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Courtesy: GoBearkats.com
What a year for Bearkat athletics
Courtesy: GoBearkats.com
Release: 06/05/2012
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Sam Houston State's athletic teams focused the national sports spotlight on Huntsville with stellar seasons in 2011-12.

The Bearkat football team rolled into the NCAA Division I Championship game with a 14-0 record and a No. 1 national ranking.

 The baseball team climbed as high as No. 20 in the national polls, winning the Southland Conference regular season championship. The team followed up with an at-large berth in the 2012 NCAA Baseball Championships, reaching the finals of the Houston Region.

The women's bowling team again earned a high national ranking and basketball, volleyball, soccer, softball, tennis and track and field all saw post-season success.

"Definitely, it was a great year to be a Bearkat," Sam Houston State director of athletics Bobby Williams said. "Since men's basketball won its first Southland Conference championship in 2000, we've had a lot of success in our 17 sports programs.

"But this season the three big home football playoff victories and baseball earning its first national top 25 ranking have been a catalyst to bring excitement about Bearkat athletics to an all-time high."

In the 13 seasons since the 1999-2000 school year, Sam Houston State has won 16 regular season conference championships, six Southland post-season tournament titles and made 11 NCAA tournament appearances.

The Bearkats became the first and only team to win the Southland Conference Commissioner's Cup (symbolic of the league's men's and women's combined all-sports leadership) three years in a row (2005, 2006, 2007). Sam Houston also won two Southland Men's All-Sports cups (2000, 2007).

By contrast, during the 1990s, the Kats won seven league championships, made four NCAA playoff trips and won two post-season league tournaments.

"We've been fortunate to hire a group of talented coaches who have recruited quality young men and women to represent our university," Williams said. "We've also had outstanding leadership from our university administration providing the support necessary to achieve on the field."

The 2011-12 season began with the Sam Houston rolling to 14 consecutive football victories and its first out-right Southland football title. The Bearkats were the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Division I Football Championship playoff and advanced to the National Championship Game in Frisco.

Record crowds saw the Bearkats defeat Stony Brook, Montana State and Montana in NCAA playoff games at Elliott T. Bowers Stadium. And millions more watched on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN3.

Men's basketball made its 10th consecutive Southland Conference post-season appearance. The women's basketball team played in the Women's Basketball Invitational. The softball team was runner-up in both the Southland regular season standings and the tournament. Women's bowling earned a No. 9 national ranking. Women's tennis, volleyball and soccer all reached the semifinals of their respective league post-season tournaments.

Baseball put the cap on a great year by winning its first Southland regular season title since 1989. The diamond crew took the title in spectacular fashion, winning 10 of their 11 league weekend series with three conference sweeps. The team tied the record for Southland wins in one season (24) and posted a 13-game winning streak that was the longest in the program's NCAA Division I history.

The baseball team equaled its best finish in an NCAA Regional by knocking off No. 1 seed Rice in the semifinals to earn the program's second regional finals appearance.

"It's a big achievement to reach the NCAA as the post-season tournament champion, but when you can get an at-large bid, that speaks volumes about where your program is," Williams said. "It shows the respect the program has nationally and the success we've had against the quality teams we play."

With all the success, Bearkats in all the sports received post-season honors. Willie Fritz and David Pierce were named as Southland Conference "Coach-of-the-Year" in football and baseball, respectively. Ten Bearkat student-athletes received All-America recognition and 37 were named All-Southland Conference.

"It's amazing what football, basketball and baseball can do for an athletic department and the university," Williams said. "All sports are important and we have 17 quality programs. But football, basketball and baseball are so high-profile. When they have success, it takes everyone to another level."

The most exciting aspect of the winning marks in so many of the sports programs is that almost all of the teams fielded young squads dominated by underclassmen. Football, for example, returns 50 lettermen this fall. Baseball lost only five players from its roster.

The athletic department also continues to improve its physical plant. Current projects include replacing the chair back seats for the 2012 football season and are in the process of securing funding for new video boards for the football, basketball, softball and baseball facilities.

Williams said other projects he would like to have completed within the next five years include an athletic/alumni events center, a renovated press box for Bowers Stadium, an indoor practice facility and a sports complex containing facilities for soccer and tennis.

"Hopefully, the success that all of our programs are getting will grow our alumni base as far as donations and ticket sales so we can build these facilities within the next five years," Williams said.

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