What to Watch this Year in University Sports

UChicago’s sports are in an uncommonly strong place this coming season. Below are a few of the most exciting teams and storylines to follow.


Finn Hartnett

The men’s soccer team, November 2021.

By Finn Hartnett, Head Sports Editor

During the 2021/22 academic year, as UChicago students nervously scrolled through COVID update emails and pondered why that one Divvy bike had been parked at the Point for so long, the school was quietly posting one of its best athletic seasons of all time. UChicago placed seventh in the NCAA’s end-of-season Division III ranking competition, the Learfield Directors’ Cup. This was UChicago’s highest finish in the Cup, which ranks universities based on their finishes in up to 18 different NCAA sports competitions, since it first began tracking DIII schools in 1995.

UChicago’s sports teams, then, are in an exciting place this coming academic year. One doubts that athletics at this school will ever rise back to the point where the football team was deemed “Monsters of the Midway”, or when Stagg Field held 55,000. But do we even want to return to those precarious heights? UChicago looked upon their mighty stadiums and forsake them in favor of libraries, and that makes the teams we possess now even more beautiful, in a sense. Besides: DIII or not, UChicago athletics are on a distinctly upward trajectory. The men’s tennis team took home UChicago’s first-ever NCAA DIII team championship in March with a victory over Case Western. Five swimmers and divers also won individual championships in 2022. More titles will hopefully reach Hyde Park this coming season. And if they don’t—well, at least we can still brag about how we had the first Heisman winner, or whatever.

       1. Men’s and Women’s Soccer Looks to Go All the Way

Currently ranked #4 and #8 in the country respectively, the UChicago Men’s and Women’s Soccer teams both enjoyed typically strong seasons in 2021/22, and now look to take things just a bit further this fall. The Men’s side made it to the national semifinals last season before a golden goal smashed in by Amherst midfielder Ignacio Cubeddu rudely spoiled hopes of a championship. This summer, the team has brought in eight new recruits—including two players who have played for MLS academy sides in Alex Lee and Patrick Lin—in order to bolster their roster. Second-year fullback Jack Leuker is one to watch this year, as his whipped crosses never failed to wreak havoc on opposition defenses last season.

The Maroon women, ranked #16 in 2021/22, reached the national quarterfinals before their season ended with a close 2-1 defeat to #5-ranked Christopher Newport University. The season was still considered a success for the Maroons; they overperformed their modest ranking to the tune of a 15-3-4 record, and were the only team to score against Christopher Newport as the Captains cruised to their first-ever DIII title. With this in mind, Women’s soccer is in a good place this season to challenge for the national title themselves. After the loss of 12 seniors, however, new recruits will be relied on heavily to perform. 

       2. Women’s Lacrosse Aims to Surprise

UChicago’s newest varsity sport was only in its fourth year of existence in 2022, but the team made 2021/22 one to remember. Finishing the year with a 18-2 record, the Maroons qualified for the postseason for the second time in their history, and set new university records for winning percentage (.900), goals (350), assists (186), and points. 

The side was unlucky to draw #2-ranked Middlebury in the second round of the playoffs, as the Panthers squashed the Maroons’ championship hopes with a 22-4 win, and eventually went on to win the tournament themselves. Still, UChicago’s regular-season record surprised many, and they will look to take their newfound playoff experience into next season. Rachel Keefe, a first-year goalie who led the defense to the seventh-fewest goals conceded last year (6.55 goals/game), is one to watch out for. So too, is one of the more impressive ongoing streaks in DIII sports: UChicago women’s lacrosse is 31-0 at Stagg Field

       3. The Club Rugby Team Levels Up

UChicago Men’s Rugby rose from the ashes in 2022 to finish in first place in the NCR DIII “Small College” conference and win promotion to the DII Great Midwest conference. The student-run club struggled to organize at all throughout the coronavirus pandemic; last fall quarter, however, a few upperclassmen were able to assemble enough interested students to enroll UChicago back into their usual division. The team lost their first game of the season to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. From there, they reeled off six straight wins to win the conference and qualify for the Midwest regional championships. This last win was particularly sweet for UChicago; it came against the same #2-ranked Wisconsin side who had beaten the Maroons in the opening game of the season. Though the side lost the first game of regionals to ​​Wayne State College, they went further in the fall than most had expected.

During spring quarter, the team kept in shape by playing friendlies. The Maroons won all four they played, including a dominant 38-15 victory against DI University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The team will face tougher competition in their new DII conference, such as school rival Northwestern, who they beat not once but twice in spring friendlies. 

       4. Men’s Tennis is Out for a Repeat; Women’s Tennis is Out for Revenge

Both the Men’s and Women’s Tennis enjoyed seasons to remember in 2021/22. The men’s side became DIII national champions for the first time ever in dramatic fashion, with a walk-off ace against Case Western Reserve University in May. The video of the winning point is a beautiful watch; rising senior Christian Alshon wacks a serve to James Hopper’s forehand, and the Case Western player can only watch as the ball flashes by him. Alshon’s hands are in the air before the ball can bounce a second time, and he’s quickly mobbed by teammates.

The women were almost able to follow suit the same day, facing Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in their own national final. But #1-ranked UChicago was eventually undone by #4 CMS, who took home important victories in doubles and singles play. However, UChicago women’s tennis still enjoyed the most accomplished season in program history in 2021/22. Besides reaching the national finals, the side won the ITA Indoor National Championships, won their UAA conference for the first time in seven years, and was ranked #1 nationally for the first time. 

Both teams continue to be ranked highly coming into the upcoming season—the men and women are currently #1 and #2, respectively. This makes both sides a compelling watch for university sports fans come February. It’s not every day where UChicago is among the favorites to win it all.

Besides club rugby, all sports mentioned can be watched live through the NCAA website, as well as the University of Chicago Athletics Twitter (@uchicagoath).