With college academics demanding constant attention and varsity sports being in a seasonal rotation, it can be difficult for the average student to follow intercollegiate athletics. We at the Foghorn have decided to craft this crash course for Dons Athletics and show you what is being played on and around the Hilltop.
The USF Dons compete in NCAA Division I sports and play as a charter member of the West Coast Conference (WCC). The Dons field 16 varsity teams, with triathlon being added this year as the newest addition to our suite of sports.
Saturdays at USF used to revolve around the time-honored tradition that is college football. Our first football team was fielded way back in 1917, and the 1951 football team was the most notable squad — the Dons went undefeated and produced three NFL Hall of Famers in Gino Marchetti, Ollie Matson, and Bob St. Clair. During the postseason, the Dons received an invite to the Orange Bowl under the condition that Matson and Burl Toler, the Dons’ only black players, did not play. Instead of proceeding without Matson and Toler, USF declined the offer and subsequently shuttered their football team due to financial problems. An NCAA Division II reincarnation of Dons football formed in the 1960s before being dissolved in 1982.
Without a football team, the autumnal season is reserved for men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball.
USF women’s volleyball has recorded two NCAA Tournament appearances. The 2008 women’s volleyball team finished the season with a top 25 national ranking.
The USF men’s soccer team was founded in 1944, while the women’s soccer team was founded 41 years later. The men’s team has four national championships, making them one of the most successful collegiate soccer programs in the country. The men previously had two more titles to add to their official count, but the wins were vacated for recruiting violations.
USF is arguably best known for its men’s basketball program. Men’s basketball has won three national titles. During the 1955-56 season, the Dons became the first team to win the NCAA Tournament with a perfect season, going 29-0. Over the years, the Dons have produced talents like Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, and Bill Cartwright. USF women’s basketball team has netted four NCAA Tournament appearances. Their best efforts came in 1996 when the Dons made it into the Sweet Sixteen.
The Dons have experienced great success on the diamond. The baseball team has produced 19 MLB players, including three current major leaguers (Cleveland Indians pitcher Adam Cimber, Indians outfielder Bradley Zimmer, and Kansas City Royals pitcher Kyle Zimmer). The Diamond Dons have won two WCC conference championships, and they have also earned two postseason tournament berths.
USF men’s and women’s tennis have experienced their own success. Men’s tennis won the 1949 NCAA men’s tennis championship, as well as a title in singles and doubles competition. From 2008 through 2010, Jenni Heisner earned three consecutive berths to the NCAA Division I women’s tennis championship.
The men’s and women’s cross country programs have also fared exceptionally well. USF men’s cross country team has won two individual titles in 2007 and 2016. Women’s cross county has totaled six WCC championships, including five straight titles from 2009 to 2013. The women’s team has also won three individual titles.
Currently, USF also carries both men’s and women’s track and field teams. In 2017, Charlotte Taylor won an individual national championship title for the Dons.
The men’s and women’s golf crews are forces on the green. The USF men’s golf team has won 11 WCC conference championships, while the women’s team has won two WCC conference championships. The two teams have experienced their fair share of winning individual titles.
While triathlon is the newest member of USF’s sports roster, it is not the only recent addition. In 2016, USF began fielding a Division I women’s beach volleyball team. In their inaugural season, the Dons went 16-5. Their next two seasons put up abysmal records, but things turned around in the 2019 season as the Dons went an improved 12-13 record.
Just like the Dons official website states, all USF teams have done their part in crafting a championship tradition. There is an athletic renaissance happening before our very eyes, as every team is consistently improving and boasting better records. If you ever need a break from the classroom, take some time to go see the Dons in action on whatever playing surface you desire.