As he stood in the back row during a championship press conference for the Boise State women’s basketball team Friday, Athletic Director Curt Apsey didn’t mince words:
The 2016-17 season for Boise State women’s athletics is one for the ages.
The basketball team upset top-seeded Colorado State en route to its second Mountain West title and NCAA Tournament trip in three years. Senior Brooke Pahukoa became the second player in league history to be named tournament MVP more than once.
The same day, the 10th-ranked gymnastics team defeated No. 8 Denver and is on track to make its first team trip to the NCAA Championships in program history.
The Mountain West champion swimming and diving team is sending four athletes and five relay teams to NCAAs this week.
The volleyball team won the Mountain West last fall and went to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.
And it doesn’t end there. The track and field team sent Sadi Henderson to the NCAA indoors in the 800 meters where she earned second-team All-American status, cross country’s Brenna Peloquin finished sixth at her NCAA meet, and the softball team started a school-record 11-2 and already has two no-hitters this young season.
“It’s close (to the best year ever), I’m sure,” Apsey said. “You don’t, sometimes, at least until the end, get a chance to kind of sit back and go, ‘We did something special.”
Success in Boise State athletics is nothing new; a trio of Fiesta Bowl trophies in the Bleymaier Football Complex tells that story.
A story of success in Boise State women’s athletics is not breaking news, either. But the 2016-17 season represents the balance the athletic department strives for, and that’s not by accident. Football is king, but it’s not the only show in town.
“There’s an emphasis on gender equity,” women’s basketball coach Gordy Presnell said. “It’s a good thing, and we reap the benefits of it.”
The women’s programs laid the groundwork for their 2016-17 seasons several years ago. Volleyball coach Shawn Garus, now in his eighth year, said it began with selling his program to recruits. Once he got the type of players he wanted, the results followed.
“There’s been a great buildup of success,” he said. “It didn’t happen overnight.”
Continuity within the athletic department has allowed coaches to create cultures. Presnell has been the head basketball coach for 12 years, co-head coaches Tina Bird and Neil Resnick are in their 10th season with gymnastics, and Garus is in his eighth season with volleyball.
Track and field/cross country coach Corey Ihmels is in his fourth year, softball coach Cindy Ball is in her third and swimming and diving head coach Jeremy Kipp is in his second.
“We have coaches there that have been around, and we’ve done a good job of being able to keep them,” Apsey said. “You start to give them time, and you start to bring that culture in and you coach them up and you work with them, and good things just start to happen.”
Senior swimmer Brittany Aoyama, who will swim in three individual NCAA events this week, said that from the moment Kipp stepped on campus, he changed the mindset of the program. Kipp came from national-powerhouse USC and, though he didn’t try to recreate the wheel, he had his swimmers and divers focus on bigger goals.
“There’s a little difference in training and stuff, too, but what we’ve really been working on is getting in the mindset of trying to build a championship team,” Aoyama said. “I think there’s a little bit more of a focus on that.”
In addition to continuity, the common thread between the women’s programs is the feeling of support from the administration. Apsey says he fights to give his coaches as much as he can, regardless of whether it’s a men’s or women’s sport. Coaches and staff know they have the means to be successful, and that goes a long way, they say.
“We’re well supported. Our athletic administration supports what we do. They’re there, they do everything they can do for us to make us successful. I think it starts with the administration,” Resnick said. “You get the support from those guys, they give you the tools and the pieces of the puzzle you need to be successful.”
Support from the administration is critical, but the women’s programs also support and feed off each other. Other than football, all Boise State coaches have offices in the Nicholson-Yanke Athletic Center. Coaches create friendships, and a healthy work environment creates a healthy competition.
“I love sitting and talking with Gordy (Presnell). … I feel like there’s a great rapport between coaches,” Garus said. “It is important that coaches take advantage of the resources that are maybe across the hall.”
The athletes also follow each other’s success stories. Gymnast Shani Remme said that, while it can be difficult, the womens’ teams support each other. That can be as simple as going to a game or catching up in the athletic complex.
“It’s really amazing just knowing how well each of our teams are doing,” Remme said. “It's hard to follow everyone, but we try and make it out to as many events as we can and support everyone.”
Mountain West volleyball Player of the Year Sierra Nobley said the key is to remember that, while each team is its own entity, all the athletes are playing for something bigger than themselves.
“When you’re in your own season, you can definitely get wrapped up in your own season,” Nobley said. “(But) we’re all kind of in it as one big Boise State athletics team. We’re not just Boise State, we’re Boise State women’s athletics.”
NCAA Tournament selection show
The Boise State women’s basketball team will learn its opponent and destination at 5 p.m. Monday on ESPN. The 64-team NCAA Tournament starts Friday and Saturday on 16 campus sites (top 16 overall seeds host first- and second-round games). Follow IdahoStatesman.com for the breaking news.