COMMENTARY- Year-end grades are in for TC sports program

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
With 2005 complete and in the books, it’s time to review the past season of sports at Tabor College.

Simply put, it was a pretty good year to be a Bluejay.

Early in the year, both the men’s and women’s basketball teams reached post-season play, as did the football and volleyballs in fall. Even the baseball team won a post-season game this past spring.

The Bluejays also were represented at the national level in track and field.

Suffice it to say this has been the most enjoyable of the three years I’ve covered Tabor College sports for the Free Press.

As I’ve done in the past, I’ve filled out a year-end grade card for Bluejay athletics. I’ll do my best to highlight each sport and its accomplishments.

Women’s basketball-It’s fair to say Bluejay women’s basketball has arrived at the national level.

The program has come a long way since coach Rusty Allen took over the reins five years ago. But with its first Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference title (17-1) in 12 years and a trip to Sioux City, Iowa, Tabor has made it onto the national map.

Allen’s squad finished last season at 25-6, which included a first-round victory at the NAIA tournament over Daemen College of New York to advance to the Sweet 16. They gave Morningside College, the hometown favorite and eventual national champ, all they wanted.

This season, Allen’s team has raced to a 10-3 record, including a 4-0 mark in the KCAC. With it comes a No. 9 national ranking.

Top-rated talent continues to flow into the program, suggesting that Tabor’s dominance will not be a short-lived fluke.

Grade: A

Men’s basketball-A late-season rally carried the Bluejays to the regular-season KCAC title and an automatic berth in the NAIA national championships at Point Lookout, Mo.

Unfortunately, the Bluejays were greeted by the eventual national champion, Walsh University from Ohio. Even so, the Bluejays played the Cavaliers to within 68-62.

This season, coach Don Brubacher returned a slew of seniors but most lacked significant varsity experience.

Even so, Tabor stands at 6-5 at the holiday break and shares a portion of the KCAC lead with a 3-1 record.

Scoring has been the primary challenge for this year’s team, but Brubacher’s trademark defense has kept the Bluejays in contention.

As the team gains experience, it’s conceivable the Bluejays may be packing their bags for another trip to Point Lookout.

Grade: B

Volleyball-With a fifth consecutive KCAC title, coach Amy Ratzlaff’s program continues to set the standard for the conference.

Ratzlaff lost only one senior before this season, so expectations were stratospheric-but within reach, as it turned out.

With a 17-1 conference record, Tabor shared the title with rival Bethel. The Bluejays’ four-game victory over McPherson College in the KCAC post-season tournament finals punched their ticket to Omaha for the Region IV tournament. There, a first round loss to Park University ended their season at 22-11.

With KCAC Player-of-the-Year Staci Whitcomb returning for her senior season, another title in 2006 appears promising.

It remains to be seen whether the Bluejays can convince themselves they can compete at the regional level.

Grade: B+

Football-Tabor’s football team captured its second consecutive KCAC title this fall with a perfect 9-0 mark.

By doing so, Coach Mike Gardner’s sixth-ranked Bluejays qualified for the national playoffs, where they claimed the school’s first-ever playoff victory be beating Graceland University of Iowa, 17-14.

The Miracle in Marion County ended with a loss to Sioux Falls Universityand an 11-1 mark. But no one laughs anymore when “football” and “Tabor College” are used in the same sentence.

Tabor will lose heavily through graduation, but Gardner has shown an ability to reload rather than rebuild.

Rumor has it Tabor is thinking seriously of revamping dismal Reimer Field-and it couldn’t happen too soon. Pride in Tabor football is at an all-time high.

Here’s hoping the best is yet to come and the Bluejays can grab another KCAC title in 2006. With Gardner and staff in control, the future looks Blue and Gold-plated.

Grade: A

Baseball-Coach John Sparks’ team earned its first post-season appearance this spring and even a victory there.

Although Tabor struggled to an 8-16 KCAC record, it qualified for the tournament, where it went 1-2 with a victory over defending champion Friends.

Tabor’s 22-31 overall record wasn’t as good as many hoped but Sparks seems to be upgrading the talent level, setting the stage for an exciting 2006.

Grade: B-

Softball-Coach Tina King’s team failed to qualify for the post-season tournament after going 4-12 in conference play.

The Bluejays finished at 8-20 in 2005, but 2006 could be a breakout year. King is integrating more of her own signees, several of whom could make an immediate impact.

If the new talent blends with the veterans, the Bluejays should make it to post-season play and perhaps challenge for a KCAC title.

Grade: C+

Cross country-In her 13th season, Coach Karol Hunt led the Bluejays to what’s becoming a battle for second place behind perennial power Southwestern College.

With only one senior between either team, the Tabor women captured fourth and the men fifth at the KCAC championships.

Several runners posted personal-best times near the end of the season, so expectations are high for next fall-providing Hunt is able to fortify her current lineup with new talent.

Grade: C+

Tennis-With gradation and tranfers taking a heavy toll on his roster, 2005 was somewhat of a down year for coach Lonnie Isaac.

But with a year’s experience for his current players, and the signing of a bevy of quality high school recruits, Isaac has a reason for optimism this spring.

If the incoming players are as good as Isaac and others predict, Tabor could be in the running for championship trophies once again.

Grade: C+

Track & field-Coach Dave Kroeker men’s and women’s teams brought home second-place trophies at the KCAC championships.

In the process, four individuals captured conference titles: Heidi Schmidt (1,500 meters), Matt Rorabaugh (high jump), Caleb Stanton (400 meters) and Trent Voth (110-meter hurdles).

Grade: B+

Soccer-Turmoil wreaked havoc with the soccer program this year with men’s coach Lincoln Wulf resigning just weeks before the start of the season.

Women’s coach Herb Wiebe stepped in to fill the void.

Expectations were modest to begin with for the men’s team, but when Grant Brubacher, the 2004 KCAC Offensive Player-of-the-Year, went down with a season-ending injury, they took a severe turn for the worse.

The season became even more difficult with the unexpected death of freshman Mason Wedel midway through the season.

Meanwhile, the women battled injuries, too, leaving both teams looking in from the outside for post-season play.

To build a successful future, the soccer program needs continuity, stability and a good recruiting year. Several top-notch athletes have already signed.

Grade: C

As usual, my grading scale is subjective, but keep in mind that a “C” is average, so no programs were deemed as failing.

With a great group of coaches, athletes returning, along with hope for updated athletic facilities, Tabor fans can hope for a straight-A year in 2006.

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