When Davidson College joined the Atlantic 10 Conference, the sports media rolled out dismal predictions for the men's basketball season: "Dead last," "0 - 18."
The Wildcats finished that inaugural, regular season three years ago 14-4, and the revisions commenced. Sports Illustrated declared the team had "outpaced the expectations of even the most wide-eyed dreamer."
On Sunday, the Wildcats won the A-10 tournament and earned a place in the NCAA dance.
Last year, the Wildcats baseball team won their tournament and the NCAA regional.
Since the college's move to the A-10, Davidson has hit milestones across the school's other 20 men's and women's sports:
Davidson's recent athletics accomplishments fuel its expectation-beating reputation that spurred double takes even before the "Davidson and Goliath" and "New Ivy" headlines of the Steph Curry-era Elite Eight run in 2008.
"Davidson is a national brand, and the brand stands for excellence and achievement. Largely that comes on the academic end, but it also plays big time national sports," said Jay Bilas, ESPN sports analyst and a national championship basketball player and assistant coach for Duke. "It's remarkable, given the size of the school, that Davidson can play at such a high level...We know about the academic side, but on the athletic side, there are disadvantages Davidson has to overcome every single day, and they do an amazing job of it."
College leaders emphasize that the combination of academic rigor and top tier athletics burnish one of the school's key principles in sports: Student. Athlete.
One in four Davidson students competes in a Division I sport.
A recent NCAA study tied Davidson with a handful of other schools, including Notre Dame and Princeton, for the second-highest graduation success rate in the nation. At the end of that debut A-10 basketball season, Davidson topped Time magazine's bracket for "Here's Who Wins March Madness in the Classroom."
"Athletics is part of the Davidson experience because playing sports is educational," Davidson President Carol E. Quillen said. "In sports you learn the value of teamwork, practice, hard work and resilience. You grow by failing, figuring it out and getting better. These skills amplify what our student athletes learn in the classroom and lab so that they graduate ready to effect change in the world, no matter what career path they choose."
The college has raised more than $25 million for athletic scholarships during the ongoing Game Changers Campaign, and the $13.5 million Vance Athletic Center opened in 2015 with practice facilities rivaling schools 10 times Davidson's size.
Davidson scholar-athletes are nationally competitive beyond the playing fields. Wildcat scholar-athletes took two of only 40 prestigious Thomas J. Watson Fellowships awarded nationally for a year of postgraduate travel and study in 2017 and 2016. Of the 2016 recipients, one, Xzavier Killings, is now in medical school and the other, Alec Rotunda, is a fellow with the College Advising Corps. Katy Williams '17, a Wildcat swimmer who qualified for the Olympic trials, is now pursuing a doctorate degree in computer science at the University of Arizona. And the Wildcats' tireless pitcher, Durin O'Linger '17, who graduated Phi Beta Kappa, has deferred starting pharmacy school to play in the Red Sox organization.
Linebacker Nate Casey '17 was honored at half-time at the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day last year for community service with homeless populations in Charlotte, as an Allstate AFCA Good Works Team® member. Casey, a Bonner Scholar, and his brother Dan, Davidson class of 2015, are among only a handful of siblings, including the Manning brothers, to win this prestigious award.
"There is a certain aura that comes with being a Davidson College student athlete," said Casey. "You know that as soon as you step on campus for the first time, excellence is expected from you. That expectation of excellence is translated to the classroom, the playing field, and, perhaps uniquely, to Davidson College and the community."