The “Other Guys” are Putting Red Wolves Athletics on Their Backs

I’m deep into my forties, which means I have several friends who have endured the slings of arrows of divorce. I’ve learned to be patient with these guys, and that only time will bring your friend back to anything resembling normal. Until then, you have to be a good buddy and enthusiastically dub his new, one-bedroom apartment “The Bachelor Pad.” You drop by the play NBA2K on his new X-Box. Maybe you help him write a Tinder profile, or you talk him out of replacing his entire wardrobe with Tap Out t-shirts.

Meanwhile, you start appreciating your other friends – the ones not enduring an emotional meltdown. Why didn’t you hang out with these dudes more often? They’re so stable. So easy to talk to. So not begging you to go to Coachilla with him.

That’s how it is right now with A-State fans and its flagship sports of football, basketball and baseball. The emotional support sports of track, bowling, soccer and golf are hosting backyard barbecues while we’re patiently helping football, basketball and baseball choose a biceps tattoo.

Meet Your New BFFs

If football, basketball and baseball are Arkansas State’s flagship sports, what do you call the rest? To call them “support programs” (like I did just one paragraph ago) is an insult to the athletes who have dedicated their time and talent to perfecting their craft. In the parlance of many circles, these programs are called “non-revenue” sports, but that feels demeaning, too. They’re “the other guys;” the men and women quietly winning championships – often from even the view of ESPN+. Whatever you call them, they’re carrying Arkansas State Athletics, and we should appreciate them before Butch Jones’ magic dust starts to take effect.

Red Wolves Bowling, led by the very frank Justin Kostick, holds 12 NCAA Tournament Appearances and has fielded 27 All-Americans. This season, the program ranks 5th in RPI as well as 5th in the NCTA Power Rankings. Emma Stull is just a sophomore and is already a superstar. Last season, Red Wolves Bowling finished runner up to Nebraska, Arkansas States sworn gutter enemy.

Arkansas State Track & Field has swept conference indoor titles for three straight seasons. They swept the outdoor championship this season. Every season, a new an intriguing star emerges: Richard Chavez, Roelf Pienaar, Sharika Nelvis, Jaylen Bacon, Erin Farmer and Lexington Hilton are athletes who’ve taken over meets and record books the last ten years. Head coach Jim Paschal has earned every cent of his recent extension.

It wasn’t long when Arkansas State Women’s Soccer was a disaster. Enter Brian Dooley. Check out this statement from the A-State Athletics site: “Inheriting a program that had two winning seasons in the first 15 years of the play, Dooley has guided the program to eight or more wins in each of the last four seasons, including a program best 11-5-1 record in the 2020 campaign.” Dooley has not only delivered wins, he’s produced watchable stars in Sarah Sodoma, Megan McClure and last year’s Sun Belt Freshman of the Year Aliyah Williamson.

During my time at Arkansas State University, the A-State Golf program was practically club level, and few paid attention. In just six seasons as a Red Wolf, men’s team head coach Mike Hagen has two NCAA appearances (2019, 2021), 19 tournament championships, produced 16 All-Sun Belt Conference Players, and won Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year (2015-16). M.J. Desbiens Shaw has done just a fine job with the women’s program. Since assuming command 11 years ago, Coach Shaw “has piled up the second most tournament championships (9) and top-three finishes (19) among all the Red Wolves’ head coaches.” Together, Hagen and Shaw have lifted an after-thought program into a true contender.

Yeah, I didn’t forget about Red Wolves Rugby. For over 20 years the Arkansas State University Rugby Team (A-State Rugby) has competed in the USA Rugby 7s National Championships in 2012 and 2013 and a USA Rugby D-1A 15’s National Championship appearance against Brigham Young University (2012).

So, uh, what about Arkansas State Volleyball?

Dunno! Since two-time Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year David Rehr left for Houston, the program has been on a bit of a slide, finishing fourth in the Sun Belt west with a 6-10 record. Former Rehr assistant Brian Gerwig takes over the program in 2022, so lets see what the new guy brings.