Change is not always easy, but…
by nearly all accounts Truman’s transition to the Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) has been successful. After a century of competition in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA), a conference in which Truman was a founding member, the University made the move to the GLVC for a variety of reasons, and recently wrapped up the first year of league play.
“Membership in the GLVC was a better fit for Truman’s mission and core values,” said Jerry Wollmering, athletic director. “We have been very impressed with the conference office and the level of energy and commitment to provide an outstanding championship experience for all sports.”
Compared to the more than 100-year-old MIAA, the GLVC is a relative new kid on the block. Founded in 1978 to be the premier NCAA Division II basketball conference, it has grown to sponsor 20 championship sports. GLVC teams have captured 12 national championships in the sports of basketball, soccer, baseball and softball.
The GLVC is the conference of choice for teams in five states, including Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Kentucky. At one point it was the largest athletic conference in the country across all divisions. Today, Truman is one of seven Missouri schools in the league and sits in the western division of the 16-member conference.
One of the benefits of joining the GLVC is its prominence in several metropolitan areas, which will help to raise awareness of the University for potential students in a number of untapped recruiting areas. In addition to the traditional Truman hotspots of Kansas City and St. Louis, the GLVC has member schools in major media markets such as Chicago, Milwaukee, Louisville and Indianapolis, the home of the conference headquarters.
“Changing conferences has positive repercussions well beyond athletics,” said Regina Morin, associate vice president for enrollment. “Competing in these new areas will help us cast a wider net and increase our name recognition in places where we may not have had as large of a presence in the past, while supporting interest in our traditionally strong geographic areas. Hopefully we can attract even more of the high-caliber students we have come to expect at Truman.”
The geographic makeup of the conference has other benefits as well. This season Truman athletes missed less class time, and the locations of away events provided more opportunities for alumni attendance.
“The crowds and support we have at road games have been some of the nicest surprises,” Wollmering said. “Alumni and friends of Truman have been awesome in coming out to see us play.”
From the classroom standpoint, the GLVC fits nicely with Truman’s tradition of academic excellence. In 2012-2013, the year prior to Truman’s arrival, the GLVC ranked third among 23 NCAA Division II conferences in Academic Success Rate (ASR) at 80 percent and third in Federal Graduation Rate (FGR) at 62 percent for all student-athletes. Truman’s most recent ASR of 86 percent and FGR of 72 percent will only help to bolster the conference’s academic reputation in the years to come.
One of the first indicators of athletic success in the new conference came on the gridiron where the Truman football team posted its most successful season in more than a decade. The Bulldogs were in the chase for a conference title until the last week of the season, finishing with a 7-4 mark on the season and 5-2 in conference play. Additionally, eight players earned first-team All-GLVC honors.
Also in the fall, a pair of teams tasted success in their inaugural seasons in the GLVC as women’s soccer and volleyball both booked trips to their respective national tournaments.
The women’s soccer team posted 12 regular season wins, enough for a second place conference finish and its 10th NCAA tournament appearance in school history. In all, seven Bulldogs earned spots on All-GLVC teams.
A run to the GLVC conference title game was enough to boost the nationally-ranked volleyball team to its 14th appearance in the NCAA tournament. In addition to landing three players on All-GLVC teams, two Bulldogs were named All-Americans by the American Volleyball Coaches’ Association.
The spring was highlighted by the return of March Madness, as both basketball teams completed successful seasons. While the men’s team saw their 20-win campaign come to an end with an upset loss in the conference tournament, the silver lining was the effort turned in by senior Mike Carlson. In his final year in a Bulldog uniform, Carlson was named the GLVC co-Player of the Year and became only the sixth Truman basketball player to earn All-America honors.
Former Bulldog great Amy Eagan led the women’s team to a stellar season in her first year as head coach (sidebar, below). In addition to tying the school record with 22 wins, the team took first place in the GLVC conference tournament, which earned them a spot in the NCAA tournament. This marked only the third trip to the tournament for the Bulldogs and the first appearance since 1999, Eagan’s final season in uniform.
On the diamond, both the baseball and softball squads had notable seasons. The baseball team set a school record with 26 wins and advanced to the final four of the conference tournament. The softball team surpassed 40 wins for only the fifth time in school history, finishing with a record of 43-13. Two of those wins came in the NCAA tournament, which saw the Bulldogs in the field for the 15th time overall, and the first time since 2005. Kindra Henze also earned GLVC co-Pitcher of the Year honors.
On the whole, Truman finished second in the GLVC Commissioner’s Cup race, and sixth in the battle for the league’s All Sports Trophy. The Commissioner’s Cup awards points based on each school’s finish in either the GLVC standings or GLVC postseason championship events, in the sports sponsored by all 16 member schools: men’s soccer, women’s soccer, volleyball, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, softball and baseball. The All Sport Trophy encompasses 18 different conference-sponsored competitions.
