The following list are the Top 5 Valpo Sports stories to look out for during the 2021-2022 season. The list was compiled and voted upon by the beat writers of the Torch Sports Section.
Championship retention calls for deep playoff run for Women’s Soccer
For the squad that went farther than all of the other Valpo teams, it is no lie that a repeat of the Women's Soccer winning season last spring is something everyone is looking forward to and expecting. After participating in their first ever Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) championship, the team unfortunately fell short 1-0 against Loyola Chicago. Last year’s 5-4-5 record was the team’s first winning season above .500 since 2014. If the team can repeat, the key is winning in the moment and living up to the ‘above the line’ standard. With eight of last season’s regular starters coming back, knowing how to win against other MVC teams will be more familiar to them. The team’s defensive capabilities were a highlight during the last season. Valpo once was able to hold three shutout games against conference opponents. Out of those three matches, two of them helped pave their path to getting to the MVC Tournament. Although their start to the season provides some doubt, gearing up for conference play will be plentiful when winning is critical.
Football proving spring success was ‘not a fluke’
During the 2019 season, Valpo ended up with a record of 1-11. Fast forward to 2021, Valpo won four out of their six games in their spring season. Many of the players asked for one more game, and now that wish will finally come true for them. The Beacons will return back to the elongated schedule with 11 games slated this season. Although Valpo only played four Pioneer Football League (PFL) opponents and defeated three of them, taking the edge in close games is something to admire. Valpo won for the first time in program history against Drake at their stadium. They also secured the Hoosier Helmet against Butler. To top everything off, the team secured a win against PFL powerhouse University of San Diego with a late game touchdown. With a longer grind ahead, certain benefits might give the team an edge. Ten returning starters are coming back to play on the offensive side, eight on the defensive side. Both of Valpo’s valued kickers will also be back to lead the special teams unit. While Valpo was voted sixth in the preseason poll, the team has a good chance of making it into the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs late in the season.
The unsung heroes of women’s bowling
Most sports fans tend to focus on the popularity of the Missouri Valley Conference. We then look left and know that our football team belongs in the Pioneer Football League. For those of us that remember, Men’s Tennis belonged in the Summit League alongside Men’s Swimming. But did you know that the Southland Bowling League is considered the top conference for women’s bowling? All eight teams in the conference were in the Top 25 in the country last season and the schedule is already tough to begin with. Many do not know this, but Valpo competed last year and ranked #19 in the country for bowling. Head coach Shon Washington has led the team to being ranked as high as #10 nationally. This season, the Beacons will have seven players from last season’s squad return to play. From the players last year, four of the returners had a tallied total pinfall above 3000. Three of those players had seven or more 200 plus point games last year. If there is an unsung team on campus that excels in winning consistently, it would be the Women’s Bowling team. Watch out for them this year.
The continued legacy of two basketball players
We all know the stories about fifth year seniors coming back one more year to help their teams succeed. However, the NCAA does not hand out sixth year eligibility regularly. If you remember Northeastern forward Alex Murphy and Oregon guard Dylan Ennis, both were sixth year athletes in recent memory. Two Beacon basketball athletes will carry on the title as being sixth year seniors. Forward Caitlin Morrison started her career on the women’s basketball team back in the 2016-2017 season. Morrison sat out in the 2018-2019 season due to injury and was able to retain two years of eligibility. Her career goes back to being coached by former head coach Tracey Dorow and then re-building the foundation under current head coach Mary Evans the following year. She even got to compete for Valpo in the program’s final year in the Horizon League as a freshman. Guard Eron Gordon’s story is a bit different. Gordon started his collegiate career in the fall of 2016 at Seton Hall and played for two years. He transferred in and sat out for the 2018-2019 due to transfer rules. Since then, Gordon has made an impact for the team both as a starter and coming off the bench. With both players having an abundance of experience on their resumes, expect leadership from them on the court as experienced Missouri Valley Conference players.
The start of the Name, Image and Likeness Era
On June 30, the NCAA governance bodies voted on allowing all current and incoming student athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness. From that moment, it didn’t take long for student athletes across the country to sign deals with different companies like Barstool Athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness. Many Valpo student-athletes, like sophomores Connor Barrett and Addy Joiner, have taken advantage of these opportunities. On Aug. 27, Valpo and the Missouri Valley Conference announced that they would enter into a partnership with INFLCR. INFLCR is known to be the leading content and compliance software app for college athletic programs. The company will work with student-athletes on finding opportunities to promote their image and follow current guidelines. The app currently has a network of over 45,000 athletes. While not everyone might jump the gun on promoting, watch for the athletes that will maximize this opportunity. Their brand, as well as Valpo’s athletic brand, might grow a bit larger than what it already is.