The college athletics season for Springfield teams concluded last weekend and it was so good that I can hardly wait until a new one fires up again in August.
From the continued, amazing turnaround of the Missouri State football program to the sustained success of Drury University women’s basketball to the high-scoring exit of Bears’ baseball from the NCAA Tournament, what a year 2021-22 was.
At Missouri State, this was arguably the best overall athletics season since the school moved to Division I four decades ago. Consider:
- Bears football under Bobby Petrino finished second in the powerful Missouri Valley Football Conference and reached the FCS playoffs for the second straight season (a feat previously achieved only in 1988-89 and 1989-90).
- Men’s soccer again was nationally ranked and played host to an NCAA Tournament game in Coach Jon Leamy’s final season. Leamy’s 30-year run as coach came to an end but he continues to be one of the school’s biggest ambassadors as long-time assistant Michael Seabolt takes over as coach.
- Women’s basketball earned an NCAA Tournament at-large berth and beat Florida State before taking Ohio State to the wire. Coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton left for Virginia after the season, but there is plenty of buzz with new coach Beth Cunningham.
- Bears basketball broke an 11-year postseason drought by winning 23 games to receive a National Invitation Tournament bid. Coach Dana Ford has re-made the roster in the offseason in the wild world of the transfer portal and seemingly has the program positioned for more success — and scorecard sales will be high with new names and faces for fans to learn.
- The spring sports of softball and baseball, under veteran coaches Holly Hesse and Keith Guttin, both made the NCAA Tournament by winning their respective Missouri Valley Conference Tournaments. The baseball Bears even were spectacular in the way they were eliminated, falling 29-15 to Oklahoma State in the highest-scoring game in NCAA Tournament history.
If you’re looking for comparable years for Missouri State athletics, you could go to 1999. The men’s basketball team reached the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16, the Lady Bears advanced to the second round of the NCAA tourney and the baseball team went to the finals of an NCAA Regional as they hit a school-record 144 home runs.
Back in 1992, the Lady Bears went all the way to the NCAA basketball Final Four while the Bears were beaten in the opening round of March Madness. In 2001, the Jackie Stiles-led Lady Bears again reached the Final Four, but men’s basketball had a poor season.
More across-the-board success should be in store next season, beginning with preseason buzz surrounding the football program that hasn’t been seen before. The Bears are ranked No. 5 in the Athlon FCS Preseason poll.
One thing to watch this summer is a new approach to tickets for football and basketball. Missouri State athletics director Kyle Moats announced in his Summer Letter to fans that a “simpler, more affordable and more fan-friendly approach to our ticketing goals” is coming later this summer.
Selling more tickets is vital to sustaining the budget and keeping the school’s programs at a high level. For all the success on the field and in the arenas, fan attendance continued to lag and it’s good to see Moats and the school ready to try a new approach.
Let’s not forget about all the good stuff happening at Drury University, where the Panthers won the Great Lakes Valley Conference Commissioner’s Cup (highest average finish in the league’s seven core sports) for only the second time in school history. Drury men’s swimming finished second in the NCAA D-II Swimming & Diving Nationals, while the women’s team was fourth.
Over at Evangel University, the men’s basketball team under first-year head coach Bert Capel returned to the NAIA National Tournament for the first time in seven years. Capel, a former star player at the school, led the Valor to 22 victories and he is an impressive leader on the sideline.
With preseason practices for fall sports officially starting in about 50 days, a new college sports season will be here before we know it. Look for it to be another great one.