Bethel coming off unprecedented success

Mark Schnabel
The Kansan
The Bethel College men’s basketball team goes through opening introductions during second-round play at the NAIA national.
The Bethel College football team celebrates winning the KCAC championship Saturday at Tabor.

Last weekend was arguably the best in Bethel College athletic history — the Bethel College men’s basketball team won its first two games of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics National Tournament, the Bethel College football team wrapped up its first KCAC title since 2007 and earned an NAIA playoff berth, the women’s basketball team played in its first-ever NAIA national tournament and the competitive cheer squad, which had already won a conference title, competed at the NAIA national meet.

In addition, the volleyball and women’s soccer teams each claimed wins in conference play.

The weekend before, the Bethel track team finished in the top 20 nationally in indoor track, winning five medals with four athletes claiming All-America honors.

Other fall highlights include an ITA individual qualifier in women’s tennis and an NAIA national qualifier in cross country.

With the spring sports seasons just starting, three conference titles in a single calendar year is unprecedented in recent times.

After a 1-3-1 start, the women’s soccer team is on a three-game winning streak. The men’s soccer team is 4-5, but has won two of its last three games. The softball team has won three straight.

“It starts at the top,” Bethel athletic director Tony Hoops said. “When you get good presidential leadership, you can do a lot of successful things. I’m very fortunate have an extremely great president in Jon Gering, who has been super supportive of me. It dates back to interim president John Sheriff four years ago as well. Those two people have been monumental in my life and monumental in Bethel athletics. The changes we made four years ago, we’re now seeing the results of. It wasn’t because we changed anything four years ago. That changed with expectations. That changed with how we conduct ourselves. That changed with the type of people we recruit and the type of people we hire. There are some unbelievable coaches we hired that are amazing coaches, amazing people and invested their heart and soul in Bethel athletics. They’re not in it for their next job.” 

The football team went 3-7 in the first year under coach Terry Harrison. The Threshers were 8-3 last season, taking second in the conference, and 9-0 this season with a game remaining.

The men’s basketball team went 7-22 the year before Jayson Artaz took the helm. That team has gone 15-15, 20-12 and 21-6 in his three seasons.

“The way things have changed here in the last three years, four years since (Hoops) took over, is unimaginable,” Artaz said. “If anybody dreamt this was going to happen, where you go to the sweet 16 in basketball, you win a conference championship in football — and I think those guys are going to make a deep run there — he’s created a culture where we expect excellence, we strive for excellence and we support everybody on campus.

“I got really lucky with some really good players. I got some ‘and’ players. They’re not, ‘They’re good, but they’ve got issues off the court.’ We have guys who are great people and great players. They’ve created an unbelievable culture where they expect to win.”

The women’s basketball team was 4-23 before Drew Johnson was named head coach. His teams have gone 12-18, a school record 20-10, 16-15 and 16-10.

Just a couple of years ago, Bethel finished last in the conference in the Commissioner’s Cup standings, which is based on the finish of each schools teams in the KCAC standings.

“Since the existence of the Commissioner’s Cup, we were in last place every single year until this past year,” Hoops said. “Last year, we were second to last or third to last in a COVID year with the most points in school history. At the end of the day, it hasn’t been our only focus, but it’s the byproduct of doing things right. When you do things right with our coaches, how they do business and how they recruit and how they approach the mindset of leading culturally the programs, they want to be what coach Artaz called ‘and’ players.”

Bethel’s success comes despite one of the lower budgets in the conference. Bethel also is one of the smaller schools based on enrollment.

“Small college athletics is hard, wherever it’s at,” Hoops said. “Has it changed significantly? No. At the end of the day, that’s what I go back to the coaches and say. They don’t use that as an excuse. They find ways to fund raise. They find ways to connect with their alumni. They find ways to get invested in the communities.”

Mark Schnabel can be reached at mschnabel@thekansan.com.