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Grading every Nevada Wolf Pack athletic program in 2018-19

Caleb Martin
Caleb Martin and the Wolf Pack basketball team had a strong year despite not reaching preseason expectations. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

It was a mixed bag for Nevada athletics in 2018-19.

On the plus side, Nevada won one Mountain West championship, although that tied for seventh in the conference. That title was a share of the regular-season crown in men's basketball, although even that (and a first-round NCAA Tournament exit) was a bit of a disappointment given the lofty expectations entering the season. As a department, Nevada posted a cumulative record of 154-141-2, up slightly from last season's 153-145 mark.

Four of Nevada's 15 MW programs – men’s basketball; swimming and diving; baseball; and women’s golf – placed in the top three of the conference standings, the same figure as last year. Swimming and diving finished second in the MW, baseball tied for third and women's golf placed one stroke back of winning its first MW championship. Men's golf also had a strong season, winning three team tournaments, three individual tournaments and qualifying for the NCAA Regional for the second straight season. Football returned to a bowl for the first time since 2016, and rifle sent two athletes to nationals.

On the downside, Nevada was crushed by UNLV in the Silver State Series, losing that battle, 34.5-13.5, and the Wolf Pack's average MW finish of 6.2 was down from last season's 5.7. That 6.2 mark was the second worst for Nevada during its MW era. There's plenty of room for growth for the Wolf Pack, which saw three of its 15 MW programs finish last in the conference and five finish in the bottom three of the league standings. That's one-third of the department.

Here’s a program-by-program look at how Nevada stacked up in its seventh season in the MW, including a grade for this year, a review of the season and a look ahead to next year. While the Wolf Pack continues to pass all of the Academic Progress Report barriers in the classroom, these grades are based solely on the on-field accomplishments of each program, with no curve adjusted for Nevada's comparatively low budget compared to its league-mates.

Baseball

Last year’s grade: B

This year’s grade: C+

Record: 30-26 overall, 14-16 MW

MW finish: Tied for third out of seven

In short: Nevada ended the regular season with the same overall record as last season, only last year the Wolf Pack won the MW and this year it was seven games behind the MW winner (Fresno State). Nevada’s RPI fell from 66 last season to 119 this year, a result largely due to the Wolf Pack offense, which averaged 5.46 runs per game, down from 6.43 runs per game the year prior. Nevada scored memorable back-to-back wins over No. 2 Oregon State, but fell short of making the MW title game in a four-team tournament it hosted.

The future: The Wolf Pack lost two key pieces in the MLB draft (Friday starter Ryan Anderson and closer Grant Ford), but returns most of its offense, an area that must improve for Nevada to get back to a Regional for the first time since 2000.

Men’s basketball

Last year’s grade: A+

This year’s grade: A

Record: 29-5 overall, 15-3 MW

MW finish: Tied for first out of 11

In short: It was a historic season in many regards for Nevada, which tied the program record in wins (29), spent the entire season in the Top 25, peaked at a program-best fifth in the nation, became the third team to win three straight MW regular-season titles and reached a third straight NCAA Tournament. That was the good news, and there was a lot of it. But Nevada went 5-4 over its last nine games and was the only preseason top-10 team that failed to win an NCAA Tournament game, losing to Florida in the first round following its Sweet 16 run the year prior.

The future: It finally happened as a Power 5 team (Arkansas) poached Eric Musselman. Nevada acted quickly to ink another big-name coach, Steve Alford, to a 10-year deal, but losing Jordan Brown to Arizona dims the outlook to some degree in 2019-20.

Women’s basketball

Last year’s grade: B+

This year’s grade: C-

Record: 12-19 overall, 7-11 MW

MW finish: Tied for seventh out of 11

In short: Year two under coach Amanda Levens featured a predictable step back as Nevada went from 19-17 to 12-19 after losing two key players (T Moe, Teige Zeller) to graduation and relying heavily on freshmen. A tough non-league schedule was hard to navigate, and Nevada posted its second straight 7-11 MW mark and second straight seventh-place league finish. The Wolf Pack ranked 244th in RPI, down from 170th the season prior. Nevada nearly upset No. 1-seeded Boise State in the MW Tournament quarterfinals.

The future: Nevada loses three key players (Jade Redmon, Terae Briggs, Camariah King), but five talented freshmen return and the Wolf Pack has beefed up its roster with five transfers.

Cross country

Last year’s grade: B-

This year’s grade: B-

Record: No dual meets

MW finish: Sixth out of 11

In short: Nevada finished tied for sixth in the difficult MW Championship and has finished sixth or seventh in all seven seasons in the conference. It followed that with a 10th-place showing out of 20 teams in the Mountain Region Championship, down one from a season ago. Nevada received votes in the national polls this year for the first time since 2003 but was unable to reach the school’s first NCAA Championship (31 teams make it), a long-time goal. The Wolf Pack’s depth was a little short in the end.

