2019 was a year filled with historic and proud moments for fans of University of Cincinnati athletics. The school had highly successful seasons in men and women’s basketball, baseball, volleyball, and football.
As the year comes to a close, I wanted to highlight the top ten moments of 2019. This list is NOT in any particular order. Call this a cop out if you will, but it’s unfair to label one event as more significant than another event. Everyone has different priorities as a fan - some prefer football to basketball, some are more into the smaller sports. All of these moments were significant to the school.
New Guys in Charge
Any time there is a change in leadership, it’s a big deal.
John Cunningham replaces Mike Bohn as Athletic Director
In the middle of November, Mike Bohn, who had been at UC since 2014, announced he was leaving Cincinnati to accept the AD job at USC. Hard to blame him, USC obviously comes with a larger salary and a blue blood background. But it does come with a larger challenge as football support is at an all-time low and the basketball team is pretty irrelevant. Among Bohn’s notable accomplishments were the renovations to Fifth Third Arena and the hiring of Luke Fickell, John Brannen, Michelle Clark-Heard, and Scott Googins.
Bohn has been replaced with John Cunningham, who was the Associate AD at Minnesota. Cunningham also has worked at Syracuse and Boise State and has a large background in compliance. At Minnesota, Cunningham was working across all sports in a wide variety of different responsibilities.
His biggest goals entering 2020 will be retaining the coaches, specifically Fickell, continuing to bring awareness and growth to some of the non-revenue sports (volleyball, baseball, soccer, etc), and upgrading football facilities (indoor practice facility, locker rooms).
Mick Cronin leaves/John Brannen arrives
I know I said in the opener that no one event is bigger than another, but this may actually be the biggest story of 2019. That’s because Cronin, a native of Cincinnati who grew up in the city and went to UC, had been the head coach since 2006-07 and seemed like he would be forced out before he ever left on his own.
Mick went 296-146 in 13 years and rebuilt the basketball program into what it is today – a stable, respected, national brand. Like it once was. He led the Bearcats to the NCAA Tournament in each of the last 9 years (6-9 record). Still, it probably wasn’t a huge surprise to see him voluntarily leave, especially for a school like UCLA.
Say what you will about your definition of success, but making the NCAA Tournament (and losing) is still better than not making it at all. He was the most recognizable coach at the school because of his tenure and success.
His departure opened the door for a new era to begin. While some folks were disappointed that Cronin left, the move allowed the school to reset and go in a new direction. That direction featured John Brannen, who coached nearby at Northern Kentucky, to replace him. He coached NKU from 2015-2018, leading the Norse to two NCAA Tournaments and an 81-51 overall record.
Brannen is off to a slow start in year one, but has a highly ranked recruiting class coming in 2020. His offense is exciting and the scoring and ball movement has been increased this year. There is still plenty of time to get things right this season and make a run to the Tournament for the 10th straight year.
Four AAC Championship Game Experiences
4 of Cincinnati’s athletic programs played in conference championship games in 2019 (winning 2, losing 2).
Men’s basketball beats Houston to win Championship Game
Men’s basketball team went 28-7 last year, ending their season with a first round loss to Iowa. The last game Mick Cronin ever won as a coach of Cincinnagti was the AAC Championship Game.
Bearcats beat Houston 69-57, to win their second consecutive championship game (both over Houston). This, after going 0-2 against Houston during the regular season.
Jarron Cumberland was dominant, scoring 33 points (11-24 shooting) and grabbing 8 rebounds. Cane Broome scored 15 points off the bench and Trevon Scott had 12 points 8 rebounds.
Jarron Cumberland had 33 points and eight rebounds, Cane Broome finished with 15 points and Tre Scott added 12 as No. 2 @GoBearcatsMBB earned a 69-57 victory over No. 1 Houston in the 2019 @AirForceReserve #AmericanHoops Championship Sunday afternoon. pic.twitter.com/Q5ktzAyLq3— American MBB (@American_MBB) March 17, 2019
Football’s Championship Game Appearance
Cincinnati football started the season 10-1, but lost back-to-back games at Memphis to finish 10-3. A win over Temple in late November, secured Cincy’s spot in the AAC Championship Game for the first time in the game’s 5-year history.
Memphis won 29-24, scoring a late touchdown in the fourth quarter to give them the lead. QB Desmond Ridder struggled with accuracy, but the wide receivers did him no favors with him drops in crucial situations. Ridder’s legs, along with Michael Warren and a strong defense, allowed Cincinnati to keep this game interesting, but ultimately Memphis proved to be a tough team.
Despite a difficult loss to Memphis, Cincinnati appearing in the AAC Championship Game represents significant progress for a program that went 4-8 in 2016 and 2017. While the loss was disappointing, the championship game appearance, certainly signifies success.
