2011 is a year to forget for Saluki Athletics

By Gus Bode

The stage was set for a Saluki resurgence in the 2011-12 season. Football came off a year when they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2002, men’s basketball wrapped up a passable 2010 non-conference schedule after an abysmal 2009-10 season, and the baseball team had to recover from the death of head coach Dan Callahan.

Instead, 2011 soured quickly.

Men’s basketball faltered in conference and made little noise in the postseason, the baseball team lost their best hitter before the season started, volleyball did so poorly the head coach was let go and the football team fell to the bottom of the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

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The relationship between men’s basketball coach Chris Lowery and the fans has gotten considerably worse since the 2007 Sweet 16 run.

After SIU almost knocked off No. 1 seed Missouri State in the 2011 MVC tournament, athletic director Mario Moccia announced a press conference to explain how they envisioned the program moving forward.

That vision included Lowery, for better or worse.

“I would use the example of involved in a marriage; it’s easy to get divorced when things aren’t going well, but can you see past that?” asked Moccia at the press conference March 10. “This is the person I got married to and maybe we got a little off-track now, but I was confident to why I got married to that person. We’re going to ride this rough patch through so we can make it together.”

This was followed by the announcement that forward Gene Teague and guards Troy Long and Mykel Cleveland left the program, but were replaced by a nine-player recruiting class. Freshman forward Dantiel Daniels is the most impressive of that class so far, but hasn’t played since Nov. 15 because of a pulled groin.

It’s possible if Lowery holds on for another year, he’ll have a true point guard in recruit Bobo Drummond who will allow the offense to flow more fluidly than it does under freshman guard Josh Swan, who was originally brought in as a shooting guard. But a 1-7 start to the 2011-12 campaign and a police investigation into senior guard Justin Bocot hasn’t done him any favors with the fans.

Those fans burned out on men’s basketball in 2011 couldn’t escape and go to the women’s side because they only managed two wins in the 2010-11 season.

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In eight games this season, the lady Salukis eclipsed that mark with a record of 3-5. Head coach Missy Tiber has a strong recruiting class this season, and sophomore forward CiCi Shannon broke the career blocks record against Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis Dec. 8. They have the potential to become a very good team for the next few years.

The same can’t be said for women’s volleyball, as the program let go of head coach Brenda Winkeler Dec. 2 after the season ended with a 12-game losing streak. They have strong weapons with outside hitters Laura Thole and Jessica Whitehead, but they will have to be harnessed by someone who didn’t bring them here.

The good news is as of right now, no players intend to leave in the wake of Winkeler’s reassignment within Saluki Athletics, so everybody will remember the sting of this season.

But the sting in junior first basemen Chris Serritella’s wrist put a damper on the hopes for the baseball team in their first season without Callahan at the helm. Serritella broke it before the season started, and the team struggled offensively as a result.

Coach Ken Henderson filled in admirably as the interim coach, and Moccia eventually removed the interim tag in the summer. If he can build a team around Serritella, who comes back to SIU after he was drafted by the Kansas City Royals this summer, and junior pitcher Cody Forsythe, they should have a promising season in 2012.

Saluki softball was promising in 2011, but missed out on the NCAA tournament and failed to give star pitcher Danielle Glosson the send-off she deserved. But they’ll have the second-best hitter in the MVC back in senior outfielder Mallory Duran-Sellers while sophomore infielder Taylor Orsburn will try to top her freshman year when she hit 10 home runs and had a.345 batting average.

As for football, their struggles begin at quarterback. Junior Paul McIntosh won the competition at the beginning of the season, but only played three games before a shoulder injury sidelined him the rest of the year. Sophomore Kory Faulkner showed signs of progress, but didn’t do enough to give head coach Dale Lennon a clear idea of who will be the quarterback next season.

Junior running back Jewel Hampton won the MVFC Newcomer of the Year award after he rushed for 1,121 yards and an MVFC-best 17 touchdowns. If the offensive line can recover from the losses of AFCA All-American center Bryan Boemer and tackle David Pickard, at least our running game will be strong in 2012.

If there is a silver lining to the 2011 football team, it’s this: We held North Dakota State to nine points and kept them without a first down until late in the third quarter in an eventual loss Oct. 10. That same team plays Georgia Southern Saturday for a chance to go to the FCS Championship game.

But that doesn’t erase the bad taste left in the mouths of Saluki fans after what turned out to be a disappointing 2011. Even professional sports were disappointing for Saluki fans from Chicago, as we got to see our biggest rivals in both the NFL and MLB win championships.

Despite that, cheers to 2012, and let’s hope by this time next year we’ll have more positive subjects to talk about.

 

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