UH athletic department ranked No. 53

The University of Hawai‘i’s athletic department received its highest final national ranking yesterday, topping at No. 53 out of 279 Division I schools, as announced by the U.S. Sports Academy Director’s Cup. By the conclusion of the spring season, Hawai‘i accumulated 385 points and moved up nine spots from last year.

After a successful fall season in which the football, soccer and women’s volleyball teams won Western Athletic Conference titles, Hawai‘i earned 132 points. The Warrior football team was the only undefeated team in the country and advanced to the Sugar Bowl, and the soccer and volleyball teams advanced to the NCAA tournaments.

“I’m definitely proud to be a member (of the athletic program),” said Warrior defensive lineman Keala Watson. “Hopefully this is just the beginning. As a member of the football team, we’re trying to establish that (our success) was not a one-time deal. Hopefully this is the start of a Division I powerhouse.”

Watson also said that the program’s success was not solely because of the athletes, but that the community played a huge role in it as well.

“The program has grown tremendously. The outpouring support from the fans to the legislators to the governor were all a part of it,” he said. “That’s what it takes to build the school up.”

Kapa‘a’s Mari Punzal just finished her freshman year at Hawai‘i as a member of the WAC champion soccer team and hopes that by Hawai‘i receiving this ranking, local kids will take notice of the success.

“I hope it gets local kids to want to come to UH,” she said. “A lot of the kids want to go to college on the Mainland for their programs, but UH has a lot of good programs to offer. I hope some of the kids consider staying home.”

During the winter sports season, the women’s swimming and diving finished 26th nationally and received 48 points and men’s swimming and diving finished 23rd and scored 50.5 points. Women’s indoor track and field ranked 39th and received 32 points. Hawai‘i earned 130.5 points total.

In the spring season, softball made a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year and finished 17th nationally, earning 50 points. Women’s track and field finished a school-best 25th, earning UH 47.5 points and men’s tennis earned its first NCAA postseason berth and finished 33rd nationally, earning 25 points. Overall, Hawai‘i then received 122.5 points at the close of the season.

Kaua‘i High School graduate Jamilee Jimenez signed on to join the women’s track and field teams as a jumper, joining the likes of NCAA fifth-place finisher in the high jump, Amber Kauffman and heptathlete Annett Wichman.

“It feels good to know that I can be a part of something so big,” she said. “That’s just going to push me harder to do my best. I’m not going there to just go there. I have a purpose. UH has produced a lot of good athletes so hopefully I can do them proud.”

Last year, Hawai‘i was ranked 62nd in the country. Prior to yesterday’s announcement, Hawai‘i’s highest ranking was 61 in the 2005-06 year.

Hawai‘i is the highest ranking WAC school this year. Fresno State finished at No. 62, Boise State at No. 77 and Nevada at No. 103.

The U.S. Sports Academy Directors’ Cup was developed as a joint effort between the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and USA Today to chart the overall success of the nation’s Division I athletics programs.

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