The stories are folksy, sure, but that doesn’t lessen their impact.
Building an NCAA Division II athletic program from the ground up is a tough business, and sometimes, a little bit of imagination is just what’s needed.
Newman athletic director Vic Trilli is the man with the stories, and now he’s the man with the results after guiding the Jets to their most successful school year since moving to the Division II level full-time in 2007.
“I think we’ve come a long way,” said Trilli, who was hired in Sept. 2008. “But that’s not to say we’re where we need to be yet, or even close to where we want to be.”
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Newman finished in the top three in the Heartland Conference in men’s and women’s basketball, men’s soccer and baseball, and sent athletes to the national tournaments in men’s and women’s golf and wrestling. The women’s basketball team won its second straight league title, hosted the league tournament and advanced to the NCAA Division II Tournament for the first time in school history.
“And don’t forget about our bowler,” Trilli said. “She was amazing.”
Yes, Newman did have an amazing bowler — senior Georgia Drewes won a USBC national title.
The year wasn’t without it’s black eye. Newman women’s basketball coach Jaime Green was hit with NCAA violations after it was discovered she asked one player to pay off a potential transfer’s parking fines at another school because it was illegal for Green to do it. Green resigned in April to take an assistant coach position with Missouri Southern.
“We took a beating on that,” Trilli said. “But we learned from it. We learned we need to do a better job of educating. That’s all part of growth.”
Newman hired former New Mexico State coach Darrin Spence to replace Green.
Trilli, who was the men’s basketball coach at North Texas from 1997 to 2001, has overseen the fundraising for the addition of new locker rooms for men’s and women’s basketball, a new scoreboard in Fugate Gymnasium and a new stadium for the baseball team. Stadiums for softball and soccer are in the works, as are press boxes.
He’s also had to get his hands dirty — literally.
“I’ve had to paint a couple of things,” Trilli said. “Probably more than I’d like, but I’m not going to ask somebody to do something I’m not willing to do.”
And while the new facilities are already making a big impact, Trilli sees scholarships, traveling and a new five-year deal with Adidas as the biggest steps forward for the department.
When Trilli came on, the men’s basketball team had five full scholarships. The women had 4 1/2. Now each team has 10.
“We’re at 100 percent equivalency when it comes to scholarships,” Trilli said. “And the thing about NCAA Division II is that you can package them. If the athlete has their academics in order, you can supplement them with both kinds of scholarships.”
A bus trip early in his tenure was also a revelation.
“Right when I got here I took a trip on the bus we had at the time with the basketball teams, who were traveling together,” Trilli said. “And it was terrible. You’ve got 6-foot-10, 6-11 guys trying to sleep in the aisles, they all have to share the same bathroom ... it was no good.”
Now, Newman travels on separate sleeper buses, each equipped with wireless internet access.
With Oklahoma City-based Oklahoma Christian joining the Heartland this fall and another potential member in Oklahoma in Rogers State, which has applied for membership, Trilli feels like the league is becoming more amenable to the Jets, the only Kansas-based team in the Heartland. Oklahoma Panhandle State is also a member.
“The thought process is that eventually we could go to North-South divisions,” Trilli said. “The important thing for us is to continue to move forward, we’ve got a good thing going with Adidas because we’re branded now, and that’s important to kids — which means it’s also got to be important to us.”