ISU sports saw a year of success


Players and fans storm the field after a 37-31 upset victory over No. 2 Oklahoma State.

Jeremiah Davis

The 2011-2012 year for ISU sports saw milestones and upsets. It saw some highs and some lows, and a few bittersweet moments.

Fans fell even more in love with two coaches, football coach Paul Rhoads and men’s basketball coach Fred Hoiberg, after seasons that surprised people across the country. And for the mastermind behind the ISU sports universe, it could not have been better.

“This year may have been the year of the fan,” said ISU Director of Athletics Jamie Pollard. “Because the excitement, clearly with those two home games in Iowa and Oklahoma State, and then the resurgence of basketball under Fred [Hoiberg]. It was clearly one of the best years of all time.”

Pollard cited academic success and a convincing win in the annual Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series as reasons this could go down as one of the most successful years in ISU sports history. The athletic director said that success is made possible because the athletic department has committed itself to improving facilities equipment for its coaches and student-athletes.

Far and away, though, the biggest and most memorable moment — perhaps in the history of ISU sports, not just 2011-2012 — was the football team’s upset of No. 2 Oklahoma State on Nov. 18.

Pollard chuckled briefly when asked the biggest story on campus this year, saying there was no question about it.

“I think it’s without a doubt beating Oklahoma State that day,” Pollard said. “It was the first time we’d ever beat a top-five team in the history of Iowa State. We did on national TV on a Friday night. We were the college football story for the next 24 hours. It was a great infomercial for Iowa State University with the fans on the field at the end of the game.

“That may be one of the top moments in the history of Iowa State.”

What meant the most to Pollard that night, however, was that the ISU fans got to see a monumental upset unfold in front of them. Along with the men’s basketball team averaging a little more than 13,000 fans per game, football fans set a record, having 50,000 or more fans at each home game.

Giving those fans a memory in Jack Trice was what was special for Pollard. 

“I think it was the fact that our fans got to experience it,” Pollard said. “Going and beating Nebraska and Texas were neat and fun, but when it happens here on your own turf? There were 50,000-some people that got to just enjoy it.”

The OSU win may have been the biggest, but it was but one achievement in a season full of them. In addition to that win, the football team broke a three-year losing streak to Iowa, and  reached the Pinstripe Bowl, its second bowl appearance in three years under Rhoads. Individually, Kelechi Osemele and Leonard Johnson received attention for attending the NFL Draft Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

The men’s basketball team broke a streak of its own, returning to the national rankings, ending the regular season ranked No. 25 and finished third in the Big 12 regular season standings.

They parlayed that into its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2004-2005. Then, in a win against Connecticut and a loss to eventual-national champion Kentucky, forward Royce White vaulted himself into NBA draft discussion and turned professional.

In other areas, the women’s cross-country team became the fifth ISU program to capture a Big 12 championship. The volleyball team returned to the Elite Eight for the second time in five years, and the women’s basketball team returned to the NCAA Tournament for the sixth straight season. In wrestling, though the team didn’t have its greatest season, former ISU wrestler Jake Varner qualified for the 2012 summer Olympics for freestyle wrestling.

As you will see through the rest of this final regular edition of the Daily for the 2011-2012 school year, most of the events above are cataloged in photos forever, to give fans that lasting image of the season that was.