Tonight is a busy sports night. The Blackhawks and the Pacers play tonight after lengthy lay offs. The Blackhawks will take on the floundering Sabres, which is a game that might be good for Chicago. The Pacers travel out to see the Kings late tonight. I don't know much about this year's Kings team, and I'm not sure I really need to. I really can't describe just how confident I'm feeling with the Pacers this year. I really see them grabbing a top four seed in the East. I would be a nice return to prominence.
Also, Wabash takes on Wittenberg tonight in a battle for NCAC supremecy. Wittenberg is sitting at the pole position with a 6-0 record. Wabash would be undefeated if not for stubbing their toe against DePauw. That game was so frustrating. I think we're going to go with a little history lesson on the NCAC.
The NCAC (North Coast Athletic Conference, if you're unacquainted) was founded in 1983 as a split off of the OAC (Ohio Athletic Conference). The big boys from the start were Wittenberg and Wooster, and maybe a little Ohio Wesleyan sprinkled in. For example, only seven NCAC basketball titles have been won by somebody other than Wittenberg or Wooster, and all of those occurred before 1994. Ohio Wesleyan has won four titles, all in the 80's, and Allegheny won three sprinkled in the late 80's and early 90's. Football was a little more of a mixed bag, but historically, Wittenberg has the most wins in Division III, and their big rival is Wooster. Pretty easy to see where the money was supposed to go there.
Anyway, after some twists and turns, Wabash joined the conference in 2000. This seems to pretty clearly be a football move, although Wabash has been very competitive in other sports. Still, the writing on the wall is pretty clear. Despite only joining the conference for roughly half its life, Wabash has the third most conference titles. Wittenberg has 10 titles, Allegheny has 9, and Wabash has 6. Allegheny hasn't been a real force in the conference since 2003, their last conference title. I can say that with some personal knowledge. I started attending Wabash and really watching the football team in 2004, and I've never considered Allegheny a serious rival. Wittenberg is the only team that has been able to stay in Wabash's class since Wabash joined, and even then Wittenberg stole a conference title from us because of an ill-timed injury to our All-American quarterback.
As I mentioned, Wabash was invited because of football. Although we've been competitive in all sports, it wasn't until last year Wabash finally broke through and won a conference title outside of football. I really thought it would be the basketball team that would capture the title, as they went to three conference title games in a row, but it was not to be. Instead, the track team captured both indoor and outdoor titles, and the baseball team kind of came out of nowhere to capture their first title. When I first started looking at Wabash (and thinking about playing baseball, actually), they looked to be a team on the rise. They had just set a school record in wins with 22 and had a young core. But, the wheels came off from there, and the baseball team didn't threaten for much of anything for years. Then in 2010, the team sprang to life and made their first NCAC tournament.* The next year, they opened a new stadium (as seen in the header) and went on to win the whole conference. It wasn't a long stay in the national tournament, but they did get one win. Like the College World Series,** it's a double elimination tournament. Wabash lost 4-0 to Shenandoah, then beat Christopher Newport 9-3, and then fell in a close one to Salisbury 7-5.
*Baseball has the teams divided up into East and West, and you have to finish first or second in your division to make the tournament. Just so everybody is aware of the structure. Not quite like the basketball tournament, where you only have to be in the top 8 out of 10 schools.
**The NCAA likes to keep that name for just the Division I tournament, which I don't necessarily like, but whatever. Their game, their rules.
On a more personal note, if I had to pick a favorite Wabash sport, it would probably be the basketball team. Part of that is cultural. My high school was either middle of the pack or downright terrible at football, but our basketball teams were always really good. Plus, my mom had played basketball in high school (though her better sports were track and cross country), and my cousin who lived just up the lane also played basketball. I think he still holds the school record for field goal percentage. So I was always more attached to basketball than football. Then I furthered the cause and became a basketball manager in high school because I wasn't good enough to stay on the team,* but I still loved the sport and I got along really well with the coach, so I wanted to stay involved. That, combined with the fact that Wabash basketball games were and are free, made me want to check out the basketball team as soon as I fell in love with Wabash. Which was pretty much the minute I set foot on campus, actually. I didn't even apply anywhere else, I knew where I wanted to go. Thankfully, they took me.
*I could have played regularly on the freshman team (which I don't think exists anymore), but that probably would have been the limit. Practice player was probably the best role for me on that team. It was during my freshman year that we went to the state final four and started the first of five straight sectional titles. Maybe I could have played for some other schools, but I was born where I was born.
In any case, I think that's why I've pined so hard for the basketball team to break through and win a conference title. The football team is always going to be Wabash's glamour sport (though don't overlook the basketball team's history) with the Bell Game and nationally televised games and almost perennial playoff trips. But, the basketball team is where I really felt my connection.
If you're interested, the game is at 7:30 in Springfield, OH. If you don't happen to be around Springfield, you find a webcast of the game from the Wabash athletics page. Just click the camera when it's close to game time. I'll be connecting our laptop to our nice new TV to watch the game and rooting hard for my Little Giants.