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The Journal Gazette

  • Courtesy PFW Athletics PFW's Emma Rafuse, who broke a Summit League 6K record by nearly 10 seconds, was the women's Summit League cross country athlete of the year.

  • File John Konchar leaves Purdue Fort Wayne as the program's all-time leading scorer (2,065 points).

Sunday, June 30, 2019 1:00 am

State of PFW Athletics

Year in provides clarity for PFW

ELIZABETH WYMAN | The Journal Gazette

Men

Baseball: 7-45, 2-28 Summit League; regular season

Basketball: 18-15, 9-7 SL; Summit League semifinals

Cross country: 4th SL Championship; 25th NCAA Great Lakes Regional;

Golf: 7th in the SL championship; Zach Schroeder lowers school-record career scoring average (74.25)

Soccer: 10-8-1, 2-3-0 SL; SL Tournament semifinal

Volleyball: 17-12, 8-6 Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association; MIVA Tournament semifinal

Women

Basketball: 7-22, 3-13 SL; SL Tournament quarterfinal

Cross Country: 5th in the SL championship; Emma Rafuse 6K SL champion; Rafuse 58th at NCAA Nationals

Golf: 7th at SL Championship with the best single-season scoring average in program history (320.69)

Soccer: 4-12-3, 1-7-0 SL; end of season

Softball: 10-39, 3-15 SL, SL Championship Tournament third game

Track: 7th in SL Outdoor Championship; 4x400 sets school record

Volleyball: 18-14, 8-8 SL; SL Championship semifinals

Monday marks one year since IPFW became known as Purdue Fort Wayne.

Last summer when the Mastodons saw Indiana and Purdue university split, a whole array of changes came with it. Most notably for the athletic department, a flashy new color scheme of black and gold and the Gates Center floor decked out with the updated brand.

Director of Athletics Kelley Hartley Hutton said it was a smooth year post-transition and benefits came of it.

“I don't want to underplay how much we planned for it as a university – planned for it, talked about it, looked at what some of the unintended sort of surprise type things we needed to plan for to better serve our students,” Hartley Hutton said.

Hartley Hutton did say while it wasn't easy planning for such a drastic change, in hindsight, the university couldn't be more pleased with the outcomes and what they mean for the institution.

One major benefit was brand clarity.

“When you're out recruiting for example, you're not explaining what this acronym is, so it's just more clear exactly what we are,” Hartley-Hutton said.

Brand clarity that not everyone picked up one, with on numerous occasions TV and social media personalities and alumni still getting it incorrect.

Despite that, Hartley-Hutton isn't bothered with the miscues.

“We're still 'we' and it's this place and its people,” she said. “I know that the name is important, and we have jobs to do, and I say Purdue Fort Wayne, of course, that's what and who we are, and I'm glad for it. But whatever our alumni want to call themselves is fine as long as they keep coming back and cheering for the Dons.”

The first-year post-split was another exciting one for the Mastodons.

Arguably the most decorated athlete in the university's history, John Konchar, recently signed a two-way contract with the Memphis Grizzlies. Konchar led Jon Coffman's men's basketball team to a 18-15 record this year and he became the all-time leading scorer (2,065 points) in program history.

“Whenever you're associated with the highest level of your profession, you're raising the brand of who you are,” Coffman said. “About what happened with John singing a contract with Memphis, that raised the brand of our program and is something we can obviously use in recruiting, and it also raised the brand of our university.”

Another Mastodons superstar finished her career with a plethora of records. Cross country and track runner Emma Rafuse also helped put PFW on the map. She broke a 12-year old league 6K record by nearly 10 seconds at the 2018 Summit League Cross Country Championships to take home the title. She was named women's Summit League cross country athlete of the year. She finished 58th in the 6K at NCAA Nationals.

“I think being able to sell that you don't have to go to a big power 5 school – if that's something that you're not comfortable with – to make the national level is a really important message,” coach Ashley Botham said. “If you're a really good runner in high school, but maybe that big school fit is just not great for you, you can still make the national meet out of that situation.”

Another big story last season was the announcement that the university would be bringing back men's track and field for the 2020 season. Men's track and field was eliminated in 2003. The added program should bring 70 new student-athletes to campus by 2020-21.

Botham, the coach of the women's programs as well as men's cross country, will oversee the entire track program.

“She's incredibly passionate about track and field, but I think she connects with people pretty easily; she's outgoing and she's passionate about coaching,” Hartley Hutton said of Botham.

Men's volleyball recorded another successful season. In coach Ryan Perotte's fourth season, the Mastodons notched their first Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association quarterfinal win since 2014, before falling to Loyola in the MIVA semifinal.

With the success the university experienced this year, many programs were in rebuilding years.

Four teams (Baseball, women's basketball, softball and women's soccer) finished under .500.

Hartley Hutton did say the university is trending in the right direction and taking a broader look at program scholarships to boost the competitiveness. 

“We went through team by team, saw what they needed, what the NCAA maximums are and what we needed to get there,” she said. “So overall we're going to be at 88% of the NCAA maximum – all 16 sports within two years; that's quite a jump.”

Coach Niecee Nelson is entering her fourth year at the helm of the women's basketball program. With a 16-70 record, the team won just seven games last season.

Still, Hartley-Hutton said she's confident in Nelson's capabilities to turn the program around.

“I think there's been some challenges, we all know that, and that change is really hard as far as whenever there is a coaching change you see a little blip,” Hartley-Hutton said. “We've had them if you look at our whole department – that's kind of occurred and even across the nation when there's a coaching change.

“Sometimes students choose to leave, sometimes they stay and both are OK, but that just means you're probably going to have a couple of years before they can recruit a team they can put their fingerprints on.”

Nelson was put on administrative leave for a brief time in February, but was reinstated before the end of the season.

“We put that behind us and I really don't want to talk about it,” Hartley Hutton said. “It was something that we put behind us and it took a lot of good work on everybody's end – including student-athletes – to heal and move forward and we have.”

The team will look different next year, as five women transferred out of the program at the end of the season, marking 13 total women that have left the program with remaining eligibility under Nelson.

Transferring does occur, and that number doesn't concern Harltey Hutton.

“I want to look over a period of time,” Hartley Hutton added. “That we had a volume this year doesn't really concern me in itself. I think right now she (Nelson) needs the ability to recruit the student athletes that fit her philosophy and student athletes have the freedom and choice to look for a different fit if it's not what they're looking for.”

While no new facilities are in the works, Hartley Hutton said the university is currently forming a strategic plan, which includes talk of upgrades to athletic facilities.

ewyman@jg.net