Archive for Thursday, August 18, 2011

Column: Wildcat teams enter fall with high expectations following 2010 seasons

August 18, 2011

What did Baker University fall sports teams receive for having two teams winning their conference tournaments last season?

High expectations.

Although if having high expectations placed on your shoulders is the only thing you have to worry about, something is working correctly. The two teams I’m referring to winning the HAAC Tournament in their respective sports are the women’s cross country team, which placed No. 26 at the national meet, and the women’s soccer team, which made it all the way to the “Fab Four” of their national tournament.

These two teams stood out among the Baker fall sports pack last season, which is impressive considering the high success rate of all the fall sports. BU’s men’s cross country team finished second in the HAAC Tournament, and the football, men’s soccer and volleyball teams all ended the season with winning records.

It was an impressive start to the school year and now the bar is set for this year. But in college sports, studying last year’s season doesn’t necessarily give you answers for this year. Rarely is a team made up of exactly the same players, starters and talent that it had the year before.

A high expectation isn’t the only obstacle standing in the way of teams this season. It’s the word that makes college sports teams more interesting to judge on a year-to-year basis, which is graduation. After four years, no matter how great or difficult they were, you’re done. Almost winning a national championship doesn’t give you an extra year. It’s the great equalizer.

So if I had to pick two teams right now that I predict to win their conference tournament or meet this season, it would be the men’s and women’s cross country teams because of their experienced youth.

The women’s cross country team lost one senior, Mary Loveland, who was a valuable component, but the rest of the team will be juniors and underclassmen. But it’s not like those underclassmen are inexperienced, considering several freshmen and sophomores were key runners in the HAAC win and NAIA National meet. They know what it’s like to make it to the ultimate goal, and they should have loads of confidence already knowing what needs to happen to succeed.

It’s the same story for the men’s team. With no seniors last year, the squad was dominated with juniors and talented underclassmen that just finished behind Graceland University for a chance to run in the national meet.

Another important tidbit I should mention about my choices is William Jewell College and Lindenwood University — who finished in the top three on the women’s side and top four on the men’s side — are no longer in the conference. These two schools were some of Baker’s stiffest competition last season.

Wrapping up with the rest of the BU fall sports, the loss of seniors can either shake these teams up, or the teams can retool and respond. All four other teams have athletic players willing to step in and shine, which are what college sports are all about, but the question is how long will it take to rebuild the loss of talent and leadership and get the team chemistry down?

If the BU football team can win two or more of the four games against ranked opponents on its schedule, the season will turn out just fine. Baker has proven it can beat the majority of the conference, and it may help to not play powerhouses MidAmerica Nazarene and Missouri Valley College in the first three weeks of the season like it has recently. Beating those two teams is the next step and it could define the Wildcats’ season.

The men and women’s soccer teams will be competitive and should finish in the top three or four spots in the HAAC. There’s a lot of pride in the Baker soccer programs, so don’t be surprised to see another late-season run. If the Baker volleyball team can find a replacement for Brooke Pryor’s offensive prowess, Jana Boss and Brooke Allen should be able to keep the Wildcats out of the middle of the pack.

No more looking at last year’s results and statistics, this is a new year, new schedule and new teams looking to make a new story.

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