When the UVU athletics program looks back on 2019, it will always be remembered as a year of monumental change.
There were comings and goings, promotions and big hires.
Oh, and the Wolverines teams had some very memorable moments on the field, court, diamond, mat and track.
Before UVU gets everything rolling for the upcoming new year, it’s time to recall all of the big things that happened in Orem in the past 12 months.
Here’s a look at the top 10 Wolverine sports stories of 2019:
1. Dr. Jared Sumsion named new director of athletics for UVU
With the departure of Vince Otoupal in February, the Wolverines elected to take a methodical approach toward naming a new director of athletics. Sumsion was named the interim director while the process was undertaken.
“UVU’s national search for a new director of athletics produced some truly talented candidates,” UVU president Astrid S. Tuminez said in the press release announcing the promotion. “After a thorough review, our search committee found that Jared demonstrated the commitment and track record on exceptional leadership, care, and results that align with UVU’s values and direction. He places our student-athletes at the heart of all that he does. He will usher in a new era of athletic excellence at UVU.”
Sumsion came to the position with a wealth of knowledge and experience from many years working in the Wolverine athletic department. He also is one of the most passionate supporters of UVU sports anywhere and is now channelling all of that toward the overall growth of the university’s athletics.
2. Mark Madsen named new head men’s basketball coach
When UVU men’s basketball coach Mark Pope departed to take the head coaching job down University Parkway at BYU, it left another key vacancy for the Wolverines to fill.
It’s hard to argue that UVU knocked it out of the park when they brought in former NBA assistant Mark Madsen to take over.
“What you look for in a coach is a history of winning, someone who understands competition,” UVU president Astrid S. Tuminez said. “For me, the what is as important as the how. Do they understand the importance of athletics, the community, the fans, the donors, the parents? Will they be able to inspire and put in all the hard work? It’s also a balance because you have many stakeholders when you are a head coach. Athletics to me is a wonderful element to have in a university, something where we do our best and achieve more than we even think we are capable of achieving. At the end of the day, you can only have one head coach. You pick the best who can bring us to the next level of our game. I believe we made a great choice.”
3. Dan Nielson returns to lead women’s basketball team
Rounding out the trio of high-profile leadership changes at UVU was the addition of former Wolverine assistant coach Dan Neilson as the new head women’s basketball coach.
Nielson — who most recently had been at BYU — coached in Orem from 2009-13, helping the Wolverines win a regular-season and tournament title during their time in the Great West Conference.
“It’s a pleasure to be back at a place I love,” Nielson said when he was introduced. “It’s a true privilege to be here. I had the opportunity to meet with the players who are here today. We talked about the future and how it is good to be at program that is growing. I’m excited to be part of the WAC. I told the team that I expect to win and I know we will be capable of doing that.”
Nielson is just the second women’s basketball coach at UVU in its Division I era. He took the helm from Cathy Nixon, who led the program for 24 years before taking a position as senior associate athletic director this year.
4. Soccer teams lose heartbreakers to Seattle in WAC championship matches
The Wolverines saw some ups and downs on the soccer field for both the men and the women during the 2019 fall campaign but both made a great runs in their respective WAC tournaments and ended up playing Seattle in thrilling championship games,
On the men’s side, the teams remained tied at 1-1 after regulation and overtime, forcing the game to PKs for the second match in a row for UVU. The Redhawks got a trio of huge saves from goalkeeper Akili Kasim to win the penalties, 2-1, and earn the WAC’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
“As we expected, today was an epic battle for the WAC championship between two great sides,” UVU head coach Greg Maas said after the match. “I honestly couldn’t be more proud of our response having been our third match in five days, dealing with significant injuries, this team dug deep and the quality of our depth was challenged and we responded, We had a remarkable season on so many levels. Our seven seniors were incredible leaders, teammates, and have opened doors for our rising players to reach even greater heights. I love this team, and I’m lucky to be their coach. It was a season I’ll cherish forever.”
On the women’s side, it was a Seattle golden goal in the 99th minute that ended the season for the Wolverines with a 2-1 OT loss in the title match.
