Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Western Kentucky AD proud of athletic, academic success

Western Kentucky athletic director Todd Stewart is proud of the school's ongoing success in competition and classwork.

The Hilltoppers earned Conference USA titles in women's basketball and volleyball this past year, bringing the total to 24 since entering the league in 2014. Stewart noted that his school has twice the hardware of the next closest conference member, Middle Tennessee, over the same time period.

WKU also posted a graduation rate of 85 percent with 11 of 14 programs registering at least 970 in the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate. Four posted perfect 1,000 scores, making Stewart proud on multiple levels as he enters his seventh year as AD.

"Big-picture wise, I feel really good about where we are because the winning continued," Stewart told the Associated Press. "We've doubled everybody up and at the same time our graduation success rate is 85 percent, the highest it's been in WKU athletics.

"That speaks to our coaches and athletes and doing it the right way, and doing it well."

Volleyball showed that by winning its fourth consecutive regular season and tournament titles and reaching the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Alyssa Cavanaugh was recently named C-USA Female Athlete of the Year, the third Hilltopper to earn the prestigious honor over the past four years.

Women's basketball meanwhile won its second consecutive tournament title and third in four years under former coach Michelle Clark-Heard. The former Hilltopper player left soon after the NCAA Tournament for the head coaching job at Cincinnati, where she had been an assistant.

Stewart wasn't shocked Clark-Heard earned another opportunity after she went 154-48 over six seasons with four NCAA appearances in Bowling Green. The AD promoted associate coach Greg Collins to the lead job, believing his familiarity with the program can maintain the winning.

"She just did a phenomenal job," Stewart said of Clark-Heard. "We knew we had a succession plan in place, so when she decided to go to Cincinnati it was easy to name Greg the head coach, and our players are excited about that."

Men's basketball has generated similar anticipation after reaching the NIT semifinal under second-year coach Rick Stansbury. Early-season upsets of No. 18 Purdue and SMU spurred WKU (27-11) to achieve its highest win total in a decade before falling to Utah in New York City.

Stansbury's next step is earning the 'Toppers' first NCAA appearance since 2013 with a C-USA title and automatic bid. Encouraged by an incoming class featuring 6-foot-11 Charles Bassey and a returning cast led by guard Taveion Hollingsworth — a former AP Kentucky Player of the Year — the coach believes his team is capable of bigger things.

"I don't want it to be 'maybe'. We can," Stansbury said of his team's outlook. "Last year was a brand new team, a fun team to watch. We had some great success early. This is a fun team because we have good people and that's why it mixed so well."

After back-to-back C-USA titles and bowl wins under Jeff Brohm, the football team finished 6-7 in Mike Sanford's head coaching debut and played in its fourth consecutive bowl. Linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe (fourth round, Chicago Bears) and quarterback Mike White (fifth round, Dallas Cowboys) were selected in the NFL Draft, giving the program seven selections since 2016.

The Hilltoppers' challenge now is replacing those two key players with a schedule that includes in-state rival Louisville and Big Ten member Wisconsin along with a tough C-USA docket.

"The problems that come with winning are better than those that come with losing," said Stewart, who has seen Bobby Petrino (Louisville) and Brohm (Purdue) parlay successful WKU tenures into Power 5 coaching jobs. He believes WKU can compete this year now that Sanford has put talent and personnel in place.

"People became used to precedent and it's hard to win three (titles) in a row," he added. "Last year was kind of a reset, mainly because the 2017 roster was so different from 2016."

Stewart's positive outlook for his program is being reflected in facility upgrades to meet increased ticket demand, especially in basketball. The football stadium and basketball arena will add video boards and improve sound systems, and the AD is eager to see how C-USA's new TV deal with CBS Sports Network benefits exposure.

The AD acknowledges that WKU remains challenged financially, but takes satisfaction in how his program has thrived despite lagging behind other conference schools. Stewart believes that success will pay off and remains committed to making it happen.

"Hopefully the situation gets better for us, because if it does I think we can do bigger and better things," he said. "What we sell here is that we have a winning culture. There are a lot of positives, and that's what we try to focus on."

Comments
This key Florida Congressional race just got complicated by an Eastern European oligarch

This key Florida Congressional race just got complicated by an Eastern European oligarch

The husband of a Miami Democrat hoping to unseat U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo this November has financial ties to an Eastern European oligarch dogged by allegations of contract killings and embezzlement.Public records show that Debbie Mucarsel-Powell's h...
Updated: 13 minutes ago
Police: Clearwater man crashes stolen car, flees while friend is in back seat

Police: Clearwater man crashes stolen car, flees while friend is in back seat

CLEARWATER — A Clearwater man was arrested after he was accused of stealing a car Monday night, running a red light and crashing into a car.After the crash, police say Rico Hayes, 21, ran from the scene holding a bottle of liquor, leaving an injured ...
Updated: 18 minutes ago
MLB commissioner confident Rays owner is ‘going to get’ stadium deal done

MLB commissioner confident Rays owner is ‘going to get’ stadium deal done

WASHINGTON – MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said the time is now for the Rays stadium situation to be resolved with partnership from the community and business on financial support and he is confident in principal owner Stuart Sternberg's creativ...
Updated: 22 minutes ago
Trains crashes into car in Dade City, injuring one

Trains crashes into car in Dade City, injuring one

DADE CITY — One person was seriously injured Tuesday when a train struck a car near the 37900 block of Vitality Way, according to Pasco County Fire Rescue.The person, who has not been identified, was pulled from an SUV and flown from the scene by med...
Updated: 1 hour ago
League of Women Voters wants Bondi to investigate concealed carry program

League of Women Voters wants Bondi to investigate concealed carry program

The Florida League of Women Voters wants Attorney General Pam Bondi to investigate the Florida Department of Agriculture's handling of concealed carry permits under Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.In a request Monday, the League, a non-part...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Bowled over: From acai to poke, the top 10 bowls in Tampa Bay

Bowled over: From acai to poke, the top 10 bowls in Tampa Bay

Why, exactly, are bowls the new plates?The Wall Street Journal declared it so. Tableware companies like Fiesta have reported serious double-digit growth in the sale of bowls — salad bowls, cereal bowls, you name it. Fast-food restaurants have jumped ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
SEC media days: On Gators’ Van Jefferson and UCF’s McKenzie Milton

SEC media days: On Gators’ Van Jefferson and UCF’s McKenzie Milton

ATLANTA — We still don't know whether receiver Van Jefferson will be eligible at Florida.But we do know how one of his former quarterbacks feels about his potential in Gainesville."He's just an explosive guy," Ole Miss quarterback Jordan T...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Bill Nelson feeling it from both sides on Brett Kavanaugh

Bill Nelson feeling it from both sides on Brett Kavanaugh

WASHINGTON – Sen. Bill Nelson continues to face pressure from both sides on the Supreme Court vacancy as he appears to have retreated from certain opposition to Brett Kavanaugh.Today, the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity announced a digi...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Artist, advocate, Marine: New Pasco school security director compelled to serve

Artist, advocate, Marine: New Pasco school security director compelled to serve

LAND O’ LAKES — Chris Stowe has a storied past as an explosives technician in the U.S. Marine Corps.The retired master gunnery sergeant has mementos of his service — a field knife mounted to the lid of an explosives box, for instance — hanging promin...
Updated: 1 hour ago
EPA proposal to limit science studies draws opposition

EPA proposal to limit science studies draws opposition

Democratic lawmakers are joining scientists in denouncing an industry-backed proposal to dramatically limit what kind of science the Environmental Protection Agency can consider
Updated: 1 hour ago