Nine months of unprecedented success keeps Scott Talbott busy updating the Shocker shrine in his basement.
He needs to finish the collages for the volleyball and basketball seasons. He framed newspaper pages documenting the Final Four. His ticket stubs are on display, in addition to an assortment of basketballs, a volleyball, Shocker towels, pom poms and foam fingers. His walls get busier with each season.
“It’s expanded five-fold,” Talbott said. “Every time you turned around, there was something new to put up there. This was the perfect year.”
Wichita State’s 2012-13 school year gave perfection a good run with a series of landmarks and highlights that put the Shockers atop the Missouri Valley Conference and in the national spotlight.
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The volleyball team started the fun with its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16. The women’s basketball team won its first Missouri Valley Conference title and played in its first NCAA Tournament. Then came the men’s team unforgettable run to the Final Four, its first appearance in the national semifinal since 1965. Distance runner Aliphine Tuliamuk-Bolton spread her excellence throughout the year, running in the NCAA cross country, indoor and outdoor meets, finishing in the top six in five races.
WSU won the MVC All-Sports Trophy with a record score after its teams finished in top three in 14 of 15 sports.
The history-making year also included the firing of baseball coach Gene Stephenson after 36 seasons and a 28th NCAA appearance. Earlier this month, WSU hired Arkansas assistant Todd Butler and charged him with the task of making the Shockers nationally relevant again.
WSU’s fiercest MVC rival, Creighton, departed for the Big East and Loyola, a frequent men’s basketball opponent in the 1960s and 1970s, joined the conference.
Whew. Shocker athletics will never look the same.
Coach Chris Lamb’s volleyball team proved it could break through the first weekend of the NCAAs. Coach Jody Adams proved women’s basketball can win big. The Shockers made the cover of Sports Illustrated and educated a nation of college basketball fans on how to “Play Angry” to the booming sound of the “Shocker War Chant.”
Radio broadcaster and Shocker historian Mike Kennedy looks at the all-around success and agrees that 2012-13 is likely the best at WSU.
“You’d have to dig awfully hard to find that kind of all-around success, especially with the Final Four,” he said.
Ricky Lamb estimates the Shockers cost him around $5,000 with their men’s basketball success. He traveled to St. Louis for the MVC Tournament, Los Angeles for the NCAA Tournament and Atlanta for the Final Four.
“That’s what credit cards are for,” he said. “I always leave my spring open for March Madness.”
Lamb bought four of the thousands of T-shirts sold as wins over Pittsburgh, Gonzaga, La Salle and Ohio State captivated the city. Casual fans jumped on board with the Shockers in March and he enjoys seeing the increase in black-and-yellow gear around the city.
“People are showing more pride,” he said. “I was just on the golf course and an acquaintance of mine was already talking about recruits and next season. Most of the time you don’t see casual fans caring about that.”
Eddy Brotemarkle refused to buy a T-shirt. He didn’t buy one to start the tournament and didn’t want to jinx the team in the following rounds.
“It’s great going around the city and seeing everybody in their Shocker shirts,” he said. “It’s great to see everybody finally rallying around the Shockers.”
Talbott took his family to Atlanta. As a dedicated volleyball fan, however, he ranks wins in Lawrence over Arkansas and Kansas as equally rewarding. Watching the Shockers and their parents celebrate in Allen Fieldhouse thrilled him.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know the (volleyball) coaches and the student-athletes,” he said. “Seeing the joy on (parents’) faces — it was a special moment in Lawrence.”
Talbott hopes the buzz about the Shockers continues when things get going again.
“People that are casual fans, those people will stand up a little taller and feel better,” he said. “I think maybe (WSU has) gotten over the top a little bit and has a real opportunity to expand the base and get some more people on board.”