Last week I looked back at what was an interesting sports year for the McNeese State athletic department.
Now I look ahead.
The 2019-20 year will feature new head coaches in football and men's golf. Baseball will be looking to win the Southland Conference Tournament and head to the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive season. Both men's and women's basketball programs will look to rebound from rough seasons and try to — at the very least — get into the eight-team SLC Tournaments.
There are plenty of other story lines to keep track of, but here are the things I'm most looking forward to:
It's pretty obvious, but football is a big deal. First-year head coach Sterlin Gilbert went through his first spring with the Cowboys and got out of it relatively healthy. A few players have transferred out, some have transferred in. The most notable of those leaving was quarterback Cam Smith. None of the incoming transfers have been groundbreaking.
With Smith leaving it seems as if the starting quarterback position is Cody Orgeron's to lose. I think Gilbert's system fits Orgeron better than what he dealt with last season, but we won't truly know until the Cowboys face opposition.
Speaking of opposition, I'm just looking forward to the schedule as a whole. It will be tough. The first three games feature the two SWAC championship participants in Weeks 1 and 3, with a trip to Stillwater, Oklahoma, to face what should be a tough Oklahoma State team in Week 2.
I'm looking forward to the atmosphere of the Week 1 Southern University game. SU alumni are well known for traveling. If McNeese fans don't sell out Cowboy Stadium, Southern fans surely will. And going up to Boone Pickens Stadium for the Oklahoma State's home opener will be a sight to behold.
The SLC schedule will pack plenty of intrigue, but the Oct. 5 game against a visiting Southeastern Louisiana will be interesting as it marks the return of former McNeese head coach Lance Guidry, who's the Lions' new defensive coordinator. Former Cowboys great and assistant coach Kerry Joseph is also on the SLU staff.
I don't want to run too much longer on football, I could talk about it all day, but I'm excited to see how the Cowboys do under a new coach against a challenging schedule.
Aside from a couple of bright moments, neither the men's nor women's basketball teams were good last season.
The reasons and excuses that held those teams back last season are gone now and both need to at the least make the top eight in the SLC standings and go to go to the conference tournament.
The men's team had to deal with players not working out like the staff thought (Malik Hines), massive injuries (Roydell Brown) and players simply not shooting well enough for the Cowboys to be consistently good or even average.
Head coach Heath Schroyer has managed a second overhaul in as many offseasons; no players on the 2019-20 roster were here for the 2017-18 season, Dave Simmons' last as McNeese head coach.
Brown is back, along with Sha'markus Kennedy and Will Robinson. Highly touted transfer A.J. Lawson sat out last year after transferring from North Texas. Schroyer and his staff added seven players to fill various needs.
For the women, they didn't make many offseason changes, which is why they need to improve. Head coach Kacie Cryer received a one-year extension after her three-year contract expired. After experiencing a lot of turnover going into the 2018-19 season, four players are gone from last season's roster, one of which was due to graduation.
The top six scorers on the team will return. Cryer and her staff went out and recruited junior college transfers to compete with Jahquell Robinson and Rayah Haynes at point guard.
There should be enough talent for the Cowgirls to make it to Katy, Texas, for the tournament. If they can develop a full-time solid point guard, an SLC Tournament berth should be a given.
Spring sports success
Both the baseball and softball teams got to experience postseason play. And though both teams lose key seniors, both have a lot of talent and should contend for conference championships.
Baseball returns its top three hitters but has to replace Shane Selman, Carson Maxwell and Aidan Anderson. Rhett Deaton and Will Dion will be key pitchers.
Softball lost four players to graduation and one to transfer (Amber Coons to Louisiana-Monroe). But three of the top four pitchers from last season, all with ERAs under three, return. Replacing outfielder Justyce McClain and catcher Aubree Turbeville won't be easy, but head coach James Landreneau and his staff have time to develop players.
Men's golf recently hired its new head coach, but Derek Plucienski will be challenged to replace Blake Elliott and two other seniors.
Grace McKenzie comes back for her final outdoor track and field season after dealing with injuries in 2019. Can she regain her All-American form from earlier this year?
There will be so much more going on, but these are just a few things I'm looking forward to. But first, time to enjoy the summer.
David Berry covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org