One year ago at this time, baseball coach Tim Corbin was relatively unknown to Vandy fans; we merely knew he was a premier recruiter and was supposed to be an excellent coach. A year ago, only 206 fans of the black and gold braved the February weather to watch Corbin's home debut.
One year later, 716 fans showed up... and look at our expectations for the baseball team now.
I was struck with a strange but heartening thought...
What a difference a year can make.
Just think back with me to last February. The baseball team was hoping to improve on seven less-than-stellar seasons, and hoping against hope that maybe, just maybe, it could slip into the SEC tourney.
The men's basketball team was mired in a February slump, and all hopes of playing in the postseason were gone. Coach Kevin Stallings was staring in the face of the first losing season of his career. The women's team was clicking along well, but every fan knew it was the final season for super seniors Ashley McElhiney and Chantelle Anderson. What would the future bring with the loss of these two terrific people and stars?
The football team, with Coach Johnson in only his second spring practice, was wondering whether it could improve on a 2-10 season.
Springtime finally arrived. Waiting like dormant plants for the warmth provided by spring, Vanderbilt fans perennially wait for glimpses of glory and to carry the pride of the black and gold with newfound vigor and joy (forgive me if I wax a bit poetic).
And as spring dawned, something changed at Vanderbilt. When did we really start to notice? Was it the sweep of Florida in baseball? When the men's tennis team knocked off traditional powers Tennessee and Georgia in one weekend? Was it the quiet confidence the golf teams showed week after week? As April dawned on the Vanderbilt campus, there was a change in the air... and things were noticeably different.
Truly Hawkins Field was a wonderful boon to the baseball team... but winning is always the best cure. And win Corbin's Commodores did. Series after series in the SEC, the team showed moxie in tripping up foe after foe, and slowly they climbed up the SEC ladder. Jeremy Sowers was developing into a bona fide All-American pitcher, and the rest of the team was responding. The tennis teams were winning match after match, and so too were the golf teams.
With spring seemed to come the fresh breeze of success. The baseball team swept Tennessee on the last weekend of the season, clinched second place in the SEC East, and managed to make the SEC tourney for the first time in seven years. The golf teams both made the NCAA's, the men making it to the final rounds, and the women acknowledged for being one of the best young teams in the country with lots of talent returning. The women's tennis team made the NCAA round of 16, and of course the men nearly captured Vanderbilt's first team national championship in the NCAA finals in Athens, Ga.
Fall arrived after a long summer for Vandy fans. The football team finished 2-10. Most thought it could have been a lot better-- we should have been 5-7, others 4-8, except for some bad luck. However, the SEC losing streak came to an end on a rainy Saturday at Dudley Field when the team got to walk off as winners and watch the joyous fans take down both goalposts.
The women's soccer team (mostly unnoticed) missed making the NCAA tourney by a game, and has been able to recruit a wonderful class for next year. The men's soccer team has recently landed a prize recruit, and if it can ever get fully funded (and that may come with the addition of a new women's sport next year), it should start winning as well.
Currently, the basketball teams are both on the verge of making the NCAA tourney. The men are coming off wins at Alabama and home against LSU. Matt Freije should set a new all-time scoring record on Wednesday. On Monday, three Commodore athletes were named SEC players of the week: Ryan Mullins in baseball, Carla Thomas in women's basketball, and Freije in Men's basketball.
The baseball team swept Southern Illinois last weekend for a 3-0 start. The golf and tennis teams continue their success, and all four may make noise in the SEC and the NCAA's.
Oh, let's not forget one other small thing that has occurred in the last year: the restructuring of the athletic department. Remember that? Not too shabby for a school without an athletic department, eh?
I don't know where we stand in the Sears Cup, nor do I care. All I know is that within a year's time a lot of things have changed, and it's a fun time to be a Commodore fan. What a difference a year can make.
Photos by Neil Brake for Vanderbilt Athletics.