Artists, Athletes: Historic Victories in NCAA and PacWest
Left: Track and Field (photo by Meghan Bushnell); Right: Basketball (photo by Austin McKeon)
One day, two championships: The women’s athletic programs at Academy of Art University continue to accomplish milestones. Just hours after the Women’s Track and Field team captured an NCAA Division II National Championship, the Women’s Basketball squad won the inaugural PacWest Conference tournament and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Both are firsts for Academy of Art University’s Athletic Department, and these achievements are all the more remarkable considering that the Academy is only in its first year of full NCAA membership and the sole art school to hold a membership.
Triumph in Track & Field
The NCAA Division II Men’s and Women’s Indoor Track and Field Championships, held March 7–9 in Birmingham, AL, was the Academy’s first opportunity to compete with the nation’s best. All team members contributed in taking the crown, but Vashti Thomas played an important role with her wins in the long jump, 200-meter dash and fourth place in the triple jump. The Urban Knights’ first All-American, Jenny Bergren, who finished third overall in the women’s mile, was also a key contributor and posted the fastest time (4:50.03) in Academy history.
“Many things will be written about what we accomplished this weekend; everyone will have their own unique perspective on it,” Track and Field Head Coach Charles Ryan said. “For me, what happened in Birmingham this past week was about two things: these amazing artist-athletes and what their victory stands for in the greater landscape of academics and sports. These women crashed a party that for as long as I can remember was never an option to attend. Athletes who also have a passion for art until now have always had to make a choice and could never have both. You could not be serious about art and be taken seriously as an athlete. Well, that message is dead.”
Come-From-Behind Win in Basketball
Commenting on the Women’s Basketball team’s 75–49 PacWest tournament comeback win on March 9 over top-seeded Hawaii Pacific, Head Coach LaNay Larson said, “This was a historical day for our program and I’m especially proud of our five seniors. They helped us finish on a nine-game win streak and then to dominate in that championship game just shows our mentality. The team was ready, we were focused and we really locked down defensively. Defense and rebounding; that’s where it started for us from day one, and I thought we did an outstanding job of that tonight.”
“[Going to NCAA regionals] is something we talked about at the beginning of the year. It was our goal and I don’t know how many people believed that except us, but the fact that it’s actually happening right now.… I think we’re all on cloud nine,” Larson said. “It’s an unbelievable opportunity to get to the championship game and this is what we asked for. We went out and took care of business and now we don’t have to worry about being on that bubble; we are an automatic bid. We are excited and this team is definitely playing really well right now, so it’ll be really fun to see what we can do.”