I'm sure that most of you at some point in your life have heard the phrase, "Pressure can burst pipes or create diamonds."
While literally true, the figurative meaning is that the mental pressure people feel can make them produce good work, or not-so-good work.
Well, everybody, if you want pressure, look no further than the 2020-21 season for both the McNeese State men's and women's basketball teams.
On Tuesday, the athletic department announced extensions for both basketball head coaches: men's coach Heath Schroyer received a two-year extension which lengthens his contract to the 2022-23 season. Cryer received a one-year extension, really more like a one-year "prove it" deal, because her contract was up after the 2019-20 season.
The contract extensions come under two different circumstances and as the teams have gone in opposite directions the last two seasons. Schroyer's team improved from his first season (2018-19) to his second, growing the team's win total by six. Attendance also went up in the new multimillion-dollar Health and Human Performance Complex, and the Cowboys ranked second in the Southland Conference in that category behind Stephen F. Austin. Add to that a seven-game winning streak during conference play and McNeese's highest scoring offense since its 2000-01 season, and there are plenty of reasons to be excited for the future of Cowboys basketball.
Meanwhile, the women's team has struggled with 12 wins over its last two seasons, with four of those coming against sub-Division I competition.
The pressure for Schroyer and Cryer is not the same, but it's still there. While Schroyer did improve his team from season one to two, the jump from two to three has to be even more significant. A six-game losing streak in the second half of conference play almost derailed the Cowboys' hopes of earning a trip to the SLC Tournament. Had that happened, the pressure would be even greater for Schroyer. But they earned a berth and the season was season as a good one.
Now the next step needs to be taken. I'm talking consistent competition for a top-four spot in the SLC standings. I don't think a run at the conference regular season and tournament titles should be out of the question, but top four should be the first goal. There is enough talented guard play returning that — combined with the bigs and wings who are projected to come in — there should be no doubt that McNeese will have the ability. But all the potential in the world won't mean a thing if they don't turn it into wins on the court.
As for the Cowgirls, well, that's a different story. They need to show substantial improvement, but Cryer and her team should focus on getting to the conference tournament. They need not look past their own conference to see that improvement is possible: Incarnate Word improved from 5-24 in the 2018-19 season to 14-15 in 2019-20.
McNeese has a lot of talent and experience to replace going into the fall and winter, having lost four of its top five scorers from the 19-20 season. But the Cowgirls should get a fully healthy Callie Maddox back, which should give them needed scoring punch. They will also depend on the development of players like Shaela Gardner, Rayah Haynes, Kyla Hamilton, Divine Tanks and others to drive the team.
Cryer recruited like a coach who knows she has one season to prove herself, choosing to forgo any high school players in recruting, at least for the time being, and signing four junior college transfers on the first day of the basketball signing period on Wednesday. She doesn't have a lot of time to develop freshmen who will no doubt be green coming into college for the first time.
The JUCO transfers are no guarantee, but they at least have a bit more seasoning so they should not need as much time to get acclimated to the college game, in theory at least.
I said it last year and I'll say it again: the eight-team SLC Tournament should be the absolute bare minimum for both the men's and women's basketball teams for this season. The men have shown that they can do it, and the women need to show that they can make a big improvement to get there.
When any coach has to do a job on a one-year contract, the message being sent means that they're living on the hot seat. That's the situation that Cryer is in. A new athletic director should be in place by the summer, and if women's basketball struggles next season, the new AD might want a fresh start.
For Schroyer, the situation isn't nearly as ominous, a failure to improve on a good second season will see his seat warm up.
By the end of next season, the H&HP Complex could be flooded due to burst pipes or filled with diamonds, not literally, of course. I look forward to seeing how it plays out.
David Berry covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at email@example.com