Wichita State built its dominance of the Missouri Valley Conference All-Sports Trophy on its advantages in spring sports.
So while men’s basketball will face more tests in the American Athletic Conference and women’s basketball looks up in the standings at Connecticut, no sports face bigger adjustments than golf and tennis.
“What we’ve done in the Valley has been pretty special,” women’s tennis coach Colin Foster said. “At the same time, we’re ready for a new challenge.”
Coaching stability, facilities, budget and weather combine to make WSU the MVC’s leader in spring sports. The playing field is level in the American.
WSU women’s tennis has won eight straight MVC titles and owns a streak of 84 dual wins in conference play. While men’s tennis isn’t nearly as dominant, its 24 tournament titles are by far the most in conference history.
In men’s golf, the Shockers own eight of the past nine titles and 14 of the past 18. WSU’s women’s golf finished second in the MVC on Tuesday, snapping a streak of three titles.
In the latest Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings, the American places five teams in the men’s top 40 and one in the women’s. In women’s golf, three AAC teams are in the top 50 with one men’s team ranked.
No MVC teams are ranked in the top 50 in either sport.
“Short-term, it’s going to be challenging,” women’s golf coach Tom McCurdy said. “Long-term, it has to happen for us to get our program to be where it needs to be.”
Golf and tennis are the programs the least affected by travel in the move to the American.
Those sports don’t play conference schedules. Their lone AAC obligation is a season-ending championship. The move may alter their regular-season plans, but travel to the AAC’s farthest reaches isn’t required.
“All the golf programs play wherever they want during the year,” men’s golf coach Grier Jones said. “Obviously, it’s going to be a lot tougher to win (in the AAC) because there’s some good teams. Obviously we need to get better than we have been the last year or so.”
Foster has scheduled home-and-home series with AAC members Central Florida and South Florida and will continue to play Tulsa and SMU. His goal is schedule enough good opponents to move the Shockers into the top 40 of the ITA rankings and secure an NCAA at-large bid.
The AAC arrives at the perfect time for Shocker men’s tennis.
The Valley won’t sponsor the sport next season after Southern Illinois and affiliate member Stony Brook drop tennis. That will force the MVC to merge its programs with another conference, likely the Summit League.
WSU coach Danny Bryan can try to build an NCAA at-large resume with his schedule and improve the caliber of home matches.
“It’s huge,” he said. “It gives us flexibility to make the best schedule we can.”
Bryan said he expects to schedule a number of teams, including some AAC opponents, ranked 20-50 for a blend of schedule strength and victories. Teams in the top 40 of the ITA rankings are generally at-large candidates. The American also has an automatic bid for its tournament champion.
“Now, we have to find a way to be top 40,” he said.
Both McCurdy and Jones are preparing for the conference tournament played on Bermuda grass in Florida. Almost all of their golf in this part of the country is played on Bentgrass.
“It’s going to change the grass we play on, which doesn’t seem like much, but it is,” Jones said. “It might change our schedule a bit; we might go to Florida once or twice.”
Like tennis, joining the American should help the strength of schedule, which could open the door to at-large spots in NCAA Tournaments. McCurdy is already seeing a difference in the tournaments he can schedule. WSU is first on the wait list, he said, for SMU’s fall tournament.
“At least we’re on wait lists, where we’ve never even been communicated with before,” he said. “If we get two or three different events a year, with strong teams in it, just that in and of itself with help our national rankings significantly. There’s no chance with the schedule we can create right now.”