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Dave Campbell Looks Back at Spring 2001

May 9, 2001

Editor's Note: Dave Campbell's column appears in each edition of the Baylor Bear Insider Report, available upon membership in the Baylor Bear Foundation. For information on joining the Bear Foundation, click here. For an archive of his other columns, click here.

Lo, the sands of time begin to run short on Baylor's second semester of athletic competition for this 2000-2001 school year. To be sure, quite a bit remains to be decided (in baseball, track and field, tennis, golf, softball) in the three or four weeks we still have remaining before we close the books on this current spring, but much already has happened since January that must be crammed into this personal memory box.

For example, who among us will soon forget the marvelous, bell-ringing basketball victory scored by coach Dave Bliss' giant-killers on the night they truly accomplished mission impossible, shocking No. 6-rated Kansas before the Ferrell Center multitude and a nationwide television audience.

Or the wall-to-wall ecstasy of coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson and her Lady Bears when they sat in front of a giant television screen at the Baylor Student Life Center and received the joyous news firsthand: they had become the first women's basketball team in Baylor history to win a prized berth in the NCAA tournament.

That news climaxed a joy ride for Lady Bear hoops fans, seeing their favorites reverse last year's season, win 21 games, achieve a No. 24 national ranking, upset the likes of No. 7-ranked Iowa State, set a new school season attendance record, put not one but two stars (Sheila Lambert and Danielle Crockrom) on the All-Big 12 first team, and showcase the talents of their rookie head coach as something beyond extraordinary.

But let us not stop with basketball.

THIS ALSO WAS the year that Baylor threw open the doors to its multi-million dollar new Tennis Center, and immediately was inundated with a flashflood of rave reviews.

And the year Baylor began work on what promises to be an equally socko new home course and clubhouse facility for its up-and-coming golf teams.

Speaking of golf, this also was the spring when Baylor men's golf captured its first conference championship in more than 30 years, and did so by a margin larger than that achieved by any other Baylor golf team in history. Likewise, it was the year when one of its own, Worth Williams, won the individual Big 12 championship from here to yonder.

And also the year when the Baylor women's golf team recorded its highest-ever finish (third) in the Big 12 Tournament. And now both Bears and Lady Bears will seek new honors in the NCAA regional competition for which both have qualified.

In addition, this was the spring when one of the youngest-ever Baylor men's tennis teams went to Austin and beat the Texas Longhorns on their own court for the first time in Baylor history, and went on to secure a place in an NCAA regional tournament while playing perhaps the toughest schedule in the country.

Last year, Baylor men's coach Matt Knoll was named Big 12 Coach of the Year after the Bears had won the conference championship. That was an honor well deserved.

But to my mind, knowing all that Knoll lost from that team, the adversity he encountered in putting together this team, and the schedule his team had to play, he has done an even better coaching job this year.

ALSO, LEST WE FORGET, Dave Luedtke's Lady Bear netters lost only 6 matches all season while winning 20, enabling them to gain a No. 18 national ranking and, more to the point, be chosen for the first time to host an NCAA regional tournament.

Since they will be the top seed in that regional tournament, they find themselves now in prime position to win their way to the women's NCAA championship tournament to be held this year in Stone Mountain, Ga., (just outside Atlanta), site of the 1996 Olympic tennis competition. Such a trip would be historic for the women's tennis program.

And it's going to happen. You have Luedtke's word for it. "I guarantee these kids are going to win that (regional) tournament and get to go to Atlanta," he told a banquet audience last Friday night.

Moving on, this was the spring when Kelly Shoppach set a new modern-day standard for Baylor baseball catchers, both behind the plate and in swinging the bat while helping keep the Big 12's defending champions in the thick of this year's title race.

And the semester when the Bears won another conference crown in the 4x400-meter relay, performed spectacularly at the famed Texas Relays, and their 400-meter standout, Brandon Couts, became Baylor's all-time leader in career conference titles.

And when new coach Glenn Moore took over the Baylor women's softball program and promptly gave it a transfusion of hope and expectation despite a cruel array of injuries and a lack of upper level talent.

IN SHORT, when Baylor fans pause to really think about it, this already has been a spring semester bright with both accomplishment and long-range promise, and pieced together while competing in a conference that is truly big league.

And, guys and gals, it ain't over yet.

But whatever happens in the few remaining weeks of the semester, Baylor Bear Foundation members ought to feel good about the Green and Gold's record of achievement.

After all, it is their dollars that help fund the scholarships of the student-athletes who have done all that achieving.

IF THAT DOESN'T make you feel better, maybe this story will.

The story came out of the banquet given last Friday evening for the Baylor men's and women's tennis teams. What we really needed for the occasion was a tape recorder. There were some things said there that need to be distributed widely. They would make any Baylor grad proud.

To me, the most riveting story grew out of the words of Csongor Bibza, one of coach Matt Knoll's two seniors. Bibza is a native of Szaszregen, Romania, but he now calls Budapest, Hungary, home. He was Hungarian national champion in the under-18 division and was a member of the No. 4-ranked team in Europe that competed in the European Team Championships.

