
Cal State LA gets redemption on the DII men’s soccer pitch
The last time we saw official DII men’s soccer played, Charleston (WV) dominated Cal State LA 2-0 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for its second national championship in three years. Fast forward to 2021, and we had ourselves the second all Golden Eagles final in as many tries.
This time around, Cal State LA made program history, avenging its 2019 loss and taking home the program’s first national championship. Head coach Chris Chamides leaves the Golden Eagles as the school’s all-time wins leader in men’s and women’s soccer — which he coached from 2003-12.
Down goes No. 1, in both DII men’s and women’s basketball
Nov. 13 will be an odd day when we look back and discuss the 2021-22 DII college basketball season. Both the men’s preseason No. 1 Northwest Missouri State and women’s preseason No. 1 Lubbock Christian were upset by teams not even mentioned in the national preseason polls. To make this night even more bizarre, Drury — the preseason No. 2 in DII women’s basketball — was upset by unranked Kentucky Wesleyan. Don’t worry, the preseason No. 2 in DII men’s basketball, Flagler, pulled out a victory on this wild day. Unfortunately, the Saints were upset the night before.
Right the Shipp: Raiders back on top of the DII field hockey world
Shippensburg’s quest to tie DII field hockey history with its fourth-straight championship was thwarted in 2019, as West Chester took home its third national title of the decade. What better way to start a new streak than taking down the defending national champs?
Four times to be precise. Shippensburg defeated West Chester twice in the regular season, once in the PSAC championship game and then again to take home the national championship. It was the Raiders’ fifth title in program history, but the first time they did so with an undefeated mark, finishing 2021 at 20-0. It was the first DII field hockey undefeated season since 2010.
It’s like déjà vu all over again: Tyson Bagent’s back-to-back Hail Marys
Winning a DII football playoff game in the final seconds with a masterfully placed throw is about as exciting as it gets. Well, at least until you do it again the very next week.
That’s exactly what 2021 Harlon Hill Trophy winner Tyson Bagent did on Shepherd’s run to the DII football semifinals. First, Bagent connected with Josh Gontarek with one second remaining to take down Notre Dame (OH) 38-34 before upending No. 1 Kutztown 30-28 in the quarterfinals with no time left on the clock.
The DII women’s basketball DI slayers strike again
Texas A&M-International is not talked about enough in the DII women’s basketball landscape. For the third time in the past two seasons, the Dust Devils took down a Division I opponent and none of the games have been particularly close. This season’s latest victim was Florida A&M, a DI team that the Dust Devils defeated 68-55.
Last season, the Dust Devils disposed of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Weber State easily and the momentum has carried over to this season. Not only do they have another DI win on their resume, but the Dust Devils are also off to an 9-1 start, marking the best start in program history.
We’re No. 1 — for the first time ever
A few programs claimed the top spot in their respective polls this season. The UIndy men’s soccer program made its second-straight trip to the national semifinals, but on Sept. 21, the Greyhounds were named No. 1 team for the first time in program history. It was the first GLVC member to reach No. 1 since 2016.
The Washburn women’s volleyball team had a year of historic proportions. The Ichabods made it all the way to their first national championship match, but on Sept. 20 after a 10-1 start, Washburn was named the No. 1 team in the AVCA poll. They held the spot for four-straight weeks until MSU Denver took over at the top. It, too, was the Roadrunners first time reaching the summit of DII women’s volleyball as well, and they held on to the spot for five-straight weeks.
Grand Valley State repeats… again… again
Kudos to Ferris State. In a season dominated by Grand Valley State, the winningest program in DII women’s soccer history, the Bulldogs upset the Lakers in the GLIAC championship match to capture their first-ever conference title. But that was the only slip up on the Lakers’ seventh championship run.
It was quite shocking to see the defending champion Lakers enter the season at No. 9 in the preseason poll, especially considering they had repeated the previous two times they won a championship, even “three-peating” from 2013-15. “We don’t really pay attention too much to rankings, we take one day at a time,” Lakers’ forward Kennedy Bearden said earlier in the season. “But we did feel a little salty, and I think it’s showing. We have a little chip on our shoulder.”
When it was all said and done, Grand Valley State rebounded from the Ferris State loss, going 6-0 in the NCAA tournament, outscoring its opponents 16-3 and repeating as champs once again. Bearden, who assisted on the 2019 championship golden goal, scored the game-winner this year, etching her name into Lakers’ lore forever.
Seven DII football Power 10 teams fall on the same day
It was the most unpredictable DII football season perhaps ever, and Saturday, Oct. 17 showed why. No. 1 West Florida was one of seven DII football Power 10 teams to lose, falling to West Georgia and blowing up the rankings on a national scale. It didn’t stop there: No. 2 Northwest Missouri State lost by one to Washburn.
No. 3 Ferris State held off then-No. 7 Grand Valley State in a thrilling Anchor-Bone Classic and jumped into the No. 1 spot. It was a spot the Bulldogs would not relinquish, finishing the season a perfect 14-0 and winners of their first DII football title in program history.
Damon Martin moves up the NCAA’s list of most successful coaches
The Adams State Grizzlies women’s cross country team won the 2021 national championship once again. It was the 19th national championship for the program, all coming under Hall of Fame head coach Damon Martin.
Martin had long stretches of dominance, winning national championships every year from 1992-99 and then again from 2003-2009. This title breaks a sixth-place tie and bumps Martin up the list for most titles by a coach in a single sport, tied for fourth all time with 19. In the annals of cross country, men’s or women’s at any level, no one has done it better.
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The win broke the tie with DIII North Central (Ill.)’s Al Carius to become the winningest cross-country head coach. Next up on the list is Kenyon’s Jim Steen, who holds the top two spots with 29 titles in DIII men’s swimming and diving and 21 more on the women’s side (note: Anson Dorrance on UNC women’s soccer is tied at 21).