Marshall: AU's National Championship Run

It's been quite a finish to 2005-2006 season for Auburn University. The Tigers picked up their fourth national championship with the women's track team joining the men's and women's swimmers and the equestrian team as champions.

It might have happened before in college athletics, but it couldn't have happened many times.

Since March 25, when Auburn's women's swim team upset homestanding and top-ranked Georgia to win its fourth national championship in five years, Auburn teams have won four national championships. The men's swim team matched the feat a week later. Next came the equestrian team.

Saturday, in Sacramento, Calif., the women's track team won the first track national championship in school history.

If my math is good, that adds up to four national championships in 78 days.

Auburn won more national championships in 2005-2006 than any other Southeastern Conference school. With three of them coming from women's teams, it can be argued that Auburn has the strongest overall women's program in the SEC and one of the stronger programs in the nation. The women's golf and soccer teams haven't won national championships, but they are certainly among the nation's best.

Because the championships didn't come in sports that get a lot of attention, none of this will make national news. But that doesn't lessen the accomplishment for the athletes and coaches who made those championships happen.

Whether it's football or track, basketball or equestrian, to climb the highest mountain, to win all there is to win in a team sport, is the ultimate experience for college athletes and coaches.

Athletic director Jay Jacobs sees it all as a sign of what can happen in every Auburn sport.

"It's great, isn't it?" Jacobs said when the telephone caught him Sunday evening. "It's great for Auburn. Those coaches have done an outstanding job and the athletes have believed in their coaches and hung in there. It's been paying off academically. For it to pay off athletically is just wonderful.

"I really believe, and will until it's proved differently, that when you get this culture going, everybody's expectations rise and everybody starts realizing we can do this."

Championships, Jacobs said, don't happen by accident. And they don't happen just because of athletes and coaches.

"It says a lot for the Auburn people and the quality of the student-athletes," Jacobs said. "Not only that, there's the support staff, from academics to sports medicine. We just have a great team for all those sports."

The latest championship couldn't have happened to a better man than Ralph Spry.

In his ninth season at Auburn, Spry missed winning a national championship in 2003 because of the cruelest twist of fate. Auburn finished second after an unthinkable meltdown by discus thrower Gabor Mate.

Mate had won two NCAA championships. He was the NCAA record-holder. He was considered all but unbeatable in the NCAA meet. Instead, he failed to even place and Auburn came up just short of a championship.

Spry is a class act who is respected by all who know him. He's the kind of coach and kind of man you'd want your son or daughter to experience. He has built a national power at a school that, until the Hutsell-Rosen Track opened earlier this spring, had a facility that might have been the worst among Division I teams that take track seriously.

Spry's men finished 40th in the NCAA Championships, but the future is bright there, too. Three All-Americans were redshirted this year in anticipation of making a run at a championship next year.

There's no reason to expect anything but championships from David Marsh and his swim program. After all, he's won 10 of them--six for the men and four for the women. Though it's not an NCAA-sanctioned sport, Greg Williams has made the equestrian team a national power despite limited scholarships.

Yes, despite some disappointments, it's been quite a spring for Auburn athletics.

2006 Inside the Auburn Tigers Auburn Football Guide

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