Bluejay athletic teams earning solid grades at mid-term

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Most of the Tabor College students are home these days, either reveling in their first-semester grades or wondering just what went wrong.

Either way, the marks are in the books and a feeling of anticipation awaits for second semester.

In that vein, the grades also are in for Tabor College sports teams. Here are some observations about the first half of the athletic season.

Football

Head coach Tim McCarty and his staff had, without a doubt, the greatest season in the history of the program.

In McCarty’s five years at the helm, the program was transformed from an 0-10 team in 1999 to a 9-2 record this season, which included a second-place finish in the KCAC and the team’s first appearance in the national playoffs.

McCarty himself was named KCAC and NAIA coach of the year, and numerous Bluejay athletes were named to the all-conference and all-NAIA teams.

Graduation will take a toll on the Bluejays following this season, but with a good array of returning talent and McCarty’s proven recruiting ability, the Bluejays figure to maintain their position near the top of the KCAC.

Final grade: A.

Volleyball

The Bluejay volleyball team, like the football team, reached levels of excellence never before attained at Tabor College.

Coach Amy Ratzlaff’s team won its third consecutive KCAC title, the last two being undisputed championships.

Ratzlaff was named the KCAC coach of the year for the second straight year, and numerous athletes won all-conference honors.

In addition to the Bluejays regular-season conference title, Tabor won the KCAC post-season tournament to earn its first trip to the national tournament.

The Bluejays’ loss to Doane College ended a great year and took nothing away from the foundation of excellence established by Coach Ratzlaff.

Ratzlaff loses the core of her team to graduation, but plenty of talented underclassmen bided their time, waiting and learning how to be winners, from the most successful group to grace a Bluejay volleyball uniform.

Final grade: A.

Men’s soccer

With the late departure of last year’s head coach, Nathan Wilkey, new coach Lincoln Wulf faced a huge challenge taking over a program that managed to do little recruiting, suffered a heavy loss to graduation, and endured the defection of a couple of prominent players from last year’s team.

Wulf played with the hand he was dealt, but found the deck to be a little light.

Despite their final 2-14-2 record, the Bluejays showed marked improvement from the beginning of the season to the final six games.

Wulf kept his team motivated to play hard and battle to the end, even when they had nothing to play for but pride.

With a good year of recruiting and another year to implement Wulf’s system, the men’s soccer program is definitely headed in the right direction.

Final grade: B.

Women’s soccer

Head coach Dylan Pohlman entered the season in an uncertain mode, much like men’s coach Lincoln Wulf.

With the direction of the Bluejays soccer programs in limbo, recruiting was minimal, graduation took a heavy toll, and the result was a difficult start for the women’s team.

The Bluejays made a late-season run that found them with a 4-5 conference record and a 5-12 record overall. The team battled for a post-season playoff spot up until the final game of the season.

With Wulf adding stability in the overall soccer program, and the knowledge of Pohlman and a good influx of talent through recruiting, the women’s soccer team in on course for a better season next year.

Final grade: B.

Cross country

Coach Karol Hunt greeted a youthful squad this fall that carried little experience, for the most part, but plenty of potential.

Hunt guided both the men’s and women’s teams to a fifth-place finish in the KCAC Championships, More importantly, she watched as her runners showed steady improvement during the season.

Angie Jost, Kendra Raber and Pete Richert each earned all-conference honors while numerous runners improved their personal best times right up until the final meets.

Hunt will lose just three members of this year’s team to graduation, creating the possibility for another year of competitive excellence next fall.

Her ability to get the maximum effort from her runners has put Tabor on course for another solid year.

Final grade: B+.

Golf

Coach Randy Keck knows what it takes to be successful on the golf course. A former professional golfer, Keck has begun the process of building a solid and competitive squad for the Bluejays, and has recruited some of the most talented golfers in school history.

The men’s team made great strides this fall, and Diane Soldan as the lone member of the women’s team, showed they will compete for team and individual titles in future years.

With Keck knowledge of the game and the raw talent flowing into the Bluejay program, it’s only a matter of time before Tabor golf bursts onto the KCAC scene-and realistically sets its sights on national recognition.

Final grade: B.

Men’s basketball

Following a brutal pre-conference schedule that doomed the Bluejays to an 0-7 start, head coach Don Brubacher is molding his team into a conference contender.

Ongoing improvement on both ends of the court have translated into a perfect 4-0 start to the conference season.

Prior to the start of conference play, the Bluejays averaged 70 points per game. In KCAC games, the output has increased to an average of 80.3 points.

Conversely, the Bluejay defense gave up 87 points in their first seven games, but only 65 points per outing in conference play.

The loss of point guard Grant Brubacher to an injury has slowed the development of the offense. His court leadership might have helped the newcomers, but Cody Schafer and Andy Brubacher are adapting to their roles as court leaders.

If Coach Brubacher’s Bluejays can attain relative consistency, toughen up on the boards, and limit their turnovers, the sky is the limit for their success.

Final grade: A-.

Women’s basketball

Head coach Rusty Allen was as energized by the Tabor volleyball team’s success as anyone, but it put his basketball team behind the eight-ball to begin the season.

Three members of the championship volleyball squad are also key contributors to the basketball team. Their late start, coupled with injuries to several other members of the team, made for a slow start.

With a 6-6 record at Christmas break, the season has thus far been a matter of what has been and what could have been. The Bluejays lost two games to a tough Newman team, but defeated one of the nation’s top teams, Concordia University on its home floor.

During conference play, the Bluejays are sitting at 1-3, but could easily be 3-1. They surrendered a 16-point second-half lead at Bethany, and dropped a double-overtime decision at Bethel.

Still, Allen asks for patience. All signs indicate the influx of new talent is melding with the experienced veterans, forming a team that will challenge for the KCAC title.

With continued hard work and a lucky bounce of the basketball here and there, it could still be a season to remember for the women’s team.

Final grade: B.

* * *

So the midterm grades are in. Overall, I should have been so lucky when I was in college to have a grade-point average the Bluejays have earned. Tabor College is blessed with a great group of coaches and a stable of athletes that represents the Bluejays well on and off the court.

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