By Dalton Ray–
Obviously, the dream scenario for Louisville athletics is to have all varsity sports win championships in the same year. What if we can create a fantasy year?
Let us step into the world of realistic imagination, though. A world where results seem a touch out of reach, but not too farfetched. Our imagination will run wild, but not too wild.
Spoiler alert: Losing the final three games of the year won’t make the cut.
The Cardinals open the season with a loss to Purdue under Bobby Petrino’s prodigy Jeff Brohm. With expectations knocked down a touch, the Cardinals then kick off a six-game winning streak that includes beating Clemson during their “down” year. A top-five showdown with Florida State ensues, calling for ESPN’s College Gameday to cover the game for back-to-back years. Louisville wins on a pick-six from Ronald Walker who is forced into action due to cramps from Jaire Alexander.
With a No. 2 ranking and the nation’s attention, Louisville then falls on the road to Wake Forest, falling on their face once again. The Cardinals regain their composure after loss, unlike last year, and takes out their aggression against Virginia, Syracuse and Kentucky, winning by a combined total of 117 points. Playing in the Sugar Bowl, Louisville finally beats a SEC school not named Kentucky or playing with their fourth-string quarterback (Texas A&M). The Cards defeat Auburn 34-23 and Lamar Jackson declares for the NFL Draft during the post game interview at mid-field, initiating the Jawon Pass era.
Last season, six of the 14 teams in the NCAA tournament were ACC teams. In 2017, Louisville hosts the NCAA tournament.
The Cardinals start off on fire. Minout Mink continues her hot freshman year and stays on pace to eventually become the second all-time scorer in program history. Seniors Nicole Woods and Marigrace Ragsdale combine for 33 assists, creating one of the most explosive offenses in the nation. On the defensive side, Ayeisha McFerran leads the ACC in save percentage and records eight shutdowns.
In the ACC tournament, Louisville is a two-seed and gets knocked out in the first round by seven-seed Boston College. The Cardinals answer back in the NCAA tournament and dominate in the first three rounds to face off against Delaware in the championship. Justine Sowry’s team avenges their loss from the 2016 tournament, winning in overtime from a Woods’ goal in front of their home crowd.
The season starts off with Ray Spalding tapping into his full potential, averaging 12.6 points and 8.7 rebounds a game through December. By January, coach Rick Pitino gets over Darius Perry’s offensive struggles and allows him to hound opposing guards on the press. Alongside Donovan Mitchell, the two will bring back the defensive backcourt Cardinal fans are used to seeing. Quentin Snider handles this situation with grace and uses it to motivate himself to his most efficient offensive year. By the end of the season, Ryan McMahon joins the 50-40-90 club – 50 percent from the field, 40 from the 3-point line and 90 percent free throw percentage – because 85 percent his shots are 3-point attempts.
Louisville gets over the hump in the ACC tournament, defeating six-seed Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals but lose seven-seed Syracuse in the next round. Louisville downs Kent State, Nevada and Cincinnati in the opening rounds. Pitino then faces his son Richard and his Minnesota Golden Gophers with a trip to the Final Four on the line. The Cards prevail against Minnesota after Dwayne Sutton replaces a fouled-out Deng Adel and scores eight points in the final 90 seconds. In their first Final Four since 2013, Louisville can’t get a defensive stop in the last 45 seconds and lose to the eventual champion Arizona.
Jeff Walz’s team enters the year with a No. 3 ranking behind Notre Dame and South Carolina. Louisville begins the year on an 18-game win streak and earns U of L their first-ever No. 1 ranking. Louisville loses at home to Florida State and in a top-five match-up the next month, Louisville drops a close game to Notre Dame.
Arica Carter returns after a year removed from injuries and challenges Mariya Moore for the team’s assist leader. Asia Durr breaks her own made 3-pointer record and inches closer to becoming one of the program’s best all-time snipers. Myisha Hines-Allen extends her game to 18 feet and Moore records career-highs in points and rebounds.
Kylee Shook’s stamina finally improves by the ACC tournament, but the Cardinals can’t overcome the Fighting Irish. Moving into the NCAA tournament, Shook is the difference maker to helps the Cards advance to the championship game. The Cardinals now have four players who can score from anywhere on the floor and become nearly unstoppable. Tied at 71 with Connecticut in the national championship, the Huskies are called for a five-second violation during an inbound. The ball is handed to the Cards and Shook finds Hines-Allen on a back-door cut to put Louisville up two with 1.7 seconds remaining to win the national championship.
The momentum from 2017 builds into 2018 as the four seniors help earn the Cardinals a top 50 ranking after a superb fall performance. The Cardinals boast one of the most complete doubles line-ups in the nation and rarely drop a doubles point, giving them a 1-0 lead in 24 of their 26 regular season matches.
Aleksandra Mally locks down the first court, moving to No. 59 in the country after knocking off all rust from her injuries. Sena Suswan battles Abbie Pahz and Mariana Humberg for the second court, but Suswan’s power gives her the edge. The Cardinals make their money on the remaining courts as Pahz, Humberg, Jessie Paul, Ariana Rodriguez, Tiffany Huber and incoming freshman Maya Smith battle for the final four courts.
U of L responds from taking three years of haymakers from ACC teams, finishing top four in the conference. Louisville demands the nation’s attention by reaching the ACC semifinals before falling to one-seed Duke. The magical season doesn’t end just there. Louisville advances to the third round of the tournament before being knocked out by Ohio State. Beckham is given a contract extension after the season after leading his team out of the ACC cellars.
The MLB draft has depleted Dan McDonnell’s team for the second straight year, taking another six players in the 2017 draft. The Cardinals are written off in the ACC after dropping to 13-9, having mainly inexperienced juniors and sophomores in the lineup. U of L’s bullpen carries the way to a 12-game winning streak, allowing an unheard of 1.31 ERA. The winning streak kicks off the new wave of Louisville baseball and the young, fiery Cards bring excitement to the game of baseball.
By the season of the regular season, Louisville has captured its third Atlantic division title. Josh Stowers leads the Cards in batting average, putting up a .373 while Tyler Fitzgerald and Devin Mann aren’t far behind with .351 and .348. Freshman sensation Jordon Adell kicks off his career by stealing 42 bases, good for second most in a season. The youthful bunch of Cardinals are nicknamed “The Bandits” due to their 13 final-inning victories. Louisville secures the ACC conference tournament title after Riley Thompson throws 7.3 innings with 16 strikeouts.
U of L uses their swagger to finally get past the first round of the College World Series. The Cards get all the way to the semifinals before facing TCU. The Hornfrogs are an experienced bunch, knocked out in front of their home crowd during 2017’s Super Regions. TCU crushes U of L en route to their first-ever national title.
File photo / The Louisville Cardinal