Championship Days

Throughout its history, Syracuse University has earned national titles in a variety of sports.

2015 Cross country team celebrating their national championship
The men’s cross country team collected the 2015 NCAA crown in Louisville.

When it comes to the thrill of victory, Syracuse University has had its share of celebrations. For the record, the Orange have won 30 national team titles in seven sports, as well as 49 individual national championships in six sports.

Here’s a glimpse at some of those title-winning feats:

Most National Championships

If there’s one team sport that Syracuse University has dominated, it’s men’s lacrosse. Since 1920, the Orange have won 15 national titles, including four U.S. Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association titles in the ’20s, with their first outright championship in 1924 (three others were shared with Navy). The Orange won three straight NCAA championships—1988, ’89, ’90—and posted a 42-1 record in those three years with undefeated seasons in 1988 and ’90. In addition to the national titles, the program counts 28 inductees in the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

Winning Punches

Boxing coach Roy Simmons Sr. ’26, who also served as head lacrosse coach (1931-70) and an assistant football coach, guided the 1936 squad to the national championship, with Ord Fink ’39 (155 pounds) and Ray Jeffries (165 pounds) winning individual titles.

First Individual National Title in Any Sport

Boxer Al Wertheimer ’33 pummeled competitors to win the 126-pound championship in 1932.

Two-Time Individual National Champions

Gymnast Leo Minotti ’51
The first Syracuse student-athlete to win two straight championships, leading the way in the rope climb in 1950 and ’51.

Boxer John Granger ’55
Captured the 139-pound title in 1954 and ’55.

1955 Syracuse boxing team photo
John Granger (center) with Coach Roy Simmons Sr. and the 1955 boxing team.

Wrestler Jim Nance ’65
The heavyweight won the NCAA tournament in 1963 and ’65.

Wrestler Gene Mills ’81, G’98
Won 118-pound NCAA tournament titles in 1979 and ’81. Mills, Syracuse’s first four-time All-American in any sport, was named Most Outstanding Wrestler of the 1981 NCAA tourney and is among the leaders for most career pins (107). Mills also won multiple international freestyle titles.

Distance runner Justyn Knight ’18
The fifth—and most recent—Syracuse student-athlete to win two individual NCAA titles. In his senior year, the 10-time All-American won the 2017 NCAA cross country meet and then captured the 2018 NCAA 5,000-meter indoor championship.

Grappling and Gridiron Titles

Art Baker ’61 was the first Syracuse wrestler to earn an NCAA championship, collecting the 191-pound crown in spring 1959 as a sophomore. He also was a fullback on the Orange’s 1959 national champion football team.

Hurdling Ahead

Hurdler Jarret Eaton during a race
Jarret Eaton turned in an undefeated indoor track season in 2012.

Hurdler Jarret Eaton ’12 was Syracuse’s first track and field student-athlete to win a national title. At the 2012 NCAA indoor meet in Nampa, Idaho, Eaton blazed his way to victory in the 60-meter hurdles and capped off an undefeated season.

Long-Distance Success

Before Justyn Knight won his two individual titles, he helped lead the Orange men’s cross country team to its second NCAA Division I title—the 2015 championship in Louisville. Knight (fourth) was one of three Syracuse runners to finish in the top nine.

1951 cross country team photo
1951 national champion Orange cross country team.

Syracuse’s first NCAA title came in 1951 on a snow-covered course at Michigan State, where the Orange placed three runners in the top 12 to win the championship. Two years earlier, Syracuse won the national Amateur Athletic Union title, giving the program its first national championship.

Two Days, Two National Titles

2015 field hockey players celebrating
The field hockey team celebrated its 2015 NCAA championship after defeating North Carolina.

In 2015, in the same November weekend that the men’s cross country team nabbed its NCAA crown, the field hockey team collected Syracuse’s first ever national championship in a women’s sport. Two days, two national titles.

The Orange knocked off ACC rival North Carolina, 4-2, in the NCAA final in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The team completed its season with a 21-1 record, which featured an undefeated regular season (16-0) and the ACC regular season title. The win over North Carolina avenged Syracuse’s only loss—a 2-1 overtime decision in the ACC tourney final.

Best in Basketball

The Syracuse men’s basketball team started the 2002-03 season unranked, but boosted by super freshmen Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara ’06, the Orange ended the season with their first NCAA Division I championship. Under Coach Jim Boeheim ’66, G’73, Syracuse had come up short in two previous trips to the NCAA title game (1987 and 1996), but that changed in 2003 when the Orange defeated Kansas, 81-78, in the Louisiana Superdome to claim the championship. Anthony received the Final Four Most Outstanding Player award and McNamara, who hit six three-pointers in the final, was named to the All-Final Four team.

1925-26 basketball team photo
The 1925-26 Orange basketball team featured All-American Vic Hanson (center, bottom row).

Back in the day, Syracuse was twice selected as national champion by the Helms Athletic Foundation, which had a panel of experts make the pick. The 1917-18 squad posted a 16-1 record to secure the title, and the 1925-26 team went 19-1 en route to the title. The 1925-26 team was led by Victor Hanson ’27, a three-time All-America selection and the foundation’s Player of the Year in 1927. The star athlete went on to be elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame, earning recognition as the only player inducted into both of those halls of fame.

Gridiron Greatness

Portrait of Ernie Davis
Ernie Davis led Syracuse to victory over Texas in the Cotton Bowl for the 1959 national title.

Before 75,500 fans on a cool and cloudy New Year’s Day, 1960, the top-ranked and undefeated Orange knocked off second-ranked Texas, 23-14, to win the Cotton Bowl in Dallas and claim the national championship for the 1959 season. Ernie Davis ’62, who would be awarded the 1961 Heisman Trophy, led Syracuse with two touchdowns.

The victory marked a perfect 11-0 season for Coach Ben Schwartzwalder’s squad. The season’s statistics bear out the team’s dominance as it led the nation in total offense (451.5 yards per game), scoring offense (39.0 points per game), rushing offense (313.6 ypg), total defense (96.2 ypg) and rushing defense (19.3 ypg).

Rowing On

The men’s crew team won Syracuse’s first national championship, rowing to victory in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championship Regatta in 1904 on the Hudson River. Syracuse went on to win IRA national titles in 1908, 1913, 1916, 1920 and 1978. All told, Orange crew teams have collected 25 IRA individual championships.

Photos courtesy of Syracuse University Athletics and Syracuse University Archives.

Jay Cox

This story was published on .


Also of Interest

  • Syracuse Athletics

    We aim to create and foster a culture of academic and athletic excellence which prepares student-athletes as leaders in our global society.

  • Syracuse Stories

    The Orange story has thousands of chapters. Discover some of the people, programs and research that fuel Syracuse University's undeniable spirit.