National American ends storied volleyball and rodeo programs

3/19/2008

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RAPID CITY- National American University women's volleyball coach Todd Lowery really liked his team's chances for a third NAIA national title next fall.

Now, Lowery, his staff and the Maverick players can only wonder what might have been after learning Monday that NAU had replaced president Richard Buckles and decided to drop its sports programs.

"That's the hardest thing," Lowery said Tuesday. "It wasn't losing a job or losing money or anything like that. It was not to see this team that we built for next year have a chance to compete together.

"We had put a very special group here together and we thought we had a real chance again," he said.

Lowery and his players learned of their program's demise Monday, just as spring drills were getting underway.

A storied NAU rodeo program will also come to an end, but the 35-member Maverick men's and women's teams will have a last hurrah, finishing the spring season with the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyo., in June.

"You've got to go on and make the best of it," said 14-year NAU rodeo coach Glen Lammers, who, like Lowery, learned of the university's decision on Monday and informed his athletes that day.

"It was sad at the meeting," Lammers said. "We're like a family. These kids pulled together and that's what we'll do to see it through."

Rodeo team member Mica Wade of Hiko, Nev., said she learned of Buckles' dismissal on Friday while working in the university's student success office.

"I kind of knew something was going to happen," she said. "I didn't expect athletics to be dropped by any means."

Lammers said the NAU rodeo program has been in existence for almost a half-century, producing numerous collegiate and professional champions.

"They have a passion for this program," Lammers said. "Their hearts are in it."

The current team will compete at five rodeos this spring, starting at South Dakota State University on April 11-13, and including the Black Hills State University Yellow Jacket Stampede on April 24-25 and the final Maverick Stampede on April 26-27.

Lowery amassed a 188-11 record at the helm of the volleyball program, winning NAIA national championships in 2002 and 2006.

Lowery, a Gillette, Wyo., native who had been an assistant coach at Chadron State, came on board just after NAU had dropped its soccer, softball and baseball programs.

"I only expected to be here one year," Lowery said. "We won the national title in 2002.

They left us alone for awhile after that, and we did get great support."

The Mavericks continued to be a powerhouse, repeating as NAIA national champions in 2006.

"We won two national titles. Most coaches go a whole career without smelling a national tournament let alone winning two national titles," Lowery said.

"It was good while it lasted. I can't complain (about) my six years here. They did give me every opportunity to go out and win national titles. As a coach, you can't ask anymore than that," he said.

Given the program's past success, Lowery's players were stunned by the news.

"The first thing that came to my mind was about me and volleyball and my life here," said Thamy Viana, a sophomore from Brazil.

"We had been working so hard for the volleyball team, to get better and be national champions again," she said.

Junior Carla de Marqui, also from Brazil, said coaches have had offers from other colleges, but chose to stay at NAU.

"They had a lot of offers from other teams and right now it's too late. Most of the other teams already have coaches and assistant coaches," she said.

Marqui said she doesn't think too many volleyball team members will remain at the school.

"I think pretty much everybody is going to leave," she said.

Lowery said interest is already very high in NAU's players.

"We've got people beating down the doors to get in touch with these girls," he said.

"There are going to be some programs that will go right to the top of NAIA and right to the Div. II directly because of what's happened here."

The university has informed students that all athletic scholarships will be honored through graduation.

Wade, who followed older sister Kyla to NAU, said that offer will likely not entice her to stay, in spite of having just one year left to complete her degree in applied management.

"After the lack of respect they've shown us, I wouldn't want to give them any more of my money or time," she said. "Not only will this hurt the students, it'll hurt the coaches that have put their lives into this."

Wade said she and her rodeo teammates want to make a statement in their final season.

"I do know I want to go out with a bang," she said.

"That's how it goes for all of us," she said. "We want to prove to them that their decision was wrong."

courtesy Rapid City Journal

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