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Athletics: Best weekend ever? – Basketball, baseball, softball give Cajun fans one for the ages

Kevin Foote, Daily Advertiser, March 18, 2014

It’s a subjective issue and fans can have short memories.

But the special achievements enjoyed by UL Ragin’ Cajun programs this past weekend have some around these parts wondering if it was the most successful weekend in the history of the athletic department.

“I’ve been here my whole life,” lifelong Cajun fan and current UL Associate Athletics Director of Internal Operations John Dugas said. “My dad used to take me to games at Blackham Coliseum. I’ve thought about it, and I can’t come up with anything (better).”

Longtime UL fan Todd Viator agrees.

“I’m 53 years old, and I’ve been a big UL fan since the early ’80s, and I can’t think of a better one,” he said. “It’s very exciting.”

It’s a claim hard to dispute.

For starters, it’s not every year that the Cajuns qualify for the NCAA Basketball Tournament. In fact, this is the 10th appearance for UL since leaving the NCAA College Division prior to the 1971-72 season.

Sunday’s 82-81 overtime win over regular season champion Georgia State earned the Cajuns the right to meet No. 3-seeded Creighton out of the Big East at approximately 2 p.m. Friday in the West Regional in San Antonio.

Making it even more rare was also having the softball team sweep a doubleheader against defending national champion Oklahoma on that same weekend.

And then having the baseball program — which just happened to be ranked No. 6 nationally — open up Sun Belt play with the hammer, demolishing state rival UL Monroe 39-4 in the three-game series on the road, thanks to such wins as 14-1 and 21-2 with a seven-homer barrage.

“We’ve had a lot of great moments over the years, but to have three sports play at such a high level on all one weekend was just so exciting to follow,” Dugas said. “The whole weekend I was there watching TV, on my iPad or on my laptop, following all of them, because I had the sense all weekend that I was experiencing something very special.”

Dugas said that feeling never wavered, even when the basketball team was trailing by 11 points to Georgia State on Sunday in the Sun Belt basketball finals in New Orleans.

“I never had a feeling like we weren’t going to win it,” he said. “You just had that feeling that it was a special weekend. I just kept waiting for something to happen to turn it around and then we had that five-point play (possession) that cut it to four.”

Viator was in New Orleans enjoying the basketball wins over the weekend. For this huge fan, however, his loyalty wasn’t based on the team’s recent success and the ability to win the Sun Belt crown.

“We’d fall behind and the kids just kept coming back,” Viator said. “They played so hard. It was an unbelievable feeling being in the arena.

“I’ve had season tickets going all the way back to Blackham (era ended 1984-85 season),” he said. “I’ve never supported the team based on how many games they won. I’ve always done it to support the coaches and the players who represent our university.”

Another UL athletic official said he wrote the dates of this past weekend down on a calendar near his desk to refer to during any future bad days to remind him of how good it can be.

Dugas joked that he had his financial hat on this weekend in addition to his historical one, texting a member of the RCAF that “now is the time to kick off that new capital campaign” because of all the excitement this past weekend generated among the Ragin’ Cajun faithful.

As exciting as the weekend was, though, it’s more than just one weekend that has UL fans walking on cloud nine these days. Going back to the beginning of the school year, momentum for the future has reached a fever pitch.

Much more than possibly the biggest weekend in the athletic department’s history, UL may just be in the middle of the greatest athletic sports year ever.

“I definitely think so,” Viator said. “I don’t think it will even be close, especially the way football is producing.”

Indeed, consider the possibilities.

Football won its first conference championship since 1970 and a third straight New Orleans Bowl victory.

Men’s basketball is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nine seasons.

The baseball team is currently ranked No. 5 nationally by Baseball America, moving up a spot after this weekend’s sweep at ULM.

The softball team — one pitch away from a sixth all-time trip to the Women’s College World Series a year ago — will learn today if its No. 23 ranking will improve after beating defending national champion Oklahoma two of three over the weekend.

To show how unique UL’s year is so far, the Cajuns and Michigan State are the only two FBS schools in the nation to win league titles in both football and men’s basketball this year.

To illustrate how difficult it could be to top this year if the baseball and softball teams finish strong, look back at 2000, for example. The baseball team went to the College World Series and finished third, the men’s basketball team qualified for the NCAA and lost a 63-58 heartbreaker to Tennessee and the softball program reached the NCAA Regionals.

But the football team was 2-9 that year.

“We’re ready to take that next step (as athletic department with facility masterplan under way),” Dugas said. “And this is how you do it. It has to start on the playing fields and courts.”

Athletic Network Footnote:
During the above weekend, the Men’s Tennis Team won it’s two matches on a road swing against UAB and Samford and the Men and Women’s Track and Field Team combined their efforts to win the Cowboys Relays.