By Ben Hercik
When the clock struck midnight and the calendar turned to Jan. 1, everyone said goodbye to the decade that was and ushered in a new one. This included Cleveland State University and their sports teams. In a decade that produced 19 Horizon League Championships and 23 different Athletes of the Year, Cleveland State has a good reason to look at the decade that was. So let’s take a look back at the decade for Cleveland State athletics.
The team qualified for the National Invitational Tournament in 2011 and 2012. In the 2011 tournament, they defeated the University of Vermont in the first round, but fell to the College of Charleston in the following round.
Cleveland State also qualified for the CollegeInsider.com tournament 2014 and 2015. They had a good showing in 2015 when they advanced to the second round of the tournament after beating Western Michigan University.
Gary Waters retired after the 2017 season as the winningest coach in the school’s history with a record of 194-172.
After only a 12 win season, the Vikings entered the Horizon League Tournament and made a Cinderella run to the finals before falling to Wright State University.
The team won the Horizon League Championship in 2013, which would be the final championship win for coach Wally Morton’s career.
Philipp Sikatzki qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 2016 and 2017 and finished fourth in the nation in the 100-meter butterfly in 2016. His finish earned him all-American honors, being the first Viking swimmer to earn the honors since 2009.
“I wanted to make people proud of CSU and I wanted to show them that we have a team that we have can bud heads with the big schools,” Sikatzki said about what it meant to him to represent Cleveland State on a big stage. “It was such an amazing moment when the announcer announced my fourth place in the 100-butterfly. I couldn’t believe someone from Cleveland State has made it all the way up there with the big names.”
This team was the cream of the crop in the Horizon League in the past decade, as they won five conference championships (2010, 2011, 2013, 2018, 2019).
They also had eight total appearances in the conference championship match (2012, 2014, 2017).
Nine of the top 10 men’s singles wins list competed for the Vikings in the past decade, including the leader Phil Orno, who set the school record at 99 wins in 2010. But his record isn’t safe by any means, as current Viking senior Nico Mostardi and junior Matt Terry sit in seventh and 10th on the list. One of those nine was Ben Slade, who finished his career in sixth place all time.
“Hopefully I can stay in sixth,” Slade said. “The team is playing great tennis and can overtake me, but the two Horizon League Championships can never can change. It’s pretty cool to be able to say I won two conference championships with such a great group of teammates, and hopefully the guys can carry on this year for three in a row.”
Ben Willeford (125) and Riley Shaw (285) qualified for the NCAA Tournament, making them the first Vikings to make it to the tournament since 2009.
Willeford also won the Eastern Wrestling League (EWL) 125-pound championship, the school’s first individual champion since Rashard Goff in 2009.
Many college athletes have people leave impacts on their lives. Whether it’s coaches or players, it’s an impact that lasts forever. Such is the case between Shaw and Willeford.
“Ben is an excellent leader and someone I look up to a great deal,” Shaw said. “I’ve never seen someone work as hard as him, and he is a natural leader who left a big impact on not only me, but the entire CSU wrestling program.”
From 2015 to 2018, at least one Cleveland State wrestler would qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
After the 2015 season, it was announced that the school would no longer fund the wrestling team in favor of starting a lacrosse team. After backlash for the decision, it was left up to a vote from students to see if the team should be funded. Students voted to keep the program by raising student fees by 4-6 dollars per credit hour. This is where the athletic fee comes from.
Shaw qualified for the tournament again in 2016 for the third time in his career, winning his second EWL Championship. This time, he was joined by teammate Sam Wheeler (197) in the tournament. Both would advance to the round of 16, coming two matches short of becoming all americans.
Senior Evan Cheek would not only win the EWL Championship in 2018, he also won Most Outstanding Wrestler of the tournament, the first wrestler to do so for the Vikings in 35 years, when Dan Foldesy accomplished the feat during the 1982-83 season.
The decade got off to a great start for the women’s basketball team, as they won the Horizon League Championship in 2010, defeating Butler University in the finals to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. The team wouldn’t get out of the first round of the tournament, as they fell to the University of Notre Dame.
The team would go back to the postseason in 2011, when they qualified for the Women’s Basketball Invitational, earning the number one seed in the west region of the bracket. The team advanced to the second round, but fell to Chicago State University.
The team qualified for the Women’s NIT in 2015. They didn’t advance far as they lost to the University of Michigan in the first round.
Kate Peterson Abiad stepped down after 15 years as the head coach of the program at the end of the 2017-18 season.
After finishing as the Horizon League runner-ups in four of the past five seasons, the Cleveland State volleyball team would win its first conference championship since 2007 when they defeated the University of Illinois at Chicago to win the title in 2012.
The Vikings would also reign atop the Horizon League from 2015 to 2017, winning the conference championship all three years.
All four championships the team won in the past decade were under the guidance of head coach Chuck Voss, who is a four-time Horizon League Coach of the year (2012, 2015, 2016, 2017).
Voss wasn’t the only person to bring home accolades, as both Kara Koch (2012) and Grace Kauth (2016) won Horizon League Player of the year.
Best of the rest:
There were two new teams created at Cleveland State. Men’s lacrosse was created in 2015, while women’s track and field was created in 2016.
From 2014 to 2018, men’s golf won the Horizon League and qualified for the NCAA Regionals.
Women’s tennis finished as Horizon League Runner-Ups five times in the past decade (2011, 2012, 2014, 2017, 2019).
Women’s swimming finished as runners-up for the Horizon League title in back to back years (2012 and 2013).
Softball had four different players named the Horizon League Players of the Year over the past decade. Tess Sito took the honor in 2010 and 2011, Dara Toman won the award in 2013 and Cynthia Woodard and Erica McNew won the titles in back to back years in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Amanda Macenko won Pitcher of the Year for the third time in her career in 2010 to round out the Viking quintet that earned end of year honors for the Vikings.
Women’s golf won its first ever Horizon League championship in 2017 after a heated four-way battle at the top of the leaderboard during the final round.
Three different fencers would represent Cleveland State at the NCAA Championship. Liran Gross qualified for the foil competition in 2010, while John Marshall and Paul Duchow qualified for the epee portion in 2011 and 2014, respectively.
Men’s soccer would win the Horizon League championship in 2012, defeating Loyola to win the title.
The women’s soccer team advanced to the Horizon League championship game for the first time in program history in 2018.
While there has been a lot of good for the sports teams in the past decade, it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows over these past 10 years. In fact, it’s been downright chaotic at times. Whether it’s been bad play or a serious scandal, you can never have the good in sports without the bad.
Over the past four seasons, men’s basketball has a losing record of 40-92.
After the 2018-19 season, men’s basketball head coach, Dennis Fenton, and his staff were relieved of their duties, which led to a lot of players transferring away from the school. When all was said and done, only five players remained on the roster.
Despite qualifying for the NCAA Regionals for five straight years, men’s golf never finished higher than 10th at the NCAA Regionals.
Towards the end of the 2019 season, men’s soccer was in third place in the conference with four games left to play. They would go 1-3 in the final four games to miss the conference tournament.
In the middle of the 2018-19 swimming season, head coach Paul Graham resigned after reports of multiple swimmers using cocaine and marijuana. Five swimmers would be suspended as a result of an internal investigation.
Since 2014, softball hasn’t recorded a winning season.
It has been the highest of highs and the lowest of lows for the green and white of Cleveland State for the past decade.