AU top 10 sporting moments in the past decade: #2 and #1
2013 Eagles shine in team sports, but Sa’eed Nelson’s individual tops the decade’s best
Editor's Note: This article appeared in The Eagle's October 2020 virtual print edition.
Number 2: Field hockey, men’s basketball and AU team sports notch 112 wins in the decade’s top season
By Spencer Nusbaum
The success of the 2013-14 Eagles truly cannot be understated. In the 13-14 season, all seven American University team sports went at least .500 in Patriot League play, the only such instance this decade. In Athletic Director Billy Walker’s first full year, Eagles’ squads finished 112-62-7 with a 61-18-3 record in Patriot League play, which marked an unprecedented 42- and 21-win jump from the previous year.
Expectations were low for first-year Head Coach Mike Brennan’s squad, as the Eagles were picked to finish ninth in the conference that preseason. Then, they started winning. AU rode a stifling defense through the conference tournament, holding off a red-hot Boston University squad 55-36 in the Patriot League championship game. With that win under their belt, AU men’s basketball made the NCAA Division I Tournament for the third time in school history and the only time in the past decade. The second-seeded Wisconsin squad, which featured three future NBA rotation players, overpowered AU in the first round 75-35. But AU will always have their PL win. Tournament MVP Darius Gardner, sophomore guard Jesse /Reed and senior center Tony Wroblicky led the way for the Eagles, but perhaps no one summed up (and broke character) quite like Brennan, who quoted Drake: “Started from the bottom, now we here!”
AU’s field hockey team had an electric 2013 season capped off by a win over Quinnipiac in the NCAA Tournament play-in game. It was one of the program’s three NCAA Tournament appearances this decade, and one of three undefeated conference-seasons in team history. Patriot League Tournament MVP and Second-Team All-American Shelly Montgomery led the Eagles with an assist in their overtime semifinal win over Lafayette and a pair of goals in their 3-0 championship victory against Boston University. The two-year gap between 2010 and 2013 is tied for the longest title-drought for a Steve Jennings’-coached squad since they captured their first PL title in 2003.
The best of the rest
It almost feels unfair to group AU’s best volleyball team of the decade in this bunch, but we wrote about them back at No. 8 on the list, so they’ve paid their dues. Soccer players Lindsay Muri and Michaela Cowgill each made the All-Tournament Team in ‘13, the only two Eagles selected all decade. Women’s basketball tied for second in the conference. Lacrosse finished with its second-best conference record of the decade. The American University cross country teams earned four All-Patriot League selections and freshman Brendan Johnson became American's first Male Rookie of the Year since 2005.
Number 1: Sa’eed Nelson wins Patriot League Player of the year, Lou Henson All American team, and breaks AU scoring record in the same season.
By Zeke Cohen
When the idea of an athlete’s “perfect season” is brought up in any type of sport, it’s hard to identify what type of qualifiers to use. But at American University, no individual season has eclipsed the excellence of men’s basketball senior Sa’eed Nelson’s 2019-20 season.
Going into last year, Nelson had already cemented his place in the history books. Throughout his first three years as an Eagle, Nelson made Patriot League All-Rookie Team, started and played in every game since beginning his career at American University, was a First Team All-Patriot League selection and made Second-Team All-Patriot League.
The Eagles went 16-14 last year with a 12-6 conference record, enough to snag the second seed in the conference. Nelson’s consistently great play, looking back now, was a major reason the Eagles found so much success last season. Nelson averaged 18.5 points per game, 5.1 rebounds and 4.7 assists, all while shooting an efficient 48.8 percent from the field with a Patriot League-high 2.8 steals per game. His 2.8 steals were the third-best in the entire nation last year.
The Eagles with Nelson in his senior year hoped to capture the elusive Patriot League title. It’s part of what made him and the Eagles such a threat going into the Patriot League Tournament this year.
After a first-round bye, the Eagle’s first taste of the Patriot League Tournament competition was against the #7 seed Bucknell University Bisons. Unfortunately, the fairytale ending for Nelson and the Eagles never materialized the Bisons, upsetting the Eagles on their home floor Bender Arena to a score of 64-59.
Nelson finished his season as the first player in AU’s history to be named to the Lou Henson All-American Team, a select team that honors the best mid-major players in NCAA D-1 basketball. He also won the Patriot League Player of the Year, the first to do so since Derrick Mercer in 2009. On top of this, he was the first AU player since Vlad Moldoveanu in 2011 to be named to his second Patriot League All-First Team.
He broke the points record at AU as well as finishing third on the Patriot League All-Time scoring list during his senior season. With 2,116 overall points, He broke the AU career scoring record that was held for nearly four decades by Russell “Boo” Bowers.
It feels weird to end this list with an early-round exit. But no player carried an entire athletic program on his back quite like Nelson. Through teammate transfers, stumbling offenses and inconsistent defenses, Nelson’s effort and magnificence brought AU national attention and a consistently fun watch. In his senior year, Nelson cemented himself as one of the best to ever lace them up at AU.