The future: All-region runner Hiley Dobbs is back for her senior season but the team does lose 6K record-holder Lindsey Sickler. Adding a men’s cross country program can do nothing but help this team.

Football

Last year’s grade: D

This year’s grade: B

Record: 8-5 overall, 5-3 MW

MW finish: Second out of six in the West Division; tied for fourth out of 12 overall

In short: The Wolf Pack bumped its win total by five, tied for its largest year-over-year jump in the school’s FBS era (since 1992). Nevada’s defense was excellent (one of the top three or four units in the school’s history) and the offense upped its points per game total. The Wolf Pack finished with a winning MW record for the first time since joining the conference in 2012 and added just the sixth bowl win in school history. The one gigantic demerit was a loss at rival UNLV after leading the Rebels 23-0.

The future: The Wolf Pack loses some key players off the defense and must replace starting QB Ty Gangi, but a 2019 bowl berth is likely given a soft home schedule. Nevada could challenge for a West Division title.

Men’s golf

Last year's grade: A-

This year's grade: A

Record: 50th in Golfweek/Sagarin ratings; 49th in GolfStat rankings

MW finish: Eighth out of 11

In short: Nevada had another great season, winning a program record three regular-season events and placing in the top 50 in both national rankings. Nevada also picked up three individual wins – two by Joey Vrzich and one by Sam Meek – while setting the school record in scoring average (287.44). The Wolf Pack had a disappointing eighth-place finish in the MW Championship but rebounded with a strong showing at NCAA Regionals, finishing five strokes out of a spot at nationals. It was a stellar season.

The future: The entire roster is eligible to return, although Stephen Osborne (73.42, fourth on the team) is turning pro and Nevada must avoid a Power 5 plucking any players. But the future should stay strong.

Women’s golf

Last year’s grade: C-

This year’s grade: B-

Record: 97th in Golfweek/Sagarin rankings; 101st in GolfStat rankings

MW finish: Second out of nine

In short: After losing its top two scorers to graduation, Nevada took a step forward, improving 27 spots in the Golfweek/Sagarin ratings and 25 spots in the GolfStat rankings. The Wolf Pack’s regular season was headlined by a second-place finish at the Ptarmigan Ram Classic. That was the team’s only top-five finish in nine regular-season events (it did have three sixth-place finishes). Nevada finished strong, using an excellent final round to finish a program-best second at the MW Championship, a stroke behind San Diego State.

The future: Nevada loses two key seniors, but Victoria Gailey, who set the program scoring record (73.4) as a freshman, is back. Three freshmen, including local Kaitlin Fleiner (Reed High), join the team in the fall.

Rifle

Last year’s grade: B

This year’s grade: B

Record: 4-2 in dual matches

League finish: Third out of six (in Patriot Rifle Conference)

In short: Nevada had its best season in years, winning four of its six dual matches and placing a program-best third in the six-team Patriot Rifle Conference before winning its NCAA Qualifier, although that wasn’t quite enough to make it to NCAAs as a team (the top eight squads in the nation qualify). Nevada did send two individuals to the NCAAs for the first time since 2015 as Mitchell Van Patten and Alec Patajo made the cut. Van Patten was 14th in smallbore and Patajo was 30th in air rifle.

The future: There is no future at the Division I level for Nevada rifle, which was cut by the Wolf Pack and replaced with men’s cross country. The program, formed in 1995-1996, will continue as a club sport, but will no longer compete at college’s top level after eight NCAA appearances in its D-I history.

Women’s soccer

Last year's grade: F

This year's grade: D-

Record: 4-13-2, 1-10 MW

MW finish: 12th out of 12

In short: The Wolf Pack got off to a strong start, going 3-0-1 over its first four games, before winning just one of its final 15 contests (that victory came over 2-9-6 Air Force). Nevada is 1-25 in its last 26 conference games. The Wolf Pack did a better job of defending this season, trimming its goals allowed from 49 last season to 29 this year, but scoring was still an issue. Nevada scored just 14 goals in 19 games, with only one player (Payton Lieb) tallying more than one goal. The Wolf Pack’s last winning season was 2006.

The future: Nevada loses three starters, so most of the roster is coming back. This is still a young team as the Wolf Pack has just three seniors in 2019. Making some progress against MW foes is the big goal.

