Athletics on Upward Trajectory

Athletics, particularly on the national stage, has always been a point of pride for Bradley University. That’s evident again as men’s basketball won its first Missouri Valley Conference title since 1988, earning them a spot at the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006.

But the win isn’t the only achievement visible on a campus where students often know and hang out with student-athletes. From basketball to track to volleyball to cross country, Bradley athletes are racking up wins and records while excelling in the classroom and contributing to the community.

A roundup of triumphs:

  • Bradley men’s basketball scored back-to-back seasons with at least 20 victories. Women’s basketball improved its overall and Missouri Valley Conference records for the fourth consecutive season, highlighted by 20 victories in 2018-19.
  • The Braves earned three Academic All-Americans, including a pair of first-team scholar-athlete selections in 2017–18 that tied a school record. The seven sports recognized by the NCAA set a school record and led the conference.
  • Athletics also garnered its third-straight conference All-Academic Award and a record 46 conference scholar-athletes. For graduation success rates by student-athletes, Bradley was at 93 percent, above the average for both the conference and all Division I schools.
  • Men’s cross country has won four-straight MVC championships, while men’s track had a school-record 86 points and a fourth-place finish in the MVC Indoor Championship — the first in the top four since 1970. The men, who were ranked 25th nationally, ran for the first time at the NCAA Cross Country Championship, where they finished 24th, after a second-place finish at the NCAA Midwest Regional.
  • The women’s distance medley won its first conference title and the team more than doubled last year’s overall score by the end of the indoor championship. Women’s cross country earned its fourth MVC title in five years.
  • Last year, the Braves landed a spot at the NCAA Men’s Golf Championship for the first time since 1955 after winning their first conference title.
  • Last fall marked volleyball’s first postseason appearance at the National Invitational Volleyball Championship. To get there, the team racked up a 14-1 record at home and the most MVC victories since 2001.
  • Student-athletes, coaches and staff have contributed more than 10,000 hours of service to the community in the last three years.

Sure, they’ve been winning, but student-athletes also achieved in the classroom and gave back to the community — the athletic department’s three focus areas outlined by Chris Reynolds, vice president for intercollegiate athletics.

“If we are a stock, it’s time to buy,” he said at a recent meeting. “We’re headed in the right direction. This is a bus where everybody should jump on board.”  

While outside observers wonder how athletes balance their many responsibilities, Senior Associate AD for Academics and Student Development Jennifer Jones knows how and why.

“Student-athletes at this level are naturally competitive and driven toward success,” she said. “That desire for achievement is a great motivator for both athletic and academic progress. As the saying goes, ‘No one rises to low expectations.’ As a department, we are very clear on the front end with prospective students on the mission of Bradley Athletics.” 

Even many years later, the benefits to athletes of camaraderie with teammates and coaches and learning time management are clear. Alum Chuck Buescher played basketball and baseball at Bradley, and later coached both sports at the university before embarking on a longtime career as a high school basketball coach. He recalled that academic support for athletes was less structured in the 1960s.  

“Back then, we didn’t have academic advisers. We didn’t have anyone checking to see that you went to class. You were on your own. Nobody called up the coach to say, ‘Chuck Buescher wasn’t in class’ like they do today … The kids get a lot more help, and that’s a good thing.”

Senior baseball player Andy Shadid is grateful for the support he’s received. “Everyone in the athletics department is family. When walking into the Renaissance Coliseum, I can't walk down the hall without talking to a faculty member or fellow athlete. It’s pretty cool to see everyone get along and know that those people actually care about you.”

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