5. Men’s basketball returns to CBI, Jake Toolson named WAC Player of the Year
The UVU men’s hoops squad put together a solid 2018-19 season but wasn’t quite able to get past Grand Canyon in the WAC tournament semifinals in Las Vegas. The Wolverines earned a bid to play in the CBI postseason tournament, where they beat CSUN before losing to USF in Tampa in the second round.
UVU junior guard Jake Toolson was lauded by the conference as the WAC Player of the Year,
Toolson — the first Wolverine ever recognized with the award — posted five games with 20 or more points in WAC play. During league play, he ranked third in the WAC in three-point percentage (47.4), free throw percentage (87.3), and three-pointers per game (2.3). He also ranked fourth in both scoring (16.7) and field goal percentage (54.0) and sixth in minutes per game (33.8). Toolson was named WAC Player of the Week once this season. Toolson was also named to the All-WAC First Team.
6. Wrestling’s Taylor LaMont takes Olympic redshirt
With the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo right around the corner, the impact on college wrestling is pronounced. Wolverine star Taylor LaMont, for example, elected to focus all his attention in 2019-20 on achieving his Olympic dreams,
LaMont took a big step in that direction as he wrestled his way to a third-place finish in Greco-Roman competition at the 2019 U.S. Senior Nationals in December to qualify for the upcoming 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
7. UVU men’s track and field breaks historic record in winning WAC title
It’s not often that a team gets a chance to break a 53-year-old record, but that was exactly what the Wolverine men’s track and field team did in May.
In 1966, BYU set the Western Athletic Conference record for amount of points won in a conference meet. The Wolverines took over that spot in WAC history as the new record-holder in 2019 with a dominating 288 points. UVU out-scored second-place GCU by 98 points and third-place UMKC by 190 points.
8. Athletic department receives large donation from d õ TERRA
dõTERRA, an integrative health and wellness company and the world leader in essential oils, announced in September the second-largest donation in Utah Valley University’s history at a press conference on UVU’s Orem Campus. The contribution, part of a 10-year agreement, includes donations from dõTERRA worth $17.7 million.
A significant portion of the donation will support scholarships, online educational opportunities and athletic programs, and includes the initial gift toward funding a new student-athlete wellness building. The athletics portion of the donation represents the largest gift the UVU athletics department has ever received.
9. UVU men’s cross country wins fifth WAC title in seven years
Behind a repeat victory from senior Kevin Lynch, the Wolverine men’s cross country team claimed its fifth WAC Championship in the past seven years.
Lynch won the men’s 8K competition by clocking in at a time of 24:48.72 en route to winning WAC Men’s Athlete of the Year honors for the second consecutive season and being a key contributor to UVU’s victory.
The UVU men’s squad took home the tightly contested conference championship with 44 overall points, while California Baptist takes runner-up honors by finishing just three points behind with a total of 47.
“Our guys ran very well today,” Wolverine head coach Scott Houle said after the race. “Kevin being able to have a back-to-back conference championship is always fun and exciting as well as pretty impressive. It’s definitely exciting for him to finish his cross country career with that.”
10. Women’s golf coach Dr. Sue Nyhus achieves major-tournament goal
In the spring, UVU women’s golf coach Sue Nyhus became the first player in USGA history – male or female – to qualify for every championship offered to her when she earned a spot in the second U.S. Senior Women’s Open.
She has now qualified for eight different USGA championships: U.S. Girls’ Junior, U.S. Women’s Amateur, U.S. Women’s Open, U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur, Women’s State Team, U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball and the U.S. Senior Women’s Open.
Nyhus’s USGA career began in 1980 when she qualified for the U.S. Girls’ Junior as a 17-year-old.
Honorable mentions: Baseball picks up a pair of Pac-12 wins … men’s basketball plays tough in loss at Kentucky in November ... softball rallies late to win at Utah … women’s golf just misses making the NCAA regionals … women’s soccer nearly gets upset at Michigan … eight track athletes compete in NCAA west regionals.