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Clayton's State's season of champions

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

Editor's Note: It's has been a terrific year for Clayton State athletics. Highlighting the magical 2010-11 year for the Laker program was winning the national championship in women's basketball. The Lakers, led head coach Dennis Cox brought home the school's first national title in any sport with a 69-50 victory over Michigan Tech. The CSU women's tennis team made it to the Final Four and the men's soccer team advanced to the Elite 8. The CSU men's basketball won 19 games and just missed the NCAA Tournament , and several CSU runners were honored. Long-time CSU athletic director Mason Barfield sat down to talk with Clayton News-Daily and Henry Daily Herald sports editor Doug Gorman on Friday about the past year and his goals for the future as the bar has been raised to the highest level ever for the Lakers.

Was this the best year ever at CSU ?

The year we ended up 42nd in the National Directors Cup standings out of 300 schools (2007-08) (Cross Country and Track and Field coach) Mike Meade took runners to the national meet, the men and women's basketball teams made it into the Regional Tournament and the men's golf team won the conference and finished 10th in the nation.

That was a great season overall as the number of people particing in national tourmaments was probrably more than this year, but three teams making it to the Elite 8, the Final Four and the National Championship is the highest level of achievement we have ever had.

How special is having three teams advance to at least the Elite 8 ?

I know in our (Peach Belt) conferece, it doesn't happen very often. Armstrong, with its strong tennis, and soccer and good softball that they have had, might have accomplished it at one time, but It's very rare at the Division II level that you have a national title, a team make it to the Elite 8 and another team make it to the Final Four.

Does luck have something to do with it ?

You knock on the door so many time that your expectations becme higher and higher. It's kind of like making grades, if a kid can make a D, he can make a C. If he can make a C, he can make a B. If he can make a B he can make an A. So it's kind of like that in athletics when you get so close. You win a conference title, and you know how it works. You know if you get into the national championship, you have a chance, because other then Armstrong in tennis, nobody is really domimating in any sport in Division II. It's not like I was totally surprised, because I thought our teams were good enough that a national title could be in our reach.

When did you see something special in the women's basketball team ?

I was walking into the gym after a game one night, and I told Coach (Cox) this is a special group. They had done something in that game that was different then teams in the past. I have often been skeptical about teams who so defensively oriented, that you don't know what they can produce offensively. It wasn't until the end of the year that I thought that this team could score enough to win a national title. We had gone to the national tournament in the past with great defenses, but we just couldn't score enough points. At the end of this year we were able to hit the big buckets to go along with that great defense.

Not a lot of depth, but something different about men's soccer team ?

I told (head coach Pete Petersen) you are going to be special due to the fact that you have fewer guys (only 18) (than in year's past) and you can focus in on the guys that are going to be able to advance you. This was a great year for him to have a small squad because everybody contributed. Everybody was foucsed and everybody was preparing themselves. When you have 25 guys on the team, you are going to have seven or eight guys who are getting repetitons who aren't helping the other guys. We could tell about half way, through it was going to be a special group

Slow start for tennis team turns into magical year for first-year coach Letrone Mason and squad:?

At one point, we were 5-5, and had lost a couple of one-match games against Columbus and Flagler. The only difference between this year and last year was that one loss to Flagler, and we had match point on them twice and we let it get away. So, at end of the year, that team that beat us,, got upset Georgia College, and it made us third in our region instead of fourth, keeping us out of Armstrong Atlantics bracket, and allowing us to advance to the Final Four, not having to play them. they are one of the best three teams in the country. So, there is that luck again.

You hired everyone of the current coaches at Clayton State, why are they successful ?

We are certainly not the most blessed institution when it comes to resources, so we are not going to go out there and bring in a player and have them be blinded the facilities. When you don't have those things, you are going to want to go after the kid who wants to be here because of the program and the success of the coach. You want a coach who can convince the athlete to come here because they can make them successful. Nobody is going to ask our national championship team did you play in front of 5,000 people or 1,000. You are going to be wearing that ring, so that's all that is going to matter. We have been blessed that we have got coaches who understand this If a kid comes here looking for great facilities, and for shoes and for a better looking uniform, he's probably not the type of kid we want to go after.

Where do you see Clayton State five years from now ?

I hope we are coming to a point with the institution where we are mirroring the advancement of the instittution. I think the institution is growing to the point where we can grow with it. We want to someday add softball, baseball, women's volleyball, women's golf and men's tennis. Those are the sponsored sports in our conference that we would like to add. We didn't to get above 7,000 to 7,500 thousands students to be able to start that process. As the institution grows, so grows the institution of athletics.

What else is new happening at CSU: Men's basketball coach Gordon Gibbons is expected have another great recruiting year. The college has just hired Gareth O'Sullivan as its new women's soccer coach, the track team just placed eight on the USTFCCCA Outdoor All-Southeast Region team, and Barry Harwell's golf team was eighth at the Peach Belt Conference tournament.