The Western Nevada College women's soccer team was proving to be possibly one of the nation's top programs - both athletically and academically - in the making. It will never be known what the program could have been.
On Thursday, the college announced its decision to drop the program after just three years of existence. The program was dropped because it had been too difficult to continue in the Scenic West Athletic Conference.
WNC coach Hillary Arthur carefully chose her words when reacting to losing her program, but stressed she understood the decision.
"I'm very disappointed," Arthur said. "The team's devastated. They're pretty upset right now.
"I don't know what I'm allowed to say. I want to be pretty careful about what we do talk about. I don't want to get in trouble. I'm not sure what I can and can't say."
With the loss of women's soccer, WNC is left now with just one sport, baseball. Since it offers a men's sport in baseball, Title IX basically requires that the college still offer a women's sport. WNC is looking at adding women's volleyball or softball in 2008-2009.
When the Wildcats were set to enter the Scenic West in women's soccer, it was expected there would be five teams in the conference: WNC, North Idaho College, Community College of Southern Nevada, Dixie State and Salt Lake Community College.
But CCSN dropped its program in favor of softball and Dixie State moved up to the Division II level. Salt Lake never raised its program from the club to the intercollegiate level, leaving the conference with just two teams in WNC and North Idaho.
The conference decided last week that in 2008, no women's soccer regular season conference games would be played and that only a conference tournament would be held in Salt Lake City to decide the title. With WNC dropping out and North Idaho as the only team left, a tournament now is not even necessary and the conference's future in women's soccer is obviously in doubt.
With no regular season conference games, Western Nevada would have had to play virtually all of the close to 20 games required by the National junior College Athletic Association on the road. The increased travel time would have made it financially unaffordable and caused too much time from the classroom to continue the program.
"In developing our intercollegiate athletics program, the college must offer comparable opportunities to our mena nd women student athletes," said WNC athletic director John Kinkella in a released statement. When we set out to develop our men's baseball and women's soccer teams, that's what we had in the Scenic West Athletic Conference.
Both were core sports in the conference. In the past three years, the status of women's soccer in the SWAC has changed - Dixie State College left the conference, College of Southern Nevada dropped its program in favor of softball, and Salt Lake Community College did not follow through on its commitment to move its club team into an NJCAA team."
Since the Board of Regents that governs the state's colleges and universities prefers that WNC and CCSN stay in the same conference, it's not feasible for WNC to try to join a conference in California or any other conference for that matter in women's soccer. "There is no possibility of moving to California," Arthur said.
"It's a weak soccer conference," Arthur also said about the SWAC. "The college needs to do the right thing. We're not guaranteed any home games."
Arthur also said it doesn't make sense "to have a soccer team when there's really no conference for it."
In the three years that Arthur guided the program, WNC never finished below .500. This past season, the Wildcats went 9-6-2. Among the highlights was a strong showing in a 1-0 loss to one of California's top teams, Grossmont College, and a win over the nation's No. 12 ranked team, Cisco College.
In 2006, WNC advanced to the national playoffs. The program was just as successful off the field, ranking as high as fifth in the nation academically. Arthur has said this year's team could be even ranked higher academically.
Making the cancellation of the program even more painful is the Wildcats were expecting to return as many as 13 players for next year's team. Arthur said she'll do whatever she can to help those players in deciding if they want to stay at WNC or transfer, possibly as soon as the semester. "We really gave it a 110 percent," Arthur said. "We did everything right.
"I had a great experience at Western. I wouldn't change it for anything. It was life changing to be a part of it."
Since WNC will not bring a proposal for another women's sport to the Board of Regents until the spring, it may be more feasible to add softball in the spring of 2009 instead of volleyball in the fall of 2008. It would be difficult to hire a coach and recruit a team for volleyball in a time span of a few months to less than a year.
It would also likely be easier to find a facility for softball than volleyball. Edmonds Park is a likely facility for softball while a volleyball program would likely have to schedule matches at either Carson High or Carson Middle School in facilities that are already extensively used in the fall.
"Western is committed to offering an intercollegiate women's athletics program from among the existing core of SWAC women's sports," Kinkella said. "Before making a decision about which program is chosen, the college will carefully consider the prospect for ongoing viability of a particular sport in the conference, and its importance in our local communities. At this time, we are evaluating the possibility for 2008-2009 of either softball or women's volleyball programs, and plan to bring a proposal to the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents this spring."