Baseball beats UConn
Over the last 10-15 years, the Cincinnati baseball program has shown tremendous growth. They get the occasional big win over a conference foe or ranked opponent and have produced some talented all-conference players, some of whom ultimately make it to the MLB (or at least the minors). But on a national, and even local level, the program is dismissed as a real threat.
That’s why the Bearcats coming out of nowhere to win the conference tournament championship was so significant. At the end of May, Cincinnati beat UConn, correction, walloped UConn, 22-5 to win the Championship Game. The win guaranteed their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1974 (more on that below).
Cincinnati finished the season 30-29, after starting 1-9. Manager Scott Googins was highly successful at Xavier, before he came across town before the 2018 season.
Volleyball loses to UCF
Women’s volleyball had a historic season, going 15-1 in conference play. Cincinnati swept UCF, including ending their 26 game winning streak back in October. Knights won the AAC in 2018 and as a result this tournament took place in Orlando. As a result, they had a loud and impactful crowd behind them.
Cincinnati had plenty of opportunities, but ultimately lost a heart-breaker in 5 sets. The turning point was the third set, with both teams tied 1-1, Cincinnati led 24-18. Despite being at match point, UCF rattled off 8 straight points to take the third set 26-24.
Women’s basketball makes WNIT Elite 8
For the second straight year, the lady Bearcats played in the Women’s NIT postseason tournament. In 2018, the appearance was the last for Jamelle Elliot, who was fired after going 113-162 in 9 years.
First year coach Michelle Clark-Heard led Cincinnati to it’s most wins (24) since 2001-02. And the 3 NIT wins were the most postseason wins ever for the program. They beat Youngstown State, Minnesota, and Butler to advance to the Elite 8, before losing to TCU.
Baseball upsets Oregon State
As noted, the baseball team made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1974. The 30-29 Bearcats’ reward was playing in the Corvalis Regional, with defending champion Oregon State, Michigan, and Creighton.
In their first game, they upset the Beavers! Cincinnati went 7-6 and star outfielder AJ Bumpass was 5-5 and had the go-ahead RBI on a triple in the 9th inning.
This game made national headlines, not just for the Cincy upset, but also this now-famous play...
(By the way, Rutschman IS that good...he was the #1 pick in the MLB Draft).
The move obviously worked out, as it did lead to an Oregon State run, but limited the overall damage.
Volleyball upsets Pitt
2019 was the third time in four years that the Bearcats volleyball team made the NCAA Tournament. In 2016, they lost in the first round and last year they won the first game, lost the second. In their 11 previous NCAA Tournament trips, they had never advances past the second round. Until now.
Playing at Pittsburgh, and trailing 2-1, against a team that swept them 3-0 earlier this season, Cincinnati made an incredible comeback to win 3-2 and advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time ever.
Cincinnati led Penn State 2-1 in the Sweet 16, but ultimately lost in 5 sets. Penn State has won 7 national championships and their coach is arguably the second best in the country (behind Molly Alvey).
Everything Jordan Thompson did
Jordan Thompson is one of the best volleyball players in the entire country. Maybe even THE best. There’s no doubt that she is the best in the history of the UC program.
Jordan Thompson deserves her own category in 2019’s top moments with this long list of accomplishments.
- Led the country in total kills and kills per set - own’s all-time Cincy kills record and ranks 7th in NCAA history
- Had 50 kills in one match (most since 1999)
- Finished her career with 2,664, becoming the 9th D1 player (and first since 2004) to reach 2,500 career kills
- AVCA First Team All-American (first in UC history)
- Led the country in total points and points per set
- Second in country in attacks per set and third in total attacks
There’s probably more. Jordan Thompson is the GOAT and we cannot wait to watch her dominate the 2020 Olympics for Team USA.
Aaron Bienenfeld runs to victory
Bienenfeld dominated in Cross Country in 2019. He won all 4 races he participated in, including the men’s individual title at the 2019 NCAA Great Lakes Region Championship.
Cincinnati's Aaron Bienenfeld claims the Great Lakes Men's 10K title going 2️⃣9️⃣:5️⃣9️⃣.9️⃣ pic.twitter.com/UdrjYjsIVE— NCAA Track & Field (@NCAATrackField) November 15, 2019
Notable regular season wins
Cincinnati football beats UCF
This was the game that put Cincinnati back on the national radar. Cincy went 11-2 last year, but never got that signature, big win so a lot of people dismissed the record as luck against an easy schedule. The UCF game was at Nippert Stadium on ESPN on a Friday night (the only football game on tv that night), so it was great exposure. The win was Cincy’s first over a ranked opponent (UCF #19) since the Pitt game on 12/5/2009. It also set the Bearcats up as the front-runners in the AAC East division and perhaps to be the top ranked team in the Group of Five.