TNE Editor

How has the move been?

Published 10/06/15

Matt Reynolds, TNE Writer

In the fall of 2012, NSU athletics went through a massive change switching from the Lone Star to the MIAA Conference. Questions circled around the fan base at Northeastern State, was this the right move?

When I came in as the athletic director, NSU had already been accepted by the MIAA," said Tony Duckworth, NSU athletic director. "There were a lot of questions of why did we go to the MIAA instead of joining the other four Oklahoma Division II schools that chose to go the GAC."

The RiverHawks had a year of being an independent from the Lone Star and MIAA in 2011-2012. During this year the RiverHawks played opponents from both the MIAA and GAC.

"What helped us solidify the move to the MIAA is the year we were able to be independent," said Duckworth. "That year allowed us to play a number of schools from other conferences in the MIAA and the GAC. Based on feedback from our coaches in terms of the places our students athletes were going to, the communities, the venues they were playing in, the game management, and all the above it was very clear that the coaches were saying the MIAA just has a standard we want to be apart of."

The venues in the MIAA without question are remarkable for a Division II conference. Northeastern State has made many upgrades, but those were in the plans before the move to the MIAA. The move in conferences did not cost Northeastern State money to build facilities.

With three years completed in the MIAA, NSU can now step back and look at the results over the past years and compare them to the Lone Star. Since the switch NSU has improved in every sport, but football and women's basketball.

The move to the MIAA conference was a big change for the RiverHawks, but the records the programs have been able to post over the past three years speak for themselves.

"I think we have really solid coaching staffs," said Duckworth. "We have a group of coaches that understand the type of student athletes we need at NSU that can compete at the MIAA level. You feel very good if your competing at a high level in the MIAA that you are at least going to be in the conversation for postseason play."

The MIAA is a fourteen member institution conference. The RiverHawks have been able to post several top four finishes in the conference, and even brought home a conference title recently.

Over the past three seasons with postseason play being included NSU has had six top four finishes in men's soccer, three in women's soccer, one in women's basketball, two in men's basketball, one in softball, one in baseball, two in men's golf, three in women's golf, and six in women's tennis.

The RiverHawks athletics program numbers are even more impressive when you look at the top two finishes NSU has had in past two seasons. Men's soccer has had two, women's soccer one, women's basketball one, softball one, men's golf one, women's golf two, women's tennis six.

The RiverHawks have won three conference titles in the MIAA in the past three years. The women's tennis program took home the regular season MIAA conference title in 2014 and 2015.The RiverHawks men's soccer program won both the regular season and the conference MIAA titles in 2014.

Women's basketball has had its troubles moving from the Lone Star to the MIAA. The style of basketball and level of basketball are on completely different levels in the MIAA. Although the women's basketball team has not faired as good in the regular season over the past three seasons in the postseason the RiverHawks have been successful in the MIAA conference tournament.

The style of play has forced the RiverHawks women's basketball program to adapt.

"Our first year we finished in the top four and our last two years we have qualified for the conference tournament in women's basketball," said Duckworth. "The level of competition in the MIAA is really fierce. I think our fan base is going to be excited with how Randy Gipson and his staff have shifted there recruiting philosophy."

One of those changes the RiverHawks have made is going after taller, faster, and stronger players. Traditionally the RiverHawks have been one of the smaller teams in the conference. However, that will change this season with NSU’s new front line.

The football program is in a similar situation dealing with the change to a much better league with great physical athletes.

"The biggest change from the Lone Star to the MIAA is the quality of the student athlete at all levels in all sports," said Scott Pettus, NSU assistant athletic director. "The Lone Star was more of a JUCO league, the MIAA's philosophy is to bring student athletes in as a senior and make the them apart of a program and a part of a family."

After four years removed from the Lone Star Conference, the move for the RiverHawks to the MIAA looks to have been the correct one. Time will continue to tell, but for now the stats speak for themselves. Eight sports out of ten have better records in the MIAA over the past three years than they did the final three years in the Lone Star Conference.

For more information on RiverHawk athletics, visit http://www.goriverhawksgo.com/.

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