Programs

Ian McCaw Q&A, Part 5: State of Liberty Sports Programs | LU Sports

Liberty’s sports programs outside of football and basketball have flourished in recent years. Field hockey qualified for the NCAA national championship game, cross country athletes and track and field teams earned All-America honors, and baseball and softball continue to progress toward play regional.

In the final part of the Q&A with Liberty Athletic Director Ian McCaw, he discusses these sports and the state of the athletic program.

N&A: What is the status of sports programs at Liberty?

I AM: I think our programs are booming right now. Football always sets the tone for an athletic department and winning three consecutive bowling games puts us in elite company. Only Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky and Louisiana have done so. I think having strong football obviously puts us in a very good position. Our basketball programs had some very good years this year, combined to win 50 games between them. Only nine other schools in the country have done so, so we’ve had great success in basketball. Then, overall, one of the things I’m really most pleased with is that in the last two years we’ve won 18 conference championships. It really speaks of success on all levels. It’s not about having two or three good sports programs; we’re really competitive in all sports and putting ourselves in a position to compete for championships. This is our goal.

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N&A: To answer this question, are there any teams in particular that have stood out? Are there any that need improvement?

I AM: I believe the trajectory for each of our 20 sports is on the up right now and that’s a very rare accomplishment. Obviously, we could highlight some individual pockets of huge successes such as field hockey winning the Big East Championship and making it to the national championship game; again a number of teams that won conference championships, some several years in a row. I feel really good about the overall state of our program right now. I think we are going in the right direction.

N&A: The 50th anniversary of Title IX was celebrated on June 23. How do you think this has helped college athletics?

I AM: It’s amazing how far women’s sport has come in 50 years. Obviously, as we sit here right now, we have nine men’s sports and 11 women’s sports, so just having the sheer number of opportunities we provide for female student-athletes is really exciting. Again, I think a lot of our women’s teams have really started to hit their stride in the last few years. It’s really exciting to see how far women’s sport has come and I think the future is also very bright.

N&A: Football and basketball get the majority of the attention. However, is Liberty now a field hockey school?

I AM: We want to be a comprehensive school, including field hockey. Certainly, with the success of Nikki Parsley-Blocker and we have rookies flooding in just to come to Liberty right now, I think we’re going to be a team to face in field hockey for many years to come.

N&A: It flew under the radar: Parsley-Blocker signed a contract extension in mid-June that will keep her at Liberty through 2028. How deserving was that?

I AM: She did an amazing job and took over the program at a time when it was doing well, but she certainly continued to build on the success the program had had before. We are delighted with the direction this is taking. We love how it represents Liberty’s mission and I think it will be a program to contend with for many years to come.

N&A: How has reaching the national championship game impacted the program?

I AM: I think reaching the national championship did a lot of things, but I think one thing is that it should inspire every one of our coaches and student-athletes to know that Liberty can compete at the highest level, can compete at the national level for the championships. It’s not just about good football, good basketball, we’re successful in all of our sports program and I think because we have teams that have special seasons like that, it does wonders for the profile of the athletics department and the entire university.

N&A: The exposure to field hockey isn’t as good as football and basketball, but what has playing on a national stage added to the program? Also, with Jill Bolton representing Liberty at the Honda Cup ceremony, did that also improve the program?

I AM: It helps tremendously. You play on national television for a national championship, it’s a huge exposure for the university. Jill being the first National Player of the Year in Liberty University history is big exposure. She truly set a standard for our student-athletes to pursue, and much like Malik Willis for football, she was instrumental in building the culture of our field hockey program and the entire department. .

N&A: What can Bolton’s special season do to help advance the on-field program and recruitment?

I AM: I think if anyone ever felt there were limits to how far Liberty could go, either as an individual athlete or as a team, I think those have been broken. I think people now realize that Liberty can compete for national championships and Liberty can have elite players, including National Player of the Year. It helps in many ways.

N&A: Lance Bingham, in his second season as director of athletics and cross country, oversaw the All-Americans in cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field. How much will this help the program?

I AM: I’m really excited about our track program. Of course, Lance Bingham follows a legend in the person of Brant Tolsma, who won I think it was 116 conference championships and 77 coach of the year awards. This current team is arguably the best we’ve ever had in school history, and that’s saying a lot. Lance does a fantastic job. We have more and more student-athletes competing at the national level. Getting a lot at regionals, getting a lot at nationals, I think that speaks really well. This is the direction we are trying to go. We are trying to have more elite athletes. We’ve always had great teams across the board, but we’re trying to aim a little higher and get some of those national-caliber athletes who can compete for individual national championships.

N&A: Is the goal to have more national caliber athletes and then be in contention for regional and national team titles?

I AM: It is hope. Obviously there’s fierce competition between the Power Fives and it’s hard to break through with some of them, but I think we have that potential as we get more national-caliber athletes we’re going to to be able to consolidate certain points at national level.

N&A: Among spring sports, baseball and softball continue to do well. Are these programs at the stage where the transition to regional is obvious?

I AM: They are both thriving right now. Coach Jackson and Coach Richardson are doing a fantastic job, but only 16 teams have qualified for baseball and softball regionals in the past two years. Only two of them outside of the Power Five – us and Campbell. We’re in pretty rare company as far as that goes. I feel like our program has a great infrastructure, we have great coaching leadership, we have really high quality student-athletes, recruiting is going really well, and we have great facilities. We have made investments in these programs to succeed and they are paying off.

N&A: What will it take for both programs to finally make it to super regionals?

I AM: I think one of the big things that would really help would be if we could one day have a regional. We have bid every year to do this and have come close, but have not been able to secure a host site. We have been studying in both sports to host a regional. If we could break through and do that, it would have a big impact. It’s much easier to play at home in a friendly environment. It would be sort of the next step in our programs.

N&A: What are the steps to follow to organize regionals?

I AM: It all comes down to the RPI formula in these two sports. We are blessed with very good non-conference schedules, and ASUN has been very good in softball and baseball this year. We expect this to continue at Conference USA. It will be very competitive. It will give us an opportunity if we can put everything in place to compete to be a regional host. I think that would be the next big step for programs.

N&A: What is your assessment of recruitment in these sports? They saw they could mix high school recruits and transfers.

I AM: I think Coach Jackson and Coach Richardson have really struck a good balance of getting really high quality high school student-athletes that match Liberty and being able to find impact players out of the transfer gate, then train everyone together to be successful. It’s not easy to accomplish and both are to be commended for it.

N&A: Softball has a construction project in sight?

I AM: We do. We are currently working on the cages. In fact, we also have a project with baseball. We are renovating the locker rooms. Both of these programs have ongoing enhancements.

N&A: How is the construction of the multipurpose center going?

I AM: I’m very good. The multi-purpose center is due to be completed in November, and it will be a huge improvement for many of our teams in terms of having a place where they can train and practice in bad weather. It will also help us a lot with campus recreation and intramurals. We are delighted that this is a great aspect of the campus.