1950s-60s: The Early Years
Seattle University has a long and rich NCAA Division I athletics history that first flourished during the 1950’s with its men’s basketball teams and All-American’s Johnny and Eddie O’Brien, who lead Seattle U in becoming the only team in history to have defeated the world famous Harlem Globetrotters.
In 1952, Johnny O'Brien was the first collegiate player to score 1,000 in a season. In 1958, Hall of Fame inductee, Elgin Baylor, paced a men’s basketball team that advanced to the Final Four and defeated number one ranked (at that time) Kansas State University. In the national title game, with Baylor limited by a broken rib, Seattle U fell short to an Adolph Rupp led University of Kentucky squad. During this decade, Seattle University was a leader in the area of racial integration and diversity, commonly referred to at the “United Nations of college basketball.”
The success of men’s basketball, continued into to the 1960’s with outstanding players such as Eddie Miles, John Tresvant, Rod Derline, Clint Richardson and Tom Workman, all of whom went on to successful NBA careers. In fact, during a period of time during the 1960’s no other NCAA institution produced more NBA players than did Seattle University. As depicted in the 2005 Disney Films movie, Glory Road, Seattle University handed the 1966 Don Haskins led Texas Western University squad its only defeat in an otherwise stellar championship season.
Seattle University excelled in more than the hardwood during the 1950 and 1960’s as women’s tennis star Janet Hopps was the first female to be the No. 1 ranked player – for both the men’s and women’s nationally. In women’s golf, Pat Lesser, who was twice named to the Curtis Cup in the mid-1950’s, was inducted into the State of Washington Hall of Fame in 1999.
In addition, more than 25 baseball players went on to play professionally in both the minor and major leagues. Men’s golf and a Tom Gorman led tennis team, were also very strong national programs. Gorman went on to lead the U.S. Davis Cup team to unprecedented success – captained a record 18 match wins and one Davis Cup title (1972) as a player and two more Davis Cup championships as a coach (1990 and 1992).
1970s-80s: Title IX and the “Boeing Bust”
After spending the greater part of three decades as a major Independent, the university joined the West Coast Conference in 1971, as the University athletics programs, particularly among its women’s teams, grew with the enactment of Title IX. During the 1970’s, men’s soccer became a firmly established program. Women’s basketball burst on the scene in 1978 and featured some of the University’s greatest players in Sue Stimac, Sue Turina and LaShanna White, who scored 2,530 career points. While the athletic programs were growing in numbers, the decade was a very turbulent time for the City of Seattle and for entire university; ultimately, these forces proved to be a painful crossroads for athletics.
In the early 1970’s the Boeing Aviation Company, the largest employer in the region at that time, suffered significant financial loses and was forced to lay off tens of thousands of workers. Economist and historians refer to the period as the “Boeing Bust,” and in the wake of its fallout, an astonishing 56,000 people moved out of the region during the mid to later part of the decade. Seattle University, which is in the heart of city in the First Hill and Capital Hill districts, suffered greatly from this dramatic downturn and mass exodus.
Facing local economic depression, declining enrollments and mounting financial pressures for athletics competitiveness, the competing interest for discretionary spending and corporate sponsorship support with emergence of the NBA Seattle Supersonics franchise, and NCAA compliance legislation requirements intensifying, then University President Fr. William Sullivan made the difficult decision to preserve the institution by making several cuts across the academy, including the de-emphasis of all athletics programs. With this de-emphasis came the University’s departure from the West Coast Conference and Division I membership as the University entered the NAIA, where it remained for nearly 20 years. The move marked a new chapter in Seattle U Athletics.
1990s-2000s: First National Titles
Led by long-time coach, Peter Fewing, the men’s soccer team captured the university’s first national title winning the 1997 NAIA Championship. Men’s and women’s swimming coach, Craig Mallery, led the men’s swimming team in claiming the NAIA national title in 2002. During this time, the University, which had dropped baseball and tennis in 1980, added back men’s and women’s tennis, which went on to win numerous district titles.
In the late 1990’s, current University President, Fr. Stephen Sundborg, restored the University’s NCAA membership by moving most of the programs into Division III for one year and then all programs to Division II in fall of 2002. In short order, another Fewing squad led by All-American and National Player of the Year, Bobby McAllister, claimed a University first NCAA team title by winning the 2004 Division II national championship.
In 2005, four-time All-American (as well as Academic All-American), Chris Coley became the first individual NCAA national champion. He captured the Division II men’s swimming 100 butterfly title.
2000s-Present: Return to NCAA Division I
Led by President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., and unanimously approved by the Board of Trustees, Seattle University began its return to NCAA Division I membership in 2007. The University entered the then five-year reclassification process in 2008. The University completed the process in 2012 by earning active Division I membership and joining the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) as a full member.
It did not take long for the Redhawks to find success, as women's basketball claimed the University's first WAC team regular season title in 2013. Erik Barkhaus, '13 was the first individual WAC champion by winning the 2012 men's cross country title.
As of December 2016, the Redhawks have claimed 35 team and individual conference titles since 2012. Sprinter and high jumper Shaddye Melu, '16 claimed seven of those in indoor and outdoor track and field. Academic All-American Stephanie Verdoia led the Redhawks to its first four WAC titles in women's soccer and was named the Seattle Sports Commission Female Sports Star of the Year. She won this award alongside the male recipient, Earl Thomas of the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks.
Men's soccer has earned two NCAA Tournament berths since 2013. The Redhawks advanced to the second round in 2013 with a win over Creighton. The Redhawks were a Sweet 16 team in 2015 after defeating national power UCLA at Championship Field before a capacity crowd. Women's soccer has advanced to three NCAA Championships and was a PK away from a Sweet 16 berth in 2014 in a heartbreaking loss to South Carolina.
Men's basketball qualified for its first postseason in 46 year in 2015. The Redhawks beat Pepperdine and Colorado in a College Basketball Invitational (CBI) tournament run. They also advanced in the 2016 CBI by defeating Idaho at home.
(Updated Feb. 2017)