The once-proud men's soccer program made headlines this week when it returned to the rankings for the first time since 2009. Men's soccer, which is off to a 4-0 start, joins women's soccer, which is enjoying a 4-game win streak of its own, and volleyball as programs heading in the right direction following years of neglect from the Old Jed administration.
Two of the program turnarounds are being orchestrated by Dr. Yow hires Kelly Findley (men's soccer) and Bryan Bunn (volleyball). Findley's footballers are 4-0 for the first time since 1987, and if they can win weekend tilts against UNC-Greensboro and Marist, they will start 6-0 for the first time in 30 years.
Winning will get tougher in conference play for the Pack, as 5 ACC schools are ranked in the top 25, including #1 North Carolina. But that tough conference slate works in State's favor to some extent, as it will help it build a strong RPI to bolster its chances to return for its 14th trip to the NCAA tournament and first since 2009.
Findley is no stranger to the NCAA tournament, having guided Butler to consecutive soccer dances in his final two seasons with the Bulldogs. Findley was an impressive 59-25-15 at Butler and won a pair of Horizon Coach of the Year awards. He blew the thing up upon arrival in Raleigh, churning most of the roster but quickly restocking it with the #12 recruiting class in the country.
Bunn needed to do a similar total rebuild for the volleyball program that had been mired in the ACC cellar for as long as anyone can remember. The bump, set, and spikers haven't had a winning season in conference play since 1988 and finished winless in league play in 1998, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, and 2007. They managed one conference win in 2000, 2001, 2005, and 2009. But Bunn has won 34 total games in two years, more than State won in the 5 years prior to his tenure, and State climbed to 7th in the conference last season at 8-12. A winning record is definitely a possibility for the Pack this season, as they are off to a 5-1 start overall and play in a relatively weak league; Florida State (6-0) is the only ACC team ranked in the top 25. State's lone loss came in a 5-set heartbreaker to VCU (5-1). The Pack were outscored by just one point overall in the 5 sets.
Steve Springthorpe, who is in his 4th year at the helm of the Lady Wolfpack footballers, is one of seemingly few holdovers since Yow replaced Fowler with a results-oriented approach to running the athletic department. The hotness of Springthorpe's seat is somewhat mitigated by the ridiculous toughness of the ACC. Forget basketball, the ACC is a women's soccer conference. Five of the top 11 teams in the soccer rankings hail from the ACC and 7 of the top 25. Springthorpe's squad went 1-7-2 in league play last season but still ranked 44th in RPI, which kind of puts the strength of schedule in perspective.
After an 0-2 start, the Pack women have rattled off 4 straight wins as Springthorpe and crew try to improve on last season's 10-8-2 overall record, which was State's best mark since 2002. If he can notch a couple of ACC wins and finish in the middle of the pack in year 5, his job should be safe and the ladies should return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1996.