ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JOE KLEINSASSER
Break up the Bluejays. If you look at the results of the four highest profile revenue sports in 2004-05, it’s a clean sweep for Tabor.
The volleyball team was the KCAC co-champion. The football team and the men’s and women’s basketball teams won outright conference championships.
I don’t know if this is precedent setting or not, but it’s safe to say that rarely has one school won titles in those sports in the same year. It’s also doubtful that Tabor pours as much money into athletics as their competition.
If you measure success by getting the most bang for your buck, Tabor College is hard to beat.
Tabor has pulled off the seemingly impossible with good student-athletes and some outstanding coaching. At the small college level it’s hard to recruit a lot of great athletes, but if you find the right mix of very good athletes with good coaching, you can compete with anyone in the KCAC.
Amy Ratzlaff has consistently produced winning volleyball teams in her tenure at Tabor. To win a conference title after losing most of her team to graduation last year speaks volumes.
Mike Gardner won a title in his first season as a head coach in football. The table was set by his predecessor, but credit Gardner for pulling things together after losing a large senior class the year before and being picked to finish in the middle of the pack.
Rusty Allen has made significant strides with the women’s basketball program. The Bluejays have shown steady improvement under his leadership. And to win 17 straight conference games after losing the conference opener is amazing.
The future looks extremely bright for the Tabor women, with most of the key players expected to return next season.
What can you say about the job Don Brubacher has done over the years? His teams regularly compete for conference championships and qualify for post-season play.
Whenever he retires, the conference should consider permanently naming the award the KCAC Don Brubacher Coach of the Year Award. Not surprisingly, he was named Coach of the Year again this year.
The respective coaches have done a great job at finding good student-athletes. But it takes more than talent to win conference championships. The coaches are a major reason for Tabor’s success. They know how to recruit, teach, coach and mold teams to perform at a high level.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to evaluate what KCAC school has the best head coaches for the major sports, so I won’t begin to try.
There are so many variables. Let’s just say that Tabor doesn’t have to take a back seat to anyone, and we are fortunate to have Allen, Brubacher, Gardner and Ratzlaff lead the respective teams.
One challenging aspect of coaching at Tabor is that the budget is perennially tight. For example, the football stadium, if you can call it that, is one of the worst in the conference.
Limited budgets make it difficult for KCAC football champions to compete successfully in the post-season. A coach can quickly tire of banging his head against the wall if the perception is that he can’t win outside the conference.
It would help if the NAIA had two divisions in football to give the smaller schools a fighting chance in the post-season.
The opportunity for post-season success in volleyball also is limited for a KCAC champion when some NAIA schools have players with experience playing on their country’s national team.
In basketball, there’s a better chance for post-season success since there are two divisions in the NAIA. The Tabor men often lose early in the national tournament, but they have made it as far as the semifinals, so it’s not impossible to have success.
Tabor and its fans are fortunate to have a home in the KCAC. Tabor can be competitive while operating on a scale that is proportional to institutional values and realities, while not becoming the athletic tail that wags the academic dog.
For one year, anyway, Tabor athletic teams have achieved an unusual amount of success. My advice to Bluejay fans is simply to enjoy the moment. It doesn’t get much better than this.