July 23, 2009
By JERRY HILL
Baylor Bear Insider
In his role as Athletics Director, Ian McCaw tries to be in all places at all times, trekking across the country to follow each of Baylor's 18 intercollegiate teams.
But in a year when Baylor sent a record 14 teams to postseason play, McCaw's frequent-flyer points were stretched to the limit.
"Certainly every year has its high points and low points," McCaw said. "But overall, this was another great year for Baylor athletics. The fact that we did have 14 teams go to postseason competition really speaks to the quality across all of our sports. I believe that's one of the things that's become a hallmark of our program is that we are competitive in everything we do. We don't just have a couple isolated sports that are really strong."
Even the teams that didn't make it to postseason certainly had their moments.
In the fall, football took center stage with the emergence of freshman quarterback Robert Griffin and blowout wins over Washington State, Iowa State and Texas A&M. And the Bears are now poised to make an even bigger splash in '09.
"Reaching a bowl game is honestly something we have to do," McCaw said. "It would mean a tremendous amount in terms of the credibility of our football program, and it would really affirm the great work that Coach (Art) Briles and his staff are doing and all the hard work the student-athletes are putting in. And really, I think in large part, it would change the perception of the entire institution."
Volleyball also notched a win over Texas A&M - on the road nonetheless - and moved up to sixth in the Big 12 standings, narrowly missing an NCAA Tournament berth.
The women's soccer team capped off its debut season under head coach Marci Jobson with a 0-0 tie on the road at No. 8 Texas. And the women's cross country team finished second in the Big 12 and 19th at the NCAA Championships.
"I believe we can sit here and genuinely say we've got 18 sports that are all either experiencing success or on a trajectory where they're making great progress," McCaw said. "That's real encouraging, and it's a credit to our coaches and student-athletes, our staff, and obviously we couldn't do it without the support of the Bear Foundation and our corporate sponsors. We're in a really good place right now, but we can't let that allow us to become complacent. We've got to keep pushing forward, because we're in a very competitive environment."
Through the winter months, it was the men's and women's basketball teams that carried the mantle.
The men got off to a 15-3 start and were ranked in the Top 25 for a school-record seven consecutive weeks. And then, after recovering from a late-season slide, the Bears reached the Big 12 Tournament championship game for the first time in school history and won four games in the National Invitation Tournament before falling to Penn State in the final at Madison Square Garden.
At the same time, the Lady Bears made news of their own - winning 29 games, taking the Big 12 Tournament championship for the second time in school history and reaching the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in the last six years despite losing All-Big 12 center Danielle Wilson late in the year with an ACL knee injury.
Between the two programs, Baylor won an unprecedented 12 postseason games.
"The postseason basketball run was really a highlight for our fans," McCaw said. "It seemed like every night there was an exciting game. While we were excited about (the 2008 season) with both teams making it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time, I think this year was even more captivating with the men's great run in the NIT and the women making a great run to the Sweet 16. The new NIT is really a great event, and we reaped the benefit of that in terms of both revenue and exposure. And I think it was certainly a great experience for the student-athletes, so they'll come back with just that much more confidence heading into next year."
At the tail end of the winter months, Baylor track made headlines with a pair of titles at the NCAA Indoor Championships. Junior Trey Harts won the 200 meters with a sizzling time of 20.63 seconds and then ran the leadoff leg on the men's 4x400-meter relay that won its fifth consecutive national title.
In what has become a familiar pattern, Baylor saved some of its best for spring.
Baseball and softball returned to postseason after a year's absence; men's and women's tennis swept the Big 12 regular-season and tournament championships; equestrian finished fourth nationally in Hunter Seat after climbing to a first-ever No. 1 national ranking at one point; men's and women's golf both made regional appearances; and the women's track team posted a top 10 finish at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
The softball team found a new star in freshman pitcher Whitney Canion, who posted 27 wins with a 1.80 ERA and a school-record 415 strikeouts. But sharing the spotlight was senior third baseman Brette Reagan, who miraculously came back from an ACL knee injury in just 32 days, helping the Lady Bears to a 40-win season and their third Super Regional appearance in the last five years.
With tennis adding four more Big 12 trophies to the shelf, Baylor has now collected 25 conference championships in the last six years to rank second behind only Texas.
"What's great about (the tennis) programs is that it's almost become an expectation that they'll win the Big 12 and be right there nationally," McCaw said. "(Coaches) Matt Knoll and Joey Scrivano do a great job with both those programs. And the good news is that we'll have just about everybody back from this year's teams. I think we have a chance to challenge again for national championships in both men's and women's tennis next year."
Capping off the collegiate season, the women's track team got top six finishes from Tiffany Townsend in the 200 meters, Erin Bedell in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, DeAna Carson in the long jump and both the 4x100 and 4x400 relays to match its best-ever finish at tied for 10th.
The men had their 42-race streak snapped and finished third in the 4x400 relay, but the Bears still posted their 12th consecutive top 20 finish at a national meet. Off the courts, fields and track, Baylor's student-athletes also had an overall grade point average of over 3.00 for "the first time on record," McCaw said, and the Bear Foundation set a record for the fifth consecutive year by raising over $6.3 million for scholarships.
"I think we did a lot of things very innovatively on the administrative side with marketing, media relations and so forth," he said. "It was a year when we made a lot of progress as an athletic program, and I really feel good about the overall state of Baylor athletics."