In the three years since Nevada joined the Mountain West, success has not been a frequent visitor to “The Biggest Little City.”
Nonetheless, the Pack’s track record in MWC Championships received a huge boost this last weekend when the women’s swimming and diving team crushed the competition en route to a third-place finish. While Nevada did not win the overall team title, the Wolf Pack was the talk of the championships by taking in four out of the five conference end of the year awards and had seven members of its squad take home gold medals. Of course, any coach or player would tell you that this championship performance is not the end goal for Nevada’s MWC aspirations, but it is unquestionably the best performance by any Wolf Pack squad thus far in a conference title tilt.
The result has arguably established head coach Abby Steketee and the rest of her team as the reigning queens of Wolf Pack athletics. The finish also placed the athletic department in a position to have its most successful overall year in its brief tenure in the MWC.
This last weekend’s post-conference awards haul was the most significant since Nevada was in the Western Athletic Conference. Steketee was named Coach of the Year, fellow coach Jian Li You notched her third straight Diving Coach of the Year honor and juniors Yawen Li and Krysta Palmer were named Swimmer and Diver of the Year, respectively. With the victory, the Pack aligned itself in the upper echelon of the Mountain West by outpacing fourth-place Wyoming by 134 points.
Steketee spoke about how the team’s full commitment to the pool, the classroom and each other were the key ingredients in the squad’s success.
“The awards we won tonight are a reflection of smart work, hard work and of never, ever giving up,” Steketee said in a press release following the meet. “I’m so proud of how our team fought in race after race, day after day, and I am so grateful for the many people in the department, campus and community who have helped us this year.”
Additionally, it should be noted that while the MWC Championships was the squad’s most significant overall performance, it has been a long time coming. In Steketee’s third season she has put the Wolf Pack on the map through consistent success (the team finished with an 8-1 record this year and finished in fifth place at last season’s conference championships). While the swimming and diving team has established itself as the shining star of the Nevada athletics, the overall athletic program has made consistently steady progress since its uneventful departure from the WAC.
Indeed, the department has made dramatic strides since its disastrous first season in the MWC. Nevada was named one of the worst athletic departments in the country in 2013, according to the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup final standings by ranking 257th out of 294 eligible athletic departments. In fact, the Wolf Pack notched more last-place finishes in its first year in the MWC (four) than top-three (one). Add in the additional blemish that Nevada has been brushed aside in the last two Governor’s series showdowns with UNLV and it is easy to see the small, but important improvements this year.
The year isn’t over, but with the baseball team off to its best start in over two decades and the normally solid track team about to compete at their conference championships, Nevada is close to capping off its most prolific year yet.
Additionally, after thrashing the Rebels for the second year in swimming and diving, Nevada locked down three points in the Governor’s Series standings. Currently, Nevada is ahead in the competition by a score of 10.5-4.5 and with 27 points still up for grabs (eight different sports and the academic component), the Pack has put itself in place to make 2014-2015 its best year yet.
While it is bitter that the most high-profile sports struggled in the limelight this season (football and basketball) it is encouraging that the little Wolf Pack engine that could is doing some consistent damage in the Mountain West.
Chris Boline can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @CDBoline.