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LEARY: Marquette athletics underwent transition in 2013-14

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Patrick LearyThink, for a moment, about where Marquette sports was just nine months ago.

Buzz Williams was preparing his team for its first season in the new Big East. Fresh off an Elite Eight run, many viewed the Golden Eagles as favorites to win the conference. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Terri Mitchell was trying to revive a women’s basketball program in a tailspin after two bad seasons.

Men and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball looked like programs on the rise, with big time aspirations in both the regular season and postseason. The lacrosse teams carried few expectations other than improvement into their second seasons in existence.

At the top, university president the Rev. Scott Pilarz and athletic director Larry Williams hoped to take Marquette sports forward and erase a culture of mistrust that had plagued the program in previous years.

In less than a year, everything changed.

Pilarz and Larry Williams resigned. President-elect Michael Lovell, an “avid” sports fan, replaced Pilarz at the top, and former Marquette Athletic Director Bill Cords returned as the interim for the foreseeable future.

Buzz Williams, Mitchell and volleyball coach Bond Shymansky left as well. Buzz Williams jumped ship for Virginia Tech and Cords and Lovell brought in Duke associate head coach Steve Wojciechowski to replace him. Former Ohio head man Ryan Theis took Shymansky’s place after the master wordsmith was hired by his alma mater, Iowa. Mitchell, whom the department likely forced out after 18 seasons, is yet to be replaced and will likely retire.

On the court, the women’s basketball team took a step forward, while the men’s team took a step back. Mitchell’s team won its first postseason game in three years and went 11-7 in the revamped conference. Buzz Williams’ squad crashed and burned in the new conference, going just 17-15 overall and missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade. The importance of those seasons going forward remains unclear because of the coaching changes.

By contrast, fall sports reigned supreme over the Big East in the regular season and conference tournaments. The three sports completed a clean sweep of both conference titles, but also saw quick exits in the postseason. The men’s soccer and women’s volleyball teams each won one game in the NCAA Tournament, while the women’s soccer team, Marquette’s biggest juggernaut this year, was upset in the first round.

Men and women’s lacrosse each improved incrementally, and the men have a chance for glory as the No. 2 seed in the upcoming Big East tourney.

Regardless of 2013-14 successes, the whole athletic culture at Marquette is in transition. The fall teams set the year up to be a breakout one in a new conference, but the mishaps of winter took the focus away from their successes. The expectations from years of winning combined with so many new faces could create a major positive or serious negative for the department next year.

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