But going into this senior season he had not enjoyed the success that he surely anticipated at Baylor. His junior season last year was especially disappointing, and when Knoll decided to put him in the No. 1 singles position this year, I think most of us thought he had made a mistake.

But Bibza had a fine senior season. His head-to-head record at the No. 1 position was only 6-13 but, remember, Baylor played a plethora of highly-ranked teams, and Bibza usually was going against a rival No. 1 player who was ranked much higher. But it soon became obvious that Bibza was playing almost beyond himself in his bid to score upsets and help the team. He was taking his leadership duties as a senior seriously.

A prime example would be his match against Texas' Jean Simon in the men's semifinals of the Big 12 tounament. Simon is ranked No. 33 nationally, Bibza is unranked. But the final score of that match reflected the fire, effort and competitive zeal that Bibza put on the line against the talented Longhorn. Simon had to win a tiebreaker to win the first set at 7-6, and then had to pull out all stops to take the second, 7-5.

The Baylor senior had lost, but he had lost with honor.

AT THE FRIDAY NIGHT banquet, he was the last player to speak. When he sat down, he had put a lump in every listener's throat.

"I grew up in a communist country," Bibza reminded his audience. "My parents kept looking for a miracle. I don't know if I knew what a miracle was. But the last couple of years, I've learned a lot. My life has been a miracle."

At this point, Bibza paused, swallowed and then swallowed again. He was almost overcome with emotion as the memories came flooding back. "To be here at Baylor," he continued, "to get a degree from Baylor, to know I met my wife here at Baylor, it's been a complete journey. It has been a miracle."

He said he met his wife, Emily -- and here he was very precise -- "three years and four days ago." Emily, sitting there in the audience, smiling while trying to keep check on her own emotions, is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Orville Jansen of Austin, and Orville is an old Baylor man himself -- recruited to play football for the Bears in 1969 (injuries kept him from pursuing his football career).

But after the banquet, Emily and Csongor led me to a place in the Baylor Letterman's Lounge where photographs of Baylor football teams of yesteryear can be found. "That's Orville," pointed Emily proudly, as Csongor beamed.

From communist country to Baylor green and gold, from a 2000 tennis season filled with disappointment to a 2001 season replete with true grit, from an unknown lad from Budapest to a fighting Baylor Bear and the devoted son-in-law of a former Baylor Bear, well, as Csongor said, it's been a complete journey.

I think every member of the audience wanted to shake his hand when the banquet had ended.

NO REPORT ON THAT BANQUET would be complete without mention of Matt Knoll's other senior, Mark Williams. He is a scholar-athlete in every sense of the word -- great in the classroom and the toughest competitor on the Baylor team. Not necessarily the greatest talent, mind you, but the toughest competitor. When people speak of mental toughness, they should know Mark Williams invented the words.

When awards were handed out at the banquet, Williams made what seemed to be a constant trek. "Most Inspirational" -- Mark Williams. "Student-Athlete Award" -- Mark Williams. "Most Valuable Player (the Scott Livesay Award)" -- Mark Williams. Mark Williams is an Aussie and his accent still betrays him. He, too, had some memorable things to say.

"I'm so glad I came to Baylor," he said. "The thing I'll remember most here is the team spirit -- it's the best in the country." Looking back on his four years, the thing he would remember most about his freshman season is Baylor beating Texas -- "and they had a lot better team." His sophomore season the Bears won their way to the NCAA national tournament and upset No. 1-ranked Stanford, the multiple defending champion. How, he wondered, could he ever forget that. Then as a junior the Bears won the conference championship -- their first ever.

"This year, we had a very tough schedule. The climax for us came in that very last (regular-season) match when we beat Texas in Austin, something no other Baylor team has ever done.

"Baylor," he concluded his remarks, "is really a special place."

THE AWARDS FOR the Lady Bears found senior Karin Andersson being named team captain, Frida Borjesson winning the "Most Improved" plaque, Alison Bradley the "Golden Bear" Award, and Katja Kovac the MVP.

And the most memorable words came from senior and No. 1 singles player Jahnavi Parekh, a native of Mumbai, India, by way of Bombay. She is only 5-2 but she can smash the ball like a 6-footer. She is an accounting major, smart as a whip, very precise in her strokes, very difficult to beat.

Like Katja Kovac, she was named to the Big 12 All-Conference team last week for the third year in a row. "Janu," her nickname, has been ranked as high as No. 13 nationally.

"I remember my first (tennis) banquet here. It seems like yesterday," she said. "And my years here have just been great. I've tried to enjoy every moment. Now I want all those moments back." And speaking of this year's team, "I think we did a pretty good job of bonding, compromising, finding common ground."

Then, turning to Luedtke, she said: "Coach, thank you for letting me play for Baylor."

It was a very good evening.

Indeed, it has been a very good spring.

Editor's Note: Dave Campbell's column appears in each edition of the Baylor Bear Insider Report, available upon membership in the Baylor Bear Foundation. For information on joining the Bear Foundation, click here. For an archive of his other columns, click here.



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