Last year was a mixed bag for New Mexico State athletics: Three teams making NCAA Tournaments was an overall athletics achievement; staring down the gun barrel at a football program soon to be without a conference and playing in a disintegrating Western Athletic Conference were low-water marks.
With that, there’s a new year, with new opportunities on the horizon. What the Aggies need, and what we can hope for:
Quality presidential hire: One thing we’ve learned over the past five years of Aggie athletics is that having quality leadership, starting at the top, is important. Case in point: When New Mexico State had Mike Martin at president, the athletics program was on an upward trajectory. Once Martin left for LSU, a string of interim presidents followed and then Barbara Couture came on board. Things would progressively go downhill, to the point where the Aggies are without a conference for football and are in a transitioning Western Athletic Conference in everything else. Couture was fired this past year and Manuel Pacheco is in charge for the interim. A new president is expected to be announced going forward. Whoever that may be, lets hope (pray) they understand the importance of athletics and put a financial emphasis on such ventures; that they’re skilled in fundraising and can put a financial plan together for the public to behold; and that they can look at the overall administrative landscape and make changes they see fit to benefit Aggie athletics. In other words, a leader who will look at the current obstacles in place and take it as a professional opportunity to build a program.
A viable conference: We can’t put it any other way — the Aggies need to find a new athletics home. The Western Athletic Conference is going nowhere fast, and NMSU competing against Utah Valley, California State Bakersfield, Texas-Pan American and Chicago State on an annual basis just doesn’t have a lot of appeal to the average fan. As for playing an independent football schedule, that’s something that will be a cool experience for one year before getting old — and unsustainable — quickly following. Conference realignment rages on with 2013 right around the corner. Will the Aggies find a viable home this time around? This is a rhetorical question, because they really have no choice in the matter.
A competitive football team: Winning as an independent football program in 2013 won’t be easy. Not with a schedule that features UCLA, Texas, San Diego State, Boston College, New Mexico and UTEP (to name a few opponents). But seeing the Aggies competitive would be a positive after a season in which they largely were not. It starts at offensive coordinator, where a change is anticipated and the Aggies must bring in a competent candidate to fill the void (will the program return former coach Doug Martin? That’s a nice thought). The team will also return roughly 17 starters from this past year and another coaching move or two could be in store amongst the staff. One thing we can say for now: Head coach DeWayne Walker is still with the program. He has four years left on his contract and, while there is about a month for more positions to possibly open up in the football world, Walker just might get some of what he’s been looking for. Namely, more money for an offensive coordinator and perhaps some resources for the NMSU strength and conditioning program.
Aggie basketball identity: This comes particularly on the offensive end of the court for the men’s team, which has had its struggles thus far. What’s been missing? Namely a go-to scorer and playing time for the team’s outside shooters. They also simply haven’t had the same senior firepower that fans have been accustom to from past years (whether it be a Wendell McKines, Herst Laroche, Jonathan Gibson or even juniors like Jahmar Young or Troy Gillenwater). Marvin Menzies-led teams have shown a penchant for this in the past — slow starts to the season, heating up in February and into tournament play in March. While this year’s personnel is different than years past, at the moment, simply developing an offensive identity and some go-to players would be good short-term goals.
Aggie baseball challenging in the WAC: Last year saw the Aggie baseball team reach the NCAA Tournament as well, albeit as an at-large bid. And this year’s WAC baseball league features Sacramento State (which won a share of the league title last year) and newcomers Dallas Baptist and California State Bakersfield. None figure to be pushovers, far from it actually. With that, the Aggies do return some pieces that made them successful — namely an improved pitching staff with aces Ryan Beck and Adam Mott taking the hill. Yes, the Aggies should compete in league once again.
Aggie volleyball at the top: Coming off a WAC title in 2012, New Mexico State volleyball really should be at the top of the league standings in 2013. Why with a conference that features some of the aforementioned teams, anything less would be a major disappointment for a team that’s been a perennial WAC contender since its entrance. NMSU will undoubtedly be atop the preseason standings heading into 2013.
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