There is a different feel around the Mercer athletics department these days.
And that took another big step forward Monday.
Mercer, which has struggled in athletics for a good portion of its existence, has turned things around the past few years. And nowhere is that more evident than with Craig Gibsons baseball program.
Gibson has done a terrific job with the Bears, making them consistent winners since he took over in 2003. He led the program to its first NCAA tournament berth in 2010 after winning the A-Sun conference tournament, and that team won a game in the NCAA tournament.
But Mondays announcement that Mercer earned a spot into the NCAA tournament as an at-large team is an even bigger achievement. That never had happened in Mercers history in any sport before Monday.
Gibsons program has raised the bar, and it wasnt really a surprise. The Bears have won more than 40 games this season for the first time in program history, and like the mens basketball team a few months ago, the Bears baseball team won the programs first regular-season A-Sun title.
Gibsons group had an RPI in the 20s for most of the season, although that dropped into the 30s with a couple of losses in the A-Sun tournament. Still, that stumble wasnt enough to think the Bears would be left out of the field.
Even with those losses, Mercer had done enough to earn an at-large berth, and that shows the kind of respect the program is earning and building in the college baseball world. And that improvement and growing respect is not just focused on the baseball program.
Bob Hoffman has continued to build a winner with the mens basketball program, and that team has taken huge steps forward the past two years: winning the CollegeInsider.com tournament last year and claiming a berth into the NIT with this years regular-season A-Sun title. Susie Gardners womens team was much improved this year after a few tough seasons and grabbed a spot in the postseason in the Womens Basketball Invitational.
There have been other success stories around the department, which will cap the year this fall with the return of football to the Mercer campus. Mercer already got a big win when it landed Bobby Lamb as its head coach, which was a huge coup. With a quality head coach like Lamb, the excitement continues to build, along with the new stadium on campus, for the upcoming program.
Winning breeds winning, and excitement leads to more excitement in an athletics department. That wasnt always the case at Mercer, although that seems to be turning around with much more emphasis being placed on athletics and more resources devoted to making the teams successful.
All of these are big steps forward for a Mercer department that is growing and improving.
Yes more can be done, but that can be said about any athletics department around the country. But Mondays step was another huge one on the right path for the Bears.
Contact Daniel Shirley at 744-4227 or firstname.lastname@example.org