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Quo Vadimus?

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Where are we? Where are we going?

Syndication: The Register Guard
This guy is winning national titles
Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The 2020-21 athletic season is in the books, and boy, it was weird one. It is hard to get a read on the status of each program, particularly the fall spots, given the ad hoc nature of the season and ever changing COVID landscape.

Basically, the goal this year was to keep the lights on. But given that we hit the reset button on everything, now is a great time to take stock of where each program is. So let’s take stock in the state of the programs.

FOOTBALL

Yes, they went 5-5. The streak of consecutive winning season stops at twenty, but at the same time, all it requires is an adjustment of language. Now, LSU has not has a losing season since 1999. So, as disastrous as the 2020 season was, it doesn’t really put a dent in the long-standing consistency of the program.

But think of what it took for LSU to go .500 . It took basically the entire starting lineup to go pro or run out eligibility, then turning over the full roster again from spring practice to the end of the season. There was a worldwide pandemic, player shortages, empty stadiums, an incompetent defensive coordinator, and the total absence of practice time to break in new players and a new scheme. Even with all of that, plus a record number of opt outs and a truly unique injury to its starting quarterback, LSU found a way to win as much as it lost.

Yeah, it was a bad year, but it was the sort of bad year which highlighted how strong the program was, not how weak. It took a series of a cataclysmic events and literally unheard of personnel losses to get to .500 . I know it sounds counterintuitive, but the 2020 season demonstrated how good of shape the program is in. And now we get everyone back. Without Pelini.

MEN’S BASKETBALL

The good news was that the team showed it had the skill and the pace to play with Michigan, one of the legit title contenders in the field. The bad news is that LSU had to play them in the second round due to only earning a #9 seed and well, LSU lost.

Now, Will Wade is going to have to turn things over quickly. Cam Thomas, Darius Days, Javonte Smart, and Trendon Watford all declared for the NBA Draft. OK, Thomas was never coming back, but it would have been nice to hold on to at least one of the other guys. Wade is bringing in a 5-star recruit in Efton Reid and a good transfer in Xavier Pinson, but… this is going to be a radically different team next year. Such is the nature of things in the early-entrant era.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

The Lady Tigers slumped to a 9-13 final record. Three of the top four scorers were seniors and are now out of eligibility, including Faustine Aifuwa, who was a genuine force on the interior. It seems that the women’s hoops team is starting over yet again, a relative constant over the past decade.

But of course, that’s not the story. Kim Mulkey takes over as a head coach, and it’s already making a huge impact on the roster, as she brings along Hannah Gusters, a McDonald’s All-American recruit from Baylor. It still should take a year or two before LSU is truly competitive again, but this offseason is the first encouraging sign for the program in quite some time. It’s hard not to be excited.

BASEBALL

Paul got the send off he deserved, as the fanbase finally came around and appreciated the man, even if it came when he had a foot out the door. The search for a coach continues but I got to be honest, I’m not too worried. LSU is an attractive job, and it’s likely Woodward at least wants to talk to someone currently in Omaha. Just be patient.

More encouraging, LSU’s freshman class was terrific. Both Dylan Crews and Tre Morgan were Freshmen All-Americans, and Will Hellmers has also earned national recognition. LSU loses its rotation to the draft and graduation, but there’s a whole host of talented players coming up and the rosters looks like its in good shape for whoever takes over.

SOFTBALL

Is Beth Torina cursed? This was a really good team she had and they played a brutal schedule to prepare themselves for the postseason… only to get eliminated in two games against Florida St. Now, the Seminoles ended up in the national title game and both of the games were nail-biters… but it also seems like this is a program that has found its level.

Now, it’s a terrific level. Softball consistently competes for Oklahoma City and is a regular in the top ten. But it seems like the team can’t quite make that next step into becoming a legit national title contender. It feels like the Tigers are one step off the pace and can’t quite seem to catch up. I don’t know if that’s a problem you can solve, or if its even a problem. Part of winning a championship is luck and always being in contention so that luck can make a difference. Torina just hasn’t had much of the first part.

GYMNASTICS

That senior class is going to get one more shot at it. Thanks to COVID, the seniors will get another go at the title, and are all currently listed on the 2022 roster. We’ll see who officially stays, but the big news is that Kai Rivers will be healthy, and the team fully become the Kiya Johnson and Haleigh Bryant Show.

The underclassmen wilted a bit under the brightest lights, but that’s the way it goes in college sports sometimes. Yesterday’s overawed underclassmen is tomorrow’s grizzled veteran. The 2021 team never quite came together, but I think outside of football, no team has a bigger homefield advantage than gym. They get that back in 2022 and will boast one of the best rosters in the country.

They’ve been knocking on the door for years, and next year looks like as good of a chance to win the title as LSU has ever had.

VOLLEYBALL

The indoor team dug itself out of a pretty deep hole to at least finish near .500 . The gap between them and the true contenders like Kentucky is still pretty wide, but the team isn’t hopeless either. They could contend for a tourney bid, which is progress, at least.

The beach team? Well, that might have been the team’s best chance and they could very well regret missing out on its title shot. That was a senior laden team and Kristen Nuss and Claire Coppola are off to the pro ranks. If they couldn’t win the title with those two, I’m not sure they can without them. The team will still be good, but it’s unlikely that they are national title good.

TRACK

Jesus, this team is loaded. The men simply overwhelmed the competition and the women were #1 all year before falling short on the season’s final day. It happens, as track can be a fickle mistress. But even as athletes exit the fold, this team should continue to be absolutely loaded and be LSU’s best shot at adding national title #50. Even if that’s only because the indoor championships take place before the Four on the Floor.

Torina should take some comfort in Dennis Shaver, a guy who has banged his head against the ceiling for over a decade, always falling just short of a title. Well, he finally burst through the dam, and we’re hoping he can turn that trickle into a deluge. Sometimes, you just have to be patient with your perennial contender, as the title will eventually come.

SWIMMING

The program is what it is, a middle of the pack SEC program. It’s nowhere near competing for national or even conference titles, but it’s not a bad program either. Head coach Dave Geyer stepped down after 11 seasons at the helm, but it’s unlikely LSU is suddenly going to make a massive investment in the program, which is what it would take to be competitive.

Juan Celaya-Hernandez and Brooks Curry qualified for the Olympics, and that’s pretty cool.

GOLF

Weather ruined LSU’s chance to host a regional and the team’s postseason chances suffered accordingly. Playing your home course is a huge edge, and losing that, well… the team never quite recovered.

The women did make it to the final day of the championships, and missed the cut for the match play thanks to a late charge by Arizona. The program is still in great shape and is a reliable top 20 program which can threaten for top 10 finishes. All you need is a good weekend to win it all. The program is in excellent shape.

SOCCER

Sell the kits.

The bizarre nature of the 2020-21 soccer season made it tough for new coach Sian Hudson to adjust. It was really three seasons and you can see some real encouraging signs taken as a whole.

Look, the first season was a disaster. LSU went 0-6-2 in the fall season, and often looked outmatched. Based on its poor record, LSU had to play more games to come out of the SEC Tournament but a funny thing happened on the way to oblivion: the team started to click. LSU won two games before dropping a tough quarterfinal game to Texas A&M, 1-0. They gave the Aggies, 8-1 on the season, all they could handle.

When the season started up again in March, LSU was a different team. They posted a 6-1-1 record and while it wasn’t enough to overcome that miserable fall season, soccer looks like it potentially has turned a corner. Let’s see if it continues into the fall.

TENNIS

In the name of all that is holy, how are the Sells still employed?

The team had a decent season, but I think that totally misses the point. Some things matter more than wins and losses.