For the 19 University teams that entered the GLVC this past year, most saw marked improvements from their last seasons in the previous conference. (The GLVC is still working to add wrestling, and the Truman team competed last season as an associate member of the MIAA.) Across all sports participating in the new league, Truman placed 49 athletes on All-GLVC teams, up from 25 in the previous season in the other conference. In addition, the Bulldogs landed two conference players of the year during the program’s first season of GLVC action.
Fifteen Years at the Top
With a background so entrenched in track that Truman’s own is named in his honor, Kenneth Gardner is probably comfortable with the idea of another runner surpassing him as the longest-tenured athletic director in the University’s history.
This September will mark Jerry Wollmering’s 15th year as the top Bulldog, moving him past Gardner, who was the athletic director from 1974-1988, in total years at the post.
“Serving Truman has truly been a blessing to me,” Wollmering said. “There is no greater job in the world than to be around young people with energy and enthusiasm. It has allowed me to do what I enjoy, yet have balance in spending time with my family.”
Despite 15 successful years on the job at Truman, working as a Division II athletic director was never part of Wollmering’s plan. A former cross country and track athlete at Drake University, he originally dreamed of working for a Division I school in a major conference. After serving in various capacities at Kent State University and Bowling Green State University in Ohio, as well as Southeast Missouri State University, Wollmering appeared to be on that path, but when Truman was looking for a new athletic director in 1999, he was intrigued.
“When I saw the Truman job advertised, I was excited to apply because it was near my hometown of Fort Madison in southeast Iowa,” he said. “When I interviewed, I was even more excited about the opportunity because of the people I met and what I saw at Truman.”
One thing that has helped Wollmering during his tenure at the University is his diverse educational background. At Drake, he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and accounting, which he followed up with a master’s degree in physical education and athletic administration from Kent State University. He is also a certified public accountant, something that has been useful considering current economic conditions.
“The budget reductions over the past 10 years have been tough to handle year after year,” Wollmering said. “However, if we can start increasing our support for our student-athletes again, I think you will continue to see great things happen on and off the field for Truman athletics.”
One of those areas of support is the student athletics fee, voted on by students and passed under Wollmering’s reign in 2007. It has allowed the University to make facility improvements including stadium turf, lights and the creation of the Pershing Strength and Conditioning Facility, which has benefited every Truman team.
Those are just a few of the changes Wollmering has witnessed during his time in Kirksville. When he and his wife Alicia moved to town so he could take the athletic director position, they had two children—a three-year-old and a one-year-old. Today, the couple has three daughters, the oldest of which will be a freshman at Truman this fall.
Hall of Famer at the Helm
Former Bulldog Amy Eagan (’01) returned this past season to serve as head coach, leading the team to arguably its most successful season ever.
“It was the best year of my career as a head coach, and not because of the wins and losses, but because of the players and how they made the records and wins happen,” Eagan said. “They are remarkable young women who invested so much throughout the year on and off the court.”
Individually, five players averaged double figures for scoring. Amy Briggs and Allie Norton respectively earned first- and second-team all-conference honors, while Bianca Szafarowicz was named the GLVC tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
When stacked up against teams from the past, the 2013-2014 squad posted top 10 performances in 14 different statistical categories, and became the most successful women’s team of all time in terms of three-point field goals made, free throws made and free throws attempted. Additionally, the team tied the school number of wins in a season with 22, won the GLVC tournament in their inaugural season in the league and earned the program’s third overall trip to the NCAA tournament.
The last time the team enjoyed this much success was Eagan’s senior season as a player. That Bulldog squad also notched 22 season victories en route to the “Sweet Sixteen” of the NCAA tournament. Eagan earned honorable mention All-America honors to go along with her recognition as a four-time all-conference player out of the MIAA. During her career, which spanned 1996-1999, she became the program’s all-time leader in both assists and steals and she also holds the single-game point record with 46 against Southern Indiana in 1998.
All of her accomplishments secured Eagan a spot in the Truman Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012, and her history at the University is something she can use to make connections on the recruiting trail and in the locker room.
“When I talk to recruits and their parents about Truman, they know it is from firsthand experience. I think it means more,” she said. “It also definitely helps with relating to players. I know what they are going through with trying to balance academics and basketball.”
Since she graduated from the University, Eagan has never been far from the game. After earning her degree in exercise science, she served four years as an assistant coach at Quincy University. Prior to her return this season, she spent the last five years as a head coach in Iowa with two years at St. Ambrose University followed by three years at Ashford University. During her time at Ashford, Eagan also picked up a master’s degree in organizational management.
By all accounts, her first season back on campus has been a success, but Eagan has no plans to become content with early accomplishments.
“We do not want to win a conference championship every once in a while, or go to the NCAA tournament every 15 years,” she said. “Our goal is to establish a program that is competing to do these things every year.”