As Stevens’ fall athletics season progressed, coaches and officials sensed the 2021-22 athletic year was shaping up to be something special — even by the university’s high standards.
But by the time the curtain rang down in late spring of 2022, it would be the most successful full year in Stevens Athletics history.
The university’s varsity men’s and women’s squads eventually posted a combined .693 winning percentage and captured 13 Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC) and MAC Freedom conference crowns. That was good enough to propel Stevens into 10th place in the nation among the NCAA’s 438 Division III colleges and universities — its highest placing ever in NCAA’s Learfield Directors' Cup rankings.
Stevens realized its first individual national wrestling champion during the athletic year, and boasted eight NCAA All-American selections.
Scholar-athletes also impressed in the classroom: the MAC honored more than 400 Stevens athletes with placement on its conference Academic Honor Rolls during the year. Stevens led the MAC in Academic All-MAC selections (with 51), as well, easily outpacing its 18 fellow institutions in the MAC Freedom and MAC Commonwealth conferences.
"When you see the kind of work that our student-athletes, coaches and staff put in on a daily basis, and know how much time they dedicate to what we are trying to accomplish in so many different ways," said Director of Athletics Russ Rogers, "this kind of finish just means that much more."
Here’s how it happened.
Fall gets the ball rolling
The autumn sports seasons gave Stevens a strong start, propelling the university to 35th in Division III by wintertime.
Varsity men's and women's soccer, field hockey and women's volleyball all made their respective NCAA tournaments, with three of those teams winning MAC Freedom titles and the fourth receiving an at-large berth to the NCAA dance.
Winter seasons then nudged Stevens higher in the national mix, up to 29th place, led by the men's basketball squad. The Ducks captured their second MAC Freedom title, then upset the University of Mount Union in the opening round of the Division III NCAA hoops tournament.
The men's swim team won its 10th consecutive conference championship, and swimmer Ali Kolenovic produced an All-American 200-meter backstroke performance at the national championships in Indianapolis in March. The women's indoor track and field squad also contributed strong results.
Wrestler Brett Kaliner produced a perfect 29-0 season and claimed an NCAA national championship in the 149-pound class finals in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in March, Stevens' first in wrestling, while the varsity wrestling squad also punctuated a strong team season with a conference title and a fifth-place finish in the NCAA Division III tournament.
"Being a student-athlete in the business school has been a lot of work, but has also been nothing but great to me," said Kaliner, who will join Deloitte Consulting in Texas in a new role this summer, afterward. "All of my professors are very accommodating with my athletic schedule, and being a student athlete has also taught me invaluable time management skills."
Spring rush pushes Stevens into top 10
This past spring, Stevens sprinted to the tape, surging up the ladder from 29th to its eventual top-10 finish in the national stats.
All seven varsity spring teams reached their respective NCAA tournaments, led by the men's volleyball squad, which made it all the way to the NCAA Division III national semifinal match.
The men's and women's tennis teams and men's and women's lacrosse squads not only made into their respective NCAA tourneys, but also all won those first-round contests. Varsity golf and softball teams also contributed to the growing momentum, with each capturing their second consecutive MAC Freedom conference crowns.
And women's outdoor track and field finished 16th in Division III for the spring season, led by standout Gina Dello Russo, who capped her Stevens track career in late May with a second place in the NCAA 200-yard dash final and a third place in the national long jump final to secure double All-American honors — the 13th and 14th of her accomplished career. Dello Russo even blazed to a new school-record 200-meter time of 23.87 seconds in the process.
"The strong athletics community on campus has made my Stevens experience very memorable," she said. "A lot of students here are also athletes, and we support each other, congratulate each other. It's a true community."
Track and field teammate Laura Mathews also placed third in the 100-meter hurdles at the same national meet to secure her own second All-American honor.
Stevens’ baseball club did its part, as well, posting a 29-16 season that received an at-large bid to the NCAA’s baseball tournament. It was only the third NCAA tournament berth in Stevens baseball program history.
Directors' Cup points are awarded based on a school's finish in up to 18 sports – nine men and nine women – in NCAA Championships. Stevens has now placed in the top 10% of the Directors' Cup rankings for the last 12 consecutive years in which it has been awarded.