The Citadel’s varsity sports teams, 2011-12: a brief review

Around this time last year I posted a review of the 2010-11 school year for varsity sports entitled “Larry Leckonby’s Lament“. I wouldn’t call this school year in the department of athletics a lament; rather, it was more a year of transition. At least I hope it was…

First, the setup, just so everyone is on the same page. As I wrote last year:

The Citadel has fifteen varsity sports, by my reckoning.  I count rifle (listed as both a men’s and women’s sport on the school’s website) as just one sport, because it is co-ed.  I consider indoor track and outdoor track to be separate entities, because the Southern Conference awards championships in both of them (and for both men and women).  The school competes in the SoCon in fourteen of the fifteen sports (the exception is rifle).

Last year the rifle team garnered The Citadel its sole conference championship of the 2010-11 school year, the SEARC title. This year, the Bulldogs finished second. Before I move on to the rest of the sports, which play under the SoCon banner, I want to make a couple of quick points/observations about the rifle team:

— Anyone interested can donate to the rifle team through this link; it’s some kind of $3-for-$1 deal. I think this particular fundraising effort may have flown under the radar. The team did get a $20,000 donation from the National Wild Turkey Foundation. Wild turkeys themselves largely approved of this donation, under the theory that the more shooting that takes place at the range, the less that goes on in the field.

— When I wrote my infamous manifesto on varsity athletics at The Citadel a few months back, I noted that increasing the budget of the rifle program, if at all possible, would be a good idea, particularly since The Citadel is a military college with a great shooting facility. This is an NCAA sport, and one in which the school can compete on a national level.

As for the remaining fourteen sports, the average finish for the varsity teams in league play was 8.6, with an average of 10.5 competing schools for each sport. In other words, the average finish was third-from-last. Reviewing the year on a sport-by-sport basis:

— Women’s soccer: After a breakthrough season in 2010, one in which The Citadel finished third in the SoCon, the soccer team regressed to a 5-11-3 overall record, finishing ninth in the league and missing the conference tournament. It was a disappointing season, but it is to Bob Winch’s credit that a year in which the women’s soccer team won three league games and tied two others could be considered a disappointment.

— Wrestling: The Citadel had three individual conference champions, and tied for second in the league tournament after a third-place finish in the regular season. This was an improvement on the prior campaign, when the Bulldogs finished fourth of six teams. All in all, a solid year for the mat men.

— The Citadel finished fourth in the SoCon (out of nine teams) in both men’s indoor and outdoor track, one spot better than last year. The women were 9th (out of twelve teams) in outdoor track, which was the same as last season, but slipped to 11th out of 12 indoors.  On the bright side, at least they scored a few points at the respective SoCon meets. Davidson managed to score just one point in the two women’s competitions combined.

One of the more interesting stories in this varsity sports year for The Citadel came in men’s outdoor track. From the school’s season recap release:

Decathlete Ellison Glenn was the team’s biggest surprise this season. Glenn, who walked on the team as a senior, improved each week and capped his short collegiate track career with a fourth place finish in the decathlon and eighth place mark in the javelin at the 2012 SoCon Outdoor Championship.

“He came in and asked to be part of the team and we debated, but he kept coming to practice and sticking with it so we gave him a shot to see how it would shake out for us and it worked out amazingly,” said Bulldog head coach Jody Huddleston. “Taking fourth and eighth place and earning points in the conference meet after competing in college track for just one year is amazing.”

— As usual, the Bulldogs struggled (at least compared to their league peers) in cross country, although the men did climb one spot, finishing ninth out of eleven competing schools after finishing next-to-last the year before. The women were also next-to-last in 2010; in 2011, alas, they were last.

Remember, Charleston is not exactly conducive to fantastic cross country training. The Citadel’s best placement in the league in school history came in 1972, when it finished third.

— Tennis: Last year the Bulldogs were 3-21, 0-10 in the SoCon. This year a new coach took over. The results were about the same, though; The Citadel was 5-18 overall, and again went winless in the league. At least this year the Bulldogs beat a fellow Division I school (Bethune-Cookman).

— Volleyball: This was another sport with a first-year head coach, and another sport with a similar-looking record from last year. This year’s team won one more match than last year’s squad while finishing with the exact same league record (1-15).

— Women’s golf: The Citadel finished last, again, but some progress appears to have been made. At the SoCon Championships, the team finished 112 shots behind league champ Chattanooga. That’s actually an improvement from 2011, when the Bulldogs were 149 shots back of the conference titlists. The Citadel also had a golfer (Erica Pellegrini) named SoCon Player of the Week for the week ending March 6, which was unprecedented.

— Baseball: The Citadel had a second consecutive losing season, the first time that’s happened since 1966-67. However, there were bright spots in a year that clearly was one of transition, and the Bulldogs did make the league tournament this year after failing to do so in 2011. The key for 2013 will be to make sure the contributing freshmen from the squad all return (not to mention the sophomores and juniors as well).

— Basketball: 6-24, 3-15. Like baseball, lots of freshmen were employed. The problem with going through a tough year with a bunch of young players wasn’t as much that the Bulldogs only won six games this season; it’s that the transition (there’s that word again) came after a terribly disappointing 2010-11 campaign.

I’m afraid the enthusiasm for the hoops program will have to be self-generated until the team starts winning. When that happens, of course, everyone will jump on the bandwagon. It is the nature of sports.

— Football: Well, 4-7 (2-6) is better than 3-8 (1-7)…by one game. That bald assessment would be a bit harsh, as the team competed well almost every week, showing a good deal of improvement, and could easily have won two or three more games. The Bulldogs could have also lost that crazy game to Chattanooga and finished with the same exact record, too. Bill Parcells (“you are what your record says you are”) is right.

Prior to the last two years, The Citadel had not had back-to-back losing seasons in the “Big 3” sports over the same two-year period since the 1965-66 and 1966-67 school years. This year wasn’t as bad as last year, but the difference, at least in terms of raw wins and losses, was marginal.

Excuse the copy-and-paste approach to blogging, but I said this last year and I’ll say it this year:

The department of athletics pivots off the success of the football team; it’s the most high-profile sport at the school, it’s where the money is made, and I also think that it sometimes establishes momentum for the other sports.

I can’t emphasize enough how important the upcoming football season is going to be, not just for Kevin Higgins’ program, but for the entire varsity sports scene at The Citadel. A “positive vibe” is badly needed.

Simply put, the team has to win. It won’t be easy, as the schedule is not particularly favorable, but there can be no excuses. Next year has to be this year.

Let’s hope there is a lot more winning in all of The Citadel’s varsity sports in 2012-13.

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