There are still 26 days left in 2012 — maybe 16, depending on your belief in Mayan prophecies — but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to look back at the year as a whole. Princetonians have already won 11 Ivy League titles, four national championships and eight Olympic medals, making 2012 one of the most memorable calendar years in the Tigers’ athletic history.
With the final classes of the fall winding down, let’s look back at some of the highlights:
Feb. 11: The Harvard men’s basketball team steps onto Carril Court with a national ranking — and leaves it through a crowd of jubilant Princeton students, who storm the floor after the Tigers’ 70-62 victory. In knocking off a top-25 team for the first time since 1997, Princeton turns the Ivy League race from a coronation into an exciting battle — which later ends with the Tigers in the spotlight once again, denying Penn a share of the Ivy League title at home.
Feb. 19: Eight days later and two floors down at Jadwin Gymnasium, the men’s squash team causes an even bigger court-storming. Trinity had won 13 straight national championships — beating Princeton seven times in the title game — and it looked like that streak would continue when the Bantams went ahead 4-2. But the Tigers sweep the final shift, capped by then-senior Kelly Shannon’s dominant 3-0 victory, giving Princeton its first team title in nearly two decades.
March 12: The Associated Press releases its final Top 25 poll before the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, and Princeton is listed at No. 24, becoming the first Ivy League team ever to make the national rankings. After winning their third straight Ivy League championship — in historically dominant fashion — the Tigers draw a No. 9-seed in the tournament, another first for the Ancient Eight.
March 25: Then-junior Jonathan Yergler wins a national title in men’s epee at the NCAA fencing championships, becoming the first Princeton swordsman to be crowned champion since 2001. As a team, the Tigers take second place, their best finish in the competition’s modern format.
May 6: The men’s track and field team wins the Ivy League outdoor championship, sweeping the three Heptagonal titles for a second straight year. A conference crown is just the latest in a series of accolades for the Tigers, who rewrote seven Ivy League records between the indoor and outdoor seasons.
June 9: Three weeks after setting the American Collegiate Record in the 3,000m steeplechase, Donn Cabral ’12 thrashes his competition at the NCAA Championships, taking first place by more than five seconds. The NCAA title was just a stepping stone for Cabral — later that month, he finished second at the U.S. Olympic Trials, earning his ticket to London.
July 27: The torch is lit in London at the 2012 Olympic Ceremonies — which includes a record number of Princetonians. Fifteen Tigers would compete at the Games, more than any other school outside the six major conferences.
Aug. 9: For most of her career, Diana Matheson ’08 set up her teammates, but for one day, she was in the spotlight, scoring in extra time to secure bronze for the Canadian women’s soccer team. Her medal was the seventh for Princeton athletes in London — eight if you count Russian men’s basketball coach David Blatt ’81— the Ivy League’s best total in more than half a century.
Oct. 20: Once again, a highly-ranked Harvard team in a marquee sport visits Princeton — and once again, the game ends with fans rushing the field to celebrate. Down 34-10 with 12 minutes left, the football team pulls off one of the biggest comebacks in any sport in recent memory, scoring four touchdowns — capped by junior receiver Roman Wilson’s leaping catch in the final minute — to give Princeton a stunning 39-34 upset victory.
Nov. 17: The men’s cross country team places 11th at NCAA Championships, its best finish in program history. Hours later, thousands of students and Princeton community members celebrate the University’s first bonfire since 2006, which was earned when the football team beat Yale a week earlier to complete a Big Three sweep.
Nov. 18: The fire had hardly died down when Princeton had something else to celebrate — the field hockey team’s first NCAA championship. The Tigers had come close to a title several times before, reaching the finals game in 1996 and 1998, but they had never won the big one and entered the 2012 championship as an underdog to No. 1 North Carolina. But Princeton battle back from a pair of one-goal deficits to win 3-2, claiming the Ivy League’s first field hockey title.
There were plenty of other memorable moments — dominant Ivy League performances in men’s lacrosse and women’s soccer, heartbreaking last-second losses in men’s volleyball and sprint football — but the point is clear: 2012 was something special. The Tigers’ four national championships were the most in a single year since 2002, and eight Olympic medals marked their best total ever. If the Mayan calendar was right, well, at least Princeton will go out on a good note.