Friday, March 30, 2012

At the close of March, a good year for Aggies

(Photo of Aggie baseball player Kyle Phillips by Shari V. Hill)

It’s been an encouraging year for New Mexico State Aggie sports.

Lets just go back last week, when the Aggie baseball team completed a two-game sweep of No. 5-ranked Arizona, while Aggie softball split a doubleheader with the No. 14-ranked Wildcats.

Any time NMSU can beat UofA in any sport, it should be considered a good thing.

Aggie softball did it for just the fourth time in program history, and are gunning for their second consecutive Western Athletic Conference championship — although it could be a tougher road in a tougher WAC this season.

Meanwhile, the Aggie baseball team surely has a boost of confidence after taking the two-game road series from the Wildcats, doing it in fairly convincing fashion. The team has competed against a stiffer schedule this year, and has been playing good baseball to this point. Their most recent win — a 7-6 victory over Texas Tech — came again on the road against a Big 12 team.

Some more success stories from the past year:

Aggie basketball had a good season — a trip to the NCAA Tournament means a lot to the people of Las Cruces and proved yet again that no other sport galvanizes the community more than NMSU hoops. Yes, it’s historically been THE water-cooler sport in town, as it should be. The team was exciting this year — more fun to watch — while the coaching staff made it work with the specific roster they had — a 26-10 record, a WAC championship, and their second trip to the NCAA Tournament in three years.

There is also the feeling that Aggie football is on the upswing.

NMSU took a definitive step forward last year — a four-win season that could have been five or six victories, as the team was more competitive throughout 2011.

Aggie volleyball remains the school’s most consistent athletics program — the team competed in another WAC championship game this past year — and it doesn’t look like things are going to slow down anytime soon, rather should pick back up again for a team that doesn’t figure to be short on talent.

NMSU currently sits in second place in the 2011-12 WAC Commissioner’s Cup standings — a point system delegated between the eight WAC schools, predicated off the order of finish in their respective sports — with the spring season yet to be completed.
Of course, the 2012 academic year isn’t over, and the Aggies have to build off such success going forward.

Baseball and softball need to end the year strong, and the Aggie football team has to put together a winning season this fall.

With the way its schedule is comprised, six wins seems realistic and seven is not out of the question.

In truth, if Aggie football had been to a bowl game or two in the past seven years, NMSU sports could have an entirely different image and outlook.

And, with conference realignment in constant flux, the most tangible way the Aggies can make themselves marketable — at least the most immediate and apparent to its followers — is by putting together a winning football season.

We’ve written it in this space before — the Aggies can establish themselves as a top-two, top-three athletics program in the new WAC, set to unveil this year, even if the conference appears to be fleeting.

In many respects, NMSU has to establish itself as such.

Yes, the Aggies have had some success this year and there’s some excitement.

If the school can build off that momentum, next year could be a great one.

Success stories from the past year in Aggie sports
• Recent wins

Last week saw the baseball team sweep the University of Arizona — ranked No. 5 in the nation — in a two-game mid-week series, and the Aggie softball team topped the No. 14-ranked Wildcats in the opener of a doubleheader. Any time the Aggies can beat Arizona, it has to be considered a positive step, and a needed confidence booster for both clubs about to enter conference play. While the WAC looks to be much deeper and tougher than it was a year ago — when NMSU was conference champions — Aggie baseball won again on the road last Tuesday at Texas Tech.

• Men’s basketball
The Aggie men’s basketball team went to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years under head coach Marvin Menzies, finishing the 2012 season with a 26-10 record and winning the WAC Tournament championship. The Aggie men got hot at the right time and carried that momentum into March. At one point, the Aggies didn’t look like an NCAA Tournament team, although shuffled their lineup — freshman Daniel Mullings was inserted as the starting shooting guard — and improved as an overall unit as the year moved along.

• Aggie football
A four-win season could have been five or six — losses to UTEP, San Jose State, Nevada and Utah State were all winnable games and in some cases the Aggies let a couple of them slip away. Still, there’s some positive vibes surrounding the team heading into 2012, and a six- to seven-win season seems attainable. We won’t call it a make or break year, but we will call it a year of critical importance.

• Other tales to tell
Aggie volleyball and golf remain the school’s most consistent programs in terms of producing WAC contenders and winners. Aggie equestrian is ranked No. 9 (western) and No. 6 (hunter seat) going into the national championships on April 12-14. Aggie cross country finished second in the WAC Championships in both men’s and women’s competitions, while sending Courtney Schultz to the NCAA women’s national meet, while Aggie swimming and diving had Aliena Schmidke qualify for the NCAA championships. NMSU soccer picked up its first win in the WAC Tournament, coming in the third year of the program’s existence.

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