It happens every August – coaches and student-athletes begin the path toward a new season, and members of athletic departments prep themselves for the nine-month marathon which is the new academic year.
It happens every June – coaches, student-athletes and members of athletic departments begin their summers following a reflection of the season that just concluded.
For Ashland University, the 2018-19 athletic season was one of the best in the century of sports at the institution – giving Eagle fans plenty to look forward to 2019-20. August, however, will come fast enough – the recently-concluded athletic year deserves one last look back.
Men's Track Breaks Through With Two Team Titles
Prior to this year, Ashland's athletic program had four team national championships recognized by the NCAA – the 1973 men's cross country team and the 1974 men's outdoor track and field team each won Division III titles, and the 2013 and 2017 women's basketball teams brought home the program's first Division II team crowns. In addition, the Eagle men's basketball squad of 1968-69 was named NCAA College Division champs by both the Associated Press and United Press International.
Ashland's men's track and field team didn't just add two more gold trophies to the Physical Education Center's lobby, it did so with drama and flair – out-performing the eventual runner-ups by just enough in the final event of the meet, the 4x400-meter relay, indoors in March and outdoors in May, to take home the titles by a single point both times.
Those two championships also tie Ashland head track and field coach Jud Logan for the most won by an Eagle head coach all-time, along with Paul Armor.
The Eagle track and field program also added four more individual national titles (senior Myles Pringle two, sophomore Trevor Bassitt and redshirt freshman Lindsay Baker one each), giving it a combined 99 team/individual/relay national championships all-time.
Back In The Directors' Cup Top Ten
For the first time in four years – and the 10th time overall – Ashland's athletic department finished an academic year in the top 10 in the Learfield IMG College Directors' Cup standings.
Ashland was ninth overall and third among private schools in Division II during 2018-19, as 14 Ashland teams had representation in the Division II postseason, and 11 scored Directors' Cup points.
A Fantastic Fall
Five Ashland sports teams participated in the Division II postseason in the fall of 2018 – volleyball, women's soccer, men's soccer, men's cross country and women's cross country. The "Catching Fire At The Right Time" award went to men's soccer, which turned a 2-8-1 start to the campaign into a 6-2-2 finish, a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament title and a spot in the D-II playoffs for the first time since the program's rebirth.
Head coach Kevin Foeman guided the AU volleyball team to a 25-7 mark and a Midwest Regional appearance in his first season, while Taylor Clarke, leading the Eagle women's soccer team for the first time, saw his charges go 10-5-5 and make it back to the NCAA dance for the first time in 14 years.
A pair of young and improving teams, Ashland's cross country squads were turning in PRs on a regular basis, and placed 19th (men) and 20th (women) at the Midwest Regional meet.
Eagle football moved closer to the 500-all-time-win mark, ending 2018 at 6-4, with all four defeats coming by a total of 21 points to nationally-ranked teams. Senior defensive end James Prater Jr. earned All-American honors, and Ashland found its next quarterback in Austin Brenner, the GLIAC Freshman of the Year.
Women's tennis continued its improvement with an overall young team, winning eight matches and qualifying for the GLIAC Tournament for the second fall in a row.
Putting the "W" In Winter
Not only did the Eagle men's track and field team win a national title for the first time in Division II, the AU women's team finished 11th in the nation with just four athletes competing at nationals. It was the best women's indoor finish since 2015 (tied for third).
Ashland's women's basketball team extended its run of Division II postseason appearances to five in a row, and run of GLIAC Tournament championships to four in a row, in finishing at 29-3. The Eagle men's hoops team earned its third 20-win season in the last four years at 23-7, and reached the Midwest Regional for the second time in that frame.
A trio of Ashland wrestlers qualified for D-II nationals, hosted by AU at Cleveland State University, with redshirt sophomore 285-pounder Tristen Weirich earning his first All-American citation thanks to a sixth-place finish.
And the Eagle swimmers and divers played host to the GLIAC Championships, also at Cleveland State, and finished fifth (men) and sixth (women), respectively.
A Busy And Historic Spring
With a second team national championship, Ashland's men's track and field team became the first in Division II since Saint Augustine's in 2014 to earn both indoor and outdoor team championships in the same calendar year. The AU women were impressive at nationals again, as well, with a 10th-place team finish with four athletes competing – the team's best outdoor placement since 2015 (seventh).
Eagle baseball broke or tied numerous records this spring on the way to its first Division II College World Series appearance in 11 years – 48 wins (tied), 17 consecutive wins (broken), 18 home wins (broken), and seven NCAA tournament wins (broken). Ashland played host to both the Midwest Regional in Kent, Ohio, and the Midwest Super Regional at Donges Field, won the GLIAC Tournament and regular-season titles, and had an All-American in senior closer Chris Slavik.
Senior Austin Kondratick earned a spot in the D-II men's golf postseason as an individual, and was the leader one of the region's top teams in the month of April. The Eagles' impressive finish to 2018-19 resulted in a runner-up showing at the GLIAC Championships.
Ashland softball improved its record by 10 wins in 2019, finishing at 33-23. Junior designated player Dayna Denner returned from an injury-wrecked 2018 season to earn second-team All-America status from the Division II Conference Commissioners Association (D2CCA).
Eagle women's golf took ninth place at the 2019 GLIAC Championships with a young lineup which featured just one senior and two upperclassmen.
Starting New Traditions
Ashland University's athletic department grew quite a bit in 2018-19, as the esports, lacrosse and men's tennis teams began action during the course of the year.
Men's tennis returned to campus for the first time since the mid-1990s, and not only finished with a winning record (13-12), but went 1-1 at the GLIAC Championships. Lacrosse won its first game in its second outing, a 13-10 decision at Shorter on March 5, and finished with five victories. And esports burst on to the Eagle sports scene with players competing in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Fortnite, Hearthstone, League of Legends, and Overwatch.
Emphasizing The "Student" In Student-Athlete
The 2018-19 AU Student-Athletes of the Year are senior softball player Kylie Asmus, a 2019 valedictorian with a 4.0 cumulative grade-point average and a three-year starter at first base, and junior men's soccer player John Duldner, also a three-year starter with a 3.85 cumulative GPA.
With the potential to add more to this list later this month, Ashland has had three Academic All-Americans (Travis Downing and Isaiah Stiverson in football, Jodi Johnson in women's basketball) and three GLIAC Commissioner's Award recipients (Stiverson, Johnson and Nick Zak in men's indoor track and field) in 2018-19.
Through the 2019 spring semester, Ashland's athletic department-wide cumulative GPA is 3.18.
And Now…On To 2019-20…
There is a lot of summer remaining – and yet, just 12 weeks to the day are left until the first 2019-20 Eagle sporting event – football on Sept. 5 at 7 p.m. at Jack Miller Stadium/Martinelli Field vs. Indianapolis.
Some of the additions and changes this coming year will include the Rinehart Room loge and the Mary C. Miller Student-Athlete Enrichment Center on the second floor of the Physical Education Center, as well as a new turf field at Jack Miller Stadium/Martinelli Field.