Getting to know the new NAU athletics
If there were ever a time to get to know NAU athletics, now would be it.
Over the past year, the Lumberjacks have seen changes at different levels in some sports programs. From the hiring of the new men’s and women’s basketball coaches, among other coaches, to new recruits and a new athletic director, NAU sports have a new look going into the 2012-13 academic year.
From the top of the athletics food chain through three of its programs, the Lumberjacks have seen change. Longtime athletic director Jim Fallis announced this past winter that he would not be seeking a contract extension when it expired in June. Following his announcement, NAU hired Lisa Campos as the vice president of intercollegiate activities. Campos came to Flagstaff from the University of Texas, El Paso (UTEP), where she was the Senior Associate Athletic Director. She had many duties while with the Miners, including helping the athletic director with day-to-day operations and hirings. Once Campos was hired, she got to work finding new basketball coaches for the men’s and women’s teams, as well as two coaches to fill different spots on the football team.
The men’s basketball program was the first sport to see change. Nine games into the season, then-head coach Mike Adras resigned, leaving the team to interim head coach Dave Brown and a 16-game losing streak (the worst since 1990) to end the season. At the beginning of April, NAU announced the hiring of Jack Murphy. Prior to coming to Flagstaff, Murphy was an assistant coach at the University of Memphis and helped the Tigers make back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances. With Murphy being hired mid-recruiting season, he had his work cut out for him. Using his ties to Arizona and Las Vegas (where Murphy grew up), the first-time head coach was able to recruit six players for his first season as a Lumberjack.
It was announced to the surprise of many on April 20 that longtime women’s basketball coach Laurie Kelly would be leaving her position at NAU to be closer to her family in Minnesota. Two months after Kelly left, NAU named former Arizona assistant basketball coach Sue Darling as the new women’s head coach. Darling was the offensive coordinator for the Wildcats and helped the team become the No. 28 ranked squad in the nation for points per game with 73.7. Darling is coming into a program that requires some rebuilding. While the women faired better than the men during their seasons, the women only won four conference games and nine overall. There were some high points during the season: senior Amy Patton continued to climb toward NAU’s all-time scoring record for women’s basketball and the Lumberjacks forced Nebraska (ranked No. 17 at the end of the season) into double overtime before falling to the Cornhuskers. Darling is coming into a team that is full of talent, but needs to find a way to bring them together so the women can record more wins. This should not be too hard of a task with the likes of Patton, junior 3-point shooter Amanda Frost and senior Tyler Stephens-Jenkins.
Moving from the basketball court to the football field, the Lumberjacks made a few changes to their offense. Offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren and wide receivers coach Francis St. Paul both left the team following a disappointing 4–7 record after the 2011-12 season. Joining the team were new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello and wide receivers coach Jeff Lewis, a former NFL quarterback and NAU alum.
Scangarello has been helping offenses since 1998 and had stints with the University of California-Davis, the University of Idaho and the Oakland Raiders. Scangarello will be coming into an offense that lost a few seniors, most notably wideout Khalil Paden, but has plenty of returners. Senior quarterback Cary Grossart, senior wide receiver Austin Shanks, and pre-season All-American running back junior Zach Bauman will be leading the Jacks on the offense while junior defensive lineman Tim Wilkinson and junior cornerback Anders Battle and others will have to take over the leadership of the defense following the departure of Isaac Bond and seven other seniors that graduated. Big Sky preseason polls were released and had the Jacks ranked No. 7 (coaches poll) and No. 9 (media poll). Battle, Wilkinson and Bauman were all named to the Madness Preseason All-Conference team.
While there have been some change in the coaching staff for the Lumberjacks, there were also some exciting things happening with the Jacks. NAU helped develop and produce three Olympians. Senior Diego Estrada and alumni David McNeil and Lopez Lomong all earned tickets to the 2012 London Olympics. The women’s volleyball team received some exciting recruits and transfers, while the women on the soccer field hope to improve on the past season where they played close games, but lost or tied a majority of them. Cross country received a few high-profile recruits, including Foot Locker National Championship finalists Futsum Zienasellassie (first place) and Nate Weitz (third place) on the men’s side and Aussie Melanie Townsend, who has many international races and top-10 finishes under her belt, and Arizona natives Rolanda Jumbo and Emma Schraner. Jumbo was part of the 2011 AIA Division III cross country state champions and Schraner finished seventh in the mile and eighth in the two-mile runs at the state track championships.
While NAU athletics may not have the long-standing prestige and traditions of other “powerhouse” sports schools, the Lumberjacks and everyone involved with all of the programs are making the right moves to begin those traditions.