The Wildcats have embarked on a new adventure by joining the Western Athletic Conference on July 1.
Athletic director Allen Ward expects a major transition, but it’s nothing he and his staff can’t handle.
“We’ve been working tirelessly over the last few months to make sure we’re fully prepared for everything and I feel like we’re in great shape,” Ward said. “It happened a year earlier than we thought it would, but we’re excited to be in the WAC. It’s a really big challenge for us but it’s one we’re prepared for and we’re ready to face it head-on and see how we come out.”
Lamar, Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin are also leaving the Southland Conference and following ACU to the WAC.
“It’s another step in the right direction for our program,” said Ward. “As we continue to evolve and grow as a division one program, I believe it gives us greater visibility with the WAC and its brand. It places us with a group of schools, especially the ones in Texas, that are like-minded institutions. It’s a good step in the right direction for ACU at this time.”
Football heads into its 100th season in a brand new conference. After a disappointing 1-5 2020 season, head coach Adam Dorrel likes the progression his team is showing.
“We’re very excited about the season, and I’m really proud with where our team is and how we’re progressing,” Dorrel said. “I’ve been really pleased with the old guys and their intentionality with the young guys. It makes me feel good to see older guys recognizing they can’t accomplish what they want without the younger guys.”
Dorrel heads into his fifth season as Wildcat head coach with a 13-26 record. The challenge for this season is the schedule with eight straight WAC and Atlantic Sun opponents.
“I think one of the biggest challenges is the schedule,” Dorrel said. “You have Eastern Kentucky, a very good program, and Jacksonville State, UCA, and Sam Houston who have been a perennial power for a long time in the FCS. I think the diversity of the league as far as offenses and defenses are going to be really challenging not just for us but for everybody. I think that’s the biggest challenge, but I also think that it’ll bring the most fun of the year with the newness and experience for our coaching staff and student-athletes.”
Men’s basketball brings the most attention in the move to the WAC considering the success it had in the NCAA tournament last season. Last season, head coach Joe Golding led the 14 seed Wildcats to a 53-52 win over three-seed Texas Longhorns. With Golding now at UTEP, new head coach Brette Tanner prepares for his first season.
“We’ve got an opportunity to go to new places, new challenges, new gyms, new towns and face a higher talent level,” Tanner said. “For me personally, I’ve been in the Southland for 16 years, I knew all the back doors, all the places to get a burger and now it’s all new. We’ve kinda peaked, I guess you could say, in the Southland.”
Tanner’s expectations for his first season as the head basketball coach haven’t changed from his eight years under Joe Golding.
“We’re gonna do the same thing we always do and trust the process,” Tanner said. “Nobody knows where to pick us because it’s a new coach, we lost two all-conference players, three very good inside players, but we also return every single one of our guards. We expect to compete for a conference title. What everyone else decides, who cares.”
This new chapter in ACU athletics evolves their brand and allows for growth as a division one program.