Hey ’Cats! In the thick of spring, things really start getting hectic, don’t they? I can’t speak for the entire campus, but I sure as hell know I’ve had to slam on the gas pedal right after returning from Spring Break. It might only be the beginning days of April, but the sprint to the finish has already begun for many of us.
Speaking of sprints to the finish, how ’bout my Ducks?
This season, they exceeded expectations with a fresh head coach, some new assistants and a lot of young talent, and they got the chance to compete for a national title. Oh, I’m talking about their basketball team, by the way; Oregon does have other sports teams outside of football, you know.
In his first year heading the program, coach Dana Altman led the Ducks to a .500 win-loss percentage, and the team that is set to play Creighton in a winner-take-all game three of the College Basketball Invitational.
OK, so the CBI may not exactly be a national title but it’s still a post-season experience for a team that played at a level most didn’t expect to see this year. It’s not a secret that Oregon’s basketball program isn’t among the nation’s best, but this surprising run in the CBI garnered some national attention for a program that has taken major steps to rebuild following former head coach Ernie Kent’s dismissal more than a year ago. These kinds of tournament opportunities, such as the NIT and CBI, for schools who don’t make the cut into The Big Dance are hugely positive for all of those involved. The programs get to make statement wins over other teams of similar size and ability; young coaches get some tournament experience to bolster their budding futures; young players get a valuable baptism by fire into a tournament setting, and seniors get to be sent off in style and, possibly for Oregon, with a tournament title under their belt.
Wouldn’t it be nice if Division III sports had something like this? There are zero post-season opportunities for Division III schools that don’t make the NCAA tournament in their respective sports. What happens, then, when a team like Linfield’s women’s basketball or soccer goes beyond expectations but still falls short of reaching said postseason? The parity between what Dana Altman and new Wildcat head coach Robin Potera-Haskins did with their respective programs in a single year is staggering.
I’m talking comparable increases in win-loss percentage, scheduling games against high-profile opponents, garnering regional attention and exceeding expectations for what’s been labeled a “rebuilding period.”
But the sad difference between these programs now is that Oregon was still able to apply for participation in the CBI, and, through their mostly dominant run to their upcoming title match, has put a huge exclamation point on a season of solid improvement.
Where are the CBIs and NITs for small-school divisions? It’s not like Linfield couldn’t put butts in seats to make the tournament organization money. Our school has a rich tradition of athletic excellence and alumni would turn out in droves to watch, not to mention our always-eager student fan base. Plus, with the way junior veteran Gretchen Owens and freshman newbie Kaely Maltman were playing this year there’s a large chance our squad could have made a deep run into a Division III CBI-like tournament. And don’t even get me started on freshman Emily Fellows; that girl is a firecracker on the pitch.
Unfortunately, the small schools that aren’t among the upper-crust of their division have to be content with what they can put together in the regular season and settle for celebrating a good year rather than playing through February and March. If an alternative Division III tournament is ever going to come into existence, it’s likely to do so at the expense of benefactors and generous sports aficionados rather than the NCAA, which makes its odds slim-to-none.
But, as ever, I remain optimistic for the future. Until then, I’ll toast to a banner year for our women’s sports teams and keep laying my bets on our softball juggernaut to bring home some gold this season.
Chris Forrer/For the Review
Chris Forrer can be reached at email@example.com.