Column: Nonrevenue sports redeem a disappointing year for Mizzou athletics

Kansas City radio host Carrington Harrison: “As much pain and grief they’ve given you, your hope is that one time they get to the final four or that one time they make the college football championship.”
Missouri guard Namon Wright (12) joins his team for a pregame huddle moments before tipoff against Tennessee on Feb. 13 in Mizzou Arena.

It’s difficult to understate how bad Missouri has been in football, basketball and baseball in the 2015–16 calendar year. In full, they won only eight of their 44 games played in the Southeastern Conference.

"I really want to be optimistic about Mizzou sports,” said Connor Lagore, a freshman from Wisconsin, “but it's almost impossible."

But it’s not “almost impossible” when you’re looking at the softball, swim and dive, women’s basketball and wrestling teams — not one has a conference record below .500.

With athletes like junior wrestler J’den Cox winning national titles, teams like the Missouri’s women’s basketball team making NCAA tournaments and Mizzou athletes qualifying for the Olympic Games in Rio, there’s some redemption.

Lagore said Cox’s success forced him to care. Nick Wojciechowski, the ZouCrew director, doesn’t have a choice.

The sophomore from Kirkwood grew up a Missouri fan, and his fandom isn’t dependent on the success of the football and men’s basketball teams. The recent success of nonrevenue sports has grabbed Wojciechowski’s attention.

“I really feel like, especially with women’s basketball’s success and Cox’s, that definitely grabbed the attention of many, many people,” Wojciechowski said. “I’m 100 percent going to encourage the group to go to games and such for these sports next year because I know we’ll be as good, if not better next year and I feel like if we can get people to those games, it’ll give those teams huge advantages.”

The ZouCrew’s involvement around campus ranges, and it’s part Wojciechowski’s job to ignite that. With the revenue sports’ most recent struggles and thoughts like those of Lagore more prevalent on campus, Wojciechowski’s job has become almost certainly tougher.

“I firmly believe that if you show positivity and are energetic and show that to your members, they’ll do the same thing,” Wojciechowski said. “Being successful has its effects and obviously we haven’t had the most successful teams over the years.”

And even with the successes of Cox, women’s basketball and many of the nonrevenue sports, it’s affected Lagore’s college experience.

“I wanted to go to basketball games and be in a huge student section going crazy, but generally, I don’t think I’ll get to do that in my four years,” Lagore said.

Carrington Harrison didn’t attend Mizzou and never got the chance to sit in the student section, but the co-host of The Drive on 610 AM in Kansas City has been a die-hard Mizzou fan his whole life.

“Missouri fans are always pessimistic,” Harrison said. At cocktail parties, he can pick who is a Mizzou, KU or Kansas State fan. “Missouri fans are just naturally skeptical because so many crazy things have happened to them.”

The list is long of moments Missouri fans would like to forget: Losing to South Carolina in the third overtime in 2013; losing to No. 15 seed Norfolk State in 2012; losing on the “flea kicker” to Nebraska in 1997; falling to Colorado in the “fifth down” game in 1990.

Where does the pessimism stem from this year? Missouri football went 1–7 in conference play, tied for the worst record in the SEC. Missouri’s men’s basketball team went 3–15 in conference play, the worst in the SEC. On Sunday, the Missouri baseball team lost and fell below .500 and to the depth of the Southeastern Conference with a 4–14 conference record.

But Harrison knows it only takes one — one week, one series or one play — to get back on track.

“As much pain and grief (your team has) given you, your hope is that one time they get to the final four or that one time they make the college football championship,” Harrison said. “For most of the time it sucks, but when they actually break through and when Henry Josey scores against Texas A&M and dives in the endzone it’s worth it, you know?

“It’s absolutely worth it.”

Edited by Katherine Knott | kknott@themaneater.com

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