The biggest Red Wolf athletics stories of 2016.
#10 Baseball defeats No. 6 Ole Miss. The Red Wolves closed the 2016 baseball home slate with a dandy. As has been a pattern the last two seasons, the Red Wolves stunned No. 6 Ole Miss 8-6 then carried that momentum to UALR for the final weekend to win 2 of 3 from the Trojans to earn a spot in the conference tournament where they finished in the final four for the fifth straight year. It was the third straight season the Red Wolves had defeated a team in the Top 25. In 2013 they defeated top-ranked ULL in Jonesboro and in 2015 they took two of three from Louisville. On the year, the Red Wolves were 29-29.
#9 Bowling wins Southland Conference. In just the second year of the bowling league, the Red Wolves won their first title and advanced to the NCAA again and earned the second seed. A-State finished in the final 6 for the third-straight year. The team ended November ranked No. 1 in the collegiate rankings. Soph Jordan Richard earned All-NCAA tournament honors.
#8 Men’s track wins outdoor title. For the first time since 2005, the Red Wolves won the conference championship while the women’s team finished second. Both teams finished third at the indoor meet. Junior Roelf Pienaar finished second at the NCAA Championships in the Long Jump and three teammates also qualified for the big meet.
#7 First-year coach Mike Hagen breathed life in the men’s golf program with victories in six tournaments and a final four finish in the Sun Belt Tournament. The team captured the Duck Commander tourney in El Dorado, the seventh victory in their last 13 events.
#6 Welcome to the Bigs! Former Red Wolves baseball pitcher Daniel Wright made his MLB debut with the Cincinnati Reds in late May against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He made four appearances with the Reds and was returned to the minor leagues in June. Eventually released, he was picked up by the Angels and made 5 appearances for them, including an 8-1 victory over the Astros in October. He is the first A-State alum to reach the majors since Matt Whiteside in 2005.
#5 Women win the Sun Belt. Coach Brian Boyer’s team captured their second Sun Belt crown in three seasons, the best stretch in the school’s NCAA history. Team leader Aundrea Gamble was named SBC Player of the Year for the third straight year, the only player in conference history with that feat. The Red Wolves lost to Troy in the semifinals of the conference tournament.
#4 Hiring Grant McCasland. The former Baylor assistant was hired in March to replace John Brady and bring life back to the basketball program. Of course, it’s early, but so far McCasland has played everything right and the team has a 10-4 start, including a conference-opening victory over UL-Lafayette.
#3 The great recovery. Without the football team rebounding from a 0-4 start, we don’t have No. 2 so therefore we have a tie for the second biggest event of the year. Not many gave the team a chance after the winning September, including a home loss to FCS Central Arkansas. The rebound began with a 27-26 last-second victory over Georgia Southern and was aided by four of the first five league games at home.
#2. A-State 31, Central Florida 13. Picked as a touchdown underdog, the Red Wolves defense dominated the Knights, who were basically playing on their home field in Orlando. CBSSports telecast the game like a major event. It was the Red Wolves’ first bowl victory in three years. It was in so many ways typical of the season, an offense that struggled at times but leaned on the defense. Add Kendall Sanders three touchdown receptions and a sterling evening by the special teams and it adds up to an impressive victory.
#1 #GreatestDayEver. It happened on a Thursday night when the Red Wolves’ basketball and football teams were playing on national television against top level opponents. The hoop squad was at traditional powerhouse Georgetown while the football was in Troy, Ala., facing No. 25 Troy in a meeting of Sun Belt unbeatens. The night began with Grant McCasland’s team shocking the Hoyas 78-72 on FS1 to set the table to the football nightcap. It was a scenario similar to last year at Appalachian State when the Red Wolves had a short week road game that they dominated in the second half. The Red Wolves led 7-3 at halftime and scored 21 in the third quarter en route to a 35-3 victory on ESPNU.Remember, remember the 17th of November.