Best of 2016: The year's top NCAA individual performances
We’re getting very close to January, meaning 2016 will soon be history. But before the confetti drops to bring in the new year, let’s look back at some of the best of the year that was. Presented chronologically, here are some of the best NCAA Division I individual performances we were treated to in 2016.
Jan. 12: Luke Kornet | Vanderbilt | Basketball
Kornet posted a triple-double, which is an impressive achievement for any college player given the games are just 40 minutes long. To make it even more amazing, he got the third category not in the typical assists, but in blocks. The then-junior finished with 11 points, 11 boards and 10 blocks.
Jan. 30: Kat Wright | Florida Atlantic | Basketball
The then-junior made the second-most 3-pointers in NCAA history with 11 against Charlotte. Wright drained 11 of her 18 shots from beyond the arc, accounting for all of her 33 points.
Feb. 7: Rachel Banham | Minnesota | Basketball
Banham thrust herself to the top of the Naismith Trophy conversation with a 60-point onslaught against Northwestern. That total tied the single-game NCAA record and broke the Big Ten record by 11 points.
Feb. 13: Cameron Oliver | Nevada | Basketball
Oliver had a career night against Fresno State, posting a monstrous double-double with 20 points and 24 rebounds. Despite only being a freshman at the time, the opposing bigs had no answer for him that evening, as the 24 rebounds were a Mountain West record.
Feb. 27: Elaine Chuli | Connecticut | Ice hockey
Chuli earns bonus points for not only having an amazing stat line but doing it in the clutch. In a triple-overtime Hockey East quarterfinal matchup against New Hampshire, Chuli stopped 69 of 72 shots, including 38 in the three overtimes, and kept her team alive until it finally scored to sweep the best-of-three series and advance to the conference championship. She logged over 100 minutes on the ice that day.
March 17: Olivia Smoliga | Georgia | Swimming
Smoliga set an NCAA record in the women’s 50-yard freestyle during the NCAA Championships, swimming to a time of 21.21. That was also the second-fastest time in the event at any level, coming less than a tenth of a second from the world record.
March 18: Hannah Day | Troy | Softball
Hannah had herself a day in a five-inning game against Appalachian State. Despite the mercy rule, the right fielder had five hits in as many at-bats, scored five runs, belted three homers, hit two doubles and had nine RBIs. Her 16 total bases tied the NCAA record, and she turned heads by hitting a two-run homer and grand slam in the same inning.
March 12: Ronnie Baker | TCU | Sprinting
The NCAA Indoor Championships record in the 60-meter sprint was broken with a 6.47 by Baker. That was the third-fastest time overall in the history of the race at the college level, and he needed it to hold off Houston’s Cameron Burrell by a hundredth of a second.
March 22: Darick Hall | Dallas Baptist | Baseball
Hall crushed Incarnate Word pitching to the tune of 5-for-5 with four home runs and seven RBIs. After homering in his first three at-bats, he was wisely walked. But that didn’t cool him down, as he hit another homer his fifth time to the plate, then singled in his final trip.
March 25: J.P. Sears | The Citadel | Baseball
KKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) March 26, 2016
That's right... 19 strikeouts for The Citadel's JP Sears in tonight's 10-2 W over VMI. pic.twitter.com/BimnH3yhyh
VMI could hardly touch Sears, as the lefty fanned 19 batters in 8.0 innings of work. The strikeout total was the most in 2016, as the sophomore gave up three hits and one run, walking two.
April 9: Jessica Wireman | Eastern Illinois | Softball
In about as good a game as will ever be played, Wireman and Eastern Kentucky starter Hayley Flynn combined for 22.1 innings with 45 strikeouts and no runs allowed. Flynn struck out 23 to Wireman’s 22, but the Panthers starter gets the edge for going the distance and picking up the win. Wireman allowed just five hits and one walk in 12 shutout innings.
April 30: Nate Lewnes | UMBC | Lacrosse
It was an incredible day for @UMBC_Mlacrosse's Nate Lewnes— America East (@AmericaEast) May 2, 2016
Watch all goals! https://t.co/eezD1y5d0T
Lewnes set the national season-high with 10 goals against Albany. They were important, too, as the Retrievers trailed by as many as eight goals before Lewnes led a furious comeback to force overtime.
May 6: Mandy Alvarez | Eastern Kentucky | Baseball
Alvarez was unbelievable in a win over Jacksonville State that saw a total of 32 runs score. The third baseman was 7-for-7, hitting two home runs and driving in six runs to help lift the Colonels to a 19-13 victory.
May 14: Avion Jones | East Carolina | High jump
A 7-foot, 7-inch jump by Jones at the American Athletic Conference Championships set a new NCAA record. That leap, which converts to 2.31 meters, was better than nine of the 15 jumps in the finals of the 2016 Olympics.
