Mississippi University for Women’s men’s basketball coach Brian Merkel talks to his players Monday during a break in the action against Blue Mountain College. The W will go for its first victory at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday against Talladega College. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
November 14, 2018 10:22:20 AM
Jason Trufant was a man in motion Monday night.
The Mississippi University for Women Director of Athletics still hadn't slowed down 20 minutes following the conclusion of the men's basketball team's first game. Immediately after the final horn, Trufant and The W coaches and student-athletes began tidying up Pohl Gymnasium and folding and stacking chairs. Several minutes later, Trufant was straightening partitions in the lobby. It seems like there always is something to do when you're serving as host for an event, especially when it kicks off the return of basketball to your campus.
But Trufant could smile Monday night as he took a few minutes to share his impressions about the first women's-men's basketball doubleheader in school history.
"I don't think we could have asked for anything better," Trufant said. "We had tremendous effort from both teams. ... The fan turnout, the parents, the students, you just couldn't have asked for a better environment. I am sure Blue Mountain is walking away (thinking), 'This is a tough place to play.' I am proud of both teams."
The W's women's basketball team kicked off the evening with a 61-36 victory against Blue Mountain College, an NAIA school in North Mississippi. In the men's game, Blue Mountain held on for an 81-74 victory. The announced attendance was 378, but it certainly seemed like there were more people in Pohl Gymnasium in the second half when the Owls cut a 16-point, first half deficit to one point. Unfortunately, coach Brian Merkel's team couldn't come all of the way back in its season opener.
Merkel's Owls will try again to make history at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday when they play host to Talladega College. A win would be the first for Merkel as a head coach and the first victory for the first-year program. The excitement surrounding the programs is the latest wave to hit the school in its second year of intercollegiate athletics. The W still has a few years before it realizes full NCAA Division III membership, but Trufant has seen the addition of intercollegiate athletics have a positive effect on the campus. He feels it will continue to grow as the campus and community get behind the basketball teams.
"This is our football," Trufant said. "We know now, and I think our fans know what they can expect day in and day out. We have two coaches (Merkel and Howard White Jr.) who just work hard and it is showing. It is showing what we can do as a university. It was the first basketball event on this campus in 17 years. You just couldn't be happier for what just happened.
"I don't know what is going to happen, but I do think really cool things are going to happen from here. I just see more and more of this type of atmosphere in all of our sports as we become more ingrained in the community. I think they are going to support us pretty well."
There is plenty off other exciting sports news coming at The W. The school likely will add at least one more sport -- possibly track and field -- to the mix in the next year or two. Trufant also has been working hard to attract financial support for the school's plans to build an artificial turf baseball stadium on campus. The architectural renderings of the facility, which would be right next door to Pohl Gymnasium, offer a glimpse at a beautiful field right in the heart of the campus. There's no telling how much of a draw a facility like that would be for The W, not only for its baseball team but for local high schools and travel baseball tournaments.
But there is plenty of work to be done before The W adds another sport or breaks ground to begin construction on a new stadium. Until then, Trufant and his staff will be busy at sporting events. After all, when you're just starting out, there's plenty to do and usually not enough hands to help out. That's why any support or help would be appreciated as The W continues to build its athletic programs and to attract even more interest from student-athletes.
"Hopefully, people didn't see the kinks," Trufant said, referring to the first live basketball night for the two teams. "That is with any show you put on. I think we took some valuable lessons away. The concession stand ran out of food, so here are little things that didn't go the right way that we can fix. The nice thing is the kids got to play and they didn't see anything go wrong, which was a positive any time you run a game environment.
"Our staff did a great job tonight. The turnout helped that environment. People will be coming back soon, I hope, and seeing us on Wednesday night and Saturday and Sunday again."
The W women will play host to LSU-Shreveport at 3 p.m. Saturday. The W men will play host to Wiley College at 4 p.m. Sunday.
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Dispatch. You can reach him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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