Football coach Fritz and players hoist trophy above their heads at the Cotton Bowl celebration

Green Wave athletic excellence spurs excitement

After the Tulane football team’s amazing Goodyear Cotton Bowl victory, the team’s winning ways spread throughout Tulane Athletics, creating a newfound fervor on campus.

Halfway through the 2022-23 football season, local media outlets were descending on Tulane University’s uptown campus. Reporters wanted to capture the flavor of a jubilant student body celebrating the Green Wave’s 6-1 record and 25th ranking in the Associated Press college football poll.

The Wave would continue to move up in the polls on its way to capturing the American Athletic Conference title and a stunning win against the 10th-ranked USC Trojans — and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Caleb Williams — in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl. It wasn’t long before students were proudly donning T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Football School,” “Bowl Wave” and “Title Wave.”

Green Wave football was the talk of the college sports world, but it wasn’t alone in its glory. The team’s winning ways spread throughout Tulane Athletics, creating a fervor on campus not seen in decades. When the 17-7 men’s basketball team was preparing to host the top-ranked Houston Cougars, students waited in line for hours leading up to the sold-out, nationally televised game. And though the Greenies lost that one, Coach Ron Hunter led the Wave to its first 20-win regular season since the 1999-2000 season, including 12 conference wins, the most since the 1947-48 season. Tulane baseball shocked the college baseball world by winning the American Athletic Conference championship and earning a bid to the NCAA regionals.

Jaylen Forbes runs with the basketball
In 2022-2023, Jaylen Forbes started in all 31 games for Tulane.

“What a remarkable, record-setting year for Tulane Athletics,” Ben Weiner Director of Athletics Troy Dannen wrote in a nearly 1,200-word letter to the Tulane community.

Dannen had fun writing that letter, and it’s no wonder. He had a lot to say, from the Green Wave’s success in multiple sports to the achievement of athletes in the classroom to a host of capital improvements, including an $8 million renovation of the James W. Wilson Jr. Center, a $13 million, three-year renovation of the Reily Student Recreation Center Natatorium and construction on a new multimillion-dollar tennis facility.

“What a remarkable, record-setting year for Tulane Athletics.”

Troy Dannen, Ben Weiner Director of Athletics

Dannen believes Tulane’s athletic success is partly rooted in the devastation of March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the university to shut campus down for the remainder of the semester. Soon after, the American Athletic Conference canceled all competition and championships for the rest of the academic year. At the time, Tulane baseball was ranked 20th in the country with a 15-2 record.

“The defining piece to all of this is March 13, 2020, when we told our student-athletes, ‘You’re going home. We’re shutting campus down.’ ” Dannen said during an interview in his office at the Wilson Center. “But we also sent the message that we’re going to come out of this thing stronger. We’re going to come out of it running.”

Athletes were tested once again in August 2021 when Hurricane Ida displaced student-athletes for 25 days in Birmingham, Alabama. The football team ended that season with a disappointing 2-10 record but also with resolve and determination to turn things around in 2022.

“Both the hurricane and the pandemic forced us to deal with something outside of our control, but the culture we built on campus allowed us to withstand the body blow,” Dannen said. “It was a mindset. No one complained. When there’s a good culture, positive things happen.”

That positivity was contagious. The football team took its resolve and turned it into one of the greatest one-year turnarounds in college football history, ending the season with a 12-2 record and a No. 9 ranking in the final Associated Press poll.

Dannen knew the Wave was poised to have a special year in September when it upset the 14th-ranked Kansas State Wildcats at Manhattan. It was Tulane’s first victory over a Power 5 opponent since 2010 and its first 3-0 start since 1998.

“This was a highly regarded team, and the way we won it, we were every bit as strong, as physical and as fast as they were. For me, that was a special moment. Although we lost the following week to Southern Miss, thanks to (Coach) Willie (Fritz) and the coaching staff, they put the loss behind them and became the team they showed in Manhattan.”

As much as Dannen enjoys boasting about football, basketball and baseball, he is quick to point out the achievements of other Tulane sports.

Kristen O'Handley competing in Track and Field
Kristen O'Handley competes in June 2023. (Photo by Kirk Meche)

In women’s golf, then-sophomore Carla Bernat, who led the team to a conference championship as a freshman, was ranked among the top 20 golfers in the nation throughout most of the season. All-American Kristen O’Handley set the school record in the heptathlon and advanced to both the NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field Championships. Men’s tennis qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time in seven seasons.  And beach volleyball finished its season with a No. 18 ranking.

Student-athletes were just as successful in the classroom, with 68% earning at least a 3.0 GPA, seven teams earning a perfect Academic Progress Rate and the department achieving a Graduation Success Rate of 93%. In recognition of that success, donors Jill H. and Avram A. Glazer funded a study-abroad program for rising juniors, with 70 student-athletes traveling to Australia for a two-week experience of a lifetime. The study-abroad program will continue next year, with the destination to be determined.

In his letter to the Tulane community, Dannen closed by praising his staff and coaches for a monumental year. Of Tulane’s 380 student-athletes, he said: “Their drive, character and passion are remarkable, and they continue to be great ambassadors of our university.”

Large group of Tulane student-athletes who traveled to Australia
About 70 student-athletes traveled to Australia for a two-week study abroad experience, thanks to donors Jill H. and Avram A. Glazer.