June 9: Raven Saunders | Mississippi | Shot put
The women’s collegiate shot put record of 62 feet, 3.75 inches had stood since 1983 until Saunders beat that by more than a foot. Her distance of 63 feet, 5 inches was the seventh-farthest in U.S. women’s shot put history and gave her back-to-back championships.
June 9: DeAnna Price | Southern Illinois | Hammer throw
That same day, Saunders’ former teammate at Southern Illinois broke her own NCAA record with a hammer throw of 234 feet, 8 inches. Price dominated all year long and went on to compete for the United States at the Rio Olympics.
Sept. 1: Lamar Jackson | Louisville | Football
After sports were put on hold for the summer, the eventual Heisman Trophy winner had the first mesmerizing performance of the fall against Charlotte in Week 1. Jackson threw for six touchdowns and ran for two, finishing with a total of 405 yards. Impressive? Well, he did all that despite sitting out the entire second half with the game well in hand. So that's 405 yards and eight touchdowns in one half.
Sept. 10: Kalen Ballage | Arizona State | Football
The next week, it was Ballage's turn to put an eight-spot on the box score. The junior scored eight touchdowns — seven rushing and one receiving — to tie the NCAA record. He finished with 137 rushing yards and 48 receiving.
Sept. 10: Mandy Sifferlen | Holy Cross | Volleyball
No one had more kills in a five-set match than Sifferlen’s 39 against Quinnipiac. Oh, and that game only had four sets. That ranked in the top 20 all-time for kills in a four-set match, and she finished the contest with a very impressive .514 hitting percentage.
Sept. 12: Esther Lee | Colorado | Golf
Lee became only the second women’s college golfer to card a 61, shooting 11-under at the Branch Law/Dick McGuire Invitational. She shot a 32 on the front nine before catching fire with birdies on seven of the back nine holes for a 29.
Sept. 18: Charlotte Veitner | Connecticut | Field hockey
The All-American set a national season-high and a UConn record with six goals. The Germany native scored less than a minute in, then went on to have six of the Huskies’ seven goals before a final one late by a teammate finished off the 8-0 win over Virginia. Veitner had nine shots on goal that day, compared to only two as a team by Virginia.
Sept. 27: Albert Ruiz | Florida Gulf Coast | Soccer
The hat trick that Ruiz pulled off against Rutgers is nice but not particularly rare. What had never been done before, however, was the speed in which he pulled it off. At the 5:42 mark in the first half, he opened the scoring. At 8:24 he did it again. Then, at 9:02, he had the hat trick. Ruiz was the quickest in NCAA history to score three goals, and the 3:20 between the three goals was the third-least.
Oct. 23: Patrick Mahomes | Texas Tech | Football
The nation’s leading passer set the FBS record for total yards of offense with 819 in a high-scoring loss against Oklahoma. Mahomes also tied the single-game passing record with 734 yards. He threw the ball a ridiculous 88 times, scoring five touchdowns, and ran for 85 yards and two more scores.
Oct. 28 Laadi Issaka | Missisippi Valley State | Soccer
On Oct. 23, Issaka scored five goals at Alabama A&M, and it seemed like it couldn’t get any better than that. Then, in the Trailblazers’ next game, the Ghana native did it again, plus two more. Oh, and an assist. That’s right, Issaka had 15 points in a 9-3 win over Alcorn State on seven goals and an assist. The seven goals tied the NCAA record.
Nov. 20: Katie Ledecky | Stanford | Swimming
Ledecky was a household name well before arriving at Stanford due to her gold-medal performances at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. And if you were wondering how bad it would get with a swimmer who made Olympians look silly competing against college athletes, the answer is very, very bad. The freshman swam the 1,650-yard freestyle (33 laps) in 15:03.92, which broke the NCAA record by 20 seconds, the U.S. record by 10 seconds, and won the event by over a minute. The runner-up had two full laps to go when Ledecky touched the wall.
Oct. 1: Li Wang | Yale | Golf
Before the Macdonald Cup, Wang, the team captain, was put on Yale’s B team. He responded to that by shooting a 60 in the second round, making him the 11th golfer in NCAA history to pull off the milestone. After shooting a 3-over 73 in the first round, he birdied five holes on each the front and back nines to seal the 10-under 60.
Nov. 10: Hunter Dimick | Utah | Football
Utah’s Thursday night game against Arizona State got embarrassing, with Dimick absolutely abusing the Sun Devils offensive line to the tune of five sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. The sacks tied the Pac-12 record, while the tackles for loss, 37 sack yards and 43 tackle for loss yards were all school records.
Dec. 17: Malik Monk | Kentucky | Basketball
The best players show up on the biggest stage, and Monk certainly cemented himself as one of the best players by putting on a show in Las Vegas against North Carolina. The freshman went off in the nationally televised game, scoring 47 points and nailing a game-winning 3-pointer with 17 seconds left. The 47 points were the most by a freshman in Kentucky’s illustrious history and were the most by any player John Calipari has coached.