LAFAYETTE — Assigning a rating for the past year of Louisiana-Lafayette athletics depends on your perspective.
On the surface, it was a success.
Four of the five major teams — men’s and women’s basketball, softball and baseball — reached the postseason, and those four teams had a cumulative record of 133-55. Even throwing a down football year into the mix, the Ragin’ Cajuns’ major teams still won nearly 70 percent of their games.
All of those teams had incredible success at home.
The Cajuns hosted 98 contests in those sports this season, and fans went home disappointed only 18 times.
The softball and baseball teams spent much of their seasons ranked in the polls, and the softball program spent the vast majority of the season in the top 10. Softball went to its fourth straight super regional, and baseball won the Sun Belt regular-season and tournament titles, rolling to its fourth straight 40-win season and NCAA tournament appearance.
The women’s basketball team repeated as Women’s Basketball Invitation champion, despite playing the latter half of the season without one of its most dynamic players, Jaylyn Gordon, who had been suspended for a violation of team rules.
Most universities would be envious of that across-the-board success, especially the mid-major schools the Cajuns call their peers.
But the Cajuns are aiming to be the exception to the mid-major rule. They judge themselves by their own set of high expectations. Using that as a guideline, none of the Cajuns teams accomplished their mission.
Start with the football team. Most weren’t expecting the team to match the successes of the previous four years, each of which ended with nine wins and a bowl championship, but most still expected the team to compete for a bowl berth at minimum.
The Cajuns returned the reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year in running back Elijah McGuire, and they were kicking off a new era with a shiny new place to call home. The expectations might have ballooned after the Cajuns took Kentucky to the wire in the opener, but things quickly derailed from there.
They finished with an ugly 4-8 record. Injuries piled up, the coaching staff never decided on a starting quarterback, McGuire never really got off the ground and that shiny new home was at one point considered a distraction.
Throw in the fact that the football program was the target of an NCAA investigation that was made public knowledge during the middle of the season, and it wound up being one of the more forgettable years in recent program history.
Expectations were exceedingly high for a men’s basketball team that returned the vast majority of its core from the previous season. It had the best player in the league returning for his senior season, was the unanimous selection to win the Sun Belt in the preseason poll and was a trendy pick as a possible March darling.
The Cajuns mostly underwhelmed, finishing 19-15. They were plagued by unexpectedly poor shooting, particularly from the outside, where they made just 31 percent of their 3-point attempts.
There was one stretch when they looked like the team many thought they would be, when they won nine straight to surge into contention for the Sun Belt title, but they followed it up by going 5-7 over the rest of the regular season.
Even the baseball and softball teams were victims of their own expectations.
The baseball team, ranked as high as No. 6 in the preseason polls, struggled out of the gate. It was flirting with .500 as April approached before it started to show why people thought so highly of it.
But the Cajuns fell flat at the worst possible time. Riding a 12-game winning streak, they were given two opportunities on their home field to beat Arizona once and advance to the super regional round for the third straight year. The Cajuns couldn’t get it done.
The softball team crushed just about everybody in its path this season, even after it had to spend the second half of the regular season playing without star catcher Lexie Elkins.
The Cajuns had nine regulars bat better than .300, and six of those players had at least 13 home runs. They had the league’s Pitcher of the Year in Alex Stewart and a staff ERA of 2.06. They outscored opposing teams, on average, by 5.6 runs.
It was a team that wasn’t just geared up for a trip to Oklahoma City, but to go win the dang thing — which is the only reason any of them could ever look back at an utterly dominant 46-9 season and be disappointed.
Again, it all depends on your perspective. By the standard metric — wins and losses — this was another highly successful year for the Cajuns athletic department. Others might look at it and say it wasn’t as good as it could’ve been.
The response to the glass-half-empty folks is easy: Be grateful the programs are in the position to leave you expecting greatness.
MEN’S ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Shawn Long, men’s basketball
Long rewrote the Cajuns record book in the final year of his stellar career, and he saved the best for last. He posted career highs in scoring (18.9) and rebounding (12.1) on his way to Sun Belt Player of the Year honors.
WOMEN’S ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Morgann Leleux, track and field
Leleux transferred from Georgia and made an immediate impact. Competing in the pole vault, she was named the Sun Belt’s Field Athlete of the Year and earned a second-place finish at the NCAA championships.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR:Nick Lee, baseball
Coach Tony Robichaux saw something special in Lee from the beginning, dropping the freshman right-hander in the weekend rotation on opening week. All he did was earn Sun Belt Freshman of the Year honors, going 7-1 with a 3.31 ERA.
COACH OF THE YEAR: Garry Brodhead, women’s basketball
Brodhead and his team dedicated the season to his wife, Andrea, who died in September after a long fight with cancer. Brodhead’s team never believed in its physical limitations, and it ripped off a 25-10 record to match the most wins in school history.
TEAM OF THE YEAR: Softball
Dominance is the only word that can be used to describe this team. Twenty of its 46 wins came by run rule. The Cajuns clobbered 108 home runs, more than the extra-base hits by conference foes Georgia State (105), UL-Monroe (103), Georgia Southern (98), South Alabama (88) and UT-Arlington (87). They fell short of their ultimate goal of winning the national championship, but they were a special team to watch.