At the end of last season, when the Bluejays finished the year with a 7-21 overall record, few people would have thought the current team would compete at the top of the 10-team Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference the following year. Perhaps even fewer believed they would be ranked nationally.
The foundation for this marked turnaround would be laid long before the first practice of this season. In truth, it began prior to the start of the 2011-12 season when first-year head coach Shawn Reed and his staff met for their first meeting.
The biggest question on the agenda was, ?What is it going to take to turn this program around??
The answer they found was simple: work. Relentless work in all areas of the program. And with that mindset they began moving forward.
Most of the work concentrated on two fronts. First came developing and working with the current group of players. This effort led to creating a solid core of returning players with conference experience.
Second, the Bluejays? coaching staff focused a huge amount of their efforts on recruiting. This piece proved to be the most taxing in duration and effort as Reed and his staff recruited through the late summer months before the current school year.
The staff traveled thousands of miles and heard more than 50 scholarship declines before assembling a class of 11 new players?six freshmen and five transfer students.
?It took a lot of time to find players that were willing to buy into a monumental rebuilding effort,? Reed said. ?But we were honest about the work that would have to be done and that there were no guarantees. That process produced a filter that attracted student-athletes interested in accepting a challenge of turning around a program.?
The next task came in blending the 11 newcomers with the 14 returners?and convincing the entire group what the potential could be.
?I kept telling our team early in the year that we were going to be really good this year, but honestly I don?t think very many of them believed me,? Reed said. ?The pain of going 7-21 the previous season left doubts in the minds of the returners and our new players didn?t know what to think because everything was so new.?
The Bluejays did not start the year on fire. The combination of trying to create chemistry with a new team and a tough pre-conference schedule led the Bluejays to a 3-5 record. Once conference play began, the team started getting into a groove and have posted an 11-1 KCAC record and 15-7 overall record.
From the beginning of the season the team had a goal to be competitive in Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference, but being No. 1 in the standings and ranked nationally may not have been in the front of their minds.
Reed says the entire team has invested a great amount of work to be in their current position. The realization and impact of their position has brought a spark to the time of season that can be draining, both mentally and physically.
?Are we excited to be nationally ranked? Absolutely,? Reed said. ?But that has not been one of our goals this season. We have other goals we are striving to reach, and hopefully we can keep our focus on those things that have been driving us all year.?
The most exciting piece of the team?s present position, according to Reed, is the possibilities that still lie ahead. Finishing strong in regular-season play, competing in the conference tournament and a possible national tournament bid are goals.
Despite the distractions that come with the range of possibilities left in this season, the Bluejays try to remain focused on the work they have remaining in the conference regular season. Once the team has completed that task, they will be ready to set their sights on the next goals for this season.