Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The State of Vanderbilt Sports

In looking back through old posts, I thought it'd be interest to do a recap of the events of this years football and basketball seasons, and compare that to where we were at this point last year. A "State of Vanderbilt Sports" to summarize my feelings on where we're going.

Naturally, you have to be pleased with the performance of the football team. While the fashion in which they accomplished our goal of reaching a bowl game for the first time in 20+ years was, shall we say, rocky, it was nonetheless completed. VSL has discussed for the past couple of years that this was the primary goal that our football team needed to achieve, and now we've finally done it. Considering that our focus at this point in the year last year was on Earl Bennett, Chris Williams, and Jonathan Goff leaving for the NFL, the accomplishment cannot be overstated. Vanderbilt reached a #14 ranking nationally, got an ESPN Gameday game, and despite absolutely slumping to the finish after their hot start, managed to come up with a win in the hometown bowl game. With CBJ's best recruiting class in quite some time coming in, and a deeper roster with a lot of experienced players, hopefully the Commies can become consistent bowl participants, and not suffer a long drought such as the one we just overcame.

I said in October that a new era of Vanderbilt basketball was beginning. Well the first steps have been taken. And if this really is the dark present that I said we might have to endure to get to the bright future, then I'd say things are looking up. There's no doubt that not getting an NIT bid is a disappointment, but to go 19-12 and 8-8 in conference with a team where 5 freshmen got significant minutes is far from terrible. We saw tremendous progress and potential from all of the freshmen, and if we maintain our nucleus then we'll be destined for good things. This program is over the hump in attracting good talent, and with hard offseason work and a bit of luck we're going to see more progress from Vanderbilt hoops than ever before. Last year, we were coming off a disappointing loss to Siena in the first round of the tournament, but we were raving about the kids we were bringing in. This year, the foundation was laid.

The women's basketball program, meanwhile, has remained one of the most dominant in the country, advancing to the sweet 16 and capturing yet another SEC Championship. Vandy women are the only team left from the SEC in the tournament and they'll be gunning to take down top seed Maryland. Coach Melanie Balcomb's program has been a steady hand and has brought a great deal of pride to the Vanderbilt name.

The baseball season is in the early stages, but much like basketball, there is a great deal of youth that needs development. The difference here is that the baseball program has arrived, successfully capturing highly ranked recruiting class after highly ranked recruiting class. We've managed to capture an SEC title, and if we can find a way to get over the hump in the College World Series, we'll realize our full potential there.

That's not including our other successful sports like Lacrosse, Bowling, Tennis, Golf, and Cross Country. Considering the state that most of our athletic programs were in when I was there (2001-2005), we are in tremendous shape. The hard work of many past athletes is having current results, and the future is bright for all of our programs.

So as we struggle to find some good Vanderbilt news stories out there, with basketball season over (except for the Lady Dores) and spring practice just beginning, keep in mind that things are doing just fine up in Nashville.

1 comment:

Bobby O'Shea said...

Stanimal, great post.

I would only add that I think that the key for Vanderbilt sports is meeting and exceeding the expectations they have created among their fan base. After building and developing the program, the key is to avoid reverting back to where we were when the editors of this site were in college.

Not making the NIT was a real disappointment because, based on the team's play over the past 6 years, we've come to expect that we play into March. There is no reason, given the youth and talent of CKS' team that we won't be right back on track next season. Still, this season's "youthful indiscretions" will be unacceptable next year. As a fan-base, we've come to expect more.

Football has the same opportunities, and the same problems. CBJ has built a program that has gotten over the hump and had their first winning season since 1982. We've got guys in the pros, and even someone making national headlines (thanks Jay Cutler and agent). But no one wants to go backward. 3 and 4 win seasons are no longer acceptable. We've recruited well such that fans can consider successful recruiting classes as "reloading" rather than "rebuilding." That wasn't in our lexicon just 4 years ago.

As the Stanimal and I discussed a few minutes ago, a major reason for Vanderbilt's success (particularly in men's basketball and football) is continuity. As much as I'd love both Kevin and Bobby to end their careers in Nashville, I don't see that happening (especially in Kevin's case). The progress of these teams will seriously be judged (and perhaps more properly evaluated) when their primary architects no longer patrol the sidelines.

This is not meant as a wet-blanket post. Quite the contrary. I'm so happy that as a program, Vanderbilt fans now have "expectations." As I've said before, Congratulations Commie Fans, we're finally able to be as irrational as very other fan-base in America.