It is too bad that most people on the Hilltop don’t care much about Bradley sports. Since my freshman year I’ve been a fan and the Braves have been trending up since I arrived in Peoria.
Bradley has a rich history and usually leads the Missouri Valley Conference in men’s basketball home attendance. But when I got on campus in August 2016, the athletic department only had one successful program: men’s and women’s cross country. We weren’t particularly competitive in any other sport and that was abundantly clear.
On March 17, 2015 Chris Reynolds was hired as the athletic director. As a young man from Vermont who knew nothing of Bradley before enrolling, I now have discovered that the day he was hired was an important one for the university and city. The Bradley administrators and the NCAA surely agreed as his title is now vice president for intercollegiate athletics.
Since his return to his childhood city of Peoria each program has improved. Reynolds hired four new head coaches that he claims to be really good thinkers with cutting edge ideas who are smarter than himself.
I commend his decision-making when it comes to hiring volleyball coach Carol Price-Torok, women’s golf interim head coach Grant Escue, men’s basketball’s Brian Wardle, women’s basketball coach Andrea Gorski and cross country and track coach Darren Gauson.
This past academic year, the Braves were impressive on the fields, courts and courses. Looking back to my freshman year, I cannot believe the positive change.
Men’s basketball went from five wins in 2015-16 to giving No. 2 seed Michigan State a run for its money in the NCAA Tournament. Women’s basketball finished with a winning record in the Valley for the first time since 2009-10.
I came to Bradley a huge baseball fan, but in 2016 they finished 6-14 in the MVC. This year, they won 11 and were near the top of the conference standings the entire spring. Softball “shocked the Valley” and earn a double-bye in the conference tournament after finishing 15-10.
In the fall of 2016 I went to the homecoming soccer game, Bradley lost 2-0 to Evansville. That season the team finished with two wins. This past season the team did not suffer a loss until its 10th game. Plus we tied with Gonzaga, Wisconsin and Cincinnati.
The most remarkable improvement for Bradley’s programs is volleyball. The team reached a postseason tournament this fall and increased its MVC play win total by 12 since Price-Torok was hired for the 2015 season.
Bradley’s less followed programs impress me even more. For the last four years, men’s cross country has won the MVC Championship. This fall they placed second in the Midwest Regional meet, eventually finishing 24th at the NCAA Championship.
Women’s cross country has been dominant in the Valley as well and has finished 15th, sixth and ninth in the regionals the past three seasons.
Both men’s and women’s golf have been improving. In 2018 the men won the MVC Championship for the first time in school history, just a year after finishing seventh of nine.
The women lacked a full-time women’s golf only coach; however, it hasn’t held them back from placing in the top four the last three years. This past April, the women were predicted to win the MVC Championship, and although they finished third, I have to commend the effort.
Lastly, tennis set a program record with 16 dual match victories. They went 4-1 in conference, improving from 2-5 in 2016-17.
There you have it. I still can’t believe the turnaround. Simply outstanding. Here’s to hoping the Braves continue to brighten spirits on the Hilltop.
Go out and support; we don’t suck. Sports lead to camaraderie and that’s what Bradley needs. I doubt the success across the board will carry over to next year due to many key athletes graduating, but we’ll see if the youth can meet the challenge.
The men’s basketball season slogan of #TheArrival can expand to the entire department. The Braves as a whole did just that. Here’s why Bradley was successful; they were consistent, tenacious, and above all, Brave.