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Two MWC titles Saturday give Scots five for the year

The Fighting Scots baseball team celebrates its Midwest Conference championship Saturday at Glasgow Field.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – The five Midwest Conference championships Monmouth College athletics teams captured in 2017-18 help the College continue to strengthen its comprehensive athletics program, especially as several other sports continue their climb to the top.

In 2017-18, the Fighting Scots won five of the 10 men’s championships awarded by the Midwest Conference – baseball, basketball, football, and indoor and outdoor track and field. Monmouth leads the conference’s All-Sports Standings by more than 10 points over the next-closest school.

“It’s outstanding, and shows we have coaches working hard and kids who are competitive,” said Athletic Director Roger Haynes, who also coaches the track teams. “Our goal as a department was to be in the running for the playoffs and be in the top four. It’s an outstanding job by the coaches and, mostly, by the athletes.”

The Fighting Scots have won as many as seven Midwest Conference titles in an academic year –in 2001-02 and 2008-09. Monmouth won six conference titles in 2006-07, 2009-10 and 2011-12.

The last time the Scots won five titles happened in 2013-14, when men’s and women’s indoor and outdoor track and field won titles along with men’s golf. This was the first time Monmouth won a conference title in football and basketball in the same academic year.

Winning at home

The final two conference championships of this academic year – baseball and men’s outdoor track and field – were won at home on the weekend of the College’s 161st Commencement exercises. Men’s track and field won its conference championship Saturday afternoon at April Zorn Memorial Stadium; later that evening, baseball won its title at Glasgow Field. The women’s outdoor track and field team was conference runner-up.

“To have a weekend like this with three teams placing or winning their Midwest Conference titles was an incredible experience, especially after winning three other conference titles earlier this year,” said Vice President for Student Life & Dean of Students Laura Hutchinson. “We compete to win at Monmouth, both in and out of the classroom. I couldn’t be prouder of our scholar-athletes’ commitment to excellence on field and court, as well as in the classroom.

“The lessons our students learn about leadership and teamwork, markers of a Monmouth College education, complement their coursework and the many other activities they’re involved in – whether in student government, music ensembles, or through volunteer service in our community.”

Three predictions and two surprises

What’s especially encouraging about this year’s five conference titles is that men’s basketball and baseball came as a surprise to many outsiders. Neither team was picked in the preseason to win its respective championship, but those titles were not a surprise to Haynes.

“We could see the improvement coming in basketball and baseball in terms of what we were getting done,” said Haynes. “It’s the old saying, ‘You either get better or you get worse.’ Both sports were on the doorstep.”

In November, football won its conference title at home with a 9-6 overtime victory over St. Norbert College. Men’s basketball coach Todd Skrivseth and baseball coach Alan Betourne – both honored by their peers as Midwest Conference Coach of the Year – also won their conference titles at home, as did men’s track and field.

“It was certainly fun to host the basketball and baseball tournaments,” said Haynes. “It probably gave a bit of a home field advantage and a comfort level that allowed them to get over the top.”

In February, the men’s basketball team reached the NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Championship tournament for the first time since 1990, and the baseball team will make its first appearance in the NCAA Division III Baseball Championship tournament since the Fighting Scots hosted an NCAA regional in 2002. The Scots open a double-elimination regional Thursday in Sauget, Ill., against No. 1-ranked University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

“Being in the NCAA tournament gives a level of credibility to kids who may have been out of reach before,” Haynes said of the championships’ potential impact on recruiting.

‘On the doorstep’

Behind Monmouth’s five championship teams are several other programs that are, to use Haynes’s phrase, “on the doorstep.” Several of them are spring sports:

* Men’s tennis qualified for the four-team conference playoffs
* Softball finished one game out of a league playoff spot.
* Men’s golf will return three scorers from a squad that blistered its home course with a near-record round of 294.
* Two relatively new spring sports also shined – the women’s water polo team peaked with a midseason top 10 national ranking, and the men’s lacrosse team improved to six wins in the program’s second year.

In addition, the women’s indoor track team placed second in the Midwest Conference. In the fall, the women’s soccer team reached the league championship match, one win shy of an NCAA berth, and the women’s cross country team placed third in the league.