School is in session, the leaves are turning, and those hot, summer days of training are officially over; which can only mean it’s time to begin a fresh, new autumn season of Pioneer athletics.
And what greater way to begin a new fall season than by entering into the new NCAA Division II Great Lakes Intercolleigate Athletic Conference (GLIAC)?
Pioneer athletics has officially taken its first dip in the big pond this year as athletes and staff members have been preparing themselves for the upcoming GLIAC.
With years of preparation and transition, little Malone University is excited that it has finally earned its title as a NCAA Division II school.
“The NCAA is a little more recognizable,” said Athletic Director Charlie Grimes. “Everybody knows what that is, whereas when we were back in the NAIA, people would ask what that is?
“For fifty four years we were an NAIA school and we were proud of that, but the public notoriety and respect is what you are gaining from that title, NCAA.”
Grimes, along with many other staff members in the athletic department, have spent their last few years making radical changes and decisions.
Through a long three year process of meetings and paperwork, the small Christian school was finally welcomed into one of the nation’s top caliber Division II conferences, the GLIAC, making Pioneer athletes the only athletes from a Christian institution.
“The process has been a little bit tedious,” Grimes said. “I think that is why it takes three years to get through it all and to fully realize everything you have to change and the way you are going to handle some things.
“All in all I believe the Lord has guided it and it is where it is, and I think we are in a good place.”
The GLIAC conference is known to be one of the most elite NCAA Division II conferences in the nation. From having reigning national champions, to nationally ranked teams, the GLIAC conference will be a challenge for Pioneer athletes.
“The GLIAC is very much so one of the most powerful and most competitive conferences in Division II,” Grimes said. “For instance in football, the GLIAC has four teams that are amongst the top 20 in the nation, and that is not saying they aren’t good in any other sport.”
[pullquote]We are an unknown commodity,” Hockman said. “I kind of hope we are taken for granted, that people actually really underestimate just how competitive we can be.”[/pullquote]
Coaches and student-athletes also similarly shared their views on the new conference.
Head volleyball coach Tanya Hockman shared her thoughts on this year’s conference and the change of mentality for her team.
“Most perspective student athletes have a sense of what NCAA is and the GLIAC is a very formidable, well-known conference in this region,” Hockman said. “We were ranked 14th out of 16 teams, and that is not a position we are typically in.”
“We’re coming in realizing that the GLIAC is a very prestigious conference,” Mcfadden said. “The reigning national champions (Grand Valley State) are in our conference.”
“It is kind of over-whelming, “Knisley said. “We are so use to playing local schools and other schools that aren’t as strong.”
There is no doubt that athletes have a far road ahead of them, but despite the challenging obstacles to come, the Pioneer athletes and coaches are looking forward to the challenge.
“I think that they are excited and they know what challenges are in front of them,” Hockman said.
“We know that there are some very strong teams in Division II at the national level,” Hazen said. “The GLIAC is one of those conferences that are certainly up there.
“But I think many of the GLIAC schools and especially the ones in Ohio know our talent and know where we have been, so really going into the GLIAC is not anything new or frightening for us.”
“I think as a team, we are prepared to go up against bigger competition in the GLIAC,” Williams said. “We have been going up against bigger schools for years and we’ve succeeded in the past, so I think they have done a good job preparing us in that aspect.”
“We are really excited for the challenge to race against better competition,” McKelley said. “Win or lose, I think it’s going to be a lot more fun.”
Although the new transition might be rocky, the athletes and coaches are remaining to keep a positive position, and coming in as the underdogs might be the thing to fire up their competitive engines.
“We are an unknown commodity,” Hockman said. “I kind of hope we are taken for granted, that people actually really underestimate just how competitive we can be.”
“We have nothing to lose because we are going in as the underdog,” Knisley said. “So it’s kind of like just go out there and play as hard as you can. Malone has the reputation of being a little school and not being as competitive, so it would be nice to go in there and blow some of these teams out of the water on the tennis courts.”
With 16 universities in the GLIAC, and one only being a Christian institution, Pioneer athletics have definitely made it clear that its priority isn’t only just about winning, but also about glorifying the real victor in this radical change.
“It is a real honor to be a part of this, “Grimes said. “What we want to bring to the table as Malone is that spirit of our faith.”
“We only get one chance to make a first impression,” Hockman said. “And we want that first impression to be good, not only in how we compete physically but who we represent and how we represent ourselves.”
“I think it is all in our conduct to show that we want to be mentally strong and spiritually strong,” McFadden said. “We don’t want to be that team that is out on the field screaming at each other, we want to stand out in the fact that we are going to be consistently positive with one another and if we are a goal down, chose to be mentally strong and find a way to get back.
“I think playing that way is so difficult in itself that if we do, other schools are going to take note and ask themselves what is different about them. What do they have that we don’t have?”
“I think our coaches expect a lot out of us,” Knisley said. “I think too since we are the only Christian school that we have that expectation to be Christ like on the court and still show them that we still can be Christians and be competitive.”
Christians can be competitive
As Pioneer teams still continue their road to succeeding as Christian athletes, they still have the drive to be the best they can be, and having that competitive drive is one thing they don’t anticipate losing.
“Even though we were in the NAIA and are Christians, we still are just as good and competitive as any other team in Division I or II,” Mckelley said.” I would really like to show everybody that Malone is for real.”
Through thick and thin and the challenges yet to come, Pioneer athletes will remain positive both mentally and physically as they take on their first year as NCAA Division II athletes.
Ready or not, here come the Pioneers to the GLIAC conference.