The NKU athletics program will be completing its third year in Division I competition at the end of the Spring season. From both soccer teams winning a game in the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament, to the men’s basketball head coach being fired, there were many highs and lows to the 2014-15 athletics season at NKU. The Northerner takes a look at the year in review in NKU athletics.
The season began in the fall with soccer exhibition games, which saw the NKU women’s team defeat Wright State in early August. A few weeks later, before a sold out crowd at the NKU Soccer Stadium, the men’s soccer team finished in a scoreless tie against in-state rival the University of Kentucky.
Optimism filled the NKU Soccer Stadium before the season. However, the men’s team struggled to put together a string of victories, finishing with a losing 6-10-4 record. The team qualified for its first ever Atlantic Sun Conference tournament, defeating Stetson in the first round 1-0 before losing to rival Florida Gulf Coast 2-0 in the second round.
The women’s soccer team improved for a second consecutive year, finishing with its first winning record in Division I with a 9-8-3 record. The team also qualified for its first ever Atlantic Sun Conference tournament, defeating North Florida 2-0 in the first round, before losing to rival Florida Gulf Coast 3-1 in the second round.
The NKU volleyball team continued its winning tradition, finishing with a 19-11 record with notable non-conference wins against Morehead State, Temple, and Eastern Kentucky. the team qualified for its first ever Atlantic Sun Conference tournament, defeating Stetson in the first round before losing to Lipscomb in the second round. The team also garnered a remarkable 10-2 record at home in Regents Hall.
The winter was highlighted by the basketball teams both making strides in its development into elite Atlantic Sun members and becoming competitive against other Division I schools. The teams began playing non-conference games in November and December, which was highlighted by a crowd of over 6,000 at The Bank of Kentucky Center to watch the men’s team lose to 16th-ranked West Virginia, led by former University of Cincinnati Head Coach Bob Huggins.
The men’s team improved from a dismal 2013-14 campaign by finishing with a 13-17 record. The team faced three ranked teams in it’s non-conference schedule, including eventual national championship runner-up Wisconsin. The team finished with an even 7-7 conference record, finishing fourth and qualifying to host a first round game in the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament. The team lost that first round game in Regents Hall in overtime, 76-73, against Lipscomb in what would be Head Coach Dave Bezold’s final game at the helm of the Norse after 11 years. Bezold was fired at the end of the season due to low performance and was replaced by former Alabama interim head coach John Brannen. Additionally, A-Sun freshman of the year Tayler Persons announced that he decided to transfer next season, along with sophomore Daniel Camps and 2015 recruit Hagen Tyler.
The women’s team continued to excel at the Division I level finishing 19-14 with notable non-conference wins over crosstown rival Cincinnati, Marquette, and IUPUI. The historic achievement of the year happened during homecoming weekend when senior Melody Doss became the 28th member of the 1,000 point club at NKU.
The team also qualified to host a first round game in the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament, defeating USC-Upstate 64-45 in Regents Hall to win its first-ever conference tournament game. In stunning fashion, the team went on to defeat Stetson in DeLand, Fl. in the semifinals 53-52 to advance to the championship game. There the team lost to dominant national powerhouse Florida Gulf Coast 60-43 to finish as runner-up. The Norse then were selected at the top seed in the WBI tournament, losing in the first round to eighth-seeded Marshall 81-79 at The Bank of Kentucky Center.
With Brannen at the helm of the men’s team and the women’s team having two conference tournament wins under its belt, the 2015-16 season will bring new ideas and new goals for the NKU basketball program.
Winter weather played a major role in the spring sports early in the season postponing games and leaving the baseball and softball teams without games for days at a time. The baseball team cancelled five games this season, while the softball team cancelled 14 games, 10 of them consecutively.
Aside from the weather the baseball team has improved their win-loss record for a third consecutive season in 2015. At publication, the team had a 16-24 record, including non-conference wins against Eastern Kentucky, Dayton, and a series sweep over Xavier. The team had eight wins in 2013 and 14 in 2014. Cole Bauml is also one of the best players in the country, leading the nation in doubles this season.
In games that have been played, the softball team has also struggled in its third year in Division I. The team’s first win did not come until March 11, nearly a month after the season began, when the Norse defeated Tennessee State. At publication, the team has a 5-38 record, meaning it will not finish with double-digit wins for a second consecutive year (the team only finished with five wins last year).
Next year will be the year of proving the growth of the program in the last three years. It will be the final year of required four-year reclassification period before being fully competing in Division I in 2016-17. NKU will look to improve its programs against the higher-echelon schools such as Kentucky and Cincinnati, while also improving its record against the Atlantic Sun Conference schools.
This year was a year of change and next year we will see the product of that change. The future of NKU athletics will be showcased after next year and we will have a clearer idea of the future of the program in Division I history.