It’s been a wild year in Georgia Southern athletics.
Four Southern Conference titles and four postseason bids, including three NCAA tournaments, were great, but let’s not bury the lede.
Georgia Southern is going to the Football Bowl Subdivision’s Sun Belt Conference. Ever since GSU President Brooks Keel announced his intention to move the program to the FBS, things have moved fast. Former director of athletics Sam Baker, well, stepped aside, and Tom Kleinlein was hired. He officially started in January, and GSU accepted an invitation to the Sun Belt in March.
The announcement was met with a little bit of resistance from some of the Eagle Nation, but now that it’s sinking in that Appalachian State, College of Charleston, Davidson and Elon are also jumping off the SoCon ship — and Furman (per the rumor mill), Chattanooga and maybe even Samford (per the even-less-reliable-but-not-without-a-little-substance rumor mill) are on their way out of the league, or at the very least, are beginning to think that the grass is greener elsewhere — it’s pretty clear that the SoCon is just no longer right for the Eagles. The 2013-14 athletics season will mark the end of the SoCon era for GSU.
As for what actually happened on the playing field, football and women’s soccer set the tone for what turned into a pretty successful season.
The football Eagles actually clinched a share of the SoCon title the day they lost to Appalachian State, and turned the program’s 19th Football Championship Subdivision (and/or I-AA) playoff appearance into the third-straight and 13th-overall trip to the semifinals.
The season ended against North Dakota State — again — in what turned out to be the final FCS playoff game for the storied program.
The women’s soccer team made history, rocking a 10-8-5 record and the program’s first-ever SoCon title. The Eagles lost to Wake Forest in the NCAA tournament. The season got coach Lindsey Vanderspiegel noticed. She left the program after only two years to take over at Virginia Commonwealth.
Volleyball lived up to regular-season expectations, winning the SoCon South Division title, but was upset in the SoCon tournament semifinals by Furman.
Basketball didn’t fare too well during the winter.
In Chris Vozab’s first year, she didn’t have a whole lot to work with on the women’s side. Though the Eagles finished just 8-23, they did advance in the SoCon tournament with a win over Western Carolina.
The men also advanced, with a win over Wofford, but an underwhelming 14-19 record wasn’t enough to buy coach Charleton Young a fifth season. The Eagles finished 43-84 under Young, a Georgia Southern Hall of Famer as a player from 1989-93.
Kleinlein made his first major hire at GSU, bringing in Mark Byington, an unproven head coach with a lot of upside and high praise from the coaching ranks.
Golf — the only sport other than baseball which has ever gained access to the NCAAs via an at-large bid (not counting FCS at-large bids for football) — did it again, advancing to the Columbus, Ohio, Regional.
Softball won the SoCon tournament for the second time in as many seasons under coach Annie Smith but was eliminated by a pair of losses to South Florida
The baseball team suffered its first losing season under coach Rodney Hennon, yet still advanced to the semifinals of the SoCon tournament. The Eagles finished 27-31. If that’s as bad as it gets, you can’t be too upset about the Eagles’ prospects in 2014.