Last Saturday, Jacksonville University baseball went to the ballpark one win away from its first conference tournament title since 2009 and first NCAA Regional berth since 2011. When the sun set on Melching Field in DeLand, Florida Gulf Coast was the last team standing, the hotter of two hot teams that arguably were both postseason worthy regardless of the day’s outcome. With just 36 wins at the end of it all, JU will have to wait at least one more year to get back to the NCAA tournament, but not is all lost for a program that did capture its first regular season conference title since 2006, and an athletic department, that seems to have the arrow pointed straight up.
JU is mostly known for Artis Gilmore and the 1970 mens basketball team that finished on the doorstep of immortality and ended up at least making history. Outside of that, looking for the next most influential team or moment is hard. And that is due to a variety of success across the board for many of the school’s 19 sports. Track and field won 11 consecutive conference championships, women’s lacrosse has won four of the last five ASUN Championships, volleyball and women’s soccer have made the NCAA Tournament a combined three times in the last four years. Plenty of success, one common theme: almost all of the recent success has been on the women’s side.
Jacksonville’s last conference championship in a men’s sport prior to this season was 2013, when men’s lacrosse captured a regular season MAAC crown in its final year in the league. Before that, football won the Pioneer Football League for the second time in three seasons in 2010 and that was not long after men’s basketball rattled off back-to-back shares of the regular season title in the ASUN, men’s soccer captured a conference tournament and men’s golf won its only conference tournament in program history. The last seven years on the other hand, have featured many programs undergoing extensive changes. Five of JU’s men’s sports have seen a combined eight coaching changes in less than ten years, but now, stability might be finally returning to join promise.
While golf did not win the ASUN this year, the team made its first ever NCAA Championship appearance. Men’s soccer, in year three under head coach Mauricio Ruiz went back to the ASUN Championship Final for the first time since last winning it in 2008. Men’s basketball has made strides in three years under Head Coach Tony Jasick, finishing in the top half of the league for the first time since 2011 two seasons ago and hosting conference tournament and CIT games for the first time in program history the last two years. Men’s lacrosse made the SoCon tournament for the first time this year under first year Head Coach John Galloway and football managed five wins in an injury and roster depleted first season for Ian Shields. Lastly, baseball has sown the seeds for continued to success, and to assume that this season’s regular season title is an isolated incident would be silly, after first year Head Coach Chris Hayes won conference coach of the year.
Does this mean that JU will start winning every conference championship and should be a lock for the Jesse C. Fletcher Trophy as the ASUN men’s sports champ the next few years? Only time will tell that. But the unfortunate drought for the Dolphins male sports over the last few years is primed to come to a decided end. Much the way the university has fueled the Renew Arlington campaign, a renewal of sorts is taking place within the campus as well. It is just reliant on potential germinating into full grown success. And that potential alone should excite everyone.