Fall, Column

Promising End to 2017-18 Paved the Way for Fall Success

Last year, by Sept. 9, the combined record of Boston College’s major fall sports—football, volleyball, soccer, and field hockey—was a mediocre 14-12. The football team was coming off a 24-point loss at the hands of Wake Forest, and the men’s soccer team was embarking on a three-game losing streak. The lopsided defeat to the Demon Deacons was particularly brutal, with crowds filing out amid a game that featured squandered opportunities and several turnovers.

Fast forward a year, and after an impressive calendar year of BC athletics under the watchful eye of athletic director Martin Jarmond, the start to the 2018 fall season couldn’t have been any better. It’s not just the fact that the combined record is a nearly spotless 24-2-2,  but it’s that each team seems to be generating a type of buzz that has been missing in years past. New hires have slotted in with ease, the athletic administration is pleasing fans left and right with decisions ranging from apparel to alcohol sales, and there seems to be a general culture change that has the Eagles firing on all cylinders.

Of course, this column comes with a caveat. BC is a member of the Atlantic Coast, a brutally unforgiving conference that features some of the nation’s best teams. Only a few conference games have been played thus far so, as a result, the strength of schedule is awfully lacking at this point. Just look at the first two opponents for the Eagles football team and you’ll realize why it’s not great to make sweeping generalizations. Still, wins are wins, and several of these programs have started much worse in years prior. Avoiding defeat in 26 of 28 games is a stark contrast to the slow opening of last fall, so it’s worth a look at what’s going right for the school’s athletics.

Football—BC’s banner team—has a lot to do with it. After a dismal start to 2017 that had media and fans alike calling for head coach Steve Addazio’s job, the Eagles responded by rattling off three wins in conference play and finishing the regular season with five victories in six tries. A tough loss in the Pinstripe Bowl followed, but the pieces were seen coming together. Around the same time, Jarmond was announcing the hire of Jason Kennedy to take over the volleyball team, fresh off of a horrendous seven win season. Long tenured soccer coaches Alison Foley and Ed Kelly were pulling in strong recruiting classes, and Kelly Doton had many hopeful after a young field hockey team battled through the ACC, gaining experience.

The late-season surge from football created a ton of excitement, especially evident when a 35-3 rout of Florida State was followed with a storming of the field by the faithful student crowd in Alumni Stadium. Next came men’s basketball’s most successful season in seven years, a campaign punctuated by an impressive ACC Tournament run and an NIT berth. Both hockey teams found success, albeit slightly less than fans are often accustomed to. Women’s hockey was the class of Hockey East for the duration of the regular season, and men’s hockey staved off Northeastern and Providence to win the regular season title as well. The winning only continued in the spring—women’s lacrosse shouldered the large share of the burden with an undefeated regular season and a run to the national championship game, but softball also made plenty of noise, stringing together 13 consecutive wins in the middle of the season that more than made up for its worst start to a season since 2013.

Taken as a whole, 2017 got off to a shaky start and was pitted with teams failing to take the final step, namely women’s lacrosse and hockey. It was also a year of growth, one that saw plenty of young athletes coming into their own throughout. The start to this year? Easily traceable to last season’s learning experiences.

For field hockey, last season was a mixed bag. On one hand, it beat a few ranked teams—Maryland and Northwestern notably in successive days—but on the other it went winless in conference play. Still, Doton entered this year with confidence surrounding her team, telling BCEagles.com that “you need to experience those wins and not just think about the losses. If you’re down in the dumps, you won’t get over the speedbumps of the upcoming season.” That optimism doesn’t seem misplaced. The Eagles are 3-2 on the young year, with both losses last minute ordeals against top-10 opponents, and even beat Wake Forest on Friday night for their first conference win since they beat the Demon Deacons back on Oct. 21, 2016. The official attendance for the conference win was listed at 517, a level of interest rarely demonstrated in 2017—just 322 appeared for last year’s home opener.

The same growth is clear on the pitch that shares a parking lot with the field hockey field. Women’s soccer lost two key captains, one a pivotal piece of the defense, but is a spotless 8-0 on the season with just three goals conceded. It doesn’t take much to see where that surge is coming from, as the Eagles have installed a pair of newcomers on the back line in Rachel Newborough and Kayla Duran, while Gianna Mitchell has followed up a busy freshman campaign with a marked improvement.

The attendance boost is visible across the sports. Men’s soccer saw over 800 fans stream in for its primetime Friday night win over a ranked opponent in Clemson, a more than adequate follow up to the Sunday prior when it drew with rival BU in front of nearly 700. In comparison, the attendance at the first two home games last season totaled just 947. Kelly’s squad has a couple of ties alongside a pair of wins, and the undefeated start has people buzzing.

Volleyball played the finale of its opening invitational in a packed Power Gym, with people waiting in the gap to the right of bleachers for a spot to open up. The droves of fans that turned out for the matchup is understandable—Kennedy’s ability, so far at least, to reverse the struggles from the last few painful seasons has been nothing short of remarkable.

Granted, five teams playing 28 combined games and nearly going undefeated in them isn’t the largest sample size. The opponents, at least a good chunk of them, haven’t been great. Football has beat up two much smaller schools, while volleyball is making mincemeat of teams in the mid-150s in RPI. Still, the quality wins are there, and they’re piling up. It’d be foolish to expect these records to stay spotless once the trials of the ACC begin, but the fact that there’s a noticeable buzz around the campus with the assorted sports is a nice feeling. Arriving on campus as a freshman last year meant you were subject to the painful Addazio offense, seven wins in 30 tries for volleyball, up-and-mostly down seasons for soccer, and a winless conference slate for volleyball.

This year? Nobody is losing.

It’s a near-perfect start for BC, and reflects quite positively on Jarmond, who has been nothing short of a massive fan favorite since arriving on the Heights with a “go get ’em” attitude. There’s no need for a big push or pleas from the athletic department to get out to fall sporting events—especially not with the headline acts featuring some of the best players in the conference, like Sam Coffey or A.J. Dillon. So, there’s no plea here either or frustration about people missing out on excellent starts to year. The attendance is good and the teams are better. There’s not much more you can ask for in the world of college athletics.

Featured Image by Jonathan Ye / Heights Staff

September 10, 2018