BENNINGTON >> Southern Vermont College needs to make room on its trophy wall for a new honor as the men's Mountaineer teams claimed the 2015-16 New England Collegiate Conference Men's Champions Cup as announced by the league on Tuesday, the first-ever such accolade in SVC history.
Two of the four SVC men's conference-sponsored sports won their respective championship this past year – cross country and basketball – while a third (baseball) finished in the top four of the regular season standings before advancing all the way to the NECC title round.
The male and female cups are awarded through a system in which points are assigned based on the standings finish of each team during regular season play and tournament performance; each institution is then ranked based on the percentage of points it scored in relation to its total sport sponsorship and tournament qualification.
SVC edged Regis College by just 0.56 percentage points for the top spot on the men's side.
"This milestone achievement is a first for SVC athletics," said Director of Athletics Michael McDonough. "We are indeed proud of the dedication and performance of all our student-athletes and coaches. We are grateful for the enthusiastic support we receive from our students, the SVC community, and the greater Bennington community. But this recognition by the conference is indeed a marker for SVC athletics."
The 2014-15 Southern Vermont men's squads ranked third in the Cup standings last year, scoring the highest position for the laurel from either side since the inaugural cups were awarded after the league's inception (2008-09). SVC ranked seventh in this year's women's standings, coming just behind its best-ever fifth-place finish that the six female teams posted in both 2013-14 and 2014-15.
SVC got off on the right track to winning the Men's Cup in the fall after the men's cross country team defended its NECC crown while the men's soccer team narrowly missed the Conference playoffs. The Mountaineers landed four runners in the top 10 of the title meet, including the first two across the line, to defeat Regis by 15 points.
"We are very proud that SVC has been recognized and honored with the Champions Cup," said third-year head coach Kathleen Newton. "It shows how much SVC athletics has grown and become a driving force in our conference. I'm very proud of the men's cross country team for its hard work, dedication, sportsmanship, and the way they work together as a team. These honors are team efforts that not only happen in one competition, but through an accumulative effort during the season and beyond. They pushed each other, never gave up, and showed pride in themselves, their team, and SVC."
Four short months later, Southern Vermont housed two league traveling trophies for the first time ever as the men's basketball team claimed its first NECC Championship. The Mountaineers finished the season atop the standings with an unblemished 16-0 mark in league play, earning the right to host the tournament. SVC then knocked off Regis before defeating Becker College for the crown.
"We are thrilled to help earn the Champions Cup for SVC," said third-year men's basketball head coach Dan Engelstad. "It's great to see our entire department thriving and setting the bar higher each year and to be recognized for that success by the NECC. We look forward to continuing the success with men's basketball and at SVC as a whole."
Following the winter championships, Southern Vermont held a strong lead in the Cup standings at .813 while Regis ranked third at .632. The Pride made a strong push at taking their second consecutive Men's Cup, however, winning the men's lacrosse championship and making it to the semifinals in men's volleyball.
But the Southern Vermont baseball team would come up big, winning its most games in program history to help give the Mountaineers the edge. SVC not only made it to the playoffs for the first time since 2011 but advanced all the way to the NECC title round for a shot at the crown. The Mountaineers went 10-8 in regular season league play before registering the pair of postseason victories to finish at 20-20 overall.
"This is a great honor for all of our male student-athletes," said fourth-year head coach Dave Gage. "It has been a pleasure to watch them compete all year. I am proud of our guys for doing their part in contributing to the award for SVC."
"Our men's programs should be very proud, as are we," McDonough added before commenting on the award being won by a school with the smallest enrollment in the league. "The little engine that could – did."