It was a year of championships and disappointments, big wins and crushing losses. None of the three sports that generate the most interest--football, basketball and baseball--had seasons to celebrate. But in the so-called Olympic sports it was a different story.
To steal a phrase from the name of the great movie of a quarter of a century ago, there was good, bad and ugly.
*The women's swim team stood alone, winning the national championship behind the spectacular performance of the incomparable Maggie Bowen. It was the third national championship for head coach David Marsh, who had won two previously with the men. The men's team finished third, reason for celebration most years, but that performance was overshadowed by the women.
Auburn celebrates its first NCAA women's team championship.
*Perhaps the biggest day of the year in any sport was the football team's 23-20 win over Florida. Few expected it, and the celebration lasted long into the night.
*And, yes, the Tigers were SEC West Division co-champions. Head coach Tommy Tuberville was roundly criticized for pointing that out, but that's the SEC's policy. There are no tiebreakers to determine champions, only to determine who plays in the championship game. The Tigers were co-champions for the second straight year and have a trophy to prove it.
*Freshman tailback Carnell Williams began to live up to his immense promise, gaining 177 yards rushing at Arkansas and 167 at Georgia.
*The soccer team had a breakthrough year, knocking off No. 6 Virginia on the road and making the NCAA tournament field for the first time. Head coach Karen Richter clearly has that program moving up in a hurry.
* The softball team swept Alabama at home and earned its first NCAA tournament bid. Head coach Tina Deese has that program going places, too.
*The women's golf team was ranked No. 1 for the entire season. Though it didn't win the championship, it staged one of the greatest comebacks in NCAA tournament history in the final two rounds to finish second. Head coach Kim Evans was national coach of the year.
The men's golf team, not one of head coach Mike Griffin's most talented, handed him his first SEC championship. It was a triumph of the competitive spirit.
*The men's tennis team went to the final eight. The women's team made it to the NCAA tournament's second round. The doubles team of Andrew Colombo and Mark Kovacs gave Auburn another NCAA championship, making a stunning run through the tournament.
*In a season of mostly bad and ugly, the men's basketball team knocked off eventual SEC champion Alabama at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum and almost duplicated that feat at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa.
*The baseball team made a remarkable run, winning six games in its last at-bat in a two week span to squeeze into the SEC Tournament when it seemed hope was fading. The Tigers, starting four freshmen position players and relying on two freshmen out of the bullpen, finished fifth in the SEC and earned their sixth consecutive regional appearance.
*Elva Goulbourne won the NCAA outdoor long jump championship and was named the South Region Female Athlete of the Year. She won SEC long jump titles indoors and outdoors. The men finished 11th and the women 14th in the NCAA meet, the first time Auburn has ever been in the top 15 on both sides.
*The men's basketball team was a colossal bust. The Tigers won just four SEC games, finishing last in the West and last overall. The championship of three years earlier seemed long, long ago.
*The women's basketball team got off to a torrid start, but fell apart after injuries decimated the inside game.
*The baseball team got into the postseason but couldn't do anything else, going two-and-out in the SEC tournament and two-and-out in an NCAA regional appearance in Tuscaloosa. The starting pitching, dominant earlier in the season, hit on the hardest of times. The result was two early exits and five straight losses to end the season.
Ronnie Brown and the Tigers will be looking for a stronger finish during the 2002 season.
*The football team seemed surely headed for a second straight appearance in the SEC Championship Game, but four losses in the last five games changed all that. The Tigers limped into the offseason after losing to a mediocre North Carolina team in the Peach Bowl.
*Alabama's visit to Jordan-Hare Stadium stands alone. Auburn was favored, needing a win to get to the SEC Championship Game. Alabama had won just four times. But on a night that will live in Auburn infamy, the Tide romped to a 31-7 victory that still defies explanation. By the time the smoke had cleared, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and defensive coordinator John Lovett had lost their jobs.
*The volleyball team had one of the worst seasons by any team in Auburn history, going 1-26 overall and 0-16 in the SEC. Most times, it wasn't even competitive. Not surprisingly, it cost coach Kevin Renshler his job.
Clearly, there were a lot more high moments than low for Auburn athletics in the year just ended. Just as clearly, there will be discontent if the big three don't make improvement in the year to come. There's no reason to believe they won't. All of them were very young.
Even as one year ends, another is at hand. Football, the sport that truly ignites passions in our state, isn't far away. Auburn will go to Southern California on Sept. 2, and it will all begin again.