April 23, 2014

Passing of another year

In the world of college athletics, time seems to move at “warp speed” most of the time. Preseasons quickly turn to postseasons, and Christmas break passes as quickly as it comes. But, even after 16 years in college athletics, I’m always amazed at how quickly the spring seasons come, and then are suddenly over.

It seems as if one day, you’re having conversations about playing games with temperatures in the mid-30’s and a chance of snow, and then one day you realize the trees have bloomed and graduation is right around the corner. I’m not sure why, in this fast-paced world, spring sport seasons seem to pass more quickly than others, but for me, they certainly seem shorter. If it were only this year, I’d blame it on the snow and sub-30 degree weather we had in early April, but it seems as if this is always the case, regardless of the weather.

It seems as if it were a few days ago, conversations with coaches involved topics typical of those that take place early in the season. They all go something like this:

“If we can just stay (or get) healthy by the end of April.”

“We’re struggling, but it’s early. We know how to win and just need to right the ship by the end of April.”

“I hope we can keep playing like this through the end of April.”

Every program has seasons that go better than expected, and occasionally a season with high expectations doesn’t go as planned. Regardless of which scenario plays out for a given team, the conference championships that come around at the end of April are a welcome sight, and an exciting time.

Our baseball team had very high expectations for this season, coming off of a Conference Carolinas runner-up finish in 2013 with nearly every key player returning, and some talented newcomers. The early results were disappointing, but they’ve turned the corner the last three weeks of the season, winning nine of their last 13, and are riding a seven game winning streak into the conference championships, which begin Thursday in Burlington, N.C. With an experienced, senior-led team (20 seniors!), the high expectations from the beginning of the season still exist, and with good reason.

The Tornado softball team came into the season with equally high expectations, after a Conference Carolinas Tournament championship in 2012 and a regular season championship in 2013. A combination of injuries and a tough schedule led to a slow start, but like baseball, the team enters the conference tournament, also in Burlington this weekend, on a roll. On the heels of a 10-game winning streak, the team finished the season on a 14-5 run and enters the tournament as the second seeded team.

Men’s tennis completed their most successful season in the NCAA era, tallying a 13-7 record and second place finish in Conference Carolinas. As the second seed in the Conference Carolinas Championships in Sumter, S.C. this weekend, the senior-led Tornado look to advance through a tough field in the early rounds for a shot at top-seeded Mout Olive in the championship round.

For the first time in the NCAA-era, the women’s tennis team has qualified for the Conference Carolinas Championships, also being played this weekend in Sumter. As the seventh seed, the young and talented Tornado squad is looking to pull off a few upsets and continue to set new standards for the women’s tennis program.

The women’s and men’s track and field teams will travel to Banner Elk, N.C., Friday and Saturday for the Conference Carolinas Outdoor Track and Field Championships. The field for both the men and the women will be very competitive, with the Tornado having a great chance for some individual and possibly team championships, as well as the potential for several NCAA qualifiers.

Our acrobatics and tumbling team departed this morning for the NCATA National Championships, hosted by Azusa Pacific University in California. In their inaugural season of competition, the ladies picked up the first win in program history, and earned a ninth seed for the championships. They will have the opportunity to compete against NCAA Division I programs such as Oregon and Baylor, and its surely to be a tremendous experience for our student-athletes.

Finally, coming off their second consecutive SECCC championship, the men’s and women’s cycling teams head to Richmond, Va., next weekend with their sights set on returning to the podium at the USA Cycling Collegiate Road Nationals. In addition, the team has some opportunities for some great individual finishes and possible national championships.

In closing, well….it’s a short season. It’s a short year! But, as I’ve said before, it’s always exciting and fun, and I’m extremely excited about the opportunities our student-athletes will have this weekend and during the month of May. Each student-athlete has put in a tremendous amount of hard work, endured cold days training and competing outside, and endured a rigorous academic schedule to reach this point. They’ll return from their conference championships as champions….because they will give their all and represent King well in competition.

They will also return to final exams, which they may not be quite as excited about, but they will succeed in nonetheless. They always do. With 63 percent of our student-athletes earning a 3.0 GPA or higher in the fall of 2013 and 76 student-athletes making the Conference Carolinas Academic Honor Roll this year, we’re proud at King to have athletes who are truly student-athletes and who win on the fields, courts, and in the classroom.

Go Tornado!!