Division I Diatribes Vol. 12-Digging Deeper

Saturday, November 10, 2018.

I was at Ernest Hawkins Field at Memorial Stadium, taking in another great Lion football game. I had been in the box most of the game, but I came outside to talk with my Dad and Uncle. Russ stayed up to continue doing his thing. It was halftime, and the Lions were rolling back toward win and another NCAA Division II playoff berth.

Then, on the PA it was announced; “Lion Fans. A final from Tarleton State’s Wisdom Gym, your Texas A&M-Commerce Volleyball team are Lone Star Conference Tournament Champions with a 3-1 win over top ranked and seeded Tarleton State! The Lion Women are now guaranteed an auto-bid to return to the NCAA Division II Volleyball Championships!”

For that brief moment, the 10,000 or so people in attendance roared in excitement. Football was for a brief moment, secondary. The Lion Volleyball team was the best in the LSC, the first time that had happened since 1987. (I was barely a year old). That should tell you how long and trying that period from the late 1980’s to the current day it was for Lion Volleyball.

Something few people know is that when it comes Women’s team sports, the Volleyball team is the closest ETSU/TAMUC has gotten to winning a national championship. In 1980, the Lion Volleyball lost in the NAIA Championship game to Azusa Pacific, 3-1. As I realize that 1980 was also when the Lion Football team almost won the national championship, that had to hurt with two national titles in the SAME TIME OF THE SEASON being lost, but I digress) In the late 1980’s the Lion Women were perennial contenders, winning the LSC in 1986 and 1987 to go along with a conference tournament title in 1987. ’87 was the first year the program went to the NCAA tournament, and they repeated in 1988. It would be another 29 years before the Lion Women returned to the tournament in 2017. In 2018, they were South Central Regional Finalists, losing to the same Tarleton Squad they had defeated earlier in the Regional Championship game. The Lion Women also went back to the NCAA tourney in 2019. 2020 was a wash due to COVID-19 and 2021 showed another winning record, but no NCAA invite.

The program really started to turn around in 2008, when Mark Pryor took over. The 2008 team had a winning record at 15-12, and then in 2009 Pryor was awarded LSC Coach of The Year a 25-10 year. After the 2009 season, Pryor bolted, something so many previous coaches and Admins have done before. Craig Case came in 2010 and had major work to do. In his first 5 seasons, they were a bit of a roller coaster as he notched a 75-75 record over that stretch, but had some good teams but never seemed to keep the momentum rolling. Since 2015, he has been 123-69 with 3 NCAA tournament appearances and an LSC Tournament Championship in 2018 to go along with a Regional Finals appearance in that same season. It is not hard to say, he has been the most successful Volleyball coach in program history, edging out the legendary Kathy Goodlett. Case has been a mainstay and a success and provided stability and the ability to compete year in and year out in conference play. That, along with his acumen of the game and his ability to recruit is what kept the Lion Women in contention every year.

However, the move to Division I has been, and is going to be a challenge.

As I write this, The Lion Women are now 0-3 on the season. As it stands right now, we have not had a single win in NCAA Division I on the Women’ side. None in Soccer and none in Volleyball. The move up to this level is something that people need to realize takes time. That is one of the reasons there is a 4 year probation period to compete for postseason wins. This is like wading into a river, as opposed to jumping into a pool. You have find your footing, take it one step at a time, and you never know how deep you can or will go.

This is my charge to the fan base for all sports. When news broke that we were going Division I, there was A LOT of whooping and hollering like we had won something. “I go to a Division I school, yeah!” It felt like the fan base was all about going Division I, but writing checks and giving and showing up to the games? “I really don’t have the time” or “Money is tight right now.” (By The Way, Inflation and certain monetary policies made by certain government officials will do that to a lot of incomes, but I digress). The point is Division I schools have Division I fanbases an alums. The question is not “how can we be Division I?” The Question is “How do we SUCCEED at The Division I level?” We have Division I athletes, we WANT Division I facilities, and we want Division I success. Our fans, students, and alums now need to step up and be Division I quality.

We overwhelmingly wanted Division I, now we got it. It’s time to step up as a FANBASE. I have no doubt on Thursday The Hawk will be rocking as we are hoping to drop the hammer on our first football opponent, but we have other sports that have worked just as hard, showed up in the furnace that was this past Summer, and worked hard. We are stoked about Football, but we need to carry that same enthusiasm to the Women’s side. Yes, they are playing much harder opponents up front than Football is, and have not played a home game yet, but we need to dig deep for these young Women and the entire program who have done a fantastic job in reviving the Volleyball program. They are digging deep to be successful.

Let’s support them.

Let’s help them dig deeper.

Roar Back Here.....

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