Even as students began their final exams at San Jose State last week, athletics still attracted attention on Friday. In the afternoon, athletic director Marie Tuite moved up from interim to long term. As the sun set, nearly 300 miles south on the UCLA campus, softball got its first-ever NCAA Tournament win. Over in Las Vegas, baseball concluded its first season under head coach Jason Hawkins with a series win over UNLV.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss
Once Mary Papazian became president of San Jose State University in July 2016, it was expected that she would replenish her cabinet, including the athletic director. In February, Papazian reassigned Gene Bleymaier and announced that there would be a search for a new athletic director. Three months later, Papazian selected a familiar name to many in the Spartan community—Marie Tuite, a longtime deputy AD who was then interim at the top.
As shown on student-athletes’ Twitter feeds and this website’s message board, many in the Spartan community respect Tuite, and the author can say the same based on his interactions. However, others who feel frustrated with the athletic department’s lack of advancement with the South Campus Master Plan prefer an outsider from the current staff. With time in the essence for developing the new facilities, “starting from scratch” and having a new AD unfamiliar with the current athletics personnel and donors would get even less done than selecting an AD who is well-respected on campus and by fans.
Ultimately, Tuite has shown the dedication to San Jose State and gained the experience that qualifies her for the number-one job in the athletics department. In her introductory press conference on Friday, Tuite showed enthusiasm and acknowledged San Jose State’s challenges, most importantly fundraising. It remains to be seen if Tuite can turn the unity behind her into results.
A softball season to remember
Hollywood could not have written the season that unfolded for the women’s softball team. With no true home field, San Jose State won the conference championship. Because a newly donated golf practice field replaced the softball facilities, the team practiced at the football field or at any off-campus softball field it could find. Most “home games” were played at Mission College, a junior college in Santa Clara whose softball field is smaller and even more bare-bones than the old SJSU Field. The season ended with a 37-19 record, the program’s first Mountain West Conference championship, and the fourth NCAA Tournament. Not only that, San Jose State won its first NCAA Tournament game by beating Cal State Fullerton 3-0 on Friday night.
The season came to a disappointing end with a 1-0 loss in the elimination rematch against Cal State Fullerton, but it is more important is to recognize the character and work ethic of the coaching staff and players in achieving what they did without a home field. On May 15, the Mountain West named head coach Peter Turner the softball Coach of the Year, a well-deserved title following five consecutive winning seasons and three straight seasons finishing in the top half of the conference standings.
Since the final regular season series at UNLV, details have trickled from both Turner and the announcers calling San Jose State's postseason games on ESPN3 about a yet-to-be-named donor pledging money for a new softball stadium. We are awaiting an official announcement from San Jose State confirming these tentative details.
Despite record, baseball shows signs of promise
Under first-year head coach Jason Hawkins, baseball showed some promise early in the season, with a close 1-0 loss in the season opener at UCLA, two wins over a BYU team that finished the regular season 33-18, and a series sweep of Nevada. However, losses piled up as the team played more games on the road and went deeper in the conference schedule, making way for a 19-35-1 (10-18-1 MW) record. At least the team finished the season positively by winning two of three games in the final series at UNLV and surpassed last year’s win totals in both overall and conference play—2016 had only 17 wins, including seven in conference play. Also, there were the win and tie at home against defending conference champion New Mexico—the tie occurring due to the “drop dead rule” that allowed New Mexico to fly back home on time.
It is important to note that over half of the players on this year’s team signed with San Jose State before Hawkins became head coach. Thus, castigating Hawkins for this year’s results would not be fair. However, if the kind of performance from this year continues into the third year of Hawkins, that would be a problem. For his first full recruiting class, Hawkins signed 13 players in November. Significant roster turnover besides the five outgoing seniors would not be out of the question.
This season feels similar to the 2015-16 men's basketball season under Dave Wojcik, because both were losing seasons that had some frustrating losses and unexpected wins. Because Hawkins has not had to deal with the same roster turnover and Academic Progress Rate issues that hampered Wojcik for the first two seasons, Hawkins is expected to turn things around at a faster pace. However, no one said that Hawkins would find instant success.