By Matt Green
CLEVELAND – Three conference championships, two NAIA team national championships, five individual national titles and now, a second place finish in the Directors’ Cup.
What a way for the Hawks and Lady Hawks to go out.
Shorter University occupied the No. 2 ranking in the final NAIA standings of the 2011-12 Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup, which were released on Wednesday by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics. The annual Directors’ Cup rankings rate the nation’s 195 NAIA institutions based on each institution’s national finish in up to 12 sports – six men’s and six women’s.
“This is a wonderful reflection of the great job being done here at Shorter by our coaches and student-athletes,” said Shorter’s Director of Athletics Bill Peterson, who just completed his fifth year at the helm of the university’s Department of Athletics. “I tip my hat to them.”
Shorter finished in second place with 856.00 total points, the highest total ever achieved by the program. The Hawks scored in 12 sports and claimed the softball and men’s outdoor track and field championships – Shorter won an outdoor track title for the second straight year. Shorter also placed second in men’s indoor track and field, third in men’s basketball, fourth in women’s indoor track and field and fifth in women’s golf.
The second place finish is Shorter’s highest ever in its last year as a member of the NAIA. The Hawks placed third in 2010-11 on the shoulders of men’s indoor and outdoor track and field national championships and 11th in 2009-10.
Azusa Pacific (Calif.) took the top spot in the final standings for the eighth straight season, but to do so, had to hold off the highest scoring runner-up in Directors’ Cup history in Shorter. Previously, only two other Directors’ Cup runner-ups have scored over 800 points, with Simon Fraser doing so twice with 818.00 points in 2008 and 817.00 points in 2010.
“Our coaches have a wonderful Christian spirit and attitude and they do what they do to bring glory to Him,” Peterson said. “It is wonderful to see what they have accomplished in His name and to know that no other Georgia intercollegiate athletic program in any level has ever performed better.
“That is truly unbelievable.”
Azusa Pacific, also in its final year with the NAIA as it prepares to move to NCAA Division II alongside Shorter, racked up 918.00 points in 12 sports, bettering its 820.75 points that were good enough for the No. 1 ranking in 2010-11.
Azusa Pacific won the women’s indoor track and field national championship, came in second in women’s cross country and men’s track and field, placed third in women’s soccer, men’s tennis and women’s outdoor track and field and fifth in football.
Shorter finished comfortably in second place well ahead of third place Embry Riddle, which edged the Hawks for second place last year. Powered by 452.00 spring points, Embry Riddle totaled 771.50 for the year. Oklahoma Baptist (765.25) and Lindsey Wilson (700.00) finished in fourth and fifth in the final standings, respectively.
Shorter’s No. 2 final ranking is a culmination of a journey to the top of the NAIA that began to build momentum five years ago.
The Hawks managed just 182.00 total points in 2006-07. Shorter ended the campaign ranked No. 87, behind such fellow Southern States Athletic Conference members as Lee, Auburn-Montgomery and Berry, and a 13th place finish in softball is all that kept Shorter from finishing in the triple digits.
That all changed a year later.
Shorter shot up 66 spots to No. 21 with 509.25 points in the 2007-08 final standings behind a record spring that resulted in six programs accounting for 356.25 points.
The Hawks dipped to No. 33 in 2008-09, but ascended to No. 11 in 2009-10, finishing for the first time ahead of perennial power and rival Lee University to end the year as the top rated member of the Southern States Athletic Conference. A fourth place finish in women’s outdoor track and field, fifth place in softball and sixth place in men’s track and field paved the way for Shorter’s highest Directors’ Cup finish to date that resulted in 587.25 points.
Shorter climbed all the way to No. 3 last year thanks in large part to its indoor and outdoor double in men’s track, setting the stage for a record setting 2011-12 year that helped Shorter depart the NAIA with a bang.
“We think this is a fitting way to end our relationship with the NAIA and to make the next step up to the NCAA,” said Peterson.
Since 2008, Shorter has compiled eight team national championships – four NAIA and four in competitive cheerleading through NCA – and 19 individual national championships in track and field and cross country.
The end result? An athletic department that is now recognized as not only one of the best in the southeast, but also in the entire country – a reputation that is sure to follow the Hawks as they embark on their next challenge at the NCAA Division II level.
“[Moving up to NCAA Division II] will be a challenge, but I believe our coaches and our kids are up to it,” Peterson said. “We cannot thank enough our Board and our administration for the support they have given us. From our past Chairman, Dr. Nelson Price, to our current Chairman, Joe Frank Harris, and to our President, Dr. Don Dowless, as well as Shorter’s faculty and staff. Their support and commitment, as well as the support from the Greater Rome community of our coaches and student-athletes, has been the best.
“What a year.”