Softball

Last year’s grade: C+

This year’s grade: C+

Record: 29-27 overall, 11-13 MW

MW finish: Seventh out of nine

In short: The MW was good in softball with four teams in the top 50 of the RPI and six in the top 100. Nevada was just outside that cut at 105, up from 122 in 2018. The Wolf Pack made improvements in the circle, giving up 4.18 runs per game (down from 5.37 the year prior). But its runs scored declined from 6.06 per game last year to 4.64 this year, meaning it had a lower run differential in 2019 than in 2018. The team reached the Postseason NISC for the third straight year, losing in the Regional title game twice to Loyola Marymount.

The future: Nevada has between 27-30 wins in all three years under Josh Taylor, so it’s a solid program looking to get to the next level (a Regional). Nevada returns most of its key pieces, including stud P Kendall Fritz.

Swimming and diving

Last year’s grade: A-

This year’s grade: A-

Record: 9-1 in dual meets

MW finish: Second out of 10

In short: Nevada’s diving team didn’t do as much damage at the NCAAs as it had in previous years, but this program had another elite season. The Wolf Pack won all but one of its 10 dual meets before finishing second at the MW Championships, marking six straight seasons with a top-three finish in the event. Rebecca Murray, Andressa Cholodovskis, Toma Shmitova and Laura Isabel Vazquez Lopez each won MW golds, with Nevada also taking the 800 free relay. Lopez qualified for nationals.

The future: Nevada loses four key seniors, including Murray and Shmitova, but this was a young roster that adds top transfer Ileah Doctor (Indiana) and should compete at the top of the MW again next year.

Track and field

Last year’s grade: D+

This year’s grade: B-

Record: No record

MW finish: Ninth in indoor; fourth in outdoor (out of 11 teams)

In short: It was a tale of two seasons for Nevada, which placed ninth in the indoor championships before vaulting to fourth in the outdoor, tied for the best finish in the Wolf Pack’s MW era (and four spots better than last year). Nevada also had three individual champs at outdoor, the most since joining the league in 2012. Nevada sent six athletes to the NCAA West Preliminaries, three fewer than last year but still a strong number. Multi-athlete Nicola Ader was stellar, winning four All-American honors during the season, which boosts the grade.

The future: Of the six Wolf Pack athletes to get to the NCAA West Preliminaries, five are eligible to return to school, which is good. Progress was made late in the season, which should translate to 2019-20.

Men’s tennis

Last year's grade: B-

This year's grade: D+

Record: 11-11 overall; 2-5 MW

MW finish: Fifth (tied) out of eight in the regular season; No. 6 seed in MW Championships (lost in first round)

In short: The roller-coaster ride took Nevada back down toward the bottom of the MW. The Wolf Pack went 8-13 in 2017, rose to 15-8 in 2018 and reverted to its 2017 form this season. Nevada was 9-11 versus D-I foes. The seven non-league wins came against teams that were a combined 55-96. The two league wins were over Boise State and Air Force, which were both 2-12 in MW play. Weather canceled four early-season events, which might have hurt the team’s rhythm, but the big issue was No. 1 and 2 singles, where Nevada was 13-21.

The future: Juniors Julien Evrard and Kostya Nesterenko repeated as All-MW picks and are scheduled to be back next season, but the Wolf Pack needs to add some depth to be more competitive in the MW.

Women’s tennis

Last year's grade: C-

This year's grade: D

Record: 10-11 overall; 1-3 MW

MW finish: No. 11 seed in MW Championships (lost in first round)

In short: Nevada lost is best singles player and best doubles player over the offseason and struggled to replace them. Of the Wolf Pack’s 10 wins, six came against non-Division I schools, so Nevada was 4-11 against D-I competition. The Wolf Pack was the 11th (worst) seed in the MW Championships and lost to No. 6 Colorado State, 4-1, in its opening match. Nevada specifically struggled in No. 1 and No. 2 singles matches where it went 6-11 and 5-10, respectively. The strength at the top of the roster lacked.

The future: Nevada loses two seniors, including doubles standout Adriana Gergelyova, and must boost the top of its roster (either through underclassmen improvement or recruits) to make a jump next year.

Volleyball

Last year's grade: D+

This year's grade: D-

Record: 8-21 overall; 1-17 MW

MW finish: 11th out of 11 in regular season

In short: With a largely revamped lineup after five players left the program following the 2017 season, Nevada got off to a strong start, posting a 7-2 record over its first nine games before losing 19 of its last 20 games. The Wolf Pack placed 254th out of 336 D-I teams in RPI. Only two of Nevada’s wins came against top-220 RPI teams (Northern Arizona and Northern Kentucky). In its last 20 games, Nevada won just 21 sets to its opponents’ 59. The team’s 1-17 conference record was the second worst in program history.

The future: The Wolf Pack’s eight wins were its fewest since 2014, the year before Lee Nelson was hired, so it’s back to square one for his program. Nevada lost five key contributors – a couple to transfer – this offseason.

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.

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